Coolest japanese rangefinder?

When my dad called with a list of cameras he had spotted at a local yard sale, only one caught my interest. “There’s one old one in a brown leather case – a Taron I,” he had said. At least that’s what I thought he had said, but I told him to pick it up for me. At the least, I have a few customers who enjoy Japanese leaf-shutter rangefinders of that vintage. I hadn’t seen a Taron for a quite a while, and I didn’t ever recall seeing a model “I”. But when I finally saw the camera, I realized dad hadn’t meant the letter “I”, or even a roman numeral. This was a “Taron Eye”, as proudly emblazoned over its top cover – as in “electric eye”, which was the euphemism for a built-in electric exposure meter in those days.
Now, when I first got into photography, selenium meter cells were relegated to low-budget offerings on the market – like the Olympus Trip, or the Zenit E. This meant poor sensitivity in low light, and often these meters weren’t coupled. So when you got a light reading, you then had to transfer those settings to the shutter and aperture dials. But selenium cells were essentially weak solar cells, so at least you didn’t need a battery, ever.
But there was a time when selenium meters were cutting edge, had high and low light ranges (like the Weston Master series), and were built into the better cameras – like the Contax IIIa I let go earlier this year.
This Taron Eye came in around the very end of the era when selenium meters were king, likely made around 1960 or ‘61 – wow, fifty years ago. And it’s in really nice condition, on the outside. Inside… well, I spent hours and hours getting the rangefinder back into proper alignment, getting the geared cam around the lens sorted out and properly coupled to to the match-needle meter readout. And, oddly enough, the shutter worked nicely, but the aperture was jammed – just the opposite of what you see on vintage japanese rangefinders. I also had to replace the leatherette on the front, because the original stuff came off in bits when I had to remove the lens unit.
Still, it’s a handsome camera, in my opinion. I usually shy away from selenium meters, but I appreciate how the Taron people integrated this one into the overall design. That yellow-green window adds to the personality, and you’ve got to love the font used for the Taron logo. I think this camera would be right at home in the hands of a marionette on the Thunderbirds – a tv show that was big when I was small. If you’ve seen it, you probably know what I mean – 1960s futuristic.
You may have noticed I called the meter “match-needle”, and it is, believe it or not. Across the top of the finder, the meter needle goes from left to right with brightness, and you turn the aperture/shutter ring on the lens to chase the needle with a transparent red one to set exposure. Very cool, however it does take some getting used to that lens ring – to shift the shutter speed you have to max out the aperture ring, and click past it to get to the next speed – can’t say I’ve seen anything like it.
The test roll showed that the meter works well, from bright to dim light, and that 45mm f1.8 lens is sharp, with a pleasant quality to it. There is a bit of light falloff at the corners.
Vital stats include an ASA (ISO) range from 12 to 1600, shutter from 1s to 1/500, plus B, a self-timer, and PC sync for M and X. Build quality is very good for that era, and the only plastic parts on the camera appear to be the windows on the meter cell and frame counter – and that little red cellophane meter index.
Taron may rank among the semi-obscure brands of japanese leaf-shutter rangefinders (like Beauty, Aries, Petri, and many others), but this is a rather nice camera, and it’s probably quite rare to boot. Frankly, it’s way better than the Yashica Lynx I had some years ago. Taron also had what appears to be a sister camera, with a less expensive f2.8 lens, and no meter, called the “Unique”. Taron had a new-tech CDS meter camera in 1963 called the Marquis. A couple of years later the company disappeared, along with all those others who made leaf-shutter rangefinders as the 35mm market swerved towards SLRs.
Sexiest japanese rangefinder? Maybe, maybe not. But this Taron’s a keeper.


~ by windsorphotooutfitters on October 18, 2011.

One Response to “Coolest japanese rangefinder?”

  1. Great story. I have this camera and I have to say that it is a gem, what a picture taker it is! Solid and reliable, and with 6 lenses crispy sharp!

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