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Prince Flex

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Japanese 6×6 TLR
Prewar and wartime models (edit)
6×6cm Elmoflex | First Reflex | Kiko Flex | Lyra Flex | Minoltaflex | Minoltaflex Automat | Minoltaflex military prototype | Nōman Flex | Ostenflex | Prince Flex | Ricohflex (original) | Ricohflex B | Rollekonter | Roll-o-Frex | Rorter Ref | Rorterflex | Sakura-flex | Simpuflex | Starflex | Taroflex | Valflex | Yokusanflex
Postwar models and other TLR ->
Pseudo TLR and medium format SLR ->
Other Japanese 6×6, 4.5×6, 3×4 and 4×4 ->

The Prince Flex is a Japanese 6×6 TLR, made by Neumann & Heilemann, then by Fujimoto Shashinki Seisakusho and distributed by Fukada Shōkai from 1937 to 1939.

This camera has no design feature in common with the Princeflex camera made by Tōyō Seiki Kōgaku, then Cosmo Camera in the 1950s. (See the Prince page for a discussion of the various cameras with that name.)

Maker Edit

The Prince Flex was developed by the company Neumann & Heilemann in 1937, perhaps from an order by the distributor Fukada Shōkai. It is said that the body casting was bought to a sub-contractor, and that the assembly took place in the Takagi plant.[1] This is the origin of the Neumann & Heilemann marking visible on the camera. The company reportedly had much difficulty to cut the focusing helices and to properly assemble the camera, and at least part of the process was finally transferred elsewhere.[2]

The company Neumann & Heilemann was absorbed in September 1937 by Fujimoto Shashinki Seisakusho, and the Takagi plant became Fujimoto's Mukogawa plant.[3] (Fujimoto was the maker of the Semi Prince folder, which was distributed by Fukada too.) The production of the former Neumann & Heilemann products (including the Prince Flex) continued undisturbed, and the former company name and NH logo were retained in the markings.

All the advertisements seen so far were placed by the distributor Fukada Shōkai.[4] Some of them have a stylized P.C.W. logo, standing for "Prince Camera Works", a dummy name used by Fukada for advertising purpose (see Fukada and Camera Works).[5] None mentions the manufacturer Neumann & Heilemann or Fujimoto.

The new products column in Asahi Camera September 1937 attributes the camera to Fukada Shōkai, and an article in the November 1937 issue of the same magazine says that the camera was "the first product released to commemorate the merge of Neumann & Heilemann with the Prince camera factory", actually corresponding to the Fujimoto company.[6]

First Japanese 6×6 TLR Edit

The Prince Flex was the first Japanese 6×6 TLR, announced in summer 1937, before the Minoltaflex (December). The first advertisement appeared in Asahi Camera in August, and the camera was featured in the new products column of the same magazine in September.[7] (Some sources say that the camera was released in July, but no original document has been found to confirm this.)[8] It is said that the announce of the camera was precipitated by the news that the Minoltaflex would be released soon.[9] It seems that the camera was not really ready for production, hence the problems met by the company.

A year previously, the 4.5×6 Hansa Rollette Ref had been the first TLR-shaped Japanese camera, but the viewing lens was not used for focusing.[10] The 4.5×6 Roll Light Ref was released in January 1937 but it is not entirely clear if it is a real TLR or a pseudo TLR.[11]

Advertisements and other documents Edit

The earliest advertisement, in the August 1937 issue of Asahi Camera, gives the price of ¥165.[12] The new products column of the following month's issue repeats the same price, and mentions 1/200 top speed, perhaps by mistake.[13] The advertisement published in the same September issue gives no price, and offers the camera along with the Semi Prince II.[14] Advertisements published in Asahi Camera November 1937, February and July 1938, and January 1939, give the price of ¥198.[15] According to Awano, the sudden price rise between August and November 1937 was caused by the introduction of a new 20 percent excise tax after the outbreak of war with China.[16]

