Re Auto Topcon 20mm F4 Review

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An enthusiast's outfit of the mid-1960s - a Topcon RE Super with 5.8cm f/1.4 RE Auto-Topcor, with (I to r) 100mm f/2.8 RE Auto-Topcor, 3.5cm f/2.8 RE Auto-Topcor and 20cm f/5.6 RE Auto-Topcor

WHEN the Topcon RE Super was announced at the photokina trade show in Cologne. Germany, In March 1963, it was greeted with a certain lack of interest. Tokyo Kogaku, a company little known in Europe, was showing a new design from a tiny stand, so it was perhaps not surprising that the world failed to notice one of the great landmarks of 20th century photography. Yet the Topcon RE Super was the world's first 35mm SLR with TTL exposure measurement, and it arrived months before the Swiss Alpa 9d, which was the second. More remarkable, the Topcon TTL system provided exposure measurement at full aperture, whereas the Alpa, the Pentax Spotmatic and the Canon FT, among others following after, all had stopped-down TTL metering.

Marketed in the United States as the Beseler Topcon Super D, the Topcon RE Super was essentially a professional-standard camera, yet at a much lower price than the Nikon F. Perhaps because of the price, or the fact that Topcon had adopted the Exakta bayonet mount for the camera, in Britain the RE Super was marketed at advanced amateurs. It competed with cameras like the

The Topcon RS, without meter, preceded the RE Super as a trial run for the design

An enthusiast's outfit of the mid-1960s - a Topcon RE Super with 5.8cm f/1.4 RE Auto-Topcor, with (I to r) 100mm f/2.8 RE Auto-Topcor, 3.5cm f/2.8 RE Auto-Topcor and 20cm f/5.6 RE Auto-Topcor

Pentax SV, the Miranda D and F, the Minolta SR7 and the Canon FX, a year or two later to be joined by their TTL progeny The Topcon RE Super seemed big and heavy by comparison with these - qualities prized more by professionals than amateurs. Yet the professional market in Britain was at first told little about the new development. The Topcon RE Super made little progress in this market at least partly, I believe, because of such poor marketing.

The RE Super is not only great to use, but it is also a very clever piece of design. Its most original feature becomes visible when the lens is removed. Instead of CdS cells strategically placed in the vicinity of the focusing screen or within the prism

- solutions later adopted by most of the first generation of TTL SLRs

- the RE Super has a large CdS cell mounted behind the mirror. To make use of this, the surface of the mirror was engraved with a geometrical pattern designed to allow light from different areas of the mirror to the cell in proportions appropriate to achieving the best calculated exposure.

The RE Super has interchangeable viewfinders, so the prism is easily removed and can be replaced with a waist-level finder or critical magnifier, if you can find either on the second-hand market. There was a vast range of accessories for the

RE Super, as befitted a professional-system camera, including seven interchangeable focusing screens. This pattern continued with subsequent models. The clockwise-rotating diaphragm ring of the substantial range of Topcon RE Auto-Topcor lenses is essential to the transmission of aperture data to the CdS meter of the RE Super, so it is worth noting that, while earlier Topcon R-type lenses will fit the RE Super and later Topcon TTL cameras, they will not operate the exposure measurement system. The same is true of preset lenses intended for Exakta. They will fit the camera, but not operate the exposure metering system. Automatic diaphragm lenses for Exakta, although they will fit the camera, are best avoided when equipping a Topcon outfit, as the diaphragm actuation mechanisms are quite different.

Despite the worst efforts of the marketing men, amateurs in the UK saw the RE Super as a professional camera and not as a realistic competitor for the smaller and lighter i ICONIC CAMERAS

Ivor Matanle recalls how one of the great landmark cameras of the 20th century failed to make much of an impression when it was launched in the early 1960s

Topcon RE Super

Icons of Photography Topcon RE Super and a Leica M4 with 50mm f/2.8 Elmarat £199 10s 9d (£199.54). By the end of 1970. Topcon advertising had all but vanished from UK photographic magazines.

New dawn

Yet 1971 had just begun when Tokyo Kogaku had an exciting new model. Despite the RE Super having been known for years in the USA as the Super D, the new model was christened - you've guessed it - the Topcon Super D. In the USA, understandably, the Super D of 1971 is now known as the 'second-type Super D', and very nice it is, too.

In fact, the second-type Super D was really not much more than an improved and updated RE Super The film wind lever had a shorter travel (135 instead of 180 ) and the lever itself was redesigned with a smart black plastic tip. The new camera had a manual mirror lift mechanism and other minor details were changed. The real changes came in 1973, when Tokyo Kogaku announced the Topcon Super DM to try to gain a greater foothold in the professional market.

The Super DM was effectively a Super D with the external electrical contacts to enable the camera to mate with a special motordrive. It was sold with lenses of the new Topcon GN series (GN for Guide Number), which could be set up so that the lens aperture changed automatically as the lens was focused. In the days before automatic computer-based flashguns, this meant that flash exposures would be accurate whatever the distance of the subject from the camera and flashgun, provided the flash guide number had been set correctly.

The Super DM had some other refinements, such as an optical readout of the aperture setting in the viewfinder, but the motordrive was the key benefit. Unfortunately, Topcon misjudged the professional market's needs. The original Topcon drive was what would later come to be known as an autowinder, with a maximum speed of two frames per second. The camera therefore failed to sell to the market for which it was priced, and became more a professional-looking camera for advanced amateurs. A fully featured motordrive appeared later.

