Discussion in 'Classic Manual Cameras' started by alan_rockwood, May 1, 2007.
Any comments on the Topcon Super D, also known as RE Super?
One of the best 35 mm SLRs of its time. And the lenses are good too. The US Navy standardized on them, the other services used Nikon Fs.
Only drawback, and not a huge one, is that since the camera uses the Exakta mount the lens throat is quite narrow. This limits somewhat the range of wide angle lenses that can be used.
Hi Alan. These cameras are superbly built and have some of Japan's best optics. The 50mm 1.4 Topcor in particular is an amazingly good lens and has been resurected somewhat by Cosina with a new copy that fits their Bessaflex cameras. There is also a Nikon AIS version that I have and it is indeed like the Topcor, right down to the bayonet lens hood. I would go out on a limb and say that the build quality of the RE Super is better than the Nikon F, certainly nicer to use, although I have yet to find one with a working meter.... bit like a Nikon F then!
A loy of these cameras were used by Goverment departments, including the military and sometimes show the affects of less than careful handling, so check before you buy.
I do have a couple with working meters so they don't all die. One thing I find amazing is how smooth the focus is on every Topcor lens - almost fluid! They aren't cheap but they are affordable. RCB
When I was in vietnam in '66, I had never owned a 35 mm camera nor even held an SLR. A fellow officer, who planned to become a professional photographer after his tour, gave me a mini-tutorial. He had a Topcon super D and a Canon Pellix. He went on and on about the superior build and qualities of the Topcon. I handled it a little bit and it was impressive. Focussing was super smooth. I have only his word on image quality, but he was enthusiastic. At the time, spending as much as $130-150 for a camera was beyond my ken, so I settled for a Konica auto S2 for $35 (still a great camera). Matanle is also a big fan of the Topcon. I think the availability of lenses might be a problem.
I liked the Topcon Super D because it had the light meter engraved
on the back of the reflex mirror. Also considered Canon and Nikon,
but went with the Nikon. In the note above re the U.S. Navy going
with Topcon, I believe that their nuclear subs had a Nikon f mount
on their periscopes! I always thought that the periscope from
a nuclear sub would be the ultimate Nikon accessory for me ! Ha !
Yes I would love a Topcon Super D !
One more historical rememberance:
When the 'Questar' 3 1/2'' reflector telescope first came out in
the early 1960's, it was set up for use with the Topcon Super D.
Later, Questar changed the camera mount to the Nikon f mount.
Clay, by the time the Questar 700 -- quite a different beast from the telescope -- came out Questar had gone over to T-mount. Proprietary mounts are too expensive and limiting.
The RE-Super/Super-D camera bodies were built like tanks. Very durable, although they eventually do need clean/lube/adjust service after 20-30 years. The square corners get dented up easily. Wide selection of focusing screens, which can easily be changed without any exposure compensation. The metering works well, although some claim that by metering at a point that is not in focus (the mirror), the metering pattern is a bit screwy to say the least. My Super-D exposed a lot of Kodachrome 64 quite accurately.
The camera is heavy. Lots of very strong pot-metal castings. The lenses are mostly 100% aluminum, to make up for the heavy camera.
The Navy apparently used Super-D's in the Orion sub chaser planes that used to prowl the coasts, especially the Pacific coast. That's why the lenses made for them had infinity locks, you're always flying high enough to focus at infinity. They took a beating in this service, probably being dropped and picked up frequently in the planes. The Navy cameras were marked "U. S. NAVY", and the lenses had an "N" on the front ring.
The late RE GN Topcor 50/1.4 was indeed a very sharp lens. Unfortunately, they achieved this using radioactive Lanthanum glass, and they are all turning rather brown by now. (I have one I bought new for $99 in 1978, and I recently bought a Geiger counter and made this discovery. Hotter than the radioactive Summicron.)
None of the other RE Auto Topcor lenses test out as radioactive, although I don't have the 500/5.6 to test.
Both the RE GN Topcors (50/1.4 and 50/1.8) are normally found with very tight focusing. The grease used wasn't stable, and reacted with the brass cam (they are not helical focusing lenses, they focus with a cam), and turned to gunk. They will need cleaning, even the NOS ones that are still out there in quantity. They also have one ergonomic flaw, to make the Guide Number feature work, they focus backwards from all other Topcors, in the "Nikon" direction.