The last reported advertisement for the Prince Flex is dated April 1939.[17] It seems that the contract between the manufacturer Fujimoto and the distributor Fukada was rescinded in late 1939 or early 1940; the Semi Prince was then transformed into the Semi Sport,[18] and the Prince Flex was certainly completely abandoned at the time. The camera is not in the official list of set prices compiled in October 1940 and published in January 1941, presumably because it was no longer sold.[19]

All the original documents seen so far show the same drawing of a camera, with the body number faintly legible as 501, perhaps the first prototype.[20]

Description Edit

The Prince Flex looks somewhat like the first Ikoflex "coffee can" model, with a hexagonal front standard. The viewing and taking lenses are mounted on two helices geared together, moving this front standard back and forth.[21] These helices are driven either by a lever or by a knob on the photographer's left (see the evolution below). In any case, the camera has no distance scale at all.[22]

The film is advanced by a knob on the photographer's right. There is no auto-stop mechanism, and the advance is normally controlled by manually watching an exposure counter on the back. There is a red window underneath, to set the position of the first exposure.[23] The camera can take either 120 film or 620 film, a feature which was certainly unusual in Japan at the time.[24] Awano says that there is a void space behind the take-up spool, where the Rolleicord has a feeler gear for the exposure counter, and suggests that this is a trace of experiments with the location of the advance mechanism and exposure counter.[25]

The four-fold viewing hood sometimes contains a magnifying lens hinged to the front panel.[26] Various sources indicate that this magnifying lens is removable.[27] The hood has an X-shaped rib at the front, with a small nameplate at the centre, inscribed Prince Flex. There is another nameplate engraved Neumann & Heilemann, attached to the top of the front plate. The serial number is inscribed above the viewing lens, either directly on the hexagonal front standard or on a small plate attached to it by two screws.

The taking lens is a four-element Neotar 7.5cm f/4.5 and the viewing lens is a Radionar 7.5cm f/3.5, certainly with three elements.[28] Both lenses are engraved Neumann & Heilemann, and only the Neotar has a serial number. These lenses were specifically made for the Prince Flex. They were certainly assembled by the Neumann & Heilemann factory from imported elements supplied by Schneider.[29] This ambiguous situation probably explains why the article in Asahi Camera November 1937 says that the lenses were "made in Japan", whereas advertisements in the February and July 1938 issues of the same magazine mentions the Neotar as a "luxury four-element German lens".[30]

The shutter is a Perfekt by Neumann & Heilemann, with a setting lever at the bottom and a release lever at the top. The shutter plate is inscribed NEUMANN & HEILEMANN or NEUMANN HEILEMANN at the top and PERFEKT at the bottom, and has an NH logo on the right. It either has a single silver stripe or two silver stripes on each side of the lens. This shutter was specially made for the Prince Flex, and was called "New Perfekt" (新パフェクト) in the original documents. All the known surviving examples have 1–300, B, T speeds. The new products column of the September 1937 issue of Asahi Camera mentions 1/200 top speed, perhaps by mistake, and the article in the November 1937 issue of the same magazine says 1–300, B, T.[31] The "New Perfekt" was announced as patterned after the Compur, and was optimistically advertised as having the same features as the Compur-Rapid.[32]

Evolution Edit

The early examples are focussed by moving a lever on the side of the hexagonal front standard, to the photographer's left, certainly directly turning the bottom helix. This lever is visible in the original drawing depicting no.501. It also appears on at least two surviving cameras: no.508 (perhaps the eighth produced), pictured in Awano, and the example kept at the Pentax Gallery, pictured in Sugiyama.[33] All three cameras have the serial number directly engraved on the hexagonal front standard. The shutter has a single silver stripe on each side of the lens, and NEUMANN & HEILEMANN at the top. Example no.508 has a frame counter on the back, contained under a triangular casing. It consists of a disc graduated from 1 to 12 and visible through a small round window. It is actuated by a feeler roller via a worm drive, and has a small knob for manual reset. The device is extremely similar to that mounted on the Super Makinet Six and Neure Six, and both were probably inspired by the exposure counter of the Korelle 6×6 strut-folder.

