This is a Miranda Sensorex 35mm Single Lens Reflex camera made by Miranda Camera of Japan between the years 1966 to 1972. The Sensorex was a semi-professional SLR camera that aimed to be an alternative to more expensive professional cameras made by Nikon and Topcon, offering similar features, but at a fraction of the cost. The Sensorex is a fully featured camera with a TTL CdS exposure meter, interchangeable viewfinders, dual bayonet/screw lens mount, and a quiet vibration free shutter. Although competitive on paper, the Sensorex, like most Miranda cameras, failed to succeed in the marketplace, and by the 1970s, the company quickly fell into disarray, eventually resulting in bankruptcy by 1977.
Film Type: 135 (35mm)
Lens: 50mm f/1.4 Auto Miranda coated 8-elements (!)
Lens Mount: Miranda Bayonet and 44mm Screw Mount
Focus: 17 inches (0.43 meters) to Infinity
Viewfinder: Interchangeable SLR Pentaprism
Shutter: Cloth Focal Plane
Speeds: B, 1 – 1/1000 seconds
Exposure Meter: TTL CdS Meter w/ Viewfinder match needle
Battery: PX625 1.35v Mercury Cell
Flash Mount: Coldshoe and M and X Flash Sync
Weight: 1096 grams (w/ lens), 753 grams (body only)
|At one point in time, the Miranda Sensorex was seen as a viable low cost option to pro cameras like the Nikon F and Topcon RE Super. Although it shared a similar feature set, and an available selection of excellent lenses, quality control proved to be the company’s undoing. Finding a nice Sensorex in good working condition today is difficult, but if you are lucky enough, they are very nice cameras with a lot of heft, and excellent ergonomics. It took me years to find one in good enough condition to get through a roll of film without failure, and I am happy to say the wait was worth it. YMMV however.|
|Images||Handling||Features||Viewfinder||Feel & Beauty||History||Age|
In the mid 1960s, if you were in the market for a professional 35mm SLR camera, you basically had two options, the Nikon F or the Topcon RE Super. Other companies like Canon and Minolta had their advanced cameras for sure, but they lacked features like interchangeable viewfinders and TTL Open Aperture metering.
Never one to miss a chance to release a near-professional level camera at a discount, in 1966 the Miranda Camera Company released the Sensorex, their new top of the line model with all of those features. The Sensorex was a continuation of Miranda’s earlier Automex line of cameras first introduced in 1960. The Automex had a completely redesigned body from previous Miranda cameras and contained a large selenium exposure meter on the front of the prism above the lens mount. It was a well built and ambitious camera by one of the smaller Japanese camera makers.
During this time, Miranda had a very strong relationship with an American import company called Allied Impex Corporation (AIC) that handled exclusive sales of all Miranda cameras outside of Japan. In a letter written by an ex-AIC employee named Lee Mannhemier from a now-defunct Geocities website, Mr. Mannheimer paints a bleak picture of what it was like to work for AIC when he was there. Although his employment started in 1969 and doesn’t give specific details about the early relationship between his company and Miranda, he suggests that AIC’s management had a heavy hand in the day to day operations at Miranda.
There was a Japanese law forbidding foreign ownership of Japanese companies, so this likely caused problems for Miranda in their own domestic market, which may or may not have been responsible for the near exclusive export arrangement for their products. I cannot find any evidence of Miranda cameras sold directly to the Japanese market at this time.
According to a 1961 Sears catalog, the Automex had a retail price of $299.99 which priced it just below the Nikon F at $329.50 but offered a built in light meter which the Nikon lacked. Whether or not the Automex was a United States exclusive camera is anyone’s guess, but it sold well enough to continue the line. The Automex would see two revisions, called the Automex II and III with the last having a body-mounted CdS exposure meter.
In 1966 Miranda would move the exposure meter inside of the body for TTL metering and add the capability of open aperture metering. This required an externally coupled revision to the Miranda lens mount adding an external arm that would couple to a ring around the body so that the camera had a way of knowing which aperture was selected on the lens. Miranda’s choice of an external coupling was very similar to Nippon Kogaku’s approach of the ‘bunny ears’ seen on early Nikkor lenses. Miranda’s coupling arm was better designed than the one on the Nikon as it required no additional steps when mounting the lens to calibrate the position of the coupling, but also like Nippon Kogaku’s system, it was incompatible with earlier Miranda lenses that lacked this arm.
The Sensorex used the same basic body design as the Automex, replacing the space occupied by the large selenium meter with a black and chrome trimmed decorative plate that somewhat resembles the front grille of a pickup truck. The Sensorex was not only the top of the line in Miranda’s line-up at the time, but would also become a pinnacle of sorts for the brand.
The Sensorex sold well and was generally well received. In 1966 it had a retail price of $249.50 with a 50mm f/1.9 lens which was a considerable discount from competing models like the Topcon RE which had a list price of $369. In an attempt to further lure photographers to a relatively small brand like Miranda, all Sensorexes had industry-leading 3 year factory warranties, something that was often mentioned in Miranda’s advertisements.
Take a look at the gallery below of 12 different advertisements I found for the camera. In my research for reviews on this site, I don’t always find this many ads for a single model, but the vast number of them available suggest that Allied Impex spared no expense in trying to get the word out about this model.
In an article written by Arthur Kramer from the April/May 1967 issue of Camera 35 magazine, Kramer is clearly impressed with the feature set and usability of the Sensorex. Marveling at how well the camera’s controls are laid out, he mentions that the camera can be easily used while wearing bulky gloves. The front shutter release and large shutter speed dial were easy to change with gloves on. The large and bright viewfinder with microprism circle and match needle exposure system also received positive remarks.
Throughout their history, Miranda regularly updated their models and replaced older models with revised ones on an almost annual basis, but the Sensorex was continuously available from 1966 to 1972 at which time it was replaced by a cheaper Sensorex II. In 1970, a slightly revised Sensorex became available known as the Sensorex-C which added a flash accessory shoe to the top of the standard prism and eliminated the removable back, replacing it with a fixed back. Although called the Sensorex-C in the revised camera’s user manual and in product documentation, it was never indicated anywhere on the camera.
At the same time of the Sensorex-C’s release, a new 8-element Miranda 50mm f/1.4 lens became optionally available. It was of Gauss design and featured a “Spectrahard” coating to assure perfect color rendition. This new 8-element lens was a behemoth of a lens, and weighed 343 grams (12.1 oz) by itself. Miranda never made their own lenses, instead outsourcing their construction to third party companies. I could never find a manufacturer who built this lens, but some names that often get tossed around when it comes to Miranda lenses were Zunow, Kowa, Ofuna, and Tamron. Whether this lens was made by any of these companies is anyone’s guess, however.
Sadly, due to mismanagement of the company and a change in the camera marketplace, Miranda’s cameras began to suffer from poor quality control. Later models were built to lower quality control standards, and their reputation for reliability took a nose dive. Although they would continue to release competitively priced SLRs until the mid 1970s, the company would eventually go bankrupt. The Sensorex would not only be the company’s best selling model, but would signal the beginning of the end for the company.
In what has been the longest review it’s ever taken me to write, I acquired my first Sensorex in the spring of 2015 and had planned on writing a review of it back then, but continual problems with that first camera and all subsequent others I came across doomed this article into what seemed like a never ending draft status.
But here we are in February 2019, nearly 4 years after I picked up my first Sensorex and I finally have something worth writing about. This journey wasn’t easy, as I’ve come across no less than 4 different Sensorexes (I actually think there’s been 5, but it’s hard to keep track). I’ve had film pressure plate failures, multiple shutter failures, reflex mirror failures, and one whose lens inexplicably missed focus on literally every shot despite the image looking correct in the viewfinder. One time, I contributed to the camera’s demise myself by letting it fall out of a bag onto a cement floor, denting the pentaprism.
It’s hard to keep coming back to the same camera over and over again but for whatever reason, I continued to be enamored by the Sensorex’s good looks. It didn’t help that I also came across other working Mirandas, namely the Mirandas A and D which both worked fine so this model never really strayed far from my mind.
