Today’s review camera, the Aires 35-III L, was purchased brand new by my Father in late 1957. Dad actually wanted a kodak Retina, but it was quite a bit more expensive than the Aires, and the upcoming month long vacation in Arizona with my Mom was going to eat up most of their finances, so he settled with the Aires. However, ‘settled’ may be a bit too harsh; the Aires 35-III L was highly rated in all the magazines at the time, where the writers gushed about the great lens, single stoke rapid film advance, and rangefinder focusing down to 20 inches (0.5m).
The Aires 35-III L has a six element (H) ‘Coral’ lens of 45mm, and a F/1.9 Seikosha shutter mechanism. The camera feels very solid in the hands, and is quite heavy at over 800g bare. Aires incorporated the much dreaded ‘light value’ system into this model, and in actual use causes too much fiddling with the lens ring to change it; you could easily miss a good shot by screwing with this feature, I don’t like it.
My Dad used this camera exclusively for almost 30 years, running only Kodachrome or Ektachrome through it, and rarely printing anything as he liked to project the images with a Three Dimension Company set-up on a sparkly Da-lite screen. Unfortunately, as the years ticked by, the shutter speeds became sluggish, and the local repair shop was not able to fix it, so he moved on to a Minolta 7000 in 1986, and yes, I still have that one too!
After sitting unused from 1986 until today, (another 30+ years), I decided to try and get it working again, but the shutter was now locked up, and the viewfinder was so cloudy I wasn’t even able to see the rangefinder patch to focus. So back to Japan it went, where is was born, to have open heart surgery, and if successful, allow it to have another few decades of shooting. Thankfully, a month later it came back in working condition with everything clean and bright. The faster shutter speeds are still a bit off, but at least I can use it now.
I recently shot a roll of Kodak Gold 200, maybe the first print film that’s ever been used in the camera, and I have some aperture test pictures to show, along with some period shots from the late 1950s.
If you’re looking for some history of the Aires company and more info on the 35-III L camera, go to Mike Eckman’s page.
So with the intro out of the way, let’s start off with some specs and product shots.
Name; Aires 35-III L
Manufactured by; Aires Camera, Ind, Co, Ltd. No. 437, 1-chome, Nishiokubo, Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo, Japan.
Made in; Japan.
Date of manufacture; approximately 1957.
Price; according to period magazines, about $100 in 1957. Current eBay prices range anywhere from $50 to $150 or more depending on condition and if it comes with the original box etc.
Build material; metal with a very good fit and finish.
Box contents; a red and green flimsy cardboard box, camera, embossed leather case(?), embossed metal lens cap and user’s manual; see first picture at top.
Weight; my measurements; camera body, no film: 28.3oz (802g).
Dimensions; my measurements; 5.25″ (133mm), long; 3.3″ (85mm) tall; and 2.8″ (72mm) deep at infinity focus.
Focal length; 45mm. 51° diagonal angle of view.
Aperture; has five straight aperture blades and stops down from F/1.9 to F/16 in one stop increments.
Focusing distance; 20″ (0.5m) to infinity, based on the lens markings, and 23″ (0.6m) from the owner’s manual.
Viewfinder; tinted slightly green. Aires calls it a ‘trimming, wide-angle’ viewfinder, meaning you capture the same scene as you see in the viewfinder, even outside of the frame lines. Additionally, it has a coincidence type rangefinder with a mild magenta colored patch that’s easy to see.
Light meter; none.
Approximate resolution; good film and technique will make excellent 8×10″ and good 11×14″ prints. See sample images farther down the page.
Lens; H Coral 45mm F/1.9, six element in four group design with amber coating. Takes 43mm filters.
Shutter and speed; Seikosha MXL, has five shutter blades and nine speeds from 1 second to 1/500s, plus bulb mode.
Film; standard 35mm cartridges.
Flash; no built-in flash, but it does have a cold shoe and PC socket for flash use. Can use electronic flash, along with fast and medium burn bulbs.
Power; no batteries.
Accessories for this model; Aires SL39 screw-in filters. UV Skylight (1a), Cloudy-light yellow, (81b), Yellow-Green or Brown, (85, 85c), orange-blue (80a), and light red for B&W only.
