Escaflex and Rolly Flex
The Escaflex J
The Escaflex J is a leaf-shuttered 6×6 SLR. It has a prismatic body with a cubic mirror box protruding at the front. The film runs from left to right and is wound by a knob at the right end of the top plate (as seen by the photographer). There is another knob at the left, whose purpose is unknown. The back is hinged to the left and the film advance is probably controlled by a red window.
The nameplate is in front of the viewing hood and reads ESCAFLEX on a black background. The center part of the hood is retractable, giving place to a sports-finder, and has an Esca logo. There is also a loupe hinged at the back of the hood. The mirror is moved upwards when the release button is tripped and only comes back when the shutter is wound again.
The fixed lens is a three-element Tri-Lausar 80mm f/3.5 by Tomioka, focused by turning the frontmost element. It is said that an S Congo 75/3.5 by Yamasaki was also offered at some point, but it has never been observed. The lens is mounted in an NKS leaf-shutter giving B, 1–200 speeds. There is a depth-of-field scale around the focusing ring, and the aperture scale is above the shutter housing. The release button is in front of the mirror box, towards the top, and is actuated by the photographer's right hand. There is a synch post on the opposite side, of the ASA bayonet or PC socket type. A large round part is visible below the shutter, sometimes plain silver or with a black centre part; its function is unknown.
Documents and surviving examples
The Escaflex J was announced in Japanese magazines from April 1954; the first advertisements are dated November of the same year and they only run for a short time. The December advertisement in Asahi Camera mentions a PC synch post and gives the price of ¥9,800, case included.
The production volume was certainly very low. One surviving example is pictured in Sugiyama, another belongs to the JCII collection, and a third was advertised by a dealer in an issue of Camera Collectors' News. These examples show minor differences in the synch post and in the round part below the lens.
It is said that an Escaflex I was announced with a behind-lens shutter and interchangeable lens, but this probably never came into being.
The Rolly Flex
The Rolly Flex is an evolution of the Escaflex J, released in late 1955 after the company became Rolly Kōgaku.
Auto diaphragm and instant-return mirror
The main new features are the addition of an automatic diaphragm and of an instant-return mirror, called "winking balancing mirror" in the advertisements. When the release button is pressed, (a) the shutter blades are closed, the mirror moves up and the diaphragm is closed at the preset aperture (auto diaphragm), (b) the shutter is fired, (c) the mirror comes back and the shutter blades are opened, making the finder operable again (instant-return mirror). The diaphragm stays at the working aperture after the picture is taken, and is opened fully only when the shutter is wound.
These new features were introduced by Arao Kiyoshi (荒尾清), who had filed two such patents in 1953 and 1954, and was hired by the company to improve the Escaflex at the lowest possible cost. After that, Arao was approached by the Zunow company to design the Zunow SLR camera.
The lens is the same Tri-Lausar 80mm f/3.5 as on the Escaflex; it is again front-cell focusing with depth-of-field indications. The shutter is a five-blade NKS giving T, 1–300 speeds, completely hidden behind the front plate. The speed and aperture are controlled by two wheels placed at the bottom, under the lens. There is a lever on the left side of the mirror box, as seen by the photographer; pressing this lever winds the shutter and opens the diaphragm at full aperture. The release button is placed at the same location as on the Escaflex, but is now recessed in a notch of the front plate. The synch post has moved to the left side of the mirror box, under the winding lever. A small button is visible on the side of the front plate, under the main release, closing the diaphragm for depth-of-field preview.
There is a magnifying lens inside the viewing hood, which was perhaps already there on the Escaflex. The nameplate reads Rolly flex on a silver background, and there is no logo on the hood.
Documents and variations
The Rolly Flex was advertised in Japanese magazines for a short time, from December 1955 to February 1956. The company probably disappeared soon afterwards. The December 1955 advertisement in Sankei Camera gives the price of ¥12,500. The lens name is given as Tri-Rolly. Wide-angle and tele converters are announced, at an anticipated price of ¥3,900 each (case included). A picture of the Rolly Flex with one of these converters is inserted but no other detail is given. The distributors of the camera are mentioned as Ōsawa Shōkai and Asanuma Shōkai. The advertisement also mentions one of the original patents by Arao and various other patents pending.
Pictures of at least four examples are known, showing minor variations. The example pictured in Sugiyama has chrome top and bottom covers and a rather small Rolly flex inscription on the nameplate. The advance knob is on the photographer's right, as on the Escaflex, and this example is probably an early one.
The other examples have the advance knob on the other side, indicating that the film running direction changed at some time. The camera pictured in the December 1955 advertisement has chrome covers, and its nameplate has a larger Rolly flex inscription. The example pictured in an article by Otagi Michifusa in Shashin Kōgyō December 1958 has black covers and the smaller inscription; that pictured in Hagiya has black covers and the larger inscription.
