Kowa SE 35mm SLR

This Kowa SE 35mm camera is the first Kowa model I’ve added to my vintage camera collection. It’s a leaf shutter, fixed lens single lens reflex camera made in the early 1960s.

Kowa SE Images

My Kowa SE Camera.

I bought this camera for £10 from eBay, chiefly because I didn’t have any Kowa models and I was interested to see what it would be like. As it turned out, £10 was possibly too much to pay because the unit I received is not in good shape.

The chrome is a bit pitted and dirty and there is a small patch of fungus on the outer element of the lens. In addition, the aperture blades and the shutter blades are quite sticky and the shutter fires a couple of seconds after the shutter release is pressed!

It’s possible that all these issues can be fixed with a bit of attention and cleaning, however the biggest oddity is to do with the way the shutter works; I can’t be sure if it’s simply my version which is somewhat broken or if it’s a characteristic of all copies of this model.

When the film advance is wound the mirror is moved to the up position and the shutter blades are closed ready for the shutter to be fired. When the release is pressed, the shutter blades open (normally for the required time but in the case of my camera for an indeterminate time!) and the mirror flips back down to the viewing position. This means that you need to compose and focus the scene with the camera in the un-cocked mode because once you have advanced the film, the viewfinder is blocked.

I would find that a very odd situation because I would naturally bring the camera away from my eye to advance the film and therefore the composition would be lost. It’s such a fundamental problem that it makes me think that it’s a part of the fault condition of my model rather than a design issue of the camera.

Kowa SE description.

This is a fixed lens, 35mm slr made by Kowa in Japan in about 1964. The main distinguishing feature of the camera is that it is fitted with a leaf shutter built behind the lens rather than the focal plane shutter normally fitted to slr cameras. In many way it resembles the Mamiya Auto-Lux 35 or several of the Topcon models like the Uni / RE Auto which had the same arrangement, although the Topcon cameras had interchangeable lenses.

There is a match-needle exposure measuring system, with a CdS light cell fitted to the front of the prism chamber. Because it’s a CdS system it requires a power source so there is a small mercury cell fitted in a compartment in the bottom of the camera. Mercury cells are no longer available but it would probably be possible to use an equivalent modern cell if the rest of the camera was in good condition. Other than the exposure needle which is visible in the viewfinder, there is no other exposure information shown but that is typical for a camera of this age.

The lens is a 50mm f/1.9 kowa lens which is coated and has a minimum focusing distance on the scale of 0.7M. To aid focusing there is a horizontal split image centre to the focusing screen, with a micro prism circle around it.

The rest of the camera specs are typical for a camera of this age and design. There is a shutter range of 1sec to 1/500, the aperture has stops at f/1.9 to f/16 and the internal light meter can be used with film from 10 ASA to 800 ASA. An off centre tripod bush on the bottom of the camera can be used when slow shutter speeds are being used, and although there is no flash shoe, it was possible to buy an attachment accessory shoe which screwed into a threaded socket in the side of the camera.

Kowa SE spec

  • Kowa SE 35mm fixed lens SLR
  • Shutter speed 1sec to 1/500th + B
  • CdS light cell with match needle metering
  • ASA 10 to 800 film speed
  • 50mm Kowa lens
  • f/1.9 to f/16 aperture
  • Split image and micro prism focusing aid
  • Leaf shutter
  • X and M flash sync
  • Self-timer
  • Body Ser No: 588220
  • Lens Ser No: 588643
  • Manual available on-line here

10 Replies to “Kowa SE 35mm SLR”

  1. Unfortunately Simon you appear to have a dud there. My camera is the model E – predecessor of yours – and the mirror should be in the down position and the shutter open all of the time until the moment the shutter release is pressed. It’s very like the Topcon Unirex in terms of the mechanics of exposure, at which point the black-out is longer than a more modern FP shutter SLR because of the time it takes the mirror to move out of the way before the shutter can re-open, etc. It’s a shame, because for an inexpensive mass-market camera – it’s actually quite nice.

    1. Hi John – Yes I think you are right, it’s a fault with my unit. Last night I discovered that there is a green flag which shows in the viewfinder when the film is properly advanced so that indicates that the viewfinder should be active in that situation. I’ll get it apart this weekend to see if I can see what is wrong.

      1. Mine has a very dusty viewscreen, but with the lens not being removable, and the mirror in the way when going in through the back, I can’t figure-out how I could perform any sort of clean-up. So, please post details if you discover how cleaning could be done.

  2. Just looked at your photos, and that one of the open back is wrong. But I also noticed the diaphragm blades are stopped-down in a few pictures, and they should be wide open. The aperture only changes while the shutter is open. Good luck with your investigations: I think you’re gonna need it!

    1. Yes – I think one of the aperture blades has a pin missing (the pin that sits in the slot and moves the blades). I’m beginning to think this camera will be a display only model 🙂

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