Topic – Another Oldie/Goldie — Aires 35-III

For the untrained eye the Aires 35 [pronounced like ‘high-res’ without the initial ‘h’ and not like in ‘Buenos’] sure looks like a Leica rangefinder but it is in fact a japanese camera from the mid-1950’s. The 35-III model stems from 1956. But the Leica similarities are there: The Aires is also a rangefinder, it is also incredibly heavy  and compact.

The Aires has no interchangeable lenses, just an exceptionally sharp 45 mm f/2 H CORAL. Neither is it a focal plane shutter but a leaf-shutter in the lens. And it is a fun camera to use!

Aires (1)In the year 1956 this 100 % mechanical camera saw its first light. Now almost 60 years later it still runs. Will any of the modern DSLRs work in 60 years? Doubt that! This brute weighs in a 815 grammes. It is also a great letter press (letters are sooo 1956 too aren’t they?)

When it came to me it was effectively a brick. Of course I bought it with this in mind and in part because I expected a few hours of happy mechanical tinkering. I really enjoy going over a mechanism, cleaning it, studying it and hopefully get it running.

As I recently got an ultra-sonic cleaner I also hoped to make good use of the new cleaning resources. The camera clearly has been used a lot considering its scars and bruises. As it turned out major disassembly was not necessary, just removing the top revealed a broken spring that had dislodged and locked the entire film feeding mechanism. By bending the remains of the spring to get a hooked end it could be fastened and the mechanism worked again. That was a bit too quick!

The Seikosha shutter has a reputation for getting stuck due to wandering grease into the leaves but in this case both the shutter leaves and the timing looked to be in good condition. Even the 1 second shutter timer simmers along with a good clean rhythm. All the disassembled parts went through the ultra-sonic bath and came out a good bit cleaner.

The cleaning was so effective and penetrating that the camera’s original paint went off as can be seen below: Aires (4)Among several Aires 35-something this is a -III from 1956. After the ultra-sonic bath much dirt came off and even some paint as can be seen. The surface and coating is cleaner now than before and the remaining black stains are perhaps rust in tiny pits?

The lens had some long hairs inside (cat?), so that too had to be opened up. It was easy to access through the front lens for cleaning and pulling out the hair with a pincer. I really wonder how it got there in the first place?

Then there is the rangefinder where the mechanism works but the optics have perhaps deteriorated during the last 60 years. The rangefinder patch is very hard to see, in good light (i.e. outside in the stark sun) there are no problems but in subdued light, in the evenings or even in a forest among pines the rangefinder is practically useless.

I have not dared running the optics in the ultra-sonic bath as I do not think anything good would come out of it. Chances are that the rangefinder patch goes away completely! Some careful removal of dust with isopropyl alcohol and a few topses improved rangefinder to a usable state but not much more than so.

At a (another) thrift shop I was fortunate to find another Aires only to find the rangefinderpatch  just as soft. What a pity! This is a really fun camera to use, but without the rangefinder it is too much guesswork to get sharp pictures.


I got the camera just a few days before a vacation and as it seemed to run OK I brought along for a live testing during the holidays. The experience, apart from the lousy rangefinder in low light, was very positive. I deliberately overexposed the Fomapan 100 and the negs generally came out usable.

Aires (5)

As usual the negs are sharper when scrutinized under a microscope than my scans can show. 

Aires (7)

Here is the camera’s forte: quick street like photography. With aperture at f/8-f/16 and time set it is less than 200 ms to the first shot. I set exposure for the shadows and then stuck with that until the weather changed… more or less. It was a liberating exercise not having to bother with it. At f/16  everything from 4 to infinity was in perifocal distance.

Aires (9)

At f/2 or thereabouts one has to be very careful of the distance to the object… Or we end up with unusually sharp and crispy grovel beneath the blurry dog. (These mutts are not known to keep still for photography anyway.)

Aires (10)

Skeleton head found on the wall on a hunter cabin. 

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3 Responses to Topic – Another Oldie/Goldie — Aires 35-III

  1. Steve Scarlett says:

    Interesting read–especially as there is one on sale in a local shop with the f2 lens. Most info on the net raves about the f1.9 which came a year or two later but it looks as if the f2 is pretty good too. Would you happen to know if there is any appreciable difference between them ? If not I’ll probably snap it up !

    • jabcam says:

      Sorry I have no information on that. Generally I am very positive towards the Aires though. The f/2 is a sharp one and given that the viewfinder patch is visible, longer times are working and the price is right: Get it! (Anyway it is only 0.1 difference:)

      • Steve Scarlett says:

        Thanks for the reply—the f2 seems fairly rare so I thought it unlikely anyone would have one of those and the f1.9 as well. The relative speed is of no significance at all, of course, I just wondered whether there might be a slightly different lens formulation or coating that would make the earlier one a bit less of a gem…..someone on the net reckoned his f1.9 outperformed a Summicron…..would be nice to have that level of performance in a £30 camera ! I’ll go and have a good look at it next week.

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