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K.O.L. and Sun lenses in Leica screw mount

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K.O.L. lenses in Leica screw mount were made by Gojō Kōki Seisakusho during World War II. They were succeeded by Sun lenses after the company became Sun Kōki.

Chronological summary Edit

The K.O.L. Xebec 5cm f/2 (s/n 34xxx, 66xxx, 70xxx, 75xxx, 77xxx) was the only lens made during World War II for the Nippon Leica copy. Its production continued for a short time after the war as the Sun Xebec 5cm f/2 (s/n 77xxx).

Just after the war, a few Prominar 7.5cm or 7.3cm f/3.5 lenses (s/n 71xxx, 72xxx) were made with no indication of the maker, perhaps right before the company was renamed Sun Kōki. These became the Sun Sola 7.5cm and 7.3cm f/3.5 (s/n 72xxx), re-using the Sola brand name previously used for some K.O.L. lenses on the Mamiya Six. At the same period, a new version of the 5cm f/2 was called Sun Sophia (s/n 72xxx and 74xxx). After or in parallel with the 7.5cm and 7.3cm, the company also launched the Sun Sola 9cm f/4 (s/n 73xxx).

After this early period, the product line settled on the Sun Sola 9cm f/4 (s/n 80xxx to 85xxx) and Sun Telephoto 13.5cm f/3.8 (s/n 15xxx then 30xxx), perhaps in the late 1940s or early 1950s. The finish was switched from chromed brass to aluminium with a leatherette band in the first half of the 1950s. The two lenses were also made in Exakta mount and 42mm screw mount, with parallel evolutions in the finish. The 13.5cm f/3.8 lens was also made in a short barrel version, for reflex housings.

At a later time, the 13.5cm f/3.8 was replaced by a Sun Telephoto 13.5cm f/3.5 (s/n 53xxx, 54xxx). The name Xebec was also resurrected for the 9cm f/4, which became the Sun Xebec Telephoto. The finish evolved from all silver (s/n 86xxx) to black and silver (s/n 54xxx). These late Xebec lenses date from the second half of the 1950s, and are sometimes incorrectly described as made for the Nippon.

5cm lenses Edit

K.O.L. Xebec and Sun Xebec 5cm f/2 Edit

The K.O.L. Xebec 5cm f/2 was made by Gojō Kōki Seisakusho[1] for the Nippon Leica copy. It is said that it was available for ¥305 in 1942.[2] It is a six-element lens:[3] both the optical design and the collapsible lens barrel were copied on the Leitz Summar. The focusing ring is graduated in metres and has a tab with an infinity stop. The lens rim is black and has the engraving K.O.L. Xebec N°xxxxx F=5cm 1:2.

Very few examples of that lens are known so far. The earliest surviving lens reportedly has no.34688;[4] it is said that it was originally not rangefinder-coupled, and that a coupling cam was added to it later.[5] Its finish is said to be quite poor.[6] Its aperture ring goes from 2 to 9. Its focus ring has the infinity stop at 10 o'clock (as seen from the front), the word Mtr in small characters and depth-of-field indications for apertures from 2 to 9.

The next lenses have numbers in the 664xx range: lens no.66426 is mounted on the Nippon no.19,[7] and lens no.66429 on the Nippon no.14.[8] The latter has the same aperture ring as no.34688, graduated from 2 to 9. Its focusing mount is different: it has an infinity stop at 7 o'clock, the word mtr in larger characters and depth-of-field indications from 2 to 12.5 (not matching the aperture ring). This focusing mount is the same as on the later Sun Xebec 5cm f/2 no.77818 (see below); the lens head was perhaps originally fitted to an earlier mount, which got replaced at some time.

Later K.O.L. Xebec lenses have numbers in the 700xx range: lens no.70054 is mounted on the viewfinder-only Nippon no.181003,[9] and lens no.70067 on the viewfinder-only Nippon no.1810010.[10] They have the same features as no.34688: infinity lock at 10 o'clock, small Mtr marking, aperture scale and depth-of-field indications from 2 to 9.

