Our best timeline for the development of the Yashica Pentamatic 35mm single-lens reflex (SLR) film camera… Pentamatic ’35’
Please note that this is a “dynamic timeline” and it will be updated as we discover new dates and developments…
- Summer 1959… Yashica develops / invents its first 35mm SLR
- September 1959… Yashica files to trademark the name ‘Pentamatic’ in Japan
- October 1959… Tomioka starts production of a new lens for the Pentamatic. f/1.8 5.5cm
- December 1959… First Pentamatics assembled at the Suwa factory
- February 1960… Yashica files to trademark the name ‘Pentamatic’ in the U.S.
- March 1960… Production reaches 1,500 units
- March 1960… First showing of the Pentamatic occurs at a trade show in St. Louis… first images of the camera are provided by Yashica
- April 1960… First published look at the Pentamatic in the May 1960 issue of Modern Photography magazine
- May 1960… First full page advertisements for the Pentamatic ’35’ appear in the June 1960 issues of Modern Photography, Popular Photography and U.S. Camera magazines and the Pentamatic is available at Yashica dealers by early May
- June 1960… Production reaches 5,000 units
- June 1960… First review of the camera appears in the July issue of Modern Photography magazine
- August 1960… Production reaches 9,300 units
- August 1960… The Pentamatic II goes into production. Sold only in Japan
- August 1960… Zunow produces a new lens for the Pentamatic II. f/1.7 5.8cm
- Winter 1960-1961… The Pentamatic I and II are are both sold in Japan
- December 1960… Camera dealers in New York advertise new Pentamatics at under $110 (USD)
- January 1961… Production reaches 15,700 units
- January 1961… The Pentamatic S goes into production
- January 1961… The Pentamatic II ends production at under 6,000 units
- February 1962… February issue of Modern Photography has only two advertisements for the Pentamatic and NO mention of the Pentamatic II or Pentamatic S
- Late 1961… The Pentamatic models are replaced by the Penta J
- End of Production… About 30,000 Pentamatic cameras (all models) are made over 3 years
- August 1963… ‘Pentamatic’ receives trademark registration in the U.S.
By January 1961, some pretty strong discounts on the original Pentamatic I. No Pentamatic S advertised.
First look at the new camera in the May 1960 issue of Modern Photography.
The Yashica Pentamatic has always fascinated me from the moment I first caught a glimpse of it while doing research on the Yashima / Yashica Company. It was (and still is) a strange-looking camera… so 1960s and it was Yashica’s very first 35mm single-lens reflex (SLR) camera. I love its sleek lines and simple design… and it was just a little bit “quirky”. My first 35mm SLR was the very popular and stylish Yashica TL Electro-X (in satin chrome finish) which I purchased in early 1972. That camera was big and heavy just like the Pentamatic… lots of brass and glass as they say. The exposure system was a through the lens (TTL) affair that used two red arrows to guide you in adjusting the shutter speed and aperture to obtain a properly exposed image. It was fairly accurate and easy to use but under some low light conditions the meter would be off as much as 1/2 to 1 full “f stops” especially when shooting with color slide film for transparencies. I used that Yashica through my first year of living in Yokohama before purchasing a Canon F-1 in 1978. Why the departure from Yashica? Simple, when comparing the new Contax RTS to the F-1, in my opinion, there was no contest. I also liked the system that Canon offered and the wide array of professional accessories and lenses.
So back to the Pentamatic. When I started to concentrate my research on the Pentamatic, I found nothing but confusing and contradicting information on the internet (as is typical of anything). No clear images of the camera, no images of its boxes or the accessories available. The release date was especially bothersome as it was all over the map and even now many sites still give the wrong introduction date in the U.S. The specifications of the cameras are often wrong or incomplete and when I did find solid proof of something, it made the existing entries even more out of line with reality. The Pentamatic series of SLRs (the original model I, model II and the model S) never sold in vast quantities (the original Pentamatic model I was produced at around 1,500 units per month at its peak of production) as best as I can tell, so finding a complete set was rare and finding sales brochures was even more daunting.
My quest was simple (I thought)… purchase a few Pentamatics and find a few instruction booklets and I would be all set. Wrong! Yashica normally does not date their cameras, lenses and publications (instruction booklets, warranty cards, accessory pamphlets and sales brochures) so I knew that I had my work cut out for me. On the other side of the coin, my Canon collection has dates everywhere! I can honestly say that I’ve never found something from Canon that was not dated in some way. Why didn’t Yashica do the same? I did discover eventually that from about 1956 or so onward Yashica (then Yashima) did date many of their photography booklets and featured pictures of their factories in Nagano Prefecture and of their headquarters in Shibuya-ku, Tokyo. Many of these early booklets even had pictures of the president and founder (Mr. Yoshimasa Ushiyama) of Yashima… not often seen in other camera manufacturer’s publications. The practice of dating publications slowly vanished around late 1958 and by 1960 was basically gone. It wasn’t until the late 1960s and early 1970s that Yashica would occasionally slip in a date on a publication (but never on the camera or lens).
In summary… I don’t have all the answers to my Pentamatic questions and I am constantly updating information as I receive it both here on my blog and on my Flickr page (Yashica Sailor Boy). My goal is to be as accurate as I can, fill in the blanks and share whatever I have with others. I encourage comments and would gladly receive any and all bits of info that you may want to share with me. Thank you for visiting my page!
Nice Pentamatic model II page from a Yashica sales brochure from February 1961. Not a bad price in Japan at that time… about $110 (USD) with case. When introduced in mid 1960, the original model I was listed at about $159 (USD) here in the U.S.