4.01.2016

Fast, Cheap, Good - The Konica Auto S2 Rangefinder

I recall something in the frame of workplace logic that says "Fast, Cheap, Good - Pick Two." The implication behind this is that having all three of these things is just not possible.  At best, one will sacrifice one of the three qualities in order to have the other two.  

While the "fast" in this analogy refers to the amount of time in which something is produced, the logic does roughly carry over to the world of photography where "fast" is an extension of quality that tends to refer to a lens with a good maximum aperture compared to other lenses of similar focal length.  In most cases, one can get a good camera with a fast lens, but they may carry a hefty price tag. Thankfully this isn't always the case, and with a little searching, one can pick up a good film acquisition with a pretty fast lens for a very good price whose quality is exceptional.

I had gradually been turning my sights to Japanese made range finders, and was nearly to the point of pulling the trigger of a $7 Samoca camera of unknown working condition, when I elected to give the online marketplace one more look.  I was pleased to discover before me the option to buy a camera with a faster lens and more shutter speeds for just $18 including shipping.  Its working condition was also unknown, but it looked to be in great condition, so I took the chance.  And with this chance, I added a Konica Auto S2 to my collection.


A tad blocky, but certainly still manageable, the Auto S2 provides an affordable and quality entry to the world of Japanese Rangefinders in a sensible package.



After pulling the meager trigger, I took the time to read reviews of this camera and it's rebadged twin, and everything I was reading was outstandingly positive.  People raved about the lens, loved the abilities of the camera, particularly the full manual control, and were often able to get fully working examples of these cameras for prices similar to my $18 acquisition.  It seemed that as long as this camera was in working condition, I may have added a very capable addition to my stable at a very reasonable cost! 

And work it did! Opening the box, I found a snappy shutter that responded well at all speeds, and smooth aperture and focus rings, as well as a rangefinder that seemed perfectly in sync with the focus dial.  The battery housing held an old corroded mercury battery that I quickly emptied, and later tried to replace using a retrofitted 675 hearing aid battery.  This seemed to work at first, but later gave out, and all attempts since were met with futility. This hiccup aside, the camera was mostly a marvel given its pricetag and capabilities.  I loaded it up with some Fomapan 200 and decided to see what this fast and capable camera could do.


The centerpiece of the Auto S-2 is this high quality Hexanon lens that opens up to f/1.8 with any aperture readily selected from the straight forward interface.  

Shooting the Konica, even in a fully manual environment, was generally a breeze.  The settings are easy to read and access, the rangefinder is clear, and the camera responds just as you think it should in the hand, leaving a nice soft "chunk" as the shutter is depressed, a nice discrete sound compared to the rattle of SLR and DSLR mirrors, making it a good choice for more candid street photography than the heftier beasts with interchangeable lenses.    It has a substantial though not overwhelming feel in the hand, and motions such as film advance and focus are pretty intuitive.  And a few perks such as parallax compensation for close compositions only add to this impressive device.  


A view through the rangefinder shows a simple, yet effective view that allows one to frame and focus readily.  Yellow striped lines help reduce parallax error, while the rangefinder patch in the center clearly shows when an element is not in focus, as evident here. 

Despite having a lot going for it, the camera is not a perfect piece of machinery however.  It may be fast, cheap, and good, but it isn't quite small.  It lacks the pocketability that some other rangefinders (or smaller folders) have which means you will either carry it about with you, or you will keep a bag with you to keep the camera protected as you move about.  There were two specific gripes about the operation of the camera that wore on me.  

Lesser of these was the comparative lack of "throw" for the focusing knob compared to many earlier models of rangefinder that I've used.  While it wasn't so much of a seeming issue in most of my shots, the ability to have more precise control on the closer end of the focusing range would have been a real plus.  However, from what I've seen, the shorter adjustment range of the focus is indicative of most cameras of this era, so it is nothing unique to the Konica.


While it never created any issues, the short "throw" of the focus was one of the few things about the camera that I wasn't wholly enthused about.  Just a short turn takes the user from the closest focusing distance out to infinity. 

More annoying was the location of an unmarked tab that seemed to a self-timer switch.  This tab was right atop the lens and was VERY easy to accidentally depress when moving the camera between hand and bag.  It didn't help that the tension spring on this had worn over time to it being useless.  The result on multiple occasions was that I would depress the shutter release only to hear nothing, and thinking that this mid-1960's classic had crapped out on me, only to discover that when I helped this tab along, the shutter would release, and I'd get an unwanted photo of my hand.


This easily tripped self-timer was the biggest irritation of the Konica, and led to a few confused moments when I hit the shutter button, only to wonder if the camera had died, to then hear a click seconds later. 

One oft related gripe about the Auto S2 is the wobbliness of the lens on the body.  Mine does not escape this ailment, and initially I worried about its effect on the photos I would take with it, but these worries were quickly allayed when the first scans came through.  

Admittedly, it is tough to add much new to the conversation about the Konica Auto S2, as this is about as well known of a "sleeper" camera as can be, with much written to praise it online, to tell of its operation, and to showcase its results.  As such, I think this to be the perfect time to simply sit back and let the photos do most of the talking about this very capable machine. 

My enthusiasm for trying out the Konica Auto S2 had me taking it out for the first time in the pouring rain, which actually made for a good exercise for it's f/1.8 lens. Here, the shallow depth of field helps create a three dimensional effect. 

Even juggling an umbrella, the Konica was really pretty easy to use, and under a wider aperture, the Hexanon lens provides some really good sharpness. 

Hastily arranged, this shot manages to show decent detail at a wide aperture when focused on longer distances.

I was particularly impressed with how the Konica handled the Foma film, providing some very clean images with a pleasing grain and tonality.

With light levels continuing to diminish, the easy to handle rangefinder was still readily usable when hand held, providing a perfect amount of exposure and detail here. 

Bokeh on the Hexanon lens is pretty good, though I don't quite get a sense of what shape and tendencies it may take on.  Hopefully as the leaves emerge, I will be able to get some more shallow depth images. 

In better lit conditions, the Konica renders an image with sharpness and snap, completely belying that they were taken with a camera that cost under $20. 

Some shots on the Konica tended to look a bit awash when over-exposed, but these situations were few and far between.  

Stopped down, the lens provided exceptional detail while still providing a really smooth tonality to its images.,  The rivets on the wheels of the cannon look particularly sharp in this example. 

The parallax correction helped perfectly frame images in the rangefinder, while only minimal guesswork would assist in determining how scenes taken with wider apertures would render out of focus areas. 

One of the main things I tried to do with the Konica was open it up to help put emphasis on objects in my frames.  Here. I focused on the humorous eatery name, allowing the rest of the scene to render more softly...

...while here, the focal point was the light fixture in the foreground.  The camera to subject distance was still short enough to put a nice soft render on the background.

Again taken at wide aperture, the camera does a masterful job of putting emphasis exactly where you choose when using wide apertures, and it makes easy work of it as well. 

Thoughts: If there was one complaint I could levy about the images from the Konica, it is that they are "too clean." As I have gotten more used to a little bit of "distress" in my images, I am struck by just how smooth these images rendered.  I've often noticed some blotchiness in images taken on Fomapan 200, but none of that is evident at all.  That said, I'm sure a more distressed film will be interesting against the Konica's amazing lens.

And amazing is the one word I would use to summarize this camera.  Despite a hiccup or two in its operation, the Konica is an amazingly fluid and easy to use machine that, even over 40 years after it was produced, has withstood the test of time.  The lens provides great contrast and exceptional tonality, and the overall camera certainly outperforms its price point. If you are looking for a great value in an easy to use camera that provides outstanding image quality, I can't see where you could do much better than a Konica Auto S2.  Two thumbs up!