|Melcon no.55001. From Shashin Kōgyō September 1956. (Image rights)|
The camera has a die-cast body and an integral top plate, as on the Leica IIIc and later. The position of the controls — advance knob, exposure counter, release button, rewind lever, speed dial and rewind knob — is the same as on the Leica. The advance knob contains a film reminder disc at the top. The main speed dial has the following positions: B, 25–1, X (1/40), 50, 75, 100, 200, 500, and the slow speed dial at the front has T, 1, 2, 5, 10, 25.
|Eyepieces and F/S selector. From Shashin Kōgyō October 1956. (Image rights)|
The camera is synchronized for flash, and has a single PC socket at the front. There is a synch selector at the rear of the top housing, next to the viewfinder eyepiece, with F and S indications. The F position is for synchronization at Fast speeds (1/25 to 1/500) with FP flash bulbs, whereas the S position is for Slow speeds (1s to 1/10) or electronic flash (X setting). The flash fires only when the shutter is actually tripped, and not simply by pressing the release button.
|Viewfinder and rangefinder. Diagram in the article by Yashima Shōhei in Shashin Kōgyō January 1956. (Image rights)|
The eyepieces of the viewfinder and rangefinder are somewhat distant, and the rangefinder eyepiece has a diopter correction lever, the same configuration as the Leica IIIa. The rangefinder has 1.5× magnification; the physical spacing of the windows is quoted as 38mm or 40mm depending on the sources, giving 57mm or 60mm effective base. The Nikkor 5cm f/2 standard lens allows to focus down to 1.5ft, but the rangefinder is coupled until 3.5ft only — combined with the absence of parallax indications, this gives the feature little practical usability. The frames around the rangefinder windows are not identical, that on the right window being thicker. The viewfinder window is surrounded by a rectangular bump, with a small screw certainly used for rangefinder adjustment. There is no hump or lever under the rewind knob, unlike the Leica IIIc.
The back is hinged to the right for film loading, and is retained by a sliding bar on the left. The take-up spool is fixed, and the camera can take film cartridges only — the absence of opening key makes it unable to take refillable cassettes. The inside of the back has two ribs and a bridge-like metal part next to the pressure plate, presumably to enhance film flatness. The corners of the exposure frame are very slightly rounded, and this was criticized at the time. The tripod thread is on the advance side, under the camera. There are no strap lugs on the camera body.
The name Melcon is engraved on the top plate, together with the company name and a film plane indicator consisting of a black line and red dot. The serial number is inscribed in front of the accessory shoe: N°xxxxx. The dimensions of the body are 143×72×34mm; the weight is 530g body only, and 750g with the Nikkor 5cm f/2.
|Melcon no.55266. Pictures courtesy of Camera West. (Image rights)|
Origin and development
The developer of the Melcon was a former employee of Kōgaku Seiki, later Nicca, which was founded by Kumagai Genji and made the Nippon Leica copy during the war. He was perhaps Yashima Shōhei (矢島庄平), member of the Meguro company who wrote a detailed article on the camera in the January 1956 issue of Shashin Kōgyō.
The research on the Melcon started in 1950, and the Meguro company was founded in 1951 or 1952 to develop the camera, maybe after the founder leaved Nicca. Yashima says that the company tested and refined experimental models, certainly implying that various prototypes were made before the first production Melcon.
Special attention was paid to the resistance to heat and cold, and to salty air, notably in the choice of the materials. Surprisingly, the main reason put forward by Yashima for the adoption of a hinged back is not to make the camera easier to load, but to avoid dust and film bits getting trapped in the camera's internals and jamming the mechanism.
