Nikon’s Roots is our deep dive into the history of Nikon. With their retro-styled Nikon Z f camera making waves last year, along with their best-selling Z8, we will take a good look at the history and genealogy of Nikon. These articles are written originally in Japanese by former Nikon employee and columnist Kenji Toyota. This episode of Nikon’s Roots is Volume 3 – the Nikon Nikkorex F.
Nikkorex Did Not Have a Reputation
Among Nikon’s all-time cameras, perhaps no model has been treated as poorly as the Nikorex F. For a time, it was not included in materials such as lists of past models released by Nikon. For some reason, it was a part of Nikon’s “dark history” that they didn’t want to be touched on.
Why was this camera being treated so poorly? One of the reasons may lie in the “secret of birth” of this camera. The Nikkorex F was not developed or designed by Nikon itself. This is what we now call OEM. Behind the birth of this camera was the development of the revolutionary unit shutter “Copal Square.”
The focal plane shutters of current interchangeable lens cameras, such as mirrorless cameras and single-lens reflex cameras, use a shutter called a square type. However, until the first square-type shutter, the Copal Square, appeared in 1960, focal plane shutters were drum-shaped shutters modeled after Leica’s. In other words, exposure is achieved by sequentially running the front and rear curtains, which are made of cloth or ultra-thin metal foil wrapped around drums on both sides of the screen frame, in front of the image plane.
On the other hand, Copal Square’s front and rear curtains each consist of multiple thin metal plates, which are driven by a metal arm to fold and overlap, or conversely to unfold into the screen frame. This wasn’t openly known previously.
In addition to the shutter manufacturer Copal, Roku Konishi (Konica) and Mamiya Koki were involved in the development of Copal Square. Roku Konishi incorporated the completed Copal Square into his company’s 35mm single-lens reflex camera Konica FS (1960), but for some reason Mamiya Koki did not incorporate it into its own single-lens reflex camera, instead choosing to release it under another company’s brand. is. Then, they reached a deal with Nikon, which felt the need for an inexpensive single-lens reflex camera that uses interchangeable lenses for the Nikon F, and decided to supply it as a Nikon F mount camera, called the Nikkorex F. Thing. There is also a story that this was mediated by Joseph Ehrenreich, who was solely responsible for Nikon’s sales in the United States.
Nikkorex F did not sell
The Nikkorex F was introduced to the world in 1962 making it a vital part of Nikon’s roots, but sales were not as good as expected. Equipped with the latest shutter called Copal Square, Nikon was able to achieve unprecedented specifications that allowed strobes to be used up to 1/125 seconds. Additionally, it was possible to use an external exposure meter that linked the aperture using the “crab claw” of the Nikkor lens, which was an excellent performance for a single-lens reflex camera at the time.
One reason could be height. The Copal Square runs vertically, and the Type 1 that was used in Nikkorex F had a small number of divisions, 2 front curtains and 2 rear curtains, so the camera that accommodated it inevitably became taller. Even with Nikkorex F, the height was made less noticeable by making the upper cover deeper and narrowing the width of the leather covering, but it was still noticeably taller than other companies’ models at the time.
However, the biggest reason for its unpopularity is probably that this camera is not typical of Nikon. Not only the exterior design but also the feel of operation is very different from other Nikon cameras. While Nikon F series cameras have a solid feel from the winding lever, shutter dial, shutter button, etc., the Nikkorex F has a solid feel. To put it bluntly, this is a manifestation of the cultural differences between high-end machine makers like Nikon and mid-range machine makers like Mamiya Koki. Mid-range machine manufacturers inevitably prioritize cost reduction and mass production. On the other hand, high-end machines focus not only on functionality but also on things like ease of use.
Let’s take a concrete example. On the Nikon F, the lens attachment/detachment button is located at the 3 o’clock position when viewed from the front of the lens mount. There is a locking pin on the mount surface right next to it that falls into the groove on the lens side, and when you press the attachment/detachment button, this locking pin retracts and releases the lock. This mechanism is made up of quite a number of parts, including a lock pin guide, a button guide, a lever that transmits movement between the pin and guide, and a return spring, but in Nikkorex F, from top to bottom next to the mount. It was simplified with a long leaf spring.
The Nikkorex F lens attachment/detachment button is placed diagonally below the lens mount. Inside, there is a long leaf spring from this button to near the nameplate, with a lock pin fixed in the middle.
To handle this, it was recommended to place the fulcrum of the leaf spring near the name plate on the top, and place the attachment/detachment button in the lower corner of the mirror box on the opposite side. Then, secure the lock pin near the middle of the leaf spring. This will greatly reduce the number of parts and assembly man-hours, leading to lower costs. However, it is not very comfortable to use. For example, When removing the lens, you will no longer be able to use the back of your finger to press the button and twist to remove the lens. It may be a small thing, but users will feel a little uncomfortable every time they change lenses. The difference between cultures is whether or not they place importance on it.
Nikkorex F variations establishing Nikon’s Roots
As mentioned at the beginning, the Nikkorex F was treated poorly, and as a result, there are few documents and documents available. Looking at the limited amount of material available, it appears that there was something that could be called a “late model.” The design of the film advance lever and self-lever have been changed, and the film indicator (which manually sets and records the type of film loaded) that was on the camera back has been omitted.
It has also been confirmed that there was a model for overseas markets called the Nikkor J. From the 1960s to the 1970s, Nikon sometimes released models for export under different brands. The Nikon F became the Nikkor F for Germany, and the export version of the Nikomart became the Nikkormart, and this Nikkor J is probably part of that.
A lookalike of the Nikkorex
Actually, there is a lookalike version of the Nikkorex F from another company. The camera was released in the same year, 1962, and was called the “Recorcing Rex” and was not sold domestically as it was an export-only model. Apparently Mamiya Koki also supplied cameras with the same design to Ricoh on an OEM basis. Although there are some differences in details such as the shape of the self-lever and shutter button, the octagonal body shape with a tapered top and the arrangement of each control section are similar to the Nikkorex F. The lens mount is similar to the Nikon F mount, but it is not compatible. The mounting part for the external linked light meter is in the same position, but the shape is different. And since the lens doesn’t have a crab claw, the exposure meter will probably only be linked to the shutter dial. I’m not even sure if there was an external light meter.
Mr. Toyota was born in Tokyo in 1947. He worked for Nikon Corporation for more than 30 years, designing single-lens reflex cameras and working in electronic imaging. He will then teach as a part-time lecturer at the Department of Photography, College of Art, Nihon University until 2021. Current positions include Fellow and Auditor of the Photographic Society of Japan, Cooperating Committee member of the Japan Opto-Mechatronics Association, and judge of Japan Camera Museum’s “Japanese Historical Cameras.” He has written many books, including “Toyoken Sensei’s Camera Mechanism Course (Nippon Camera Company)” and “Cousins of the Nikon Family (Asahi Sonorama).”