Cosina CT-1

Cosina CT-1 and its Lengthy Legacy – By Ben O’Keeffe

On an undisclosed date in September, 1979, Cosina released the CT-1 to little fanfare. After all, it was hardly a game changer. The CT-1 is a 35mm SLR with a Copal Square shutter, similar to that of the Nikon FM; a self timer providing a ten second delay and mirror lockup; and a Pentax K mount. The plates are plastic and the body feels rather cheap. The Cosina CT-1 is the distillation of all of the compact budget SLRs of the 1970s and has no distinguishing feature other than its legacy.

Cosina, having manufactured SLRs since the Hi-Lite of 1968, produced more on behalf of other manufacturers than under their own brand. If you’ve ever browsed through boxes of off-brand SLRs in thrift shops, you’ve more than likely encountered a Cosina CT-1 without realising it. The CT-1, CT-1A and CT-1 Super were sold almost unmodified throughout the eighties with Ricoh, Vivitar, Exakta, Petri, and Miranda badges along with countless others which I have neglected to mention.

All of the photographs in this article, excluding those of the cameras themselves, were taken using either my Cosina CT-1A or CT-1G.

In 1990, the Cosina CT-1‘s chassis provided the basis for the Canon T60, the last Canon with an FD mount; in 1995, the humble CT-1 began masquerading as a Nikon FM10; in 1999, it shed its mirror box to become the Voigtländer Bessa L. Now, you might be struggling to suspend your disbelief when faced with an article claiming a twenty-year-old SLR to be the basis for a scale focus camera with a Leica Thread Mount but this image should set your mind at ease:

2003 brought the Voigtländer Bessaflex TM, a premium SLR and the last hurrah of the M42 screw mount. Despite being unmistakably a Cosina CT-1 with a new mount and a more refined finish, a Bessaflex now demands a price in excess of an order of magnitude greater than that of its progenitor. The following year saw the announcement of the first digital camera built on Cosina CT-1 underpinnings, the Epson R-D1, the first digital rangefinder and likely the catalyst for Leica’s entry into the digital market.

The Epson R-D1 went through two revisions before being discontinued in 2014. The Voigtländer Bessa rangefinders soldiered on until the following year. The final nail in the Cosina CT-1‘s coffin came with the discontinuation of the Nikon FM10 in 2017. A thirty-eight year legacy had finally come to an end. I believe that the FM10‘s demise and thus the demise of the Cosina CT-1 was likely catalysed by the discontinuation of Copal’s mechanical shutters in 2016.

But what is the CT-1 actually like to use?

The Cosina CT-1 is a light camera, weighing in at approximately 500 grams without a lens. The film advance, though not as light as that of my Nikon FE, is quite satisfying; you can comfortably approach one frame per second without significantly harming your composition. The shutter speed dial is light enough to turn with your index finger, eliminating the need to remove your eye from the viewfinder when adjusting exposure. The meter is activated by half-pressing the shutter button and it switches off as soon as you remove your finger. There is a small tab on the advance lever which locks the shutter button when the lever is retracted.

The Cosina CT-1 viewfinder neither qualifies as bright nor dark and it has a classic centre-weighted match needle light meter on the left hand side which is set using a dial beneath the rewind crank. The original CT-1 lacks a split prism and has instead a large patch of microprisms in the centre of the viewfinder encircled by a black ring demarcating the weighted section of the light meter’s range. The mirror has a tendency to bounce off of its stops causing the viewfinder image to shimmer for a moment after exposure.

I’ve owned my Cosina CT-1A, the ‘a’ signifying the lack of a PC connector, the addition of a split prism, and an LED light meter; for four years. I purchased it on eBay for a price below £10 with a damaged 50mm f/2 Cosinon lens and a surprisingly comfortable polyester strap; since then, it has been a valued companion. I bought it initially to supplement my ailing Nikon FE but soon began to leave the FE at home and shoot with the CT-1 exclusively.

The Cosina CT-1 holds particular sentimental value for me as it was the camera that gave me the confidence to use manual exposure. Before acquiring the Cosina CT-1, I – primarily a railway photographer at the time – firmly believed that I was incapable of keeping up with action while setting the exposure manually; a belief primarily cultivated by Ken Rockwell. A single day of shooting with the Cosina CT-1 taught me otherwise.

A photograph from the aforementioned day of shooting.

I’ve since acquired a Cosina CT-1G – a budget version lacking a self timer – as my CT-1A’s focusing screen has unfortunately been knocked out of alignment following a fall and the shutter speed dial has become quite stiff due to ageing lubricants. I hope, at some point, to have the CT-1A serviced professionally and returned to regular use, but for now, it’s been retired to the shelf.

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19 thoughts on “Cosina CT-1 and its Lengthy Legacy – By Ben O’Keeffe”

  1. My own CT-1 clone is an FX-3 Super 2000 modified to half frame with the shutter dial fixed to 1/125 and no meter. Takes wonderful pictures with a yashica ML 50/2.

