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A beefy couple

Submitted by on July 21, 2011 – 8:47 amNo Comment

Unirex topcon- by Rick Drawbridge -

I bought this little collection mainly because nobody else seemed very interested, but also because I’ve always been fascinated by the Topcon story. I’ve wondered why anyone would bother to go to such lengths to design and market such a hybrid and, to a great extent, I’m still wondering. Consumer-grade Topcon cameras of the mid-60’s, they don’t appear to attract many fans.

Topcon Uni

To those of you unfamiliar with these cameras, they may look like your typical 1960’s SLR’s, but internally they’re something quite different, in that instead of having the usual focal-plane shutter they have a leaf shutter set directly behind the lens. In a SLR design like this with interchangeable lenses, this really complicates matters; as well as the leaf shutter you need a mirror to give you your viewfinding, and a blind system to block off the film from light while you’re changing lenses. And all this stuff has to work in perfect harmony when you hit the go button. It works, noisily….All that hardware jumping around makes more noise than any other SLR I’ve used. The lenses twist out of a bayonet mount in front of the shutter, very much like the beautiful Agfa Ambi-Silette, and they’re complete units, not just elements. It’s a dedicated system, so the Topcor lenses are what you use, in a fairly limited range of focal lengths, and all of fairly small maximum aperture, due to physical restrictions imposed by the opening size of the shutter. However,these cameras were nothing if not innovative, in 1964 the Uni being the first SLR with full aperture CDS exposure metering and shutter priority automatic exposure, the CDS cell being integrated with the mirror, another first.

The slightly later Unirex added a choice of spot or average metering. Unfortunately there does not appear to be any way of turning the meter off, nor is there any way of stopping the lens down to get a depth-of-field preview, a feature I’m accustomed to in almost every other SLR I’ve handled. Big black mark, in my estimation….I guess the fact that flash synchronises at any speed may provide some small compensation.

Anyway, these cameras are very well-built and heavy, but sort of clumsy to use; I guess “clunky” would sum it up. The metering system is very quick and accurate, the viewfinder displaying the f. stop chosen by the camera in Auto mode, or as a conventional meter readout for setting apertures in manual mode. The winder seems to go on for ever, the shutter is explosive, and I never really relaxed with either camera. Having said that, they performed very well. The UV Topcor lenses were rumored to be cheap versions of those used in the Topcon professional cameras, but these 50mm UV Topcor f1:2 lenses are really very good, sharp and contrasty though somewhat flare-prone. The 135mm f1:4 could be a nice lens; I took a couple of shots but it needs a good clean, the inside of the front element being a little hazy. One really annoying feature of the cameras is the procedure of re-setting one’s ISO rating to the maximum aperture of each lens that one fits..I mean, really…Still, they’re handsome cameras and at the end of the day I had a nice selection of photographs to choose from. I used Fuji Superia 200 in the Unirex, XP2 in the Uni. See what you think.

All text and images © 2011 Rick Drawbridge

About the author:

Rick is a New Zealand photographer who spends his spare time researching, restoring and reviewing old film cameras.
He will share his adventures in re-exploring the joy of using film cameras used by amateurs and professional photographers alike. His articles are not meant to be pixel peeping and nerdy technical reviews. They just should inspire you to explore the world of analog imaging and encourage the usage of analog equipment.

Have a look to all articles in his series The Joy of Film Cameras.

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