Rethinking Miniature SLR History

Discussion in '35mm Cameras and Accessories' started by Yashinoff, Dec 31, 2012.

  1. Yashinoff

    Yashinoff Member

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    I wonder why it is that a camera like the original Pentax gets so much appreciation, but more innovative and important cameras rarely get due credit. Despite being marketed as revolutionary, the Pentax didn't actually introduce anything new to the SLR market. It was really just a tiny a step combining a couple of previously introduced features, and it was still missing several key features of the "modern" 35mm SLR.

    The Nikon F does get a lot of praise, and rightly so. Correct me if I'm wrong, but the F was the first SLR with the "proper" combination of features we'd take for granted in any SLR since, it has several features that are absent from the Pentax such as a self resetting frame counter, a non-revolving shutter dial (with all speeds on one dial), and automatic diaphragm operation. The only thing it was missing was TTL metering.

    Speaking of TTL metering, Topcon is usually ignored in favor of the Pentax Spotmatic for some reason. Topcon introduced fully coupled open aperture metering, whereas the Spotmatic used a simpler stop down metering. Although stop down metering was popular on cheap cameras for years to come, even Pentax realized that open aperture metering was where it was at.

    The Konica F was the first SLR with a 1/2000 shutter speed, and perhaps the first with a metal, vertical travel focal plane shutter, which became near universal on SLRs later. It is rarely mentioned when discussing milestones in SLR design. Although it was not a sales success, it is also not an obscure rarity like say the Gamma Duflex which often gets credit today for being a particularly innovative design.

    Though the Duflex contained important features such as an instant return mirror, an automatic diaphragm, and eye level viewing - it was somewhat lacking in execution. Eye level viewing was provided by an arrangement of mirrors rather than a pentaprism for instance. It bears little resemblance to the subsequent SLRs in design, and few were made.

    The Edixa Reflex of 1954 was perhaps the SLR that set the layout for most SLRs to come. It featured right hand lever wind (on the top of the camera) a rewind button on the bottom of the camera, a (interchangeable) pentaprism viewfinder, and the ASA reminder dial around the rewind knob. Unlike some influential or innovative cameras that were unsuccessful in the marketplace and consequentially rare, the Edixa SLRs were produced for years and are hardly rare or unusual.

    Are there other 35mm SLR cameras which are overlooked in favor of more popular brands and models?
     
  2. Ian Grant

    Ian Grant Subscriber

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    The over-looked pioneering SLS's were the Praktina's. the first full system camera with a motor drive, also the early East German Contax SLR's.

    It's also forgotten that the first SLR with TTL metering was in fact the Prakticamat, the Pentax Spotmatic was anounces first but went on sale after the Prakticamat.

    Edixa's were quite a bit after the East German cameras.

    Ian
     
  3. Prof_Pixel

    Prof_Pixel Member

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    You had to have used an Extaka (or Exa) in the early '50s like I did a lot to really appreciate what Pentax (then, Asahi Optical) did! You took a picture and everything went black, The Asahiflex had limitations, but was the first SLR to give instant mirror return (and led to the later Pentax SLRs). I didn't have an Ashaiflex, but I had all the screwmount Pentaxes, the first two Spotamatic models, and of course a K1000.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Asahiflex

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_the_single-lens_reflex_camera

    1957
    Asahi Pentax (called Sears Tower 26 in USA): first SLR with right-handed rapid-wind thumb lever, first fold-out film rewind crank, first microprism focusing aid. First Asahi SLR with M42 screw mount. Established the "modern" control layout of the 35mm SLR. Well-integrated focal-plane shutter, instant return mirror and pentaprism design. Most people have never heard of this camera.

    Nikon's 'F' model was introduced in April 1959.

    SLR cameras changed rapidly in the '50s (after WWII).
     
  4. Yashinoff

    Yashinoff Member

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    The Prakticamat came out after the Topcon Super D, Super RE. Topcon was the first to market with TTL metering.

    It is interesting to note though that Exakta held a patent for TTL metering in the 1930s, but the technology of the time meant it was impossible to implement.

