History Makers: Asahi Pentax - The Modern SLR is Born...1957

Like any technology the camera as we now it has changed many times during its life. It’s a process that continues, even amongst modern digital SLR cameras.

For every feature, function and design point though there was a first time. Here we take a look at some of those important milestone cameras, the ones that made history, and the ones that continue to have a lasting impact on camera design in the 21st century.

Asahi Pentax – The Modern SLR is Born…..1957

SLR cameras had been around since the 1930s. They all worked on the same basic premise; you viewed the image through the lens via a mirror contained within the camera housing. When you fire the shutter the mirror gets out of the way, the shutter opens, and the film is exposed. Then the shutter closes to end the exposure.

However, if you held a camera from the early 50s it would be very different from what you would be used to. It wouldn’t have an “eye level” viewfinder. Instead you would have to hold the camera down at waist level and view the image through the mirror by looking down at it. The image you would see would often be “flipped” making composing your image hard, and trying to focus correctly would probably be a case of luck rather than judgment.

Taking pictures with one of these was no easy feat!

The Asahi Pentax (or “AP”) changed all of that. It introduced an eye level finder, which is now standard on all SLR cameras (and some other types too). This also meant the image wasn’t flipped too, so seeing what you were going to get on your prints was so much easier.

The AP also returned the mirror once the image was taken, meaning it was easier to take multiple images quickly. On previous SLR cameras the mirror would stay “up” once you took the picture, and you had to move it back into its correct position yourself.

The camera was a hit, and other manufacturers rushed to incorporate these design features into their own cameras. Within years the AP design was the starting point for all SLR cameras, and it continues to form the basic building block for modern digital SLR cameras (except of course the shutter exposes the sensor, not a roll of film!)

It was such a success that the camera brand Asahi changed its name to Pentax a short while afterwards, a name that endures to this day.

Given the impact photography has had, and continues to have on society, and given the impact this camera had on the subsequent 60+ years of camera design, we don’t think it’s over stating it to say this is one of the most influential pieces of design and technology of the 20th century.

If you can find one, buy it – the cost will be significant, but you will own a little piece of history, and have a camera that will be intuitive to use and superbly built.