Another goal pursued by the Melcon's developer was the precision of the film-to-flange distance. Yashima says that a tolerance of ±0.02mm was ordinarily deemed sufficient — presumably by other Japanese Leica copy developers, such as Nicca — but the Melcon adopted 28.8±0.01mm register to cope with the precision requirements of wide aperture lenses. The pressure plate was initially polished to avoid scratching the film; it was modified at some time with a pattern of small concave bubbles.
|Melcon no.55043 with Nikkor-H 5cm f/2, from the article by Yashima Shōhei in Shashin Kōgyō January 1956. (Image rights)|
The column in the October 1955 issue of Asahi Camera says that Nippon Kōgaku provided technical help in the development of the camera, and controlled the quality of the camera body; it is not completely clear if the company tested an early production sample before allowing to fit Nikkor lenses, or if it was in charge of the final quality control for each camera body. Meguro's founder certainly had previous contacts with Nippon Kōgaku, which had a partnership with Nicca or the distributor Hinomaruya as a supplier of Nikkor lenses in Leica screw mount for the Nicca Leica copies. This partnership was extended to Meguro for the Melcon, distributed in Japan by the same Hinomaruya company. Nippon Kōgaku certainly had an interest in keeping an eye on the bodies officially sold with Nikkor lenses, hence its involvement in the Melcon's development and quality control.
The Melcon was announced in the September or October 1955 issue of various Japanese magazines, some of which are reproduced below. The camera was called "Melcon" throughout its commercial life, and the name "Melcon I" was only crafted in retrospect after the release of the Melcon II.
|Asahi Camera||Special issue of Photo Art.||Shashin Kōgyō|
|Announce of the Melcon in October 1955 magazines. (Image rights)|
The camera was priced at ¥48,000 with a Nikkor 5cm f/2, and at ¥34,000 with a Hexar 50mm f/3.5. (The Hexar lens option was perhaps adopted for lack of an f/3.5 standard lens in the Nikkor range.) It was reportedly planned to sell the body alone in the future, but later documents do not mention a price for this, and these plans were certainly abandoned. The documents insist that the Melcon has the same range of Nikkor lenses and the same accessories as the Nicca, which was sold by the same distributor Hinomaruya, but the camera can actually take any lens or accessory made for Leica screw mount cameras.
|Advertisement for the Melcon in Asahi Camera October and December 1955.|
The November advertisement is nearly identical to that dated October. (Image rights)
Advertisements by Hinomaruya in the October to December 1955 issues of Asahi Camera only list the camera with f/2 lens. They show a picture of body no.55001, presumably the first production example, and they mention the ability to take pictures up to 1.5ft, because the camera was sold with the short-focusing version of the Nikkor-H 5cm f/2 lens. Other advertisements appear in all the subsequent issues of the magazine, up to August 1957.
The detailed article by Yashima Shōhei in the January 1956 issue of Shashin Kōgyō, already cited above, only mentions Nikkor lenses for use on the camera: 25/4, 28/3.5, 35/2.5, 35/3.5, 50/2, 85/2, 85/1.5, 105/2.5, 135/3.5. Later articles in the September and October 1956 issues of the same magazine, comparing the Melcon to other Japanese Leica copies, also mention Nikkor lenses only. This might indicate that the sales of the camera with Hexar f/3.5 were delayed, but this is unsure, and the agreements between Hinomaruya, Meguro and Nippon Kōgaku might explain why the articles preferably mentioned Nikkor lenses.
|Advertisement in Asahi Camera: January to July 1957 (left) and August 1957 (right).|
That in the July–August issue is nearly identical to the left one. (Image rights)
The advertisements in the January to July 1957 issues of Asahi Camera show the camera with the Hexar f/3.5 as well as with the Nikkor f/2, and give unchanged prices (¥34,000 and ¥48,000) That in the July–August issue no longer lists the Hexar, and that in the August issue has a single picture again, with the Nikkor, and gives a list of other Nikkor lenses: 25/4, 28/3.5, 35/1.8, 35/2.5, 35/3.5, 50/1.4, 85/1.5, 85/2, 105/2.5, 135/3.5, 180/2.5, 250/4, 500/5.
The Melcon was no longer mentioned in Japanese photography magazines after August 1957. The next month, it was replaced by the Melcon II, still with Leica screw mount but patterned after the Nikon S2.
