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 5 – the Nikon Nikkorex 35II.
Nikkorex 35 had many breakdowns
The Nikkorex 35 was expected to be a popular Nikon machine, but it seems to have had quite a few breakdowns. I heard that within Nikon, he was given a disgraceful nickname such as “Kowalex,” using the Japanese word “kowaru,” meaning “to break” in Japanese. There are various reasons for this, but one reason may be that assembly was outsourced.
Unlike the Nikkorex F, the development was not left to other companies, but there seems to have been a similar “cultural difference” with high-end machines. Lens shutters are significantly less durable than focal plane shutters. However, I have also heard of people repeatedly releasing the shutter during the inspection process on the line, just like with focal cameras, and the shutter reached its durability limit and broke. In order to clear up the stigma, the Nikkorex 35II was released two years later in 1962 as a successor model.
The major change from the original Nikkorex 35 was the change in shutter from Citizen to Seiko. Many people may wonder, “Wait, the watch manufacturer Citizen was making shutters?” However, at the time, lens shutters, which were more precise than camera bodies, were manufactured by specialized manufacturers and supplied to camera manufacturers. It was common, and watch manufacturers were sometimes involved in the production.
The “Seikosha Rapid” manufactured by Hattori Watch Store Seikosha is famous, but Citizen, another watch manufacturer, also manufactured lens shutters. Advanced cameras such as the “Optiper HS Citizen,” which is mainly used in Minolta cameras and achieves a shutter speed of 1/2000 seconds with limited apertures, and the “Optiper Uni Citizen,” a programmable shutter that also functions as an aperture blade for the Minolta Uniomat. The developed shutters were unique.
The Citizen MXL lens shutter was used in the first Nikkorex 35, but was it determined to be the main cause of the failure? For Type II, they changed to Seikosha SLV made by Seikosha. Looking at other companies’ products at the time, Topcon used a Citizen shutter for the first generation PR in the lens-shutter SLR, but changed it to Seikosha’s shutter for the PR2 model, and the Aires Penta 35 From the beginning, the shutters were made by Seikosha. It’s probably because Seikosha developed a shutter specifically designed for single-lens reflex cameras, but it can also be assumed that there was some problem with Citizen’s shutter.
Nikkorex 35II Mechanics Completely Replaced; specs remain the same
Even though the Nikkorex 35II is a type II camera, the specs are the same as the first generation. Only the shutter has changed. However, for lens-shutter SLR cameras, changing the shutter is a big deal. With lens shutters for single-lens reflex cameras, the shutter side often takes care of not only the shutter function but also the automatic aperture and mirror mechanisms. Sometimes even a spring for mirror up was built into the shutter side. For this reason, changing the shutter has a large effect on the surrounding mechanisms, requiring almost the entire mechanism to be replaced. In fact, if you look at the internal mechanism diagrams published in camera magazines at the time, you can almost say it was a completely different camera. The type II has a surprisingly simple mechanism. It is believed that this also greatly contributed to the avoidance of failures.
Although the exterior does not seem to have changed much, the die-cast body is actually new. While the first Nikkorex 35 had an octagonal cross-sectional shape when viewed from above like the Nikon F, the model II has a rectangular shape with rounded corners. The design around the exposure meter light receiving area and the winding lever have also been changed to make them smarter.
Nikkorex 35II Shooting lens
The shooting lens is the same as the first generation, a Nikkor-Q 50mm F2.5. Looking at the lens configuration diagram, it is a so-called Tessar type, with 4 elements in 3 groups. Generally speaking, Tessar type lenses are said to be limited to F2.8 at most, and there are no other lenses that are faster than that. Since it’s a single-lens reflex camera, I think the viewfinder was widened to F2.5 to make the viewfinder as bright as possible, but I haven’t heard any complaints about the depiction. The shortest shooting distance is 60cm.
Although it is a single-lens reflex camera, lenses cannot be changed, but two types of front conversion lenses are available instead. The wide-angle conversion has 4 elements in 2 groups and becomes a 35mm F4, while the telephoto conversion has 5 elements in 4 groups and becomes a 90mm F4. A close-up lens was also available that shortened the minimum shooting distance to 35cm.
The shooting lens is the same as the first generation NIKKOR-Q 50mm F2.5, a 4-element Tessar type.
Still, the reputation could not be fixed…
Although the Nikkorex 37 was considerably improved when it became Type II, it was unable to overcome the negative reputation it once had. It was unable to compete with the Nikon F, a high-end model, in its role as a popular model. This was in contrast to rival Canon, which had secured the position of a popular model through Canonet.
But one will always ask, why? The question remains as to whether the choice of a lens-shutter SLR was the right choice in the first place. It’s true that you can enjoy the charm of a single-lens reflex camera easily and cheaply. Although it was a conversion lens, you could enjoy the charm of a wide-angle lens or a telephoto lens, and you could take close-up shots with a parallax-free viewfinder, but lens-shutter SLRs were still difficult for beginners at the time to use. It’s easy to imagine that it must have been a culture shock, especially with the viewfinder, which flashed out when you pressed the shutter and didn’t get brighter until you wound the film.
The large and rugged design also seems to have put users off. The width is smaller than Canonet, but it is taller and weighs about 170g. Canonet is much smarter.
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).”