Two further lenses are reported as "K.O.L. Xebec": no.75148 on the viewfinder-only Nippon no.18122,[7] and no.77325 on the Nippon no.21.[7] The serial numbers are later than those of early postwar Sun Sola (s/n 72xxx and 73xxx), and these were perhaps allotted outside the regular sequence in a somewhat arbitrary way.

The lens was renamed the Sun Xebec 5cm f/2, certainly when Gojō became Sun Kōki after 1945. The front bezel is engraved Sun Xebec on one side and 1:2 f=5cm No.xxxxx on the other. The only confirmed example has no.77818 and is mounted on the Nippon no.23001, perhaps made in 1948.[11] It has an aperture ring going from 2 to 12.5, and the same focusing mount as no.66426, with the infinity lock at 7 o'clock, the large mtr marking and the depth-of-field indications from 2 to 12.5, matching the aperture ring.

P1030647

lose focusnob

P1030647

lose focusnob No.74037

Sun Sophia 5cm f/2 Edit

The Sun Sophia 5cm f/2 seems to have a different optical design, and the front element is more recessed and looks more convex than on the Xebec. The barrel has the same features as that of the Sun Xebec, but it looks heavier and more recent. The front part rotates when focusing, and the lens has two aperture scales, one on either side, from 2 to 12.5. It is said that early examples have no focus tab.[12] The front bezel is engraved Sophia on one side and 1:2 f=5cm Sun No,xxxxx on the other. Serial numbers are confirmed in the 727xx and 741xx ranges.[13] (One of these lenses, with no.72715, is found on the Peerless Type-3 no.24001 by Nicca, surely made in 1949.) The numbers in the 727xx range come after those of the Sun Sola 7.5cm and 7.3cm f/3.5 (see below), and before those of the early Sun Sola 9cm f/4, whereas that in the 741xx range comes after the first batch of 9cm f/4 lenses.

5cm f/3.5 lens Edit

Reports exist of a Sun 5cm f/3.5 collapsible lens, with a barrel copied on the Leitz Elmar 5cm f/3.5.[14] Its model name is unknown, and no detail is available.

7.5cm and 7.3cm lenses Edit

The Prominar, Hectar and Sun Sola 7.5cm and 7.3cm f/3.5 lenses are very uncommon. They were certainly among the company's earliest offerings after World War II.

Branding Edit

The reason for the various names found on these lenses is unknown. It is possible that the company was looking for a brand name after 1945. The "Prominar" brand had been used c.1937 on the Prominar Anastigmat 10.5cm f/4.5 lens mounted on the Reex, a Japanese folding camera. It was re-used by the Kowa company, which applied for registration in 1947 (see Kowa), and Sun was perhaps forced to drop it for that reason. The name "Hectar" was perhaps tried afterwards, but it was surely too close to "Hektor" used by Leitz.

The company finally settled on the Sola brand, which was already used during the war for four-element K.O.L. Sola 5cm or 7.5cm lenses.[15] The K.O.L. Sola 7.5cm f/3.5 was notably mounted on the early Mamiya Six, and the Prominar, Hectar and Sun Sola 7.5cm and 7.3cm are perhaps a continuation of this lens.

Prominar 7.5cm f/3.5 and 7.3cm f/3.5 Edit

The Prominar 7.5cm f/3.5 and 7.3cm f/3.5 have a barrel patterned after the early Leitz Elmar 9cm f/4, with a black and chrome finish. The only chrome plated part is the long focusing ring, covered with very fine mills. The distance scale is engraved in metres and goes down to 1m. The aperture scale is inscribed on the fixed part of the barrel, in front of the diaphragm ring, from 3.5 to 12.5, and depth-of-field indications are given for the same aperture range. The lenses look uncoated from the available pictures. The 7.5cm and 7.3cm versions only differ by the engraving, which merely reads Prominar on one side and F=7.5cm 1:3.5 N°xxxxx or F=7.3cm 1:3.5 N°xxxxx on the other. It is not known if the actual focal length is effectively closer to 7.3cm, or if that number was adopted on some lenses because it reminded the Leitz Hektor 7.3cm f/1.9.

The known numbers are 71963 with 7.5cm engraving,[16] and 72022 with 7.3cm,[17] just before the 72xxx numbers found on the Sola. All these converging evidences certainly indicate that these Prominar lenses were made by the same company as the K.O.L. and Sun lenses, perhaps in the immediate postwar period, before it was reorganized as Sun Kōki.

Hectar 7.5cm f/3.5 Edit

The Hectar 7.5cm f/3.5 is known from a single example pictured in an article by Awano.[18] It is similar to the Prominar, except for the colour pattern: the lens is all black, except for the base of the barrel and the rear portion of the focusing ring, which are chrome plated. The details of the aperture scale are unknown.

Sun Sola 7.5cm f/3.5 and 7.3cm f/3.5 Edit

The early Sun Sola 7.5cm f/3.5 and 7.3cm f/3.5 have almost the same barrel as the Prominar. The only difference is that the aperture scale is now inscribed directly on the diaphragm ring, again from 3.5 to 12.5. More pictures of the lens are available, showing the same mtr indication as on the Sun Xebec 5cm f/2.

The earliest known number is 72258, on a 7.3cm lens with unknown finish.[19] Black and chrome lenses are known with numbers in the 723xx range,[20] and the same colour pattern as the Hectar. The front marking reads Sun Sola on one side and F=7.5cm 1:3.5 N°xxxxx on the other.

The lens soon adopted an all chrome finish, with minor variations coming at a fast pace. On lens no.72458, the lower part of the front marking is f=7,5cm 1:3,5 No,xxxxx.[21] On no.72471, the focal length becomes f=7,3cm, and distance numbers in feet are visible next to the normal engravings in metres — though these might have been added afterwards by an American customer.[22]

The late lenses have a modified front end, with the same styling as on the early Sola 9cm f/4. It has a slimmer diaphragm ring with an F next to the aperture scale, and two circles further to the front. The only such lens known so far is no.72498, whose focal length appears as f=7,5cm again.[23]

From the available numbers, it appears that the Prominar, Hectar and Sola 7.5cm and 7.3cm lenses were made in very small quantity, perhaps less than 500 units.

9cm lenses Edit

The 9cm f/4 is the most common of the Leica mount lenses made by Sun. Its optical design has four elements in three groups.[24] It was certainly introduced just after the Sola 7.5cm and Sophia 5cm, towards the end of the 1940s or beginning of the 1950s.

Sun Sola 9cm f/4, chromed brass Edit

The early model is made of chromed brass, and has a beautiful finish. The lens barrel is all chrome, and the focus ring is covered with fine mills. The distance scale is engraved in feet, from ∞ to 3.5ft. The front part certainly turns when focusing. The diaphragm ring is similar to that of the late Sola 7.5cm; it has two aperture scales, going from 4 to 16, and matched by the depth-of-field indications.

The earliest lenses have numbers in the 73xxx range, and sometimes show some pitting. The later batches, in the 80xxx, 81xxx and 82xxx range, have better chrome plating, and sometimes have Made in Japan on the aperture ring.

Very good comments have been made on the picture quality, and most of the people who actually tried the lens say that it compares favourably with the Elmar 9cm f/4.[25]

Sun Sola and Sun Xebec Telephoto 9cm f/4, alloy Edit

The late model of the Sun Sola 9cm f/4 has an alloy barrel with a leatherette band at the base, inspired by the new style Elmar 9cm f/4 introduced in 1951. The focus ring is knurled, and the distance and aperture scales have similar specifications to the earlier version. The front part still rotates when focusing, hence the two aperture scales. The filter thread has 34mm diameter.[26]

The finish looks much cheaper and marks a turning point for the company: Sun products would decline in quality afterwards, turning one of Japan's first-rate optical makers into a producer of lowly lenses in the 1970s and 1980s. Nonetheless, the picture quality of these late Sola 9cm f/4 still gets favourable reports,[27] though other users are less impressed.[26]

