Meikai SL

The long Winding Road -Meikai SL Review

In 1963 Togodo launched the first post war Meikai camera. Our subject the Meikai SL was alter revision. Strangely these have acquire a slight cult toy camera status. Not sure why if you ask me.

& National. Taken on Mekai SL 2021
Meikai SL with Ilford XP2. July 2021. Click on Image for original on Flickr.

You Say Tougodo, I say Togodo

It’s not that the company isn’t interesting

Three brothers in Law founded Togodo (aka Tougodo) in Tokyo back in 1930.

Tōgō  on the cover Cover of Time 8th Nov 1926
Admiral Tōgō (aka the Nelson of the East) on Time Magazine, 9th November 1926, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons. He’s the guy who inspired/was exploited by Tougodo

The company name in part was cleverly derived from Admiral Tōgō Heihachirō, a hero of the Russo-Japanese War. Clearly Togodo exploited this for marketing. So much so that the Imperial Navy actually asked the company to stop using the name. But bravely Nagatsuka Masanori, one of the founders visited the Admiral and persuaded him to let them use the name.

Togodo was one of the key exponents of the No-Need-darkroom process. This allowed users to develop their negatives on the spot and make contact prints without the need of darkroom gear almost two decades before Land gave us Polaroid film.

Meikai SL lens close up
Meikai SL lens close up

But the war was to have a massive impact. Camera production ceased as the company switched to making military aircraft parts. Parts of the company moved to 2 new locations with the 3 brother in-laws managing the 2 new and the old factory. Allied bombing destroyed the old factory and the 3 founders decided to dissolve the company in 1945.

Post war Ashes – The two Togodos

But the two brothers in-law whom decamped in the war, wanted to carry on with camera production. They both at points used variants of the Togodu name. One was base in Toyohashi and would go on to make the legendary collectable Hit cameras amongst others.

Sunset Frothy. Taken on Meikai SL, 2021.
Meikai SL with ColorPlus 200. Dumfries, June 2021. Click on image for original on Flickr

The other founded by Toyota Yoshio in Yamanashi prefecture. Less well regarded but would proved more resilient making cameras like our Meikai SL into the 1980’s.

The Meikai Name

The original pre war company made a few models bearing the Meikai name. These use a 35mm paper back rollfilm and were of an unusual side by side TLR type

Toguodo Meikai side by side TLR
Toguodo Meikai side by side TLR. Image copyright of & show with kind permission of John Marriage. From his excellent guide to 35mm TLR history at refracted.net.

These are rarities and sell at serious auction prices (one similar to above sold for 960 euros in 2009)

The name gets reused by Togodo Yamanashi with their Meikai EL series. But as we’ll see these are mass produced toy cameras.

Poop Away. Taken on Meikai SL 2021
Taken on Meikai SL with Ilford XP2. July 2021. Click on Image for original on Flickr.

Later plastic cameras would also bear the name. Although largely made in Taiwan and China, these included various Color Optical lens trashcams.

The EL Range

The Meikai EL range is a set of near identical 35mm fixed focus compacts with manually controlled aperture and a single shutter speed. They all seem to have a 50mm fixed focus lens with a choice of of usually 3 aperture setting. Made of metal and stylied to look like early 60’s Japanese cameras.

The only differences are styling and flash.

Meikai EL
Original Meikai EL. Image by Enrique and the work is shown and licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic License. Click on image for orginal on Flickr

The original was Meikai EL pictured above. Our Meikai SL and another the Power Meikai EL are just minor revisions and all feature PC sync & a coldshoe for flash. They also have a a faux selenium cell. Most later models (the ELX, GT and ST) have a hotshoe rather than PC sync flash connector. The original model had a bulb option for shutter speed which is absent at least on the SL.

Later Meikai ELX looks worse but has a standard hotshoe. image by Allen (aka Roadside Pictures). This work is used and licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic License. Click on image for original or here for Allen’s stream

There are 2 models (EL 204 & EL 304) that are similar to the EL but have fitting for flash cubes

The models are minor revision mainly stylistically but notably the ELX which version has a hotshoe as do later derived version from it.

Camera-wiki has a good guide but little clairty when each model was released

  • EL – Original model
  • Power Meikai EL – minor styling revisions
  • EL 204 – EL with flash cube mount
  • EL 304 – revised EL 204 looks more like SL. Black only
  • SL – Black only with some other revisions
  • ELX – Adds Hotshoe
  • GX – revised ELX . Ditches Faux selenium cell
  • ST – Revised GX

There is also the Meikai 35 that seems very similar and the Meikai HC35 series that lack a lever winder.

The Meikai SL – Build & Layout

Notably a black only revision of the EL. This camera like the EL 304 has a possibly upgraded New Meikai Lens with Optical Glass with UV filter. Whether any of that is accurate or just marketing Flannel is unclear.

Close up of Meikai SL lens
Always important to have Optical Glass

It’s a stylish looking beast looking like better range and viewfinders. But predominately made of cheap metal with some plastic parts like the faux metering and its cover. We’ve a fixed focus 50mm lens with an adjustable aperture controlled by chrome effect plastic ring around the lens barrel.

It feels reassuring solid yet flimsy at the same time. The top plate has a typical layout with a shutter button (non threaded). rewind knob, flim counter and a winding lever. There is also shot ready indicator that turns red when the shutter is properly cocked.

Meikai SL top plate
Meikai SL top plate. Note the shutter ready window to left of shutter button. Shows in red when shutter is primed.

That’s handy as this does wind on well sometime a single wind does it, sometimes it’s about 8-10.

There is a crude switch on rear which allows you to rewind the film. This sits below the dial by which you manually zero the film counter.

National. Taken on Meikai SL 2021
Taken on Meikai SL with Ilford XP2. July 2021. Click on Image for original on Flickr.

Meikai SL Core Spec

Sadly I can’t find a definitive info on line. But there is at least some stabs baout the older SL. Sylvain Halgand estimates the Meikai SL has an aperture range of f/8-16 set up and that makes sense when I view this camera. However Tobias Erikson suggested f/8 to f/22 on his review on 35mmc. The EL like the SL camera just has 3 histograms Sunny (? f/16), cloudy (?f/11) and heavy cloudy/flash bulb (?f/8)

Aperture Control close up
Pretty much the only use control. 4 pictograms match the 3 aperture settings on the Meikai SL

Testing the shutter with Vasil Florin‘s meter gave a speed around 1/80. Even given my ineptitude and shutter springs aging I’m guessing the speed originally was between 1/60 -1/100.

The camera has a PC sync., geared for a electronic (i.e. X sync). According to Kataan.org original SL manual recommended use the camera’s bulb setting when using flashbulbs which have a slower speed. But when using electronic flashes at the normal shutter setting.

The film plane is curved to improve focus. There is no metering here despite what the faux cell would suggest.

Te New Bazaar. Taken on Meikai SL 2021
Taken on Meikai SL with ColorPlus 200. Dumfries 2021. Click on image for original on Flickr

In use

To load there is a pull leaver on one side which unlocks the film door. It must be moved back up to secure the door once loaded. And inside is a pretty standard loading arrangement assuming you can get the darn thing to wind on

So the camera’s winder in theory pulls the film around the take up spool and turns a sprocket above the film box. Again in theory this helps pull the film through, cocks the shutter and moves the film counter. I say in theory as discussed the winding mechanism is junk.

it’s pretty straight forward to use. Just set the aperture to match the weather with 100 to 200 ISO film. and shoot. The viewfinder is basic.

Flare. Taken on Meikai SL in 2021
Flare is an issue. Taken on Meikai SL with Ilford XP2. July 2021. Click on Image for original on Flickr.

Hey sounds like the….

Corona 35 R ? Yes I wondered that too. Initially I’d dismissed a link to with Togundo cameras. The Corona 35 R is usually described in relation to the makers of the Hit cameras which were made by Togodu Toyohashi. But it may be more likely that the makers of our Meikai EL Togodu Yamanashi made the Corona as well as the camera has a very similar design.

Corona 35 R
Corona 35 R

Meikai SL Results

Oh dear !
The Corona 35R link is strengthened as they are both are not great. The Meikai SL is better though and apparently has a cult following.

Not sure why.

So where to start. While the aperture set to sunny it provides soft images. So these are mediocre with best focus about 3-5m and softening off beyond. However it is incredibly prone to camera shake. I only got between 30-50% useable images off the rolls I shot on this due to that.

Whitesands Snooker. Taken on Meikai SL 2021
Taken on Meikai SL with Ilford XP2. July 2021. Click on Image for original on Flickr.

How weak the lens is telling. I’d been prepping this whilst shooting a couple of the current plastic cameras in the Dubblefilm Show class. They might be plastic everything but take clinically better shots. It’s better than the Corona but not by much.

It at least is better than some cameras across the frame . There is less fall off to the edges than I wold suspect. The image quality suffers when shooting with the lens wide – I guess Togodu assumed you’d only use for flash shots.

Distort a door. Meikai SL with ColorPlus 200. 2021
What’s the radial distortion ? Nope me neither. Meikai SL with Color Plus 200. Dumfries 2020. Click on image for full size on Flickr.

The coating gives a slight cast on colour films. Not unpleasant but not that distinctive. However, it has the weirdest distortion I’ve seen with a vertical pincushion and a horizontal radial barrel effect. There is fringing and chromatic aberration to keep the most ardent Lomographer happy but the overall image is even by lo-fi standard pretty dull and soft.

The viewfinder site badly off centre vertically and misses the bottom of the frame

Representation of Meikai SL viewfinder
The above image with an approximation of the Meikai SL viewfinder shown in red. Extends badly off frame

What they cost

So I paid £9 for mines before P&P. Now that’s ball park- the price of these are between £5-10 on a quick glance

Postcard Du Jour. Taken on Meikai SL 2021
Taken on Meikai SL with ColorPlus 200. Dumfries 2021. Click on image for original on Flickr

Final Thoughts on the Meikai SL

Meikai SL
Meikai SL

The TL:DR is good looking cheap camera sadly let down (even by crap camera standards) by the optics and a slow shutter. And then there’s the awful winder (and trust me I’m not alone).

Look I love a soft retro looking image like the next man but these just lack character and are just unreliable and prone to shake. Yes my plastic fantastics maybe won’t last as long but they will at least wind on properly and take better images.

So better than the Corona but really not worth seeking out IMHO. That’s a shame as they look quite nice but are let down by their cheap unreliable innards.


More Info

Camera-wiki’s Tougodo page is a good starting point for the history of the company and models.

Meanwhile on Mike Butkus‘s site, there’s a manual for a Meikai FC, which is closely related. It’s from the Meikai HC35 series and the models have a thumbwheel and bigger counter dial but are broadly otherwise the same. I’ve mentioned other reviews en route but As Minas Câmaras is also worth a look.

Alternatives to the Meikai SL

Even a color optical lens camera can produce as god if not better images with more Lo-fi although fake charm. For a retro looking toy shooter that is actually fun to use the Halina 1000 (aka Ansco 35 plus several other variants) is a better choice. Equally if you are happy with 120 roll film an original Diana clone or the current Diana F+ are worth a look. The modern Dubblefilm Show clones also are a better bet although have fixed exposure.

One thought on “The long Winding Road -Meikai SL Review”

  1. Thanks for sharing this exciting bit of camera history, especially the part about “No-Need-darkroom”. I wonder how many other Western “inventions” were developed elsewhere.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.