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 and Nicca Type-3
Nicca Type-III A, Type-III B & Type-III S
Nicca 3-S and Type-4
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

Nikkor Lenses

Standard Lenses
Wide Angle & Telephoto Lenses

Shutter Speeds
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

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 lesser known 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 and was innovative in its own right without being 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 processing machines). 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.

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 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. Its lenses were mainly sourced from Tōkyō Kōgaku (translated as Tokyo Optical Company), maker of the later Topcon SLR (interestingly, in the Yin and Yang existence of Nicca and Leotax, Nippon Kōgaku, supplier of lenses to Canon and later Nicca, was the main supplier of optical products to the Japanese Navy and Tōkyō Kōgaku was the main supplier of optical products to the Japanese Army). However, three of the last lenses fitted by Shōwa Kōgaku were branded “Leonon” and one has a part to play with the Yashica YF, as is featured on the YE & YF page.

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 largely ignored, 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, Shōwa Kōgaku made various versions of the Semi Leotax 4.5 x 6 cm folder from 1940 until 1955 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 Contax mount lenses, Nippon Kōgaku made Nikkor LTM lenses for the general market from the late 1940s onward. They were also standard fitments 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 a Japanese assistant 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 the changeover was about to accelerate with the 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.

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Nicca Story

Sources for this story include Peter Dechert, Sugiyama/Mikio Awano, McKeown, 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.

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 and below right, an early War-time example of the standard model with lens replaced by a later Nikkor f/3.5 5 cm collapsible type:

(Detail from larger web images)

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 four in my database, almost certainly not Nicca produced and suspiciously similar to the also rare Nikkor of this type but different enough in a couple of details to probably be a copy rather than rebadge), the Nicca branded f/2.8 50mm lens on the late 33 model and the Snider exception noted further below, 5 cm Nikkor 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 offered as accessory wide angle and telephoto lenses, making the cameras very attractive options. Nicca's distributor from 1951 to 1958, Hinomaruya, was also the distributor of Nikkor LTM lenses for the same period, no doubt it was a beneficial arrangement for both businesses.

Versions of various models were branded for their importers and sold as mainly “Tower” in the US (Sears, Roebuck & Co. - most Nicca models from 1950 onward) but also initially as “Peerless” (re-branded 1949 Nicca Type 3, base plate engraved “Made for Peerless Photo Supply by Nicca Camera Works”, two examples in my database). The Peerless arrangement was probably short-lived and ended before, or with, the Sears partnership. 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 1951 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 see Yashica YE & YF).

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Models & Serial Numbers

According 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 2081x
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 5000x 5990x
1952
Nicca 3-S Nicca 3-S 5749x 7309x
1953
Nicca Type-4 Nicca Type-4 8005x 8110x
1953
Nicca Type-5 Nicca Type-5 12500x 13153x
1955
Nicca 3-F Nicca 3-F 8503x 9692x
1956
Nicca 3-F (lever) Nicca 3-F 15100x 15727x
1957
Nicca 5L with 3-F markings Nicca 3-F 16180x 16199x
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 five “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. There is only one 5L marked camera found but just before that are four 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. 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.

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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. I'm certainly not suggesting that Massimo Bertacchi is anyway responsible or even aware of the issues and we don't know for 100% sure that any of his 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 thus spreading the idea that it is a legitimate example. I have also found two other Nippons with the same viewfinder window shape with 5 digit serial numbers, this time one beginning with “55”, perhaps implying a very large number produced and the other, with a much more plausible “22” which would make it 1947. What's more, this last one appears in the authoritative McKeown's guide. However, as you shall see further below, McKeown's has already been very badly caught out by one very obvious fake. All three cameras 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 on the other hand 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) 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 a post script to this story - see below.