The late Sola 9cm f/4 are known with lens numbers in the 84xxx and 85xxx range. After that, it seems that the brand name Sola was abandoned. Various lenses are reported as "Sun 9cm f/4", with no brand name, and numbers in the 86xxx range.[28] At some point, the lens name was turned to Xebec, certainly in the second half of the 1950s. The Xebec no.86674 is the last known so far in the main numbering sequence.[29]

The last version is the black and silver Sun Xebec Telephoto 9cm f/4. It has the same barrel as the late Sun Sola and Xebec, but the fixed parts are black anodized. The black front bezel is engraved SUN OPT. Xebec TELEPHOTO 1:4 f=9cm xxxxx with some triangular mark between the focal length and the serial number. The word Japan is engraved in front of the focus ring. The only serial number confirmed so far for that version is 54337,[30] in a new sequence apparently inaugurated on the Sun Telephoto 13.5cm f/3.5 (s/n 53xxx and 54xxx).

The 9cm lenses with the Xebec name are downright rare. Despite their typical late 1950s finish, they are sometimes advertised as made for the early postwar Nippon, because of the Xebec brand name. Sun actually revived that brand name on other products too, such as a Xebec Telephoto auxiliary lens set for TLR cameras,[31] which has the same triangular logo as the black and silver Sun Xebec Telephoto, certainly the company's new logo.

The 9cm f/4 lens was available in Japan for ¥13,000 in mid 1955, in Leica, Exakta or 42mm screw mount,[32] and for ¥15,000 in summer 1957, in Leica or Exakta mount.[24]

13.5cm lenses Edit

Sun Telephoto 13.5cm f/3.8, rangefinder coupled Edit

The Sun Telephoto 13.5cm f/3.8 exists in a rangefinder coupled version, directly attached to the camera mount. This lens is less common than the Sun Sola 9cm f/4, and the only number known so far is in the 154xx range.[33]

This lens has an all chrome barrel, quite similar to that of the early Sun Sola 9cm f/4, with a tripod attachment at the bottom. The lens head rotates when focusing. The focus ring is quite long and has fine mills in its middle part. It has a distance scale engraved in feet at the rear, perhaps down to 5ft, and the mention Made in Japan towards the front. The aperture ring is immediately to the front. It has two aperture scales graduated from 3.5 to 22, one on each side, whose indexes are on the focus ring. The lens name, features and serial number are inscribed on the side, around the lens rim. At the same time, the lens was also offered in Exakta mount with a similar finish.

Sun Telephoto 13.5cm f/3.8, for reflex housing Edit

The Sun Telephoto 13.5cm f/3.8 also exists in a short barrel version for a reflex housing, again with 39mm screw mount but with no rangefinder coupling. Its film-to-flange register fits the Accura reflex housing, and certainly also the Leitz PLOOT and Visoflex, and the Kilfitt Kilarscope reflex housings.

The example pictured below has a serial number in the 307xx range.[34] Its barrel is made of aluminium or light alloy. The various rings tend to discolour in a somewhat uneven way, perhaps because different alloys were used for the various parts. The focus ring is knurled, and the distance scale is again engraved in feet. The aperture ring has a scale on each side. The name, features and serial number are inscribed at the front, and there are two milled rows further to the front.

The Sun Telephoto 13.5cm f/3.8 was sold at the same period in Exaxta or 42mm screw mount, with a similar finish of the main barrel and a leatherette covered tube at the rear. It seems that this tube is fixed and cannot unscrew to transform the lens into the short barrel version, but nothing is confirmed for sure. In documents dated 1955, the lens is listed in Exaxta or 42mm screw mount only, perhaps indicating that the rangefinder-coupled version was no longer available.[35]

Sun Telephoto 13.5cm f/3.5, rangefinder coupled Edit

The Sun Telepĥoto 13.5cm f/3.5 is certainly the successor to the f/3.8 model. Its optical design has four elements in three groups.[24] It has an alloy barrel, whose styling reminds that of the late Sun Sola 9cm f/4. The base is covered by a band of leatherette, and the rest is all silver. The focus ring has shallow knurls, and is sometimes engraved in metres. The aperture ring goes from 3.5 to 22. The serial numbers known so far are in the 53xxx and 54xxx range.[36]