Variations and total production
The serial numbers for the Melcon have five digits in the 55xxx and 56xxx range. The "55" prefix used as a starting point certainly corresponds to year 1955. It is not known for sure if the two first digits "55" or "56" always correspond to the production year. The use of no.55619 to illustrate a test report dated October 1956, for which the company certainly loaned a recent example, tends to indicate that it was not the case, and that the numbers were running in a single sequence.
|Melcon no.55001. From the advertisement in Asahi Camera December 1955. (Image rights)|
Body no.55001, certainly the first production example, appears in various original documents. It was perhaps preceded by various prototypes, of which nothing is known. It has a few differences from the regular production cameras, the most notable being the lack of an X setting on the speed dial. The speed scale is engraved in small characters, and the 500 indication is offset from the actual setting, to which it is connected by a small line. The film reminder has two positions only: ASA for black and white, graduated from 25 to 100 only, and COLOR, graduated from 4 to 12. The company name on the top cover reads Meguro. Kogaku kogyo co., LTD japan. The letters are neither identical nor regularly spaced, and this engraving was perhaps applied by hand.
|Melcon no.55043. From Shashin Kōgyō January 1956. (Image rights)|
Body no.55043 pictured in the article by Yashima Shōhei has the X setting and the regular film reminder, with ASA, COLOR and EMPTY positions, and sensitivity scales from 25 to 200 in black and white and from 4 to 16 in colour. The speed scale is still of the early type, and the top engraving is very similar to that of no.55001, but Ltd. is capitalized differently and has a trailing dot.
Body no.55050, recently sold at auction, has the regular film reminder and the same top engraving as no.55043, but it again lacks the X setting, as on no.55001.
|Melcon no.55266. Picture courtesy of Camera West. (Image rights)|
Regular production cameras have a newer engraving of the company name: Meguro Kogaku Kogyo Co., Ltd. Japan, properly capitalized and with regular lettering and spacing, certainly applied by a machine. The shape of the Melcon name marking is also slightly different. The engravings on the speed dial are arranged differently and with larger figures, so that the 500 indication now faces the actual setting. These features certainly appeared very soon, and are already found on body no.55266 pictured above.
|Melcon no.55619. From Shashin Kōgyō October 1956. (Image rights)|
|Melcon no.55882. From the advertisement in Asahi Camera March 1957. (Image rights)|
As said above, a newer pressure plate with a bubble-like pattern was gradually introduced before body no.56000. The advance and rewind knobs used on the early cameras, with uniform diamond pattern, were replaced around body no.56000 by newer knobs, with vertical mills crossed by two transversal lines. These newer knobs were not consistently used, and older parts were sporadically mounted for some time.
The highest number observed so far is 56776; this camera comes with a later Nikkor 5cm f/2 with black aperture scale, probably an original equipment. The total production of the Melcon perhaps attained 1,700 or 1,800 units, and did not exceed 2,000 examples.
- Yashima, p.18 of Shashin Kōgyō January 1956.
- Column in Asahi Camera October 1955, pp.156–7.
- Column in the October 1955 special issue of Photo Art, p.82.
- Column in Shashin Kōgyō October 1955, p.256.
- Yashima, p.17 of Shashin Kōgyō January 1956.
- Column in Shashin Kōgyō September 1956, p.217.
- Yashima, p.17 of Shashin Kōgyō January 1956: 3.5呎の近距離まで精密に調整されている.
- HPR, p.228.
- The table in Shashin Kōgyō October 1956, p.269, says that the Melcon is "for cartridges only" (パトローネ専用). The column on the Melcon II in Asahi Camera October 1957, reproduced in Awano, p.9 of Camera Collectors' News no.33, also says that the original Melcon takes cartridges only, unlike the Melcon II. The column in the October 1955 special issue of Photo Art mentions cartridges or Nicca magazines (ニッカ専用マガシン及びパトローネ兼用), but this is a mistake.
- Satō, p.227 of Asahi Camera January 1957.
- Okuno, p.36 of Kurashikku Kamera Senka no.45.
- Shirai, pp.25–6 of Maboroshi no kamera o otte: 熊谷氏の会社の職人だった人々が作ったカメラに、やはりライカそっくりの「タナック」、「チヨタックス」、「メルコン」があるという.
- Yashima, pp.16–8 of Shashin Kōgyō January 1956. This magazine frequently contained articles written by top designers of their respective companies.
- Yashima, p.16 of Shashin Kōgyō January 1956. The author says that the company was "founded four years ago": 四年前発足し; the article that was certainly written in late 1955, and that might mean either 1951 or 1952.
