At the heels of the WZFO Alfa comes another odd, vertical camera, the Taron Chic. At the heels is not entirely correct as it refers to the order it is being presented on this site, where the Taron Chic was introduced a year earlier than the WZFO Alfa. The difference is that the Chic is a nicely balanced-looking camera, whereas the Alfa is an eyesore.
Japan’s post-war camera makers operated in a fast-paced, tight market. Some were making cameras before the war and thereafter increased capacity and offerings, while most were barging into this field motivated by the GIs demand. Some were making sewing machines and motor parts, others closer to camera trade as parts manufacturers. To simplify shooting the traditional klapp camera style made way to TLR style, beginning with German-made knock-offs, and then to compact viewfinders and rangefinders. Most cameras made at the were hardly distinguishable from each other, perhaps as all designs stemmed from the same forefathers. Here and there different and creative designs had flourished.
The Taron Chic and the Yashica Rapide are such examples. A couple of years earlier Olympus presented the half-frame format on the 35mm compact camera film. Guess this was to fill the gap between the popular Japanese Semi format and the 17mm used on the tiny, not too practical cameras of the time. 72 frames on a single roll is a neat idea, especially with the advance of the developing technics. Not to be undone other manufactures saw and raised them. I heard about this camera, saw images of it, and thought it to be a bigger being. First saw it in person was at a camera show, at a table attended by a dour-looking silver-haired lady. Perhaps the lot she offered was left by the old boy. So I picked up the camera just out of curiosity.
The Taron Chic is a different camera, perhaps by premeditated design. Little is intuitive as the makers took a different approach to conventions used on ‘normal’ cameras. Square and boxy, the camera looks like an industrial product, far from chic. All metal, with a solid feel, almost straight lines at all sides, no side is left without an accessory or button. By its name, it is assumed that it was meant for women, a definition that was common at the time. Cameras such as Lady Carefree and Vanity were acceptable then, not sure what would have happened if offered today. Further, an ad for the Chic shows a female user. Thinking about it, almost all Japanese products featured lady models. One exception to that was an ad showing Bruce Jenner holding a Minolta. It didn’t take long for him to comply with the above-mentioned convention.
The camera is to be held vertically. It has preceded the smartphone camera’s orientation by 50 years. It is awkward to hold, aim and trigger at any orientation. Any camera that takes figuring where to put the fingers is badly designed. All settings could be learned and practiced, but the shooting positions should be intuitive.
At the front, from top-down, the camera features a body-wide glass panel, with a 60’s style logo design reminding the Letraset patterns. the viewfinder front window is next to it, within that glass panel. Selenium light meter is just under it, blends nicely with the panel. The lens assembly is mounted right in the middle, to complement the industrial look. Below are the PC port and the trigger button, one on each side.
At the top, there is the meter reading display, where the film speed is to be set on a hard-to-turn dial, marked with equally hard to read, tiny ASA values.
On the right side, there is a cold shoe and what looks like a trigger button, but it is the rewind release. On the left side, there is an array of confusing controls. The camera back opening lever is duly marked with L / O, with an arrow in between, but that by itself does nothing. Next to it, there is a depression with a small knob that in a normal camera would be used for film rewind release. Here you’ll need to press this together with pulling the lever into ‘O’ position so the back will click open. Why so I don’t know. Rewind button is next to it, flat and difficult to turn. Frame counter has two concentric scales, one for 1-36 and the inner for 37-72. Nice touch as otherwise the dial should have been much larger for the markings to be legible. Thumb press to set the dial.
On the back are the viewer window and the winder cog. The viewfinder is on the small side, perhaps it had to fit within the glass panel in front of it. The skin on the exemplar I have has deteriorated, which shouldn’t be as it is synthetic. Close inspection of online images shows the same badly aged skin.
The bottom of the camera has a 1/4″ mounting thread.
The lens assembly has a Taronar – not sure if good or bad – glass, 1.28 / 30mm. It is just right for what uses the camera is intended to. The distance dial is a mixed bag. There are feet markings, evidence that this particular unit was intended for the US market, as the other two countries using the feet units being Liberia and Burma are not known for camera consumption. Within this scale, there are three additional markings: P for a person, G for a group, and S for scenery, or so I assume. The Olympus XA, introduced some two decades later has a similar convention, but so are most cheap German cameras of that era. Distance is to be estimated so the letters could be of great help. The letters are of different colours, which brings it to the exposure settings.
The uncoupled meter scale points to five colour blocks: blue, yellow, black, green, and red. The shutter speed selector is marked with similar colour blocks so one has to set the speed setting colour to the meter reading. Perhaps it made sense but if you switch from one camera to another it sure is confusing, even more so in dim light. B and flash synch speed complete the markings, no colours here. The speed selector dial has no notches so the exact position could be anywhere nearby the markings. Am not sure what speed would the camera select if the dial is set between the markings. A similar colour code is found on the Graphic 35 of 1955. Their colours are on the aperture dial.
Further, the aperture ring is fixed to one speed and moves together with the speed dial. It can be uncoupled via a small catch and independently set. It should take much trial and error to find out how to set it as the shutter speed is left to one’s imagination. Good that there are 72 exposures so some images would surely be lost.
Holding the camera at portrait orientation yields a landscape image, 24 x 18 mm. Film transport is from top to bottom onto a permanent take-off spool.
|Format||35mm Half Frame|
|Weight||370 gr, Body with lens|
|Class average weight||400 gr, Body with lens|
|Filter size||23 mm|
|Lens mount||Fixed lens|
|Light meter||Selenium, uncoupled|