The Pax M4, a compact 35mm film camera that’s the perfect size to toss in your bag and take everywhere. The M4 is the next iteration of the Pax M3 and there aren’t that many differences. Adding a frosted center panel to the rangefinder makes the M4 bright-line viewfinder bright and clear. There are subtle changes to the camera body giving the M4 a much cleaner look.
History and design
The Pax line of 35mm film cameras was built by Yamato Koki Kogyo in Tokyo during the 50s and in to the 60s. The Yamato Company was a relatively small camera manufacturer, with only about 20 years of making cameras. They actually developed the first cameras with electronic shutters with the Artronic F Zoom and Artronic L prototypes presented at the 1963 Photokina. Unfortunately that was pretty much the last thing to come from the Yamato Camera Industry Company.
The M4 is a well designed compact little 35mm film camera, so the body has very pleasing lines which are fairly free of interruptions. It’s a pretty smooth rectangle with contoured ends and rounded corners just enough to feel really comfortable in the hand. It’s relatively small measuring around 4 5/16 inches wide, 2 9/16 inches tall and 1 3/16 inches thick. As a result, the Pax M4 is a nice looking camera. It is, however, pretty heavy for it’s size; weighing in at 1.3 lbs loaded with film which is almost just as heavy as the Nikon F3 body.
The M4 comes stock with a fixed 45mm f/2.8 Luminor Anastigmat lens. The Luminor lenses are better than average in quality and are most likely a 4 element design. I’m not sure if the Yamato Company made these lenses or if they were a separate company, but they only appear on similar Japanese cameras from the 1950s and 60s. They often renamed and rebranded their cameras, so it could be that Luminor lenses are only found on cameras made by Yamato Camera Industry Company.
The lens focuses like many of the rangefinders of the era and has a finger knob on the side of the lens to make it easy to operate will also providing a way to adjust shutter speed and aperture without having to worry about accidentally changing one of them while focusing the camera. The M4 has a focus range of 3 feet to infinity and a scale on top of the lens to make it easy to distance focus.
The rangefinder is a Reverse-galilean finder with a split-view focusing window tied to the Luminor lens. The finder is adequately bright but would be troublesome in darker situations. In the viewfinder you’ll see two frames one for general framing of normal pictures and the second frame is for taking close up images. Since it’s a rangefinder with the finder above the lens you have to compensate for that distance when photographing objects that are close to the camera. There is also a PC socket on the side of the lens and X or F sync lever for use of a flash unit which would be attached to the cold shoe on top of the camera body.
The film advance crank also cocks the shutter which isn’t a huge shocker but I run across cameras from this time that don’t often enough to warrant a mention. The shutter button on the Pax M4 also doubles as the cable release port. You only have a handful of shutter speeds to choose from; B, 1/10s, 1/25s, 1/50s, 1/100s and 1/300s but you have aperture options from f/2.8 to f/16. To rewind the film, simply depress the rewind button next to the frame indicator and go for it.
Expanding the abilities of the M4 is made possible through accessory lenses that thread onto the lens. The stock lens a 30mm thread with an outer ring between the threads and outside lens barrel. The lenses came in kits with their own leather pouch. The lens hood had 3 filters with it, while the two lenses came with a view finder. The view finder allowed for more accurate framing for both the wide angle and telephoto lenses. The lenses have a focusing scale on the barrel and the press fit lens hood came with a UV, yellow and green filter.
If you’re feeling adventurous you could locate a step-up ring and use other lens attachments made for more modern cameras. You may or may not get better results from newer attachments since many are pretty cheap with horrible edge fall-off. I bought a set of Xenvo Pro lenses a while back and they are garbage, worse than bad actually. So be aware of how little you spend on accessory lenses; you definitely get what you pay for.
The back and bottom of the case is removed in order to load and remove the film. It takes standard 35mm film and is loaded in the standard orientation of the take up spool on the right. There is a small metal tab that is attached to the take up spool that you slide the leader under. With the back open, advance the film one frame and close it back up. When closing the back, make sure to set the back down on the film as close to the top of the back to avoid snagging the film on the pressure plate. Then rotate the dial to “L”, advance the film and you’re all set. The locking mechanism is well built on the M4. Many cameras have problems here which produce opportunities for light to find it’s way in. But not the M4, it’s smooth and creates a snug fit.
There’s a lot to like about the Pax M4. The base has a nice flat surface created by the tripod mount (1/4″ thread), the back lock and a pseudo knob on the right. Unfortunately it’s not enough to be able to set the camera down and not have it tip under its own weight. With the back lock being in the middle means the tripod mount is off center. It has a metal rewind lever and an easy to adjust, impossible to accidentally move, film speed indicator.
The film crank is smooth and produces a very satisfying gear sound as it is moved. The film frame counter is quite large and very easy to read. Surprisingly this is something that a lot of cameras get dead wrong. Many are very small and ridiculously hard to read. The frame counter on my Voightlander Bessa L is a total dumpster fire; it’s so tiny that it is nearly impossible to read without bright light.
And here we are, yet again, with another 50s era camera with no built-in strap lugs. What the hell? What was it with strap lugs in the 50s? So be sure to get one of the cases if you plan on being able to hang it around your neck.
Like many of the cameras I buy, the Pax M4 is not an expensive camera and you should be able to get one for $100 or so, depending on condition and whether or not it has any of the accessories with it. That’s not much of a deterrent given how high film camera prices are right now. So go get one and run some film through it, and as soon as I finish my current roll of film I’ll update this post with some samples.
Type: Range Finder
Production: 1959 – 1960s
Shutter: 2 blade leaf shutter
Weight: 1.2 lbs
Flash: PC connection – M
Shutter speed: 1/25 sec – 1/200, B
Leather Case w/strap
Lens hood and filters (press fit w/case)
Wide angle lens kit and finder (w/case)
Telephoto Lens kit and finder (w/case)
Flash accessory (and flash bulbs)