■ KonicaFlex (1959)
The Konicaflex was a prototype whose existence was announced in 1959, the year when the Nikon F was introduced to the market. It was undoubtedly intended to compete with its famous Nikon counterpart when it was released the following year as the Konica F (see Konica F in this section).
Konica’s first foray into SLR technology had produced, in 1957, the Koniflex 35. It was a camera based on the Leica-body-with-pentaprism scheme used as a blueprint in the late fifties by other Japanese camera makers, like Miranda, Nikon and Pentax. It was a ordinary run-of-the-mill camera (see Koniflex 35 in this section).
In contrast, the Konicaflex is historically interesting for several reasons. Firstly, because it was the first SLR Konica had designed from the ground up; secondly because it was indisputably the most advanced such camera in existence at the time (for the camera's technical specifications, see Konica F in this section); thirdly because it shows that Konica’s revolutionary Hi-Synchro vertically-traveling metal shutter was in fact ready a year before it was introduced to the market; and fourthly because it provides a good illustration of how technical solutions and designs can be harvested from certain cameras and made to work on entirely different ones.
For one, the body of the Konicaflex (and the Konica F) is closely modeled on those of Konica’s last two III-series rangefinders, the IIIA and IIIM. But more interestingly, the flap on the front of the prism housing on which the name Konicaflex is inscribed is reminiscent of the flip-up selenium light meter of the Konica IIIM rangefinder from 1958. On the Konicaflex this selenium is incorporated permanently into the prism housing instead of the underside of the flap. A modification of this meter, like discarding this flap, and a couple of largely cosmetic changes are essentially the only differences between the Konicaflex and the Konica F.
The existence of this prototype seems to have gone virtually unnoticed in the West, even though Japanese photo magazines wrote about it at length at the time. The only trace of it in the Western photo press I have managed to locate is a short mention in the March 1959 issue of US Travel and Camera (see Section 9 - Bibiography): 'Another interesting development we noted in the Japan Photo Trade magazine is the new 35mm singe lens reflex, the Konicaflex, which is reported to have a new type of focal plane shutter composed of six blades and offering speeds of up to 1/2000th. More importantly, it synchs at 1/125th of a second for strobe...' Remarkably, even camera buffs in the West who are usually familiar with the Konica F and its significance in the evolution of SLR technology, have never heard of the Konicaflex prototype, and neither had I until I saw the flyer shown below on the Yahoo Japan auction site.
It remains to be discovered why the Konicaflex was not released onto the market.
Front and back of a Konicaflex promotional flyer (W)
● KONICA ●