Tanack SD

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The Tanack SD (タナックSD) is a Japanese 35mm rangefinder camera, made from 1957 by Tanaka Kōgaku and supplied with Tanar lenses. It was offered in parallel with the Tanack IV-S, which formed the bulk of Tanaka's production, and was withdrawn soon after the introduction of the Tanack V3.

Inspired by the Nikon S2

The Tanack SD was a complete departure from the previous Tanack models, and took many design features from the Nikon S2. It was not the first time that its manufacturer Tanaka took inspiration on a product by Nippon Kōgaku, and the Tanar 5cm f/2 standard lens of the Tanack IV-S was already heavily inspired on the Nikkor 5cm f/2. In the case of the Tanack SD, the camera was not a plain copy of the Nikon, at least less so than the Melcon II released by Meguro a few months later. The major difference in the camera's architecture was the use of a Leica screw mount, and of course the absence of a focusing wheel.


The main body has an octagonal shape, as on the Nikon models. The dimensions of the body are 134×79×32mm, and the weight is 720g with the Tanar 5cm f/1.5 standard lens.[1][2]

The viewfinder and rangefinder are combined in a single round eyepiece, offset to the left as seen by the photographer. The viewfinder has 1.0× magnification and an Albada bright frame with automatic parallax correction.[3][4][5] (The latter feature was not on the Nikon S2, and the only other Japanese camera to provide it at the time was the Topcon 35-S.)[3] The rangefinder has a large 60mm effective base.[4][1] No dioptre adjustment is visible. The Tanar standard lenses available for the SD focus down to 2ft or 1.5ft, but they are not coupled to the rangefinder and have no action on the parallax correcting bright frame under 3.5ft. The construction of the viewfinder and rangefinder has been described as extremely complex, with more than 20 air to glass surfaces, and little suitable for serial production.[6]

The back is detachable together with the bottom plate for film loading. It is locked by a key at the bottom, with O and C indications (for Open and Close), maybe allowing reloadable cassettes. The film is advanced by a lever at the top right, in a single movement or by small increments.[5] The lever contains a black exposure counter at the top, quite similar to that of the Nikon S2. There is a safety device, preventing to press the release button when the shutter is not fully wound.[3][4] The rewind knob contains a folding crank, and is surrounded by a film reminder with ASA indications. The rewind selector is a rotating button at the rear of the camera, with A and R indications. Original documents mention the ability to take double exposures;[4][7] this might mean that the rewind selector completely disconnects the advance lever from the take-up spool, but this is unconfirmed.

The horizontally running focal-plane shutter is controlled by two separate dials. The main dial has the following positions: B, 30–1 (in red), X, 60, 125, 250, 500, 1000. It rotates during the exposure by less than a full turn; some cameras but not all have a dot on the top cover to set the speed before winding.[8] The slow speeds are set by turning the collar around the release button, with an index at the rear and the following positions: T, 1, 2, 4, 8, 15 and presumably 30. The camera has an adjustable[7] self-timer, controlled by a lever at the front, upside down compared to most other cameras.

Flash synchronization is provided via a single PC socket, whose location varies on the particular cameras. An original document mentions automatic selection of FP or X synchronization, depending on the position of the speed dial.[4] The accessory shoe, on the viewfinder's right, is attached by four screws, and contains no flash contact. There is a film plane indicator engraved just behind. The tripod thread is right under the lens axis. There are strap lugs at both ends of the body, towards the front.

Commercial life

The Tanack SD was first announced and advertised in Japanese magazines dated May and June 1957.[9] The announce in the June issue of Shashin Kōgyō lists the camera with Tanar 5cm f/1.5 or f/2 standard lenses.[4]

Advertisements in the June to October 1957 issues of Shashin Kōgyō[10] and advertisements in the June 1957 to June 1958 issues of Asahi Camera[11] only list the camera with a Tanar 5cm f/1.5 at ¥47,000, including a refillable cassette and an ever-ready case. It seems that the camera was not available as a body only. At the time, the Nikon S2 was priced at ¥83,000 with Nikkor f/1.4 and ¥63,850 with Nikkor f/2, making a huge difference.

