Gelto DIII : A gem among cameras

There are cameras that you find and wonder “How on Earth did I not know about this?” The Gelto DIII is one of those cameras. It’s a beautiful little camera that packs a big punch

Backstory

The Gelto camera line is comprised of a series of medium format cameras built both before and after WWII in Japan. Produced by Takahashi Kogaku for the early models of the Gelto line and then changing the company name to Toa Koki. Early models didn’t last long before being updated to the Gelto III and DIII. Introduced in 1936, the first model was quickly updated and the Gelto DIII was released in 1937.

The Gelto DIII is the smallest medium format I have come across. It uses 127 roll film to create a 3cm x 4cm image, not unlike the Baby Rollei, but measurably smaller. While most of the Gelto cameras were produced before the war, some were produced afterwards but production stopped around 1952.

Design and function

The Gelto DIII is beautifully designed and constructed. Even though trends of the time were squarely focused on rangefinders, Gelto opted for a view finder mounted to the top of the case. And it continues to deviate from the norm in the design. The are almost no hard edges on thew camera. The ends have the corners knocked off to 3 surfaces instead of hard right angles. The case bottom and top both have rounded edges which make the camera very comfortable despite its small size.

Gelto DIII camera top view
Gelto cold shoe

The DIII saw the addition of a cold shoe on top of the case. It also featured a removable back and bottom for loading film rather than the earlier models which load from the top. The base of the camera also has two spacers that more or less flatten out the bottom so it sits level, but the body isn’t heavy enough for it to sit correctly on a flat surface.

The Gelto is found in only a few color variations; black, silver and gold. Only the silver and gold have a textured body and the word Gelto on each end of the camera. Produced before the war, the black version of the Gelto are covered with leatherette. Given the age of the camera, the intricate and precise casting of the body plates is simply amazing and just adds to the camera’s mystic.

To round it all off, the lens is collapsible making it that much more compact and the back has two viewing ports so you can tell how far to wind the film to the next frame.

Operation and use

Using the Gelto DIII is simple and uncomplicated. It has very few adjustments, knobs and levers to clutter up the design. After extending the lens, you simply cock the shutter and take pictures. The 5cm (50mm) lens is a coated Anastigmat Grimmel C with a helical focus mechanism. It will focus from around 12 inches to infinity with the scale clearly indicated on the lens barrel. Grimmel lenses were produced for Gelto and possibly by Gelto themselves.

Gelto DIII back lock
Back locking latch

Loading film is straight forward. There is a latch on the top of the camera that indicates open (O) or locked (L). Slide the latch to the open position and simply remove the back by sliding it down and off. The only problem that I can see is the fact that it slides up. So take care when loading film not to try and slide the back all the way up and catching the film on the pressure plate. Just set the back on the camera slightly below the top and then slide it up and flip the latch back to lock.

The Gelto DIII uses a leaf shutter that is cocked by a lever on the left side of the lens and fired by a lever on the right. It has a mechanical release port and shutter speeds of Time, Bulb, 1/5s to 1/250s. The lens is averagely fast ranging form f/3.5 to f/16. The Gelto also came with a press-fit aluminum hood and filters. I’m not sure how many filters were available of than the standard yellow filter common to many cameras from this era.

The fact that a camera this size shoots medium format film is still pretty astounding. It’s too bad that 127 film isn’t readily available anymore. You can buy jigs to cut down a roll of 120 film, but as I don’t have a spot in my house dark enough to manage this customization, it remains unused at this point.

The Gelto DIII that I have came with a film specifications sheet folded up in the bottom of the accessory case for the hood and filter. It's really rare to get something like this with a camera. Check it out in the image gallery below.

Final impressions

I don’t know what it is about cameras from this time frame, but the vast majority of cameras I have from the 30s to the 50s never have strap lugs. You have to have a case in order to be able to throw it over your shoulder. Maybe it’s a manufacturing thing, or just the trends of the time. My Leica IIIf doesn’t suffer from this oddity but the Leica ii does – so I guess it’s their fault for being trendsetters.



Specifications

General

Gelto DIII
Type : View Finder
Operation : Mechanical
Format : 127 film
Image size : 3 x 4cm
Lens : Grimmel C Anastigmat 5cm f/3.5
Shutter : Gelto Leaf shutter
Shutter speeds : T, B, 1/5s – 1/250s
Shutter remote : mechanical
Aperture range : f/3.5 – f/16
Flash: PC Terminal
Flash mount : Cold shoe
Strap lugs : No
Production : 1940s/50s
Weight : 2 lbs

Accessories

Press-fit lens hood (There are a few variations of the hood depending on age and model)
Press-fit yellow filter
Leather Hood/filter case
Leather Camera case with strap

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