If you’re not yet convinced that Japan is the stuff of photographers’ dreams, that will soon change with what you’re about to read. Say hello to the cool and ultra rare DORYU 2-16, a pistol-shaped subminiature camera made in Japan from 1954 to 1956.
If the Soviet intelligence agency Komitet Gosudarstvennoy Bezopasnosti (KGB) had the tiny F-21 AJAX spy camera for their covert operations, the Japanese police had pistol-type cameras to catch crime in action. Among these were the pistol-shaped cameras created by the short-lived Doryu Camera Company with some support from Japanese police forces.
In the early 1950s, the Japanese police looked into the development of pistol-shaped cameras with the goal of obtaining photographic evidence of crime in action. It was especially conceptualized with bloody demonstrations in mind, following the clash between police and Tokyo protesters in the “bloody May Day incident” of 1952.
Doryu began research work for the project in 1949, and completed a prototype called Doryu 1 in 1952. It was designed to take 9.5mm film but did not progress to production due to durability and film availability problems. In the same year, the company continued to work on the prototype to create a model that took the more common 16mm film.
The DORYU 2-16 was completed in July 1954. However, the Japanese police needed something ahead of time for the May Day 1954. They had already chosen the Mamiya Pistol which had the same specifications, and the Doryu 2-16 was sadly rejected. The company eventually sold the peculiar pistol cameras to the civilian market in small quantities, priced at 12500 Yen.
Shaped like an automatic pistol complete with a handgrip and trigger, it actually works like a real gun. The hand grip takes a magazine like a real pistol, and can be loaded with six magnesium cartridges. Each cartridge contains 0.8 gram of magnesium powder, and ignited by a paper strip with gunpowder. Pulling the trigger trips the shutter and fires the magnesium cartridge through an opening at the top, lighting up the scene for up to 15 meters outdoors and 20 meters indoors.
Meanwhile, the camera at front had a standard f/2.7 lens, with a left-hand side plate that can be removed for loading film. Behind the lens mount is the shutter, which has speeds of B, 25, 50, and 100. Interestingly, the lens is interchangeable and can take C-mount cine lenses.