Nicca Pentamatic!?

We know… doesn’t make sense does it? Doesn’t even sound right… “Nicca Pentamatic”.

Stay with us and we’ll try to make our case. Recently discovered information has filled-in some of the missing links in the development of our favorite obsession camera. The mysterious and seldom seen Pentamatic ’35’… Yashica’s first SLR.

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Nicca 3-F 35 mm rangefinder (left) and Yashica Pentamatic 35 mm single-lens reflex SLR (right).

A few interesting bits of info have come to our attention recently. We were alerted to an auction by our friend Paul Sokk (http://www.yashicatlr.com) that listed a 13.5 cm f/ 2.8 lens made by Taiho Optical Company –  Nicca Lens. Having never heard of the company, Taiho Optical, and knowing about Nicca’s history, we couldn’t figure out where and how there could be a Nicca connection.

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Let’s backtrack a bit with a quick history lesson. Yashima-Yashica was a very successful maker of high quality, low cost twin-lens reflex cameras but hadn’t moved into the 35 mm market as of early 1957. It appears that the president and founder of Yashima-Yashica, Mr. Yoshimasa Ushiyama could see that although Yashica was successful building TLRs, the market for them would slowly diminish as new, smaller and easier to use 35 mm cameras would grab the marketplace. He wanted in but how? Yashica had no experience in 35 mm cameras, especially rangefinder cameras with cloth focal-plane shutters. There were dozens of Leica copy cameras in Japan (and the world for that matter) but possible patents protected specific manufacturer’s shutter designs. If he could buy into an established company then he could use their shutter design and incorporate it with early Yashima-Yashica designs. In May of 1958, an opportunity presented itself. Nicca Camera Company was apparently experiencing financial difficulties and may have been on the brink of bankruptcy. Nicca cameras were well known and well respected – they made high quality 35 mm rangefinder cameras with focal-plane shutters. They used Nikkor lenses with the L39 screw mount. Mr. Ushiyama was in a rush to purchase Nicca before they went belly up. Advisers cautioned to wait until Nicca went bankrupt arguing that they would be able to acquire it for a better price. Mr. Ushiyama knew that that outcome of a bankrupcy could take longer than he was willing to wait and there would certainly be more suitors to compete with. So the deal went through… sort of. As best as we can glean from our research, a “religionist” “admonished” Mr. Ushiyama for rushing into the deal and cautioned that Yashica itself would suffer a “decline” if all of the transfer were made immediately.

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Yashima-Yashica founder Mr. Yoshimasa Ushiyama.

OK, OK! We give!!! We share your feelings dear reader –  what’s the connection between Nicca and the Pentamatic? Taking the advice of the religionist, Mr. Ushiyama created a new company. Nicca would become Taiho Optical Company. Say what? Nicca wasn’t absorbed into Yashica in May of 1958, instead they became another company that could continue to operate with Yashica but without becoming Yashica. Simple. Confused? Mr. Ushiyama listened to his adviser so nothing bad happened. It appears that the former Nicca employees were now free to develop new processes and designs with the financial and technical support of the much larger Yashica. What did Yashica get for its money? Plenty it would seem. Access to years of 35 mm rangefinder manufacturing experience and access to a proven focal-plane shutter. Important steps in building a 35 mm single-lens reflex camera. We don’t know (yet) which one of the two companies came up with the design of what would become the Pentamatic. Was it mostly a Yashica design that had been kicking around for a while lacking a focal-plane shutter, or was it mostly a Nicca design that lacked the financial means to bring it to market? We feel that it was more than likely a 60 – 40 split with Nicca as the 60%. Just a hunch, no facts at the moment.

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Pentamatic’s focal-plane shutter. Thanks to Nicca.

But what did the Taiho Optical Company make? Yashica didn’t make their own lenses, Tomioka Optical of Tokyo did. Was the former Nicca, now that it had become Taiho Optical, going to suddenly start making lenses? At the start of this blog we mentioned that we were alerted to the existence of a 13.5 cm lens for sale with the Taiho Optical Company-Nicca Japan markings. Other than that, nothing.

