The Melcon II (メルコンII) is a Japanese 35mm rangefinder camera with interchangeable lenses in Leica screw mount, made by Meguro Kōgaku Kōgyō and distributed by Hinomaruya for a brief period in late 1957. It is sometimes described as a copy of the Nikon S2. It was the successor of the Melcon, a copy of the Leica with a hinged back.
Relation with the Nikon: an approved copy?
The Melcon II was much inspired by the Nikon S2, in terms of both design and features. The main external differences are the rounded body ends, the absence of focusing wheel, the hinged back and the different lens mount.
Some authors suggest that the camera was a mere copy, causing a complaint by Nippon Kōgaku. However, various clues make this hard to believe, and one might imagine that the development of the Melcon II was approved or even encouraged by the maker of the Nikon.
The maker Meguro Kōgaku was linked to Nippon Kōgaku from early on. The latter provided technical help for the development of the first Melcon, controlled the body's quality, and supplied its Nikkor lenses (see Melcon). Before the Melcon, Meguro's distributor Hinomaruya was already selling the full range of Nikkor lenses in Leica screw mount for the Nicca, an agreement which dated back to the early 1950s.
In view of that, it seems unimaginable that Meguro copied the Nikon S2 without at least the tacit approval of Nippon Kōgaku. Further, without that approval, Hinomaruya would not have agreed to distribute the camera and risk jeopardizing a major business alliance to support a minor camera maker, whose sales were much lower than those of the Nicca. Its relations with Nippon Kōgaku were not harmed by the introduction of the Melcon II, and it continued to distribute Nikkor lenses until Autumn 1958 or later, when the agreement was halted by Nicca's demise.
Rather than copying the Nikon S2, it is very likely that Meguro made legitimate use of some Nikon patents for the Melcon II, notably for the configuration of the shutter control and exposure counter. One may wonder if Nippon Kōgaku went one step further and provided active technical support, but no original source has been found to confirm this.
The Melcon II has a die-cast body with rounded ends — when viewed from a distance, these rounded ends may be the easiest way to distinguish it from the Nikon S2. The front frame surrounding the lens mount and the viewfinder and rangefinder windows was copied on the Nikon S2, as well as the step on the top plate next to the viewfinder. The dimensions of the body are 138×83×34mm, only a little higher than the Nikon. The weight is 750g with the Nikkor 5cm f/2 standard lens.
The viewfinder and rangefinder are combined in a single eyepiece, offset to the left as seen by the photographer. The viewfinder has 1.0× magnification and a bright frame for 50mm lenses only, as on the Nikon S2, with no parallax indication. The rangefinder has a 70mm effective base, larger than most of its competitors, and maybe the largest effective base on any 35mm rangefinder camera (the Leica M3 has 68mm and the Nikon S2 has 60mm). No diopter adjustment is visible, but it might be achieved by turning the round eyepiece on the rear. The Nikkor 5cm f/2 standard lens focuses down to 1.5ft, but is not coupled to the rangefinder at close distance, under 3.5ft.
|Melcon II no.75005. From the September 1957 junior edition of Asahi Camera. (Image rights)|
The back is hinged to the right for film loading, and is locked by a key at the bottom, with O and S indications (for Open and Shut). This key allows reloadable cassettes, specific to the Melcon II. The film is advanced by a lever on the right, in a single 180-degree movement or by small increments. The lever contains an exposure counter at the top, and is very similar to that of the Nikon S2. The rewind knob contains a folding crank, and is surrounded by a film reminder, with ASA indications from 12 to 1600. The sprocket shaft is unlocked for rewind by turning the collar surrounding the release button, with A and R indications. The button itself has an off-centered black dot, providing visual control of the film advance.
The horizontally running focal-plane shutter is controlled by two concentric dials at the top, again the same system as the Nikon S2. The upper dial is for fast speeds and has the following positions: B, 30–1 (in red), X, 60, 125, 250, 500. Its central part turns during the exposure by less than a full turn, and the speed can be set only after winding. The lower dial, driven by a tab, is for slow speeds and has T, 1, 2, 4, 8, 15, 30 (the latter in red). The geometric progression was an improvement on the earlier Melcon, following a trend initiated in 1954 with the Canon IVSb2 and Nikon S2, whereas the Leica M3 still had the earlier progression. The Melcon II does not provide 1/1000 speed, unlike its Nikon counterpart; the curtains' travelling speed (indicated by the X synch speed) is quite similar, and 1/1000 speed could have been attained by reducing the slit width, but the manufacturing precision was perhaps not enough to guarantee consistent results.
Flash synchronization is provided via a single PC socket at the front of the body, under the rangefinder window. The socket is surrounded by a selector for F or X synchronization, easily mistaken for a self-timer lever. The accessory shoe is on the viewfinder's right, next to the step of the top plate. It is attached by four screws, and contains no flash contact. The tripod thread is on the advance side, under the camera. There are strap lugs at both ends of the body, towards the front.