Advertisements dated early 1955 already show the 13.5cm f/3.5, announced in Leica, Exakta and Praktica mounts.[37] In summer 1957, the lens was available in Japan for ¥20,000, for Leica or Exakta.[24]

Notes Edit

  1. "Kokusan shashinki no genjōchōsa" ("Inquiry into Japanese cameras"), lens item Ja1; Shirai, p.23.
  2. Awano, p.122 of Kurashikku Kamera Senka no.32.
  3. Advertisement for K.O.L. lenses reproduced in Inoue, p.132, and in Hagiya, p.179 of Sekai no Raika renzu.
  4. Lens described, pictured and tried in Mori, pp.100–3 of Kurashikku Kamera Senka no.58. The lens is also pictured in Awano, p.122 of Kurashikku Kamera Senka no.22, and one of the pictures of Mori's article is reproduced in this page of Akiyama Michio's Red Book Nikkor.
  5. Mori, p.100 of Kurashikku Kamera Senka no.58.
  6. Mori, p.100 of Kurashikku Kamera Senka no.58. This also appears on the pictures on p.101 of the same source.
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 Lens reported in Mori, p.97 of Kurashikku Kamera Senka no.58.
  8. Lens pictured in HPR, pp.258–9.
  9. Lens sold in lot no.312 of Westlicht auction no.8.
  10. Lens pictured in HPR, p.260.
  11. Lens reported and pictured in Mori, pp.94 and 100–1, pictured and sketched in Shirai, pp.17–8 and 20.
  12. Awano, pp.122–3 of Kurashikku Kamera Senka no.32.
  13. Lens no.72715 pictured in HPR, pp.263–4; lens no.72716 sold as lot no.349 of October 19, 1995 auction by Christies; lens no.72758 pictured in this page at Fukagawa Seimitsu Kōbō; lens no.74100 pictured in Neoka, p.11 of Camera Collectors' News no.221. Presence of a focus tab is confirmed on no.72715 and 74100, and unknown on the others.
  14. Post by David Murphy at Rangefinderforum.com.
  15. Advertisement reproduced in Hagiya, p.179 of Sekai no Raika renzu.
  16. Example observed in an online auction.
  17. Example sold as lot no.282 of Westlicht auction no.13 (June 7, 2008).
  18. Awano, p.124 of Kurashikku Kamera Senka no.32.
  19. Example no.72258, sold as lot no.221 of the January 29, 1998 auction by Christies.
  20. Examples no.72350 and 72381, observed in online auctions or offered by dealers.
  21. Example no.72458, sold at auction on February 8, 2008.
  22. Example no.72471, sold as lot no.351 of Westlicht auction no.12 (November 17, 2007).
  23. Example observed in an online auction.
  24. 24.0 24.1 24.2 24.3 Table of interchangeable lenses in Shashin Kōgyō Summer 1957, p.109.
  25. Various threads at Rangefinderforum.com.
  26. 26.0 26.1 Caption by Voxphoto.
  27. Thread at Rangefinderforum.com.
  28. Lenses sold in past auctions by Christies, no picture available.
  29. Lens sold as lot no.312 of Westlicht auction no.8. It was sold together with a Nippon, making an anachronistic set.
  30. Example observed for sale on various occasions.
  31. Xebec Telephoto Model 44 and Xebec Telephoto Viewer auxiliary lens set observed in an online auction.
  32. Table of interchangeable lenses in the June 1955 special issue of Photo Art, p.78.
  33. Example no.15486 offered for sale by a dealer.
  34. Example no.30758.
  35. Tables of interchangeable lenses in special issues of Photo Art: June 1955, pp.78–9, and October 1955, pp.66–7.
  36. Examples sold as lot no.354 of Rahn auction no.8, sold as lot no.452 of LP Foto auction no.31, sold in past auctions by Christies, offered for sale by a dealer and reported in this thread at photo.net.
  37. Advertisements in Asahi Camera February 1955, p.201, and April 1955, p.174.

