If you ride the special express train 126 miles northwest from Tokyo, you'll
find yourself in Nagano Prefecture...
The cameras were furnished with whatever lensmount was necessary: screw-thread, K-mount, Canon, Nikon or Olympus bayonet. As listed last column, and slightly expanded here, the major camera brands using one or more Cosina-made SLRs included Argus, Bauer, Canon, Exakta, Hanimex, Miranda, Nikon, Petri, Quantaray, Soligor, Vivitar.
(Yes, yes, yes, I know that Chinon and Ricoh also made basic SLRs for many companies, but we have reason right now to follow Cosina's ventures.)
Then came the digital onslaught. Virtually all Cosina-made 35mm film SLRs were obsolete antiques, not needed by the major-brand camera companies.
I had what I thought was a brilliant idea for Kobayashi. Just as he had made basic, inexpensive 35mm SLR camera bodies with various lensmounts, why not do the same for digital cameras?
"Look at the short life of digital SLRs and their continuously falling prices," rejoined Kobayashi. "Why should I get into that mess?"
Kobayashi had, as they say, other fish to fry. It would be a completely different camera and he would sell it directly; no more selling cameras only to other companies who would then put their own names on them. But what name should Cosina use? While Cosina had tried its own on cameras for the Japanese market, the Cosina name was not exactly considered the Rolls-Royce or Mercedes-Benz of cameradom.
But Kobayashi was indeed thinking of a camera system that could well be equated with top quality. Where could he find a prestigious readymade name he could purchase or adopt?
Voigtländer, founded in 1756, is the world's oldest name in cameras. Schering, a pharmaceutical company which owned most of Voigtländer's stock, sold its shares in 1956 to Zeiss; who then ceased making cameras in 1972 and sold Voigtländer to Rollei; which was acquired by lensmaker Schneider; who in 1992 ran into financial difficulties and transferred ownership of Voigtländer to a German wholesaler, Plusfoto; who, in 1997, sold the name to Ringfoto, a giant supplier of photo products to over 2,500 stores in Europe.
What better name than Voigtländer? Kobayashi was licensed by Ringfoto to use the Voigtländer names for both camera models and lenses. APO-Lanthar, Bessa, Heliar, Nokton, Skopar, and Ultron could ride again.
Ringfoto, however, retains ownership of the names, and uses the Voigtländer in Europe as a brand name for some film and inexpensive cameras.
The first Cosina-made, Voigtländer-named, camera of 1999 was an odd bird indeed. Take a standard Cosina 35mm SLR body, remove the prism and mirror housing, retain the 1- to 1/2000-sec mechanical shutter, wind and rewind mechanism and red, green LEDs and centerweighted exposure system. Add a Leica-type screw-thread lensmount, and you have a Bessa L, ideal for mounting the new Voigtländer Superwide 15mm f/4.5 Heliar, or 25mm f/4 Skopar lens (which can be guess-focused). Shoe-mount viewfinders for these lenses were included. The internal body chassis of the Bessa L is an aluminum alloy casting, but external parts, including the swing open back, are plastic and a little tacky.
The lenses were something else. The Superwide 15mm f/4.5 Heliar and 25mm f/4 Skopar were magnificently mounted in ultrasmooth-operating black or chrome lensmounts with engraved figures. With no need to use complicated retrofocus optical designs to clear a rapid return mirror, the lenses were highly compact and spectacularly good, as was the later Ultra Wide 12mm f/5.6 Heliar, the widest lens in production, which was equal in focal length to the discontinued 12mm f/8 Zeiss Holigon, but not in price. The Holigon today costs you about $2,000; the Ultra Wide Heliar, $596!