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The Tokyo Optical 5cm F3.5 Simlar

July 25, 2012

I recently bought a Leotax D IV with a 5cm F3.5 Simlar. The D III is a rare enough camera that I will probably have it CLA’d with new curtains soon, but my main interest in this purchase was the Simlar. I find the combination of a light collapsible lens and a Leica III-type bottom loading rangefinder to be about the best grab-and-go classic camera combination for actual use there is.

The Simlar 5cm F3.5, made by Tokyo Optical (which I think believe is the same company that eventually became what we knew more commonly as Topcon) appears to be a close copy of the Leica 5cm F3.5 Elmar. It heralds from the early to mid-fifties when the Japanese were so effectively copying Leica products as well as those of other German camera makers. Of course the Japanese took this industriousness well beyond copying and at some point and began to innovate on their own, eventually dominating the 35mm camera market world-wide.

The Simlar is collapsible like the Elmar and seems quite similar in all respects. It is not a rare lens, although it is certainly not encountered routinely either. Perhaps two thousand or a bit more were made, and I am sure it was sold mainly with Leotax camera bodies as their economy lens. Of course this level of production is vastly less than the Elmar, or say the Fed 5cm F3.5 from Russia, so it is not a common lens (but still not rare). My Simlar does not have a serial number on it (that I can find at least). The Simlar 5cm F3.5 is usually sold with Leotax camera bodies. One occasionally finds it for sale mounted on other, often rare, Japanese camera bodies for whatever reason. The Simlar is often found in relatively good condition too, although the presence of micro-coating scratches on the front element is common. If these scratches are not too numerous and clustered, they do not impact results. The Simlar appears to accept all accessories of the Elmar (hoods, push-on filters, etc.). It is also a coated lens, a distinct advantage over many examples of the Elmar.

My estimation of the market value of the Simlar 5cm F3.5 is that one in reasonably good condition is worth between $175 and $250. This is based on the few examples I have seen for sale over the last few years, and estimating the lens portion of the value from (mostly) Leotax camera+lens sales. This of course is not extraordinary money, as for example I would for example appraise a good coated Elmar LTM 5cm/3.5 at say $250-350 these days. Thus for a quality collectible prime lens for LTM, the Simlar is reasonably priced and certainly a contender as an alternative to the Leica Elmar.

So how does the Simlar perform optically? Well, I will not directly compare this lens to the Elmar, which is a very fine lens in the opinion of most who have used it (including me). I will say that in my opinion the Simlar is just about as good, and quite remarkable for a copy of such a distinguished lens. My impression is that the Elmar from the same time of the Simlar were made just a bit better; Leica finish quality is very hard to duplicate at reasonable cost, but the differences are evident only to the experienced eye. The Elmar may hold up better with time too, as Simlars more often need a CLA to get them back into top form, although most are usable as is.

Here are some specs on the Simlar:

Weight: 4.5 ounces (128 grams)
Filter Thread: 36mm push-on or A36 clamp-mount
Extension from camera body at infinity focus:  1.18″ (31mm)
Elements: 4 (?)
Minimum Aperture: F16, continuously adjustable

Here are some digital shots of my current Simlar 5cm F3.5 mounted on my fabulous Kardon Civilian. Following this are some shots taken with this combination using Agfa 100 color print film with minimal post-processing and scanned only to moderate resolution. The shot taken in my dining room was taken wide open – the sharpness at F3.5 is quite good for a four element lens.

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