Tōkyō Kōgaku

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Tōkyō Kōgaku, later Topcon, is a Japanese optical manufacturer, previously a manufacturer of photographic equipment.


Foundation as an optical company

The company was founded in 1932 as Tōkyō Kōgaku Kikai K.K. (東京光学機械㈱, usually translated as Tokyo Optical Company, Ltd). It resulted from the merger on 1 September 1932 of the measure instruments section of Seikōsha (the manufacturing branch of Hattori Tokei-ten) and Katsuma Kōgaku Kikai Seisakusho (勝間光学機械製作所), said to be a subcontractor or a dependent company.[1] As its name indicates, it was based in Tokyo.[2] It remained dependent of Hattori Tokei-ten until 1947.[3]

It was first an optical company, like Nippon Kōgaku (later Nikon). It was a supplier to the Imperial Japanese Army whereas Nippon Kōgaku was a supplier to the Navy.[4] The first lens was the State (ステート) triplet, made available in 1933.[5] It was followed in 1934[6] by the Toko (トーコー) triplet and in 1935[7] by the Simlar (シムラー) four-element lens. The name Toko certainly stands for Tokyo Kogaku, and it is said that the name Simlar (written shimurā in Japanese) comes from Shimura, the quarter where the company plant is located.[8] The company also made special purpose lenses, many of them for military use until 1945. It began producing 39mm screw lenses immediately after the war, notable mounted on the Leotax cameras.

First cameras

The company's first camera was the Lord, released in 1937, which was not a big success. It was followed in 1938 by the Minion 4×5cm folders. The company began the production of 35mm cameras in 1948 with the Minion 35 and of 6×6 TLR cameras in 1950 with the Topcoflex, mainly distributed as the Primoflex and Laurelflex. It was the first appearance of the "Topco" name, probably from Tokyo Optical Company. The Topcon brand name appeared in 1953 on the Topcon 35, successor of the Minion 35 series, and the Topcor lens name appeared in 1954, soon replacing all the previous lens names. (Topcon and Topcor were obviously modelled after Nikon and Nikkor.)

In 1953 and 1954, the dependent company Yamagata Kikai made the Semi Oscon that was advertised together with the company's own cameras.

Topcon SLRs

The company began the production of Topcon 35mm SLRs in 1957 (before either Nikon or Canon produced an SLR), and it very soon concentrated on these, stopping the production of all the other types. The Topcon RE Super, launched in 1963 at the Photokina, was the company's most innovative camera and one of its most rugged and versatile. It was the first SLR with a through-the-lens exposure meter. Pentax would follow the next year with the Spotmatic, and Nikon only in 1965 with the Nikkormat FT, and with the Photomic T prism for the Nikon F.

In parallel to the high end bodies, Tōkyō Kōgaku also manufactured simpler SLRs, at the beginning with a central shutter, later with a Copal Square focal-plane shutter.

The Topcon SLRs were imported in the USA by Beseler, which put its own name on the bodies. Some models were marked Hanimex when imported in the Commonwealth.

At the end of the 1960s, the company ceased to innovate on the SLRs, and produced variations on the same basic design until 1976. The bodies made after 1977 are not up to their predecessors, and the rumor says they were not designed by Tōkyō Kōgaku but elsewhere.

End of camera production

Tōkyō Kōgaku ended sales of 35mm cameras in December 1980, but production of the Horseman VH and VH-R 6x9 models continued, including the development of the Horseman ER-1 based on orders from Komamura. It thereafter concentrated on making specialist optical equipment of no direct relation to photography, and in 1989 took the name K.K. Topcon (㈱トプコン). It still (2007) exists.

Today the better Topcon models are eagerly collected in Japan. In 2003 Cosina designed and marketed an "Auto-Topcor" 58/1.4 lens (in Nikon F and M42 mounts) that externally resembles the genuine Tōkyō Kōgaku item and is even marked Tokyo Kogaku; it also created a variant of its M42-mount Bessaflex SLR whose distinctive pentaprism housing resembles that of the Topcon RE Super.


Topcoflex was registered as a trademark in the United States on 3 October 1953 by Tokyo Optical Company, Ltd, whose address at that time was 180 Hon-Hasunuma-Cho, Shimura Itabashi-ku, Tokyo, Japan.[9] Later, 1 November, 1957, the same trademark was registered in Canada.[10].

Topconette was registered in the United States on 21 December 1961. The company still listed the same address as on the 1953 filing at this time.[11]

Unirex was registered as a trademark in the US on 2 March, 1970. Even at this late date, the registration continues to show the name Tokyo Optical Company, Ltd. and the same address as previous filing.[12]

35mm film


Exakta lens mount

All of these take Exakta lenses.

Pentax K mount

  • Topcon RM 300, the same body with minor modifications was sold under the names of Quantaray Delta 2-RZ, Carena KSM1, Exakta KE4 and Exakta KE5
  • Topcon AM-1, never sold, released in 1983 by Cima as Cimko LS-1 and, in the US, as the Lindenblatt KL-2[13] (sold by Cambridge Camera Exchange, Inc, whose chairman was George Lindenblatt).