    The thing is, the Edixa of 1954 was the first to use the layout that Pentax copied. Here is a 1955 Edixa Reflex:
    [​IMG]

    It only lacked the rewind crank. It has been repeated ad infinitum that the Pentax was the first to combine right hand lever wind, pentaprism viewing, center tripod socket and bottom rewind button... but that's obviously not true. Asahi basically took the Edixa design and added their previously invented mirror return system (which was itself modified from the pre-war Praktiflex).

    The Nikon F incorporated automatic diaphragm operation, which I would say is at least as important of a feature as the instant return mirror. The Nikon F wasn't the first with this, but it was the first to combine an instant return mirror with an automatic diaphragm (not counting the Miranda C because it used an external PAD mechanism or the Duflex because it was a bit freakish and not successful).
     
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  5. elekm

    elekm Member

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    Actually, Olympus began the trend of smaller SLRs. Olympus often has been of the few Japanese companies that has dared to try different things. Nikon and Canon are sheeplike in adopting designs and then making changes.

    Canon did make one big change when it abandoned its breech FD mount in favor of the bayonet EF. Aside from that, it's been one big sheep parade from Canon and Nikon.

    Pentax has tried different things, notably the Pentax Auto 110 SLR, its "M" series, which some could argue are almost too small. My Pentax MX was my third 35mm camera, so I speak as a user and not a fondler.

    I also agree that the East German Zeiss Ikon Contax created the SLR that set the visual pattern, except for its front-mounted shutter release.

    The Zeiss Ikon Contaflex also was a solid SLR, although it lacked true interchangeable lenses and a rapid-return mirror. The Zeiss Ikon/Voigtlander Icarex probably was the ideal German camera and was the basis for one of the Rolleiflex SL 35 cameras (M and ME), as well as the Zeiss Ikon SL 706.

    And of course, Exakta had been making its SLR for decades before they became popular.
     
  6. Nick Merritt

    Nick Merritt Member

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    The Konica F (not sure if that was the model designation in the USA) definitely was the first with the Copal Square shutter, which basically became the standard shutter design for SLRs. The Konica Autoreflex was the first autoexposure camera of any kind, I believe (and it permitted switching between full frame and half frame). Konica also had the first integral autowind camera, the FS (and, while not an SLR, the first autofocus camera, the C35AF).
     
  7. AgX

    AgX Member

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    Even the Gamma Duflex come only to my awareness due to buying a book on it some years ago in the surplus.
    Well, I'm not the typical camera expert, just the average camera ignorant.
     
  8. Prof_Pixel

    Prof_Pixel Member

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    I think the problem is/was during the cold year of the '50s, we rarely saw cameras from behind the iron curtain in the US. I worked in a camera store from 57-62 and I can probably count on the fingers of one hand the times someone brought one in.

    However, being located in a university town we DID see lots of Exactas because it was a very popular camera with the research community, starting from before WW II.
     
  9. Les Sarile

    Les Sarile Member

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    I found this to be pretty accurate history of the SLR -> Early History of Single Lens Reflex (SLR) camera

    Keep in mind that arguably the single most important development in 35mm SLRs was Asahi Pentax instant return mirror. Prior to this the viewfinders would blackout until next frame advance or some time until the mirror would drop after firing. If you go by the December issues of photo magazines in 50's on up you will notice the that SLR model releases - and presumably sales, started to exceed exceeded rangefinders after this innovation.

    There is no denying the Nikon F's roll - as well as Nikon's dominance in that period. You only have to look at the short life of Canon's Canoflex - released the same year as the Nikon F to know this. I am sure that Nikon's quality and marketing strength in the rangefinder business greatly helped. And it took them >10 years to correct all it's shortcomings with the much anticipated release of the F2 . . . :whistling:

    I seems to me that Topcon is probably the most underrated during the early SLR period.
     
  10. Yashinoff

    Yashinoff Member

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    I would argue that the instant return mirror is not especially useful unless used in conjunction with an automatic diaphragm. It's nice that the mirror drops back down, but if the lens is still stopped down, then the "instant" part of the equation is rather less useful. The Minolta SR2 and the first "automatic" lenses for the Pentax in 1958 were unfortunately only semi-automatic, the diaphragm did not reopen automatically, and so while Minolta and Pentax both had instant return mirrors, their system wasn't quite as useful as the Nikon F (or Miranda C) of 1959. I find it odd that Asahi did not adopt automatic lenses from the start with the Pentax, since the Praktica, Edixa, Pentacon/Contax had already applied them to the M42 mount since 1954/55. Pentax was obviously aware of what the Germans were doing, so I have to wonder what stalled them on it.
     