Bibliography Edit

Original documents Edit

  • Asahi Camera. Advertisement by Sun Kōki:
    • February 1955, p.201;
    • April 1955, p.174.
  • "Kokusan shashinki no genjōchōsa" (国産写真機ノ現状調査, Inquiry into Japanese cameras), listing Japanese camera production as of April 1943. Reproduced in Supuringu kamera de ikou: Zen 69 kishu no shōkai to tsukaikata (スプリングカメラでいこう: 全69機種の紹介と使い方, Let's try spring cameras: Presentation and use of 69 machines). Tokyo: Shashinkogyo Syuppan-sha, 2004. ISBN 4-87956-072-3. Pp.180–7. Lens item Ja1.
  • Photo Art rinji zōkan: Kamera akusesarī zensho (フォトアート臨時増刊・カメラアクセサリー全書, Photo Art special issue: All the camera accessories). June 1955, no.80 of the magazine. "Naigai kōkan renzu sōran" (内外交換レンズ総覧, Table and Japanese and foreign interchangeable lenses). Pp.78–9.
  • 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. "Naigai hyōjun renzu oyobi kōkan renzu ichiranpyō" (内外標準レンズ及び交換レンズ一覧表, Table of Japanese and foreign standard and interchangeable lenses). Pp.66–7.
  • Shashin Kōgyō no.63, Summer 1957. "Nihon no kamera zenbō: Kōkan renzu ichiran" (日本のカメラ全貌・交換レンズ一らん, Compendium of Japanese cameras: Table of interchangeable lenses). Pp.108–9.

Recent sources Edit

  • Awano Mikio (粟野幹男) and Maeda Daisuke (前田大介). "Kokusan Raika maunto renzu 3: Mezurashii renzu 1" (国産ライかマウントレンズ 3 珍しいレンズ 1, Japanese Leica-mount lenses 3: Rare lenses 1). 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.32, March 1995. No ISBN number. Leica Book '95 (ライカブック'95).. Pp.122–5.
  • Hagiya Takeshi (萩谷剛). "Raika to sekai no Raika-yō renzu" (ライカと世界のライカ用レンズ, Leica and other Leica-mount lenses). In Sekai no Raika renzu (世界のライカレンズ, Leica lenses of the world) Part 1. Tokyo: Shashinkogyo Syuppan-sha, 2003. ISBN 4-87956-061-8. Pp.178–88. (Contains a brief mention of the Sola 9cm f/4 and reproductions of original advertisements for the K.O.L. and Sun lenses.)
  • HPR. Leica Copies. London: Classic Collection Publications, 1994. ISBN 1-874485-05-4. Pp.258–60, 263–4 and 413.
  • Inoue, Mitsuo (井上光朗). "Shashin renzu no yoake. Renzu-ya Funsenki" (写真レンズの夜明け・レンズ屋奮戦記, Dawn of the photographic lens – Fierce war tales between lens shops). 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.14, October 1989. No ISBN number. Rikō kamera no subete (リコーカメラのすべて, special issue on Ricoh). Pp.128–132. (Contains a reproduction of an advertisement listing the K.O.L. Xebec, same as in Hagiya's article, and information on the Gojō company.)
  • Mori Ryōsuke (森亮資). "Sensō ga unda raika kopī-ki 'Nippon'" (戦争が生んだライカ・コピー機「ニッポン(Nippon)」, The 'Nippon' Leica copy, created by the war). 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.58, March 2001. ISBN 4-257-13032-6. Tokushū: Raika bukku '01 Raika kenkyū (特集:ライカブック'01・ライカ研究, Leica book '01: Leica research). Pp.94–103.
  • Neoka Taron (寝岡太論, a pseudonym). "Kurakame shadan" (クラカメ写談, Chatter on classic cameras). In Camera Collectors' News no.221 (November 1995). Nishinomiya: Camera Collectors News-sha. Pp.9–11.
  • Shirai Tatsuo (白井達男). "Nippon Camera" (ニッポンカメラ). 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.)

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