The Tanack SD was tested as a new model by Kitano Kunio in the August 1958 issue of Shashin Kōgyō.[12] (The camera was maybe not readily available before that time.) The author has favourable comments on the camera's features and build quality; the main criticisms are directed at the rangefinder and two-dial shutter. The Tanar 5cm f/1.5 standard lens is highly praised, described as comparatively better than the body.

Advertisements for the SD are known until February 1959; the last ones reportedly mention a Tanar f/1.2 standard lens.[9]


Prototype or early camera

The earliest documents dated mid 1957 show a picture of body no.85732 with a Tanar 5cm f/1.5 standard lens, reproduced below.[4][7][13][14] This particular camera is perhaps a prototype, and has a number of unique features.

The speed dials and film reminder are all chrome, and the index of the film reminder is offset to the rear. The advance lever has a bulged tip. The main speed dial has a separate X position, intermediate between 30–1 and 60, perhaps corresponding to 1/45 or 1/50. The synch socket is at the front of the camera, outside the rangefinder window. There is an additional button below that window, believed to be the self-timer release.[5]

The name Tanack is engraved between the two front windows, in the same cursive font as on earlier Tanack models, and is black filled. The model name TYPE–SD is engraved above the viewfinder, together with the company name Tanaka Opt. Co., Ltd. Japan, and the serial number is engraved in front of the accessory shoe: N°85732.

Intermediate camera

All the later cameras have different markings. The name Tanack between the two windows is engraved in separate letters and is not black filled. The serial number is engraved above the viewfinder, towards the rear. The company name appears on the rear of the top cover as Tanaka Optical Co. Ltd. Japan. Only the model name TYPE–SD remains at the same location. As a consequence of the marking change, the film reminder index has moved to the side.

The August 1957 advertisement in Asahi Camera shows a top view of an intermediate camera, with body no.85810.[15] It is probably the same camera that is pictured with the Tanar 5cm f/1.5 lens no.15002 in all later advertisements.[16][17] This camera has the new markings but retains some older features. The flash socket is placed the same as on body no.85732, and the chrome speed dials are similar. The button under the rangefinder window has disappeared, certainly because the self-timer release has moved to another location under the lever. The film reminder is all black. The tip of the advance lever might have been modified, and the separate X setting might have been removed but these two points are unclear.

Regular cameras

The regular cameras have the flash socket at the left end of the body, as on the contemporary Canon and Nikon models, and have an advance lever with a flat tip. The X indication on the speed dial is merged into the 30–1 setting, perhaps because full opening of the shutter at a higher speed was not reliable enough. (A similar change took place a few years earlier on the Tanack IV-S, whose first examples have a separate X setting, that was soon merged into 25–1.) It is not clearly known if the automatic selection of X synchronization, mentioned in an early announce dated June 1957,[7] was retained despite the removal of the separate X setting.

Most cameras have black speed dials with white engravings, and a three-colour film reminder, with black, white and red sectors. These features are already visible on the camera tested by Kitano Kunio in August 1958, pictured below, which might have body no.85931.[18] The Tanack SD never reached true serial production, and some cameras have a mixture of older and newer parts: body no.85948 has black speed dials and an all black film reminder, and body no.86011 has chrome speed dials and a three-colour film reminder.[19]

Total production

Body numbers are known up to 86260,[20] indicating a total production of little more than 500 units, in two years and a half. (Production of the comparable Melcon II reached about 500 units too, in only a few months.)

The combination of high features and a comparatively low price might have earned the camera at least some success, but the project ended as a failure. Tanaka's next product was the Tanack V3, which was an evolution of the Tanack IV-S and owed little to the SD.

The main reason for the commercial failure was maybe Tanaka's inability to produce the camera in quantity, the SD being too complex for the company. Moreover, the retail price was perhaps set too low to compensate for the camera's complexity: at ¥47,000 with f/1.5 lens, it was only marginally higher than the ¥38,500 asked for the much simpler Tanack IV-S with f/2 lens. The difference was certainly accounted for by the larger aperture alone, and probably did not reflect the higher cost of the body.[21]


