Nicca

Ancestor of Yashica's Leica Copies

Contents

(Scroll down or click on Links)

Japanese Leica Copies - a Potted History
Nicca Story

Origins & Background
Models & Serial Numbers

Model Names

Checking for Fakes
Made in Occupied Japan & Other Markings
From Nippon to Nicca - Models, Features & Specs

Nippon, Nicca Original & Nicca Type-3
Nicca Type-III A, Type-III B & Type-III S
Nicca Type-4 & 3-S
Flash Sync Early Bodies
Flash Sync Late Bodies
Changeover from Stamped to Die Cast Bodies
Nicca Type-5 & 5-L
3-F Models
Nicca Type 33
Nicca III-L

Tower Models

Sears Supplied Lenses

K.O.L./Sun Xebec Lenses
Nicca Lenses
Nikkor Lenses

Standard Lenses

Rigid Nikkor f/2 5 cm Lenses
Close Focusing

Wide Angle & Telephoto Lenses

Shutter Speeds
Rangefinder
Accessories

Ever-ready Cases
Lens Hoods
Filters
Reloadable Film Cassettes
Nicca Universal Finder/ Other Finders
Copy Stand
Flashguns
Sears

User Manuals

Japanese Leica Copies - a Potted History
(Putting Nicca & Nikkor into Perspective)

The screw mount Leica is often claimed to be the most copied camera in the world, although I suspect that the Rolleicord may give it a run for its money. However, there is no doubting its iconic status and game changing concept and design.

The earliest true Leica copy was the 1934 Soviet FED (there were actually a couple of obscure predecessors from 1933 connected to the same project). Next came the first Japanese makers and post-War, with the USA and Allies claiming German patents as War reparations, they were joined by cameras from the USA, UK, Italy and later China (the French Foca used a different lens mount, was innovative in its own right and was more inspired by than a copy). Some of these were very well made but it has to be remembered that by the time the later and better copies of the screw mount Leica arrived, Leica itself had moved onto the superior M3.

Screw mount Leicas are often called “Barnack Leicas” after the designer. Some would argue that strictly speaking, Barnack Leicas ended with the IIIb, the designer himself dying in 1936, and that the 1940 die cast IIIc didn't fit Barnack's mould, apart from him not being involved in the redesign. The IIIc didn't move far from the original, except for the new stronger body and one piece top plate design, but the strongest objection to calling it a Barnack seems to be the couple of mm increase in size. I'm sympathetic but that nuance is for others to debate.

So, what is a Leica copy? Leica copies generally follow the design parameters of the German Leica camera designed by Oskar Barnack in 1913 and launched by Ernst Leitz in 1925. A basic criterion is the use of 35 mm film using 24x36 mm negative frame sizes (Nikon, not a Leica copy, and Minolta both started with an “ideal” 3x4 format of 24x32 mm, moved to 24x34 mm but finally succumbed to the Leica standard 24x36 mm to match automatic slide cutting machines in use in the USA). The first production Leica (now known as Leica I Model A) did not have an interchangeable lens so Leica copies are usually compared to the Leica I Model C released in 1930. That introduced the use of the 39 mm Leica Thread Mount (LTM) with a pitch of 26 turns per inch and a 28.8 mm lens flange to film distance (nominal, not exactly that until 1931). The shutter must be focal plane - most examples copied the Leica cloth type fairly closely, although the 1959 Canon P introduced metal curtains.

The inclusion of a coupled rangefinder is not mandatory (it didn't appear until the Leica II and was absent on the Standard models and others), however most Leica copies end up looking like a typical screw mount Leica with rangefinder, either the earlier slightly smaller stamped and assembled body type (except for some early Leica II based Leotax and Chiyoca models, Japanese examples were typically Leica III based with slow speed escapement and separate front mounted slow speed shutter dial), or the later slightly larger but stronger die cast type (introduced by the 1940 Leica IIIc).

The Minolta 35 and some later variations were less clearly related. The later variations borrowed elements of design from the Leica M3, most commonly the improved viewfinder and the associated “bulking up”, with lever wind film advance and/or improved film loading often already appearing earlier. However, these still at heart remained Leica screw mount copies even if their Barnack link was mainly limited to the frame size, lens mount and shutter. Whilst the designers of the newer generation of Leica copies were aiming at improvements to bring them into line with modern expectations, the size and appearance of these cameras often owed more to practical and economic choices than to Barnack's philosophies of design and compactness.

As an aside, in 1937, future Yashica lens maker, and eventually acquisition, Tomioka (perhaps in association with Sankyō Kōgaku - Camera-wiki.org), produced several prototypes (Lausar and Baika) of what looked like a rangefinderless Leica copy complete with 5 cm Leitz Elmar-like collapsible lens but it wouldn't qualify for the purist definition because it used 127 format roll film (the 35 mm type re-wind knob was in fact a dummy for appearance sake).

The first Japanese 35 mm camera and sort of Leica copy was the Seiki Kōgaku (Precision Optical Instruments Laboratory) made “Kwanon” which appeared as a prototype in 1934 and was released as the “Hansa Canon” in 1936 with lens and optical system designed and made by the Imperial Japanese Navy sponsored Nippon Kōgaku, the future Nikon Corporation (“Hansa” was a brand name used by the camera's distributor, Omiya Shashin Yohin Co., Ltd.). The company became “Canon Camera” in 1947. The earlier models sought to be different from Leica because of patent concerns and it wasn't until after the War that Canon initially more or less met Leica specs for what is considered a true Leica copy, particularly in regards to mount. By then, pre-War German patents had effectively been extinguished.

The next was the 1940 Leotax made by Shōwa Kōgaku. It looked more like a Leica but to avoid patent issues, the rangefinder was not initially coupled and the following iterations used viewfinders and rangefinders with odd window arrangements and mechanisms until after the War. Whilst Shōwa Kōgaku also sourced its standard lenses from Fujita (the Letana Anastigmat fitted during the War), Konishiroku (the later Konica) and Fuji Photo Film, its main supplier of lenses was Tōkyō Kōgaku (translated as Tokyo Optical Company), maker of the later Topcon SLR and War-time supplier of optical products to the Imperial Japanese Army.

Approaching the War in the Pacific, quality German cameras became difficult to obtain and in 1941, the company that became Nicca, Kōgaku Seiki-sha, was given a military order to develop a faithful Leica copy with the first example being delivered in 1942 (story below). Aside from Canon, which developed its own unique features and style, and the Nikon, if considering interchangeable lens rangefinder cameras rather than just Leica copies, Leotax and Nicca cameras are generally considered to be the best of the rest. However, perhaps the Minolta 35 introduced by Chiyoda Kōgaku Seikō in 1947 should also be in the mix. It seems to be ignored by some commentators, perhaps because by some definitions it is on the margins of what is considered to be a true Leica copy and perhaps it's not the prettiest or the most petite. But it was a better mousetrap with hinged back door and single viewfinder/rangefinder window already, 7 years before the Leica M3.

The Reise made Chiyoca first appeared circa 1951 as a viewfinder only model, then later with rangefinder and finally with a name change to Chiyotax. The production volumes were very low but there are some interesting connections linking several of the copy makers (next paragraph). Then followed the Tanack (1952), Melcon (1955) and Honor (1956) cameras, the first two with opening backs, the Honor with removable back. Apart from the backs, they were faithful Leica copies but some of the later models did things differently, e.g. both the Tanack SD and the Melcon II copied the Nikon but used Leica lens mounts and the Honor SD was a copy of the Canon L1 as were the Tanack V3 and VP.

As we shall see, there was a link between the origins of Nicca and the company that became Canon. In a similar way, the designers and founders of Reise (Chiyoca and Chiyotax), Tanaka (Tanack) and Meguro (Melcon) seem to have been early employees of the company that became Nicca. Also, Genji Kumagai, a key player in the establishment of Nicca, left the company in 1948 (according to Camera-wiki.org, according to author Peter Dechert, see below, he remained there as President until, he claims, 1959 - I'm not convinced) and is later thought to be responsible for the design of the 1956 Honor S1. There is a gulf in volume produced between these more recent, really boutique, makers and the Nicca and Leotax cameras. There were also other Japanese Leica copies, possibly with links to earlier cameras/firms, but none were produced in significant numbers and the makers quickly disappeared from the marketplace.

Of the early Leica copy makers, only the prolific Chiyoda Kōgaku Seikō (Minolta) and Shōwa Kōgaku (Leotax) made other camera types (apart from the Leotax Leica copies, Shōwa Kōgaku made various versions of the Semi Leotax 4.5 x 6 cm folder from 1940 until 1955, the little known Baby Leotax 3 x 4 cm folder during the War years and the very short-lived Gemflex subminiature pseudo TLR released in 1949).

Whilst the Nippon Kōgaku made Nikon rangefinders are not Leica copies per se, the company had a very important role in the category. For the record, the 1948 Nikon I copied the Contax II look and bayonet lens mount but also used the Leica cloth focal plane shutter type and modified Leica style rangefinder. Although the Nikons would eventually prove themselves as highly desirable and successful professional level cameras, Nippon Kōgaku's greatest contribution was its Nikkor lenses, also first used exclusively on the early Canon cameras (pre-LTM and also early LTM) before Canon developed its own Serenar, later renamed Canon, series. In addition to the early Canon lenses and its own S mount (based on the Contax mount) lenses, Nippon Kōgaku made Nikkor Contax mount lenses and starting in 1946 already, LTM lenses for the general market. The 5 cm lenses were also adopted as standard equipment on both the Nicca (most post-War models) and, with one budget spec'd exception, the Melcon models.

The Nikkor lenses debut on the world stage is generally credited to starting with Life magazine photographer David Douglas Duncan, whilst on assignment in Japan, having his portrait shot by Japanese photographer Jun Miki, a Life stringer, who used a Nikkor 85 mm f/2 on his Leica IIIf. Duncan was so impressed that he and another Life photographer met with Nippon Kōgaku. The result was that they replaced their personal lenses with Nikkors. When the Korean War started, Duncan used a brace of Leica IIIc cameras also fitted with Nikkors. This caused a sensation, the higher contrast of the Nikkors yielded noticeably better newsprint output than the comparable Leica lenses. It's not that they were necessarily better overall, they worked better for the medium. On the other hand, their quality was undeniable and for the majority of people, the Nikkors simply outperformed their German counterparts in terms of price/performance ratio.

By the mid-1950s, the Nikkors signaled the beginning of the end of the world-wide dominance of the German photographic industry and the beginning of the rise of the Japanese. There were other highly regarded Japanese lenses too by now and following the release of the game changing Leica M3 in 1954, to counter that, the changeover was about to accelerate with the new found Japanese enthusiasm for developing the SLR from a niche product to mainstream mainstay of both professionals and photography enthusiasts alike. By the start of the 1960s, most of the Leica copy makers had exited the market, or were about to, the specialised and highly developed Canon 7s remaining until 1968.

In 1959, into the now very difficult interchangeable lens rangefinder market place stepped Yashica with its Nicca based YE and YF models. In 1960, it too departed. By then, the Nicca legacy had already helped Yashica launch its first SLR, the Pentamatic.

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Nicca Story

Sources for this story include Peter Dechert, Koichi Sugiyama, Mikio Awano (both in collaboration with Sugiyama and in referenced Camera Collectors' News articles), McKeown's Price Guide to Antique & Classic Cameras, Massimo Bertacchi (Innovative Cameras) and my own research and observations. Peter Dechert's “Contax Connection” published August 1, 1990, available as a web archive, traces the Japanese 35 mm camera from Canon through Nicca to Yashica to Contax. Peter was the author of “Canon Rangefinder Cameras 1933-68” among other books, Shutterbug columnist, professional photographer and recognised authority on photographic equipment. Note, “Contax Connection” is well researched but he is not immune from idle speculation and some of it misses the mark, e.g., because of the “Nicca” name on front of the YF, he is convinced that the YF was a ready to go Nicca update of the III-L and Yashica simply assembled it from already produced parts - I think all the evidence says otherwise.

In regard to model details and specs, I have relied most heavily on Mikio Awano. His information pretty closely matches the cameras in my database. Our main difference is that he sees the early model changes as hard cut offs for features whereas my having access to many examples via the Internet clearly indicates that some features were introduced mid-model and even significant changes often involved a short transition period. One model we do disagree about is the 5-L, that is explained at the relevant point.

Origins & Background

In 1935, Genji Kumagai started work at camera maker Seiki Kōgaku Kenkyūjo which was later to become Canon. He left in the late 1930s as work turned increasingly to military contracts and started a Leica repair and modification shop. In 1940, at the behest of Canon distributor, Omiya Shashin Yohin, he and seven other former employees of Seiki Kōgaku Kenkyūjo founded Kōgaku Seiki-sha (Optics & Precision Co.), the future Nicca, as an official Canon repair agency in a workshop in a building owned by the Canon distributor. The similarity in the original company names of Canon and Nicca is surely no coincidence. As noted further above, in response to a military order in 1941, Kōgaku Seiki-sha delivered its first camera, a faithful Leica copy, in 1942. It was initially patriotically named “Nippon” with the maker name engraved as “Kogaku Seiki”. Later, in 1947, the company would adopt the camera name for itself to become Nippon Camera Works, Ltd.

Although both innovation and the reality of economics would eventually erode faithfulness to some extent, all of Nicca's future cameras would be Leica copies, typically bottom loading and with separate viewfinder and rangefinder viewing windows except on the final model (and also a version of the first model which was without rangefinder and slow speeds, e.g. for scientific work). Only small numbers of the Nippons were built during the War and post-War. The original lens was a K.O.L. Xebec f/2 5 cm collapsible type which under a restructured company was rebranded Sun Xebec in 1945. Nikkor lenses started to appear soon afterwards.

Below left is the special version without rangefinder and slow speeds fitted with the original K.O.L. Xebec lens. Its serial number is 1810010 - the photo is from Japanese magazine, Camera Collectors' News, but the same camera is featured by Peter Dechert (different photo). Below right is a 1944 example of the standard model with lens replaced by a later Nikkor f/3.5 5 cm collapsible type:

(Left image from Mikio Awano's article in Camera Collectors' News, July 1978, right detail from larger web image)

The camera name was changed to “Nicca” (likely from “Nippon” and “Camera”) earlier in 1948 (1947 according to Japanese Wikipedia), with the company soon changing its own name to Nicca Camera Works Ltd. before the end of 1948 (confirmed by camera serial numbers and engravings). In 1951, it became Nicca Camera Company, Ltd. The bodies themselves are well regarded as Leica copies and seemed to reach a high standard right from the beginning.

Apart from a Nicca branded f/3.5 5 cm collapsible Elmar copy (rare but five in my database), the Nicca branded f/2.8 50mm lens on the late 33 model and the Snider version Schneider-Kreuznach exception noted further below, Nikkor 5 cm lenses were now fitted as standard (typically f/2 with f/1.4 available as an option and on earlier models, f/3.5 too) and also the range of Nikkor wide angle and telephoto lenses were offered as accessories, making the cameras very attractive options.

Sources claim that Hinomaruya was Nicca's domestic Japanese distributor from 1951 to 1958 and also the distributor of Nikkor LTM lenses for the same period, however an ad further down the page for the “Nicca Type III” (Type-3) already appeared in Asahi Camera magazine in September 1950 with a prominent “Hinomaruya” in Japanese. Given lead times, the arrangement must have commenced at least a month or two earlier.

Versions of various models were branded for their importers. The first was the 1949 Nicca Type 3 engraved “Peerless” on the viewfinder cover and “Made for Peerless Photo Supply by Nicca Camera Works” on the base plate (two examples in my database). The arrangement with New York based Peerless was probably short-lived and ended before, or with, the Sears partnership. US department store and mail order chain, Sears, Roebuck & Co. sold Nicca and many other makers' cameras rebranded as “Tower” (most Nicca models from 1950 onward, even in 1959 under Yashica's ownership and finally, the Yashica YF under its own name). Unique to Australia is the later re-branded Nicca Type 5 based “Snider” (according to an old McKeown's, 90 ordered by Gardner and Salmon Pty. Ltd. of Sydney, 2 known to exist). Unusually, the Snider was supplied with a German Schneider-Kreuznach Xenon F/2 lens in place of the Nikkor choices (two examples I have seen photos of and retailer Senes & Co. Pty. Ltd ad in the October 1956 edition of Australian magazine, Popular Photography, proudly states “Lens by Schneider & Co.”, but which incidentally, shows a picture of a Nicca with Nikkor).

The Peerless and Snider models get collectors excited these days but in the bigger scheme of things, the marketing power of Sears through its Tower brand and its catalogues meant easy access to the lucrative US market and important cash flow and growth opportunities for the small company.

The Type III user manual tells us that Nicca was located at 1-1232 Denenchofu, Otaku, Tokyo, with the Type 3S/4 and lever wind 3-F user manuals specifying the address as 1-1263 Denenchofu, Otaku, Tokyo which suggests a short move down the street or perhaps different buildings being used for the address. We don't know if either of the addresses are for an office or the factory. As a relatively small scale maker, Nicca had been comparatively mobile location wise with a move late in the War and again in 1946 and 1947. Marketing material from 1950 generally listed the contact details for distributor Hinomaruya whose last address, 4-3 Nihonbashi Muromachi Chuo-ku, Tokyo, seemed to be near Yashica's head office (see Yashica YE & YF).

With a difficult shrinking market created by firstly the Leica M3 and then the rise of the Japanese SLR, Nicca found itself in financial difficulties and was acquired just before the impending bankruptcy by Yashima (Yashica) in 1958, probably May, to become the wholly owned subsidiary, Taiho Optical Co., which was fully absorbed into Yashica 8 years later in 1966. Whilst there are a couple of rare M42 lenses bearing the names of both “Nicca” and “Taiho Optical Co”, there are no known cameras featuring either name, although as a marketing exercise, Yashica did use the “Nicca” brand for a version of one of its later movie cameras (see Yashica the Company - Success & Failure).

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Models & Serial Numbers

According to Peter Dechert, there was a small batch of Nippon prototypes and in the “Contax Connection” there is a picture of No. 19. I have since found recent photos of No. 20 which seems to match it in every critical way. Production cameras are said to use the first two digits on the left for the Japanese Showa year. There are several production cameras in my database with serial numbers beginning with “18”, or Showa 18 which is equivalent to 1943. Peter Dechert thinks that 7 digit serial number 1810010 is camera number 10. Next follow two 6 digit number before the system settles into 5 digit numbers, still beginning with “18” before going onto “19” and “20” prefixes (one of each in my database). As not many were made, the lack of digits doesn't become an issue until the Nicca era.

Although the “Nicca Original” examples in my database start with a 5 digit serial number beginning with “23”, equating to 1948, they are problematic, see notes below the table. As expected, the first “Nicca Type-3” cameras also start with a 5 digit serial number beginning with “23” and reach 2399x, i.e. they were in danger of running out. So early “24” numbers may be Showa 24, i.e. 1949, or they may be from near the end of 1948. Whenever the tipping point occurred, rather than adding a digit, the Showa link was dropped and the numbers just increased sequentially and more or less carried on from model to model until the new body was introduced after which each model had its own discrete series. Serial Numbers found:

Model
Engraved
Name
Serial Number
Release
Year
From
To
Nippon (prototypes) Nippon 19 20
1942
Nippon Nippon 1810010  
1943
Nippon Nippon 18106x 18112x
1943
Nippon Nippon 1812x 23001
1943
Nicca (original) Nicca 2302x 2387x
1948
Nicca Type-3 Nicca Type-3 2302x 2765x
1948
Nicca Type-III A Nicca 2882x 4321x
1951
Nicca Type-III B Nicca 317xx 4369x
1951
Nicca Type-III S Nicca Type-III S 50004 5990x
1952
Nicca Type-4 Nicca Type-4 80007 8110x
1953
Nicca 3-S Nicca 3-S 5749x 7309x
1953
Nicca Type-5 Nicca Type-5 125001 13153x
1955
Nicca 3-F Nicca 3-F 85002 9692x
1956
Nicca 3-F (lever) Nicca 3-F 151000 15727x
1957
Nicca 5L with 3-F markings Nicca 3-F 16180x 16208x
1957
Nicca 5L Nicca 5L 16204x  
1957
Nicca 3-F (lever) oddity Nicca 3-F 18288x  
1957
Nicca Type 33 Nicca 15236x 16072x
1958
Nicca III-L Nicca 18106x 18420x
1958

 

In a couple of cases, I have used low numbers found on cameras in brochures and user manuals - these are likely to be pre-production cameras but in each case, the numbers are consistent with following cameras found in the wild. There are six “Nicca Original” examples in my database with similar serial numbers to each other and also to the first Type-3 examples. Understanding them is complex and not clear cut, see From Nippon to Nicca - Model Features & Specs. Tower serial numbers are included in the Tower Models narrative. The two found Peerless Type-3 cameras have serial numbers 2403x and 2405x which fit in the middle of the Nicca Type-3 numbers. On the other hand, the two Nicca Type-5 based Sniders in my database have their own serial numbers, 1550x and 1551x. I have put the Type-4 earlier than the 3-S based on Japanese authority, Mikio Awano - the logic is explained here. There is only one 5L marked camera found but just before that are five cameras with serial numbers only up to 60 cameras less which are in every way a 5L but three are engraved “3-F” and one has a metallic label marked “5L” stuck over the engraved model name. There is now a sixth one with serial number 40 higher than the 5-L. The 3-F (lever) oddity has an unusually high serial number, 18288x, which is what sets it apart from other examples found so far.

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Model Names

People sometimes ponder, “there was the Nicca and the Nicca Type-3, what happened to the Type-2?” Some may argue that the Nippon was the first, the original Nicca the second and therefore the Type-3 makes sense. However, let me also note that whilst there was also the Type-4 and Type-5, there was another eight models with “3” in the name somewhere (plus a 9th if you count the lever wind 3-F as a separate name). And four of them were in the form of “III” (plus the Type-3 was advertised as the “Mod III” in the ad further down the page) you know, somewhat like as in Leica III, to which all of them owed their inspiration and to a lesser or greater extent, their design, features and appearance.

The earlier Nicca models were largely Leica III copies and the Nicca Type-4 was a pretty straight Leica IIIa clone except for the added flash sync. The Nicca Type-5 and 5-L variants took the die cast Leica IIIf and added some Leica M3 features. Then Nicca released the more budget friendly 3-F that really did look just like a Leica IIIf, except for the missing 1/1,000 top speed and dioptre adjustment. 3-F, IIIf, pretty obvious really.

Without knowing the full story, it seems that around 2/3rds of Nicca's names were paying homage to the Leica originals in some way.

Note: With model names, my preferred format is what is engraved on the cameras. Not all models have engraved names but with those without, I follow the format of similar vintage engraved names. Names in manuals, ads and brochures often use different formats with dashes (hyphens) in different places etc. They are rarely consistent. In that context, e.g., I use “Type-3” as engraved instead of the “Type III” found in advertising. On the other hand, Mikio Awano notes the difference but uses, e.g., “Type III” as advertised. Other sites vary. I doubt that there is an official Nicca style guide so there is unlikely to be a right or wrong usage.

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Checking for Fakes

In conjunction with features described below, the serial numbers are useful in deciding whether what you are seeing is the real thing or not. On the Yashica YE & YF page, I have described Massimo Bertacchi's “Innovative Cameras” as one of the best Nicca resources currently available, however, not necessarily the most accurate. In fact, I have doubts about several of his displayed models. The Nippon serial number beginning with “25” rings alarm bells straight away, that would make it 1950, if it is a Showa number and I have only seen the rectangular viewfinder window with one curved corner on two other Nippon/Nicca examples, one of which has an even more improbable serial number beginning with “55”. Which is strange because he explains how the Showa prefixed serial numbers work for the following “Nicca Original”. However, I have some concerns about that camera too, not the least being that it has a dioptre adjustment when Massimo Bertacchi himself says, “without dioptre adjustment on viewfinder and eyepiece”. More on that further down the page, it is definitely not clear cut.

Sometimes these are misidentification errors but with very rare cameras come high prices and temptations for fraudulent misrepresentation by forgers. The source/s of Massimo Bertacchi's photos is/are unknown. I'm certainly not suggesting that he is anyway responsible or even aware of the issues and we don't know for 100% sure that any of his displayed examples are not what they purport to be. With the displayed, Nippon, I don't know enough about possible variations to form a complete view about it but the serial number is certainly a fundamental problem. Massimo Bertacchi's photo of the Nippon has also been “borrowed” by several other sites (or vice versa) thus spreading the idea that it is a legitimate example.

The third example of a Nippon with curved viewfinder corner has a much more plausible serial number beginning with “22” which would make it 1947. What's more, this last one appears in the authoritative McKeown's guide. However, as we shall see further below, McKeown's has already been very badly caught out by one very obvious fake. All three cameras look identical and obviously fall into the same category of either dubious and probably fakes from the same source, or real with unknown serial number series for two of them, certainly not Showa based like previous and following cameras. However, all the evidence suggests that is pretty unlikely.

A cut and dry forgery case is the Nippon offered for sale in 2016 by a well known European auction house complete with an improbable “Seiki Lausar” lens (“Seiki” likely implying Kogaku Seiki, “Lausar” being a Tomioka brand name for its Tessar type lenses - there is no known connection between the two) and “For. Oc-ciro” engraving on the top plate. The body is clearly of Soviet Union origin, probably a 1940's FED, and also likely the lens too. It sold for €4,400, link here. The auction house was perhaps an unwitting player, there is an even more embarrassing post script to this story - see at the end of this section.

All the Nippons to at least 1945, whether with rangefinder or not, have a rectangular front viewfinder window with four square corners. Soviet cameras are often used as the basis of fake versions of much more expensive Leicas and their copies. Except for some early and rare and hence expensive examples themselves, Soviet cameras also have squared off rectangular viewfinder windows but the top edge of the frame is level with the top of the viewfinder housing whereas on the Nippons, the top edge of the frame is below the top, i.e. there is a lip. The Soviet viewfinder, unique as far as I am aware on stamped body Leica (pre-IIIc) copies, is always its greatest give away, as it is with the camera in question. The 6 digit serial number beginning with “64” shows a careless lack of understanding of the Nicca numbering system. All the Nippons I have seen photos of have the film rewind release marked “R” and clearly visible, on this camera it is a “B” and partly covered by the viewfinder housing, another typical feature of some Soviet models. Most Soviet cameras don't have slow speeds (the ones that do are too rare and valuable to repurpose) and neither does this one. The scientific Nippon without rangefinder also doesn't have slow speeds but all with rangefinder do.

For reference purposes, these are the various viewfinder windows. First is the type of window surround found on most Nippons, including those without rangefinder. Second is a Tower Type-3 representing all early body type Niccas/Towers and the last of the Nippons. The notch, the raised area under the adjustment screw, was more acutely angled on earlier cameras but more or less starting with the Type-III A and B, the transition between the window and notch was smoother (see further below). Third is the Nippon from Massimo Bertacchi's website representing three found examples. Some Leica, Leotax and Chiyotax models are like the Tower, some are like this Nippon except the glass area on this seems larger and wider than its Japanese cousins. Maybe Kogaku Seiki experimented too but of course, the serial numbers of two examples remain a very big problem. Certainly not a Russian viewfinder housing but even Leica parts have been used when the dollars make it worthwhile. Fourth is one of my three FEDs, same as the auction item. The Zorki viewfinder housing is the same too but Zorkis are trickier to pass off as something else because of external body reinforcing on the more available/affordable bodies.

(Image 1 is detail from larger web image, image 2 courtesy of Chris Whelan, image 3 is detail from Massimo Bertacchi's website)

Left is the auction camera rewind release, middle is one of my matching FEDs, right is a Tower Type-3 release, same as Nippon.

(Left detail from larger web image, right detail courtesy of Chris Whelan)

There is a post script to the stories of the fakes. I stumbled onto a forum post on USSRPhoto.com where the owner of the site, Vladislav Kern, was discussing the auction referred to above and posted the following image from the 12th edition of McKeown's:

Lo and behold, it appears to be the fake Nippon from the auction. The serial numbers match as does the unusual “For. Oc-ciro” engraving on the top plate. However, in McKeown's the lens name is “Lausar”, still highly improbable, whereas at the time of auction, it had been extended to “Seiki Lausar”. This edition of McKeown's was published in 2004 and the auction was in 2016. So even the experts do get caught out.

But that is not the end. The Nippon above this one also caught my eye. This has the unusual viewfinder window with one curved corner, the third found so far and discussed further above. Whilst the serial number of this one, 22804, suggests 1947 and is probably in the ballpark, the other two are outlandish and I think that doubts remain about all three, especially as Sugiyama shows a 1947 Nippon with the notched window already.

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Made in Occupied Japan & Other Markings

The Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers in Japan issued an instruction on 20 February 1947 requiring all export products to be marked “Made in Occupied Japan” (MIOJ). The occupation ended with the peace treaty signed on 8 September 1951 and taking effect on 28 April 1952. I understand however that the requirement to use the MIOJ marking was repealed on 5 December 1949 but many camera makers continued to use it until 1951.

The first Nicca camera the engraving is visible on in my database is the earliest Type-3 from 1948 (earlier photos rarely show anything other than front views). This one was engraved on the base plate itself but the next and subsequent cameras were engraved on the base plate locking ring, as in the first image. If the ring is flipped over, the engraving is not visible. This was a feature until 1951 camera Type-III A, serial number 3502x, which is the last with it in my database and also the first Nicca with the maker name engraved “Nicca Camera Company, Ltd.” From thence until Type-III S number 5613x, the engraving on the locking ring was “Made in Japan” (image 2). After that, until the end of the early body models (Type-4), “Japan” was engraved on the base plate instead with a new “open” and “close” dialogue replacing the single characters (image 3). A similar style variation with the text inverted appeared on all die cast body types (image 4):

(Images 1 and 2 courtesy of Chris Whelan, image 3 detail from larger web image)

Cameras sold through US Army Post Exchange (PX) and Navy Exchange (NX) stores were not subject to the very high taxes applied to post-War domestic Japanese consumption and in order to control those sales, starting in 1948 or 1949, the cameras (and other goods including porcelain) destined for PX and NX stores were marked with a diamond and inside that, either the letters “CPO” standing for Central Purchasing Office (presumably an office of General MacArthur's Allied occupation forces), or their Japanese katakana equivalent (シーピーオー). A couple of years later, the <CPO> mark was superceded by the <EP> mark (more on this website here), perhaps coinciding with the end of the Allied occupation on 28 April 1952.

Below left is an early Nicca Type-3 marked “Made in Occupied Japan” (and also, unusually, “Japan” on the base plate - I'm not sure what is going on, the opening/closing dialogue is correct but the engraved “Japan” is both superfluous and from later, no other camera has both) with the katakana version of the <CPO> mark on the locking knob. In the middle is a later Type-3 with the <CPO> mark more typically located in the middle of the base plate. On the right is a Nicca 3-S with the later placement of the <EP> mark on top of the rewind knob:

(Image 1 is detail from larger web image, image 2 is detail from Massimo Bertacchi's website where it is somewhat incorrectly described as “a rare Japanese Military marking” and image 3 is courtesy of Chris Whelan)

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From Nippon to Nicca - Models, Features & Specs

Nippon, Nicca Original & Nicca Type-3

According to Peter Dechert, the original Nicca is the same as the last iterations of the preceding Nippon model. Nippon cameras were engraved with the maker name “Kogaku Seiki” whereas the first Niccas were engraved with “Nippon Camera Works, Ltd. Tokyo”. At some point from 1945 or later, the Nippon front viewfinder frame changed from the original rectangular with square corners to the more Leica-ish notched shape typical of the early body Niccas. Sugiyama displays a 1947 Nippon with the notched type already and this is 1948 camera 23001 with Sun Xebec f/2 lens still:

(Photos from Mikio Awano's article in Camera Collectors' News, August 1978 - the maker name is there in the middle photo, just very faint)

The examples with one curved corner window noted further above, if genuine (unlikely, in my view), would fit in between. Visually, the original Nicca and various permutations of “3”/“III” models differed only in small refinements and details like flash sync. Nevertheless, their nomenclature and relationships are confusing. Top plates are engraved “Nicca”, “Nicca Type-3”, “Nicca Type-III S” and finally, “Nicca 3-S”. The “Nicca” engraved examples can be split into three models; the first is the Nicca Original, called that by collectors (April 1948 according to Mikio Awano, 1948 according to Peter Dechert, 1947 according to Japanese Wikipedia - as there is still a 1948 Nippon, 1948 sounds more likely). The other two “Nicca”s come after the next model. Peter Dechert and Sugiyama both tell us that the Original is the only early bodied Nicca named model without dioptre adjustment (the lever around the rangefinder viewing window described as “Eyebrow Rest” in user manuals) and the fitting of that is the feature change that defines the following Nicca Type-3, otherwise they outwardly appear identical.

However, there is one other significant change. The Original, and presumably Nippon, feature a rangefinder with 1x magnification, the Type-3 increases the magnification to the Leica standard of 1.5x thus also increasing the effective rangefinder base (Mikio Awano, Camera Collectors' News, September 1978).

Note the lack of dioptre adjustment in the third image:

(Photos from Mikio Awano's article in Camera Collectors' News, August 1978)

Peter also claims that the “Nicca Original” is very rare. I concur but I'm not sure what I am looking at. The serial numbers of the six Nicca Originals in my database range from 2302x to 2327x, the first five with “Nippon Camera Works, Ltd. Tokyo” maker name, the last one with “Nicca Camera Works, Ltd. Tokyo” all of which makes sense. According to the serial numbers, all are from 1948. However, the first four Type-3 serial numbers seem to parallel the Nicca Originals' range with 2302x to 2370x with the first three matching the Originals' first maker name and the fourth matching the Originals' next maker name variation. It is possible that there are earlier “Nicca Original” examples which I haven't found and are more clearly an earlier camera meaning that those in my database represent a crossover period of one model to the next - only the first of the Originals in my database has a lower number than the earliest Type-3 and that is only by one camera! What it looks like at the moment is that the Nicca Original was released and the Type-3 with a few improvements was launched almost at the same time and they continued for a little while as separate models.

More concerning is that some features on some of the Originals are questionable. Some items like dials may have been changed by owners over time but only three of them are without dioptre adjustment (second, third and fifth cameras). Two of them, one from Massimo Bertacchi's site with dioptre adjustment, have accessory shoes with four screws, a feature that didn't come to Type-3 cameras until later in production (cameras with serial numbers starting with “24”). At least one of them doesn't have the plugged focus adjustment hole that was there from the beginning and according to Mikio Awano, is still there on the Originals. I hesitate to call any of them fakes, though I'm not sure about any of them either. The three without dioptre adjustment are probably OK, these are also the only Originals in my database with the central screw in the slow speed shutter dial still.

Pictured with the Nikkor f/1.5 lens, the ad says “Nicca Type III”, as all found ads do, but the body is engraved “Nicca Type-3

(Click on ad for larger version)

This ad is from Mikio Awano's article in the September 1978 edition of Japanese magazine, Camera Collectors' News. The magazine's text at the bottom translates as “Nicca III, 1950 September, Asahi Camera”, i.e. it is from late in the model's life. The large Japanese text near the bottom of the ad translates as “Hinomaruya”. The top line of the three lines above it says “Nicca domestic distributor”.

As well as the addition of the dioptre adjustment and rangefinder magnification increase to 1.5x, Mikio Awano claims that the Type-3 introduced click stops to the slow shutter speed dial, apparently the earlier models didn't have them.

Nicca Type-3 with collapsible Nikkor f/2 5 cm lens, note the dioptre adjustment around the rangefinder eyepiece:

(Photos from Mikio Awano's article in Camera Collectors' News, August 1978)

The earliest example, 2302x, still has the central screw in the slow speed shutter dial. Both it and the next example, 2307x, still have the plugged focus adjustment holes in the backs of the cameras. After those cameras, both the features disappear.

The fifth Nicca Type-3, 2399x, shortens the maker name engraving to “Nicca Camera Works, Ltd.” The next examples have serial numbers beginning with “24”, suggesting 1949 in terms of Showa era but as explained in Serial Numbers, with numbers running out, these could be from either the end of 1948, or start of 1949, but the Showa naming convention was effectively at an end. Most Type-3s still have 3 screws in their plain accessory shoe but some, particularly later examples, have 4 already together with a pair of pressure springs.

As noted earlier, the last of the Nippons introduced the notched viewfinder window on the left found on all early Niccas. The last Nicca Type-3 in my database features a revised notch with less acute angle (Type-III S pictured) which carried through to the end of the early body models (Type-4):

(Left detail from larger web image)

The early left type window type still features on the two first Tower Type-3 examples (Sears version of the Nicca Type-III A) in my database (serial numbers of these first two are slightly less than the last Nicca Type-3), but all subsequent examples are the new type. So, as with the earlier feature changes, whilst the changeover clearly occurred near/at the model changeover, there was a transition as parts were used up rather than a hard cut-off.

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Nicca Type-III A, Type-III B & Type-III S

Following the “Nicca Type-3”, the two other models with only “Nicca” engraved as the model identifier were released. In most respects, they were identical to each other except that one was advertised as the Nicca Type-III A without flash sync and the other as the Nicca Type-III B with flash sync added for the first time (according to both Mikio Awano and Japanese Wikipedia, released in April and June 1951 respectively). They are also very similar to the earlier cameras but all now have accessory shoes which feature the 2 pressure springs and 4 screws.

Type-III A ad below left. The heading on the ad below right translates as “Nicca Camera” and immediately below as “Nikkor Lens”. Near the bottom is “Hinomaruya” in both Roman and large Japanese text, similar to the left ad. The camera is a Type-III B with the first type sync posts but as far as I can make out, the model and specs are not mentioned - this looks like a Hinomaruya marketing exercise about its brands:

(Click on ads for larger versions)

These ads are from Mikio Awano's article in the September 1978 edition of Japanese magazine, Camera Collectors' News. The magazine's text at the bottom translates as “Nicca III A, 1951 April, Asahi Camera” left image and “Nicca III B, 1951 August, Asahi Camera” right image and line up reasonably well with the claimed release dates. The large Japanese text near the bottom of the ad translates as “Hinomaruya”, as it does in all the ads from Type-3 until Yashica's name appears. The line above it says “Nicca domestic distributor”, as it does in all ads up to the Type-4.

After the first nine cameras in my database (representing about 1/3rd of the production run), the maker name changed to “Nicca Camera Company, Ltd.” (camera 3502x) and at the same time, a film plane mark was added to the top plate:

(Detail from larger web images)

To digress for a moment. Up until now, the bottom of the shutter crate had been unadorned and all models pretty much looked like the image below (except for at least some of the Tower Type-3 examples which added a partial cover - see Tower Models):

(Detail from larger web image)

Possibly just before the Type-III A & B maker name change, a cover plate was added (camera 3403x), it wasn't there on early Type-III A examples but is there on later ones. There are no very early Type-III Bs in my database but the cover's main purpose was to protect the new Type-III B flash sync mechanism which sits at the bottom of the shutter crate at the left end of the photos (example shown is early Type-III S, features in this area are identical):

Note the separate reinforcing angle pieces inside the base plate. Nippon prototype No. 20 had none, when they first appeared, they were secured from underneath by two screws each, still there on some Originals and early Type-3s. Late Nicca Type-3, early Nicca Type-III A and early Tower Type-3 cameras received the baseplate type below with the reinforcement in the form of a single wide channel piece which effectively gave the bottom a double thickness. The change back to the separate pieces probably occurred at the same time as the cover was introduced.

(Detail from larger web image)

Below are Asahi Camera ads from 1952 on the left and 1953 on the right. Translated, the left says “III A standard type” and “III B with sync”. This is the only Nicca document where I have seen the III B mentioned by name (it does also make a cameo appearance in a Hinomaruya marketing ad for its two brands). The right ad says “III-S with built-in sync” and “III-A general type. There is no built-in mechanism. Otherwise is exactly the same as S type”:

(Ads are from a Japanese website featuring manuals and other downloadable material)

(Click on ads for slightly larger versions)

Note, the two cameras in the left ad are still engraved “Type-3” with not a sync post or socket between them and the III S in the right ad is still engraved plain “Nicca” - that is most probably due to the re-use of old photos.

The implication seems to be that the III B morphed into the III S with only the name to separate them. That would also explain the English language user manual cover and brochure below, both featuring the “III-A” and “III-S” together:

(Detail from larger web images)

At first glance, both the cameras on the cover of the user manual and also the example in the right hand Japanese ad above seem to be Type-III Bs, i.e. with sync sockets and no “Type-III S” engraving. This also applies to the camera inside the manual cover with features labelled, including “Synchroniser socket”. However, zoomed in to the full size images, the chrome rim of the sockets seems much flatter than usual and there is no hint of the sockets themselves which usually show up clearly. In fact much like the example below for sale in Japan:

(Detail from larger web images)

I originally thought that this camera may have been modified but the leatherette inside the chrome rings matches that outside. The serial number of the camera is 4501x, the highest serial number of any Type-III A or B I have found. My only thought was that it is a form of Type-III A. Now I know it is. A second one has turned up with the second highest Type-III A serial number, 4363x, complete with box with matching serial numbers and “Model III A” stamped on the bottom. It seems that some/all late Type-III A examples used III-B/III-S bodies with blanked off socket holes. By the way, the camera on the cover of the user manual is 39021, about 2/3rds of the way through production of both III A and B models, so the manual is from quite late. That is probably to be expected with a manual covering both an earlier model and later model.

As noted further below, when flash sync first appeared on the Type-III B, it was in the form of two posts instead of PC sockets. Some, including Japanese Wikipedia, say that the PC socket type was introduced with the Type III-S, meaning that it is the sync posts and sockets that define the two models. My database supports that up to the last Type-III B (4369x) which has the PC sockets already. So the claim almost fits but not quite, however, in practical terms, we can probably accept that as the defining difference. It is possible that sync production had switched to the PC type but Nicca still had some viewfinder housings without the model name engraving that it wanted to use up.

The Nicca Type-III S, with the model name helpfully engraved, is claimed to have replaced both the Type-III A and B. In time, that may have been true but initially, as confirmed by the ad, user manual and brochure further above as well as the ad below, the cheaper Type-III A continued to be available after the the Type-III S release. Some, including Japanese Wikipedia, say the III S is from 1952, Mikio Awano says September 1952, Sugiyama claims 1953.

(Click on ad for larger version)

This ad is from Mikio Awano's article in the September 1978 edition of Japanese magazine, Camera Collectors' News. The magazine's text at the bottom translates as “Nicca III S, 1953 March, Asahi Camera”. Presumably, the release was somewhat earlier than that so Mikio Awano's date is looking good. Note, the pictured camera doesn't have have a model name engraved, it could be a late III B but in any case, all three cameras are essentially the same except for the flash sync aspects:

Note, on this camera, the outer Chrome rings of the sync sockets appear original but the PC connectors themselves (green upper, red lower) appear to have been replaced, originally they would have been red upper, white lower.

Somewhere between Type-III S 53399 (the camera in the photos) and 5613x, the cam lock for the bottom plate changed from the earlier black painted type (left image, a variation of the original Nippon type and very similar to early Leicas) to a plated, pressed metal type (right image, Leica introduced their version, albeit in black, during the pre-War Leica II series). They are probably interchangeable as a late Type-4 seems to have been retrofitted with the earlier painted variety.