They take Pentax K lenses.

Topcon UV lens mount

The cameras with UV lens mount are a unique series which comprises both leaf shutter and focal plane shutter SLR bodies. All of these take Topcon UV lenses.

Fixed lens

All had front element optical complements available.



120 film

6×6 TLR

  • Topcoflex

4.5×6 telescopic

127 film

4×4 TLR

4×5 folding


The Mascot subminiature was produced by Shimura on behalf of Tōkyō Kōgaku.

Press camera



Interchangeable lenses

Fixed lenses on cameras from other makers

Not all examples of the cameras listed below have Tōkyō Kōgaku lenses. All the lenses below have three elements unless noted.

  • Toko 60mm f/3.5:
    • reported on the Auto Keef by Kokusaku (also reported as 50mm f/3.5, perhaps by mistake)
  • Kraft 60mm f/3.5:
    • on the Kraft by Echt, certainly a rebadged Toko (other Kraft lenses were made by Takahashi)

Unlike what is said by some sources, the Rotte Anastigmat lenses were not made by Tōkyō Kōgaku but by Tokiwa Kōgaku.[14] An original document attributes the Hit 7.5cm f/3.5 four-element lens of the Auto Semi First and First Reflex II to Tōkyō Kōgaku, but this is perhaps a mistake and the lens was perhaps made by Tokiwa Kōgaku as well.[15]




  1. See the FAQ of Topcon's website. The JCII exhibition catalogue Nihon no kamera o omoshiroku shita kyōshū no burando ten says the same and adds that Katsuma was a dependent company of Hattori. Lewis, p.184, says that it was a subcontractor. Baird, p.69, says that Tōkyō Kōgaku was formed by the optical section of Seikōsha and by Katsuma, a small binocular maker (perhaps by confusion with a later Katsuma company that made binoculars after the war), and that it bought the surveying instruments section of Seikōsha in 1933, but it seems that these are mistakes. Antonetto and Russo, p.21, repeats the same story as Baird.
  2. Its address in 1932 was Tōkyō-shi Kyōbashi-ku Ginza 4–2 (東京市京橋区銀座4丁目2番地), with plants in Toshima-ku (豊島区) and Takinogawa-ku (滝野川区). At the beginning of 1933, the company moved to its main plant in Tōkyō-shi Itabashi-ku Shimura Motohasunuma-chō 180-banchi (東京市板橋区志村本蓮沼町180番地), where it still resides (2007). Source: chronology of the official website. This address is confirmed for the year 1943 by the "Kokusan shashinki no genjōchōsa" ("Inquiry into Japanese cameras").
  3. Baird, p.72.
  4. Baird, p.69.
  5. Baird, p.70; Antonetto and Russo, p.21.
  6. Baird, p.71; Antonetto and Russo, p.22.
  7. Various sources say that the Simlar was introduced in 1937, but the lens is already mentioned in advertisements dated 1935 for the First, First Etui and First Roll.
  8. See this page of the Topcon Club website.
  9. Topcoflex trademark registration in US
  10. Topcoflex trademark registration in Canada
  11. Topconette trademark registration in US
  12. Unirex trademark registration in US
  13. Topconclub CIMKO LS-1
  14. Mistake in Antonetto and Russo, p.25, and perhaps elsewhere as well.
  15. See the discussion in the page on the First Reflex.
  16. 16.0 16.1 16.2 Advertisements in Asahi Camera January and August 1955 and Shashin Salon November 1955, reproduced in Kokusan kamera no rekishi, p.151.
  17. 17.0 17.1 Picture in this page of the Topcon Club website.
  18. Advertisement in Asahi Camera June 1950, reproduced in Kokusan kamera no rekishi, p.150.

Sources / further reading

  • Antonetto, M. and Russo, C. Topcon Story. Lugano: Nassa Watch Gallery, 1997. ISBN 88-87161-00-3.
  • 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.
  • Baird, John R. The Japanese Camera. Yakima, WA: Historical Camera Publications, 1990. ISBN 1-879561-02-6.
  • "Kokusan shashinki no genjōchōsa" (国産写真機ノ現状調査, Inquiry into Japanese cameras), listing Japanese camera production as of April 1943. Reproduced in Supuringu kamera de ikou: Zen 69 kishu no shōkai to tsukaikata (スプリングカメラでいこう: 全69機種の紹介と使い方, Let's try spring cameras: Presentation and use of 69 machines). Tokyo: Shashinkogyo Syuppan-sha, 2004. ISBN 4-87956-072-3. Pp.180–7.
  • Lewis, Gordon, ed. The History of the Japanese Camera. Rochester, N.Y.: George Eastman House, International Museum of Photography & Film, 1991. ISBN 0-935398-17-1 (paper), 0-935398-16-3 (hard).
  • Nihon no kamera o omoshiroku shita kyōshū no burando ten (日本のカメラを面白くした郷愁のブランド展, Exhibition of nostalgic brands that made Japanese cameras interesting). Tokyo: JCII Camera Museum, 1997. Exhibition catalogue.


General links

In English:

In Japanese:

Miscellaneous links

In English:

In Japanese: