Following up on my post earlier this week for the Yashica Samurai X3.0 35mm half frame camera, I thought it would be interesting to take a look at an article from the April/May 1969 issue of Camera 35 magazine that explores the myth of half frame economy.
Excluding half frame 35mm cameras from before WWII like the Universal Mercury CC or ANSCO Memo, the majority of half frame cameras produced after the war came out of Japan. Starting with the Olympus Pen in 1959, the economy of getting twice as many images per roll of film on a small and compact camera was immensely appealing to Japanese photographers.
Although many of these models were sold in the United States, the format wasn’t nearly as successful here as it was overseas. Of the available half fame models, they almost universally sold poorly, and some models weren’t even offered for sale here.
But why? If a 20 exposure roll of Kodachrome cost $2.15, but you could get 40 exposures for the same amount of money, shouldn’t that savings appeal to Americans just as much as the Japanese?
As anyone whose ever shot film before knows, the expense of film does not end after purchasing the film. You still need to develop the film, and in the case of slide film which was the dominant type of film for the 1960s American family, there was yet another cost in mounting the slides. The article below spends nearly it’s entire time talking about the additional expenses and difficulties in mounting half frame slides, yet strangely does not mention color or black and white negative film at all.
The article also covers some difficulties with half frame slide film such as having to account for the increase in 90 degree rotated images due to the natural portrait orientation of most half frame cameras back then, along with the need to use slide projectors that were half frame compatible.
Despite the overall negative attitude in this article towards the supposed “economy” of half frame, it attempts to offer ideas to help offset the costs by suggesting mounting your own slides, home development kits, and bulk loading your own film, something that the average family photographer likely wouldn’t have had an interest in doing back then.
By the time the Yashica Samurai made it’s US debut in 1988, slide film was no longer the preferred type of color film for the American family photographer, as negative print film was much more common. While printing a half frame image still had it’s challenges, it wasn’t nearly as complex since specialized mounts and projectors weren’t necessary.
So, if the next time you’re browsing through eBay looking for an inexpensive half frame camera, and wonder why so few of them are available by US sellers, this article should help paint at least a partial picture of why.
All scans used with permission by Marc Bergman, 2019.