The Curious Story of the $14,000 Mamiya Pistol Camera

The Mamiya Pistol was in use by the Japanese Police force many years ago.

It made total sense when reading that the Mamiya Pistol camera was a half-frame machine. This camera was used by Japanese Police for a while. It was their primary choice after the Doryu didn’t get finished in time. The police couldn’t wait. And the Mamiya is a whole lot smaller. The design resembles a revolver more than the semi-automatic pistol that its competitor was likened to. But according to Wired, they were never used. And lucky for you, you can own a piece of history by snagging this Mamiya Pistol camera on eBay. It’s accompanied by an equally historical price, if you get my drift.

The Vintage series is where we find really cool things around eBay. If you’re selling a really rare and unique piece, send it to editors@thephoblographer.com. We’ll help it get sold.

In the eBay listing, we see some of the major specifications. This camera is from the 1950s and still has the film spool in it. It’s also a half-frame camera. The most famous half-frame camera is the Olympus Pen. That camera had a vertical shutter and shot in portrait orientation. That’s how it split the photos up. A 35mm roll containing 24 frames would be extended to 48. In fact, the Mamiya Pistol camera shoots 35mm film. That’s much better than the Doryu, which was going to shoot 16mm. To that end, the Mamiya Pistol camera can be used today along with its fixed focus 45mm lens.  In fact, the description says that it’s still working. Better yet, the price has dropped. Over a decade ago, they were going for around $25K.

Camerapedia has a very cool detail about the Mamiya Pistol camera. They state:

“The development took half a year. As of April 20, 1954, the Osaka police headquarters had received thirty units for experiment.[4] During the trials, some concern was raised that the object would be confused with a true pistol, frightening the subjects with unpredictable results,[8] and causing stone throwers to target the photographers.[4] It is said that additional chrome finish was consequently applied (certainly on the lens barrel, see below).[9] The first units were ready just in time for May Day 1954, but they saw no action on that day.[3] As of July 1954, the camera was said to be part of the inventory of the police headquarters in all the Japanese prefectures.[3] Some sources say that a total of 250 or 300 units were made, but this is unconfirmed.[10] It is said that many were scrapped after some years.[11] Actual examples are known with serial numbers in the 10x, 10xx and 11xx range, consistent with the production reports.”

In today’s world, one could easily understand how these cameras would be mistaken by American police. I can’t personally imagine someone saying, “Oh, don’t worry, officer, I’m just reaching for my vintage camera in this gun-like holster.” And if they did, it would make headlines. If you purchase the camera, use it away from the authorities. Go hiking with it. Try it out in a studio. Considering this is a film camera, use your favorite film. I can’t imagine getting a bad image with the Mamiya Pistol camera with a T-Max film.

We were incredibly curious to see photos from this camera, but searches on Flickr and Instagram gave us no leads. If you have any images, we’re very curious to see them. Send them to editors@thephoblographer.com, and we’ll share them with your expressed permission.

All images of the Mamiya Pistol camera are from the listing by leica-by-boris.