The RE Auto Topcor 58/1.4 is also a very fine lens, not quite as sharp as the 50/1.4. It is quite common, and beautifully styled. This is the one whose styling was copied by Cosina for their "Topcor" lenses. But I doubt they copied the optical formula of either normal lens.
The 58/1.4 is particularly prone to oil on the diaphragm blades. All of the RE Auto Topcor lenses are somewhat prone to this, as the aluminum helical required generous lubrication. (Thus the nice focusing feel.) The 58/1.4 has a much shorter "path" between the helical and diaphragm, so it's extra vulnerable.
I've been very happy with all the lenses. One of the wides does vignette rather noticeably wide-open, I noted this on some of my old slides, not sure if they were taken with the 35mm or 25mm lens.
The reversible bayonet mount lens hoods for the 28mm to 100mm lenses are also very nice.
The small Exakta lens mount is indeed a compromise. Serious macro work does get vignetted by it. But there are three fine Macro Topcor lenses available. The 58/3.5 macro lenses also make great general photography lenses, very sharp, great contrast. (The Auto version is best for that, not the original short-mount one.) The bellows is nice, it focuses to infinity with the short-mount 58/3.5 and 135/4 Macro Topcors.
Unfortunately, a few of the lenses are quite rare, causing them to be very pricey on the used market. The most glaring example is the superb 85/1.8 ($1000 and up), but the 20/4, 28/2.8, 58/3.5 (Macro Auto), and 300/5.6 (RE Auto version) are also pretty pricey. On the other hand, the 35/2.8, 58/1.8, 58/1.4, 100/2.8 (another sweetie), 135/3.5, and 200/5.6 are common, and quite cheap. The 25/3.5 is in a middle ground price-wise.
The 200/5.6 is ridiculously slow, consider the older R. Topcor preset 200/4, or the Komura 200/3.5.
For a 300mm lens, I'd recommend the Tamron SP one (54B), because it's easier to find than the RE Auto Topcor 300/5.6, focuses incredibly close, and is almost certainly sharper. Only bummer with Tamron Adaptall on Topcon is that the aperture ring turns the wrong (Nikon) way.
The Tamron Adpatall mount for Topcon is a little hard to find, about $40. There's also T-4 Topcon mounts, and Komura Unidapter (Exakta) and Uni-Auto (Topcor) mounts.
I've used Topcon Super D, DM and RE Super almost exclusively for over 30 years, except for a brief stint with a Canon F1, which was given to me. Although the F1 was a nice, well-built camera, the Topcons have always had that intuitive feel, along with superb build qaulity. I have yet to see one with a dead meter, unlike those in previous posts. I have 3 bodies, and all meter within 1/3 stop. I like the meter on the mirror, too, which negates the big heavy meter/finder of the Nikon F.
Topcon's downfall was its steadfast commitment to function over form, with slow and steady improvements on an old theme, and a failure to realize that markets were changing. This lack of nimbleness left the Super DM in the dust compared to the likes of Nikon, Canon, Minolta, and Pentax, who were all going lighter and smaller (after all, it was a ten or twelve year old design by the mid 70s). The GN lenses were symptomatic of its failure, being introduced just as auto thyristor flashes made it obsolete.
Fine lenses though. My stable includes focal lengths between 25 and 200, and I agree, the 200 is ridiculously slow. The 100 is especially sweet, and the 28 can only be described as a cutie (and incredibly sharp). When I travel, I take one body, the 28 2.8, 58 1.4 and the 100 2.8. This rather tight range of focal lengths is plenty versatile without bulk. I've never seen the 300 2.8, but it was the first fast 300, and many were modified to Nikon mount.
I have to admit I also use a Leicaflex SL, but to me, the meter is futsy, it seems heavy for its size, and the f2 50 is too slow for my liking. Very nicely made camera, but if I'm going to fire off a few rolls out in the countryside, I'll grab one of my 30 year old Topcons--they've never let me down.
Ebay has a fairly steady supply of Topcons and Topcor lenses, and the only ones that are ridiculous in price are the 20 f4, and the 85 f1.8. Watch them for a while. A near mint D body can be had for under $300.
Topcon's other downfall was Charles Beseler Company. They just didn't have the hustle that Ehrenreich Photo Optical Industries (EPOI, the USA Nikon importer in that era) had. EPOI did a superb job catering to professionals. There used to be a storefront in Rockefeller Center with the entire Nikon camera line on display, nothing like that for Topcon!
Beseler was into price fixing (Fair Trade as it was called), until the Justice Department banned that. They limited the number of dealers to protect them, and set the prices they could charge. This worked OK for the enlarger business, but not for cameras.