So when did Mr. Ushiyama merge the two companies? He apparently listed to his adviser and waited eight long years before merging the two. From 1960 (when the Pentamatic was released) until 1968, when he not only made Yashica whole, but he also acquired long time lens supplier Tomioka Optical.

Now we know how the Pentamatic came to be and why it could be called the Nicca Pentamatic.

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Thanks for sticking with us. Comments? Likes?

Chris and Carol

Some of this & that… 10.26.2016

Just a collection of recent observations and discoveries. Some stuff about Nicca, a little Yashica and some random thoughts.

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Yashica-Nicca III-L advertisement 1959. Yashima-Yashica purchased Nicca Camera Co., Ltd. in May of 1958 and ran two factories that produced interchangeable lens rangefinder cameras until early 1960.

Close-up of the bottom of a Yashica leather camera case showing distinctive trademark of the maker. We don’t know who ‘K.K’ in a square is but we’re working on it.

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Leather makers mark. Trademark?

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Another leather case and another trademark. This time ‘T.K’.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Leather camera case (Yashica-A twin lens reflex) with maker’s mark. Same ‘T.K’ as before but now the ‘Made in Japan’ mark was added. Camera and case are from November 1961.

There are other marks on Yashica cases and we’ll dig them up for you soon!

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Yashica-A logo on 1961 leather case.

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Close-up of the focus knob on the 1961 Yashica-A. Last Yashica TLR with yellow meter scale.

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1957 Nicca 3-F 35 mm rangefinder with original box.

Thanks for sticking with us and we hope you enjoyed the post. Feel free to share your comments with us.

Chris & Carol

Nicca 3-F… Nicca Camera Co., Ltd. & Yashica

What connection could this attractive 35 mm rangefinder camera have with Yashica? And why on earth is it in a blog about the Yashica Pentamatic???

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Nicca 3-F from early 1957 (maybe late 1956). Obviously it is one of many Leica copy cameras that were built during the 1950s and beyond.

First a little bit about Nicca. Nicca was one of the litteraly hundreds of camera manufacturers in Japan during the late 1940s and through the 1950s. Production appears to have been, on average, anywhere from just a few hundred units per year to nearly 5,000 per year by 1958. Nicca made what many consider to be one of the better Leica copy cameras. The fit and finish of this particular 3-F is extraordinary. After six decades of use, the camera still functions perfectly and the finish is beautiful. Of note, the leatherette is some of the finest we’ve seen from this period. It is still tight and complete and is a joy to hold this camera.

To keep things in perspective, it is a rather simple camera… focal plane shutter, highest speed 1/500th of a second, no built-in exposure meter, no mirror, no self-timer and a straight forward film advance knob vice single stroke lever (later model did add the lever). Simple but executed well.

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Business side of the 3-F. Traditional layout of the controls… this was Nicca’s last model with the knob film advance (they did produce this model with a film advance lever in late 1957).

Where’s the connection with Yashica? In May 1958, Yashima (pre Yashica) purchased the Nicca Camera Company which by some accounts was struggling and near bankruptcy. We’ve yet to find proof of the bankruptcy part of this narrative but we will continue to persue it. Yashima, soon to be Yashica, wanted access to Nicca’s technology, design and small camera manufacturing abilities as Yashima lacked experience in 35 mm camera production. We’re sure there was some desire to acquire Nicca’s focal plane shutter technology as Yashima for the most part only made TLRs (just released a 8 mm movie camera and the Yashica 35). Nicca produced two more models(?) under its own name before Yashica released the Nicca-Yashica YF in 1959. Yashica quickly stopped making rangefinder cameras with interchangeable lenses by 1960. We have always found it to be a bit odd but rangefinders with interchanable lenses were quickly being pushed aside by 35 mm SLRs for all angles… including Yashica with its Pentamatic ’35’.

What’s the relationship with the Pentamatic? The Pentamatic was more than likely designed in the early part of 1959 and may have been originally a Nicca design (more of that later). Distribution of the Pentamatic occured in the spring of 1960 with widescale release and advertising by June 1960 (in the US). The Pentamatic was Yashica’s first 35 mm single-lens reflex (SLR) camera. If featured a focal plane shutter with a top speed of 1/1000th of a second. Nicca’s knowledge was directly used in the Pentamatic.

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Exposure counter and film reminder dial.

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Close-up of the slow speed knob.

It apperas that when Yashima purchased Nicca in 1958, there wasn’t an immediate transfer of the company’s assets to Yashima. Instead, Nicca Camera Company became Taiho Optics (or Optical) a subsiderary or new company of the Nicca-Yashica amalgamation. Mr. Ushiyama, founder and president of Yashica, received council that it was not in Yashica’s best interest to proceed with the merger (as the decision to acquire Nicca was made in haste). Instead Taiho Optics would go on to produce some of its own lenses and lend support and design experience (and personnel) to Yashica. Why? Yashica wanted to build a 35 mm SLR and Nicca was an important stepping stone on that path.

Thanks for your visit… please feel free to leave comments.

Chris & Carol

Pentamatic vs H2

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Asahi Pentax H2 and Yashica Pentamatic ’35’. Both cameras were on dealer’s shelves during the spring of 1960. The H2 was introduced in the autumn of 1959. Production began on the Pentamatic in December 1959 and was available for purchase in the US by June 1960.

The Asahi Pentax H2 and the Yashica Pentamatic ’35’ were direct competitors during the early 1960s. Yashica was well know for their high quality but low cost twin-lens reflex (TLR) cameras and were making a name for themselves with quality 8mm movie cameras and 35mm rangefinder and viewfinder cameras. The Pentax H2 was the next step for the Asahi Optical Company to take after the successes of the earlier Asahiflex, the first Pentax (1957) and then the Pentax K (1958). For Yashica, this was their first 35mm single-lens reflex (SLR) camera.

Approximately 41,000 Pentax models were sold before the H2 came to market by late 1959. We don’t know how many of the H2 models were made between October 1959 and June 1960 when the Pentamatic was first available for sale. A ‘guesstimate’ would be around 5,000 to 7,000 but no hard evidence exists to say how accurate that guess is. We do know that by May of 1960, Yashica had produced around 4,000 units. Our May dated Pentamatic has a production serial number of 3,354. One would think that Asahi had a tremendous advantage over Yashica just by the sheer number of SLRs produced before Yashica even got started.

Which camera was better? If we use longevity as the primary test, the Pentax H2 (S2) and the entire run of this Pentax series blows the Pentamatic away! The original Pentamatic ’35’, the Pentamatic II and the Pentamatic S models were basically gone by 1962 and by our estimate, only 25,000 units were built (the original Pentamatic ’35’ accounts for about 20,000 of that total alone). By some estimates, the Pentax H2/S2 sold 130,000 units between 1959 to 1963. If you take a look at eBay and Yahoo Japan auctions you’ll likely find at least a dozen or so H2/S2 cameras available for bids at any given time. Pentamatics seldom appear the model II and the model S are virtually non existent.

What’s different? A lot! First how about weight…

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But weight doesn’t equal quality… or does it? It is of our opinion that Yashica wanted to appeal to two types of customers with the Pentamatic. The first would be the serious amateur photographer and the other would be budding professionals. At around $159 in the US, it was within a comfortable price range for both types of customers. The Yashica designers went “over the top” with the build… bigger and heavier had to be better and professionals would seriously consider the Pentamatic as it would stand up to the demands of rugged and repeated use. We agree with the designers. The Pentamatic’s weight does give the impression of quality… the fit and finish are pleasing too. That’s not to say that the Pentax feels or looks cheap or that it’s not designed well. We love the look of the Pentax and so did countless others.

Why all the extra weight and bulk for the Pentamatic? To handle the weight of the unique bayonet mounting for the Auto Yashinon lens was more than likely the reason. The M42 screw mounting for the Pentax meant that the body could be made smaller and lighter. Why Yashica decided to go with its own mount will never be known. At the time of the Pentamatic’s release, hundreds of lenses with the universal M42 mount were available. Compare that to the maybe three Pentamatic bayonet lenses available. This single reason, in our opinion, had to have turned away thousands of potential buyers. Yashica’s bayonet mount is actually very well designed and the mounting of the lenses was quick and secure with less than a one quarter turn. M42 screw mount lenses take about 3-5 revolutions to secure the lens.

The lens mounting flange on the Pentamatic body is 57mm… on the H2 it’s only 49mm. The overall dimensions of the two bodies  are rather telling… the base plates are almost the same… 139mm for the H2 and 141mm for the Yashica. The height of the body (base plate to top plate) is 72mm for the Pentamatic and 67mm for the Pentax. Overall height from the base plate to the highest point of the pentaprism is interestingly 90mm for both cameras.

Other differences and features…

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Notice that the rewind knob (camera’s left side) on the H2 is easily accessible and has a more “standard” design then the Yashica’s which is recessed below the cold shoe. An advantage on the Pentamatic is that it came with a built-in shoe for a flash or light meter where the H2 required a shoe to be mounted to the eyepiece and rested on the pentaprism (which almost always left a dent). The film speed setting dial on the Pentax is located on the left side under the rewind knob. The Pentamatic’s was on the back center of the film door.

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The right side of the H2 top plate. The exposure counter did not reset itself when the camera back was opened. Top shutter speed is 1/500th of a second. Shutter button is top mounted (traditional location).

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The right side of the Pentamatic top plate. The smaller dial (with the red pointer) was set to show the amount of exposures on the film. The other small indicator (pointing to 15) was an automatic exposure counter. It does not reset itself when the film door is opened. The shutter speed dial indicates that the maximum speed of the shutter could be 1/1000th of a second. Shutter button was front mounted at a 45 degree angle… not a traditional location but one that feels correct to us.

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Asahi Optical Company logo and name.

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Angular design of the Pentamatic pentaprism.

Fujica ST701 from 1971

Occasionally here at the ‘Fanatic’ we allow ourselves to get diverted from our love affair with Yashima-Yashica. We do enjoy blogging about other 35mm cameras that we find appealing. Today we have a nearly perfect example of one of the early 1970’s workhorses for the Fuji Photo Film Company, Limited, located in Minato-ku, Tokyo, Japan…. the Fujica ST701.

Billed as “the most compact and light weight (780g with f/1.8 lens) full-size 35mm camera with built-in exposure meter in the world” with a complete line of professional caliber interchangeable lenses. The viewfinder is 50% brighter than previous models while its FET-coupled silicon light meter responds to light tens of times faster and with greater accuracy than the conventional CdS meter. These are quotes from Fuji’s sales brochure from 1971.

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Fujica ST701 with standard Fujinon lens set from 1971.

The ST701 does handle very nicely and it does “feel” compact compared to let’s say a Yashica TL Electro-X of the same era. We’ll have to do a weight comparison and take some “together” shots.

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A very good looking SLR with a nice modern look and feel. One of the more unique logos we’ve found on a 35mm camera. It (the logo) actually picks up reflections from the lens. We can’t think of another camera with such a cool logo.

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Curious note about this: earlier models have this info on the back left side of the body. Case in point, the cameras depicted in the sales brochure (dated January 1971) has this info on the back of the camera body vice the base plate.

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Nice clean layout of the controls and with no fixed hot/cold shoe adds a vintage look to the camera.

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Sales brochure dated early 1971.

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Sales brochure 1971. What are you never supposed to do when loading or unloading your camera? Never in bright sunlight!

Stop back again as we plan to add some additional images and info on this neat Fuji in the near future. As always, please feel free to comment and add additional information that we may not know.

Many thanks… C&C