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A Short History of the Konica SLR

by Ryuji Suzuki

The first Konica 35mm SLR is the Konica F in 1960. This had a vertical running metal curtain shutter called "Hi-Synchro" which gave the top speed of 1/2000 with the X-sync at 1/125. This was an amazing shutter at that time. Until 70's, the fastest speed of a professional SLR was 1/1000.

However, since this shutter unit was not easy to fabricate, and obviously, so outstanding in the specification, nobody followed Konica.[Konica spent seven years for the development of the shutter (started in 1953), and five years for the camera body (started in 1955).]

Incidentally, a Japanese individual inventor came up with a design of a shutter assembly around 1957. He was trying to sell the idea to many companies. Mamiya was interested in the design and they researched on the design for two years. However, Mamiya gave up producing it and the president felt so sorry that he introduced the idea to Copal. The inventor's design was fully developed by Copal
research with the financial support from Konishiroku [Konica] and Mamiya. Both Konishiroku [Konica] and Mamiya disclosed their achievement in their shutter designs to Copal to finish the very sophisticated Copal Square Shutter unit. Later, Asahi Kogaku [Pentax] joined the alliance. In fact, the design of Konica Hi-Synchro shutter of 1953-60 strongly influenced the Copal design. 

In 1961, the first Copal Square I completed. At this time, only Mamiya, Konica and Pentax could use the Copal shutter. However, Mamiya manufactured the Nikorex F, instead of Nikon, so this camera happened to be the first model equipped with this shutter.

In 1965, Copal Square S completed. This is the most famous and prominent Copal mechanical shutter unit, later used in variety of models.
In this year, Konica made Auto Reflex with this unit.

The Konica Auto Reflex is famous for its capability to switch between full and half frame midroll. This camera also had a lock needle shutter priority auto exposure mode. The camera is equipped with a light meter which displays the proper F stop corresponding the current shutter speed. As the name implies, when you press the shutter button halfway, the needle is locked and a stepped sensor plate reads the needle deflection, which is transmitted to the aperture diaphragm control pin of the lens through arms and the ring under the lens mount.

The lock needle automation became common among many SLR's and rangefinders around 1970 but was very advanced for the time Auto Reflex appeared. This configuration requires rather long shutter button stroke. Some people hate it and others love it. However, the stroke had been continuously improved so that every new Konica model had shorter stroke compared to the earlier one. 

After this time, the availability of the Copal unit was not limited to those three companies. Therefore, the Copal S was used in Nikkormat FT, Sigma Mark-1, Ricohflex TLS401, Singlex TLS, Exacta Twin TL, Cosina Hi-Lite and so on.

Konica released the Autoreflex T around 1967. The half frame function is dropped, but this is more sophisticated overall from the previous Auto Reflex. The T had open aperture TTL metering (which I think is first introduced by this model) along with the lock needle automation with improved (shorter) shutter release button stroke.

Copal kept introducing new shutter units that include:

Copal SE (electrically controlled, 1968) used inCanon EF, Yashica TL Electro, Yashica AX, Nikkormat EL etc. 
CLS (Copal-Leitz Shutter, 1972) used inMinolta XE, Leica R3 
CCS-M (1974) used in Nikon FM, Konica ACOM-1 

Also, a metal focal plane shutter unit was developed by Seiko-sha in 1974, which was used in Pentax K2 etc.

The Copal S shutter of 1965 was used or copied by many models. Still in the late 90's there are several SLR's in production that use Copal S and their copies. Furthermore, many cameras from 60's that use this shutter doesn't yet lose the accuracy. This unit has a timing device ranging from bulb, 1 sec to 1/1000 with X-sync of 1/125. This was one of the top spec at that time but still very usable, popular
spec for a mechanical camera today.

Thus, Konishiroku or Konica created several true landmarks in the history of the SLR cameras and the role Konica played in early SLR models was so important that today's cameras might not be as good without their achievement. Also, Konica had experimented, in their downsized automated rangefinder cameras in the 70's, the basic technologies used in point and shoot cameras today, although I omitted
this discussion in this article. 

Another landmark Konica created later was the FS-1 which was the first to have built-in motor winder.

Note: Konishiroku is (used to be) the name of the company; Konica is the brand name. [Also are: Nippon Kogaku -- Nikon, Asahi Kogaku -- Pentax]