History Spells the DSLR’s Demise - chapter II - 1950s to 1960s – The arrival of the Japanese
© Copyright Khen Lim, 2013. All Rights Reserved.
1950s to 1960s – The arrival of the Japanese
To be fair, it wasn’t an entire European fare when it came to camera design. Across the other part of the world, the Japanese were diligently coming into their own although during these nascent times, theirs were essentially copies of the various German standards of which Zeiss’ and Leitz’s designs were easily the most emulated. At any rate, they were largely discounted because their efforts were disparate and sporadic at best. Nevertheless they were present even if the Europeans had in the main ignored them (much to their peril eventually).
Asahiflex I, 1951 Copyright www.collectiblend.com
However by the beginning of the Fifties, the Japanese were slowly becoming a force to be reckoned. Although they were held back by crude quality standards, the Asahiflex I of 1951 proved that they were learning very fast and the gap to the Europeans was nowhere as huge as people were led to believe. In fact from the Asahiflex I, Asahi Kogaku would springboard the exciting line of Pentax 35mm SLR cameras.
Three years later, the Asahiflex IIB (1954) became the first 35mm SLR in Japan to sport a self-cocking instant return mirror – as the film advance lever was cocked, the mirror would return to its rest position. By 1957, the camera became known as Asahi Pentax, which at the same time, signalled the clear message of intent to Europe that Japan was almost ready to compete. For the first time in Japan, the Pentax featured not just a fixed pentaprism finder but also the world’s first implementation of the single-stroke film advance lever, microprism focusing aid and a foldable film rewind crank. Japanese ingenuity was beginning to rear its head.
Olympus 35 Model I, 1948 Copyright Olympus Imaging Corporation
And it wasn’t just Pentax that had emerged. Following the cessation of the Second World War, Takachiho Seisakusho had laid claim to being the maker of Japan’s first 35mm effort, a rangefinder camera called Olympus 35 Model I. That was 1948. Ten years earlier in 1938, a little-known Baby Super Flex was the country’s first SLR. While it used 127-format roll film, its crude build quality signalled a premature end never to be seen again thereafter.
In 1949 came another breakthrough – Dresden-based VEB Zeiss’ Contax S showcased the world’s first 35mm SLR camera with an eye-level pentaprism. Four years later came the Contax E (1953) complete with a built-in light meter using an uncoupled selenium photo cell, predating Japan’s matching effort – Olympus Wide E – by four years. In the period between, the Ihagee Exacta Varex (1950) offered the first interchangeable viewfinder, focusing screen and condenser lens. In the same year, the French company Angénieux released the first retrofocus short focal length lens in the form of a 35mm f2.5 designed for use with Exacta cameras.