  1. 1.0 1.1 Kitano, p.189 of Shashin Kōgyō August 1958.
  2. The column in Asahi Camera June 1957, p.177, gives slightly different data: 137×74×66mm and 660g with f/1.5 lens, 137×74×30mm and 470g body only.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 Column in Asahi Camera June 1957, p.177.
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 4.4 4.5 4.6 Column in Shashin Kōgyō June 1957, p.524.
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 Hattori, p.24 of Kurashikku Kamera Senka no.45.
  6. Hattori, p.24 of Kurashikku Kamera Senka no.45, quoting a repairman who cleaned the camera.
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 Advertisement in Asahi Camera June 1957, p.114, reproduced in Kokusan kamera no rekishi, p.253.
  8. This dot is present on body no.86011, observed in an online auction; body no.85948 featured in Hattori, pp.24–5 of Kurashikku Kamera Senka no.45, is said to lack the feature.
  9. 9.0 9.1 Kokusan kamera no rekishi, p.389.
  10. Advertisements in Shashin Kōgyō June 1957, p.459, July 1957, p.7, Summer 1957, p.90, August 1957, p.174, September 1957, p.258 and October 1957, p.342.
  11. Advertisements in Asahi Camera June 1957, p.114, July 1957, p.124, July–August 1957, p.172, August 1957, p.110, September 1957, p.106, October 1957, p.195, November 1957, p.113, December 1957, p.176, January 1958, p.116, February 1958, p.193, March 1958, p.202, April 1958, p.224, June 1958, p.206.
  12. Kitano, pp.188–9 of Shashin Kōgyō August 1958.
  13. Advertisements in Shashin Kōgyō June 1957, p.459, July 1957, p.7, and Summer 1957, p.90.
  14. Advertisements in Asahi Camera June 1957, p.114, July 1957, p.124, and July–August 1957, p.172.
  15. Advertisement in Asahi Camera August 1957, p.110.
  16. Advertisements in Shashin Kōgyō August 1957, p.174, September 1957, p.258 and October 1957, p.342.
  17. Advertisements in Asahi Camera September 1957, p.106, October 1957, p.195, November 1957, p.113, December 1957, p.176, January 1958, p.116, February 1958, p.193, March 1958, p.202, April 1958, p.224, and June 1958, p.206.
  18. Kitano, pp.188–9 of Shashin Kōgyō August 1958.
  19. Body no.85948 pictured in Hattori, pp.24–5 of Kurashikku Kamera Senka no.45 and in this page of the AJCC; body no.86011 observed in an online auction (with a different self-timer lever, presumably not original).
  20. Body no.86260 pictured in HPR, pp.299–300.
  21. This is noticed by Awano, p.54 of Kurashikku Kamera Senka no.37. The abnormally low price and little success of the camera were also commented by Kitano, p.189 of Shashin Kōgyō August 1958.


Original documents

  • Asahi Camera. Advertisements by Tanack Camera:
    • June 1957, p.114;
    • July 1957, p.124;
    • July–August 1957, p.172;
    • August 1957, p.110;
    • September 1957, p.106;
    • October 1957, p.195;
    • November 1957, p.113;
    • December 1957, p.176;
    • January 1958, p.116;
    • February 1958, p.193;
    • March 1958, p.202;
    • April 1958, p.224;
    • June 1958, p.206.
  • Asahi Camera June 1957. "Shinseihin memo" (新製品メモ, New products memo). P.177.
  • Kitano Kunio (北野邦雄). "Atarashii kamera: Tanakku SD" (新しいカメラ・タナックSD, Testing new cameras: Tanack SD). In Shashin Kōgyō no.76, August 1958. Pp.188–9.
  • Shashin Kōgyō. Advertisements by Tanaka Kōgaku:
    • no.61, June 1957, p.459;
    • no.62, July 1957, p.7;
    • no.63, Summer 1957, p.90;
    • no.64, August 1957, p.174;
    • no.65, September 1957, p.258;
    • no.66, October 1957, p.342.
  • Shashin Kōgyō no.61, June 1957. "News flash". P.524.
  • Shashin Kōgyō no.63, Summer 1957. "Nihon no kamera zenbō: 35-miri kamera" (日本のカメラ全貌・35ミリカメラ, Compendium of Japanese cameras: 35mm cameras). P.107.
  • Shashin Kōgyō no.68, December 1957. "Honnen tōjō no kamera" (本年登場のカメラ, Cameras released this year). P.516.

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