The Nice is a subminiature camera using 16mm film, made in Japan in the late 1940s, perhaps by Zuihō.
The left-hand side plate appears to be removable for film loading, and has a central lock with O and L indications (for Open and Lock). The camera reportedly takes perforated film in cassettes identical to those of the Steky. The film is advanced by a knob at the top right, with an arrow indicating the winding direction.
There is an exposure counter on the right side, above the viewfinder, with 25 graduations including zero. The middle part of the exposure counter forms a protruding knob, certainly used for manual reset. There is a button behind the counter, with an unknown function. The main release button is on the same side, below the viewfinder.
The shutter is wound by a sickle-shaped lever placed at the front of the camera, strongly reminding the release lever for the Steky's everset shutter. There is a small knob next to that lever, to switch from B to 1/100. The selected setting is displayed in a small round window, a feature which is again reminiscent of the Steky.
The lens is a no-name fixed-focus 25mm f/3.5; its front bezel merely reads ANASTIGMAT 1:3.5 f=25mm. The diaphragm is controlled by a ring with fine mills, graduated from 3.5 to 16.
From the available pictures, it is not clear if the lens is removable or not. Pictures of the Steky taken from a similar angle clearly show the lens mount attached by four slot-head screws, but no trace of this is visible on the Nice.
The name Nice is engraved on the front plate above the lens, and NICE CAMERA is inscribed at the bottom of the left-hand side plate. The serial number is engraved on the same side, at the top, with N° prefix.
Surviving examples Edit
Two surviving examples of the camera have been observed. One is pictured in McKeown, with serial no.1572; the other is in Pritchard. The shape of the speed button is slightly different on the two cameras.
Manufacturer and date Edit
The sources differ on the manufacturer and release date. The book by Pritchard (1993) attributes the Nice to Riken, and makes it a variant of the Steky, made at about the same time as the Steky III. The 12th edition of McKeown (2004) attributes the camera to a company called "Zuiho Sokuryo Kiki" (see Zuihō). It says that one Japanese source dates the camera to 1949, but "one of the few extant examples came with original photographs taken in 1946 by a USA serviceman who purchased the camera in Japan in 1945 or 1946", and makes it a predecessor of the Steky. Some websites have retained the same story, making the camera a prototype of the Steky, whose production was later transferred to Asahi Musen then Riken.
There are some doubts on the reliability of that story, which is based on very thin evidence. The original version of the Steky has nickel plating and a rather rough finish, whereas the Nice looks more refined and certainly has chrome plating, hence the datation originally proposed by Pritchard (about the same time as the Steky III). Moreover, a reliable Japanese source on the history of Riken and Ricoh says that the Steky was developed by Riken's subsidiary Asahi Musen in 1946 and released in 1947, and does not mention an external predecessor.
A plausible alternative would be that the Nice was a copy of the Steky, made by Zuiho independently of Riken, trying to build on the success of that model. The name Nice was not chosen at random: it is the English translation of the Japanese word suteki (すてき), from which Steky is a phonetic adaptation, pronounced the same. At the time, small Japanese manufacturers were still keen on copying other products, including products of the domestic camera industry. For example the Ricohflex III, another major success by Riken, was followed by many obscure copies made by unrelated Japanese companies (including the Akumiflex, Dorimaflex, Monade Flex, Rolex, Ruvinalflex, Silverflex, Tsubasaflex and so on).
- ↑ Pritchard, p.62, this page at Submin.com and this page at Subclub.org.
- ↑ The front marking is visible in McKeown, p.1064. The lens is reported as a Nice 25mm f/3 in Pritchard, p.62, but this is contradicted by the picture.
- ↑ This page at Submin.com says that the lens is interchangeable, but this is perhaps an extrapolation. The remaining sources are silent on this point.
- ↑ Example pictured in McKeown, p.1064.
- ↑ Example pictured in Pritchard, p.62.
- ↑ Pritchard, p.62.
- ↑ McKeown, p.1064.
- ↑ This page at Submin.com, and this page at Subclub.org.
- ↑ See the pictures in Pritchard, p.60, or in this page at Submin.com.
- ↑ Arimura, p.6 of Kurashikku Kamera Senka no.14.
- Arimura Katsumi (有村克巳). "Rikō Ryakushi" (リコー略史, Ricoh short history). 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.6–7. (This history of the Riken and Ricoh company does not mention the Nice.)
- 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.1064.
- Pritchard, Michael and St. Denny, Douglas. Spy Cameras — A century of detective and subminiature cameras. London: Classic Collection Publications, 1993. ISBN 1-874485-00-3. P.62.