- Yashima, p.16 of Shashin Kōgyō January 1956: 試作、検討、改良の結果、生れたのがメルコンカメラである.
- Yashima, p.16 of Shashin Kōgyō January 1956.
- Yashima, pp.16–7 of Shashin Kōgyō January 1956. He says that the total precision required by an f/1.2 standard lens is ±0.024mm.
- Yashima, p.17 of Shashin Kōgyō January 1956: フィルムに疵を作らぬように磨かれたフィルム圧板.
- Awano, pp.4 and 6 of Camera Collectors' News no.32.
- Column in Asahi Camera October 1955, pp.156–7: ニッコールレンズを供給されているだけに、日本光学の技術的援助をかなり受けたそうだ and 品質テストも日本光学で行われている.
- Kokusan kamera no rekishi, p.370. The September 1955 announce in Camera Mainichi is reproduced in Awano, p.6 of Camera Collectors' News no.32.
- Same accessories: column in Asahi Camera October 1955, pp.156–7, column in the October 1955 special issue of Photo Art, p.82, and advertisement in Asahi Camera December 1955, p.115. The column in Shashin Kōgyō October 1955, p.256, says that the accessories are common to the "Nikon" (ニコン), but this is surely a typo for "Nicca" (ニッカ).
- Advertisements in Asahi Camera October 1955 (p.180), November 1955 (p.110) and December 1955 (p.115).
- Kokusan kamera no rekishi, p.370.
- Table in Shashin Kōgyō October 1956, p.269.
- Advertisements in Asahi Camera January 1957, p.122, February 1957, p.102, March 1957, p.100, April 1957, p.182, May 1957, p.75, June 1957, p.105, and July 1957, p.167.
- Advertisement in Asahi Camera July–August 1957, p.163.
- Advertisement in Asahi Camera August 1957, p.168.
- Example no.55619 pictured in Shashin Kōgyō October 1956, pp.266–8.
- Picture in Ōba, p.173 of Shashin Kōgyō September 1956.
- Picture in Shashin Kōgyō October 1956, p.265.
- Pictures in Yashima, pp.17–8 of Shashin Kōgyō January 1956.
- Example sold as lot no.307 of Westlicht auction no.8.
- For example, body no.55934, pictured in Okuno, pp.36–7 of Kurashikku Kamera Senka no.45, is reported to have the newer pressure plate, whereas body no.56123, pictured in Awano, pp.4–6 of Camera Collectors' News no.32, still has the smooth pressure plate.
- This pattern is found on all observed cameras until body no.55934, pictured in Okuno, pp.36–7 of Kurashikku Kamera Senka no.45.
- Body no.56023, sold as lot no.398 of Westlicht auction no.9, is the earliest camera known with the newer knobs.
- The older knobs are found on body no.56119, observed in an online auction, no.56123, pictured in Awano, pp.4–6 of Camera Collectors' News no.32, and no.56522, sold as lot no.358 of Westlicht auction no.6.
- Example observed in an online auction.
- Asahi Camera. Advertisements by Hinomaruya:
- October 1955, p.180;
- November 1955, p.110;
- December 1955, p.115;
- January 1957, p.122;
- February 1957, p.102;
- March 1957, p.100;
- April 1957, p.182;
- May 1957, p.75;
- June 1957, p.105;
- July 1957, p.167;
- July–August 1957, p.163;
- August 1957, p.168.
- Asahi Camera October 1955. "Shashin-kai nyūsu" (写真界ニュース, Photographic News). Pp.156–7.
- Ōba Eiichi (大場栄一). "Renzu kōkan-shiki 35-miri kamera no genjō" (レンズ交換式35ミリカメラの現状, Current state of 35mm rangefinder cameras with interchangeable lens). In Shashin Kōgyō no.52, September 1956. Pp.171–3.
- Photo Art rinji zōkan: Kamera no chishiki (フォトアート臨時増刊・カメラの知識, Photo Art special issue: Knowledge of cameras). October 1955, no.87 of the magazine. "Kokusan kamera no saiten 1. 35-miri kamera" (国産カメラの祭典・1・35ミリカメラ, Japanese camera festival 1, 35mm cameras). P.82.