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, 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

Post-War cameras were engraved “Made in Occupied Japan”. The first camera this is visible on in my database is the earliest Type-3 from 1948 (earlier photos rarely showed 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 guessing that the lock is genuinely early but that the base plate is from a later camera) 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 and Nicca Type-3

According to Peter Dechert, the original Nicca is the same as the last iterations of the preceding Nippon model. 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 (see below). Sugiyama displays a 1947 Nippon with the notched type already. The examples with one curved corner window noted 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 (1948 according to Peter Dechert, 1947 according to Japanese Wikipedia), called that by collectors. Peter Dechert and Sugiyama tell us that it 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 appear identical:

(Detail from larger web images)

Peter also claims that the “Nicca Original” is very rare. I concur but I'm not sure what I am looking at. Nippon cameras were engraved with the maker name “Kogaku Seiki”. The serial numbers of the five Nicca Originals in my database range from 2302x to 2327x, the first four 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!

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 two of them are without dioptre adjustment (second and fourth 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”). I hesitate to call any of them fakes, though I'm not sure about any of them either. It seems to me that with the earlier models, changes were fairly fluidly introduced to use up old parts first - whether this is the case here, I don't know.

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 the accessory shoe but some, particularly later examples, have 4 already.

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 very first Tower Type-3 (Sears version of the Nicca Type-III A) example in my database, but all subsequent examples are the new type. So whilst the changeover clearly occurred near/at the model changeover, there was a transition 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 Japanese Wikipedia, released in April and June 1951 respectively). They are also very similar to the earlier cameras but all now have 4 screws in the accessory shoe.

After the first nine cameras in my database (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. 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 is that it is a form of Type-III A. 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. Maybe that also has something to do with the Type-III A examples with blanked off sockets?

The Nicca Type-III S, with the model name helpfully engraved, replaced both the Type-III A and B. Some, including Japanese Wikipedia, say it is from 1952, Sugiyama claims 1953. 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, they would have originally 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 painted variety.

(Right detail from larger web image)

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Nicca 3-S and Type-4

According to some, the Nicca 3-S is also from 1952 but Japanese Wikipedia seems to conflate the two models into the one September release. I think that maybe a 1953 release is more plausible - see Type 4. Sugiyama actually says 1954, a year after the Type-4 (from serial numbers, I would say that the The Type-4 was released at the same time or later, not earlier). The 3-S added a film speed/type reminder 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. On left below, Nicca Type-III S, on right, Nicca 3-S with 1/25 changeover/sync and first type film reminder:

(Right image courtesy of Chris Whelan)

The last of this family was the Nicca Type-4 (1953 Dechert, Sugiyama and McKeown, August 1953 Japanese Wikipedia, 1954 Bertacchi). It shares both the found Japanese and English Language user manuals (two and three examples respectively) with the “Type 3-S” (as written on the English language cover, plain “3-S” as engraved) so the release dates must have been closer than commonly claimed, dare I say it, maybe at the same time. The main Type-4 difference seems to be the addition of the 1/1000 shutter speed. The ASA film speed reminder was much the same as the 3-S type but cameras featuring a combined ASA/DIN reminder used a flush face type not found on other models:

(Detail from larger web image)

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, but surprisingly, it seems to be missing on the Type-4 regardless whether early or late:

(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 both 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 (presumably early PC type 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 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 and 5-L (lever wind) 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). 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:

(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. 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
IIIc/f
Nicca
III S
Nicca
3F
Yashica
YE
Width
133mm
135mm
133mm
138mm
138mm
Height
65mm
69mm
67mm
71mm
73mm
Base Plate Width
29mm
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 IIIc/f 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.

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Nicca Type-5 & 5-L

The new body Nicca Type-5 (March 1955 Japanese Wikipedia) and subsequent lever wind version, Nicca 5-L (“Type” is not included in the 5-L model name on the top plate), 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. Nicca Type-5:

(Detail from larger web images)

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

(Detail from larger web images)

The 5-L is likely to have been released some time after the Type-5. It is extremely rare (not the Tower model), only one example in my database. According to Stephen Gandy's CameraQuest website, HPR's well known collectors' volume, “Leica Copies”, says it “has never been seen”. The one above is a Tower 45/46 version (four in my database) but below is an actual 5-L:

(Detail from larger web image)

Very strangely, my database also contains four cameras with serial numbers in the 161xxx range, all within 60 cameras of the 5-L serial number, 162xxx, three of which have top plates engraved “3-F” and one with a metallic label marked “5-L” over where the model type engraving is usually found, but all with 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). 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:

(Detail from larger web image)

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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, 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 and subsequent models 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, Japanese Wikipedia), I'm not sure whether as a replacement, or as an optional model (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. Peter Dechert claims that the the lever wind 5-L and 3-F models were released at the same time which seems plausible, although the oddities and serial numbers mentioned above may indicate the 5-L arrived a little later.

