Nicca

Ancestor of Yashica's Leica Copies

Contents

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Japanese Leica Copies - a Potted History
Nicca Story

Origins & Background
Serial Numbers
Checking for Fakes
Made in Occupied Japan
From Nippon to Nicca Models
Tower Models

Sears Supplied Lenses

Nikkor Standard Lenses
Shutter Speeds

Accessories

Ever-ready Cases
Lens Hoods
Filters
Reloadable Film Cassettes
Nicca Universal Finder
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. 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 (a few of the models mentioned below started smaller, e.g. Nikon, not a Leica copy, and Minolta). 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) lens mount with a 28.8 mm lens flange to film distance (nominal, not exactly that until 1931). The shutter must be focal plane - all/nearly all examples copied the Leica cloth type fairly closely. 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 notably for early Leica II based Chiyoca cameras, Japanese examples were typically Leica III based with separate 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 by the more prolific makers 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 Tokyo Optical, later Topcon (Simlar and Topcor lenses), however, at least three of its last normal lenses 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 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 that mantle should belong to the Minolta 35 introduced by Chiyoda Kōgaku Seikō in 1947. 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. 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.

There were other Japanese Leica copies but none of these were produced in significant numbers and the makers quickly disappeared from the marketplace.

Although 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. Whilst 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, Horace Bristol, 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 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

The origins of Nicca date to 1940 when Kōgaku Seiki-sha (Optics & Precision Co.) was founded as a Leica repair shop by former employees of Seiki Kōgaku Kenkyūjo, which was later to become Canon (the similarity in company names is surely no coincidence), led by Genji Kumagai. In fact, Kōgaku Seiki-sha also became an official Canon repair agency. As noted above, in response to a military order in 1941, it 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 German Schneider-Kreuznach Xenon F/2 lenses in place of the Nikkors (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. Marketing material 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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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
Serial Number
Release
Year
From
To
Nippon (prototypes) 19 20
1942
Nippon 1810010  
1943
Nippon 18106x 18112x
1943
Nippon 1812x 2081x
1943
Nicca (original) 2327x  
1948
Nicca Type-3 2302x 2765x
1948
Nicca Type-III A 2882x 4321x
1951
Nicca Type-III B 317xx 4501x
1951
Nicca Type-III S 5020x 5975x
1952
Nicca 3-S 5749x 7309x
1952
Nicca Type-4 8005x 8110x
1953
Nicca Type-5 12512x 13100x
1955
Nicca 3-F 8503x 9692x
1956
Nicca 3-F (lever) 15108x 15727x
1957
Nicca 5L with 3-F markings 16180x 16199x
1957
Nicca 5L 16204x  
1957
Nicca 3-F (lever) oddity 18288x  
1957
Nicca Type 33 15236x 16064x
1958
Nicca III-L 18106x 18420x
1958

 

There are three “Nicca Original” examples in my database with similar serial numbers. Two are almost certainly fakes, the one above seems real but has a slightly higher serial number than the following two Type-3 cameras. 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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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 not seen the rectangular viewfinder window with one curved corner on other Nippon/Nicca examples except the similar one mentioned in the next paragraph. Which is strange because he explains how the Showa prefixed serial numbers work for the following “Nicca Original”. However, whilst the “23” prefix may seem to be plausible for that camera (1948), the serial number of the displayed camera is higher than the earliest later model “Nicca Type-3” in my database (also “23” and 1948). The other problems with the “Nicca Original” example are that it already has a dioptre adjustment (see references to Dechert & Sugiyama further below) and 4 screws instead of the 3 in the accessory shoe of following cameras still. I am even more confused by Massimo Bertacchi's own statement, “without diopter adjustment on viewfinder and eyepiece”. Perhaps he is just using the camera as an example of early maker name? But even that doesn't match the serial number and accessory shoe.

Sometimes these are errors from misidentification 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 very concerning. I have also found another Nippon with the same viewfinder window shape with 5 digit serial number this time beginning with “55”. Both obviously fall into the same category of either dubious and probably from the same source, or real with unknown serial number series, certainly not Showa based like previous and following cameras.

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). Googling “Seiki Lausar” or “For. Oc-ciro” which is also engraved on the top plate should find it. The body at least is clearly of Soviet Union origin, probably a 1940's FED. I have also seen a Russian based War-time Leotax Super A fake sold on eBay and two more which the sellers, a US auction house and a famous name European shop, identified as probable Russian fakes but still asked a fair amount of money for.

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. Third is the Nippon from Massimo Bertacchi's website representing two 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 remain a 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 (and the three Leotaxes referred to earlier). The Zorki housing is the same too but Zorkis are trickier to pass off as something else because of external 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)

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Made in Occupied Japan

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. 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 to the end of the early body models (Type-4), “Made in Japan” was engraved in the same place and late body models display “Japan” on the base plate next to the lock.

