Tohokoken Camel II

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Tohokoken Camel II

Japanese camera makers’ names are sometimes difficult to carry over to Western languages. Adding poor historical record-keeping and a glut in post-war camera makers, one may end up with a confusing mix. Here is an example.

Tohokoken was established in Japan in 1953 by an employee of a defunct camera maker. The company made several camera models, only to vanish a few years later. As with most camera makers at the time, production was probably just a notch above a cottage industry. The camera models made by them are as follows:

  • My list showed three models: Camel, Camel II, and Kikuca 35.
  • McKewon cites only two models: Camel II and Kikuca 35.
  • Kadlubek does better, adding Comex 35, Rolex III and Sanon 35.
  • Sugiyama echoes McKewon, with Camel-Mode II and Kikuca 35, and adds a cryptic note: ‘intended to look like a Canon camera’ and ‘Camel is also the same as that used by Canon’. I assume he means that the logo and font style are similar to the Canon models at that time.

Taking it a bit further:

  1. Kadlubek suggests that Token and Tohokoken are the same company.
  2. 1953 viewfinder cameras Comex and Comex II show under Akimoto and Takasago, both distributors, as well as a mysterious manufacturer, Higashinari Koki.
  3. Rolex viewfinder (one R) is found under Cosmo and Toyo Seiko, I assume distributors.
  4. Camel camera, either with ‘I’ or without, was never seen. Only Camel II exists.
  5. The Camel II is also named Camel Mode II, both versions offered with or without the 24×36 engraving. I would suggest that it was meant to be ‘model’, where the ‘L’ was lost. It was too costly to redo all tops, so it stuck.
  6. The Rolex 35, Sanon 35 and Comex 35 are name variants of the Camel, assumingly for different distributors.
  7. The Kikuca 35 is similar to the Camel II, with and added rangefinder windows, a Leica III style.

The long and short of this is that the company had one model in production, the Camel, offered under different names via several distributors for the home market only. The Kikuca has no online presence so it might have been a short trial run.

The camera name, Camel, is odd to begin with. Camels are not native to Japan. The closest are the double hump camels of the Gobi Desert in China / Mongolia, with several of them hanging by the Great Wall, ready to fare tourists around for a silly sum. Nevertheless, post-war Japanese camera makers seem to have picked up English words that sound respectable and attach them to cameras. Such as Tomy, Focal Happy, Sister, Luxor, Luck, Charmy, Boat, Old Mexico, and many more.

The logo indeed resembles the Canon logo used then, but that is where the similarity ends. Compared to the last model I looked at, made at the same time, the Tokyo Koken Dolca 35, it does not share the same class. Where the Dolca is made of a solid block of metal, here it is lighter and does not exude quality. It is made prior to the plastic era, so it is all metal. Both cameras share the same Nipol shutter, which is suggested to be made by Tohokoken. Judging by the camera quality and the little known about it, I would suspect that the shutter is a variant of a mainstream maker that preferred not to be associated with these cameras.

My unit is marked in full regalia, engraved ‘Camel mode II’ at the top and ‘24×36’ at the front. Some models are available without the front markings or the ‘Mode’, perhaps later production.

The top is typical to cameras of that crop, with a Leica-style lever to allow rewind. The trigger sits in a finger rest. The winder does not cock the shutter, and stops after each frame, releases after trigger press. Common in the 1950s models. A lever on the lens assembly cocks the shutter, which can fire over and over without winding the film.

The focusing dial operates via a large and convenient lever, with the distance figure showing in a window on top of the lens barrel, marked metric. A pin at the bottom of the barrel conveys the trigger button movement to the trigger arm. That arm  could also be independently activated.

A ring in front of it controls the aperture, value markings are tiny and difficult to read. Next ring is the speed selector, heavy on slow speeds, up to 200. The three levers, trigger cocking, timer and the trigger are mounted between the rings. A prominent synch port complements the offering.

The back is fully removable via a lock at the bottom.

Camdex list number 19298
Brand Tohokoken
Model Camel II
Value Camel Mode II
Takasago Comex 35
Akimoto Comex 35
Format 35mm
Introduced 1953
AKA Comex 35, Sanon 35
Country Japan
Qty made
Initial price 12,000
Currency Yen
Type Viewfinder
Body material Metal
Mode Manual
Weight 590 gr,  Body with lens
Class average weight 475 gr,  Body with lens
ASA range N/A
Kit lens 3.5/45
Lens make Camel
Filter size N/A
Lens mount Fixed lens
Mount size N/A
Shutter Leaf
Shutter make Nipol
Light meter None
Winder Knob
Lock No
Speeds B, 1-200
Mirror N/A
Viewer Viewfinder
DOF preview No
Exposure lock No
Exposure compensation No
Shoe Cold
External sync Yes
Sync speed 50
Timer Yes, mechanical
Battery, original N/A
Battery, replacement N/A
Battery voltage N/A
Integral flash None
Service / repair links See

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