The model name Melcon II is prominently inscribed between the viewfinder and rangefinder windows, and the company name Meguro Opt, Japan is engraved at the rear of the top cover, under the advance lever. Finally, the serial number appears just in front of the accessory shoe.
|Announce in Asahi Camera October 1957. (Image rights)|
The Melcon II was featured in the September and October 1957 issues of various Japanese magazines, and advertisements were placed from September to December. The camera was priced at ¥46,000 with Nikkor 5cm f/2 and case. This was ¥2,000 lower than the former Melcon, and was competing with the Tanack SD, priced at ¥47,000 (albeit with f/1.5 lens).
|Advertisements in Asahi Camera. (Image rights)|
The advertisements reproduced above were placed in Asahi Camera between September and December 1957. They show body no.75005, equipped with a Nikkor 5cm f/2 lens with a black aperture ring. Two accessories are listed: a Melcon hood with case, for ¥720, and the Melcon film cassette, for ¥500. The camera is said to be the "cheapest Leica-type camera with a Nikkor lens". The documents sometimes provide a list of interchangeable 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.
No variation is known on the Melcon II, and the production run was certainly very short. All the cameras have a five-digit serial number in the 75xxx range. Body no.75005 is pictured in the original advertisements, and seems identical to the later cameras. The highest number observed so far is 75472, perhaps indicating a total production of about 500 units.
- Awano, p.55 of Kurashikku Kamera Senka no.37, merely suggests this: 日本光学からクレームは出なかったのだろうか ("wasn't there a claim by Nippon Kōgaku?"), and Hattori, p.39 of Kurashikku Kamera Senka no.45, mentions this as a rumour: 日本光学から厳重なクレームがあり、すぐに製造をやめたという噂を聞いたが、真偽の程は分からない ("I have heard the rumour that there was a severe claim by Nippon Kōgaku, but I am not sure of its authenticity").
- Advertisements for the Nicca and Nikkor lenses placed by Hinomaruya in August and September 1958, reproduced in Kokusan kamera no rekishi, p.264.
- Kitano, p.349 of Shashin Kōgyō October 1957.
- Column in Asahi Camera October 1957, reproduced in Awano, p.9 of Camera Collectors' News no.33.
- Kitano, p.345 of Shashin Kōgyō October 1957.
- Hattori, p.38 of Kurashikku Kamera Senka no.45.
- Kitano, p.344 of Shashin Kōgyō October 1957.
- The larger base of the rangefinder of the Melcon II might allow coupling at a smaller distance, but this limitation is apparently built in the lens itself.
- Kitano, p.348 of Shashin Kōgyō October 1957, says that the cassettes for the Melcon and Nicca look the same but actually differ.
- Kokusan kamera no rekishi, p.409.
- These comparisons are suggested in Awano, p.7 of Camera Collectors' News no.33 and p.55 of Kurashikku Kamera Senka no.37, and in Hattori, p.38 of Kurashikku Kamera Senka no.45.
- Advertisements in Asahi Camera September 1957, p.170, September 1957 junior edition, p.8, November 1957, p.82, and December 1957, p.124.
- The tip of its advance lever seems slightly more pointed on some advertisements, but this is certainly caused by improper cut-out on the black background.
- Example pictured in this page at Pacific Rim Camera.
|Melcon II in Shashin Kōgyō December 1957. (Image rights)|
- Asahi Camera. Advertisements by Hinomaruya:
- September 1957, p.170;
- September 1957, junior edition (ジュニア版), p.8;
- November 1957, p.82;
- December 1957, p.124.
- Asahi Camera October 1957. "Shinseihin memo" (新製品メモ, New Products Memo). Pp.211–2.
- Kitano Kunio (北野邦雄). "Kōkyū 35-miri kamera o kentō suru" (高級35ミリカメラを検討する, Testing some high-end 35mm cameras). In Shashin Kōgyō no.66, October 1957. Pp.344–9. (Comparing the Canon VT, Nikon S2, Nicca 3-F, Melcon II and Leica M3.)
- Shashin Kōgyō no.68, December 1957. "Honnen tōjō no kamera" (本年登場のカメラ, Cameras released this year). P.522.
|Melcon II compared to the Canon VT, Nikon S2, Nicca 3-F and Leica M3. From Shashin Kōgyō October 1957. (Image rights)|
- 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 1689.
- 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 II" (メルコンII, Melcon II). In Camera Collectors' News no.33 (March 1980). Nishinomiya: Camera Collectors News-sha.
- Hattori Yutaka (服部豊). "Merukon II" (メルコンII, Melcon II). 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.38–9.
- HPR. Leica Copies. London: Classic Collection Publications, 1994. ISBN 1-874485-05-4. Pp.226 and 229–30.
- 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.
- Pont, P.-H., and Princelle, J.-L. 300 Leica Copies. Neuilly: Fotosaga, 1990. ISBN 2-906840-03-3. Pp.216–7. (The drawing of the Melcon II is based on the picture in Sugiyama, item 3414.)
- 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 3414.
- Melcon II at Pacific Rim Camera
- Melcon II with Nikkor-S.C 5cm f/1.4: lot no.399 of auction no.9 (May 20, 2006) by Westlicht