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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). Japanese Wikipedia claims May 1958 which is the same month Nicca was acquired by Yashica, Peter Dechert says late 1957 and Sugiyama simply 1958 - I would have thought a little earlier than May because unlike with the III-L, there are no Yashica fingerprints over any of the marketing material I have seen, but I have no evidence either way. 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. 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 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 (one side only shown):

(Detail from larger web image)

(Click on brochure for larger view)

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 with Yashica's YE), was released in June 1958 according to Japanese Wikipedia and other sources, i.e. one month after Yashica's usually quoted date of acquisition. That seems likely, as noted on the YE & YF page, even though not immediately obvious, all found marketing material is linked to Yashica through the contact addresses. 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 short of the M3.

(Detail from larger web image)

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Tower Models

(Note: Some people refer to a “Tower 35”. In my view, there is no Tower 35 and I also believe that Sears' marketing people are totally responsible for the confusion. Early catalogue pages are headlined with “TOWER 35 - Sears own imported precision camera” yet the camera depicted is engraved “Tower Type-3”. 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 photo showing the top hinged rear flap in the open position. With lever wind, it is unequivocally the Tower version of the Nicca 5-L. 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 and Tower 45/46 as the “Tower 35” depending on which camera they were researching. Clearly, “Tower 35” is shorthand for whatever 35mm Nicca based camera was being promoted at the time.)

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, the Tower 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. Presumably they are a PC type connector but 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 PC 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-3 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. Is it a re-brand of the “Nicca Type-III S” or “Nicca 3-S”? The serial numbers (5026x and 5071x, only two found) suggest early III-S, confirmed by the 1/20 speed separation and lack of film type reminder on the film winding knob. The next five Towers still have similar serial numbers (5157x to 7419x) 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. 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). The Tower version of the 3-S seems to have 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. Both manuals are available for download from the 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 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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Nikkor Lenses

Standard Lenses

(The four 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 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 claimed to be 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, there are none in my database and the Nikkors first started appearing as early as 1944, but of course these could be post-War replacements.

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. The collapsible f/2 lens was released in 1946 but whether initially in LTM, or not, or offered at first by Nicca is not known. 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 Nikon 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.

A large aperture f/1.5 version of the Sonnar design was developed in 1949 and was available in both Nikon S mount and in smaller numbers, in LTM. This lens was replaced a year later by an improved f/1.4 version. Both I understand 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. There are two serial number ranges with serial numbers commencing with “905” and “907” (May and July 1949 respectively, i.e., two batches made). 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 two in my database (one found on a Type-III S, perhaps original to this camera, and one with a much lower number on a later 3-S, perhaps a post-production mating). 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 the 3-S but not Type-5.

All f/3.5 lenses, both earlier collapsible and later rigid, were marked “Q.C”. The rigid f/3.5 featured an unusual 34.5 mm filter size:

(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 letters relevant to the normal and accessory Nikkor Lenses for the Nicca cameras are:

Letter Representing No. of Elements
Q
Quattuor
4
P
Pente
5
H
Hex
6
S
Septem
7

 

The red C” stands for “coated”. I believe coating of Nikkor lenses was introduced in 1945. 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.”
Whether this applied to all of the subsequent rangefinder lenses, or when it may have changed, I have no idea.

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.

The 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 optical design (there are some suggestions that due to supply issues, the glass type may have changed once or even twice very early on). 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 the 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”.

Example of the 71xxxx to 72xxxx lens:

The very earliest 61xxxx lenses have four screws in the flange, left image, the rest are without. 61xxxx lenses have slots in the rear retainer whereas 71xxxx to 75xxxx lenses have holes for a pin wrench:

(Left detail from larger web image)

Left image; 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. Middle image; the black aperture ring was introduced at about serial number 724xxx. The infinity mark also changed from the earlier “INF.” to the infinity symbol. Right image; 75xxxx lenses became “H” instead of “H.C” (actually, earliest found so far is 74970x):

(Detail from larger web images)

Early body Nicca cameras have Nikkor f/2 lenses in the 61-65 range. Depending on age, the Nicca Type-5 can be found with the first range lenses, or the still all silver 71-72 range, or the black band type. Very early Nicca 3-F cameras can be found with the all silver 71-72 lenses but the great majority feature the black aperture scale band. Late 3-F lever types and the III-L are usually found with 75xxxx lenses marked “H”.

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). 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.

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:

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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.

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: 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 3-S 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 which was mirrored by the Nicca Type-4 but with 1/1000 added 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 physical dial lock deleted. 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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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). 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. The Type-5 case was a unique, moulded type “premium” leather case featuring chrome trim and some use of adhesives already. The user manual for the more budget 3-F proudly states that adhesives have replaced stitching but with the snout at least, the 3-F lever wind introduced reinforcing rivets and the Type 33 saw the return of stitching to this area. Some examples are in Ever-ready Case Design on the Yashica YE & YF page. The leather case for the lens hood, see below, is also fully glued. These seem to have held up well for the last 60 years or so.

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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 but I am not sure whether they arrived with the Type-5 camera or a little later with the “71” prefixed f/2 lenses.

Earliest found screw-in round type lens hood displaying distributor name “Hinomaruya”, commonly supplied in a “Nicca” box, and a slightly later round type with “Nicca” name found with a Nikkor f/3.5 5 cm lens, meaning that its screw thread diameter is 34.5 mm:

(Detail from larger web images)

The Nicca Type 33 hood below, shown here for the first type smaller Nicca f/2.8 lens, is circular like the earlier hoods but is clamp-on like the square hoods so its fitting size would be slightly larger than the 34.5 mm filter thread, probably 36mm:

(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. Perhaps Nicca was attempting to break some of the visual links to its inspiration? The III-L was radically different but both it and the Type 33 also deleted the very 1950s Leica-Like top plate extensions from beside the lens mount.

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Filters

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

(Images courtesy of Chris Whelan)

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Reloadable Film Cassettes

Like Leica and most copy makers, Nicca offered a reloadable film cassette. Presumably the Yashica version was a rebrand of Nicca's, details of the Yashica and operation here. 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.

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 3-S/Type-4 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):

(Detail from larger web images)

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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 an adaptor 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. Both alternative power sources are mentioned in the instructions found with the later box. 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 and Type-5 leather half cases. Although I haven't seen actual evidence, presumably, the Type-4 was the same. Early flashgun mounted via “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”. 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. Both the Nicca 3-F knob-wind and lever-wind user manuals show a version of this flash that looks the same but appears to be without the serial connection socket. These are later but also more economical models than the Type-5 so it is not known whether it has been removed as an economy measure, or for some other reason, or possibly it is just the photos. The English language 3-F knob-wind manual calls it “Nicca Automatic Charging Flash Unit” but the name on the back still looks like “BC-III”. The BC-III, in one form or the other, is probably the flash that appears as an accessory in a Yashica YE brochure.

As mentioned above, the instruction manual for the B.C.B. model tells us that as well as the battery capacitor pack, it can be operated with D-cells or AA batteries (extender and adaptor respectively included in the first red box kit). This is similar to instructions for the similar vintage Nikon B.C.B. model. A circa 1953 brochure for a compact Leotax B.C.B. flashgun (shown mounted on a Semi Leotax, not the rangefinder) makes it clear that it is designed as a battery capacitor type but if the the 22.5v battery is not available, the flash can be operated with 3 penlight cells. The BC-III manual makes no mention of operation without the capacitor. Perhaps it may have more sophisticated circuitry which may preclude that, certainly the slave function requires more grunt. Later Nikon flashes are “BC” models as well. Neither Chris Whelan nor myself have managed to find any explanation of what the earlier B.C.B. is an abbreviation for but my take on it is that the flashes may be operated by either battery/capacitor, or batteries alone, i.e. “Battery.Capacitor.Battery”. Maybe.