(Images 1 and 2 courtesy of Chris Whelan)

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From Nippon to Nicca Models

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 (Tower Type-3 window featured above). Sugiyama displays a 1947 Nippon with the notched type already. The example with one curved corner window above, if genuine, would fit in between. 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 others 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 image)

Peter also claims that the “Nicca Original” is very rare - the only confirmed image I have seen is in Sugiyama's book (and it is without dioptre adjustment) so I certainly concur. There is another as well but its serial number is a little higher than the earliest Type-3s in my database, although that maybe OK, there may have been a cross-over period.

Nippons were engraved with the maker name “Kogaku Seiki”. The second “Nicca Original” and first two Type-3s in my database, all from 1948 (according to the serial numbers, 2302x to 2327x), now feature “Nippon Camera Works, Ltd. Tokyo” as the maker. The third Type-3 reflects the company name change to “Nicca Camera Works, Ltd. Tokyo” and the fourth shortens the engraving to “Nicca Camera Works, Ltd.” These are still 1948 cameras (serial numbers 2370x and 2399x ). The next examples have serial numbers beginning with “24” but as explained in Serial Numbers, with numbers running out, these could be from 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.

Following the “Nicca Type-3”, the two other models with only “Nicca” engraved as the model identifier were released. These are very similar to the earlier cameras but all have 4 screws in the accessory shoe now and after the first nine cameras in my database, the maker name changed to “Nicca Camera Company, Ltd.” and at the same time, a film plane mark was added to the top plate:

(Detail from larger web images)

Nicca advertised a “Type-III A” without flash sync and a “Type-III B” with flash sync added for the first time. Neither name has been seen as an engraving on a camera so presumably this “Nicca” is the Nicca Type-III A without sync and Nicca Type-III B with sync (according to Japanese Wikipedia, released in April and June 1951 respectively). 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”. Certainly in the first case, it is 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 explain the English language user manual cover and brochure below, both featuring the “III-A” and “III-S” together:

(Detail from larger web images)

As noted earlier, the 1952 Nicca Type-III S is engraved as such and is considered to be the flash sync equipped development of the Type-3/Type-III A (much the same as claimed for the Type-III B). The examples of cameras in the joint user manual equipped with flash sync seem to be split between cameras with the “Nicca Type-III S” engraving and plain “Nicca” engraving, which includes the cover and parts descriptions photos, suggesting that they are pretty much interchangeable except for name. As noted further below, when flash sync first appeared, 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 but a late Type-III B in my database (4369x) has them already as do the III B photos in the user manual.

It may seem from the joint flyers and user manual that whilst the Type-III A was still in the middle of its life-span, perhaps the Type-III B was superceded by the Type-III S. The only problem with that theory is that the III A and what is known as the III B share serial numbers and in my database, there are examples of both right up to the end of their serial number range. The III S features a new range of numbers starting a little higher than the last of the III A and B examples (starting with “50” versus “43” for the last III A and “45” for the last III B).

So what does it all mean? Much of what has previously been written about these three models is supported by the ads etc but there are clearly disconnects too so there is definitely more to understand about the chronology of the releases and how they are related to each other. One explanation that is plausible to me but I have no proof for is that perhaps Nicca started calling the III B “III S” before that name was engraved on the top plate.

Pictured below is an early Tower Type-3 which is the same as the early Nicca Type-III A without film plane mark:

(Image courtesy of Chris Whelan)

A slightly later one with the film plane mark:

(Image courtesy of Chris Whelan)

As with the Type-III A and B, some featured flash sync and some didn't.

By serial numbers, the Nicca Type-III S replaced the pair of “Nicca” variants completely and with a film speed/type reminder added to the top of the film winding knob, morphed into the Nicca 3-S (according to some, also from 1952 but Japanese Wikipedia seems to conflate the two models into the one September release), the “S” for both signifying flash synch, now fitted standard across the range. The speed separation between low and high speeds (and also X-sync) changed from the earlier 1/20 to 1/25 on the 3-S. On left below, Tower Type-3 representing earlier models with slow speeds topping out at 1/20 and plain film winding knob. On right, Nicca 3-S with 1/25 changeover/sync and first type film reminder:

(Images courtesy of Chris Whelan)

The last of this family was the Nicca Type-4 (1953 Dechert & McKeown, August 1953 Japanese Wikipedia, 1954 Bertacchi). It shares the found version (at least three examples) of the English user manual with the “Type 3-S” (as written on the cover, plain “3-S” as engraved) so the release dates may be closer than commonly recognised. 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)

When flash sync was fitted to the early bodies, it was typically a pair of coaxial PC terminals on the front (FP top and X sync, white, bottom), positioned vertically below the slow speed shutter dial, offset towards the side. However, as noted above, the earlier, and majority, of Nicca Type-III B examples featured twin posts for a non-standard type of flash connection (possibly 2 post ASA/Wollensak to suit the US market), the sync being FP according to both Sugiyama and Japanese Wikipedia. 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%:

(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.

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). The flash sync is now a single PC socket on the back of the one piece top plate and sync type switched automatically depending on speed selected (except for the Type 33, X sync was at the the changeover speed for the high speeds, anything above that selected FP sync and any type of flash bulb could be used below the changeover speed). 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 further below and the Type 33 in the brochure. 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 2mm more than the knob wind 3-F with, surprisingly, the base plate seeing a 1 mm increase and the other 1 mm in the top plate/viewfinder housing (the two baseplates are not interchangeable):

The top image particularly shows the deeper base plate of the Yashica and the extra millimetre above the viewfinder.

