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

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