The regular examples are focussed by turning a knob on the left-hand side, engaging the upper helix via a gear.[34] They have the serial number inscribed on a small plate attached to the hexagonal front standard by two screws, and at least one of them is known to have the two last digits of the serial number repeated on the front standard, hidden under that plate.[35] These examples were perhaps made after the production of the focusing helices and assembly of the front standard was transferred to another factory (see above). The version with focusing knob is mentioned in none of the original documents observed so far: the drawing of no.501 appears in an advertisement as late as July 1938, whereas an advertisement dated January 1939 shows no illustration at all.[36] The illustrations used in the advertisements were perhaps outdated, and no definitive conclusion can be drawn from these.

Various examples are known with the focusing knob, including no.614, 654, 665, 675, 751 and 768.[37] Some of these cameras, but not all, have a different design of the shutter plate, with wider stripes on each side of the lens and the words NEUMANN HEILEMANN at the top separated by a larger diamond-shaped index.[38] Lens numbers are known in the 156xx and 157xx range.[39]

Several cameras with focusing knob are known to have the same frame counter as no.508.[40] At least one camera (body no.665) has a different arrangement of the back, with a red window instead of the frame counter reset knob, facing a hole drilled in the pressure plate. It is not entirely clear if this arrangement is original or results from a repair.[41] (The same example has traces of repair on the viewing hood.)[42]

The highest body number observed so far is 768,[43] and the total production of the Prince Flex perhaps did not exceed 300 units.

