Topcon R / Beseler Topcon B
Topcon made an unimpressive camera line from just before the war and ceased making them in the mid-1980s. The same cameras were sold by Beseler in the US, under different names, some similar while others bear no resemblance.
The first Topcon SLR, the ‘R’, introduced in 1957, also sold under Beseler’ B’, was made to compete with any SLR out there, meaning Europeans, being one of the earliest Japanese-made SLRs. The designers added any possible option into it, the manufacturers produced a sterling product. Regrettably, Tpocon’s SLRs went downhill from there.
For the collector, this camera is pretty elusive. There are plenty of Topcons for sale, hardly if at all any of this model and variation. Asking prices in Europe and Japan are just shy of USD 1,000, while a precious few surface on eBay, sold under the radar for a few hundred dollars. Same with online information. Some sites mention it on the fly with an image or two, nothing too deep.
The Topcon R much resemble the German or the east German / Russian SLRs of that time. Nothing to do with the delicate and low-key later Japanese camera design. The camera screams for attention. The large and heavy body, 1,050 gr or 2.5 lbs, weighs almost twice the mainstream Japanese SLRs to follow. Even the mighty Prakticas is dwarfed by it.
On top, at the right, is the Cocking lever, a fresh concept at the time, Together with the frame counter. It does not auto-reset, so there are two pins to set it to zero. Left to it is the speed selector, the main dial from B to 1000, with an X mark (40) for synch and 1-30 position that enables the slow speeds semi-circle that surrounds it. Lift the main speeds dial to change the setting. Here it gets tricky: change the high-speed setting once the shutter is cocked and low speeds before it is cocked. The high speeds are set against a mark within the dial hub, while the slow speeds are set against a mark on the top fascia.
The left top cover is busier. It holds the rewind lever, set within film two-pin driven film speed memo dial. The designer’s idea was to define between colour and B/W films, where the values on this dial are marked in different colours. Guess color film was a novelty at that time. Around it, there is a sizeable finger-driven nut, being an odd take on an accessory holder. Not sure why this way rather than the plain old accessory shoe, as I don’t believe a standard accessory such as a flashgun would fit there. A synch lever toggles between F and X; bulb, or electronic flash.
Next to it is a push-in button that releases the finder prism. I found a scant offering of other viewers; perhaps Topcon saw a bright future to that design but gave up halfway. The removable pentaprism was continued on the other R series and the D but dropped on later models. The prism is heavy and well made.
The bottom of the camera is bare, save for a mount thread and a recessed button that releases the cartridge for rewind. Push and slightly turn per the arrow to lock it in place.
The front of the camera carries the shutter release and the lens barrel. The shutter is pressed backward like the early European SLRs. This style later evolved into an angled button same as in the GDR models, finally moved to the top fascia. I wonder if this position was chosen to reduce camera shake or simply for design constraints.
The lens assembly has an arm extending over the shutter trigger, with an overlapping shutter trigger button, as seen on some Exakta models. Again, I wonder what that serves. I thought at first that this would keep the lens at an exact position, but as it is locked in place bayonet style, it is redundant. Topcon offered some lenses with that arm, while others of that era and later lens models do not include that. A lever at 4 o’clock releases the lens, which easily pops out. A mighty lever at one o’clock opens the aperture fully to ease view when focusing.
The lens mount is Exakta bayonet. Rumor has it that Topcon and Ihagee used to make a camera for each other, which I suspect is false. The philosophy and quality of that brands are worlds apart.
The aperture setting is by a small button on the aperture ring that falls onto your index finger. Press and change settings, release, and it locks into the F stop. Distance dial has an old-fashioned long travel, easy to focus.
On the left side are the PC port and the back opening catch. Inside a vertical cloth shutter, operates as new on the unit I have. A nice touch is two rollers to guide the film in and out of the pressure plate, sure to eliminate scratches. The mirror is an instant return.
A very bright viewer with a round, well-pronounced split image focusing screen is a pleasure to use.
Got this camera as a seller’s afterthought. Seen him some years ago to pick up a Rollei, when he suggested “another old camera”, much to my delight.
|AKA||Beseler B Topcon|
|Weight||760 gr, Body only|
|Class average weight||590 gr, Body only|
|Lens make||Auto Topcor|
|Filter size||48 mm|
|Lens mount||Exakta bayonet|
|shutter||Focal plane cloth horizontal|
|Other||Instant return mirror|