Whether the flashguns were produced by Nicca or someone else is unknown. Nicca was a small company and in the 1950s, even larger camera makers seemed to rely on specialist flash companies. I have not really found anything that might be considered related, except perhaps depending on what is represented by the example pictured below. Some of the early Nikon flashes are similar in name (as noted above), overall appearance and operation, the B.C.B. (models 1 and 2) a little appearance-wise, the B.C. (model 3) much more so, particularly the folding bracket and clamp, but all are different enough to not suggest a definite link, although there could be. If Nikon was 100% responsible for the design of its early flash units, then any similarity would almost certainly be coincidence, or even a little copying. On the other hand, if Nikon outsourced, or even simply had assistance, the likelihood of some shared genes is possibly greater. The two companies had a shared interest in the sale of LTM Nikkors and business-wise, were linked through distributor Hinomaruya. The first Nikon flashgun was introduced in 1951, one source says “presented in July”. As noted above, the earliest Nicca would have had reason to introduce theirs was 1951 with 1952 more likely.

First image below is the retail box for a “West Miracle Power B.C.B - S Flash Gun”. Second image is of still well wrapped and tightly packaged components that the box fits like a glove. The surprising inclusion is the “Directions for Using Nicca B.C.B. Flash Unit” with the “Nicca” crossed out and replaced by “West”. Third image is of the unwrapped handle unit, reflector and handle extension:

(Detail from larger web images)

The reflector and the black head unit complete with cast red “SHUTTER” between rectangular connector sockets certainly look like exact matches for the Nicca B.C.B. flashgun items. Noting that the extension tube is not fitted, the handle looks longer, perhaps indicated by the “S” in “B.C.B - S” on the box? The bracket connector mount is also different. Perhaps this version was designed for a typically taller camera, a 120 folder or TLR.

“West” is West Electric Co., Ltd. which was based in Osaka, Japan. The company's history is not well know and I can't find any early to mid-1950s West flash guns, apart from the above example, but there are full page ads for various West branded flash bulbs in Asahi Camera magazines from 1952 to 1959 (the only date range I have access to). In a recent auction, some FP flash bulbs were offered in a “West Hyper Flash” packet with the neat fitting, and almost certainly original, internal packaging being marked “National” with the National logo. National is a Matsushita company brand name, these days called Panasonic Corporation. From at least the 1960s, National was a maker of flash units (the impressive 1978 Contax RTS540 electronic hammerhead flashgun was made for Yashica by National). One of its earlier efforts appears to be the compact folding reflector “National Hyper Flash Gun Model BII”. It's pretty much identical to the “West Hyper Flash Gun Model BII”, the “Hyper Flash” name seemingly first appearing on West products. Obviously, there was a connection of some sort between the two companies. Matsushita had commenced an aggressive 5 year expansion plan in 1956 and it is possible that somewhere along the line it acquired West, or at least an interest in the company. Nevertheless, there are references to West Electric Co., Ltd. flashgun patents into the 1980s so the relationship remains unclear.

The bottom line is that whilst there is little information about West Electric Co., Ltd., it must have been a significant player in the early Japanese bulb flash era.

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Sears

Sears mostly sourced its own accessories used for other cameras in its catalogues too. Over the years, various flash units were shown with the Tower models but one year, the Tower 45/46 is shown with what is almost certainly the Nicca BC-III flash. It also appears in the Sears produced Tower 45/46 user manual. Sears offered Nippon Kogaku finders for its Nikkors, both the Varifocal and fixed focal length types and also matching ones for its budget lenses. Below is a typical Tower lens cap:

(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 3-S and 4 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)

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