- Sugiyama, item 2252, and McKeown, p.860, say this of the Rolly Flex, but this applies to its predecessor the Escaflex.
- Kokusan kamera no rekishi, p.347.
- Lewis, p.86, mentions 1/300 top speed, perhaps by confusion with the Rolly Flex.
- The example pictured in Lewis, p.86, and in this page of the Center of the History of Japanese Industrial Technology, has an ASA bayonet post. The example pictured in Sugiyama, item 2105, and the example pictured on p.45 of Camera Collectors' News no.47 seem to have a PC socket.
- Black centre: example pictured in Lewis, p.86, and in this page of the Center of the History of Japanese Industrial Technology, and example pictured on p.45 of Camera Collectors' News no.47. Plain silver: example pictured in Sugiyama, item 2105.
- Kokusan kamera no rekishi, p.347.
- Advertisement reproduced in Kokusan kamera no rekishi, p.120. Lewis, p.86, gives the price of ¥12,500, perhaps confusing with the Rolly Flex.
- Sugiyama, item 2105 (lens no.2344).
- Example pictured in Lewis, p.86, and in this page of the Center of the History of Japanese Industrial Technology (lens no.2xxx).
- Camera Collectors' News no.47, p.45.
- Advertisement reproduced in Kokusan kamera no rekishi, p.213.
- The sequence of operations is described in Otagi, p.650 of Shashin Kōgyō no.80.
- Otagi, p.650 of Shashin Kōgyō no.80.
- Hagiya, p.10 of Sengo kokusan kamera jū monogatari, based on an interview of Arao Kiyoshi. The patent numbers are 201918 and 207900. Arao Kiyoshi is also mentioned in Otagi, p.650 of Shashin Kōgyō no.80.
- Hagiya, p.10 of Sengo kokusan kamera jū monogatari.
- Tri-Lausar lens name: Kokusan kamera no rekishi, p.374 and Sugiyama, item 2252.
- Kokusan kamera no rekishi, p.374, precisely says that the shutter is an NKS-FB.
- Function of the lever: Otagi, p.650 of Shashin Kōgyō no.80.
- This button is said to close the diaphragm in Hagiya, p.11 of Sengo kokusan kamera jū monogatari. It is not mentioned in Otagi.
- Kokusan kamera no rekishi, p.374.
- Advertisement reproduced in Kokusan kamera no rekishi, p.213.
- Patent no.201918 and Patents Pending no.9384, 13786, 14975, 15893, 15894 and 16642.
- Example pictured in Sugiyama, item 2252.
- Example pictured in Otagi, pp.649–50 of Shashin Kōgyō no.80.
- Example pictured in Hagiya, p.11 of Sengo kokusan kamera jū monogatari (lens no.3094).
- 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. Items 400 and 1047.
- Camera Collectors' News no.47 (May 1981). Nishinomiya: Camera Collectors News-sha. Advertisement by Tanaka Shōkai on p.45, showing an Escaflex J.
- Camera Collectors' News no.53. Nishinomiya: Camera Collectors News-sha.
- Hagiya Takeshi (萩谷剛). "Zunō kamera tanjō: Maboroshi no 35mm ichigan-refu" (ズノーカメラ誕生：幻の35mm一眼レフ, The birth of the Zunow camera: A phantom 35mm SLR). Chapter 1 of Zunō kamera tanjō: Sengo kokusan kamera jū monogatari (ズノーカメラ誕生：戦後国産カメラ10物語, The birth of the Zunow camera: Ten stories of postwar Japanese camera makers). Tokyo: Asahi Sonorama, 1999. ISBN 4-257-12023-1. Originally published in Kamera Rebyū: Kurashikku Kamera Senka (カメラレビュー クラシックカメラ専科) / Camera Review: All about Historical Cameras no.6, September 1985. No ISBN number. Meiki no himitsu (名機の秘密, secrets of famous cameras)..
- 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). P.86.
- McKeown, James M. and Joan C. McKeown's Price Guide to Antique and Classic Cameras, 12th Edition, 2005-2006. USA, Centennial Photo Service, 2004. ISBN 0-931838-40-1 (hardcover). ISBN 0-931838-41-X (softcover). Pp.283 and 860.
- Otagi Michifusa (愛宕通英). "Rōra to Rōrī" (ローラとローリー, Rolla to Rolly). In Shashin Kōgyō no.80 (December 1958). Pp.648–50. (This article was written after the camera disappeared, in a historical perspective.)
- Sugiyama, Kōichi (杉山浩一); Naoi, Hiroaki (直井浩明); Bullock, John R. The Collector's Guide to Japanese Cameras. 国産カメラ図鑑 (Kokusan kamera zukan). Tokyo: Asahi Sonorama, 1985. ISBN 4-257-03187-5. Items 2105 and 2252.