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.