Last week I acquired a camera from my sister-in-law. Her husband passed away sometime back and in clearing out some items she asked if I wanted a camera. Since it was an old film camera in good shape, I of course said yes.
What I found was a camera that I was unfamiliar with. I had heard the name before in passing but had never had the occasion to deal with this brand. The camera was a Beseler Topcon Auto 100. I can discuss Minolta, Canon, Rolleiflex, Hasselblad, Zeiss, Minox, and several others. Even Beseler photographic enlarging equipment. But this one I was totally clueless about.
Was there a connection to the Beseler from darkroom days? My interest was piqued. In researching the camera I determined it was produced between 1964 and 1969. Not worth a large sum of money, however the story behind the brand was interesting so I will highlight it here for those interested in old cameras.
Tōkyō Kōgaku, later Topcon is an existing Tokyo, Japan entity that has been in business since 1932. They have evolved into a medical eye care device and automated survey positioning equipment provider. Chances are that if you have had a retinal scan image made of your eyes, it was produced by the Topcon parent company. In 1932 the company began by producing survey and optical instruments such as binoculars and cameras for the Imperial Japanese Army. In 1949 the company first appeared on the Tokyo stock exchange.
The company’s history with cameras involves production of a 6 x 4.5 medium format model in 1937. A 127 film camera in 1938. A twin lens reflex camera in 1951. The first SLR camera, the Topcon R in 1957. And a 6 x 9 press camera for the Tokyo Police Department in 1960.
In 1963 Topcon release the first SLR in the world to have TTL light metering. It was called the Topcon RE Super. The Charles Beseler Company imported the Topcon camera, rebranded as the Super D. In 1965 the US Navy tested cameras from several Japanese and German manufacturers (Including Nikon). The Topcon Super D was the winner of this competition, and was used exclusively by the Navy until the very end of Topcon production in 1977.¹
The Charles Beseler Company is an existing firm that was founded in 1869 in Germany. The company still sells photographic enlargers, Steel furniture, and shrink wrap packaging. In 1943, the company's expertise had evolved to the point where the firm became an innovative audio-visual company primarily serving the military and education markets with the first opaque and then overhead projection equipment. By 1953, Beseler entered the amateur and professional photography enlarger and darkroom fields. Today, the Charles Beseler Company is located in Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania.² Beseler imported the Topcon line of cameras into the US during the time that company made cameras.³
The “Topcon Uni” or “Beseler Topcon Auto 100” or “Hanimex Topcon RE Auto” (Depending on where it was sold) was manufactured between 1964 and 1969 and imported along with other Topcon models, into the US during those years by Beseler whose named appeared on the camera.⁴
The Topcon Auto 100 feels very similar and appears to be built like the other Japanese SLR’s of the time period (Minolta, Canon, Nikon). The camera used the standard battery for the time, a mercury PX625 which is no longer available in the US. Replacement solutions are available which allow the meter to function.⁵
The camera is a manual 35mm, SLR with TTL light metering, interchangeable lenses, Several unique functional approaches were taken by the Topcon. The shutter speed, film speed, and aperture settings are built into the front of the camera immediately behind the lens. This means these settings are performed by manipulating the settings as you would a lens focus ring. Shutter and aperture should be set prior to cocking the shutter. Release of the camera back for film loading is accomplished by moving a button on the bottom of the camera to the side and then pushing this same round button in, which causes the back to open. The shutter release button is located on the front of the camera rather than on top.
One of these days I will actually expose some film with this camera to see how good an image the camera can provide.
More to come………………….
SLR: Single Lens Reflex. Camera in which the lens that forms the image on the film also provides the image in the viewfinder.
TTL: Through The Lens light metering. Camera determines the light needed for exposure by metering only light that enters the lens. As compared to other light meters that measured light from outside of the camera.
¹ From Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Topcon
² From Charles Beseler Company website.
³ From Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_Beseler_Company
⁴ From Camerapedia: http://camerapedia.wikia.com/wiki/T%C5%8Dky%C5%8D_K%C5%8Dgaku
⁵ Camera Musings: http://home.kc.surewest.net/btvarner/CameraMusings.html