When you think of Japanese 35mm rangefinder cameras from the 1950s and 1960s, names like Canon, Yashica, Konica, and Minolta come to mind. But the Aires Camera Industries Company made a series of well-regarded rangefinder cameras in the 1950s, as well. The 1959 Aires Viscount was one of the last the company made before it went out of business.

Aires Viscount

Looking at this camera’s specs, two things stand out: its fast 45mm f/1.9 lens, and its fairly fast 1/500 top shutter speed. Not bad for a leaf shutter (a Seikosha-SLV, to be precise). Other than that, the Viscount is fairly simple. It focuses from 2.67 feet (.8 meters) to infinity. There’s a frame counter above the winding lever on the top plate. There’s an accessory shoe. This camera is all mechanical and has no onboard light meter, so you don’t need a battery to operate it.

Aires Viscount

An 85mm accessory lens was available; it screwed into the filter threads. If you look into the viewfinder, you’ll see two full frames, an outer one for the attached 45mm lens and an inner one in red for the 85mm accessory lens. (Amusingly, they used a red filter to color the inner frame, and the one in my Viscount has slipped out of position.) There are also marks on the outer frame to correct for parallax when you focus within 3½ feet. A rectangular rangefinder patch is in the middle of the viewfinder.

Aires Viscount

Setting aperture and shutter speed takes a little getting used to, and it’s the one thing that keeps the Viscount from being a thorough pleasure to use. The aperture ring is at the end of the lens barrel. An exposure value (EV) ring is behind it, and the shutter-speed ring is behind that. The aperture ring turns independently. The EV and shutter-speed rings turn together, however, and when you turn them it’s difficult to not also turn the aperture ring at the same time. The Viscount biases toward using EV for exposure. I don’t naturally think in EVs, so I set the shutter speed first, and then aperture. Sometimes I reached the end of the EV scale before I reached the shutter speed I wanted. When this happens, I turned the aperture ring the opposite direction enough stops to let me reach my shutter speed.

Aires Viscount

The Viscount is heavy and solidly built. It’s a hair taller but noticeably narrower than a standard Japanese rangefinder from the 60s, such as my Konica Auto S2. The Viscount’s body design is less modern, but the S2 is six years newer. I hear that the Viscount has pot metal parts inside, but the camera has a reputation for sturdiness and reliability.

All of Aires’ cameras did. It’s a shame the company’s life was so short: it was founded in the late 1940s and was gone by 1960. It made TLRs at first, but shifted to 35mm rangefinders and stayed there through the rest of its short life.

If you like rangefinder cameras, then check out my reviews of the aforementioned Konica Auto S2 (here), as well as the Yashica MG-1 (here), Electro 35 GSN (here), and Lynx 14e (here); the Minolta Hi-Matic 7 (here), the Argus C3 (here), the Kodak Retina IIa (here) and IIc (here), the Canon Canonet 28 (here) and QL17 G-III (here), and the tiny Olympus XA (here).

My Viscount was donated to the Jim Grey Home for Wayward Cameras, and it was filthy. I assumed it would be broken. But it cleaned up nicely (except for a couple odd spots of corrosion on the front of the lens barrel) and it functioned. The slowest shutter speeds were clearly running long, but the speeds above about 1/8 second sounded right, to the extent my ears are any judge of a shutter.

That shutter is nearly silent! It makes only a tiny snick sound as it fires. The shutter button has a satisfying, almost luxurious feel. The shutter fires at almost the top of the travel, but if you stop there you won’t be able to wind. Press the button all the way down to release the wind lever.

The rangefinder on mine isn’t reliable. The patch is dim, and sometimes the rangefinder image doesn’t appear. I found that pressing my finger into the golden glass area on the front of the camera, and moving that glass around a little, eventually fixes the problem — for a while.

The focus ring has a big pip on it that’s supposed to aid focusing, but I always struggled to find it while my eye was at the viewfinder.

I tested this Aires Viscount with a roll of Ilford HP5 Plus, using a meter app on my iPhone to read the light. I developed the roll in LegacyPro L110, Dilution B, and scanned the negatives on my Minolta ScanDual II.

At The Ruins

The Viscount came with me to Holliday Park in Indianapolis, a place I’ve tested many cameras. I go there less now than I used to since I moved to the suburbs. But on this day I had an appointment nearby, and brought the Viscount along.


Temperatures were in the 40s, too chilly for many of my old cameras, but not the Viscount. I wonder if it would work as well as temperatures approach freezing. It’s good to have a few old cameras I can use even in cold weather.

Low stone wall

The negatives looked a little dense, which led to low-contrast scans. I had to heavily boost contrast in Photoshop to avoid these images looking flat and lifeless. But the lens delivered good sharpness and detail.

At The Ruins

Framing was easy enough with the Viscount, even up close with the parallax-correction marks. Every frame contained what I framed in the viewfinder, and nothing more.