- Satō Takashi (佐藤たかし). "Kokusan kamera shiyō-ki: Merukon" (国産カメラ使用記・メルコン, Using Japanese cameras: the Melcon). In Asahi Camera January 1957. Pp.61 and 227.
- Shashin Kōgyō no.40, October 1955. "Nyūsu furashu" (ニュースフラシュ, News flash). P.256.
- Shashin Kōgyō no.52, September 1956. "Kokusan kamera memo" (国産カメラメモ, Memo of Japanese cameras). P.217.
- Shashin Kōgyō no.53, October 1956. "Renzu kōkan-gata kamera go-shu o kentō suru" (レンズ交換型カメラ五種を検討する, Inspecting five cameras with interchangeable lens). Pp.265–9.
- Yashima Shōhei (矢島庄平), from Meguro Kōgaku Kōgyō. "Merukon kamera sekkei no yōten" (メルコンカメラ設計の要点, Main points of the design of the Melcon camera). In Shashin Kōgyō no.43, January 1956. Pp.16–8.
- Asahi Camera (アサヒカメラ) editorial staff. Shōwa 10–40nen kōkoku ni miru kokusan kamera no rekishi (昭和10–40年広告にみる国産カメラの歴史, Japanese camera history as seen in advertisements, 1935–1965). Tokyo: Asahi Shinbunsha, 1994. ISBN 4-02-330312-7. Item 960.
- Awano Mikio (粟野幹男). "Kokusan Barunakku-gata kamera: Merukon" (国産バルナック型カメラ・メルコン, Japanese Leica-type cameras: Melcon). In Kamera Rebyū: Kurashikku Kamera Senka (カメラレビュー クラシックカメラ専科) / Camera Review: All about Historical Cameras no.37, March 1996. No ISBN number. Leica Book '96 (ライカブック'96). Pp.55–6.
- Awano Mikio (粟野幹男). "Merukon I-gata" (メルコンI型, Melcon I). In Camera Collectors' News no.32 (February 1980). Nishinomiya: Camera Collectors News-sha. Pp.4–6.
- HPR. Leica Copies. London: Classic Collection Publications, 1994. ISBN 1-874485-05-4. Pp.226–8.
- McKeown, James M. and Joan C. McKeown's Price Guide to Antique and Classic Cameras, 12th Edition, 2005-2006. USA, Centennial Photo Service, 2004. ISBN 0-931838-40-1 (hardcover). ISBN 0-931838-41-X (softcover). P.657.
- Okuno Mikio (奥野幹夫). "Merukon I" (メルコンI, Melcon I). In Kamera Rebyū: Kurashikku Kamera Senka (カメラレビュー クラシックカメラ専科) / Camera Review: All about Historical Cameras no.45, March 1998. ISBN 4-257-13014-8. Sekai no Raika-gata kamera (世界のライカ型カメラ, Leica-like cameras of the world). Pp.36–7.
- Pont, P.-H., and Princelle, J.-L. 300 Leica Copies. Neuilly: Fotosaga, 1990. ISBN 2-906840-03-3. Pp.216–7.
- Shirai Tatsuo (白井達男). "Nippon Kamera" (ニッポンカメラ, Nippon Camera). Pp.17–26 of Maboroshi no kamera o otte (幻のカメラを追って, Pursuing phantom cameras). Gendai Kamera Shinsho (現代カメラ新書). Tokyo: Asahi Sonorama, 1982. ISBN 4-257-08077-9. (First published in Kamera Rebyū / Camera Review no.2, February 1978.) Contains an interview of Kumagai Genji, mentioning the Melcon as made by a former employee.
- Sugiyama, Kōichi (杉山浩一); Naoi, Hiroaki (直井浩明); Bullock, John R. The Collector's Guide to Japanese Cameras. 国産カメラ図鑑 (Kokusan kamera zukan). Tokyo: Asahi Sonorama, 1985. ISBN 4-257-03187-5. Item 3413.
- Melcon at Pacific Rim Camera
- Melcon and Melcon family at Ian Norris' Prime Lens
- Melcon among copies of the Leica III at Massimo Bertacchi's Innovative Cameras
- Melcon at Nekosan's website
- Past sales by Westlicht: