Topcon RE Super – Just super

Topcon RE Super

The Topcon RE Super was a real contender for the professional market in the early 1960s.  This beast of a camera has a sense of quality and features that stand above the majority of other contenders of that period.  And while the camera body is something to admire, the lenses within this system are at another level still.

Tokyo Kogaku built this camera to try and break the dominance held by Nikon in the Single Lens Reflex (SLR) market.  While there was a Topcon SLR released before the Nikon F, the RE Super was its key weapon to break this dominance which Nikon took from 1959 for decades.  This is very evident by the build, with precision machined parts, solid materials and an innovation which was a first for a SLR.

Tomb at Camperdown Cemetery | Topcon RE Super | Topcor 58mm f/1.4 RE Auto | Fujifilm Neopan 400 (Presto)
Tomb at Camperdown Cemetery | Topcon RE Super | Topcor 58mm f/1.4 RE Auto | Fujifilm Neopan 400 (Presto)

The Topcon RE Super was the first SLR with Through-The-Lens (TTL) metering.  This was achieved with patterned cuts in the mirror allowing light through to the meter. That innovation and the build quality was how they even beat Nikon to a U.S. military contract.

The quality itself is not surprising considering the Topcor lenses were and are well known for the optical quality made for the Leica Screw Mount.  Needless to say, this is what professionals really are after, quality glass, and this system has it in spades.  The Topcor lenses are sought after to this day.  In fact, I have even used the Topcor 58mm f/3.5 RE Macro Auto lens for the photographs of the camera itself in this review (apart the one of the lens itself).

Camperdown Cemetery | Topcon RE Super | Topcor 3.5cm f/2.8 RE Auto | Kodak Pro Image 100
Camperdown Cemetery | Topcon RE Super | Topcor 3.5cm f/2.8 RE Auto | Kodak Pro Image 100

There is a real sense of calm when I have a camera which functions smoothly.  The film advance motion on the RE Super feels like butter.  Sometimes, like on a Leica M3, I find myself winding on without film just to feel it.  It also creates a sense of eagerness to use it too, knowing the quality of the results I will get.

While it is a big camera, it is very comfortable and has a feeling that you get with jewellery (albeit very big jewellery!).  Not the same expensive type as, say a Leica, but something that just feels right.RELATED: You may also be interested in related SLR reviews of the Nikon FNikon F2Nikon F3, and Nikon FM2n.  Ok, I have needed to branch out from Nikon SLRs for a while now.

Shattered mirror selfie | Topcon RE Super | Topcor 10cm f/2.8 RE Auto | JCH Street Pan 400
Shattered mirror selfie | Topcon RE Super | Topcor 10cm f/2.8 RE Auto | JCH Street Pan 400

I was really excited to receive this camera. While it is not as well known as the big hitters of the time like Nikon and Leica, it was a camera that gave them a run for their money.  Being someone that appreciates photography history, I really enjoy cameras that broke new ground.  

History

Tōkyō Kōgaku Kikai K.K. (東京光学機械㈱was formed in 1932 by the merger of two other companies in Japan.  The name translates to Tokyo Optical Company Limited but was eventually called Topcon.  It was merged from Seikōsha, from its measurement instruments branch, and Katsuma Kōgaku Kikai Seisakush.  Hattori Tokei-ten owned the company until 1947.

It initially started as an optical company, similar to Nikon’s start.  Interestingly the two companies have quite a few parallels.  Tōkyō Kōgaku was a supplier to the Imperial Japanese Army, while Nikon was the supplier to the Navy.  

Graffiti/Mural | Topcon RE Super | Topcor 58mm f/1.4 RE Auto | Fujifilm Neopan 400 (Presto)
Graffiti/Mural | Topcon RE Super | Topcor 58mm f/1.4 RE Auto | Fujifilm Neopan 400 (Presto)

The first lens from Tōkyō Kōgaku was a triplet in 1933 called the Slate.  From there it made a number of different lenses, many times for other camera brands. It also made specialty purpose lenses for the Japanese military until 1945. 

It was about then the first LTM lenses were made, most well known for the Leotax camera, a Japanese Leica clone.

The first camera that Topcon produced was in 1937, call the Lord.  They followed this up in 1938 with the Minion, a 4x5cm folding camera using 127 film. They did not tackle the 35mm market until in 1948, with the Minion 35.  It is with the camera that followed the Minion 35 that the name Topcon was first used in 1953, the Topcon 35.  The Topcor name followed the following year on lenses.

Little library | Topcon RE Super | Topcor 10cm f/2.8 RE Auto | Kodak Pro Image 100
Little library | Topcon RE Super | Topcor 10cm f/2.8 RE Auto | Kodak Pro Image 100

In 1957 Tōkyō Kōgaku created their first SLR, which was two years before Nikon’s famous release of the Nikon F.  Like Nikon, it soon focused primarily on the 35mm SLR market. 

The Topcon RE Super was introduced in 1963. It brought with it an innovation which up to this point had eluded other manufacturers.  Through-The-Lens (TTL) metering was not possible beforehand. Nikon would only have metering with what many considered an overbearing attachment on top.  This brought the metering into the camera by allowing light to pass through the mirror to the light meter.  

Aimed at professionals they made the RE Super a systems camera just like the Nikon F series.  The viewfinder prism can be replaced, it takes a motor drive and there are options on focusing screens.  The workmanship was applauded, not just because of the materials used, but also the design.

Robot Mice | Topcon RE Super | Topcor 3.5cm f/2.8 RE Auto | Ilford FP4 Plus
Robot Mice | Topcon RE Super | Topcor 3.5cm f/2.8 RE Auto | Ilford FP4 Plus

Topcon utilised the Exakta mount turned upside down. This was also where it was somewhat limited.  While this was great in the workmanship it allowed, it did limit the size of it.  It is too narrow for extra wide lenses. This in no way impacted the quality of the lenses though, and they did release a 20mm lens, which is wide enough for most people.  The Topcor lenses are considered some of the best lenses produced for any camera in that period.

To testify to the quality, Tōkyō Kōgaku applied to provide the Topcon RE Super to the United State military and won the contract for official combat cameras.  This camera was built to withstand a lot of punishment while maintaining functionality. 

Victoire Boulangerie Bread Depot | Topcon RE Super | Topcor 58mm f/1.4 RE Auto | JCH Street Pan 400
Victoire Boulangerie Bread Depot | Topcon RE Super | Topcor 58mm f/1.4 RE Auto | JCH Street Pan 400

Tōkyō Kōgaku also provided the camera to the reseller Beseler who sold it as the Beseler Super D in the United States.  In Australia and New Zealand it was sold with the Hanimex branding.  The Topcon RE Super was manufactured until 1971. 

Tōkyō Kōgaku continued manufacturing SLRs until 1980 but never scaled the heights of the Topcon RE Super again.  After 1980 they continued manufacturing other cameras like the Horseman for Komamura.  In 1989 they officially took the name K.K. Topcon, which is still in operation today but not related to photography.

Cosina manufactured some Topcor branded 50mm f/1.4 lenses in the early 2000s in Nikon F and M42 mounts as tribute to the quality of this lens.  It was also the basis for the Nokton design lens.

Not sure about this art | Topcon RE Super | Topcor 3.5cm f/2.8 RE Auto | Kodak Pro Image 100
Not sure about this art | Topcon RE Super | Topcor 3.5cm f/2.8 RE Auto | Kodak Pro Image 100

Camera Specifics

The Topcon RE Super is a professional 35mm SLR camera manufactured between 1963 to 1971.  It is a systems camera, meaning you can change the pentaprism viewfinder, focusing screen, lenses and attach a motor drive.  It is a large camera at 821g body only.

Lenses are mounted via an Exakta mount which is upside down compared to the Exakta cameras.  The lenses between the systems can be mounted, but only the Topcon RE lenses will provide any of the metering functions.

Topcon RE Super

The shape of the camera is very austere with minimal curves, but it is obvious there has been a lot put into the design. On the front of the camera, apart from the mount, is the shutter release button, self-timer and the depth of preview lever.  

The shutter release button being on the front works well to allow the index finger to depress it, while allowing the fore finger to operate the shutter speed dial on the top.  The depth of preview lever is machined metal with ridges to allow easy use. 

Topcon RE Super

While at the front, with the lens off, the mirror attracts attention.  It has a criss-crossed pattern across it.  These are slits in the mirror allowing 7% of the light to pass through to a CdS meter.  The Topcon RE Super was the first camera released with in-camera TTL metering.  It beat Pentax to it by one year.  All other SLRs relied on metering prisms to be attached to the top of the camera, if metering was even an option.

The metering is average weighted across the whole scene.  While the meter is coupled, the camera operation is fully mechanical, so can be operated even if the meter is non-functional or has a flat battery.

Topcon RE Super

The top of the camera is all business.  On the right side is the film advance lever, engineered to enable a smooth action.  Next to it is the shutter speed selector, which also allows selection of the film speed.  Both of these are well machined and have a high quality feel to them.  Film speed selection ranges from ISO 25 – 1600. Shutter speeds range from 1 to 1/1000 second and Bulb.  

The frame number is just in front of the film advance lever.  Next to the shutter speed knob is a little metallic knob for steading the camera with your fore finger while depressing the shutter release button with your index finger.On the other side is the film rewind, which pops up for easier rewinding.  Next to it is a little window which displays the external exposure meter match needle, which replicates the in-viewfinder meter match needle.  

Topcon RE Super

The eye level pentaprism viewfinder can be removed. The focusing screen can also be changed, with the standard one being a ground glass with a fresnel lens giving a bright view. It also has a spilt image rangefinder spot. 

The exposure meter is represented by what is called a T-indicator.  A fixed V shape is at the bottom of the viewfinder representing half stops at either end from the centre.  The idea is to adjust until the centre column of the T is right in the middle of the V shape.

At the bottom of the camera it is actually quite busy. There is an on/off switch for the meter, a battery compartment for the now banned 1.35v mercury PX-13 batteries, the rewind release button, the motor drive connector and the tripod mount screw ring.  One of the probably unnecessary but beautiful items is the back opening button.  It is machined with grooves and with a twist pops the back open, rather than a regular button. 

Oh No! Not you again | Topcon RE Super | Topcor 58mm f/1.4 RE Auto | Kodak Pro Image 100
Oh No! Not you again | Topcon RE Super | Topcor 58mm f/1.4 RE Auto | Kodak Pro Image 100

Once open, film can be loaded through the back. The shutter curtains are also visible. The shutter itself is focal plane shutter which is internally coupled to the exposure meter.

Flash is catered for by a flash socket on the left side of the camera. 

Lens Specifics

The Topcor RE Auto range of lenses, that were natively available on the RE mount, were from a 20mm f/4 through to a 500mm f/5.6. A zoom with 87-205mm and 3 macro specific (without focusing rings) were made.  While it is a respectable range of about 18 lenses, it is dwarfed by the range of Nikkors available for the Nikon system.  Part of that is driven by the Exakta type mount which limits the diameter of the rear element, which in turn limited the wide angle lens option to 20mm.

The Topcor lenses were very much respected, especially a few which are considered gems.  For the purposes of this article I will write about only the ones that I have in my set.

Topcor RE Auto lenses

Topcor 58mm 1:1.4 RE Auto

The Topcor 58mm f/1.4 RE Auto lens was provided with the RE Super as one of the standard kit options.  And what a lens this is.  Big front element with a single layer of coating, smooth rubberised focusing ring and with a beefy metal lens hood.

Constructed with 7 elements in 5 groups as a modified planer design, it is considered the first Nokton lens by many.  It has a beautiful bokeh at up to f/2 from its 6 blades. Sharpness though is where is it really shines with hardly any fall off from f/4 onwards.

Closest focus distance is 45cm.  Contrast is slightly muted compared to modern lenses, though the image can still pop off the negative.  Colours are on warm side and lines are very straight, as expected on a standard focal length lens.

Damaged mural | Topcon RE Super | Topcor 58mm f/1.4 RE Auto | Ilford FP4 Plus
Damaged mural | Topcon RE Super | Topcor 58mm f/1.4 RE Auto | Ilford FP4 Plus

Topcor 3.5cm 1:2.8 RE Auto

Going a bit wider, the Topcor 3.5cm f/2.8 RE Auto is an excellent wide angle lens.  Known to be extremely sharp (and it is).  Constructed with 7 elements in 5 groups and with 6 blades.  Closest focus distance is 23cm.  

While the 58mm gets a lot of attention, this lens offers a lot, especially when a bit more space is required.  Horizons are kept nice and straight by this lens, with the verticals veering inwards a bit as expected on a wide angle when not exactly straight in the plane of focus.  

Sharpness from f/4 onwards is razor sharp across the whole frame.  Very little vignetting across the whole aperture range to be found too.  With the consistent single layer coating across the lens range, it also tends to be on the warm side.  This does make contrast a little muted as well.

Balmain City Hall | Topcon RE Super | Topcor 3.5cm f/2.8 RE Auto | JCH Street Pan 400
Balmain City Hall | Topcon RE Super | Topcor 3.5cm f/2.8 RE Auto | JCH Street Pan 400

Topcor 10cm 1:2.8 RE Auto

On the telephoto side, the Topcor 10cm f/2.8 RE Auto is like a cult lens, especially for users adapting it to digital.  As a portrait lens it is considered the perfect mix of sharpness and out of focus areas, with the right amount of “pop”.

It is constructed with 5 elements in 3 groups, with a single layer of coating.   Six blades make up the diaphragm.  A lens hood should be used (if you have one), as contrast can be a little lower, though this does lend itself to portraits.  Flair can be an issue without the lens hood.

Staring in space | Topcon RE Super | Topcor 10cm f/2.8 RE Auto | Kodak Pro Image 100
Staring in space | Topcon RE Super | Topcor 10cm f/2.8 RE Auto | Kodak Pro Image 100

Topcor 13.5cm 1:3.5 RE Auto 

The Topcor 13.5cm f/3.5 RE Auto is a longer telephoto lens.  Constructed with 4 elements in 3 groups, it has 6 blades.  Closest focusing distance is 1.5m.  Built-in is a really long retractable lens hood which is neatly out of the way when not in use.

Topcor 58mm 1:3.5 RE Macro Auto

When you need to get to the details, the Topcor 58mm f/3.5 RE Macro Auto lens is a great choice.  It has a 1:2 maximum magnification ratio, achieved at the closest focusing distance, but can easily be made to 1:1 with an extension tube.  Minimum focusing distance is 25.4cm but the closest working distance is 13cm.  The optical formular for this lens is similar to a Xenotar which is designed to give almost no distortion and with no focus or light fall off.         

Constructed with 5 elements in 4 groups and 6 blades. Performance at infinity rivals many standard lenses.  It does not have a lens hood as it is not required, due to the fact the front element is very recessed.  

This is an exceptional macro lens which has been used to take all photos of the Topcon RE Super and lenses (with exception of itself, where the standard lens was used) in this article.  A Panasonic GX7 with an Exakta adapter was used for these.

Alley mural | Topcon RE Super | Topcor 3.5cm f/2.8 RE Super | Kodak Pro Image 100
Alley mural | Topcon RE Super | Topcor 3.5cm f/2.8 RE Super | Kodak Pro Image 100

The Experience

I bought the Topcon RE Super and the full set of lenses above (minus the 135mm which I got later) through a posting from a friend online, who put me in contact with the seller, a camera store in the U.S.  Having come from someone known in the online group and I could trust the evaluation, I was really keen to have it shipped to my home.  In fact, when they told me the price, it was such a great buy I could not get them to take my money fast enough.

This meant that I pretty much bought into the Topcon system in almost one go.  I eagerly waited for it to arrive as I had heard a lot about some of these lenses.  When it got here, I opened it up and was really surprised on how big it is.  I knew it was big, but this is one decently sized camera.  Also surprised as they had included the macro, which I was kicking myself for having not ordered and some accessories like a teleconverter and extension rings.  All for free!

Pram on street |Topcon RE Super | Topcor 3.5cm f/2.8 RE Auto | Ilford FP4 Plus
Pram on street |Topcon RE Super | Topcor 3.5cm f/2.8 RE Auto | Ilford FP4 Plus

When I held it though, it is really surprising on how comfortable it is.  Like most people that first see this camera, I thought it would be really boxy and hard to get my hands around.  Not at all, and therein lies the genius design.  As I use the camera, I feel more and more comfortable with the index finger on the shutter release and freeing up the fore finger to adjust the shutter speed.

The view finder is beautiful to look through. Bright and clear, which is obviously helped by the f/1.4 lens on the camera.  The meter’s T-indicator is a little strange initially, though it works very well.  The hardest bit was to remember which direction to adjust the shutter speed to the metering.  

The instruction manual does recommend that you adjust via the aperture, as the aperture ring turns the same way as the meter indicator. Unfortunately I work the other way where I like to set the aperture and adjust shutter speed to adjust the exposure.

Walk in the park | Topcon RE Auto | Topcor 58mm f/1.4 RE Auto | Ilford FP4 Plus
Walk in the park | Topcon RE Auto | Topcor 58mm f/1.4 RE Auto | Ilford FP4 Plus

The lenses also struck me as well made.  Holding the 58mm f/1.4 I was in love.  All that glass at the front, it alone got me. Guess I like shiny new toys!

I inserted a battery, a replacement for the mercury battery, but at 1.5v rather than the 1.35v it was designed for.  Trying it out a few times against a hand held meter, I felt it was quite close.  So soon afterwards, I just started to rely on it and stopped taking the hand held with me. Only complaint on the meter is that it is very easy to forget to turn it off.  Killed the first battery by forgetting.

Using the camera in field was a pleasure.  It just works, and what is better, it gets out of the way of you working.  I loaded my bag with some Ilford FP4 Plus rolls and over a period of a few weeks shot this mainly during lunch breaks and weekends.  The resulting negatives returned from the lab really looked good, and when scanned confirmed that.  

Sydney skyline | Topcon RE Auto | Topcor 3.5cm RE Auto | Kodak Pro Image 100
Sydney skyline | Topcon RE Auto | Topcor 3.5cm RE Auto | Kodak Pro Image 100

As expected, the contrast was a little muted. This is as older lenses with single coating tend to be lower contrast than modern lenses.  That is also what makes them so attractive though.  I have bumped up the black a little in the photos in this article, as I believe the end image is what is important.

What really got me in the resultant images was the sharpness and the rendering.  Especially when I started with some colour, Kodak Pro Image 100.  While sharpness with all of the lenses (except the 135mm which I didn’t get a chance to use beforehand so cannot confirm) was spectacular, the clarity and micro-contrast is what is really impressive.  

They sort of remind me of digital photos, but with the film look.  I know this statement contradicts itself, so let me explain.  The photos are very clean, just like you would expect from a DSLR rather than film.  But at the same time they have this timeless rendering with the transition between focus and out of focus that can only be captured on film.  The thing that gives it away is the grain.

(1) Mural and (2) Number 13 | Topcon RE Super | Topcor 58mm f/1.4 RE Auto | Fujifilm Neopan 400 (Presto)
(1) Mural and (2) Number 13 | Topcon RE Super | Topcor 58mm f/1.4 RE Auto | Fujifilm Neopan 400 (Presto)

When the lockdowns occurred it unfortunately impacted the ability to use a camera in the way that I had planned.  So, it went onto the shelf for a little while until recently.  But even now it has affected one of the photo genres I want to shoot this this camera, more specifically with specific the lenses.  

I wanted to use the 58mm, 135mm and more specifically, the wonderful 100mm on street portraits.  I long exhausted the patience at home, so the idea was to use this as a way to engage with people on the street.  With the recent developments across the world, it is not the greatest idea to approach people and of course, like many, I now work from home.

(1) Circular Quay and (2) Fire Station | Topcon RE Super | Topcor 58mm f/1.4 RE Auto | Ilford FP4 Plus
(1) Circular Quay and (2) Fire Station | Topcon RE Super | Topcor 58mm f/1.4 RE Auto | Ilford FP4 Plus

Nevertheless, not to be stopped, I have still had a few opportunities to go out and shoot in Sydney for a little while now.  First time out I went to the wonderfully named Woolloomooloo area of Sydney.  My first shots there were with Kodak Pro Image 100 film.  I have used this film quite a bit, it is high quality and can be stored in normal room temperature.  

The results from that shoot and subsequent one to finish the film, were again very good.  For such an early meter design I am constantly impressed with the how it gets the exposure so close to my expectations.  Especially with a battery not designed for it.

The colours from the Topcor lenses were nice and well rendered.  Though I did find they were lower in saturation from what I am used to from this film.  They tend have a warm tint to them.  Again, very sharp and very nice to look at.

Navy ships | Topcon RE Super | Topcor 58mm f/1.4 | Kodak Pro Image 100
Navy ships | Topcon RE Super | Topcor 58mm f/1.4 | Kodak Pro Image 100

From there I used a variety of films, including Fujifilm Neopan 400 and JCH Street Pan 400.  Neopan 400 I used as it was my favourite black and white film in its day and I have a finite stock of it left.  I felt this camera deserved a roll. The Street Pan I used especially with the thought that it is a quite a contrasty film which I wanted to see the effect using these lenses. It did not disappoint, the added natural contrast was a great fit. 

For a few months I used it out and about including at an old cemetery and some older and cosmopolitan parts of Sydney.  I really love using this camera (just in case you haven’t worked this out yet).  It just works and I look forward to the results every time.

Balmain Bikes | Topcon RE Super | Topcor 10cm f/2.8 | JCH Street Pan 400
Balmain Bikes | Topcon RE Super | Topcor 10cm f/2.8 | JCH Street Pan 400

Part of the experience of using this camera is using the lenses.  Each of them focuses really smooth and precise.  The focus throw is just the right amount and the aperture ring clicks well into position making it easy to determine aperture setting changes.

There are a couple of things I would love to see different on this camera.  Firstly, I’d like to see the aperture selection and the shutter speed selection in the viewfinder.  Obviously this was not necessarily in all cameras back in the 60’s but it was there. As a top level made camera it is something I feel could have been included.  It is where the Nikon does have an edge.

Friday/Saturday night | Topcon RE Super | Topcor 58mm f/1.4 RE Auto | JCH Street Pan 400
Friday/Saturday night | Topcon RE Super | Topcor 58mm f/1.4 RE Auto | JCH Street Pan 400

The other thing that went wrong may be more of a user error, but it did happen to me.  One of the JCH Street Pan 400 films I loaded into the camera did not grab properly. I got to the 40thframe and then I was still able to shoot.  Not only that, it was still winding on and the rewind crank was spinning when I advanced, so I knew it was winding on film.  Feeling nervous I rewound the film out and assumed maybe the camera had a fault and was overlapping frames.

As it turned out, it seems the film leader did not catch properly when I loaded it.  Somewhere along the way, it did catch, but meant I only really started capturing images halfway through.  Head slapping moment, I can laugh about it now, and say I would have captured my best photographs ever on the missing frames.  Well, no one can prove otherwise!

Skyscrapers | Topcon RE Super | Topcor 58mm f/1.4 RE Auto | Ilford FP4 Plus
Skyscrapers | Topcon RE Super | Topcor 58mm f/1.4 RE Auto | Ilford FP4 Plus

As you have guessed, I really do enjoy using the Topcon RE Super and more so enjoy the results from the Topcor RE Auto lenses.  While initially I thought the camera was overly big and squarish, I found that the design was well thought out and it was very good to use.  Apart from a slight glitch with film loading, which was probably my error, it worked flawlessly.  Even with a modern battery the exposure readings have been very good.

If I was asked to recommend if someone should get this camera, I would have to say that it depends.  For compact camera users, quite obviously it would not be a good fit.  For people new to film photography or are in need of a really wide selection of lenses, then something like the Nikon or Pentax range might be better.  If you are SLR person, enjoy quality construction and don’t find the lens selection limiting, then yes.  

If you do take the plunge on this camera, I can guarantee you will be impressed.

Bamboo messages | Topcon RE Super | Topcor 3.5cm f/2.8 RE Auto | Kodak Pro Image 100
Bamboo messages | Topcon RE Super | Topcor 3.5cm f/2.8 RE Auto | Kodak Pro Image 100
Sydney Tram | Topcon RE Super | Topcor 58mm f/1.4 RE Auto | Ilford FP4 Plus
Sydney Tram | Topcon RE Super | Topcor 58mm f/1.4 RE Auto | Ilford FP4 Plus
(1) Headstone |Topcon RE Super | Topcor 58mm f/1.4 RE Auto (2) Storefront | Topcon RE Super | Topcor 3.5cm f/2.8 RE Auto Fujifilm Neopan 400 (Presto)
(1) Headstone |Topcon RE Super | Topcor 58mm f/1.4 RE Auto
(2) Storefront | Topcon RE Super | Topcor 3.5cm f/2.8 RE Auto
Fujifilm Neopan 400 (Presto)
Harry’s Café de Wheels | Topcon RE Super | Topcor 3.5cm RE Auto | Ilford FP4 Plus
Harry’s Café de Wheels | Topcon RE Super | Topcor 3.5cm RE Auto | Ilford FP4 Plus
Balmain Fire Station | Topcon RE Super | Topcor 3.5cm f/2.8 RE Auto | JCH Street Pan 400
Balmain Fire Station | Topcon RE Super | Topcor 3.5cm f/2.8 RE Auto | JCH Street Pan 400
Camperdown Cemetery | Topcon RE Super | Topcor (1) 3.5cm f/2.8 (2) 58mm f/1.4 RE Auto | Fujifilm Neopan 400 (Presto)
Camperdown Cemetery | Topcon RE Super | Topcor (1) 3.5cm f/2.8 (2) 58mm f/1.4 RE Auto | Fujifilm Neopan 400 (Presto)

Related Links

Mike Eckman wrote a great review of the Topcon RE Super and came to some very similar conclusions.  You can read it at Topcon RE Super (1963)

At Casual Photophile, Josh Solomon wrote a good short review in Topcon RE Super 35mm Film SLR Camera Review – The Greatest Loser.

16 Comments

  • efgandia September 3, 2020 at 6:27 pm

    Beautiful article, as always. I like so much the photographies. Best Wishes!

    Reply
    • Theo September 3, 2020 at 6:49 pm

      Thank you so much! I’m glad you enjoyed it.

      Reply
  • Jim Grey September 4, 2020 at 12:04 am

    I want to try one of these one day for no other reason that I think the body is beautiful. What an interesting way to design the prism cover.

    Reply
    • Theo September 4, 2020 at 12:15 am

      I believe the whole camera is an interesting design. I also enjoy beautiful cameras too, but added such well built functionality it makes this a winner for me.

      Reply
      • beowulf September 11, 2020 at 4:01 pm

        Somehow the design reminds me a bit of how the cameras from Eastern Europe were designed. Very boxy.

        Reply
        • Theo September 12, 2020 at 8:34 pm

          That was also my initial view, but they hold a lot better.

          Reply
  • Kurt Ingham September 4, 2020 at 1:49 am

    Excellent! Especially nice to see samples from a variety of lenses.Thanks

    Reply
    • Theo September 4, 2020 at 11:08 am

      Thank you! The whole collection of them are great to use.

      Reply
  • Andy Umbo September 5, 2020 at 7:49 pm

    When I first got into college, 1972, the local photography “pro” shop tried like crazy to talk me into one of these, and I never “bit”. There were actually only one or two local pros that were using the Topcon, altho they swore by them. The 58mm lens was a “known” performer, and the sales push from the camera store was all about the lenses. Those square bodies seemed very “holdable” too!

    Alas, I ended up like most everyone, buying a Nikon, mostly because the studio I was working for part time, had Nikon, and you could borrow the lenses. One of the great lost opportunities.

    I DO remember a ‘weak point”, tho. There was talk that because of the way it was constructed, the mirror could go slightly “akimbo” and throw off focus. Had to be checked periodically. Hard to know if that was true, it was 50 years ago!

    Reply
    • Theo September 5, 2020 at 10:40 pm

      Very interesting to get your perspective on this. That is one thing I thought about to, Nikon lenses would have been well established in a lot of places sharing them, so Topcon would have been behind in that respect from day 1. It is a shame, as this was a worthy competitor.

      I hadn’t heard the mirror issue, I’ll have to have a closer look at mine and see if this could happen. Luckily this one does not have an issue in the slightest. Though I do not know it’s service history before I got it last year, so could have been maintained.

      Reply
  • David Chorley September 6, 2020 at 7:52 am

    The Super DM had aperture and shutter speed visible. Topcon missed two important points beside the Exakta mount: the metering on/off switch is on the bottom plate and the motor drive has a cumbersome external linkage. It’s not important now, but with a little more thought in development they could have had power wind and rewind. Having to change roll in a Nikon F will remind you that Nikon expects you to hold the drive between your knees when loading a new roll

    Reply
    • Theo September 7, 2020 at 1:23 am

      Thanks for that very interesting info, I hadn’t thought out the drive connection in relation to opening the back.

      Reply
  • beowulf September 11, 2020 at 4:00 pm

    A great read (as always). Topcor did sound familiar from the lenses, but I didn’t know there were also cameras.
    So in the end, they didn’t beat Nikon. Any ideas what stopped them?

    Reply
    • Theo September 12, 2020 at 8:33 pm

      Thanks! No really sure why they sort of stopped innovating. I think the next round of lenses, the UV range, really missed the mark which may have impacted them in the market. It was a strange direction to take.

      Reply
  • Patrick Abe September 12, 2020 at 4:00 am

    In the early 1960’s the family cameras ranged from 127 to 620 to 120 in the Box/TLR type to 135 rangefinders Leica IIIa and Nikon S2. A family friend, a serving U.S. Navy officer, visted Japan regularly, and brought back a Topcon RE Super. (He said that Nikon was bulky due to the Photomic metering finder.) It arrived with athe usual 58mm f/1.4 normal lens that focused to an amazing 18 inches, which was a giant step up from 3.5 feet for 35mm rangefinder cameras.
    The first thing that bothered me was the modified Exakta mount, which meant that we had to buy Topcors only. (A limiting factor for a student photgrapher.)
    Vivitar and Soligor lenses were less-than-top-quality compared to OEM lenses, but I could afford those “mail order specials.”
    Local camera stores didn’t carry much of the Topcon lens or accessory line, so the was another strike against the brand.

    Nevertheless, Topcon had very interesting lenses. The 25mm f/3.5 set was amazing; 9 jewel-like filters that were mounted at the rear of the lens was unique. (The Series 9 filter holder was a bit more cumbersome.) It was an optical star performer, and more interesting than 28mm lenses.

    The 87-205mm f/4.7 Topcor zoom was probably more honest than “f/4.5” 80-200mm zooms of the time and very sharp, IClose focus was 2.5 meters or so, but there was a solution to that problem in the top of the case; a fractional diopter close-up lens! With that 58mm close-up lens, one could focus down to about 1.8 meters. That made it perfect for “head-and-shoulders” portraits. I lost the close-up lens somewhere, which I see is quite common in eBay listings I’ve seen for this lens.

    I never got close to the 300mm f/2.8 Topcor, the 200mm f/5.6 Topcor, or the 58mm f/3.5 Macro-Topcor. By then I had bought a Nikkormat FTN and was slowly adding Nikkor lenses as I could, while using a 90-230mm f/4.5 Soligor for the long end. The RE Super disappeared into storage once it developed frame spacing and “jittery needle” metering problems. It should have gotten the CLA treatment, but I was a Nikon F2 user by then. It is/was a system camera that I didn’t appreciate at the time, which I regret, especially since the satin chrome finish of the Auto Topcors “kept things cool.”

    Reply
    • Theo September 12, 2020 at 8:44 pm

      Thank you for writing this in. It is very interesting to hear from someone who experienced this camera first hand when they were originally out. Like you I noticed the lens range being smaller than the Nikkor range, but did connect the dots to it being limited in terms of availability at the time. The mount is a interesting design decision in itself.
      I have not tried the 25mm, would really like to, but they command a very high premium now. I might have to grab the zoom though, your description has got me interested now. But I can now tell you after having used the camera, it really was ahead in many areas, a shame they did not develop into the rivalry as a major player.

      Reply

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