Rethinking Miniature SLR History
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?
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.
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.
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).
The Prakticamat came out after the Topcon Super D, Super RE. Topcon was the first to market with TTL metering.
Originally Posted by Ian Grant
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:
Originally Posted by Prof_Pixel
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).
Last edited by Yashinoff; 12-31-2012 at 01:38 PM. Click to view previous post history.
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.
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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).
Even the Gamma Duflex come only to my awareness due to buying a book on it some years ago in the surplus.
Originally Posted by Yashinoff
Well, I'm not the typical camera expert, just the average camera ignorant.
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.
Originally Posted by Yashinoff
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.
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 . . .
I seems to me that Topcon is probably the most underrated during the early SLR period.
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.
Originally Posted by Les Sarile