I've seen Samoca cameras only a few times in the past 20+ years, and always at either a thrift store or a camera swap. The small size, and oddball appearance didn't do much for me at the time, and they stayed on the seller's shelves. However, a Samoca IV recently came my way, and I was intrigued. The earliest models from Sanei Sangyo K.K. in Japan are much smaller than your typical 35mm camera, and appeared in the early 1950s as the optical industries in Japan were recovering from WWII. By the mid-1950s it was known as Samoca Camera Co. Ltd., and the cameras were all named Samoca, followed by the model designation. If you are collecting vintage cameras, Samoca isn't a brand that you are likely to encounter, as they ceased operation by the early 1960s. The logo is a set of three As in a stylized mountain shape. According to McKeown's Cameras, there were less than 20 different cameras manufactured, and the last ones were released in 1962.
The Samoca 35 through 35 IV models are compact Bakelite-bodied 35mm viewfinder cameras with metal top and bottom plates and a front panel that contains the lens and shutter mechanism. They all have a cold shoe, Ezumar 50mm f/3.5 lens with a minimum f/22 aperture. The shutter speeds are B, 1/25- 1/200. The Samoca 35 IV was produced in 1955 and features a PC flash sync. Focus is scale focus (guesstimate), not rangefinder. The shutter is cocked by pushing down a plunger on the left front, and the shutter release is on the right. A strange little camera, but wait, there's more!
The back of the camera is removed to load the film and watch out for the film take-up spool, as it will easily fall out. A chrome film pressure plate must be flipped upwards before loading film - just like a Rollei 35. The standard 35mm cassette is loaded on the left, and once the film on the take-up spool has been engaged, flip down the pressure plate and reattach the back.
To advance the film, press down on the shutter cocking post and turn the knob until it stops. Now, you can focus, set your shutter speed and aperture (all manually, of course). I just used sunny-16 and had good results. Press down on the shutter button and the very, very quiet shutter does its thing. The Samoca 35 IV features 5 shutter speeds besides B: 1/10, 1/25, 1/50, 1/100, and 1/200 sec. The Ezumar lens is a triplet and coated. The rewind the film, you can either hold down the shutter cocking plunger while rewinding, or push in the metal flange behind the plunger. I found that a bit of washi tape was essential in holding the end of the film in the take-up spool.
When you look at the small Samoca 35 cameras up close, it's apparent that they are actually quite ingenious in operation and are constructed quite well. While not as complex as say, a Canon IIF of the same era (a Leica copy), their simplicity and diminutive stature really makes them stand out among other 35mm cameras. Compare them with contemporary US-made Argus cameras, and it's obvious how innovative the Samoca cameras were.
I loaded my Samoca 35 IV with an old roll of Svema 100 b&w film. I made some exposures around our yard, and then took it with me to the Asheville River Arts District (the RAD). The RAD is always a great place to test a camera, as it's interesting, and only a 10 minute drive from my house. I used Sunny-16 to assess my exposures, and guess at the distance. However, on a sunny day, I was using an aperture of f/11-f/16, so distance estimate did not have to be precise. I developed the Svema 100 in HC110 dilution B. As I hung up the negatives to dry, I could see that the camera performed well.
Some examples from the negative scans- all done on my Epson V700 scanner:
Overall, the Samoca 35 IV did very well, and it was easy to use. There's a whole bunch of interesting 35mm cameras from post-war Japan and Germany that don't sell for crazy prices. Samoca is certainly not a well-known brand, and if one wanted to pick a manufacturer that is an interesting one to collect, Samoca would be a good choice, as most of their models don't sell for exorbitant prices, and there are only a few that are really rare, commanding prices close to $500. Most of the 35 series sell for less than $50. To find out more about the Samoca 35 series, this site is a great place to begin.