Not unlike that all too prolific tale of Captain Ahab chasing down the elusive white-whale, I found myself chasing down the Konica Auto S3, and boy did it end up being an interesting pursuit…
At the outset, I should note that I honestly can no longer fully recall how I came across the Konica Auto S3 as being ‘the one’ for me. I suppose it might have had something to do with a wonderful article by Mike Caputo I read on this very platform some time ago.
I believe myself to not be alone in being unashamedly lured in by the Leica-shaped candle, like an unbridled moth to the flame. But alas, and again similar to most, my budget constraints simply won’t allow the purchase of that particular red-dotted mechanical marvel – one day, or so I tell myself. Nevertheless, I still see merit and find myself attracted to the rangefinder style of film camera. It has many pro’s and some con’s, which I won’t endeavour to discuss here, but for me above all else, it emanates a certain engagement with the camera and its utility in the composition of a photograph, that I personally feel is not present in SLR’s and other film camera types.
Not having Leica-money, and still having the urge to add a rangefinder to my arsenal, I knocked on the all too familiar Olympus 35-series tree. I looked at various models including the 35RC, 35SP and 35RD. These are wonderful cameras, and the 35SP in particular was apparently widely used by photojournalists and enthusiasts alike (and whilst writing this and glancing over at a few images of it, it truly is a handsome bit of kit).
Naturally my attention was also steered towards the Canon rangefinder series, not the iconic Canon 7, of course – (you know, budget constraints and all), but the extremely popular Canonet series. In particular I looked at the QL 17, but having sampled one as used by a good friend, it regrettably was missing that certain ‘something’ – the je ne sais quoi .
Anyway, before the story of how I came to chase the Konica Auto S3 becomes far too long-winded, let’s just say it became to me, the one to have. And so after about a 3 to 4 month deliberation on exactly what I wanted, the first real problem hit me – it was quite hard to come by. And now to understand me properly on this, it is hard to come by in the general scheme of things – i.e. you’ll never find more than a handful available globally through resources like eBay. What further exacerbated the situation, was that being resident in South Africa meant I could not use these online resources to locate one as the South African postal service was tragic, unreliable and dangerous to have valuable goods sent through. I thus had to find one locally.
I am not exaggerating when I say that I ran a wanted ad on three different classified sites for 6 months before I got the first ‘legitimate’ enquiry. This enquiry was through a very active members-only Facebook group for the trade of film cameras. One of the administrators of the page informed me that he had seen someone post an ad for a Konica Auto S3 some time ago, and that he might still have the contact details of the seller for me. Not long thereafter I had received the details and sent a message right away. It turned out that the seller was on the other side of the country and had one that he had acquired from an auction. The seller set his price, and with it being quite reasonable, without hesitation I told him that I would take it.
Enter, stage left, my second problem which had reared its head. The seller informed me that he was a pensioner and does not have an active bank account. Obviously at this point I should have applied the brakes fully, but I was in an elated daze that I had found the fabled rangefinder of my dreams, and so the transaction was set to follow-through. Not having a bank account meant that I had to wire him the funds. I rationalised the strange situation, and shunned it to the peripherals.
Before sending him any money, I did a ‘background check’ on Facebook and found that his story seemed to be legitimate – he was a real person, an older gentleman with a Facebook page whereupon he would post infrequent auction items, pictures of his dog, and pictures of his wife. As an extra measure of precaution, I noted that I would be comfortable with paying 50% up-front and 50% once I had received my waybill number.
The deal was done, I wired the 50% and received a waybill number in return – I was ecstatic. A day or two went by and I sought to check on the progress. Through the tracking website, however, no info about the package was available – strange, right? I contacted the seller to which end he promptly confirmed the waybill number. I checked the tracking again – still nothing. Then, to no surprise, the seller fell completely silent – his cell phone number being inoperative, his Facebook page being deleted. A very peculiar situation indeed.
A phone call to the courier company’s depot situated in the Seller’s town, confirmed that there was no waybill number as provided to me and no gentleman matching his description had come in on the day the package was supposedly sent off – I had been bamboozled, hoodwinked, taken for a ride. By a pensioner no less, and for a 30-year old camera. The funny part of the story was that almost no one understood how I had gotten myself into this situation, and all for a relic from a time long forgotten. I hope that someone reading this may find themselves resonating with my gamble – either way, it made for one hell of a dinner-time story.
I hid my head in the sand for a while, but it was only a couple of months before I started running the wanted ad again. It took me another year and a half of periodically posting, re-posting, browsing, checking, and querying at various camera shops before my second encounter with the white whale…
Most people had never even heard of it, and virtually everyone else was sending me offers for the Konica Auto S2, which I would assume is a wonderful camera in its own right, but it just wasn’t the one I was looking for. And then, the white whale breached once again. This time in a lot less controversial fashion.
On a day like any other, a local seller had posted it up for sale just before lunchtime, I had seen it during and after work I was on my way to collect – if this were to be a cartoon cliché, there would surely have been a human-shaped hole in the office wall . It was a pristine example, which had recently been sent for a service and CLA. This one being better than the last, it must surely have been karma, right? Nevertheless, I was once again over the moon.
As this was never meant to be a review of the Konica Auto S3, I won’t go into any detail, but it suffices to say that I am blown away by it. I was originally somewhat dissuaded by the camera featuring an auto-exposure only mode, I know, I know – gasp, blasphemy, how dare I? But believe me, there is a very usable work-around, in that one can still use the shutter-priority to influence the aperture used – no love lost!
Either way, interacting with the camera via the extremely bright and usable rangefinder system is an absolute joy and was exactly what I had hoped for. The unit is light enough not to feel cumbersome, yet weighty enough that it does not feel cheap. The lens is sharp even when fully opened up, and equally razor sharp when stopped all the way down. To boot, and possibly my favourite part of the offering, is the wonderful micro-contrast rendered by the 38mm f/1.7 Hexanon lens. It’s rumoured that Modern Photography noted it to have “Leica-class performance”. Now I don’t know about all that, but one thing is for sure – the Konica Auto S3 won’t ever be leaving my side.
Thanks for reading!