I actually shot this particular example twice, the first being the one I mentioned earlier was the one where every image came out of focus even though the image in the viewfinder looked sharp. I initially thought something was wrong with the lens so I tried a number of other Miranda lenses and using a piece of ground glass in the film gate, I could see everything was out of focus. That’s when I shifted my attention to the viewfinder. The Miranda’s interchangeable viewfinder helped me in that I could easily gain access to the focusing screen by disassembling it from the top.
I’ll spare you the details, but having other broken Sensorexes with good viewfinders, I was able to ascertain that someone had opened this camera up at some point in it’s life and obviously didn’t put it back together. Rather than piece meal individual parts from one camera to another, I completely disassembled the parts from one with a bad shutter, and transplanted it into this one and voila! Sharp images at all focus distances.
Now that I had what I hoped would be a properly working Sensorex, I could evaluate it properly for the first time in over 3 years. Like all Miranda cameras, these were built to compete with professional grade cameras, and as such, they come with quite a bit of heft to them. Without a lens mounted, the body alone weighs 753 grams or about 1.7 lbs. Attach the monster 8-element 50/1.4 Auto Sensorex lens and the weight climbs to 1096 grams or nearly 2.5 lbs! This is a weight that you’d certainly notice dangling around your neck all day long, so care likely would need to be taken when carrying it for extended periods.
Build quality of the camera and lens is quite nice. Miranda developed a reputation as a lower quality camera, but it’s not outwardly obvious when holding one. The chrome plating and body covering is as good as the best out there, the motions of the wind lever, the shutter speed dial, and both the lens’s focus and aperture rings are nicely dampened with just enough resistance to feel purposeful without any wobble.
The top plate features from left to right, the rewind crank surrounded by a dual function dial for controlling the flash sync and the meter. You must remember to power off the meter after each use or else risk running the battery down. Immediately in front of this dial, on the front of the camera is a control dial for setting the maximum aperture of the lens attached to the camera. This is necessary to calibrate the meter to the chosen lens as Miranda didn’t incorporate an auto indexing feature until after this camera.
The middle shows the top of the rather large, but removable pentaprism. The Sensorex has a ground glass without interchangeable viewing screens, but can be used without a viewfinder attached, although a proper waist level finder helps block out excess light. To the right of the viewfinder is the automatic resetting exposure counter, film advance lever, and shutter speed dial with ASA film speed dial. The placement of the shutter speed dial is ideal as it not only helped to de-clutter the top plate, but allows it to be physically larger than other cameras, which makes it easier to use while wearing gloves or by those people with large hands.
The viewing screen of all Miranda SLRs is entirely contained within the body, which means you get the same exact view through the viewfinder, regardless of whether you’re using the pentaprism, a waist level finder, or if you’ve removed the viewfinder entirely. The focusing screen is not removable on the Sensorex, but is quite bright, especially considering the age. Brightness when using the f/1.4 lens wide open is even across the entire image. In the center is a ground class circle with a microprism dot in the center. On the far right of the image is the “hoop and stick” match needle, which on this camera wasn’t working.
The back of the camera features the battery compartment for the PX625 mercury cell. Of the 4 different Sensorexes I’ve had access to, only one had a meter that responded to light, but it was way off. Since mercury batteries are no longer easy to get and I didn’t feel like spending money on a Wein Air Cell, I tried a 1.5v alkaline battery, but like I said, it was way off. To the right of the battery compartment is a small release catch for removing the viewfinder. You must put tension on this catch while sliding the viewfinder back to remove it.
Opening the film compartment requires releasing a catch on the left side of the camera while simultaneously pushing in a button on the same catch. It’s a bit of an awkward motion and not entirely obvious the first time you handle the camera, but it does do a good job of keeping the door from being opened accidentally. Within the film compartment is an ordinary 35mm compartment. Film transport is from left to right onto a fixed and multi-slotted take up spool.
With the battery compartment and meter switch already accounted for, there’s not much else to see on the bottom of the camera other than the rewind release button and 1/4″ tripod socket.
