Nihon Seiki Nescon 35 / Ranger 35
Writing about vintage cameras goes in two paths. On mainstream models, information pours off the screen to the desk and spills on the floor. Regrettably, most are copy-and-paste pages used as clickbait. It takes much time and patience to sieve for original information and fresh thoughts. Online plagiarism has become so bad that some publishers embed white on white copy, saying something like “this data is copied from xyz”, hoping that this line will show with receiving site fresh formatting.
On obscure camera models, say most post-war Japanese, there is no meaningful information. Finding half a dozen pages on a given model is an achievement. In most cases, the data is inconsistent or just mentioned on the fly. Printed directories are not much better, where the models in question are mentioned, just briefly described, with no background detail.
Post-war Japan saw half a million GIs posted there, looking to spend hard currency on something to bring home. Cameras were such an object, so some 500 camera makers, just a rung above a cottage industry, filled in the need. Some came out of nowhere and promptly went back; some had a manufacturing background in other sectors and probably lasted a tad longer. Only a few dozen survived past the 1980s; perhaps a handful lasted into the new millennium.
Nihon Seiki was such a camera maker. They came from and went back to obscurity in no time. In 1956, they had the Nescon 35, also rebadged and sold in the US by Allied Impex as Soligor 45. Another model, presumably introduced in the same year, was The Ranger 35 camera, which kind of resembles the Nescon.
This is what I knew to begin with. From here, any research goes downhill.
Online, the cameras are barely mentioned, in brief detail only.
- McKeown mentions another model, the Mikronta 35, which is not seen elsewhere.
- Kadlubek mentions a longer list of Nihon Seiki models, but most are catalogued under other manufacturers: Panorax under Panorax, Calm, Well and Silverflex under Nipon Seiki, and Taroflex under Taron. Also, there is a mention of Nipon Koki, could be the same under a similar name? The Nescon has a tiny mark on the bottom left back, “NK”. Could this stand for Nipon Koki?
- Sugiyama attributes the cameras to Yamato, makers of the Pax models. The Nescon / Ranger style bears no resemblance to the Yamato models.
What could be is that Nihon Seiki was a distributor, locally sourcing cameras from different suppliers, and were smart enough to sell the same to Soligor. Otherwise, there should have been some traces of the factory’s history.
I have tried translating the Kanji name to English and got Nippon or Nihon, translating into ‘Japanese Regular’ or ‘Japanese Spirit’. Not much help.
The only online mention besides the Wiki pages is a page at photoxp.jp, which got it all wrong.
As a side note, the Hong Kong-made Halina 35X looks like an economy version of the Nescon, clearly made on the cheap. Perhaps it was a licensed product to Halina, but I will go more profound when I look into this camera.
Today, several Companies named Nihon Seiki exist in Japan, neither connected to the old one.
The Nescon 35, twin sister to the Soligor 45, is also covered in the latter page. It is a compact viewfinder body with a Leica-inspired design, similar to that of the era Japanese models, but with a unique lens barrel. There were two versions, the first with a removable bottom, old Leica style, and the second with a removable back, which I have.
The Soligor 45 / Nescon 35 are not as elegant as the Taisei or the Shinano I looked at earlier. The top and bottom are made of punched metal, not machined as in other Japanese models. Operation is straightforward. On top, the winder is skirted with a frame counter having two reset pins. The middle bulge holds the viewer, tiny as was common at that decade’s crop. The trigger is set within a large ring, with the rewind release pinhead next to it, marked R. Cold shoe and rewind knob complete the top. The back is removable, locked by a winged catch, marked C and O. Inside is a nicely made takeoff pivot with twin cogs to guide the film.
The front assembly is different from other cameras. The lens-mounted cocking lever serves the left index finger, not on top as most cameras had it. Closest to the body, the speed selector slides in a rough-looking slot, with notched stops next to each speed, modestly offering 25, B, 50, and 100. The zone-focusing dial is in front of it, marked feet. The aperture dial is at the front. In most cameras, the focusing ring is at the front end. Here, it is in reverse.
To operate the shutter, it takes winding the film, which stops after each frame, and cock the lens-mounted lever. In many cameras, you may cock the lever and fire without winding the film. Here, you cannot. The shutter seems to be made of two leaves.
Both cameras are marked as 1956 crop, but I am not sure in what order. The Ranger looks rough, and while the lens assembly of both is similar, the top cover differs. The unique feature of that camera that I haven’t seen elsewhere is the instructions embossed all over the top. While the winder on other cameras carries an arrow to show the winding direction, here, it states “to advance film turn ->”. The trigger is marked “shutter release”, the rewind release is marked “press while rewinding”, and the viewer is adorned with “identity view finder” (sic). The rewind knob says, “to rewind film turn ->”. My late stepfather, a professional photographer, used the term ‘Idioten Kamera’, perhaps to describe such an affair.
It does not end here. Most Ranger 35 cameras pictured online do not carry the markings. I go out on a limb, but these could be a dealers’ edition. An online search for this model returns a few links, either dead or pointing to another camera.
For the body and lens assembly description, see the Nescon above. The Ranger’s front is decorated with an ‘S’ style breastplate, and the lens is marked as Gendis. Crystar has two TLR models named Gendis, so there could be a connection between the brands. Better yet, this may reinforce the suggestion that Nihon Seiki was a distributor; as Crystar made a long list of cameras, I don’t think they needed to contract out any of the models.
|Camdex list number
|450 gr, Body with lens
|470 gr, Body with lens
|Class average weight
|475 gr, Body with lens
|475 gr, Body with lens
|Two-leaf scissors type
|Two-leaf scissors type
|Service / repair links
Nihon Seiki Nescon 35 images
Nihon Seiki Ranger 35 images