MolfoReflex & Yashica TLR Cameras
- an historical review -
by Göran Årelind
My initial intention was to research the story of the MolfoReflex camera only! However, during the investigation, I found it possible to also tell the story about Yashica in Sweden – I had almost all the material on hand.
The new goal became to find out how MolfoReflex and Yashica, with all their models were advertised and sold on the Swedish market during 1953 to 1964. Who were the Agencies, which models and when were they introduced in Sweden? For how long were the Yashica TLR’s of interest to the Swedish customer? What competitors did Yashica have and what were the prices of the different brands?
Most information, put together in this document, is from the Swedish photo magazine “FOTO”. Some parts are from the www.yashicatlr.com site and some is from interviews with well informed people. There are two attachments to this document, “Timeline of Ads” and “TLRs – Prices & Ads” (MS Excel format). They are “easy reading” overviews of all data in the main document, presented in table format. (You’ll find them on the last page)
Molander & Son: Photo dealer, founded in 1921 as a family business, its address was Regeringsgatan 13 in Stockholm.
A wholly owned subsidiary was formed in 1949 (sometime in Jan-May?) Molanders Fotoagenturer (Molanders Photo Agency). The two companies existed at the same address, Regeringsgatan 13, but in 1951 (June) Molanders Fotoagenturer moved to Tegnérgatan 3 in Stockholm. Both companies sold a wide range of photographic items, cameras, photo accessories like tripods, filters, lenses, darkroom equipment, film cameras, projectors, etc.
In 1955, the two enterprises transformed into limited companies, (Aktiebolag or AB). This is evidenced by the minutes of a meeting, dated 25 Feb 1955, and the announcement in Post & Domestic News (Post & Inrikes Tidningar) dated 14 Feb 1955.
Yashica: One of the major producers of Twin Lens Reflex (TLR) cameras, a Japanese company that was formed after World War II. Learn more about Yashica history at www.yashicatlr.com.
Yashica’s introduction in Sweden: Through some business contacts, Molander & Son began marketing Yashica in Sweden. How the imports were handled is uncertain, Molanders Fotoagenturer may have been very much involved in this.
An advertisement in the largest Swedish photo magazine “FOTO”, March 1955, presents two Yashica models; "Yashicaflex B" and "Yashicaflex S". Advertiser is Molander & Son. In the material being reviewed, these are the very first ads found for this particular brand. We assume that this is the Swedish introduction of Yashica. Also the text of the advertisement indicates that this is the case.
MOLFO: MOLFO is most likely an abbreviation of Molanders Fotoagenturer. The very first time we found the abbreviation MOLFO is in an advertisement from Molanders Fotoagenturer in the magazine FOTO, September issue 1954, which advertises a product, "Avmaskingsram MOLFO" (easel for photo enlarger). Although the name probably sounded good, the “old” name, Molanders Fotoagenturer, was kept in all advertising until the end of the year 1954. The very first ad from the company, using the name MOLFO Aktiebolag, was in March 1955. (The advertisement was for a photo tripod, announced exactly one year earlier, in March 1954, under the "old" name.)
MOLFO ads have been found in many magazines, from 1955 and up to 1960. All ads are mainly for film cameras, lenses, editing tools for film etc. The most amazing is that MOLFO never had any advertisement (in FOTO) for any of Yashica’s wide program of cameras, this in spite of their close relation.
The company MOLFO, was closed down 1961, but the name was still registered and owned by Molander & Son, until 1999, when it was sold to a new owner. Therefore the current existing MOLFO Company (2012) formed in 1999, has no links at all to Molander & Son, or Molanders Fotoagenturer, other than the name.
The "parent company",
(Molander & Son) and/or Molanders Fotoagenturer, probably had built a good
relationship with Yashica and succeeded in negotiating an arrangement where
Yashica would produce and supply cameras to MOLFO, with the company's own brand
The Yashica model involved was the Yashicaflex A-I. The logo on the viewfinder hood was removed and the front nameplate replaced. That these deliveries occurred in smaller batches is readily apparent from the trim changes over time on the donor Yashicaflex A-I model also being mirrored on MolfoReflex cameras. See also www.yashicatlr.com.
In spite of spending many hours trying to determine how many cameras MOLFO ordered from Yashica and how many were shipped and sold, there are no sources that I can guarantee are correct. The figure of one thousand ordered cameras and 400 delivered and sold can’t be verified anywhere.
The MolfoReflex was very sparingly advertised in the materials reviewed, only twice, in April and June 1956.
MolfoReflex - first type with early body and short strap holder plates, second type with later body and full length strap holder plates and third type with press button shutter and film speed reminder on film winding knob. Additional details and more photos are in the MolfoReflex entry on the 66 Models page of www.yashicatlr.com.
As mentioned earlier, the first ad for Yashica was in the magazine FOTO in March 1955, Molander & Son was the senior advertiser for this ad.
What has emerged is that there have been 3 General Agencies, or distributors, for Yashica in Sweden for the period investigated:
Molander & Son (1955 – 1957)
Fritz Weist & Co. (1957 - 1961)
AB Foto Mekano (1958 - 1964)
The following summary shows the camera model and the period advertisements were run in the magazine FOTO:
Molander & Son:
Yashicaflex B: March 1955
Yashicaflex S: March 1955 + 12 ads until September 1957
Yashicaflex AS: May 1955 + 6 ads until June 1956
Yashica-Mat: November and December 1957
Why Molander & Son advertised the new Yashica models "A", "C" and "LM" very late, June -58 (after all, these models where available already in April -57 – see Fritz Weist & Co below) is still a secret. Instead they chose to go directly for a "crank wind" camera, the Mat-model, which was a direct response to the Rolleiflex models.
During the following years, Molander & Son had just a few ads for Yashica: 1958; “A”, “C” & “44”models and 1959; “A”, “LM” & “44”models.
Fritz Weist & Co:
Yashica A: April, May, June & December 1957, February 1958
Yashica C: April, May, June & October 1957, February 1958
Yashica LM: April, May, & June 1957, February 1958.
Yashica-Mat: April, May, June & November 1957, July 1961
Yashica-44: July 1961
Yashica 44LM: July 1961
AB Foto Mekano:
Yashica A: November 1958 & February 1964
Yashica C: November 1958.
Yashica 635: September & November 1958.
Yashica LM: November 1958.
Yashica-44: November 1958, March 1959.
Yashica-Mat: November 1958, March 1959, March & April 1961, February 1964
Yashica 44LM: March & April 1961, February 1964
Yashica Mat-LM: March & April 1961.
Yashica D: February 1964
Yashica E: February 1964
The introduction of the Yashica 44A & 44LM (July 1959) was made by Yashica itself. This is the first time that the General Agencies were left out of the ads.
During the period from October 1959 to the end of 1960, the ads for Yashica changed character completely. All ads were produced by Yashica and at the best, the General Agencies names were printed in the bottom of the ad! However, in 1961 the Yashica ads from the General Agencies were back again but very few Yashica ads are to be found in the magazines, in all, only on four occasions.
In 1961, the “downward trend” and falling interest in TLR cameras can be clearly observed. However, Yashica looks to be the brand that still can survive, much depending on their very competitive prices. Shall the new 4x4-models keep up the results for the next coming year? By this time, we had only 3 brands on the market, each one fighting for every customer.
1962 also seems to be a tough year for the TLRs! For the entire year, TLR cameras, all brands, were advertised only 10 times. Rollei had 8 ads and Yashica the remaining 2. The rather new 4x4-models were not mentioned at all this year.
If we shall trust the magazine FOTO, 1963 was the year when the TLR cameras was completely out of business. During that year, only one ad for TLR’s is to be found, in June, when AB Hans Vick had an ad for Rollei cameras.
But, the TLR’s were back again in 1964! In all, TLR’s where presented on 4 different occasions. AB Foto Mekano had one ad for the newcomer Yashica E + some other models. AB Hans Vick had one ad for the Rolleiflex. The magazine FOTO had one technical article for Yashica E and, finally, the Camera Overview for all brands of the TLR family was published in the April issue.
The research ends here, and the conclusion is that the TLR era was going down, slowly but surely. The number of small format cameras took over more and more of the customers.
Over time, technical reviews of existing Japanese cameras on the market, as well as of new coming models, changed tone and attitude. Initially, in the period 1956-58, the judgments were rather sceptical, sometimes directly negative, and sometimes a bit ironic. During 1960-61, Yashica was suddenly praised for high quality, reliability, good picture quality, low prices, easy handling etc. etc. The Japanese cameras had come to stay! This paved the way for the Japanese small format cameras as well. The majority of these cameras on the Swedish market came from Japan. The only brand that really could stand up against the Japanese was Leica - in spite of being double the price!
The magazine FOTO introduced a new Yashica model, with a technical review, in November 1960. A very positive introduction of the Yashica Mat-LM! (Not available on the market at that time)
In the December issue of FOTO 1960, both the “A” and “D” models got a very good write up of their performance. Quite interesting to review an almost 4 year old camera! This means that the “A” was still of interest in 1960...
In the very last technical review, for Yashica E, the camera was given a lot of positive feed-back.
Sure, this camera was a “bit odd” in 1964, built in flash, coupled circular selenium cell exposure meter around the lens offering auto exposure with fixed shutter speed and variable aperture – something like a prototype for the “Instamatic” camera.
Within the medium format camera group, 6 x 6, and TLR models, there was a wide range throughout the 1950s. Rolleiflex and Rolleicord were, without any doubts, the most popular. These are in the ads from 1950, and perhaps earlier than that. Throughout the review period there is at least a Rollei ad per issue (not only TLR). Many professional photographers used these cameras, the most probable reason for their popularity.
The price was probably the biggest problem for Rollei. A Rolleicord cost around 500 SEK, a Rolleiflex 3.5 between 800 and 930 SEK, depending on the optics and a Rollei 2.8 around 1100 SEK. (1954)
Such prices created room for multiple brands. Here is a list of the most common brands other than Rollei and Yashica that existed during 1953 to 1957:
Flexaret, Ikoflex, Walzflex, Aires Reflex, Alpenflex, Minolta Autocord and Richoflex.
The price of these cameras varies from approximately 150 SEK (Richoflex) up to near 450 SEK (Ikoflex Ib). The Ikoflex IIa, the highest quality and spec. model, cost 900 SEK. Yashica prices were well spread in this segment – from 135 SEK (Yashica A) to 350 SEK (Yashica-Mat)
The climate for the TLR family started to change a bit during the period 1958-1959. Flexaret, Rollei, Minolta & Yashica are the largest brands now, many of the “odd” brands have left the arena. One reason is the expanding market for small format cameras, they attract more customers and the ads for them are constantly growing. Prices are almost the same as earlier, Yashica are now the cheapest with the “A” and “44A” models.
1960 must have been a disaster for the TLR manufacturers! The ads were reduced by almost 50%, compared to 1959. Most probably, the sales went in the same direction. Available brands are now down to 3; Rollei (5 ads), Flexaret (1 ad) and Yashica (10 ads).
The trend from 1960 continues in 1961. The number of ads is low and the number of brands goes in the same direction. The summary for 1961 is as follows; Rollei (only one type of camera) 6 ads and Yashica 4 ads plus 2 articles in FOTO. That’s it for all TLRs in Sweden. 1962 became even worse than the previous year for the TLR family! Rollei was running the RolleiMagic, Rolleiflex 2,8F and a new version of the Rolleicord, the Vb. Rollei is now the only competitor to Yashica.