  11. Prof_Pixel

    Prof_Pixel Member

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    I guess you really had to be there to appreciate what the instant mirror return meant - even without an automatic aperture.

    I was shooting a lot of college sports photography and the instant mirror return was game changing. Typically I was shooting at close to full aperture to maximize my shutter speed and did't miss not having an automatic aperture.
     
  12. Les Sarile

    Les Sarile Member

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    You might argue auto diaphragms but you have to know at that time just how big instant return mirror was as no SLR survived without.

    Keep in mind that Nikon was already a huge company and their rangefinders were commanding huge prices, Canon rangefinders were also successful while all the other Japanese companies didn't have those resources. I am not sure where Topcon was in terms of resources but it didn't seem like they were in the league of Nikon and Canon. Minolta was innovative with the SR2 but limited lenses may have been what held back their success. Pentax obviously wanted to tap the existing M42 lens selection.
     
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  13. Yashinoff

    Yashinoff Member

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    I have several SLRs without instant return mirrors, and in my experience not having an automatic aperture is a far bigger hindrance to capturing a shot than not having an instant return mirror. Other's experience may differ, but one could also point out that many manufacturers considered the automatic aperture more important than the instant return mirror too.

    If you're shooting nature for instance, and a bird pops out of a tree, you're going to be pretty lucky to stop down a preset lens and get your shot. You cannot leave the lens stopped down either if you need to adjust focus quickly. For candid situations the automatic diaphragm is basically a necessity, an instant return mirror is simply a convenience.
     
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  15. Les Sarile

    Les Sarile Member

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    No doubt there were well built machines that have stood the test of time. It is hard not to look at these things from your own personal preferences as I am sure there may have been things you would have much rather have continue on. History has already shown no SLR's met with success without instant return mirror. Can you imagine SLRs today without instant return mirrors? However, we see even today's users adopt manual lenses on their auto everything cameras and are using these old lenses in stop down mode.
     
  16. Prof_Pixel

    Prof_Pixel Member

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    Thinking more about the early SLRs, the microprism viewfinder used by Pentax was also very important and greatly simplified focusing.
     
  17. bobwysiwyg

    bobwysiwyg Subscriber

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    My first "real" 35mm was a Pentax SV bought at a PX in Vietnam. The focusing with this prism was great.. back when when my eyesight was young. Now, not so much. :smile: I still have it though and occasionally take it for a spin.
     
  18. Les Sarile

    Les Sarile Member

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    According to Pentax history, Pentax came from Pentacon and Contax and was the source of their pentaprism design and not Edixa.

    The original Asahi Pentax did in fact incorporate all those features + rewind crank and the more important instant return mirror first. All these features were incorporated into all successful cameras thereafter.

    Other Pentax Milestones
     
  19. lxdude

    lxdude Member

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    I agree that the Nikon F was the first to put everything together- the general layout, instant return mirror, rewind crank, plus auto diaphragm, and established itself as most versatile with interchangeable finders and focusing screens, scads of accessories, a large high quality selection of lenses and so on. And its singular significance has been shown by its wide adoption by professionals, its 15 year run, and the fact that it remains pretty much as usable as any other 35mm SLR, if using manual focus and exposure.

    However, in the 60's into the 70's quite a few photojournalists liked the Spotmatic for its lesser size and weight, and the quality of the Takumar lenses. Lens changes were not a big deal to a lot of them, because in fast happening situations there was seldom time to change lenses anyway. Usually, two or three bodies were carried, with a wide angle, short tele and normal lens used. One of the best known I can think of offhand, was Charles Moore, who took many of the pictures of the civil rights demonstrations and persecution of the demonstrators, and had close access to King and others in the movement. Minolta also had adherents, the best known of which was probably W. Eugene Smith. His Minimata work was taken with SR-T 101's.

    Canon FT's, SR-T's, Spotmatics, and others were used by a lot of people who were more than "casual users".
     
  20. AgX

    AgX Member

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    -) Contax itself is derived from Contessa-Nagel Company

    -) Pentacon itself was derived from Pentaprism and Contax, due to legal issues as result of the division of Germany and the splitting of companies (the original manufacturer of the Contax added with many other manufacturers formed the new company Pentacon)

    -) Pentax seemingly was established similarly, as stated above.