All Miranda SLRs use a unique dual bayonet/44mm screw mount in which you press and hold two releases on the actual lens and twist to remove it. Although there were a few Miranda screw mount lenses made early on, they’re not common. The main reason for the presence of the internal screw mount is to use a large selection of lens adapters that Miranda made to allow you to adapt nearly any other SLR lens to their cameras. Miranda wanted their cameras to appeal to the professional photographer who might have been looking for a cheaper option, but they were wise to realize that once a photographer commits to a specific lens system, they are not likely to want to change. By offering the 44mm screw mount with a selection of adapters, it was thought that more people would give Miranda a try.
As for the bayonet mount, Miranda took an approach similar to Nippon Kogaku with their Nikon F-mount in that as the lens mounts got more advanced, they never changed the base mount, but would add additional couplings for features such as open aperture metering. The image to the right shows the external coupling arm where the lens and camera body connect. This coupling was only used on the Automex series and Sensorex and Sensorex II bodies. Mirandas from before the Automex in 1960 and starting with the Sensorex EE in 1971 either have no linkage, or an internal linkage.
If you have a Miranda lens that wasn’t designed for this external linkage, you can still mount the lens to the body, but if you want to use the meter, you’ll have to manually stop it down first.
Overall, the Miranda Sensorex is a finely designed and quality SLR that would have been very competitive upon it’s release in 1966. Of course that period of SLR design was rapidly changing, so it was only a matter of months before new designs by Canon, Yashica, Minolta, and several other companies had competing SLRs with the same, or better features available. Miranda felt the pressure at this time and due to what I can only assume was mismanagement and poor market performance, their sales and their quality control began to free fall after this model.
But now that I finally had one in good working condition, how did it perform?
With my absolutely horrid track record shooting Miranda cameras, I thought it best not to waste too much of my “good film” and for this roll, I tapped into a large supply of expired bulk Tri-X I picked up at an estate sale this past summer. The film came in a sealed container with an expiration date of 1994, and with Tri-X’s reputation as being a very hearty film, I felt pretty good the film was OK, but what would happen in the Miranda? Not wanting to take many chances, I shot it at box speed and hoped for the best.
If you’ve ever had the experience where you expected something bad to happen, but didn’t, and you were on pins and needles waiting for it to happen, but it never did, that’s what it was like shooting the Sensorex for the first time.
I have a such a fondness for Miranda cameras, yet time after time they have failed me. I am elated to say that it didn’t happen this time. The Sensorex performed flawlessly throughout this roll. Most of the images were shot with an Auto Miranda 28mm f/2.8 lens, but I also used the 8-element 50/1.4 for about a third of the roll. Perhaps as a credit to how well the wide angle Miranda lens performed, looking at the images in the gallery above, with the exception of the one of me in the mirror, I cannot tell which lens was used on each image. Both lenses performed really well. I’ve always had this belief that Miranda lenses were as good as others of the era, but getting through a whole roll without some kind of failure was so difficult, I never could make that determination.
So with a sense of immense relief, I can certainly tell you that in working condition, the Miranda Sensorex and it’s lenses were absolutely up to the challenge of competing with the best of what was available during the time they were sold. Sure, quality control might have been sub par, but I have to believe that at least some of my challenges are due to the perils of time. The Sensorex performed both in use and on film as good as I had hoped and while I know that my next adventure with one might not go as smoothly, I still greatly enjoyed the experience.
The heft of the camera inspires confidence and improves balance. The front shutter release button is perfectly located and feels natural to use. While I have no scientific evidence of this, I feel that for slower shutter speeds, the squeezing motion of your hand pressing into the body on the Miranda’s shutter release induces less motion than a typical top plate shutter release. The wind lever is perfectly located and easy to use with my right thumb. The viewfinder is large and bright and compares favorably to pretty much every other SLR of the day (with maybe the exception of the Topcon RE). Finally, that glass! I don’t know how many people are even aware that the Auto Miranda 50mm f/1.4 is an 8-element design, and although I do not own one yet, I plan on picking up a Miranda lens adapter to try these lenses out on my digital mirrorless camera.
In my time collecting, I know Miranda cameras already have their fans, and the Sensorex is one of those models that shows up in collections often, but I just don’t see many people using them. It’s likely because of the same issues with reliability that I’ve encountered, but based on this example, I encourage those of you with one in your collection, give it a try, and if yours doesn’t work, try to find another. It’s worth it!
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