How the Cosina CT-1 turned into an evergreen

On the brim of a decade, in late 1979, Cosina took every insight of 40 years of SLR development in the camera world to come up with the most average and basic camera ever. In design. In ergonomics. Proven technology. Add in the more and more popular becoming Pentax K-mount in those days and we have the recipe for an evergreen. Pentax itself brought us the K1000 in 1976, known as the ideal starter camera to this day (not in my opinion but that’s for another blog). The Cosina CT-1 was so essential it spawned a massive offspring of over 70 cameramodels under various brand names ranging from Nikon, Canon, Olympus, Voigtlander and even Carl Zeiss up to far into the 21st century. Even the first digital rangefinder ever, the 2004 introduced Epson R-D1, has DNA of the little CT-1 via the Voigtlander Bessa which it shared bodyparts with.

Can we talk about Cosina?

Not a lot of camera folks have Cosina high on their favourite brand list. Me neither. Little did I know they are the producer behind so many, many cameras in the past. When you are a respected brand like Nikon or Yashica and in the late days of manual focus SLR’s are in need for a entry level camera in your portfolio. Are you going to produce it yourself? No, you call… Cosina. Even for your favourite brand? Probably they did. Some example lists are here and here (.DOC). The casual collector wrote a nice article about it. Not even the complete list of 70+ descendants can be found here. Respect!

How my Cosina CT7 led to my CT-1A

Around 2001 I obtained a cheap Cosina CT7 Computer. With a cracked pentaprism house missing a chip of plastic. Some flimsy buttons for various options. Including a dull Topcon zoom being my first K-mount lens. Dirt cheap I could not resist it and bought it. No match for my growing and active Nikon collection I loaded a film and started shooting around. Not before closing the chipped plastic with some black tape. Boy, did the camera bring fun. Even with the crappy lens. I only shot two rolls back than but my memory was vivid. Fast forward to summer 2020, in the midst of Covid19 times. In the thrift store was this Cosina CT-1A which I did not know anything about with a Cosinon-S 50mm 1.8 lens and a nice strap for €15. Why not? The memory of my CT7 experience was still there so I bought it. It needed almost no cleaning and I loaded it with some old expired film.

Examples on way expired Tri-X

I found a bulk loader full of unknown film in a thrift store 15 years ago. Recently I started developing my own film and after some trials I found out the film is Kodak Tri-X 400 from early 90s. To feed the CT-1A I spooled some on an empty spool, put 2 fresh LR44 batteries in it’s belly and time to go. Made some shots around the house and resisted putting on any of my nice Pentax lenses. The film was developed in Cinestill Df96 monobath. Results are corrupted by the old film and old developer but I can see the potential.

My experience with this ‘Ur’ Cosina

In German the prefix Ur- means first of it’s kind like the original Audi Quattro was the Ur Audi of many 4 wheel drive Audi’s (and others). That’s how I think of this grandfather of the digital Epson rangefinder, the Voigtlander Bessa rangefinders, the Nikon FM10/FE10 and many others. Were the Audi Quattro was high end (in terms of offroad racing) this camera is a bit… well let’s say primitive or basic. The ISO/ASA dial is not locked in any way and duals in function with exposure compensation (it’s not official but can be used that way). The top cover feels plastic, the shutter speed dial (B, 1-1/1000) works but does not feel firm and steady. I read the word flimsy a lot in reviews but that’s not true either. My CT-1A, which is an updated version (only difference is I have 3 red LEDS instead of a needle for correct exposure), is near mint after all those decades. Fresh batteries and there she goes again. It’s the perfect camera for any newcomer in the game. Upgradable with Pentax lenses if you are bored with Cosinon. And at 400something gram way lighter than the K1000 at 600something gram. Where the K1000 prices skyrocket due to a hype this one goes steady in the 5-20 euro range. Including a lens.

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