    -) Pentax was a trade name of 8mm cine projectors made by Pentacon

    -) after the retraction from the manufacture of these projectors the tradename Pentax was sold to Asahi Kōgaku Kōgyō K.K. (or its successor).
     
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  21. Yashinoff

    Yashinoff Member

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    Yes the 1957 Pentax used the layout introduced on the 1954 Edixa. :wink: There's no getting around the fact that the Edixa was introduced in 1954, and the Pentax came out in 1957. You will not find a 35mm SLR with right handed lever advance, pentaprism, bottom rewind button, and ASA reminder dial around the rewind made before 1954. The Pentax is often presented a big leap forward in SLR design "setting the pattern", but really all they did was bring something they had already invented in the Asahiflex II to a design layout that had already been proven by the earlier Edixa SLR.

    If you take a good look at the original Pentax, you'll see something interesting about the styling of the pentaprism cover:
    [​IMG]
    Pentax AP by Aaron Raisey, on Flickr

    Compare the shape of that prism to those used by Exakta, Miranda, Topcon, Pentacon/Contax in the 1950s, and you'll see little resemblance. It does however bear a rather interesting resemblance to the prism of one particular German SLR dating back to 1954. :whistling:

    Modern SLRs do have automatic diaphragm operation though. It is not the manufacturers who are selling people lenses which are incompatible with the diaphragm mechanism in their cameras. Most of the people adapting lenses seem to be photographing flowers, cats, and other inanimate or lethargic subjects. Otherwise they are using cameras which are not constrained by mirror/focus screen/prism technology. In any event I don't think Canon will say their next line of lenses will be preset only. :D

    The only 35mm SLR I can think of which survived the 1960s without an automatic aperture would be the Zenits. And only because they had to be the cheapest of the cheap. Even the lowly Exa recieved internal diaphragm operation (although never an instant return mirror, and it survived into the 1980s).
     
  22. Prof_Pixel

    Prof_Pixel Member

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    As I suggested earlier, one's view of how the SLR developed in the '50s and '60s is very much dependent on your location during that time frame.. Unfortunately, it seems most APUGers refuse to include even their country information in their profile. From his name (Yashinoff ) and the cameras he mentioned, I might assume he might be Eastern European - but I may be incorrect.

    APUG is an international forum - which is great - but a little more information might make it more meaningful when making comments. I still don't understand the reluctance to identify your home country.
     
  23. lxdude

    lxdude Member

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    Alpa.
     
  24. Yashinoff

    Yashinoff Member

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    Edixa was a West German company, and I'm located in the U.S., I agree though that those cameras are probably obscure to most people in the U.S. The importer for the Edixa SLRs was also the importer for Praktica and Exakta and supposedly wanted to promote the cheap Prakticas and big buck Exaktas more than the Edixas which slotted in the middle. It is also likely that they had a larger profit margin off of the East German makes, so perhaps that is why Edixa cameras were so under-marketed in the west.

    My username is an a bad pun BTW.


    The diaphragm operation was built into the lenses.
     
  25. Prof_Pixel

    Prof_Pixel Member

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    I suspect the success of a camera line depends on who is selling it. In the US, during the '50s Asahi/Pentax was sold through Burke & James - a large camera wholesaler in Chicago (perhaps better remembered now for the low-cost large format cameras they made and sold. Around 1960, Heiland Photographic (Honeywell) started selling them in the US (and I believe Canada).

    in the '57-'62 timeframe we sold Exatka, Alpa, Pentax, Nikon, Canon and Bessler Topcon SLRs.

    In my 5 years at the store, I don't remember anyone from "The importer for the Edixa SLRs was also the importer for Praktica and Exakta and supposedly wanted to promote the cheap Prakticas and big buck Exaktas more than the Edixas which slotted in the middle" stopping by our store (which was in SE Michigan). The situation in NYC might have been different. As noted we did sell Exxaktas but I don't remember the wholesaler we used.
     
  26. Yashinoff

    Yashinoff Member

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    The U.S. importer for Wirgin/Edixa was Caspeco. Although they handled Exakta, they were not the sole U.S. importer of Exakta cameras.