The Orchid (オーキッド) is a Japanese 6×6 SLR developed in 1946 and announced in 1947 by Nihon Shashin Kōgyō. It was never sold and remained a prototype only.
The project was directed by Nozaki Masato (野崎昌人), a journalist and photograph, former editor of Shashin Shinpō, who had founded the Leica Club (ライカ倶楽部) in 1931 with Mamiya Seiichi (間宮精一) and others. Nozaki certainly founded the company Nihon Shashin Kōgyō to work on the new camera, right after the end of the war. He explained that he advocated the SLR configuration because it was theoretically the best, and current SLR products such as the Reflex Korelle or Exakta were not entirely satisfactory and were leaving much room for improvements, whereas rangefinder or TLR cameras had already reached a more mature state with the Leica, Contax and Rolleiflex.
|Announce in Ars Camera January 1947. (Image rights)|
The technical design was done by a rather young man called Ranki Toshirō (欄木敏郎). The camera name "Orchid Reflex" (オーキッド・レフレックス) was chosen after his own family name (ran means "orchid", albeit with a different character 蘭). Ranki had the idea of the camera during World War II. He received help and support from various persons, including Nozaki, and got the project underway immediately after the war. Some financial subsidy was provided by the government agency for which he was formerly working, depending from the Ministry of Education (文部省). Many parts were made in his father's factory, which was making clock springs.
The Orchid was featured in the January 1947 issue of Ars Camera. The journalist, whose name is unknown, visited Nihon Shashin Kōgyō at the beginning of Autumn 1946 and interviewed Nozaki Masato and Ranki Toshirō. At the time, the design was completed and a prototype was already assembled, but the release was delayed because of unspecified technical problems. To quote the Nozaki's own words, he "didn't want to release an unfinished product which would immediately need improvements, and wanted to release a perfect product right from the start, so the design was modified and this caused delays." It appears that neither Nozaki nor Ranki had previous experience with camera making, and this certainly explains some of the difficulties.
The camera was never released and the project was abandoned. The article in Ars Camera is the sole remaining document. It displays a single picture, which may show a wooden mock-up instead of the actual prototype. No surviving element has been observed yet, and the prototype was probably destroyed.
The external design of the Orchid is similar to that of the Reflex-Korelle. The camera takes 6×6cm exposures on 120 film. It has a fixed waist-level viewfinder, with a large viewing hood, perhaps containing a sports finder.
The film advance is automatic and is certainly coupled to the shutter winding. In the picture, a bulge is visible above the right half of the top plate (as seen from the rear), maybe corresponding to an advance lever. The position of the first exposure is presumably set via a red window, but this is unconfirmed.
|From Ars Camera January 1947. (Image rights)|
The back of the camera is removable together with the bottom plate. The film spools are not loaded into the camera body but into the back unit. According to the designer, this allowed film interchangeability in the middle of a roll, only wasting two 6×6cm frames if done in daylight. It is not known if the spooled film is protected by some light shield, other than the paper backing and spool flanges, though the mention of two wasted frames only suggests that this might be the case. It was announced that research was under way to reduce the number of wasted frames to a single one, certainly by transforming the back unit into a true magazine. Different back units, for formats other than 6×6cm, were also planned.
The shutter is of the focal-plane type. The rubber-coated cloth curtains were supplied by Fujikura Kōgyō — this company had manufactured military balloons during the war, and was selected by Ranki Toshirō to avoid durability problems. The speeds range from 5s to 1/1000, and the shutter is synchronized for flash. From the picture, it seems that the main shutter control is at the top left. The release button may be at the top right, next to the viewing hood.
The mirror automatically returns to viewing position after the shutter is tripped. The way the mechanism is described seems to imply that this is a true instant-return mirror, controlled by the shutter independently of the position of the release button. If this is true, the Orchid would be one of the first two cameras in the world to have this feature, the other being the Hungarian Gamma Duflex, whose first prototypes were completed in Autumn 1946. This was eight years before this feature was made popular by the Asahiflex II, released in late 1954.
The lens is interchangeable, but the details of the mount are unknown. The standard lens was planned as a helical focusing 85/2.7, made by Tōhō Kōgaku on a four-element Tessar-like design. The unusually long focal length was chosen for an unspecified technical reason, perhaps because the mirror mechanism did not give enough clearance for an 80mm lens. The lens could be converted into a 120/4 tele lens by adding a converter, presumably placed at the front. It was said that various lens designs were under development at Tōhō Kōgaku, and that a whole line would be offered in the future. (Ranki Toshirō even said that he was dreaming of aspheric lenses, allowing wide aperture designs, up to f/0.5, with good corner sharpness.) Close-up and other accessories were planned, but no detail was provided.
- Ars Camera January 1947, pp.22–4.
- Page on Mamiya Seiichi at Slightly Out of Focus.
- Nozaki in Ars Camera January 1947, p.22–4.
- Ranki in Ars Camera January 1947, p.22–4.
- Nozaki in Ars Camera January 1947, p.22: それに出すからには直ぐ後で改造するような不完全なものにはしたくありません、最初から出来るだけ完璧なものにしたいということで、設計を変更したりしましたのでだんだん遅くなってしまったようなわけです.
- Kokusan kamera no rekishi, p.348.
- Ranki in Ars Camera January 1947, p.23: レフレックス・ミラー（反射鏡）がシャッターの作動後自動的に速かにもとの位置に戻る方法をとってありますが、これは従来のエキザクターやレフコレレの欠点とされていたところを補ったものです.
- Ars Camera January 1947. "Mēkā ni kiku: Kokusan kamera no genjō. Nihon Shashin Kōgyō no shin'ei kogata ichigan-refu 'Ōkiddo'." (メーカーに訊く・国産カメラの現状・日本写真工業の新鋭小型一眼レフ”オーキッド”, Asking the makers: Current state of Japanese cameras. The "Orchid", latest small SLR by Nihon Shashin Kōgyō.) Pp.22–4.
- Asahi Camera (アサヒカメラ) editorial staff. Shōwa 10–40nen kōkoku ni miru kokusan kamera no rekishi (昭和10–40年広告にみる国産カメラの歴史, Japanese camera history as seen in advertisements, 1935–1965). Tokyo: Asahi Shinbunsha, 1994. ISBN 4-02-330312-7. Item 427.
The Orchid is not listed in Sugiyama.