Notes Edit

  1. Tanimura, p.98 of Kurashikku Kamera Senka no.12, and p.439 of Kokusan kamera no rekishi, based on the testimony of a former employee of the company.
  2. Tanimura, p.439 of Kokusan kamera no rekishi and p.98 of Kurashikku Kamera Senka no.12, based on the testimony of a former employee of the company. It is not entirely clear which part of the process was transferred elsewhere.
  3. Tanimura, p.99 of Kurashikku Kamera Senka no.12 and p.439 of Kokusan kamera no rekishi. Less detailed accounts of this are given in Tanaka, p.122, and in Watakushi no ni-gan-refu kamera-ten, p.25.
  4. Advertisements reproduced in Kokusan kamera no rekishi, p.91, in Awano, pp.8–10 of Camera Collectors' News no.114, and in Tanimura, p.98 of Kurashikku Kamera Senka no.12.
  5. P.C.W. logo: advertisements dated September and November 1937 reproduced in Kokusan kamera no rekishi, p.91 and in Awano, p.9 of Camera Collectors' News no.114.
  6. Articles reproduced in Awano, p.7 of Camera Collectors' News no.114. September 1937: 深田商会のプリンスフレックス. November 1937: 古くからルレックス・シャッター等を作っているノイマン・ハイレマン社が、プリンス・カメラ工場と合併した記念とも云うべき第一回作品で. A similar sentence is repeated in Kokusan kamera no rekishi, p.340. Allusions are also found in Awano, p.3 of Camera Collectors' News no.114, and Tanimura, p.439 of Kokusan kamera no rekishi.
  7. Kokusan kamera no rekishi, p.340.
  8. July: The Japanese Historical Camera, p.29 (in Japanese and English), and Japanese-only version in this page of the JCII.
  9. Awano, p.3 of Camera Collectors' News no.114, and Tanimura, p.439 of Kokusan kamera no rekishi.
  10. The Japanese Historical Camera, p.23 (in Japanese and English); Japanese-only version in this page of the JCII.
  11. Date: Kokusan kamera no rekishi, p.342, and this page of the JCII.
  12. Advertisement reproduced in Awano, p.8 of Camera Collectors' News no.114, in Tanimura, p.98 of Kurashikku Kamera Senka no.12 (where it is wrongly dated August 1938).
  13. Column reproduced in Awano, p.7 of Camera Collectors' News no.114.
  14. Advertisement reproduced in Kokusan kamera no rekishi, p.91.
  15. Advertisements reproduced in Awano, pp.9–10 of Camera Collectors' News no.14, and in Kokusan kamera no rekishi, p.91.
  16. Awano, p.3 of Camera Collectors' News no.114. The full text of the tax law is reproduced here.
  17. Kokusan kamera no rekishi, p.340.
  18. Tanimura, p.51 of Kurashikku Kamera Senka no.11.
  19. "Kokusan shashinki no kōtei kakaku".
  20. The serial number is best deciphered on the reproduction of the August 1937 advertisement in Awano, p.8 of Camera Collectors' News no.114.
  21. Awano, p.1 of Camera Collectors' News no.114. A picture on p.6 of the same source shows the upper helix.
  22. This unusual feature is pointed at by Awano, p.2 of Camera Collectors' News no.114.
  23. Tanaka, p.124.
  24. Takes both 120 and 620 film: Awano, pp.1–2 of Camera Collectors' News no.114. A picture on p.6 of the same source shows the dual-sized winding axis.
  25. Awano, p.3 of Camera Collectors' News no.114.
  26. The magnifying lens is mentioned in Awano, p.3 of Camera Collectors' News no.114, for body no.508.
  27. Article in Asahi Camera November 1937 reproduced in Awano, p.7 of Camera Collectors' News no.114: "a freely removable magnifying lens is provided" (着脱自在のルーペが用意されています); Tanaka, p.123.
  28. Neotar with four elements: advertisements reproduced in Kokusan kamera no rekishi, p.91, in Tanimura, p.98 of Kurashikku Kamera Senka no.12, and in Awano, pp.8–10 of Camera Collectors' News no.114.
  29. Tanimura, p.50 of Kurashikku Kamera Senka no.11, quoting Takahashi Kenzō, former CEO of Fujimoto, says that the Schneider lenses of the Semi Prince were imported as separate elements and assembled in Japan.
  30. Article and advertisements reproduced in Awano, pp.7 and 10 of Camera Collectors' News no.114.
  31. Articles reproduced in Awano, p.7 of Camera Collectors' News no.114.
  32. "Almost the same as the rim-set Compur" (新コンパーと殆ど同じ): article in Asahi Camera November 1937 reproduced in Awano, p.7 of Camera Collectors' News no.114. ""Has the same features as the Compur-Rapid" (ラピッド新コンパー同様の性能を有す): advertisements dated August, September and November 1937 reproduced in Kokusan kamera no rekishi, p.91, in Awano, pp.8–9 of Camera Collectors' News no.114 in Tanimura, p.98 of Kurashikku Kamera Senka no.12.
  33. No.508 is pictured in Awano, Camera Collectors' News no.114. The other example, pictured in Sugiyama, item 2019, has an illegible three-digit serial number.
  34. This gear is visible in a picture in Awano, p.6 of Camera Collectors' News no.114.
  35. Number 65 engraved underneath the Nr665 plate, reported in Awano, p.3 of Camera Collectors' News no.114.
  36. Advertisements reproduced in Awano, p.10 of Camera Collectors' News no.114, and in Kokusan kamera no rekishi, p.91.
  37. No.614: example pictured Kokusan kamera no rekishi, p.12 (which nonetheless mentions the focusing lever by mistake), in Watakushi no ni-gan-refu kamera-ten, p.25, and perhaps in this page of the Center of the History of Japanese Industrial Technology. — No.654: example pictured in Tanaka, pp.122–3, and in Kanai, pp.27–8 of Camera Collectors' News no.36. — No.665: example pictured in Awano, Camera Collectors' News no.114. — No.675: example pictured in this page. — No.751: example pictured in Takasaki, p.70 of Kurashikku Kamera Senka no.49. — No.768: example observed in an online auction.
  38. Shutter plate visible on no.614, 751 and 768.
  39. Lens no.15608 on body no.665; lens no.15653 on body no.654; lens no.15682 on body no.508; lens no.157x9 on body no.675.
  40. In addition to body no.508, the frame counter is confirmed on body no.654 and 675.
  41. Awano, p.2 of Camera Collectors' News no.114, is not affirmative but says that it looks more like a repair. Detailed pictures are visible on pp.4–6 of the same source.
  42. Awano, p.3 of Camera Collectors' News no.114.
  43. Example observed in an online auction.

Sources / further reading Edit

Links Edit

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