    I’d say the FX-3 series are, arguably, the best known straight CT-1 re-skin.

    1. Not every camera in the FX-3 series is a CT-1 re-skin, the original FX-3 was built by Cosina on a Contax chassis. The Super 2000 is a re-skinned Cosina CT-1 Super.

      1. I do believe that the FX-3/FX-7 series are all Cosina CT-1 based. See the following link for a practical demonstration using parts from FX-3’s and other cameras…

        The FX-3 marks a break from the earlier FX-1 & FX-2 which seem to be directly descended from the late Yashica M42 bodies.

        I also don’t believe that any of the FX-1/2/3 bodies share parts with Contax bodies – the pairings are RTS/FR, 139/FX-D & 159/FX-103. Albeit thatthere is also a school of thought that the Contax S2 & S2b may be based on the Cosina platform.

        1. I was told on a Contax repair thread on Rangefinder Forum which I have since lost the link to that the chassis in the original FX-3 was slightly different. I suppose I’ll need to buy one and tear it to pieces to find out conclusively.

  2. I had a Miranda (Dixons Shops own) MS3 Which was the same as a Vivitar, I am sure they were made in the Cosina factory. Quite a sturdy ‘K’ mount. The mirror return seamed heavy by more expensive brands. Circa 1988

  3. Great insights and great story about…I was going to say a not so great camera, but, actually, it is damn interesting…a Bessa…I never would have guessed. And good photos too…I hope you can keep it keeping on.

  4. Great photos! Great read! I too am an amateur photographer that likes to shoot in manual be it with a digital or film camera. Over the years I”ve learned the internet is too full of BS from Ken Rockwells. Trust your photographic instincts and you’ll love taking photographs even more. Avoid the web’s advice, study the photography of others in books and most importantly – shoot!

  5. Thanks Ben for this interesting article. I enjoy reading about the history of cameras like these and like the ethos behind their design. Glad you got to grips with manual exposure.

  6. I have inherited a CT-4 which I am having problems getting to work. I have replaced the batteries, and it won’t power up at the moment. I have tested the shutter using the setting that allow manual shooting and this seems fine, so am considering having it sent for a service and possible repair. I think it was sat in a cupboard for the better half of potentially thirty years – so no idea what issues it may have now, or why it ended up in a cupboard with use.

    I so hope to get it working and pass a decent roll of B&W film through it for the experience.

  7. Another badge-engineered Cosina CT-1 derivative (in the manner of the Nikon FM10 in that it was also manual exposure-mode only) was the Olympus OM2000, with the Olympus OM mount of course – this one’s unique selling point was spot metering. Funnily enough, the rather attractive “titanium” paint finish on its plastic covers (which is more of a slightly olive-tinged anthracite) was quite closely matched by the Limited Edition version of the OM-D E-M5 Mark II DSLR, even though the latter was magnesium alloy and said to be paying tribute to the OM-3 and OM-4 T/Ti models (which actually had titanium covers painted either champagne or black!).

    Another one to add to the set is the Nikon FE10, which looks very like the FM10 but adds an aperture-priority exposure mode – very like the Canon T60.

  8. I own a Cosina CT -1 Super that I’ve NEVER used and do not remember when/where I got it.. it looks brand new, and all of its components seem to work, including its light meter which appears spot on with my good Nikon and Canon cameras.
    It feels cheap, and that’s kept me from using it as opposed to my heavier and more expensive cameras.
    But, considering what I’ve read today, I’mreally tempted to “waste a roll” of film to see what comes out of the camera. I hope that I won’t regret overlooking this camera!

  9. Pingback: HOW THE Cosina CT-1 turned into an evergreen | Jasper Leunk Photography

  10. Pingback: The little film camera too ahead of its time - Kosmo Foto

  11. Joachim Elz-Fianda

    I had a Cosina for long years sold as PORST compact-reflex SP with M42 thread mount and step-down metering. It is similar to Cosina CSR. This version had 3 sensors for light metering and was capable of switching between spot and medium centered metering which I found very useful. It was very robust, the body made from brass.
    Another goodie was that when I put the trigger halfways there was an attendable “KLACK” when the aperture closing lever was activated. That served as an “acoustical pre-flash” and was useful for portraits because the subject registrated this sound as exposure and felt relief. The mirror and shutter wasn’t as noisy as this.
    Problem with this camera was a tapering shutter which left a shadowed area just on the left side of the image. I noticed that after some 3 years in use with 2-3mm and it grew more and more over time, so I set it to PORST and get it repaired in the warranty period.
    Unfortunately this problem came back after less than 2 yrs. I tried 2 other cameras of this type bought via ebay and had the problem too, in much greater size up to complete dark expositions. Ivor Mantanle described this phenomen in his book “Classis SLRs”as “shutter tapering” which is typical for many SLRs with cloth shutter.

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