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 the 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 diopter 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)

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). 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.

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 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 image)

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. 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 (4 elements confirmed by a Japanese brochure). Speculation has surrounded the source of this lens. Without citation, Camerapedia reiterates fan boy claims that it is a rebranded Fujinon and whilst the cosmetic appearance is certainly similar, there are key differences too such as the 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 825x 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 1059x (right image):

(Detail from larger web images)

The last model, the Nicca III-L (III-L on the orange label inside the camera, IIIL where it appears with Yashica's YE), was released in June 1958 according to Japanese Wikipedia and other sources. 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)

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 odd and awkward. The film advance reportedly works very well and is an ergonomic stroke of genius. On the other hand, the black painted steel advance lever and open slot, seemingly inviting dust and other detritus, has the look of something a little Heath Robinson-ish about it and is certainly not from the Leica mould:

(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).

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, possibly added by an owner. All the other examples bar one 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 (see photos further above).

Next is a Tower Type-3S. 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 number (5026x, only one found) suggests 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.

The next Tower examples in my database (found serial numbers 15027x to 15148x) 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.” 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 5040x 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, that standard lenses offered on the Tower models were either f/2 or f/1.4 5 cm Nikkors throughout.

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 seems to be only partly correct. 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 Standard Lenses

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. In my database, there are no Sun versions of the Xebec and the Nikkors first started appearing as early as 1944, but of course these could be post-War replacements.

By the Nicca Type-3, the first Nikkor f/2 5 cm lens in collapsible mount was being offered (this seems to have been around since 1946 but not necessarily available for the Nicca). 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. It was probably the first of the Nikkor lenses to be compared favourably to its German competitors.

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. I haven't seen the f/1.5 fitted to a Nicca or any advertising featuring it but a Japanese catalogue from 1951 (perhaps the information hadn't been updated) notes availability of f/1.5, f/2 and f/3.5 standard lenses. 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 soon replaced the collapsible version completely. The combined Nicca Type-III A and Type-III S user manual mentions three “standard 50mm lens”, the rigid f/3.5 and f/2 and the f/1.4.

All f/3.5 lenses, both earlier collapsible and later rigid, were marked “Q.C”. I'm not sure when it was stopped being offered but there are no Nicca 3-S or later cameras in my database with it fitted. Once the f/2 lens appeared, the f/3.5 seemed to lose popularity very quickly.

From the few examples in my database, the f/1.4 didn't seem to change from its introduction until Nicca's demise. All were marked “S.C” and all serial numbers of examples supplied with Niccas seem to have begun with “3” (the first in my database is 321xxx). The Japanese user manual for the lever wind 3-F does have 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. I haven't seen any in the wild but a Tower version of the III-L lens with serial number 34883x, i.e. in between the other two, is still all chrome like the earlier ones. The number of f/1.4 examples found with Nicca cameras in the present day is relatively low but many could have been removed. 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 and initially all were marked “H.C”. There is a website with Nikkor lens serial numbers. My comments about the rigid f/2 are based on that and also what I have found with Niccas so far. 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 almost certainly a later replacement. The first block of rigid f/2 lenses fitted to Niccas have 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 5008xxxx. Then there were some minor changes to the barrel, mainly to the nose and tail, and the numbers started off again at 71xxxx. In the middle of the 72xxxx range, 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 reached about 75xxxx, the “C” 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 in the middle of 72xxxx numbers. The infinity mark also changed from the earlier “INF.” to the infinity symbol. Right image; 75xxxx lenses became “H” instead of “H.C”:

(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”.

Both the Nikkor 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.

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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 late Nicca Type-III Bs 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 changed to red near the beginning of Nicca Type-III A and B and Tower Type-3 models (a few later ones look black and a few are hard to tell). Early Type-3 still with “Z”:

(Detail from larger web image)

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 (see Nippon image near top of page) but this disappeared already in 1948. The “20” lock position marking changed to red at the same time as the “20-1” marking on the main dial did:

(Image courtesy of Chris Whelan)

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:

(Image 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 also shown:

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. Modified versions with silver grip and face were fitted to the III-L and Yashica YE and YF.

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 last type 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 round type lens hood displaying distributor name “Hinomaruya”, commonly supplied in a “Nicca” box, and a later round type with “Nicca” name:

(Detail from larger web images)

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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

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. (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; this one with variable magnification from 28 mm to 135 mm and a different one which changed the masking to indicate fields of view from 35 mm to 135 mm, somewhat similar to the Nippon Kogaku Variframe but more like a Leica item in appearance and referred to as “Leica like” by Nicca. Its origins were probably earlier as it is the only type mentioned in the earlier Type-III A/Type-III S user manual. Single focal length Nippon Kogaku finders were also offered. The manual also features a 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. 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.

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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 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. 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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