The Asahiflex IIA came out in 1955, and is a slight revision to the original Asahiflex, which came out a few years earlier in 1952. The Asahiflex was made by Asahi Optical Company (known as Pentax today), and has the honor of being the very first Japanese single lens reflex camera. The 1955 IIA model I got to try out has a few features the 1952 version does not, such as an instant-return mirror and slow shutter speeds. Otherwise, the IIA is about identical to the OG model.
The Asahiflex came out before pentaprisms (eye-level finders for through-the-lens viewing) in SLRs were commonplace; Asahi Optical Company would not release their own pentaprism SLR until their aptly-named Pentax model in 1957. Instead, the Asahiflex came outfitted with a waist-level viewfinder. The waist-level finder is easy to focus with, but can be tricky to frame action with, due to the image being mirrored. To attempt to remedy this, Asahi added a simple eye-level action finder next to the waist-level finder. I never used this little finder, as it's small and not fun to look through.
Controls on the Asahiflex feel similar to the screw-mount Barnack Leicas. Film is advanced and the shutter is set via a knurled knob. This knob sits atop a frame counter that must be manually reset after each roll of film. The shutter speed dial can only be changed once the shutter is set, and you must lift the dial before it will turn. Fast speeds (1/50 ~ 1/500) are selectable on the main shutter dial on the top plate, while slow speeds (1/2 ~ 1/25) are relegated to a secondary dial on the front of the camera.
Asahiflex lenses do not have automatic diaphragms. This means you have to focus with the lens wide open, then manually stop the lens down before you fire the shutter. It's a bit of drag, lemme tell ya. I shot most of my roll wide-open just to avoid the whole dull process.
Focusing is pretty easy, even without any assists on the focusing screen. The all-matte screen is bright, and it's easy to tell when your photo is sharp, as subjects really pop into focus. I was pleasantly surprised, as a lot of focusing screens from the Asahiflex's era are dim and dull. The standard lens for the Asahiflex, the 58mm f/2.4, is wonderful. It's pretty sharp for its age, and produces beautiful swirly bokeh.
Below are some photos I made with the Asahiflex IIA and 58mm f/2.4. Like I said, most photos were shot wide open at f/2.4. I used Kodak Tri-X 400 film. Overall, the Asahiflex is a fun camera and an interesting piece of photographic history, but not something I can recommend for regular use.