The last two years in this research, 1963 and 1964, shows the pricing didn’t change too much for the TLR’s. As there was no ads during 1963 we can only guess how it was that year, however, for 1964 we have more information about the prices. Rollei, more or less the only competitor Yashica had, was more expensive, if we compare a Rolleicord with a Yashica D, the Rollei is almost double price. (500SEK // 275SEK)
As Yashica-A was popular for quite a long time, we can follow how the price developed over the years.
Yashica released five new TLR models during and after 1964. Yashica Mat-EM and Yashica E were both released 1964. The E-model was introduced rather fast in Sweden but the Mat-EM seems to be forgotten for some reason. It might be the already marketed Mat-LM (1960) that limited the import of the EM. They are, in fact, rather similar to each other.
Technical progress and the growing demands for more “automatic” cameras created the Yashica 24 released in 1965. This camera had a coupled CdS meter, where you select either shutter speed or aperture and then adjust the other to match these two parameters for a correct exposure. The 24 was designed for 220 film which gave 24 exposures.
Almost two years later, the sister Yashica 12 was released in 1967. It is very similar to the 24, the main difference is that this was made for 12 exposure 120-film.
The Yashica 124 was released in 1968. Technically, it is almost the same as the two cameras above, but with the option to select either 120 or 220 film.
1970 was the year that the very last TLR camera was released by Yashica, the Yashica Mat-124G model. This was more or less a 124, with gold plated contacts (hence the “G”) for the (simple) electronics and many parts had been “cost-trimmed”, i.e. replaced with plastic components. According to a reliable source, it was produced until 1986.
1974 Yashica started a fully owned company in Sweden to handle marketing, supply and support for their products.
1983, Yashica was bought by Kyocera. TLR production ended in 1986 and production of all other cameras ended in 2005.
And.......here ends the TLR story for Yashica in Sweden!!
There are some people that I would like to show my gratitude to! With their great help and support, they all made it possible to complete this document.
- Jan-Olle Molander, for all information related to Molander & Son, as well as the MOLFO Company and the MolfoReflex camera.
- Per-Anders Westman, for providing me with data from magazines, reviews and a large portion of good advice and encouragement to complete it.
- Paul Sokk, for allowing me to freely use his information from the www.yashicatlr.com site, advice and positive attitude to create this document.
- Sven Granberg, who put me on to my Molfo Reflex, his reviews and advices for creating this document.
This document does not intend to be scientific in any way. The material is, as earlier mentioned, mainly collected from Swedish photo magazine FOTO. Advertisements and articles are assumed to mirror what the market had to offer the customers as well as it can illustrate the customers demand at the same time. A popular camera will probably be advertised more often than a less popular one.... A positive record in a test, or article, will probably increase its possibilities to become more popular....
Bear in mind that what happened in Sweden did not necessarily reflect what happened globally, it might be an indication only. The situation was completely different in the world at that time; many countries had been involved in WW2 and still suffered from weak, but slowly growing, economies and not the best living conditions. A camera was probably not a primary goal for many families.
When the Japanese cameras started to be introduced in Europe, they had a completely different price level, compared to cameras made in Europe. This gave many people an opportunity to buy this luxury article! But what really ended the TLR era were the small format cameras! With changeable lenses, built-in exposure meters and better focusing systems, they were more advanced than any TLR has ever been. And – they were much less bulky!!
If you find any wrong information in this document, or have some information regarding Yashica TLR cameras that you would like to share with me, please feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
With the best regards / Göran
The ownership of the contents and usage rights of this document remain exclusively with the original owner. For private, non-commercial use, you may copy this material freely. Copying minor parts (<5%) of this document, or its attachments, for public or any commercial purpose, is allowed as long as there is a reference to the source. Copying of major parts (>5%) the entire document, or its attachments, for public or any commercial use requires permission.
Rev A, released 2012/04/18