Crippling features and omissions; no double exposure prevention over-ride, or self timer.
Good features; good quality lens, solid and well built, cable release socket on top of shutter button, and excellent viewfinder.
Quirks; none really unless you count the awful exposure (light) value scale.
Other versions; nearly identical 35-III with no exposure (light) value scale.
Go here to see the owner’s manual, and make sure you tip the site owner.
Product shots with descriptions. Click pictures for larger versions.
The Aires has a classic ‘rangefinder’ look to it, with the requisite black leatherette coverings around the main body. There are three rectangular windows along the top; the small one on the left is the ‘reflex’ part of the rangefinder system, the middle one for lighting. The actual viewfinder window is on the right.
Along the top are; a film reminder window, this shot indicating there is no film in the camera. The rewind crank is next, flip up the lever to rewind the film, and raise the whole knob up to load a film cartridge.
In the middle is a cold shoe, meaning it only holds a flash or other accessory, it doesn’t offer an electrical connection to the shutter.
On the right is the single stroke film advance lever. Incidentally, if the round cover is stamped with an ‘E⋅P’ in a triangle it means it was sent to a military installation exchange for purchase by service members.
Above the advance lever is the film counter window; it’s an additive type, and will reset itself when you open the back. The shutter button is above the counter, and it has a standard threaded cable release.
Here’s a close-up of the film reminder window when it’s slid open. There are settings for color and B&W film, and different ASA’s. For color film you have the option of an outdoor or incandescent (tungsten) type film. I”m guessing the first index mark in the color area is ASA 12 for Kodachrome, the second is marked for ASA 25, the third is probably ASA 40 for Kodachrome type ‘A’ incandescent photoflood 3400k film.
The bottom of the camera reveals the film rewind button on the left, and an off center ¼-20 tripod socket over to the right, and not centered on the lens. The focusing knob is at the bottom of the lens, and focused at infinity in this view.
You open the back cover by pulling up the thin metal tab located along the side strap. With the back open the internals are quite ordinary; a metal film pressure plate, film tensioner and advance sprocket. The black circle is the viewfinder eyepiece. The relief is fairly extensive, meaning you don’t need to press your eyeball right up to the glass, and even eyeglass wearers can see the whole image.
The aperture settings are on a ring at the very front of the lens, with the light value scale immediately below on the same ring. You have to pull out on the ring to set the aperture, and it’ll spring back when released. The problem here is that the aperture/LV is cross coupled with the shutter speeds, and you have nine shutter speeds to choose from, and seven apertures; so if you need to go beyond your initial six stop setting, you have to reset the scale, (and aperture) to a value closer to what you want. Of course that’s not a big deal if the light is stable, but it becomes a nuisance when the lighting changes, and you need to drastically change the exposure values.
The depth of field scale and infinity index mark (red triangle) are at the bottom of the lens, along with the ‘R‘ infrared index mark. It looks like Aires has added some sort of ‘quick’ shot setting like Zeiss Ikon uses. The 30 foot mark, and red dot at (F/8) on the aperture scale suggest settings for landscape type shots, or maybe street scenes; the shutter speed is coupled to the aperture so there’s no reason to put any red mark there. The owner’s manual doesn’t mention anything about these red markings.
The colored XFM marks are for flash syncing. The X is for electronic flash, the ‘F’ for fast burning bulbs, and ‘M‘ for medium burn bulbs. For some reason it’s set in-between marks in the picture, I guess I was fiddling with it. Keep the setting to ‘X‘ when not using flash. The PC flash connection is on the right side in the picture above, by the ‘500’ shutter speed mark.
Sample shots below.
Here are a few samples for your viewing pleasure. They’re 4000 pixels wide, which shows all the detail present in the negative. Click image for a larger version. Scanned on a Nikon Coolscan 9000 ED. All pictures taken with Kodak Gold 200.
F/1.9. The lens focuses closely, and is actually quite sharp wide open. Here I tried to focus on the headlight in the central part of the image, but the focus was actually towards the right side, or in front of the intended target by about half an inch (12mm), and just as likely I may have moved a little after focusing.
