Beauty LightOmatic III

This LightOmatic III camera is an addition to my collection of 35mm rangefinder cameras. It is a fixed lens camera from Japan and is firmly from the same stable as the Yashicas (Minister III and Minister D), Petri 7s, Taron Auto EE, Mamiya EE, Minolta Uniomat. There is a consistent feel about these Japanese rangefinders which makes them distinct from, say, the German fixed lens rangefinders from the likes of Voigtländer.

Beauty started off as Taiyodo in Tokyo after WWII. Taiyodo became Beauty in 1957 and seems to have ceased trading around 1963. In that bare twenty years, they made around thirty five models of camera.

Beauty LightOmatic III
  • lens: Biokar-S
  • focal length: 45 mm
  • apertures: ƒ/1.9 to ƒ/16
  • focus range: 0.8 m to infinity
  • lens fitting: fixed
  • shutter: Copal-SV
  • speeds: 1 sec to 1/500 sec
  • flash: PC connector, X or M sync
  • film size: 35 mm

This Beauty LightOmatic started as the LightOmatic in 1959 – it was also sold as the LM in some markets. In 1960, the LightOmatic II was introduced with some small improvements. My camera, the LightOmatic III, was introduced in 1961. The biggest change here is the light meter sensor is enlarged and moved to a ring around the lens together with a meter read-out in the viewfinder. This version was also sold as the Lightmatic III and the Lite III.

The camera measures 142 by 85 by 72 mm and weighs 693 g.

Top Plate

The top plate is fairly standard for a Japanese rangefinder. On the right is the film advance lever. This is cut from metal and appears to be aluminium, it moves through about 120º to advance the film one frame. This lever is not on a ratchet and must move in one throw. This film advance lever also doubles as a shutter lock. With the lever in its rest position, in line with the top plate, the shutter cannot be fired. To use the camera, you must first pull out the lever slightly. When you advance the film, the lever will return to the lock position which could become annoying.

Just to the right of the film advance lever, right on the edge of the top plate, is the window for the frame counter. The numbers are in yellow – only the even numbers are displayed – with 20 and 36 in red as these were the standard film lengths available in the 1960s. This counts up from 1 – the numbers are reset to S (or minus 2) by opening the back of the camera to fit a new film. To the left of the film advance lever is the shutter release button. This is chromed metal and is threaded for a standard cable release (50 threads per inch on a taper – this would seem to be the European standard and there is a straight threaded release in America).

The rest of the top plate is slightly raised – only by a couple of millimetres. Very nearly centrally is the light meter window. This is rectangular with a black mark on the left and a moving needle on the right. Setting the exposure is a matter of adjusting the aperture and shutter speed until the needle is against the black mark.

To the left of the meter window is the accessory shoe. This is a standard design first introduced by Oskar Barnack in 1913 for the first Leica prototype. The only change in over a hundred years is the addition of electrical contacts for flash – but not on this camera, this is the original Barnack cold shoe. In front of the accessory shoe is the camera name: LightOmatic III stamped in the metal and painted black. Also by the accessory shoe is the camera serial number: V38496. On the far left of the top plate, as is usual for 35mm cameras, is the rewind crank. This is the usual small folding crank. When the crank is not being used to rewind the film it locks in place. This has the effect that it does not rotate as the film is advanced. I always use the rotating of the rewind crank as an indicator that the film is advancing properly. Not on this camera.

Back View

The back of the top plate has the viewfinder eyepiece – it measures 8 by 5 mm which is larger than had been usual in the 1950s. This eyepiece also doubles as the rangefinder eyepiece. The rangefinder spot is square and orange – the orange colour is due to gold being used to ‘silver’ the internal mirror in the rangefinder. The contrast between the rangefinder spot and the rest of the image is good and very usable. Also in the viewfinder are bright lines for composition. These are parallax corrected – as you focus nearer, the bright lines move both down and to the right. Also in the viewfinder is a second light meter window. This sits at the top right just above the bright lines. When wearing glasses, it is a bit too high for comfort but is still quite usable.

The front of the top plate has a long window divided into three. On the right is the viewfinder window which measures 18 by 12 mm. On the left is the rangefinder window which measures 5 by 6 mm. It is 40 mm from the centre of the viewfinder window. This distance affects the accuracy of the rangefinder – the further apart the better. My Voigtländer CLR only has 28 mm, my Zeiss Ikon Contessa LKE has 25 mm, my Yashica Minister D has 35 mm and my Minolta Uniomat has 24 mm so the rangefinder on this Beauty is quite good (but not as good as my Soviet Fed 2 with 66 mm). In between these two is a grey translucent window. This provides the illumination for the bright lines.

The front of the camera has the shutter/lens assembly, as always. The shutter is a Copal-SV which is coupled to both the light meter and the rangefinder Both the focus ring and the aperture ring have large plastic tabs on them to make adjusting them easy while the camera is at eye-level.

The focus range is from 0.8 m (2.7 feet) to infinity. The ring is quite stiff to turn. This is partly due to age but more because the whole lens moves to focus plus there is a linkage to the viewfinder to move the bright lines and a further linkage to the rangefinder.

The aperture ring is much easier to move – it has a lot less to do. Apertures are from ƒ/1.9 to ƒ/16. There are no indents here so intermediate values can be set. In front of the aperture ring, on the left, is a lever to select between X and M flash synchronising. At the bottom of the ring is a lever to set the self delay timer. This gives an eight second delay between pressing the shutter release button and the shutter firing, according to the manual. I am not going to try this as on old shutters the timer can wreck the shutter.

Next out is the shutter speed ring. This does have indents so can only be set to the specified speeds. The speeds are from 1 second to 1/500 seconds in the usual sequence plus B. By the 1/15 speed is a small window showing the set film speed. This is in ASA and runs from 10 ASA to 1600 ASA. 100 ASA is in red (why?), all the others are in green. The film speed is adjusted by a very thin ring in front of the shutter speed ring, with a serrated portion at the bottom for grip.

In the front of the housing is the lens. this is a Biokor-S lens. This was made by Nitto. Nitto are not a well known company – at least not in the UK – but they are still an active optical company in Japan. According to Collections Appareils, the lens has six elements but with no mention of the arrangement of the elements. The focal length of the lens is 45 mm which is ‘normal‘ for 35 mm film cameras. The lens bezel states ‘F.C.’ which I am interpreting as ‘Fully Coated’.

In a ring around the lens is the selenium sensor for the light meter. As it is a selenium sensor, no battery is required. This sensor is inside the filter thread so if a filter is fitted, the light meter automatically compensates for the light loss through the filter. Not quite TTL metering but getting close.

On the base of the camera, in line with the lens, is a standard (1/4 inch UNC thread) tripod socket. Also on the base is the button enable film rewind. This is better than most cameras as there is no need to hold the button in once it is depressed which makes rewinding film much easier.

Most of the body of the camera is covered with a coarse leatherette. Both the top and base plate are satin plated brass. On the front of the camera there is the legend ‘Beauty’ in gold near the top and beneath is a PC socket for flash. At the top of the body, just below the the top plate, on the corners are two strap lugs.

The back of the camera is opened by a sliding catch on the left hand end of the camera. The inside of the back has a central sprung pressure plate to keep the film flat over the film gate. Near the catch is a chromed leaf spring which keeps the film cassette secure. At the other end of the back is a chrome roller which helps to keep the film taut.

Before I can use this camera, I need to replace the foam light seals where the back closes onto the body. this is a simple do-it-yourself job and once I have completed it, I shall be trying the camera out.

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