The Super DM was made in quite large numbers between 1973 and 1976, but by 1977 Tokyo Kogaku had to recognise that the global trend to smaller and more electronic cameras had made the Topcon obsolescent. The Super DM was the last of the Exakta-mount SLRs actually made by Topcon, although the RE200 of 1977 and RE300 of 1978 were marketed with the Exakta mount but bought in from other manufacturers.

Topcon lenses

Between 1963 and the early 1970s, an impressive range of RE Auto-Topcor lenses was created, all with fully automatic diaphragms and compatibility with the RE Super, RE-2 and Super D/DM cameras. They ranged from a 20mm f/4, launched in 1969, to a 500mm f/5.6, launched in the same year Early examples were finished in a bright satin-chrome with rubberised grips, and (in most cases) had their focal length expressed in centimetres. Later, when the all-black Super DM made its appearance, most of the lens range was offered in the then fashionable all-black finish. Exceptions were the 20mm f/4 and the 500mm f/5.6, which are satin chrome. The other change that occurred when the Super DM and its

Back row (I to r): 200mm f/5.6 RE Auto-Topcor, 87-205mm f/4.7 RE Zoom Topcor, 135mm f/3.5 RE Auto-Topcor, Topcon Super DM with 28mm f/2.8 RE Auto-Topcor, 20cm f/5.6 RE Auto-Topcor, 87-205mm f/4.7 RE Zoom Auto-Topcor, RE Super with 5.8cm f/1.4. Middle row (I to r): 35mm f/1.8 RE Auto-Topcor, 50mm f/1.4 RE GN Topcor, 135mm f/2.8 RE GN Topcor, 100mm f/2.8 RE Auto-Topcor, 35mm f/2.8 RE GN Topcor, 13.5 cm f/3.5 RE Auto-Topcor, 50mm Macro Topcor, Topcon RS with 58mm f/1.8 RE Auto-Topcor. Front row (I to r): Topcon RE Super with 5.8cm f/1.4 RE Auto-Topcor, Beseler Topcon Super D with 50mm f/1.8 RE Auto-Topcor, 3.5cm f/2.8 RE Auto-Topcor, 20mm f/4 RE Auto-Topcor, 100mm f/2.8 RE Auto-Topcor, Topcon RE-2 with 50mm f/1.8 RE Topcor

1QC7 Profumo IZ700 scandal rocks UK

Topcon government. RE Super Valentina Tereshkova announced becomes first woman in space. President Kennedy assassinated.

lAdr Death of Sir Winston 157 OD Churchill. Topcon RE-2 Last First Division appears game for Sir Stanley as budget Matthews, aged 50. model /Ornph national speed limit imposed in UK.

The budget Topcon RE-2 with 5.8cm f/1.8 RE Auto-Topcor

Topcor Auto 5cm

1/125sec synchronisation speed for electronic flash (compared with the 1/60sec of the RE Super). The RE-2 sold well in the UK and USA, and is often found at UK camera fairs with 'Hanimex Topcon' engraved on the front of the prism, Hanimex having been the UK importer. In the USA, it was called the Beseler Topcon D-l.

By 1969, all was not well with Topcon in the UK. In Amateur Photographer 8 October 1969, Greens Cameras, a major discount camera dealer, announced a 'Topcon Scoop' The company offered the RE Super with 58mm f/1.8 RE Auto-Topcor, which had a list price of £184 5s (£184.25) at only £129 19s 6d (£129.97), and the RE-2 with the same lens, which had a list price of £141 5s (£141.25) at £89 19s 6d (£89.97). In the same issue, Dollond and Newcombe offered a Nikon F with 50mm f/2 Nikkor for £218 17s 8d (£128.88), a Nikkormat FTn with f/2 Nikkor at £176 9s 8d (£176.48)

The Topcon Super DM of 1973 with basic motor and some of the black lens range. On the camera is the 28mm f/2.8 RE Auto-Topcor. The others (I to r) are: 135mm f/3.5 RE Auto-Topcor, 100mm f/2.8 RE Auto-Topcor and 87-205mm f/4.7 RE Zoom Auto-Topcor

The budget Topcon RE-2 with 5.8cm f/1.8 RE Auto-Topcor

Canon, Pentax and Minolta cameras of the time. Unfortunately for Topcon, British professionals were very conservative about TTL metering, regarding it as automation that undermined their professional skills, so it was the RE Super that took the first brunt of professional opposition to through-the-lens metering. Nikon, which had similar problems a couple of years later, continued to market the Nikon F with a plain prism for years after its TTL metering was available


Perhaps because of these problems, the manufacturers of Topcon brought out a budget camera for the amateur market in Europe and the USA, and ; in 1965 announced a lower-priced option using the same superb Topcon lenses but costing a good deal less.

The Topcon RE-2 was a more compact SLR than the RE Super, but was still very heavy for its size. Its prism and focusing screen were not ! interchangeable, but it had the same ground-breaking behind-the-mirror full-aperture TTL CdS exposure measurement system. Instead of Topcon's own cloth focal-plane shutter, the RE-2 had a vertical-running metal Copal Square shutter similar to that in the Nikkormat series of cameras. This gave it a useful

Topcon RE Super Icons of Photography

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