At F/1.9 the background blur is lentil shaped, with a hard line around the outer edge.
The viewfinder lines match up with the window frame, but the actual coverage is what you see here, and is called a ‘trimming viewfinder’ by Aires.
Distortion is not noticeable, even when getting straight lines near the image edges. Slightly blurry shot above.
A Kodachrome from ca1959; see the same scene recently in a Kodak moment, 3000 pixels wide.
Detroit Auto Show 1960 or 1961, see the Kodak moment write up. 2400 pixels wide.
Rillito Park in Tucson, AZ, February 1958. Black stripes are part of the building structure. Kodachrome slide, 3000 pixels wide.
Test scene below.
All test shots are displayed at 4000 x 2667 pixels wide when enlarged, and that’s all the resolution included in the film. Scanned on a Nikon Coolscan 9000 ED.
Tripod used, no filters. Kodak Gold 200.
F/1.9. I see heavy light fall-off, and a lack of resolution and contrast all over, not really unusual characteristics of lenses from this era used wide open.
At F/2.8 I see a very slight resolution and contrast increase in the central area, but light fall-off seems the same.
Stopping down to F/4 sharpens up the central area, but the sides are still soft. Light fall-off is diminishing.
At F/5.6 the image starts to look quite sharp in the whole central part of the frame. Light fall-off is barely noticeable.
Moving to F/8 shows about the same as F/5.6.
At F/11 the sides sharpen up, with the centers about the same, or did I jiggle the camera on this one?
F/16. A very noticeable gain in resolution and contrast over the entire image, especially along the sides, and odd that this comes at a very small aperture.
Dad’s old Aires 35 III L turned in a good review; he enjoyed it for three decades and was obviously pleased with the technical quality of the slides. But how does it stack up with other similar cameras from the day?
The Aires 35-III L has a great build quality, and feels nice and solid in the hand, if not a bit heavy. The camera is fairly simple to operate, with shutter speed and aperture choices cross-coupled to make identical exposures easy; however, I don’t really care for the light value feature because I’m a control freak and like to change settings independently, or in an uncoupled manor. Some people may like the ease in changing settings it brings, but the light value feature was confusing back then, and apparently still is today judging by the questions on the photo forums. Thankfully, exposure metering systems replaced the light value system by the end of the 1950s. Anyhow, other positives include the bright viewfinder with long eye relief, clear rangefinder patch, and the close focusing distance.
The only real negative for the camera is the lens performance at normal daytime apertures. At wide apertures like F/1.9-F/2.8 it’s about as good as any other similar lens from the 1950s, however, when stopped down to F/8-11, the sharpness is good, but not great; although I may have jiggled the camera at F/11. The big plus is: when stopped down to F/16 the lens is actually very impressive, even along the extreme sides, and looks just as sharp as the similar lenses out there from other manufacturers, but why at F/16? Could it be that when the camera was repaired it wasn’t put back together correctly, or the rangefinder is off? When looking at the old pictures from the 1950s and 1960s, the lens performance seems about the same as today, especially when comparing wide aperture pictures from Kodachrome slides—I think it was ASA 12, and that meant about F/5.6 at 1/50s in sunny weather, and F/1.9-2.8 in early morning or late afternoon, so there weren’t too many occasions were you would be shooting at F/8, and probably never at F/16. I think the rangefinder is very close to being correct; in fact it’s probably close enough that user error is more of a problem than imprecision of the rangefinder. Funny, but the close focus shots at wide apertures seem to be quite sharp, and that was one of the great lens attributes the magazines were raving about at the time; so who knows, I may try another one, or just close the books on the Aires 35-III L, after all, it’s more of a nostalgia trip than a great vacation camera.
I’d take the Kodak Retina IIIC over the Aires, I wish Dad had enough money at the time to buy it, but he was happy with the Aires, and that’s all that matters.
That’s it for Pop’s camera. It was fun to get it working again and take it out for a walk or two! Please consider buying through my links and help support the site. Thanks for visiting!