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Konica Genba Kantoku 28WB – “The Guv” – A Guest One Roll Review by Ray Yee

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When I was young, I was given a Tonka toy truck. Sold as being were indestructible, a four year old me took this as a challenge and duly tested this out by placing said truck under my dad’s car. One punctured tyre and slightly bent toy later, I developed a fascinated with ruggedised objects.

And so, when I came across a “Genba Kontaku” (Japanese for site supervisor) camera during a rather my latest Shinjuku Camera Shop Walk in Tokyo, I jumped at the chance to get one.

Background

Between 1988 to 2001, Konica released a series of ruggedised cameras aimed at the Japanese construction industry. Its basic purpose was to record construction work in, often, harsh conditions. To this purpose, these cameras were designed to be waterproof (JIS protection grade 4-8), dust, sand proof and anti-shock impact resistant.

As a family of cameras, they included models with 28mm and 35mm fixed focal length, 40mm-60mm switchable dual lens and a 28-56mm zoom lens. They were mainly available in dark green, dark blue or dark grey utilitarian colours. The later ECO models were also available in dark or light orange.

s-l1600b

All models had a common and basic operation and display which consists of a Power button (On, Off), Mode Button – Auto Flash (default mode), Flash On, Flash Off, Self Timer, Infinity Focus and a recessed Rewind button. Late models have a +2 EV snow/backlight compensation mode..

All models run off 6V 2CR5 and are DX coded. They all also had a quaint “This Camera Belongs To” name plate on the top of the camera.

Aside for the addition of a +2 EV compensation to the later models, there were models introduced with remote controls, ‘panorama’ blanking plates and low consumption flash units (ECO models).

Konica were certainly not the only camera manufacturer to tap into the construction industry with a “Work Record” camera. Fuji and Ricoh also released cameras aimed at the construction industry with unique features of their own.

The Guv

Meet The Guv (“Genba Kontaku” is a bit of a mouthful for non Japanese speakers). For the non-British readers, the term ‘guv’ or governor is a name usually referring to a person in a supervisory position. Whilst this may not be true across the board, it’s certainly true for the British construction industry and therefore I’m sticking to this moniker.

The Guv is a dark blue Konica Genba Kontaku 28 WB with a 28mm f3.5 lens (5 lenses in 5 groups) and minimum focusing distance of 0.5 meters. The shutter has speeds of 1/4 to 1/280 sec. It uses a CdS based metering cell with a range of 5.5 to 16.5 EV (ISO 100)

IMG_2062

Mine has a data back which is powered separately by a CR2025 battery. Strange, however, for a camera built like a tank; the maximum date you can set the data back to is 2019. I’m certain that my camera will last way beyond then.

The camera is 45mm deep by 80.5mm wide and 49mm tall. Weighing in at 350g (including battery), it’s a chunky by light camera. It’s grippy enough for my large hands and feels comfortable to hold. I can imagine that it’s easy to hold with gloves on too. What’s not so good though is the shutter button. It’s a rubber sealed nipple or nubbin which is just about tactile enough to be felt with naked fingers. I can see that it may not be substantial enough for the wearer of gloves.

Access to film chamber involves twisting a knob on the left hand side of the camera body to release the camera back. Whilst this is safer than most of the methods for releasing the film back, I cannot see how this would be easy for a person using gloves to operate.

Loading the film is fairly intuitive, just pull the film cartridge leader to the arrow indicated in the film chamber (in both English and Japanese) and close the back. There really isn’t much more to fiddle with, it is very basic in operation, given that it is meant to record work.

The viewfinder continues the minimalist trend by only having a single frame line with parallax correction indicators. There are 2 LED lights which light up just outside of the viewfinder, within the peripheral of your view, to indicate focus lock/close proximity warning and flash charging/camera shake.

And that’s pretty much it. Point and shoot doesn’t get more fundamental

Usage

With no controls to speak of, save over riding the flash, you would imagine that the there’s not a lot to describe in its usage and you would be right. Konica have kept the clever stuff pretty much inconspicuous but it all adds to the shooting experience.

First of all, there is a haptic/audio feedback system. This system kicks in as soon as a battery inserted into the camera with a 2 second vibration and “grinding” noise. When taking a picture, the focus is confirmed by a loud “clunk” and vibration. This threw me out the first few times I used the camera as I assumed that the “clunk” came from the shutter being triggered.

This is actually a castle moat and not a river. Akasaka, Tokyo

Focus lock is both fast and accurate, which is why I mistook the “clunk” from its confirm as the shutter being triggered. I tried it in a variety of situations including low light, highly reflective surfaces and shooting through glass and in manages to do a good job of it.

Backlit but recoverable. Lake Toya, Hokkaido

I also tried out long exposure/low light and backlighting. Long exposure was a bit challenging as the minimum shutter speed is ¼ second. In all the tests conducted, the camera managed to capture images which were adequately exposed. Likewise, with backlighting. The couple of shots I shot to test the metering out the backlight did not trip it up.

night_chitose_hokkaido

Night shot from the hotel window. Slight flaring on bottom left and top right of the frame from street lighting. Chitose, Hokkaido

Results

I got the camera on a particularly dreary day in Tokyo and this influenced my choice of film as I did not want to wait for a sunny day to start try the camera out. The other factor was the fact that the lens on the camera is supposed to be contrasty, with these in mind I settled for the cheapest 400ASA  Black and White film I could that wasn’t HP5. And this happened to be a Seagull 400 by Oriental. I hadn’t used this film before, but am familiar with the brand as I used Oriental brand B&W photographic paper back when I used to print my own photos.

puddle_shinjuku_tokyo

That B&W feeling… Shinjuku, Tokyo

Quick Disclaimer: I ‘scanned’ the negatives using my digital camera and a good macro lens, using a makeshift negative holder. I then focus stacked and blended it in Photoshop. It is not as good as using a good scanner or lab scanning. It’s also the first time I’m doing this so there’s also room for improvement. I have, though, checked the negs with a loupe and it’s sharp where it should be.

door_bike_hakodate

28mm looking more like 50mm thanks to that low distortion lens. Hakodate, Hokkaido

The first nice surprise about this camera is the performance of its 28mm lens. It’s a work recording device and as such it’s lense is optimised to minimise distortion, which is very rare for a 28mm let alone one which is in a compact camera. It is also more of a surprise because the viewfinder on the camera has very pronounced barrel distortion.

It is not lacking in sharpness either. Not bitingly so, but certainly what I would consider to be above average. And this sharpness is across the frame, even wide open.

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Sharp across the frame, even wide open. Akasaka, Tokyo

Parting thoughts

This is just a quick (albeit lengthy) review based on one roll, and not a summary or conclusion. I’m eager to try a roll of colour film on it, something nice and warm like Kodak stock. Next on the list would be to take advantage of the low distortion lens and do a bit of architectural photography with High Contrast or Infrared film.

But what I am certainly sure of is that I like the camera, and I had not expected to. I’m not a huge fan of point and shoots. And when I do use one, I’d like there to be more control of the flash and at least some form of exposure compensation, even if it’s a way of altering the ISO setting to fool the meter. Given its size, the camera is also not discreet and the few shots I tried taking on the street without the aid of the viewfinder resulted in awkward framing and perspective (it’s a 28mm after all), but may just be down to my own inexperience.

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Abandoned tractor, Hokkaido

Sure it’s clinical, lacks controls and is a bit bulky. But, underneath all this, I can see a camera which has been optimised TO take clinical photos in a consistent manner under challenging conditions. Throw in ruggedized chuckability, waterproofing and (in my opinion) good looks; I reckon I’ll be shooting this for some time to come. It’s also cheap as chips, with working versions being found in bargain bins for as little as 600 yen (GBP4.50). I missed out on Hamish’s Leica M4 contest but I’ll certainly be prepared if he has a M6 competition…

lake toya, hokkaido

Never sneak up on people at a nude beach. Lake Toya, Hokkaido

My fascination with the Konica cameras goes beyond the fact that they are ruggedised. There’s the Historic and Social aspects of this camera too. As far as I have discovered so far, Konica pretty much defined if not created this category of cameras, which is not really know outside of Japan. And by this, I don’t mean ruggedised or weatherproof cameras, those have been around since the 70’s at least. But the creation of a dedicated ‘Work Record’ camera with subtle but dedicated improvements aimed to aid and improve practical photo taking by construction workers is unique and evolutionary. The first versions of these work cameras were little more than ruggadised versions of Konica’s commercially available weatherproof cameras (MR.640 and MS40).

Socially, these cameras were only ever issued to the foreman and must have been a bit of a status symbol within the construction industry. I can see it being wielded both to produce proof of a job well done, a record of herculean efforts by construction crews eager to scrape the skies of Tokyo, as much as a tool for the final group photo in front of the final results. A lasting memory of achievements before breaking off on new endeavours.

beached_boats_toya_hokkaido

Beached boats, Lake Toya, Hokkaido

Useful links:

Forum thread at Filmwasters
Flickr Group images
Another forum posting, number of elements issue resolved at bottom
A forum with a little info
Japanese fan article (in Japanese language)
Russian collector’s article (in Russian language)
Russian collector’s article (in Russian language)


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14 Comments

  • Reply
    Hamish Gill
    August 6, 2016 at 6:42 am

    Very cool Ray – are these the same as the Konica “off road” cameras?

    • Reply
      yeer31
      August 9, 2016 at 9:39 am

      Hi Hamish, one of the models in the Gemba Kontaku family was released as the Off Road camera but they were not particularly popular. I guess that the general public content with the waterproof but not ruggadised camera which most camera manufacturers released, like the Konica Mermaid and Canon AW-1 which you’ve tested previously.

    • Reply
      Float
      August 11, 2016 at 11:55 am

      From my research these are basically the same camera as the “off road” cameras.

      I actually own the WB28. I asked Dan K for a camera recommendation for a river trip and he told me about these. I was super impressed. The build quality is astonishing and the camera stayed in my tube for 3 days and was totally fine. I shot 3 rolls during that trip and I was dumbfounded with how sharp and well exposed they came out. This is the ultimate idiot proof camera. You can’t mess up the exposure, you can’t mess up the focus, you cant break it or kill it on accident.

  • Reply
    Terry B
    August 6, 2016 at 1:03 pm

    I’d like to see Frank get the viewfinder out of this one! Are you up to it, Frank?

    • Reply
      Frank Lehnen
      August 16, 2016 at 3:51 pm

      Hahaha, trust me, I got me a mighty hammer here! Call me Thor!

      • Reply
        Terry B
        August 17, 2016 at 9:56 am

        OK, you are Thor!

  • Reply
    Ray Yee
    August 7, 2016 at 3:07 am

    Hi Hamish, you are correct, Konica released a couple of them as the Off Road in certain markets. They didn’t sell well though, probably due to the fact that it would have been competing with other waterproof cameras like the Konica Mermaid you tested and the Canon AS-1. There’s a demand for waterproof cameras but only a limited demand for ruggedised ones. When I was doing my research, I did not come across much info about the Off Road.

  • Reply
    Ken Hindle-May
    August 8, 2016 at 8:28 am

    Damn. I’ve managed to avoid buying any more 35mm cameras for several months, but this is one of those occasions where I see a camera and just immediately want it. I don’t really need it at all; I’ve got a Mju II that offers weatherproof shooting in a much smaller package. I’ve always had a soft spot for ruggedised things, though, and I actually find the 28mm focal length more naturally suits my shooting style than 35mm or 50mm. A reliable, undistorted 28mm is justification enough, right?

  • Reply
    Ken Hindle-May
    October 17, 2016 at 12:37 pm

    Hah, well I spotted an eBay listing with a slightly iffy title (the Japanese seem to write it as one word, ‘genbakantoku’, so ‘genba kantoku’ listings tend to get less traffic) had a cheeky bid and ended up winning. Tough, 28mm adventures abound, or so I thought. Upon closer inspection, it’s actually the original 1988 genbakantoku, easily identified by the three large focusing windows to the left of the lens, which is supposed to be a 40mm F/3.5. It doesn’t have the 28’s 50cm minimum focusing distance, but I’m rather fond of the 40mm focal length and it’s pretty rare to see that in a compact, too. I’ve a sneaking suspicion it’ll actually be bigger than my Pentax MX with 40mm pancake lens when it gets here, but I’m not likely to take that mountaineering!

    • Reply
      yeer31
      October 17, 2016 at 1:17 pm

      Congrats Ken, you’ve got the very first model of this series/class of cameras. This particular model is based on Konica’s non-ruggadised MS-40.Also out at the same time was their DD model which has a additional lens group slide into place to turn the 40mm lens into an 80mm tele. Agree about the 40mm, it’s a goldilocks focal length – just right for most situations. Having said that, I’m particularly fond of the 28mm on some of their newer models. Might be a better fit for mountaineering trips. Let me know if you want to get any of these cameras, I regular trawl the Japanese sites and most of these can be found for tuppence as they were never aimed at consumers.

  • Reply
    Alana Spencer
    May 23, 2017 at 4:48 am

    Hi there! Enjoyed reading a few of your camera reviews. I’m looking at purchasing a KONICA GENBAKANTOKU 28 WB ECO or possibly the 35mm version and was wondering if these particular models are waterproof and can be fully submerged in the ocean. You mention that these cameras were designed to be waterproof, though just wanted to know more to be sure. Thanks!

    • Reply
      yeer31
      May 23, 2017 at 9:34 am

      Hi Alana, these cameras are not really meant for diving. Their waterproof rating is for a max of 15min submergence to a depth of 1 meter. That, and the fact that the auto focus does not work well underwater, means I would no recommend using them underwater. I’ve used it to 2m in a pool for short periods of time and it’s OK but that’s as far as I’d take it. The only proper beach/sea rated compact I am aware of is the Nikon L35AWAF.

    • Reply
      Ken Hindle-May
      May 23, 2017 at 1:54 pm

      Just to add a bit more detail, only the Genbakantoku ‘WB’ models are JIS 7 certified and capable of being immersed in water, and even then only for a short time. The rest are all JIS 4 and can only withstand “splashing water in any direction”. None of them are true underwater cameras.

      There are quite a few different models, so to summarise:

      Immersion resistant – Genbakantoku WB, Genbakantoku 28 WB, Genbakantoku 28 WB ECO, Genbakantoku 35 WB ECO

      Splash resistant – Genbakantoku, New Genbakantoku, Genbakantoku DD, Genbakantoku Zoom, Genbakantoku 28, New Genbakantoku 28, Genbakantoku 28HG,

      • Reply
        yeer31
        May 23, 2017 at 2:13 pm

        Well researched Ken! I hesitated to mention JIS standards as they’re Japan only, only recently superseded by the IPV standards.

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