Nature Center

I also made a few photos along Lafayette Road on the way home from an errand. The great Wrecks, Inc., sign is a frequent subject. Notice that the left third or so of the frame is lighter than the rest of the image. This happened on two other images. I wonder if there’s some sort of light leak. The Viscount doesn’t have foam seals, but rather relies on deep channels around the door to block light. So I’m not sure where light would get in.

Wrecks, Inc.

But this camera has been on a collector’s shelf, unused, for many years. It’s a testament to how hardy Aires made its cameras that this Viscount works this well after more than 60 years.

Former co-op

See more photos from this camera in my Aires Viscount gallery.

The Aires Viscount was a pleasant surprise. It’s pleasant to use and packs a good lens. If you require an onboard light meter, it’s not for you. Otherwise, it contends very well with any 35mm rangefinder camera from the 1950s and 1960s and is worth your consideration.

If you like old film cameras, check out all of my reviews here!
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18 responses to “Aires Viscount”

  1. Andy Umbo Avatar
    Andy Umbo

    What a nice little package. It wasn’t the only camera to have an “add-on” telephoto, so when you think the average photo enthusiast could have a very nice normal lens and an option for doing some nice portraits, all in a little package, it seems perfect!

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      The only other thing you might wish for is wide angle!

  2. NigelH Avatar

    That’s a nice looking camera and one I have not heard of. I had the same shutter on one of my cameras and I can attest to is almost silent operation.. I wasn’t sure it was working at first :)

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      The shutter is almost luxurious, it’s so smooth!

  3. kennethwajda Avatar

    I had a 35L or something like that from Aires which worked when I bought it and then the shutter immediately quit. I liked the feel of it very much but don’t like shutter issues which some others said they suffer from, though in its defense, I never had a CLA done. Nice review, Jim.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      That’s too bad about the shutter, because if the 35L is as nice as this Viscount, you missed out!

      1. kennethwajda Avatar

        I know. I liked the feel of it, it felt really well-built.

  4. blankmampf Avatar

    Got a Viscount from a friend, passed down from her grandfather, and took to repairing it; the focus was entirely gummed up, but it was quite easy to disassemble even without a manual.
    It’s one of my highest-quality feeling cameras, very dense and heavy, and of course all metal.
    The LW system takes some getting used to, but on the other hand it basically gives you a mechanical aperture priority mechanism once you have metered the scene.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      It’s a surprising camera on a whole bunch of levels! I’m happy I got to experience one.

  5. cybrarianoutpost@hotmail.com Avatar

    Hi there! Having not found a FB group that might answer my puzzle, I Duck-Duck’d for an Aires Viscount page, group, or newsletter. I just spent $309CDN getting my old one fixed. I knew there were $35 examples all over eBay, but they were not my dad’s old camera. Since dad handed it down to me around 1972 or ‘4 or so, it has overlapped the occasional frame. You’d get a face portrait overlaid halfway by a landscape tree or mountain. A 1976 attempt to get this repaired in my home city had the shop take my money but, I believe, not even open the camera. So getting this done was a big deal. Now, my puzzle: How on Earth does the tele fit onto the 45mm lens? I got the rumoured tele off eBay, and a case–both with undisclosed problems–and am trying to decide if there’s an adaptor for the tele or what. Anyone know? I need to return it, get reimbursed, if not.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      The world knowledgebase on the Aries Viscount is small. You may know a lot more about this camera than anyone else! I had almost no luck finding information about the Viscount as I researched this article, so all I could do was mess with the camera until I figured it out.

  6. cybrarianoutpost@hotmail.com Avatar

    Further comment is that the tele’s case had a compartment in the lid where something thin might have gone–perhaps the absent adaptor. It also came with a light meter that the seller said likely did not work, so that’s fine–pretty cool-looking. Yesterday a friend showed me his mint-condition Leica M2 and gorgeous lenses, and I noticed how the font used for “Leica” was probably copied by the Aires factory.

  7. cybrarianoutpost@hotmail.com Avatar

    Sorry for so many posts … But I wanted to warn you that the manual, which I also sent for on eBay, says to never leave the shutter cocked, to always take the pic. Don’t advance until you have an image in mind. I’d share a photo of my camera with tele (unmounted, unfortunately) and light meter if I could.

  8. Celeste Renteria Avatar
    Celeste Renteria

    do aries viscount usually have rewind button issues? I have one but have hard time unloading film because rewind button on bottom seems to be stuck. Any suggestions?

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Old cameras can break in crazy ways. I don’t have enough experience with this one to know why the rewind button might get stuck, unfortunately.

  9. Lyn Whiston Avatar
    Lyn Whiston

    I have an Aires 3.5cm (35mm) auxiliafy wide-angle that screws into the front of my Viscount’s normal lens. I couldn’t find any reference to it in the manual. Based on how the telephoto is focused, I suspedt that the wide angle will also required a focus adjustment. Haven’t tried it yet.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Oh how cool is that. I didn’t know that there were Aires accessories!

  10. Lyn Whiston Avatar
    Lyn Whiston

    I did find one eBay sale that included the wide angle attachment. I like the Aires cameras, especially the “Leica Look-Alike” IIIL.

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