(Right detail from larger web image)

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Nicca Type-4 & 3-S

It is easy to assume that logically 4 follows 3. Japanese Authority, Mikio Awano, offers an alternative logic and says that the Nicca Type-4 followed the Type-III S and was released first in August 1953 (Dechert, Sugiyama and McKeown agree with the year and Japanese Wikipedia with the date). According to Mikio Awano, it divided the family tree of models into two, its half leading to the Type-5, the 5-L and the III-L, effectively the premium range. The Type-III S soldiered on for a while and then was replaced by the Nicca 3-S in July 1954 which updated the Type-III S with the Type-4 improvements. Sugiyama only quotes years but he agrees (some claim that the Nicca 3-S, like the Type III-S, is also from 1952 but Japanese Wikipedia seems to conflate the two models into the one September release, implausible either way I think). According to Mikio Awano, this line of Nicca models led to the two 3-F models and Type-33, the mainstream more budget friendly line.

Supporting this claim is the combined Type-5/3-S brochure below. When the Type-5 was released, it is likely that the Type-4 ceased to be available but it seems that the 3-S continued on as the budget alternative, probably until the 3-F was released.

(Inside page from larger web brochure scan)

Below are Type-4 and 3-S ads:

(Click on ads for larger versions)

These are from Mikio Awano's article in the September 1978 edition of Japanese magazine, Camera Collectors' News. The magazine's text at the bottom translates as “Nicca 4, 1953 October, Asahi Camera” left image and “Nicca 3-S, 1954 December, Asahi Camera” right image.

The two models share both the found English and Japanese language user manuals (three and two examples respectively) so either the release dates must have been closer than commonly claimed, or more likely, there was a separate earlier manual for the Type-4 which has not been found yet. That would not be surprising, there are approximately 5 times as many 3-S examples in my database as Type-4s.

(Left manual scan courtesy of Chris Whelan, right cover from larger web image)

(Click on left cover for PDF of full manual)

Compared to the earlier Type-III S, the Type-4 headline change was the addition of the 1/1000 shutter speed. A film speed/type reminder was added to the top of the film winding knob and the speed separation between low and high speeds (and also X-sync) changed from the earlier 1/20 to 1/25 with the new high speed progression B, 1/25, 1/50, 1/75, 1/100, 1/200, 1/500, 1/1000. The ASA film speed reminder was the same as the following 3-S type but cameras featuring a combined ASA/DIN reminder (approx. 50%, pictured) used a flush face type that was unique to the Type-4:

(Detail from larger web image)

Pictured below left is the Type-III S and on the right, its replacement, the 3-S with its updated shutter speed separation and progression and new film speed reminder:

(Right image courtesy of Chris Whelan)

Also, according to Mikio Awano, the Nicca Type-4 and 3-S rangefinder was improved and as a result, the viewfinder housing increased in height by about 1 mm (Camera Collectors' News 1978, September).

A little way into its production, between camera 6093x and6560x, the 3-S received a plate attached to the bottom of the shutter crate with film loading and flash sync information, similar to the adhesive label found inside the bottom plate of most die cast models (see further below), except the Type 33. I have not found one on any Type-4, perhaps further indicating that the Type 3-S arrived later and survived longer:

(Detail from larger web image)

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Flash Sync Early Bodies

When flash sync was fitted to the early bodies, it was typically a pair of coaxial PC terminals on the front (top - FP sync, red and bottom - X sync, white), positioned vertically below the slow speed shutter dial, offset towards the side. However, as noted above, most of the Nicca Type-III B examples (all except the last) featured twin posts for a non-standard type of flash connection (possibly 2 post ASA/Wollensak), the sync being FP according to Mikio Awano, Sugiyama and Japanese Wikipedia (the two posts do the work of one coaxial socket). Shown below, first Type-III B sync posts, first Tower Type 3 coaxial sockets (from the same time as the Nicca sync posts, see Tower Models below), typical FP/X PC sockets and typical FP/X PC sockets with labelling found on both Tower 3-S and some Nicca Type-4 examples, about 50% (the Nicca 3-S on the cover of the combined 3-S/Type-4 user manual also features the labelling but is the only one I have seen):

(Details from larger web images)

The sync posts were lower and more towards the side than the later PC sockets, the early Tower type even more so.

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Flash Sync Late Bodies

The flash sync is now a single PC socket on the back of the one piece top plate and sync type switches automatically (confirmed by user manuals and brochures) depending on speed selected (except for the Type 33, see further below, X sync is at the the changeover speed for the high speeds, anything above that selects FP sync and any type of flash can be used below the changeover speed).

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Changeover from Stamped to Die Cast Bodies

The Nippon and the first Nicca models up to and including the Type-4 and 3-S were based on the earlier, smaller bodied Leica II/III with the III's front mounted slow speed shutter dial. Later models starting with the Type-5 were based on the slightly larger die-cast Leica IIIc-IIIg body, probably inspired by the popular IIIf (basically pre-War IIIc with flash sync added, released in 1950). The new bodies added the ball bearing to the shutter introduced by the War-time Leica IIIc and also moved the viewfinder and rangefinder windows next to each other as on the Leica IIIc-IIIg and first implemented on the 1938 Leica IIIb. Like with the Leica models, the dioptre adjustment moved from the rangefinder window to under the rewind knob.

Early stamped body Nicca 3-S with separate viewfinder housing:

Late die cast body Nicca 3-F with one piece top plate. The Leica-like top plate extensions down the sides of the lens mount makes removal of the shutter cage easier without requiring lifting of the leatherette. Also featured on the new body was the slow speed shutter dial lock introduced by Leica on its die cast bodies. Both the extensions and lock were removed on the Nicca Type 33 and III-L:

(Both images courtesy of Chris Whelan)

Below is a size comparison between the Nicca 3-F (on left) and 3-S (on right).

(Images courtesy of Chris Whelan)

The 3-F was released in both knob wind and lever wind forms, the latter with higher shoulders like the 5-L and the Type 33 further below. With the lever wind, the shutter button moved to the front of the top plate and the rewind release lever moved from the front of the top plate to a button behind the shutter button. Presumably, the lever wind models share common dimensions and in that regard, the overall height of the lever wind 3-F/Type 33 based Yashica YE is about 2mm more than the knob wind 3-F with, surprisingly, the base plate seeing an approximate 1 mm increase and the rest is in the top plate/viewfinder housing (the two baseplates are not interchangeable because, inter alia, the end pin won't line up):

The top image particularly shows the deeper base plate of the Yashica and the extra millimetre above the viewfinder. The following table summarises the approximate dimensions of early body and late body examples of select Leica and Nicca models (they are an indicator only):

Dimension Leica
II/III
Leica
IIIf
Nicca
III S
Nicca
4/3-S
Nicca
3F
Yashica
YE
Width
133mm
135mm
133mm
133mm
138mm
138mm
Height
65mm
69mm
67mm
68mm
71mm
73mm
Base Plate Width
29mm
30mm
30mm
31mm
31mm
Weight
406gm
430gm
437gm
448gm
472gm

Note: Reported Leica dimensions vary all over the place, e.g. the height of the Leica II/III varies from 65 to 67 mm, the height of the Leica IIIc/f from 65 mm to 68 mm. The weight shown for the Leica II/III is for a Leica II without slow speeds, so not really a fair comparison to the Nicca Type-III S. The Leica IIIf dimensions and weight are as measured and weighed by correspondent Terry Byford - he measured the viewfinder height at 68.5 mm plus 0.5 mm more for the rewind knob. According to Mikio Awano, the Nicca Type-4 and 3-S rangefinder was improved and as a result, the viewfinder housing increased in height by about 1 mm (Camera Collectors' News 1978, September).

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Nicca Type-5 & 5-L

The new body Nicca Type-5 is claimed by Mikio Awano and Japanese Wikipedia to be released in March 1955. The ad below featuring camera serial number 125001, the first one in the series, is from May 1955 so that makes sense:

(Click on ad for larger version)

This ad is from Mikio Awano's article in the September 1978 edition of Japanese magazine, Camera Collectors' News. The first part of the magazine's text at the bottom translates as “Nicca 5, 1955 May” but the magazine name is beyond my translator's capability.

The subsequent lever wind version, the Nicca 5-L, with “Nicca 5-L” engraved on it's top plate is extremely rare (not so much the Tower 45/46 versions or the “other” Nicca version which we are coming to) so not much attention has been paid to its release. Peter Dechert thinks that the 3-F lever wind and 5-L may have been released at the same time in 1957, Mikio Awano says uncharacteristically that it “seems” to have been released in 1956 (his other dates are precise to the month) but as we shall see, the body and lens serial numbers suggest that 5-L could have arrived later, much later.

Both the Type-5 and 5-L continued with the higher 1/1000 speed and also added the Leica M3 idea of a trapdoor in the back to aid with film loading. However, on the Type-5, the design is side-hinged and different in detail to both the Leica M3 and Nicca III-L and its Yashica YF sibling whilst the 5-L is top hinged in the style of the M3 and basically the same as the III-L and YF. There are other differences too, like the black metal band above the leatherette on the the Type-5 but not there on the 5-L. They are more different models than a variation. Contributor Chris Whelan's Nicca Type-5:

(Images courtesy of Chris Whelan)

Note, the rear flaps on both the Type-5 and 5-L are removable.

Nicca 5-L, except for the dioptre adjustment under the rewind knob, the front appearance is the same as the lever wind Nicca 3-F and except also for the knurling and slow speed shutter dial design, and same as the Yashica YE:

(Detail from larger web images)

As noted earlier, the 5-L is extremely rare (not the Tower versions). According to Stephen Gandy's CameraQuest website, HPR's well known collectors' volume, “Leica Copies”, says it “has never been seen” and Japanese authority, Mikio Awano, says that he hasn't seen one either and claims that the 5-L model wasn't sold in Japan. The one above is a Tower 45/46 version (seven in my database) but below is an actual 5-L from Massimo Bertacchi's “Innovative Cameras” website:

(Detail from Innovative Cameras)

Very strangely, my database also contains five similar cameras with serial numbers in the 161xxx range, all within 60 cameras of the 5-L serial number, 162xxx, and a sixth with serial number 40 cameras above the 5-L. Five have top plates engraved “3-F” and one has a metallic label marked “5-L” over where the model type engraving is usually found, but all have typical 5-L features including top hinged back, 1/1,000 shutter dial and dioptre adjustment lever under the rewind knob. The serial numbers of these cameras are higher than typical 3-F serial numbers which top out at 15727x (there is a single unexplained 18288x, perhaps a new range because of the numbers used for the 5-L versions). The obvious conclusion is that they share the serial number range with the 5-L. To state the obvious, the “3-F” named version of the 5-L seems many times more common than the “5-L” named version. From memory, all have been for sale in Japan.

(Detail from larger web image)

Any attempted explanation on my part would be pure guesswork but it does suggest to me that perhaps the 5-L was released after the 3-F lever model. Three of the cameras were found with f/2 5 cm Nikkor lenses still with serial numbers relatively close to each other (so more likely to be original), 750xxx to 759xxx, which at one end puts them into the last of the 3-F lever examples and at the other, higher than any of that lens found on the III-L so far (751xxx-755xxx).

Here is an observation on price also. The ads below for the two 3-F models indicate a release price of ¥49,500 for both. The III-L, admittedly being released into a difficult market, was priced at ¥53,500, a difference of only ¥4,000 yen, or approximately 8% premium, for the higher 1/1000 shutter speed, opening film loading flap (both on the 5-L plus dioptre adjustment), automatic frame counter reset and new viewfinder, not to mention recouping development costs. That didn't allow much space for the 5-L to slot into. Maybe in Japan, the 5-L was marketed as an updated 3-F, much as the lever version had been.

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3-F Models

Confusingly, with the knob wind Nicca 3-F, Nicca nomenclature reverted to having a form of “3” in the model name for all future models (except for the 5-L development of the Type-5). The 1956 (October, Mikio Awano and Japanese Wikipedia) 3-F looks like an attempt to reduce the price point of the camera with the Type 5's/5-L's back trapdoor and 1/1000 top speed being deleted. The 3-F models and subsequent Type 33 also lost the dioptre adjustment that had been there from the Type-3 on (lever around early body rangefinder viewing window, lever under rewind knob on Nicca Type 5 and 5-L):

Like all die cast models, except for the Type 33, the bottom plate features a film loading and flash sync guide:

A lever wind Nicca 3-F appeared in 1957 (July, Mikio Awano and Japanese Wikipedia), almost certainly as a replacement (same release price, no additional version identifier on the top plate). The lever version user manual simply refers to the “3-F” without qualifying it with “lever”, or in any other way. It also doesn't appear to acknowledge the original knob wind version. Whereas we tend to see it as two models, it seems to me that Nicca just saw it as one model with a mid-life update, hardly worthy of mention.

The 3-F in the left ad is from the beginning (serial number 85002) and the 3-F (lever) on the right is only 143 cameras from the beginning so the dates of the ads are probably in the ballpark of the claimed release dates.

(Click on ads for larger versions)

These are from Mikio Awano's article in the September 1978 edition of Japanese magazine, Camera Collectors' News. The magazine's text at the bottom translates as “Nicca 3F, 1956 September, Asahi Camera” left image and “Nicca 3F (L), 1957 September, Asahi Camera” right image. Note, the release price of both is the same, no obvious reference to “lever” in the right ad. The ad also lists 180 mm, 250 mm and 500 mm Nikkor lenses (the only time that I am aware) that would require an accessory reflex housing to use - see Wide Angle & Telephoto Lenses.

This is is the lever wind 3-F brochure with accessories on the reverse:

(Brochure scan courtesy of Chris Whelan)

(Click on either for double sided PDF)

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Nicca Type 33

The final Leica IIIf look-alike model was the Nicca Type 33, probably released in early 1958 (no name on the top plate, “Type 33” label inside on the base plate). Mikio Awano and Japanese Wikipedia claim May 1958 which is the same month Nicca was acquired by Yashica, Peter Dechert says late 1957 and Sugiyama simply 1958. Unlike with the III-L, there are no Yashica fingerprints over any of the marketing material I have seen. Why “Type 33”? A Japanese blogger has suggested it is named for Showa 33, the Japanese era equivalent for 1958.

(Detail from larger web images)

If there is any doubt that it was a bargain model, the Japanese ad below tells potential customers to “consider the price when faced by possible criticism.” Although similar to the 3-F with lever wind (I'm not sure whether to replace it or supplement it), this version featured an X flash sync of 1/60 instead of the 1/25 on the 3-F and a cosmetic change with the top plate of the larger body type no longer continuing down the sides of the lens mount. The slow speed shutter dial was now black with a new Canon-like profile. The slow speed shutter dial lock introduced with the Type-5 was deleted on both this model and the III-L. Note, the X sync speed of 1/60 came at the cost of being able to use flash bulbs at above 1/30 at a time when amateurs were still relying on them and was more likely to be about cost cutting than an upgrade (the 3-F and other models could sync FP bulbs at any speed, restored on the III-L and Yashica YE and YF).

(Scan courtesy of Chris Whelan)

(Click on ad for larger view)

The bottom right corner features distributor Hinomaruya's name and address (as all Nicca ads since 1950 had). This ad appeared/also appeared in the August 1958 edition of Asahi Camera magazine. It could have been pre-booked months earlier and who knows what arrangements were in place. Unlike with the III-L, no Type-33 ads, brochures or manuals have been found with Yashica's name and/or address.

Mikio Awano, in an article in Japanese magazine, Camera Collectors' News, September 1978 edition, claims that by the end, the price was further discounted by ¥8,000 yen to ¥20,000.

The biggest change was the dropping of the Sonnar type Nikkor standard lenses in favour of the f/2.8 50 mm Nicca branded, and most likely, Tessar type. The 4 element design is confirmed by this Japanese brochure (the reverse features accessories):

(Brochure scan courtesy of Chris Whelan)

(Click on either for double sided PDF)

Speculation has surrounded the source of this lens. Some suggest that it is a rebranded Fujinon and whilst the cosmetic appearance is superficially similar, there are key differences too such as the Fujinon has 5 elements (table on page 23 of Leotax TV2 user manual), basically end of story. But I'll go on. Nicca has 9 curved aperture blades with progressively spaced aperture scale and the Fujinon 10 straight blades with equally spaced aperture scale and the ribbing on the Nicca aperture ring is on the higher ridges whilst on the Fujinon it is in the hollow valleys. There are plenty of other smaller differences too. Make no mistake, this was a budget lens designed to reduce the cost of the package whereas the Fujinon was from one of the premium suppliers. I have to definitely agree with Japanese Wikipedia that the source of the lens is unknown. There is more here, comparing it with the early YE Yashikor including noting that there are two versions; early small front barrel with 34.5 mm filter thread and serial numbers 813x to 1001x (left image) and late large front barrel with 40.5 mm filter thread, double row ribbing for the aperture ring and serial numbers 1011x to 1073x (right image):

(Detail from larger web images)

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Nicca III-L

The last model, the Nicca III-L (III-L on the orange label inside the camera, IIIL where it appears in advertising - see below), was released in June 1958 according to Mikio Awano and Japanese Wikipedia, i.e. one month after Yashica's usually quoted date of acquisition. As noted on the YE & YF page, there are some unanswered questions about the dates but whilst not immediately obvious, most (but not all) found marketing material is linked to Yashica through the contact addresses - see also below. It is still a Leica copy under the skin but the top plate design is very different and the camera features some innovative ideas:

(Detail from larger web image)

Model name inside:

(Detail from larger web image)

The body is based on Nicca's previous top model, the 5-L, but the top plate is quite flat across the top and taller too to accommodate the larger and more refined combined viewfinder/ rangefinder and its windows with parallax corrected projected frame lines (for a 50 mm lens only whereas its successor, the Yashica YF, also has them for 100 mm, or 105 mm depending on which Yashica ad/brochure). However, unlike the YF, the frame counter reset is automatic. The film advance is no longer on the top plate but operates through a slot on the side of the body. The camera back features the large 5-L top hinged Leica M3-like flap to assist with film loading. Below left is the III-L flap compared to the inspiration on the Leica M3 on the right:

(Detail from larger web images)

Like the Type 33, the slow speed dial was retained but the flash sync speed dropped to 1/30 instead of the Type 33's 1/60. On the other hand, it regained the high speed FP sync, 1 sec and Time settings dropped from the Type 33 and also the earlier maximum 1/1000 speed. The standard lens continued to be a Nikkor f/2 50 mm, or the optional f/1.4 version.

The practical advantages outweighed the concerns about the appearance and size. Some have described it as a Leica M3 with screw mount but the classic size and look were gone and to me, that vulnerable spinning high speed shutter dial seems both a little awkward and old school. The film advance reportedly works very well and is an ergonomic stroke of genius but on the other hand, there is something a little disturbingly Heath Robinson-ish about its look and it is certainly not from the Leica mould. Definitely a better Leica screw mount camera but many features and polish short of the M3.

(Detail from larger web image)

As noted on the YE & YF page, a comprehensive brochure, probably mostly prepared before release, has neither distributor Hinomaruya's nor Yashica's name/branding but the address is Yashica's head office as it is in the III-L ad with“Yashica” in the bottom right corner. Below left is the back panel of the four panel brochure, and on the right, most of the ad :

(Detail from larger web images)

The address on the brochure in the red rectangle, shown larger below the ad, translates as “Nicca Camera Co., Ltd. 1-8 Nihonbashi Muromachi Chuo-ku, Tokyo”, as do the last two lines of the ads above right and below.

(Detail from larger web image)

Clearly, Yashica marketed, or took over marketing of the III-L from Hinomaruya, however, does the ad below with Hinomaruya's name and address in the bottom right corner mean that the III-L was released still under Nicca ownership? Possibly, or perhaps the ad was pre-booked sometime in advance. Some things we just don't have answers to:

(Click on ad for larger version)

This ad is from Mikio Awano's article in the September 1978 edition of Japanese magazine, Camera Collectors' News. The magazine's text at the bottom translates as “Nicca III L, 1958 September, Asahi Camera”.

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Tower Models

(Note: Some people, including Camera-wiki.org, refer to a “Tower 35” model. In my view, there is no Tower 35 model. Sears used the name generically for its Nicca based models, as one would for “Leica”, or “Canon Rangefinder”. There was usually only one model on sale at a time and not a lot of differences so it was easy shorthand for marketing purposes.

The 1952 catalogue page is headlined with “TOWER 35 - Sears own imported precision camera” yet the camera depicted is engraved “Tower Type-3”.

(Images courtesy of Chris Whelan)

The 1955 catalogue features a camera engraved “Tower Type-3S” but the page headline and text still describes it as the “Tower 35”.

A catalogue from several years later is headlined with “TOWER 35 .. Sears Finest 35mm Camera” and goes on to say “The back of this TOWER 35 camera is removable” with a drawing (middle of three on right hand side below) showing the top hinged rear flap in the open position. With lever wind, it is unequivocally the Tower version of the Nicca 5-L.

(Detail from larger web image)

From Sears' own user manual, we know that the version with Nikkor f/2 lens is the Tower 45 and the version with Nikkor f/1.4 is the Tower 46 yet the whole page never mentions those models once, only the “Tower 35”. Finally, the 1959 catalogue is headlined “Prices Cut on Our best TOWER 35mm Cameras” and the fine print tells us that they are the Tower 45 and 46, with pictures to confirm.

It's not surprising that different people have identified both the Tower Type-3/3S and Tower 45/46 as the “Tower 35” depending on which camera they were researching. Clearly, “Tower 35” is a camera type description rather than a model name.)

It is easy to assume that this was just a re-branding exercise. Yes and no. Also, whilst some of the earlier models have an engraved model name, most don't. Most seem to share Nicca serial numbers, or at least fit at one or the other end of the range for the model. However, because of the way they are allocated in blocks, you can't compare Nicca and Tower serial numbers directly - what looks like a low Tower number might turn out to have the features of a high Nicca number. The Tower model based on the lever wind 3-F is most definitely a separate series (5 digit vs. 6 digit numbers).

The earliest model is engraved Tower Type-3 but called the “Tower Type III” in the user manual, so it might be a re-brand of the “Nicca Type-3” but possibly not. Its found serial numbers (2607x to 3780x) closely match the Nicca Type-III A/B although they start a little lower in my database than found “Nicca”s. What's more, most but not all are fitted with flash sync which fits with the “Nicca” Type-III A/Type-III B models. So a re-brand of the “Nicca”? Maybe. Surprisingly, the flash sync sockets are different to any of the Nicca models. The earliest example is a single PC socket inside a surface mounted cone secured by two screws, likely added by an owner as was probably a slightly different cone type with three screws on a later camera. All the other examples are pairs of surface mounted coaxial sockets on a plate secured by a central screw, the backing plate being engraved “FLASH BULB” top and “X-STROBE” bottom. In physical form, they are more like posts than sockets, comparison to Nicca models shown further above. Are they an early implementation by Nicca, or perhaps a last minute “bolt-on” added at the request of Sears, or Sears arranged the addition themselves? It is a mystery for me but nobody else seems to mention it (apart from the early Nicca sync posts). Flash sync is not shown or mentioned in the user manual.

In the end, I do think that the Tower Type-3 is the Nicca Type-III A/B (basically all the same cameras as the Nicca Type-3 anyway except for engraving and sync availability) and that for some so far unknown reason, the Tower received the surface mounted coaxial sockets instead of the posts on the early Nicca Type-III B. This is somewhat confirmed by an earlier catalogue image which shows a Type-3 with the surface mounted sockets and a 1955 catalogue which shows a Type-3S with the Nicca sockets. Also, both the earliest Nicca Type-III A/B and Tower Type-3 examples are still without the film plane mark but slightly later examples of both have the mark. Pictured below is an early Tower Type-3 without film plane mark:

(Image courtesy of Chris Whelan)

And a slightly later one with the film plane mark (Nicca Type-III A/B examples further above):

(Image courtesy of Chris Whelan)

There is one more oddity. As noted further above (pictures included), a fair way into its lifecycle, the Nicca Type-III A and possibly the III B from the beginning, received a cover for the bottom of the shutter crate. The purpose was to cover the III B's new flash sync mechanism (note, the picture below is upside down compared to the earlier photos). Perhaps at the same time, perhaps earlier or even maybe from the Tower Type-3 beginning, the Type-3 received a partial cover but I have only seen the bottom of the crate of flash socket equipped versions (three in my database). They look like this:

(Detail from larger web image)

For the curious, these are the flash instructions (not to scale):

(Detail from larger web image)

The following models are presumably the same as the equivalent Nicca models.

Next is a Tower Type-3S (engraved as that). It has typical Nicca PC flash sync sockets but with labelling, as also found on some Nicca Type-4 examples. Is it a re-brand of the “Nicca Type-III S” or “Nicca 3-S”? The serial numbers (5026x and 5124x, only three found) suggest early III-S, confirmed by the 1/20 speed separation and lack of film type reminder on the film winding knob.

(Detail from larger web image)

The next five Towers still have similar serial numbers (5157x to 7419x, ranging from low Nicca Type-III S like to high Nicca 3-S like) but are now different. There is no longer a model name engraved (as for all subsequent examples) but they have the 1/25 speed separation and a film type reminder first seen on the Nicca 3-S, only different, it features film types only whereas the Nicca swaps some of the film types for a basic ASA scale. Nevertheless, these Tower examples are almost certainly Nicca 3-S based.

(Detail from larger web image)

By process of elimination, they may be the Tower 42. Most sources mention both the Tower 42 and 43. It's possible that like the Tower 45 and 46, one is the f/2 version and the other is the f/1.4. Also, I don't know if there are Tower versions of the Nicca Type 4 or Type 5.

Part of the way through production, the Nicca 3-S shutter crate was fitted with a plate with film loading and flash sync guidance (see further above). Starting with the Tower 3-S (i.e., equivalent to Nicca Type-III S) both models above instead received more detailed film loading instructions on adhesive labels split between the bottom of the shutter crate and inside of the bottom plate:

(Detail from larger web images)

The next Tower examples in my database (found serial numbers 15027x to 15151x) are Nicca 5-L based. The Tower 45 is fitted with the f/2 Nikkor lens and the Tower 46 features the f/1.4, confirmed by the user manual. End of story? Not quite! The user manual is heavily branded “Tower” and not typical of Nicca manuals. It is in an unusual portrait format shared with the Tower Type 3 manual and is marked “Copyright 1957 Sears, Roebuck and Co.”, as expected. The model used for illustrating certain settings/functions is an American blonde. Then there is another manual which is much more typically Nicca with the models used being Japanese. The camera name inside is simply “Tower Camera”. On the plain white cover is “Directions for Using Tower 35 Camera Model 5-L”. It did occur to me that maybe someone just replaced the cover on an English language Nicca 5-L manual but “Tower Camera” appears at least three times inside and is a perfect match to surrounding text. Go figure, there seems to be both a Nicca produced manual, undoubtedly a slightly modified but otherwise standard Nicca 5-L item, and a Sears one and both are completely different to each other. Even more strangely, an apparently intact Tower 45 outfit, except for box, was offered for sale with both manuals, perhaps both were also provided originally? Both manuals are available for download from the Mike Butkus OrphanCameras.com site.

There are Tower versions of the knob wind Nicca 3-F, Tower model name unknown (found serial numbers 7445x to 7488x), and also the lever wind version which may be the Tower 48 (found serial numbers 5005x to 5045x). No Tower versions of the Nicca Type-33 have been found and it seems likely that this model was skipped. However, there is a Tower version of the III-L (serial number 18238x, one only found) commonly referred to as Tower III-L. Whether that name was official or not, I haven't been able to confirm. The top of the black viewfinder housing is engraved “Tower” but unusually for a Tower model, the back of the top plate is engraved “NICCA CAMERA CO., LTD.” As discussed on the Yashica YE & YF page, it seems likely that many/most/all III-L examples were sold, if not necessarily produced, under Yashica ownership already.

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Sears Supplied Lenses

As far as I can make out, the standard lenses offered on the Tower models were either f/2 or f/1.4 5 cm Nikkors throughout. The Tower Type III user manual (camera engraved “Type-3”) covers both collapsible and the more “recent” rigid versions of the f/2.

Peter Dechert tells us that the cameras “were sold by Sears in conjunction with Tower-marked accessory sets of German Steinhill 35 mm, 90 mm and 135 mm optical equipment.” That's really not very accurate. The Type III user manual only mentions Nikkor accessory lenses. The Type 45/46 user manual does indeed only feature the Steinhill lenses but the short telephoto is a 85 mm, not 90 mm. Both early and late Sears catalogues feature Nikkor accessory lenses, however whilst earlier catalogues up to at least 1956 do also offer the Steinhills as budget alternatives, the 1959 catalogue features Japanese Kyoei Optical Co., Ltd. 35 mm, 105 mm and 135 mm lenses as the budget options (35 mm branded “W. Acall” and telephotos “Super-Acall”). (The 135 mm version was also rebranded “Super Yashinon” for sale by Yashica with the YE and YF.)

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K.O.L./Sun Xebec Lenses

As noted earlier, the original standard Nippon lens was the “K.O.L. Xebec” f/2 5 cm collapsible. It was made exclusively for the Nippon by Kajiro Kōgaku Kenkyūjo (Kajiro Optical Laboratory, i.e. K.O.L.) founded in 1939 by namesake Hitoshi Kajiro. The company became Gojō Kōki Seisakusho in 1941 and ceased activity in 1945. It then reformed as Sun Kōki and the lens was re-branded as “Sun Xebec” (Camera-wiki.org). Both lenses are rare, the “Sun” version especially so.

(Images from Mikio Awano's articles in Camera Collectors' News, left detail from July 1978, right detail from August 1978)

Both Camera-wiki.org and a Japanese research paper, “The Development of the 35mm Precision Camera in Japan in the 1930s and 1940s” by Ryosuke Mori (Graduate School of Ritsumeikan University), tell us that the Xebec lens is a 6 element Gaussian type like the Leitz Summar it is based on. The aperture ring is marked f/2 to f/9 on the K.O.L. version and to f/12.5 on one Sun lens.

Camera-wiki.org notes that the finish of an early K.O.L. version appears to be poor. According to Ryosuke Mori, an earlier assessment of a Xebec lens based on its in-use photographic results found it to be noticeably inferior to the Leitz original, however, a later assessment based on controlled tests of its optical capabilities found it to be a much better performer and close to the Leitz original, particularly surprising as the right type of optical glass was difficult to source in Japan during War-time and was largely compensated for by design tweaks. However, the overall performance remained inferior because of it's aperture design and focusing shortcomings caused by poor machining and/or wear and/or the quality of the materials chosen

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Nicca Lenses

There are two Nicca branded lenses, both almost certainly not made by Nicca. The more recent f/2.8 50 mm packaged with the Type 33 is more familiar. What is known about it is covered in the Nicca Type 33 model and on the Yashica YE & YF page.

The other is the earlier Leitz Elmar inspired f/3.5 5 cm collapsible of which there are 5 in my database but none found with a camera to provide a clue as to when, or what model, the lens is from. It's coated so post-War and and the “Nicca-L.C” and “Nicca-Camera Tokyo” narrow it down to late 1948 or later. It looks very similar to the Nikkor f/3.5 collapsible but is unlikely to be a rebadged version of one of those. Although Nippon Kōgaku had been successful and well funded pre-War and during it, immediately post-War, it was struggling, nevertheless it would be hard to imagine Nippon Kōgaku agreeing to rebranding one of its lenses. In any case, by 1948, the “Nikon” camera had been released and the company was on the move again. There are also some small subtle differences between the two lenses, the sorts of things that are unlikely to have been changed just for a rebranding exercise.

(Detail from larger web image)

Some sites/sources mention the lens, many don't, but none have any ideas about its origins, age or other history. The serial numbers in my database are all “86” prefixed and run from 8677x to 8683x - not a big range so far.

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Nikkor Lenses

Standard Lenses

(The five main resources I have used for this section are Roland's website featuring Nikkor lens serial numbers, the article “50/1.5 Nikkor” by Robert J. Rotoloni in the Nikon Historical Society Journal NHS-27 of March 1990, sponsored by Pacific Rim Camera, the official Nikon history site, the lenses documented in my database and Nicca documents in the form of user manuals, ads and brochures.)

Following the K.O.L./Sun Xebec f/2 5 cm collapsible lenses fitted to the War-time Nippons and immediately after, the standard fitment appeared to be a Nikkor f/3.5 5 cm collapsible. This was a copy of the Zeiss Tessar, although it is claimed that the Japanese Imperial Navy had paid to legally licence the design. Whilst Sugiyama displays a 1947 Nippon with the Sun version of the Xebec and there is a 1948 Nippon in my database with one, the Nikkors first started appearing as early as 1944. The earliest of these are certainly post-War replacements, Nikon tells us that production of the LTM version of the f/3.5 5 cm was “recommended” in December 1945 so the first probably appeared in early 1946.

According to Nikon, the origins of the f/3.5 and subsequent f/2 LTM lenses date back to 1935 designs for the Hansa Canon and the optical design for the later f/1.5 was completed in 1942 and was first used for X-ray radiography.

Collapsible Nikkor f/3.5 5 cm on left and subsequently released collapsible f/2 5 cm on right:

(Detail from larger web images)

By the Nicca Type-3, not only does the first Nikkor f/2 5 cm lens in collapsible mount appear in my database, it has virtually replaced the collapsible f/3.5, although both still appear in an early Type-3 ad. According to Nikon, planning for production of the collapsible f/2 LTM lens commenced in 1946 with release occurring in 1947. This was a 6 element lens based on the Zeiss Sonnar design and in those early days of coated optics, it had performance advantages over the more complex double-Gauss based Planar and Xenon/Xenotar designs which, with improved coatings, came to the fore later. The earliest example in my database has a 6 digit serial number beginning with “806”, the others are 7 digit beginning with “811”.

These lenses are likely to have been produced in June 1948 and November 1948 respectively. It is widely accepted that Nippon Kōgaku used a date code on its f/2, f/1.5 and f/1.4 lenses from their introduction until sometime in 1950. It appears that the 1940s used a single digit year and a two digit month and 1950 used a two digit year and month.

Cameras and lenses made during the post-War Allied occupation of Japan were marked “Made in Occupied Japan” (MIOJ). This requirement ended at the end of 1949 but the practice may have continued until 1951 (see Made in Occupied Japan & Other Markings). Nikkor lenses made in the occupation period used the maker name “Nippon Kogaku Tokyo”, shortly afterwards changing to “Nippon Kogaku Japan”. Most MIOJ lenses don't feature aperture click stops and the minimum apertures tend to be larger than later.

According to Nikon, a large aperture f/1.5 version of the Sonnar design was released in January 1950 and was available in both Nikon S mount and in smaller numbers, in LTM, and was replaced in July 1950 already by an improved f/1.4 version. However, there are two serial number ranges with serial numbers commencing with “905” and “907” (i.e., two batches made) and if the date code theory is to be believed, these are from May and July 1949 respectively. Obviously, either Nikon has got its own history wrong or the date code doesn't work - I don't know enough to have a view.

Both the f/1.5 and f/1.4 lenses are 7 element types but of different mechanical and optical design. The f/1.5 is unusual in that it stops down to f/11 only and has a 40.5 mm filter mount like the f/2 rather than the 43 mm of the f/1.4. In its very short life, there was a minor lettering style change on the beauty ring and the serrated filter mount ring became plain. My database contains just one example, 90771x found with almost certainly matching Nicca Type-3, serial number 2687x. The f/1.5 is featured in the “Nicca Mod III” (Nicca Type-3) ad below and a Japanese catalogue from 1951 (perhaps the information hadn't been updated yet) notes availability of f/1.5, f/2 and f/3.5 standard lenses:

(Detail from larger web image)

According to my database, the f/1.4 started appearing on Tower Type-3 and Nicca Type-III A & B examples from 1950. It was joined by a rigid version of the f/2 which replaced the collapsible version completely. The combined Nicca Type-III A and Type-III S user manual displays three “standard 50mm lens”, the rigid f/3.5 and f/2 and the f/1.4 but the rigid f/3.5 seemed to be not very popular with only relatively low numbers in my database found on Type-III A, Type-III S and 3-S models. I'm not sure when this lens ceased being offered but it certainly doesn't appear in the two 3-F user manuals and seems to be missing in the earlier combined 3-S/Type-4 user manual, although in a later combined Nicca 3-S and Type-5 brochure, it is listed as an option for what is now the budget 3-S but not Type-5.

All f/3.5 lenses fitted to Nippons/Niccas, both earlier collapsible and later rigid, were marked “Q.C” (there may be some pre mid-1946 collapsible Nikkors without it but the standard Nippon lens at the time was still a Xebec). The rigid f/3.5 features a 34.5 mm filter size but probably also takes 36 mm push-on types:

(Detail from larger web image)

Incidentally, the early Nikkor lenses are marked with letters such as “Q.C”, “H.C” and “S.C”, depending on lens type. The first letter indicates the number of elements. The Nikkor codes are:

Letter Representing No. of Elements
T
Tres
3
Q
Quattuor
4
P
Pente
5
H
Hex
6
S
Septem
7
O
Octo
8
N
Novem
9

 

The only applicable Nikkor lens with 9 elements is the Nikkor-N.C f/1.1 5 cm. Only 200 are claimed to have been made in LTM mount and whilst not featured in any Nicca manuals or ads, no doubt distributor Hinomaruya would have been happy to sell you one in 1956.

The red “C” stands for “coated”. There are claims that coating of Nikkor lenses was introduced in 1945, Nikon says April 1946 for the f/3.5 5 cm. As all competing lenses became coated, the identification became superfluous and the “C” was dropped in 1957.

With reference to the coatings, the Tower Type III user manual (“Type-3” engraved camera from about 1950) notes:
“All Nikkor lenses are coated on the inside only. It is believed the coating of inside surface only will help prevent scratches. It is evident that if the the front element or outside of the lens were coated, this coating would be more subject to scratches than the hard, uncoated outside surface.”

The Nikon history site clarifies this with:
“In April 1946, a soft optical coating was applied to the NIKKOR 5cm f/3.5; i.e., to the surfaces of the lenses inside the lens barrel.... In the beginning, a soft coating of cryolite was used, then as of January 1948 magnesium fluoride was used and further improvement was added as of September 1950; i.e., the anti-reflection coating was changed to a hard coating.”

The number of f/1.4 examples found with Nicca/Tower cameras in the present day is relatively low but many could have been removed. From the few examples in my database, the f/1.4 didn't seem to change much from its introduction until Nicca's demise. Featuring 7 elements, it was marked “S.C”, as was its predecessor, the f/1.5. Although there appears to have been an initial batch made in May 1950 with serial numbers beginning with “5005”, all serial numbers of examples supplied with Niccas in my database begin with “3” (the first in my database is 321xxx). The Japanese user manual for the lever wind 3-F has one typical all chrome example, serial number 346786 but two later examples in the manual, serial numbers 347138 and 350288, feature the black aperture ring like the later f/2 version. Below is the second of the lenses together with schematics of both the f/1.4 and f/2 lenses:

A Tower version of the III-L camera has an f/1.4 lens with serial number 34883x, i.e. in between the other two, which is still all chrome like the earlier ones, but the late lens, serial number 38908x, on a Tower 46 (Nicca 5L) has the black aperture ring. It is the only one I have seen in the wild. The serial number is unexpectedly high for that model and unless there was a numbering change, it's possible that it's newer than the camera.

In photos, the only difference between the earlier all chrome version and the later black aperture ring version that I can discern is that like with the f/2 lens, as noted below, the infinity mark changed from the earlier “INF.” to the infinity symbol.

Note that the 40.5 mm filter mount of the f/2 and f/1.5 and the 43 mm mount of the f/1.4 all use a 0.5 mm thread pitch, however, whereas modern 40.5 mm filters still use this thread pitch, 43 mm filters now use a 0.75 mm thread pitch making the f/1.4 lens a problem in this regard.

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Rigid Nikkor f/2 5 cm Lenses

The rigid f/2 lens is the most ubiquitous and has the most varied history. I understand that all f/2 variations, including the early collapsible, share the same basic optical design (Nikon has confirmed that the glass type was changed twice early on due to supply shortages, this necessitated some optical design adjustments to compensate). Initially all were marked “H.C”. The earliest rigid f/2 examples from 1950 had serial numbers beginning with “5008” - there is only one in my database and it belongs to a Type-4 so certainly a later fitment. Then came the first solid block of non-date code serial numbers which seem to start with 61xxxx and end at 65xxxx, 66xxxx according to Roland's website. Except for screws in the flange noted below, they all physically look the same/similar including the early 8 digit 5008xxxx. Then there were some minor changes to the barrel, mainly to the nose and tail, and the numbers started off again at 71xxxx. At about 724xxx, there was one very small change but it is very distinctive - the black on chrome aperture scale ring changed to white on black. When the serial numbers neared 750xxx, the now unnecessary “C” for “coated” was dropped from “H.C” and the marking became simply “H”.

All 61xxxx to 66xxxx lenses have a ribbed, flat black rim outside the make-up ring. On all the later lenses, it is plain and slightly dished.

(Detail from larger web image)

The very earliest 61xxxx lenses have four screws in the flange, left image, the rest are without. Also 61xxxx to 66xxxx lenses have slots in the rear retainer, left image, whereas 71xxxx to 75xxxx lenses have holes for a pin wrench, right image (both are dark and hard to see):

(Left detail from larger web image)

Example of the 71xxxx to 72xxxx lens, the same as later lenses except all chrome still and some differences in focus scale markings (see below):

Left image below; the black aperture ring was introduced at about serial number 724xxx. The infinity mark also changed from the earlier “INF.” to the infinity symbol and the focusing scale increased granularity by adding 9, 12, 20 and 30 feet whilst dropping 25 feet. Right image below; 75xxxx lenses became “H” instead of “H.C” (actually, earliest found so far is 74970x):

(Detail from larger web images)

Typical found rigid Nikkor f/2 serial number ranges for the different Nicca models:

Model Lens
Version
Serial Number Range
From
To
Nicca Type-III A/B Early H-C 61xxxx 632xxx
Nicca Type-III S Early H-C 631xxx 642xxx
Nicca Type-4 Early H-C   645xxx
Nicca 3-S (early) Early H-C 641xxx 658xxx
Nicca 3-S (late) Chrome H-C 713xxx 717xxx
Nicca Type-5 (early) Early H-C 657xxx 659xxx
Nicca Type-5 Chrome H-C 713xxx 718xxx
Nicca Type-5 (late) Band H-C 724xxx 727xxx
Nicca 3-F (early) Chrome H-C 714xxx 724xxx
Nicca 3-F (late) Band H-C 724xxx 742xxx
Nicca 3-F(L) (early) Band H-C 742xxx 747xxx
Nicca 3-F(L) (late) Band H 750xxx 755xxx
Nicca 3-F (5-L features) Band H 750xxx 759xxx
Nicca III-L Band H 750xxx 757xxx

Note, the lens versions are based on the earlier descriptions.

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Close Focusing

The Nikkor f/1.5, f/1.4 and rigid f/2 share the ability to focus down to 1.5 feet (about 457 mm, most/all seem to feature focus scales in feet) however the lenses don't couple to the rangefinder below 3.5 feet so between 1.5 and 3.5 feet, the distance from the subject to the film plane must be measured. (Some people modify the lenses by cutting away a section of the lens mount thread to enable the rangefinder to reach its limit, though still around 2 feet, not 1.5 feet. I'm not a fan, at those distances, you would have to assume that the rangefinder is adjusted perfectly and I don't like the idea of drastically modifying classic equipment for some limited, and often short term, modern convenience need just because you can.)

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Wide Angle & Telephoto Lenses

An early ad for the Type-3 lists the Nikkor f/2 8.5 cm and f/4 13.5 cm lenses. Appearing just above the Nicca ad is one for the Nikon rangefinder with the same lenses. A slightly later Type-3 ad adds an f/3.5 3.5 cm wide angle. These three all-chrome lenses appear in the first Type-III A & B ad (the only ad featuring the elusive III B, see further above). Nikon claims that the three lenses were added in 1949. A slightly later Type-III A ad also adds the f/3.5 version of the 13.5 cm lens to the existing f/4 - Nikon says released in December 1950.

By the time of a combined Type-III A and Type-III S ad, the 13.5 cm f/4 has been dropped but the rest of the range expanded to become f/3.5 28 mm, f/2.5 35 mm, f/3.5 35 mm, f/1.5 85mm, f/2 85 mm and f/3.5 135 mm. The combined user manual for the two models doesn't yet list the 28 mm lens or the f/1.5 85 mm.

A Type-5 brochure displays a further expanded range: f/4 25 mm, f/3.5 28 mm, f/3.5 35 mm, f/1.5 85 mm, f/2 85 mm, f/2.5 105 mm and f/3.5 135 mm. Note, the f/1.5 85 mm lens is mainly black and the 105 mm also features a lot of black including a black nose.

The 3-F user manual adds a larger aperture f/2.5 35 mm. The lever wind 3-F user manual doesn't add any more lenses but the earlier chrome f/2 85 mm and f/3.5 135 mm lenses are now black with chrome noses. In summary, the wide angle lenses remain chrome, the telephoto lenses are now predominantly black.

The final III-L system brochure adds one more even larger aperture wide angle f/1.8 35 mm lens to become a range of nine. This was a hero lens for Nikon, in LTM, it is rare with only 1,600 claimed to have been made.

This set, featuring specs, is assembled from the knob wind 3-F user manual, circa 1956:

This similar set, featuring schematics this time, is assembled from the lever wind 3-F user manual, circa 1957, and also displays the updated f/2 85 mm and f/3.5 135 mm lenses:

But that is not all. The Nicca 3-F lever wind ad further above also lists 180 mm f/2.5, 250 mm f/4 and 500 mm f/5 Nikkor lenses. Most rangefinder lenses are limited to a practical maximum focal length of 135 mm because of rangefinder accuracy, however, it is possible to use longer lenses by turning the rangefinder camera into a basic SLR by inserting a reflex housing between the lens and the body. To achieve infinity focus, the lenses need to be specially designed to allow for the longer lens flange distance to the film plane.

The original reflex housings were offered by Leitz, the PLOOT before the War and various Visoflex models post-War. There were also third party housings and Nippon Kōgaku produced its own “Reflex” and improved “Reflex II” housings, both in low numbers, around 200 and 700 respectively are claimed. However, the evidence suggests that the Nippon Kōgaku units were only produced in Nikon S mount and the small number of long focal length Nikkor LTM lenses in relatively low volume overall production were aimed at Leica owners who, it was probably assumed, would have preferred the native Leitz housings.

Unless there is something I have missed, I think that the distributor for Nicca and Nikkor LTM lenses, Hinomaruya, was a little mischievous in advertising lenses for Nicca that would require the customer to source their own reflex housing. Not all the ad is translatable but I see no reference to a housing of any brand.

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Shutter Speeds

The basic operation of Leica screw mount type cameras, including using the slow and high speed shutter dials, is covered on the Yashica YE & YF page. Note, all the new body Niccas, except the Type 33, include a separate high speed shutter dial index mark (if the main mark is at 9 o'clock, the second mark is at approximately 7 o'clock) for setting the shutter speed before cocking, although this is not recommended by the user manuals. However it does let you know what shutter speed has been set. The reason for the separate slow speed dial is that it controls a separate escapement which introduces a time delay to curtain travel e.g., the Leica II featured shutter speeds from 1/20 to 1/500, the Leica III slow speeds added 1 to 1/8. Leicas and Leica copies sought to simplify dial setting so in most cases, you will find “20” on the slow speeds dial and “20-1” on the high speeds dial, or “25” and “25-1” or “30” and “30” (Nicca Type 33) or “30” and “30-X” (Nicca III-L) so if you want to set speeds of 1/20, 1/25 or 1/30 respectively, both dials have to be set to that mark but in reality, those speeds belong to the high speeds and are not part of the slow speed escapement.

Some sites indicate whether a model has a slow speed shutter dial lock or not. It's really simple. Models based on the early stamped body Leica III don't. Models based on the late die cast body do, except for the Type 33 and III-L. Quite separately to that, Mikio Awano says that the slow speed shutter dial didn't feature click stops on the Nippon and Original - that feature was introduced with the Type-3.

Over time, there were some evolutionary changes with the speeds and setting practice of the Nicca models. The format used below is <slow speeds> || <high speeds> rather than what is marked on the dial.

Starting with the Nippon, the speed progression was typically Leica III based: T, 1, 1/2, 1/4, 1/8 || Z, 1/20, 1/30, 1/40, 1/60, 1/100, 1/200, 1/500, “Z” being the German equivalent for Bulb, or “B”. Most Nicca named models feature “B” but the 1948 Type-3s were still marked “Z”. There was no change in marking but the last Nicca Type-III B in my database and the replacement Type-III S model added X flash sync at 1/20 for the first time (FP sync at all speeds). The “20-1” (and also later “25-1”, “30” and “30-X”) marking on the main shutter speed dial started to change to red towards the end of the Type-3 cameras. There was a mix of both from serial number 2498x onward and the following models were all red (very hard to discern in low resolution images). With the earlier bodies, the slow speed shutter dial didn't vary much. The Nippons and very first Niccas had a large central retaining screw like the pre-War Leica IIIa and IIIb but this disappeared already in 1948. On left, early Type-3 still with “Z”, on right, Nicca original slow speed dial:

(Detail from larger web images)

Type-III S main dial with “B” and red “20-1” below left. The “20” lock position marking changed to red at the same time as the “20-1” marking on the main dial did. Note that the lock position is at the end of the range:

The Nicca Type-4 introduced the first real change in speed progression: T, 1, 1/2, 1/4, 1/8 || B, 1/25, 1/50, 1/75, 1/100, 1/200, 1/500, 1/1000 which was mirrored by the Nicca 3-S except for the omission of the 1/1000 at the top end. The minor change from 1/20 to 1/25 effectively increased the X sync speed to 1/25. Nicca 3-S dials:

(Images courtesy of Chris Whelan)

Until now, the user manuals tell us that the “20-1” and “25-1” positions on the high speed dials are the “neutral position” (in a Tower manual, Nicca similar) for using the slow speed dial where that range of speeds is found. As noted above, that was more for the perceptual benefit of the user than where the speeds actually reside. This changed with the first new body model, the Nicca Type-5, which copied the shutter setting method from its Leica IIIc/IIIf inspiration. The lock setting was now in the middle of the speed range on the front slow speed dial, i.e. the Type-5 slow speed dial is now marked: T, 1, 2, 5, 25, 15, 10. So to use 1/25 for example, the manuals now instruct to put the front dial into the lock position and the speed is set on the main dial using 25-1. In practical terms there is no difference, it's really whether 1/25 is perceived as a slow speed or fast speed but it's set the same way.

In the process of the change, the Type-5 speed progression became: T, 1, 1/2, 1/5, 1/10, 1/15 || B, 1/25, 1/50, 1/100, 1/200, 1/500, 1/1000. With the little bit of fiddling, it added 1/15 but dropped 1/75. The next variation came with the Nicca 3-F which simply dropped the 1/1000, the central lock position of the Type-5/5-L and 3-F models also shown (the dial now features a Leica-like press button lock to change speeds):

The Nicca Type 33 finally ushered in the linear speeds of the internationally recognised standard progression whilst dropping the T and 1 second speeds: 1/2, 1/4, 1/8, 1/15 || B, 1/30, 1/60, 1/125, 1/250, 1/500. Flash X sync was upped to 1/60 but FP (and M) sync was limited to the slow speeds. :

(Detail from larger web image)

The high speed dial featured a new style black face whilst the slow speed dial was also a new black design with speeds being more easily visible from above and the dial lock deleted again. Modified versions with silver grip and face were fitted to the III-L and Yashica YE and YF and look surprisingly similar to the 1956 Canon VT and L2 whereas earlier dials are clearly Leica copies.

The Nicca III-L kept the speed progression but added the bottom and top speeds back whilst dropping the X sync speed to 1/30 but restoring FP sync to the high speeds: T, 1, 1/2, 1/4, 1/8, 1/15 || B, 1/30, 1/60, 1/125, 1/250, 1/500, 1/000. Nicca also followed the Leica IIIg lead of putting the lock position back at the end of speed progression on the the slow speed dial instead of the middle.

(Detail from larger web image)

With the Yashica YE, the X sync speed dropped from the Type 33's 1/60 back to the more mundane 1/30 of the last models but like them, was able to FP sync at all speeds. Instead of the Type 33's black version, Yashica also styled the slow speed dial along the lines of the III-L one including putting the lock position at the end of the slow speed progression. The YF speeds are basically the same as the III-L but it misses out on the “T” time setting. However, its main dial is now two piece with the setting arrow on the inner shaft and speed set with the shutter uncocked or cocked simply being the speed set. Details and examples of the YE and YF here.

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Rangefinder

The rangefinders fitted to Nicca models seem to mirror their Leica inspirations but perhaps not all is as it seems. The potential accuracy of a rangefinder and its ease of use (the way it snaps into and out of focus) is determined by its “effective base length” (EBL) which is the physical base length x magnification (most Barnack Leicas and copies are 1.5 times). The Leica IIIf and earlier models featured a base length of 39 mm and an EBL of 58.5 mm. As noted earlier, according to Mikio Awano, the Nippons and Nicca Original used a magnification of 1x so their EBL = base length. The Nicca Type-3 and later models (except G, specs unknown) are 1.5x.

Also, at least two Japanese blog sites state that the EBL of the Yashica YE is 57 mm. The EBL of 57 mm means that the physical base length is 38 mm which is what I measure for the YE, the Nicca 3-F and the early bodied Nicca Type-III S.

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Accessories

As Nicca was a relatively small company specialising in Leica copy cameras, it was unlikely that they had the resources to develop or economically manufacture comparatively low volume accessory items and like even a relatively large company such as Yashica, probably sold rebadged items made by speciality firms.

Distributor Hinomaruya seemed to have a part to play too with its name featuring on some lens hoods and later hood cases (see below) and possibly being responsible for sourcing items. As noted earlier, Hinomaruya was also the distributor of Nippon Kōgaku's LTM Nikkor lenses but a surprise is finding Hinomaruya's name on both a Nicca copy stand ad and an ad for a Nikon version of it - see Copy Stands below.

A good source for details of accessories are the user manuals (see further below).

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Ever-ready Cases

The early body cameras featured fully stitched leather ever-ready cases inspired by pre-War Leica designs. Both the early example below and the Type 5 case also feature a built-in mount for the Nicca flashgun (see Flashguns below):

(Detail from larger web image)

The die cast body cameras featured more fully moulded cases in which much of the stitching was replaced by adhesives, something trumpeted by Nicca in its 3-F user manual. By and large, the glue on the 65 year old cases seems to have held up reasonably well. Unique and heavy-handed Type-5 case on left, 3-F (lever) case on the right:

(Detail from larger web images)

The snout on the 3-F (lever) case is glued and riveted to the case (three rivets) whereas the earlier 3-F and later Type 33 cases were much the same except the 3-F snout was only glued and the Type 33 (with “Type 33” embossed on the back of the case) was glued and stitched.

Below is the unusual Nicca III-L case, front and top views:

(Detail from larger web images)

Fully moulded, the back looks quite compact but the streamlined front covers a lot of empty space even though it doesn't kook big. Presumably, it opens easily. How well it handles is something I have no knowledge of. Personally, I think that the style suits the design of the III-L.

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Lens Hoods

Below is contributor Chris Whelan's beautiful Nicca 3-S with late type 42 mm clamp-on rectangular lens hood and original Nicca lens cap for the f/2 Nikkor:

Boxed, with leather case with “Nicca” on the front and distributor “Hinomaruya” on the back:

(Above 3 images courtesy of Chris Whelan)

The rectangular hoods are commonly associated with the new body models. Its first appearance in documentation is in a combined Type-5/3-S brochure, although until the release of the Type-5, the 3-S probably still used the earlier circular type. The Nikkor f/1.4 hood is similar in 45 mm size.

The leather cases are glued like the later camera cases but seem to hold up as well as the fully stitched Yashica lens hood cases.

The Nicca Type 33 hood below, shown here for the first type Nicca f/2.8 lens with 34.5 mm filter thread, is circular like the earlier hoods below but is clamp-on, like the square hoods, to fit its 36 mm bezel:

(Detail from larger web image)

It is not known whether there is a circular version for the later lens with 40.5 mm filter thread (I doubt it) but almost certainly, the rectangular 42 mm clamp-on hood will fit. Note the style of the “NICCA” name, quite different to the Leica-like script on the square hoods and top plates of most models. It is very similar to that of the name on the III-L top plate so perhaps a late branding update?

Prior to the clamp-on lens hoods were screw-in round types first displaying distributor name “Hinomaruya”, commonly supplied in a “Nicca” box and later, with “Nicca” engraved and Hinomaruya branding on the box. I have found 40.5 mm and 43 cm thread versions of both “Hinomaruya” and “Nicca” engraved hoods (with red fill) for the Nikkor f/2 and f/1.4 respectively and 34.5 mm “Nicca” engraved hoods (black fill) for the rigid f/3.5. Below is an earlier, larger “Hinomaruya” type and a later 34.5 mm type with “Nicca” name:

(Detail from larger web images)

However, these are unlikely to be the earliest hood types. There is a series of “Nicca” and “Tower” models that are similar round types but are slip-on rather than screw-in type. They have been measured at 42 mm and both 43.5 mm and 44 mm by different sellers for the larger type. In 42 mm size, two found are marked “Nicca”, the third is “Tower”. There are five in the larger size, all marked “Tower”. Four of the larger five are also marked “Made in Occupied Japan” (MIOJ), the fifth is marked “Made in Japan”. As with later hoods, there is no “Made in” marking on the three 42 mm versions indicating that they are possibly more recent. Below is a Nicca 42 mm:

(Detail from larger web image)

The larger ones were advertised as being for the f/1.4 Nikkor. I don't think that works, the f/1.4 has 43 mm filter thread and takes a 45 mm clamp-on hood, anything less is too small. The MIOJ means early, 1951 or before, so perhaps the f/1.5 Nikkor which has a smaller bezel? For three reasons, I don't think that flies either; the f/1.5 has a 40.5 mm filter thread like the f/2 and is likely to feature the same size bezel, the f/1.5 lens doesn't feature in the early Tower user manuals that I have seen (only the f/1.4 already) and thirdly, too many of the hoods have been found for what is a very rare lens. My guess is that it is for the f/2 collapsible type Nikkor. Both f/2s feature 40.5 mm filter threads but the collapsible has a knurled front ring making it necessarily larger than the 42 mm bezel of the rigid type.

The Tower user manuals and catalogues seemed to pair hoods with an adapter for Series Filters. I don't know whether the hoods were this type, or different, but I am not aware of Nicca ever offering Series filters. I guess it is possible that the 43.5/44 mm hood was designed for an odd size adapter rather than a lens. (Series filters typically use Roman numerals to denote a range of standard sizes, although Sears did use Arabic numbers later, and require a holder, or adapter to mount to any one of a number of lens diameters within the size range for that Series number).

I think that the slip-on hoods like the one above were originally sourced by Nicca, including the Tower ones, before distributor Hinomaruya arrived on the scene. As noted earlier, I think that the evidence suggests that both the Tower and Hinomaruya arrangements started in 1950, obviously things didn't change overnight and existing contracts would have run their course.

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Filters

Nicca offered Nicca branded screw-in filters, source unknown. On the back of the plastic case is the name of Nicca's distributor, Hinomaruya:

(Images courtesy of Chris Whelan)

As well as the plastic case in this boxed example, I have seen a pair of Nicca filters in a leather “Nicca” branded case and a stack of 40.5 mm “Y0”, “Y2” and “R0” filters in a red and yellow plastic case with “Hinomaruya” on one side and “Nicca” on the other.

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Reloadable Film Cassettes

Like Leica, most copy makers and others at the time, Nicca offered a reloadable 35 mm film cassette. Presumably the Yashica version was a rebrand of Nicca's, details of the Yashica and operation here. Interestingly, both are still marked “Z” for the German “zu” meaning “close”. This Nicca cassette was supplied in what looks like a Bakelite canister with distributor Hinomaruya's name on the top. It is different to the late blue plastic type found with the Yashica.

(Detail from larger web images)

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Nicca Universal Finder/ Other Finders

The Nicca Universal Finder front and rear:

(Detail from larger web images)

Certainly not a rebadged Nippon Kogaku Varifocal item - it is the same as both the Alpex and Walz Universal Finders:

(Detail from larger web images)

There are also these, one marked “T.O.C. UNIVERSAL FINDER PAT. No 16739” and the other, “T.O.C. UNIVERSAL FINDER FOR NICCA” :

(Detail from larger web images)

There are two versions of the left example; as shown, identical to the first three and the other the same as the right example with black rear end and the front rim with fine knurling to the front edge. The black rear end versions look earlier. The presence of the the patent number on one and “FOR NICCA” on the other makes me think that T.O.C. is the actual maker. I have seen claims by web sellers that T.O.C. is short for Tokyo Optical Co. (it more often used the Japanese “Tokyo Kogaku”, much later it became Topcon) and also Tanaka Optical Co., which is a translation of Tanaka Kōgaku K.K., but I haven't found any supporting evidence, only lots of reasons why T.O.C. doesn't mean either. For the record, Topcor LTM lenses seem to have been made by Tokyo Optical Co. exclusively for Leotax maker Shōwa Kōgaku - the finders are significantly different and marked “Topcor”.

The lever wind 3-F manual tells us that there were actually two types of universal finder; the above type with variable magnification from 28 mm to 135 mm and a different one which changed the masking to indicate different fields of view also from 28 mm to 135 mm but at fixed points, somewhat similar to the Nippon Kogaku Variframe but more like a Leica item in appearance and referred to as “Leica like” by Nicca.

(Image from 3-S/Type-4 user manual courtesy of Chris Whelan)

Its origins were almost certainly earlier as it is the only type mentioned in the earlier Type-III A/Type-III S and Type-4/3-S user manuals. Single focal length Nippon Kogaku finders are also featured in the 3-F manual as is a a Nicca branded sports finder:

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Copy Stand

Nicca branded timber cased copy stand kit (the 3-F manual also shows it being used for microscope work):

(Instructions and case details from larger web images)

Distributor Hinomaruya seems to have taken ownership of the case.

Asahi Camera ad, 1954, for Nicca Type IIA stand same as, or similar to, above.

Below left is a 1953 ad for an earlier Nicca Type II, an obvious difference being the bracket mounting the camera to the vertical tube. Below right is a 1956 ad for a Nikon copy stand for Nikon and Contax IIA cameras. All three ads feature a big “Hinomaruya” in Japanese text and its then current address. Above “Hinomaruya”, the 1954 ad above also states “Nicca Camera distributor” and below that, “Nikon Camera dealer”. The 1953 ad simply says “Selling agency” and the 1956 Nikon copy stand ad says “Dealer” whilst also featuring the Nippon Kōgaku logo and name next to it indicating that it is an official product (it also appears on the Nikon history site).

(These two ads belong to the Japanese Nikonfan website where larger versions are available)

The Nikon version is certainly not the same as the Nicca copy stand kit. The obvious external difference is the camera to bracket mount with more sophisticated features and perhaps capabilities. Photos of the inside of the Nikon case reveal different components, at least some probably made by Nippon Kōgaku, and consequently layout, and whilst also more opulently finished, the differences are consistent with Nippon Kōgaku's professional aspirations and pricing. However, the concept, the overall design, timber case and stand mount all appear very similar and suggest the same specialist maker is responsible and it seems somewhat likely that Hinomaruya may have had a role in that rather than just as a seller.

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Flashguns

In the 1951, more likely 1952, to 1958 period, Nicca offered two main versions of its side mounted battery capacitor (BC) flashgun. The second was probably an evolution of the first. The first one was likely marketed until 1955 when the Type-5 was released. I haven't observed any significant physical differences with the first type but there are several versions of the manuals and at least two different boxes. The box I presume to be earliest has a plain red lid with this label:

(Detail from larger web image)

Because it specifically says “for Nicca III-S Model”, it suggests that the flash arrived at the same time as that model in 1952, rather than with the earlier III B. The other box, which makes no reference to any model, is more common and therefore perhaps more long-lived and likely later (contributor Chris Whelan's included instructions mentions both the Nicca 3-S and Type-4):

(Image courtesy of Chris Whelan)

Except for some very minor cosmetic differences and the inclusion in the first box of a battery compartment extension tube for using two D-cells and a battery holder for alternatively using three AA batteries in place of the side by side mounted capacitor and 22.5 volt battery, the contents of both seem to be the same. So far, these haven't been found in later kits, nor is there a place for them in the later box, but both alternative power sources are mentioned in the instructions found with Chris' example. The photo below demonstrates that the body without the extension tube is too short to accommodate two D-cells:

(Image courtesy of Chris Whelan)

The first box calls the flash “B-C Flash Unit”, the other “Nicca Flash Unit”; no fancy names or model numbers there, but engraved on the flash brackets of both, the first in red and the second in black, is “Nicca B.C.B.”:

(Image courtesy of Chris Whelan)

Both earlier and later flashguns could be mounted via a bracket attached to the tripod socket or via a bracket built into the Type-III S, 3-S, Type-5 and probably 5-L leather half cases, there on the Tower 45/46 version. Although I haven't seen actual evidence, presumably, the Type-4 was the same. It also seemed to feature on the Tower version of the 3-F (lever) but not the Nicca version. Bracket built into early body synchronised camera case on left and Type-5 case on right.

(Detail from larger web images)

B.C.B. flashgun mounted via fixed “L” bracket:

(Image courtesy of Chris Whelan)

(Image courtesy of Chris Whelan)

Components minus the reflector, battery and capacitor:

(Image courtesy of Chris Whelan)

Schematic from the user manual:

(Image courtesy of Chris Whelan)

The later type flashgun features a folding reflector and hinged folding “L” bracket to make stowage easier. The user manual for the flash shows it attached to a Nicca Type-5 and names it as the “Nicca B-C Flash Model III”, although the back of the flash head says “BC-III”. It also appears in a combined Type-5/3-S brochure, both the Nicca 3-F knob-wind and lever-wind user manuals (probably in all later manuals, including the Sears 45/46 user manual) and was probably the flashgun depicted in a Yashica YE brochure. Here it is mounted on a Nicca 3-S via the bracket built into the 3-S half case:

(Images courtesy of Chris Whelan)

Schematic from the user manual:

(Image courtesy of Chris Whelan)

It has both serial (on back) and parallel (on side) connection sockets and a test lamp. The ejector button is white rather than the red of the earlier type and the test lamp is now on the back instead of top.

Here is my kit and the BC-III mounted on my Nicca 3-F using the folding “L” bracket:

Pictured below are three views of the original type capacitor displayed in the user manual, a little worse for 65 years wear, and 22.5 volt battery, probably a replacement but still late 1950s/1960s graphics. They sit vertically side by side in the cylindrical holder above:

The BC-III user manual (links below in User Manuals) tells us that clamp mounted extension “sidelights” were available and also a replacement folding bracket designed for “reflex” cameras, i.e. for TLRs. As mentioned above, the instruction manual for the earlier B.C.B. model tells us that as well as the battery capacitor pack, it can be operated with D-cells or AA/penlight batteries (tube extender and battery holder respectively included in the first red box kit). The Nicca BC-III manual makes no mention of operation without the capacitor and no accessories are provided for it.

Did Nicca Make Its Own Flashguns?

Nicca was a smallish camera maker, making one or two Leica copy models at a time. A flashgun may seem a simple thing in appearance and operation but to develop one from scratch, with new technologies to understand, patents to navigate, tooling to be sourced etc is a formidable task. It will inevitably sell in limited numbers, yet still have to be competitive with models from specialist makers. For those reasons, I think that Nicca didn't just have assistance but outsourced its flashgun production. Just as Nikon did. The evidence is explored on a separate page, Nicca's Flashgun Origins.

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Sears

As well as selecting from anything Nicca may have had available, Sears also sourced its own accessories used for other cameras in its catalogues too so anything, if it fitted, could be mixed and matched.

Flash

At the time of the early Tower Type-3 (Nicca Type-III A/B), very probably from before Nicca releasing its first flashgun, the 1952/53 Sears catalogue offered two Tower BC flashguns, source unknown, one for synchronised models and the other for unsynchronised models. The 1953/54 catalogue still features a Type-3 camera but the flashgun is now unmistakably the Nicca B.C.B. model. The Tower 35 page of the 1955 catalogue features the Tower Type-3S camera with the Nicca B.S.B. model identified as the “TOWER B-C Flash Unit (3 A 9636)”. It is shown again in the flash section on page 40 together with a version featuring a square bracket base for TLR cameras. In 1956, the new Nicca BC-III flash features with the Type-3S and also, in a later catalogue, with the Tower 45/46. In the Sears produced version of the Tower 45/46 user manual, it is referred to as “TOWER B-C flash unit (No. 9724)”.

The 1959 catalogue instead displays a compact folding flash with the Tower 45/46. This was at a time that Yashica was acquiring Nicca and the probable maker of Nicca's flashguns, West Electric, had been acquired by Matsushita. Whether these were factors, or whether Sears wanted something more modern/cheaper to offer, is not known.

Finders

In the 1955 and later catalogues, Sears offered Nippon Kogaku finders for its Nikkors, both the “Varifocal” and fixed focal length types and also matching ones for its budget lenses, first the Steinhill and then the Kyoei. In the earlier catalogues and Type-3 user manual, the finders featured were both the Nippon Kogaku fixed length type and Sear's “Universal Viewfinder” which looks like the Nicca sourced variable frame type similar to Nippon Kogaku's “Variframe” mentioned in Nicca's accessories above.

Lens Hoods/Filters

In Japan, many of the lens hoods for the standard lenses were almost certainly sourced by Nicca's domestic distributor, Hinomaruya with “Hinomaruya” appearing on the early hoods and on the boxes and cases of later hoods bearing the Nicca name. I'm not sure what happened in the USA, and whether Sears sourced its own hoods. In (Nicca) Lens Hoods, I noted that the Hinomaruya and Sears distribution arrangements probably both commenced in 1950. As perhaps a legacy of previous supply arrangements, there appear to be slip-on lens hoods predating Hinomaruya's models. These have been found in both 42 mm size (for the rigid f/2 Nikkor) and a larger one measured at either 43.5 mm or 44 mm which I believe is most likely to suit the f/2 collapsible Nikkor (my reasons are given in Lens Hoods) but may be to match one of the adapters mentioned below. The 42mm version has been found with both Nicca and Tower branding, the larger one as a Tower only so far. Four of the five larger ones are marked “Made in Occupied Japan” so are early, certainly 1951 or earlier. I have not found any other types branded “Tower”, at least not obviously for the Tower 35 models.

Tower version of the 42 mm slip-on type below:

(Detail from larger web image)

Whilst Nicca offered screw-in filters similar to modern types, Sears focused on the so-called “Series filters” available in various sizes usually categorised by Roman numerals (later, Sears used Arabic numerals). These typically fit into adaptor rings that mount onto the lens. Series filters appear to have been more popular in the US than elsewhere.

The 1956 Sears catalogue describes “Lens Shade-Filter Holder. For TOWER 35. Keeps stray light from entering the lens. Holds Filters.” There is one version for the Nikkor f/2 which fits Series VI filters and another for the Nikkor f/1.4 which fits Series VII filters. I have certainly not found any similar Nicca set ups. From the Tower Type-3 user manual (dates back to 1950):

(Scan courtesy of Chris Whelan)

Although the “shade” used with the filter holder looks similar to the slip-on Nicca/Tower, the manual says it “screws easily onto the adapter ring” so I don't know if it is the same type. The filter holder is still mentioned in the 1959 catalogue, but there are no photos.

Below is a 42 mm lens hood found with a Tower 45 (Nicca 5-L) from most likely 1957. There is no way of telling whether it is the same age as the camera, or not, but it appears to be the same type slip-on Tower hood as further above. If it is the same age, then Tower continued long after with this type than Nicca did - was it still procured through Nicca? It is shown mounted on the filter adaptor ring which screws into the lens filter threads whereas the manual seems to depict a slip-on adapter. Presumably, it can also mount directly to the lens without the adapter:

(Detail from larger web image)

Lens Caps

Cameras were supplied with a “Tower” lens cap for their standard Nikkor 5 cm lenses:

(Detail from larger web image)

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User Manuals

User manuals for some models are available from OrphanCameras.com. These include Tower Type-3 (Type-III on cover), Nicca Type-III A/Type-III S, Nicca 3-F (knob wind), Tower 5-L (probably Nicca published), Tower 45 & 46 (Tower version of 5-L published by Sears) and Nicca B.C Flash Unit Model III.

This is Chris Whelan's combined Nicca Type 4 and 3-S user manual:

(Scan courtesy of Chris Whelan)

(Click on cover for PDF of full manual)

Below is a PDF of the Japanese language Nicca 3-F lever type manual:

(Click on cover for PDF of full manual)

Below is a PDF of the Japanese language Nicca BC-III flashgun manual. It is basically the same as the English language version but adds a page with additional information about using sidelights and consequently, doesn't include the synchronisation graphs found in the back of the English language version:

(Click on cover for PDF of full manual)

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