Zunow was first... who was 2nd, 3rd, ...

Discussion in 'Classic Manual Cameras' started by marc_rochkind, Jul 24, 2009.

  1. My research tells me that the Zunow SLR was the first to have (1) pentaprism viewfinder, (2) instant-return
    mirror, and (3) instant-reopening diaphragm. This was in 1958.

    Shortly thereafter, other cameras appeared with these three key features, notably the Canonflex and Nikon F, both
    in 1959.

    My question is: What were the others that may have appeared in 1958 or 1959?

    (Be careful about the diaphragm: Several cameras, notably the Minolta SR-2, had automatic diaphragms, which meant
    only that they re-opened by themselves, but not until the film was wound. Not instant. In fact, in the 1960
    Popular Photography Directory, they don't distinguish between "instant-reopening" and "reopening upon winding."
    Even the very expensive Contarex did not have an instant-reopening diaphragm.)

  2. Well the Zunow is an interesting camera for sure.
    Of course, Pentax still claims the first "quick-return mirror" on the Asahiflex II of ca 1954. Of course, the earlier Assahiflex I of 1952 had a "instant-return mirror" that operated from the pushing and release of the shutter button.
    In actual fact, even the Asahi Pentax S2/H2 1958-9 mirror mechanism did not return the mirror to full focusing position until the film was wound (check the manual, if you don't believe me). The mirror came back, but not to its final resting place, so if you focused before you wound the film, critical focus was likely to be off.
    Even the claims for the Asahiflex sort of overlook the fact that it is practically an exact a screw-for-screw copy of the late pre-WWII Praktiflex that continued to be made in Dresden until it was morphed into the Praktica. The Praktiflex had the shutter-actuated mirror mechanism in its early Model 1 versions. It was dropped when huge numbers of these were demanded by the Soviets in war reparations.
    The Asahiflex did introduce the innovation of a viewfinder on an SLR (later used by KW on the Praktina), but otherwise the technological descent goes mostly from Dresden to Tokyo.
    It's not altogether clear to me that the Zunow was more than a prototype. The engraving on its nameplate may also claim the be the first use of the early font (typeface) on Macintosh computers that was called San Francisco (ransom-note face--a clone called St. Francis is available in TrueType). ;)
    This business of mirrors, etc. are a contentious and much-debated topics here on Photo.net as search for Praktiflex, etc will reveal.
    For reasons I simply cannot understand, many here quite irrationally deny the priority of the KW company in all this. :p
  3. link - Zonow, scroll down
    link -melee on Praktiflex as first "instant-return mirror"
    and many, many more (Nikon claims , etc)
    so I think that before we determine who is number 2 or 3, we might need some more discussion on who is number 1 (for some reason this reminds me of the Prisoner TV show...)
    Who are you?"
    "The new Number Two."
    "Who is Number One?"
    "You are Number Six."
    "I am not a number — I am a free man!"
    (Laughter from Number Two.)
  4. JDM...

    Actually, I wasn't intending to bring up the mirror subject. My question was only about cameras that had all three features together: pentaprism, instant-return mirror, and instant-reopen diaphragm. Asahi/Pentax I'm positive did not have all three in a single camera before 1960. I've never seen anything that indicated that any manufacturer in Europe did either.

  5. Topcon R II (Beseler Topcon C in the US) has auto-diapraghm, instant return mirror, and pentaprism in 1960. The new F. Topcor lenses provided this feature.
    A year or so earlier, the Autokinon version of the semi-auto lenses for the 1957 Topcon R (Beseler Topcon B) had a diapraghm that opened as soon as you released the shutter button on the lens.
  6. John--

    That's interesting... it seems that there must have been a spring in the lens itself that returned the diaphragm, since my understanding is that with other lenses the Topcon R opened the diaphragm only when the film was wound?

  7. A quick search on Wikipedia showed this (in discussing the Contax - Pentacon SLR cameras of the early 50s):
    The Contax F was the successor of the Contax D (already having a pentaprism), released in 1956, with an automatic diaphragm release, that is a linkage between body and lens that closes the diaphragm when the shutter release is pressed. The Contax F was the first camera to have this device.
    The Japanese Altair, announced in early 1955, was closely inspired by the Contax D, but incorporated a quick-return mirror. It remained at prototype level only.
    Perhaps the Zunow SLR was the first commercially produed camera to have those features.
  8. Arthur--

    Yes, that is also what my research shows. What I'm trying to track down is that sliver of history between the Zunow and the Canonflex/Nikon F, which both had the 3 features I listed.

    (To my way of thinking, "instant" means "all by itself, right away", not "when the operator releases his/her finger.")

  9. Pentax must have been very close. I think they had the prism and instant return mirror before the end of 1957, I'm not sure when the instant-reopening lens came in.
  10. Yes, the F. Topcor and RE. Auto-Topcor lenses have a spring loaded lever, which mates with a matching lever in the camera that pushed the iris open until exposure time. With the lens off the camera, or on an extension tube or bellows, it is stopped down.
    It was only the Topcon R (Beseler Topcon B) that only used the external plunger Auto-Topcor lenses. The first series of Auto-Topcor lenses required manual cocking to reopen the diapraghm, the Autokinon variant opened automatically when you released the shutter button.
    The Topcon R II (Beseler Topcon C) can use the old plunger lenses, but they aren't the preferred lenses.
  11. Marc, if one wants to define the variables closely enough, I am sure that not only the Zunow, but many other cameras could be legitimately claimed to have been first with some very precisely defined set of features. Has your research extended to the Gamma Duflex of 1947 or so? I'm also curious whether you have found evidence (unknown to me, at least) that the Zunow was produced and offered for sale in something more than a handful of hand-built copies? I mean, you don't give any sources or anything, you've just proclaimed that "Zunow was first...." Maybe, what's your evidence?
    Moreover, c1958 is not the same as 1958, it could mean 1957 or 1959 even. Where is your source that the Zunow was made in 1958? According to Wikipedia and Hagiya Takeshi?* I'd sure like to see a translation of the latter source, since I have no Japanese. I'd also like to see something more than the one camera that only a few people have ever seen (link ). Even if a hundred or so hand-made examples were made and actually marketed, one can question whether it merely having the features all in one was really so revolutionary, given that all them had pretty much been worked out before 1958, separately.
    I'd still bet money that by your own criteria the "first" is more likely to have been Nikon, but certainly that's where the significant innovation was as far as the real world market is concerned .
    At that level of defining that only your chosen mix be considered, your claim reminds me of my home town's boast to be the "largest wheat-milling town north of Wichita, south of Omaha and west of Kansas City." ;)
    *Hagiya Takeshi (萩谷剛). "Zunō kamera tanjō: Maboroshi no 35mm ichigan-refu" (ズノーカメラ誕生:幻の35mm一眼レフ, The birth of the Zunow camera: A phantom 35mm SLR [emphasis added, JDM]). Chapter 1 of Zunō kamera tanjō: Sengo kokusan kamera jū monogatari (ズノーカメラ誕生:戦後国産カメラ10物語, The birth of the Zunow camera: Ten stories of postwar Japanese camera makers). Tokyo: Asahi Sonorama, 1999. ISBN 4-257-12023-1 . Originally published in Kamera Rebyū: Kurashikku Kamera Senka (カメラレビュー クラシックカメラ専科) / Camera Review: All about Historical Cameras no.6 , September 1985. No ISBN number. Meiki no himitsu (名機の秘密, secrets of famous cameras).
  12. JDM--

    I don't much at all about the Zunow except for what I read. It's listed, for example, in McKeowns's. I don't really care about Zunow at all! I shouldn't even have mentioned Zunow in the title of my OP.

    What I tried to explain above is that my question isn't about who was first. My question is about what SLRs had three features (1) pentaprism, (2) instant-return mirror, and (3) instant-reopening diaphragm PRIOR to Canon and Nikon. I'm trying to understand whether there were just one or two such cameras, or maybe a half-dozen.

    I didn't define my terms, but my definition of "instant" in the context in which I used it is "happens by itself instantly without any further action on the part of the operator."

    A few people mentioned cameras that were introduced in 1960 or later, but clearly they aren't ones for my list because the Canonflex and the Nikon F were introduced before 1960.

    So, the debate about the Zunow and other cameras as to which was first is interesting, but isn't related to what I was trying to learn.

  13. Fair enough, but the title of the thread, I think, excuses my misunderstanding.
    I'd still vote for the Nikon F as the final and "first" on this combination, but certainly many other cameras came very close at about the same time. Given all the uncertainties about a small outfit like Zunow, not to mention the Gamma and others, we'll probably never know for sure. ;)
  14. Yes... sorry, my title was poorly worded... Indeed, the Canoflex and Nikon F were closer to being innovators that I first thought.

  15. I guess the Miranda B, C and original Automex models should get a mention here, especially the Automex. It not only an automatic diaphragm, instant return mirror and interchangeable pentaprism, but also a linked selenium meter setup viewable in the viewfinder. Heady stuff for late 1959!
    For those who've never seen the legendary Zunow SLR, here's a pic of one with the pentaprism off. While certainly not made in huge numbers, it was definately a production model.

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