It also didn't help that Tokyo Optical was where Toshiba "stored" bad managers in the days of lifetime employment in Japan.
As for reliability, I learned about Topcons from people who had used them for anthropology field work, where a reliable camera was a must.
I've had one meter fail, but it was my fault, storing the camera someplace damp, and the winding on the galvanometer corroded open.
Topcon was nice to standardize on one filter size for most lenses: 49mm. However, this is smaller than the 52mm Nikon used, and the 55mm Canon used, and is why the 200/5.6 has to be so slow. It's probably also why the 135mm is f/3.5, most vendors had this as an f/2.8.
But the solid-state revolution, ushered in by the Canon AE-1, was the last straw for Topcon, and eventually did in a lot of other camera companies. Even Nikon probably wouldn't still be in business but for their business in semiconductor fabrication equipment, which is incredibly profitable in boom parts of the economic cycle. When Intel does a new process generation, or builds a new factory, Nikon makes lots of money.
Actually, the remaining Topcon company is partly in the semiconductor fab business, also in LCD manufacturing equipment. They are now best known for surveying gear, although they are also big in retina cameras for opthalmology. They also still make lots of optics on an OEM basis, for many vendors of projection TVs.
I have been tasked by Mum to sell on my Grand-Dads Topcon collection. And was wondering if anyone would know where would be a good place to list the collection and some sort of guide price. Fortunately, he kept all the litrature which has made cataloging it all some what easier. Here is a brief listing:
Topcon RE Super
Auto-Topcor 58mm f/1.4
Auto-Topcor 200mm f5.6
Paragon 300mm f5.6
Macro accessories - Model IV Bellow Attachment, Extension Tube Set etc. etc.
Angle View Finder
And all sorts of filters, focusing screens, adaptors and esoterics such as Double Cable Release !!
I do have an e-bay account, but feel this may a little too specialised for on there ?
Well, ebay might be the ideal place to sell the DM kit.
I have acquired a totally mint 135 F2 R Topcor (Number 32 made), which makes it 1960. But the focus is tremendously stiff, and the lens demounts from my poor super d when I try to focus the beast. Any ideas to de-grunge the focus?
One thing I noticed about the lens is that does not have the RE lens' rear assembly, just tapers off to the lens mount, with no outside chrome ring. The lens cannot have been designed for RE super, much more like R camera.
I have a 135 f2 r-topcor, but it doesn't look right on a Super D. The exacta mount sort of tapers away to the back of the lens, so the lens looks as though it will fall off the camera!
Your 135 suffers from dried grease and needs to be disassembled to clean out the old and refit with new grease. It would be worth it, that is a quite fast 135. Since it is an R series (not RE),it doesn't have automatic coupling to meter with the RE models.
I have the R. Topcor 300 f 2.8, another fast beast, one of about 700 built by Topcon. The R lenses were very well made.
You can cheat and focus to the closest extreme, and put a few drops of lighter fluid on the exposed helical threads to loosen things up. Then you could add a tiny drop or two of good oil.
Otherwise, you just go in through the back. Pull the four screws on the lens mount, and dig in. You may need to remove the focusing collar to pull a stop screw. Note that you really really really want to keep track of exactly what start of the helical threads they separate at, so you can get them together the same again.
Now, if only someone had an original front lens cap for this lens to sell me. I've got the lens and correct hood, but not the correct front cap.
What is the diameter of that cap? I have a metal one, not sure what Topcor it fits.
This posting is very old, but, I make it new. In the 1960-70 ( I don't remember exactly ) I have had to make a choice, which system I going to go to buy, the Topcon or the Nikon F. I get the Nikon F, and since, I'm a loyal and satisfied Nikon user. But still regret, not to buy, at list, one Topcon Supper DM, with motor winder and some lens, or lenses with it. Later on I realized, how good the Topcon was. Recently I bought a mint chrome Supper D with the 58mm f/1.8 lens, and light-meter working perfectly. Unfortunately, the only available motor winder on ebay, I lost the bid and have to wait to get one. The camera just arrived and I marvel of the beauty of this camera, how the mechanics working, so smooth and precise. The whole build quality, I believe, is better, then the well proven quality of Nikon. To bad, the company cease to exist today as a 35mm camera producer. Now, I have to load a roll of T-max and out to shoot.
BTW; anybody have a Topcon motor winder out there for sell?
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