Topcon is King !

Discussion in 'Classic Manual Cameras' started by gus_lazzari, Oct 22, 2009.

  1. Well, I just received my Topcon Super RE, (a.k.a Super D Serial # starting with #46) in the mail and it is just stunning...
    I don't mean in looks the category, I mean in the "smoothest" transport category. We just recently had a "lively" thread posted where Tony Lockerbie asked about the "best advance", and many candidates popped up. But with out a doubt, the "smoothest" advance is a Topcon #46 Super D or RE. (Motor or winder driven cameras don't count)
    I'm telling you, this is the King!; something to behold and there's nothing out there like it. (Ball bearing smooth) Picture contains the 4 cameras that got the most mentions; IMHO, arranged in order of smoothness, but the Topcon should be way out in front !
    Marc Rochkind who owns many cameras, just aquired an outfit & I'm so envious - Let's see if he chimes in for a vote now that he has one to.
    marc_bergman|1 likes this.
  2. I've always favoured the Topcon Super D !
    Best regards,
  3. mmmmmmmmmmmmmmm... more camera porn...
  4. I've never even touched a Topcon, but I always thought they looked pretty neat.
  5. Now just get a couple of the yummy lenses, say the 100/2.8 and the 28/2.8. Both are wonderful. The 35/2.8 is also fine, generally cheaper than the 28/2.8.
    Bummer is the limited selection of fast lenses, only the normal lenses and the (rare) 85/1.8 The 28/2 and 35/1.8 never got beyond prototypes. Would that they had such a good selection of lenses as Pentax, Nikon, Canon, and Minolta. But the only (semi-) dog is the 200/5.6, which is both soft and slow. The rest are very sharp.
    There's no ball bearings in the wind mechanism. Just solid hard steel sleeve bearings, and good long-lived grease. The smoothness does have to do with the low gear ratio, you have to wind 180 degrees per frame. Of course there's a well-built ratchet in there, so it's multi-stroke.
    Just don't swap off with that Nikon F3 too often. Everything turns opposite on Nikon and Topcon: focus, aperture, shutter speed, and lens mount! You'll go nuts.
  6. Wan't that called a Beseler Topcon at one time, or is my memory inaccurate again? Can someone explain the history of the brand? I had 2 Nikon F3 bodies and disliked them rather seriously. I hope the Topcon was better.
  7. Bruce,
    You are correct, it was called Bessler Topcon.
  8. Yes, in 1963 it was Beseler Topcon Super D. Here is an ad from 1968:
    Best regards,
  9. The Charles Beseler corporation had very rigid pricing (until that was outlawed) under what was known as the "Fair Trade" laws. Dealers had to sell all the products Beseler manufactured or distributed at list price. No discounts! This didn't really help them competitively, but they were die-hard adherents until the end. Theory was you got more dealers, since the big ones weren't undercutting the little ones on price.
    They had the Topcon cameras they imported into the US custom-engraved with the Beseler name, and a custom model. (What was the RE Super in the rest of the world was the Super D in the US.) They also owned the rights to the Topcon name in the US, and you could be required to have the Topcon name defaced on a non-Beseler camera or lens when bringing it into the country. (Not to mention paying duty.) In those years, if you took something expensive and foreign-made out of the country on vacation, you brought along proof of US ownership.
    The history of the Topcon brand is that they (Tokyo Kogaku) made great lenses and solid cameras. They were first with in-camera through-the-lens full-aperture metering, back in 1963. They put the meter in the mirror, where it measured light through slits in the silvering. This "mirror" metering wasn't really copied until the Nikon F3, and even there is it quite different, reflecting off a secondary mirror to an silicon photo-diode at the bottom of the camera. (Probably different enough to not violate Topcon's patents.)
    But, after Tokyo Kogaku came out with the Super D, innovation slowed to a halt. New lenses came out very slowly. Serious shortage of fast lenses. No electronic automation. Only twist was the first "Auto Winder", which was their swan song of innovation. What was essentially the same camera could not compete by 1978.
    Partly they were a victim of their choice to start with the Exacta mount. At the time they started making SLRs, that was a good idea, as there were lots of Exacta mount lenses, and wide use of that mount in scientific applications. But the diameter of the mount is very small, making it hard to make fast lenses, and causing vignetting in macrophotography and with long lenses. Note that the RE. Auto Topcor 58/1.4 lens is as large and heavy as most vendors' 50/1.2 lenses.
    Partly, like many camera companies, they were victims of Canon's electronics revolution in the AE-1. Canon still has the deepest R&D pockets of any camera company, being such a diversified company.
  10. As stated above, it's not only the smooth advance of the Topcon, but its build quality and fit/finish, along with the Topcor lenses, that make it a fabulous system. Contrary to some comments about a limited range of glass, I think a range of 20 mm to 500 mm is a range more than adequate for 99% of all pro and advanced amateurs. How many 16 mm specialty lenses did Nikon REALLY sell? Better yet, the 7 mm? The 300 mm 2.8 Topcor was a ground-breaker when Topcon introduced it, and garnered enough attention to be modified at the factory to fit Nikon and (I believe) Canon. I think I'll go grab my Super D and give it a few winds.
