Pax M4

5 frames with a Pax M4 and Fujicolor C200 – By Steve Phillips

I can’t remember where I first saw this camera, but somewhere along my journey through the world of rangefinders about the same age as me, the Pax M4 came to my attention. It was one of many similar cameras made by the Yamato company in Japan during the 1950s and early 60s.

One of the problems of researching their cameras is that that they used so many different brand names in different markets for just a handful of basic models – Pax, Pal, Rex, Tac, Ricsor, Skymaster, Lycon, Konair, Atlas – the list seems to get longer each time I look for them. In fact I do wonder if this was one reason why the company vanished (or, according to some, was taken over by Canon). Surely it must have cost more to produce the same camera under all of these names, with different logos, engravings, boxes, & manuals, than to stick with the one brand.

The M4 was one of the later models, from around 1958. A fully manual rangefinder, with bright-line frames in the viewfinder, five shutter speeds from 1/10 to 1/300, and a 45mm f/2.8 lens. Nothing too thrilling, but its main attribute is the size, or lack of it. I make it about 108mm wide, 72mm tall (including the knobs on top) x60mm deep. Small enough to fit in any bag, and quite a few coat pockets.

While the lens is fixed, there were also screw-in attachments for telephoto and wide-angle shots, each with viewfinders which sit on the accessory shoe.

The Pax M4 I ended up holding cost me all of £25, and for a little more I found a telephoto attachment & viewfinder. My initial reaction was “oh…” – although the shutter fired, the aperture moved smoothly, the rangefinder was well aligned, and the wind-on seemed OK, looking through the lens from the inside was foggy, to say the least. The problem seemed to be with the rear element, which you get to from inside. I could see two notches in its collar to allow me to unscrew it, but I had no tools to do it with. So the story pauses for a few days while I wait for a lens wrench to arrive…Meanwhile, I read several accounts of cleaning old lenses, usually involving chemicals I didn’t have, lengthy soaking, and the potential for disaster.

Lens-wrench in hand, the Pax M4’s rear element unscrewed in a matter of seconds, and sure enough the inner face was filthy. No idea what it was coated with, but it looked serious. So my trick for restoring it? I breathed on it and rubbed it gently with a lens tissue. Two minutes later, it was back in place, probably cleaner than it had been for many years.

I put a film in and went wandering, around the house, the garden, the usual lockdown walk in the village, and then into a very deserted York, for the first time in several months. About half way through the film I had this awful feeling that something wasn’t right. The shutter was so quiet, I began to wonder if it was working at all. But I carried on to the end, and posted the film off with fingers crossed.

When the results from the Pax M4 came back, I was pretty pleased. Even a few shots with the telephoto attachment were in focus – you have to abandon the rangefinder, and translate the true distance to the object into a different distance on the focussing ring, all helpfully marked out on the attachment itself. I have no idea what the focal length is, but one day I might sit down and try to be scientific about it. I am still on the look-out for the wide-angle set.

So, for £25, this Pax M4 a pocket camera which does the job and will never need a new battery at the wrong moment, ideal for times where a camera might be needed, but I don’t feel like carrying something bigger all day.

Pax M4 - close range

Pax M4 - street photo
An unusually empty Stonegate, York.
The Emperor Constantine, testing out the telephoto attachment

Steve Phillips

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7 thoughts on “5 frames with a Pax M4 and Fujicolor C200 – By Steve Phillips”

  1. These little Leica M3 lookalikes have risen in price and so you did well with yours. With my fondness for Leica, this was the reason I purchased one a couple of years ago just for my collection. Cosmetically, not as nice as yours, this was refelcted in its bargain price, the r/f spot is somewhat dim and needs a good contrasty subject to see it, and the slow speeds are sticky. But the lens still has silky focusing. The lens on the M4 is said to be of 4 element Tessar type, and from one review I saw back when I acquired mine the results were certainly very good and with fine contrast. Your shot of the roses is a good example what the lens is capable of.

    It’s production run is too early for me to have any contemporary literature on what it sold for in the UK at the time, assuming it was sold here, as this would be fascinating to know. The little Halina 35X sold for a little over £7 at that time, and is a far inferior camera and performer.

    Thanks for posting.

    1. Steve Phillips

      Thanks Terry – glad you found one too. I did read somewhere that these cameras had the small red badge on the front before Leicas, so maybe the M3 is actually a Pax lookalike!

      1. Steve, I read that story about Pax having the red dot before it appeared on the Leica M3. A comment to this point was also made in a YouTube video of a later M pax model, but with n o supporting provenance. Persobally, I doubt this story. The Pax 35 production seems to have been from 1952 to 1955, the model being a clear copy of a Barnack camera, and this would certainly have covered the Leica M3 introduction in 1954, but looking at images of the Pax 35 (and Ruby model) there is no sign of a red dot. Neither does it appear on its successor, the M2. The first time it appears is on the M3, and from info on the web the introduction of the M3 and M4 models are later than the Leica M3 and closer to around 1957 or so, as far as I can make out.
        Unless someone can turn up a magazine prior to the launch of Leica’s M3, with an advert for a Pax showing the red on its camera, I’m personally consigning the story to fable!
        Also, the fact that the first Pax is an out and out copy of a Barnack style Leica, with no red dot, and later Pax issues a camera clearly modeled on the Leica M3 and with the red dot, convinces me that Pax did not have a red dot before Leica.

        1. Steve Phillips

          Yes, I am pretty sure you are right. The Pax red dot only appeared with the models in the late 50s, so Leica wins that argument, unless anyone can prove otherwise.

  2. I have a pax m3. It came from England. Paid about $20.It seems operational. Rangefinder seems to work. Shutter works. But, have not tried it with film yet. This pax m4 review has made me excited about trying out the little m3. I’m curious. Thank you Mr Steve Philips for your article. Mitch

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