Konica FS-1 (1979-1982)

The FS-1, just as the Auto-Reflex in 1965, caused quite a stir when it was unveiled. It was unlike any camera made until then and it had many innovative features, virtually all of which set a trend followed by other makers in subsequent months and years. The FS-1’s chief claim to fame is its built-in motor winder. This motor is lodged within the film take-up spool and advances the film at a rate of 1.5 frames per second in continuous shooting. For the sake of historical accuracy, I should mention that the first SLR with a built-in winder was the Soviet Zenith 5, a fixed-lens camera with a leaf shutter, built as far back as 1964. Made behind the Iron Curtain in very small numbers, this camera was virtually unnoticed on world markets, however.

What made the FS-1 unique is that its motor was used not only for film-advance but also as the central element of a brilliant film loading system. Since the 1960s, most camera makers – Konica included – outdid one another in offering fool-proof film loading solutions featuring ‘quick’ film snatching clips, grips, slots and snaps of all description. With the FS-1, Konica introduced what was probably the world’s easiest film loading system: All the user needed to do was place the film leader on the take-up spool and close the film door. The auto-wind mechanism did the rest thanks to a soft rubber-covered drum with a tensioned clip that kept the film wound tightly against the drum as it turned.

The FS-1 was Konica’s first electronically controlled camera. Many cameras had been made with electronic circuitry or chips of some sort for many years (an area in which the pioneering steps had been taken in the early 1970s by Yashica). Whereas in most cases, electronics were used to control the camera’s metering and exposure functions, the FS-1 had a veritable CPU (‘central processing unit’) which controlled all of the camera’s functions: Film loading and advance, the operation of the mirror and the aperture mechanism, the opening, timing and closing of the shutter, the self-timer, flash operation and, last but not least, metering. For good or ill, this was probably the world’s first camera whose operation was so thoroughly dependent on electronics.

The release of the FS-1 was accompanied by a large scale advertising and promotional campaign, which seems to indicate that the company had great hopes for the success of this model. Ironically, and as is often the case with innovative efforts, the FS-1’s advanced electronic circuitry proved to be its Achilles’ heel. Its circuits turned out to be extremely sensitive to voltage variations and the use of any battery other than the recommended alkaline type would all too often lead to fried circuits. Particularly dangerous were rechargeable batteries, whose voltage can vary considerably. Such fragile electronics earned the FS-1 a reputation for doubtful dependability and marred the company’s image as a technical innovator and maker of dependable cameras.

To address the problem, Konica reworked the electronic circuits of the FS-1 over the course of the camera’s production span. The FS-1 was produced from 1979 to 1982 in three production runs (with serial numbers running approximately from 100,000 to 345,000, from 345,000 to 420,000 and from 420,000 to 600,000), of which the first is considered the most problematic and the third most dependable (this information kindly provided by Greg Weber). Still, I have two FS-1s of the initial production run, however, and they both have been operating without a hitch for the past three decades. Go figure…

In contrast to Konica’s mechanical cameras, the FS-1 uses a type of battery that can be purchased virtually at any corner store. It is also quite thrifty in terms of power consumption, which is surprising considering that the four alkaline batteries have to power two motors (one for the winder, the other for the shutter and mirror), the metering system and the aperture actuation mechanism. In its June 1979 test of the FS-1, Modern Photography magazine found it could shoot 65 rolls of 36-exposure film on one set of batteries – a quite astounding figure.

The four batteries are placed in an easily accessible compartment which serves as a solid and comfortable grip. This brings us to yet another area in which the FS-1 proved to be a trend-setter – design and ergonomics. This camera simply looks different than anything that came before it, largely on account of the protruding battery compartment. Other makers soon introduced their own built-in motor winder/protruding grip models. Examples include Canon’s T-series and Minolta’s X-series. The protruding grip can be seen in most of today’s digital SLRs as well.

The FS-1 also handled in an entirely new way. Whereas with traditional SLRs, the camera’s weight was divided between the right and left hands (with one clutching the lens barrel and focusing and the other holding the body steady and winding film), with the FS-1, the right hand, freed from winding duty, became the hub around which all camera movements revolved. With the FS-1, the right wrist became a ball head of sorts. In a pinch – and ion very good lighting conditions – one can even shoot holding the camera with one hand if need be.

The FS-1 has a very bright and clear viewfinder with a split-image focusing aid within a ring of microprisms. Aperture values and other information, such as over or under exposure, manual operation and battery condition, are indicated by means of LEDs. This camera also has a metering and exposure system that is more precise and dependable than in Konica’s older mechanical SLRs. Unfortunately, a number of features present on Konica’s older mechanical models are missing on the FS-1. These include DOF preview, shutter speed display in the viewfinder, mirror pre-fire, and exposure memory lock.

The FS-1 was also Konica’s first camera designed to work with one of two dedicated flashes – the X-24 or the X-36. Placing the flash on the hot-shoe automatically sets the camera’s shutter speed to 1/100s. At this point, the user has to choose the desired aperture setting on the flash - either f5.6 or f11. During exposure, the thyristor on the flash unit will adjust the intensity of the light burst in keeping with lighting conditions. This ‘semi-automatic’ mode is present on all Konica electronic SLRs. Although it is satisfactory enough for casual flash use, it is not up to demanding flash photography. For the latter, manual flash operation gives more control and predictability over the results obtained.

The FS-1 can be used with a number of other accessories besides the above-mentioned flashes. In addition to the usual macro accessories, it has a little electronic port on the front of the housing into which one can connect things like a shutter release cable, a shutter release button for left-handed users, an interval timer or a radio remote control. Konica's motorized cameras (FS-1 and TF-1) might just be the cheapest way to get a remote control camera system.

Characteristic features:

Large, continuous movement shutter speed dial with a chrome colored exterior and the film speed selector button in the middle. The shutter release button with lock collar and the model’s name are located to the right of the shutter speed dial.