  11. Nikon's shortest lens was a 6mm, not a 7mm. Canon also had a 300/2.8 before most other companies. It was an FL mount Fluorite lens with SSC coating. I think the prettiest Topcon was the black Super DM with the winder and the neat strap. I agree that the Exakta mount made fast lenses more difficult. The best collection of Topcon equipment I remember seeing was at the old Foto Cell on 23rd Street in NY. They even had the 30mm micro lens with the cone shaped tube. I have the 12.5mm and 25mm Minolta micro lenses with both the M-1 ad M-2 adapters but the 30mm Topcon lens has a nice lab look to it. I traded my Exakta VX500 and 50/2 Zeiss (Jena) Pancolar some years ago. The only lens I have left in that mount is a 105/4 Noflexar bellows macro lens in Topcon mount. I used it with an Exakta adapter on a Konica bellows on an off brand bellows with a Konica mount. I have also adapted it to other mounts with adapters. From an apperance standpoint the best thing about a Topcon is the square look. Most of the other companies went to a more rounded look over time but not Topcon. The Nikon F2, Nikon FE, Minolta X series and Olympus OM cameras all had a rounder look that what came before them. If I found a Super D or Super DM in good condition and for the right price I would be tempted to get it.
  12. What's strange is that my Topcon RE Super has the "RE Super" on the other side. Also, the chrome behind the self-timer is different. See picture. Serial #4663451. I just got it last Sunday: Does anyone know about what are apparently at least two models of the RE Super? --Marc
  13. When I bought my first good camera in 1972, my options had narrowed down to a brand new Canon FTb or a used Topcon RE Super. I chose the Canon and have remained primarily a Canon user and collector. Still, I've always admired Topcons and have managed to acquire a few RE Super and Super D bodies, Topcor lenses and accessories. I think it's obvious that the design concepts used in the original Canon F-1 system were heavily influenced by the Topcon system. Here's a link to Leon Schoenfeld's outstanding "The Topcon Collection" site:
  14. Marc, that is a seriously beautiful sample. Talk about porn! Whew!
    Man, those were fine machines.
  15. There were a few restylings of the Super D/RE Super cameras over the years. At one of them, Beseler claimed that there was a redesign of the metering circuit, with automatic switching between center-weighting and averaging, but that was complete bunk -- the part numbers and circuits didn't change. Maybe one of the changes in mirror slit patterns made a slight change in behavior.
    What is sorely missing in the Topcon lens lineup is fast primes. The 20mm is slow at f/4, others had f/2.8. The 25mm is slow at f/3.5, there were several 24mm f/2 lenses. Same at 28mm and 35mm, only f/2.8, while faster ones were prototyped, they didn't go into production. No f/1.2 normal lens. The 135mm was f/3.5, most vendors shipped f/2.8 lenses. The 200mm lens was a ridiculous f/5.6.
    Now, the lenses they did make were incredibly sharp. But they didn't have the knowledge to do aspherics, or floating elements. So they really couldn't make really good fast lenses. (Well, maybe there were aspherics in the prototype 28/2 and 35/1.8 lenses, but who knows now.)
    All the fast Pentax-A, Nikkor, Canon FD, and Minolta Rokkor lenses just make me jealous. Us Topcon users have to put up with off-brand fast lenses, which are a very hit-or-miss proposition, where they exist at all.
    The other thing Topcon was rapidly falling behind on was zoom lens technology. They never made one. The 87-205 was licensed from Sun Optical. The 35-100 was made by Cimko, not Tokyo Kogaku. That may not matter to us classic camera geeks, but it sure mattered in the market.
    Another thing I've realized cleaning sticky irises on Pentax-A lenses: the Topcon lens construction was a lot more expensive to manufacture. No castings, everything is machined from blocks of aluminum. The Pentax iris is built right into the inner part of the focusing helical, and infinity focus is adjusted by how you align the focusing collar on the middle helical. On the Topcors, the entire lens block mounts separately into the focusing mount, held in by a threaded retaining ring. So there's a lot more parts. Infinity focus in a Topcor is set but putting a selected shim between the iris cage and the focusing mount -- a much more tedious process in manufacturing. This all doesn't contribute to optical quality, but does contribute to manufactured cost. It certainly is part of what makes the Topcor lenses such eye candy.
    Yeah, some of the cheapest Pentax-A normal lenses use plastic components in the helical. That's really a bit too cheap. But I give them a lot of respect for value engineering, and the Pentax lenses do hold up pretty well.
  17. I like the Topcon Super Dm as it has mirror lockup. However it is hard to find one under $200. Be sure to ask if the light meter functions before buying one as there is a good possibility that the photo cells may be dead (just like with the old Nikon FTns) Many of the Topcor lenses were tested by Modern Photography and had 80 lines/mm resolution, such as the 35mm, 100mm and the 135mm lenses. RE Auto Topcor lenses - Dyxum. Topcor lenses can be used on Exaka cameras if you replace the lens release lever with a flat one or grind down the knob to about 1mm so it can clear the bottom of the lens.
  18. In 1968, I inherited much of my grandfather's photo equipment, including much darkroom equipment,
    but not his Topcon Auto 100. That was too valuable for me to inherit.

    A few years ago, I bought one from a Goodwill store for a low price.
    After not so long, the shutter completely locked up. (Like less than
    one roll though it.) I don't even remember if the meter worked.

    A leaf shutter SLR is an interesting idea. I believe that is why my
    grandfather bought it, but it might be that SLRs with built-in meter
    were rare at the time.
  19. The Topcon leaf shutter SLRs are unfortunately notoriously unreliable. According to "Topcon Story", very sensitive to the type and quality of certain lubricants. An awful lot of actions are demanded from the power of one wind.
  20. Didn't Bessler start as an enlarger company for many years before marketing cameras? Was this camera their own deign?

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