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Tanack V3 and VP

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The Tanack V3 (タナックV3) is a Japanese 35mm rangefinder camera, made from early 1959 by Tanaka Kōgaku. It is often described as a Leica copy, though its design and features were actually inspired from Canon models such as the L1. The camera succeeded to the Tanack IV-S, a successful Leica copy with hinged back, and came after the more ambitious Tanack SD, released in 1957 and inspired from the Nikon S2, that was a commercial failure. The Tanack VP (タナックVP) is an evolution of the V3, that was never officially released and was made in very limited quantities.

The Tanack V3 Edit

Description Edit

Main body Edit

The die-cast body of the Tanack V3 seems to be the same as on the Tanack IV-S, presumably to spare the cost of making new dies for the camera. The company perhaps feared that this would be criticized, and said that the body indeed looked similar but was actually completely redesigned, with reinforcements on various places, and built with better precision.[1]

Viewfinder Edit

The top cover is all new, and its design was somewhat inspired by that of the Canon L1. It contains a viewfinder and rangefinder combined in a single round eyepiece, offset to the left as seen by the photographer. The viewfinder has 1.0× magnification and contains a bright frame for 50mm focal length only, with fixed parallax indications for 3.5ft distance[2] — the automatic parallax correction of the Tanack SD was abandoned for cost reasons.[3] The rangefinder has 50mm effective base[2] and a round second-image window.

Film advance and loading Edit

The film is advanced by a lever at the top right, in a single 160-degree movement or by small increments.[2] It is rewound by a folding crank at the opposite end. The advance lever contains an exposure counter, visible through a crescent-shaped window and manually reset by turning a small thumbwheel in the middle.[4] The sprocket shaft is disengaged for rewind by turning a collar around the release button, with A and R indications.

The back is hinged to the right; it is similar to that of the Tanack IV-S but has a round film reminder in the middle, combined with an exposure calculator for flash bulbs. The locking latch of the IV-S was replaced by a round folding key under the camera, with O and C indications. This new configuration allows to take refillable film cassettes.[2] The word Japan is inscribed in small characters under the camera, next to the locking key, and the tripod thread is on the opposite side.

Shutter and synchronization Edit

The focal plane shutter has special curtains made of a fibreglass-based material; these were described by the company as equalling the metal curtains of Canon cameras, and developing almost no pinholes when directly hit by the sun light, and a utility model was registered for them.[5] The mechanism is operated by two separate dials, and is certainly similar to that of the Tanack IV-S. The top dial is black and normally has B, 25–1 (in red), 50, 75, 100, 200, 500 positions, though very late examples have a different range of speeds (see below). An additional X indication is provided in green, pointing to the same position as 25–1. The front dial is black and chrome, and normally has the positions T, 1, 2, 4, 8, 25 (in red). The company explained that 1/15 and 1/1000 speeds were dispensed with for cost reasons[6] — as was already the case for the Tanack IV-S.

The camera has a PC flash socket at the left end of the top cover. There is a sliding button switching from F to X, placed next to the socket at the rear left of the camera. The accessory shoe is at its usual location between the viewfinder and speed dial. There are strap lugs on both sides of the body.

Lens mount Edit

The lens mount is a three-lug bayonet, inspired by the Leica M3 but specific to the Tanack V3. The lens release button is on the side of the mount, as on the Leica M. No lens was ever introduced for that bayonet mount,[7] and all the Tanack V3 were sold with Tanar lenses in Leica screw mount, mounted via an adapter ring smoothly preserving rangefinder coupling, for which a utility model was registered.[8] The Tanar 5cm f/1.9 and f/2.8 introduced for the camera have an Exposure Value scale engraved on the tip, along the aperture ring. It corresponds to a speed scale inscribed in green at the bottom of the ring, and indicates the proper shutter setting for the required exposure value.

The company was well aware that introduction of a proprietary lens mount would lead to commercial failure,[9] and it seems that the bayonet was only introduced to make lens change easier and quicker[8] — maybe specific lenses would have been manufactured later if the camera had met notable success. The adapter was also available separately,[7] so that the owner could use the bayonet to attach other screw-mount lenses to the camera. Today, it is probably unwise to buy a Tanack V3 lacking the adapter, which is almost impossible to find alone.

Markings Edit

The name Tanack and model name TYPE–V3 are engraved above the viewfinder, together with a red film plane indicator. The serial number is engraved in front of the accessory shoe: N°xxxxxx. The company name Tanaka Optical Co., Ltd. is engraved at the rear of the top cover.

Commercial life Edit

The Tanack V3 was announced and advertised in Japanese magazines from January 1959.[10] The January advertisement in Camera Mainichi lists the camera for ¥36,000 with a Tanar 5 cm f/1.9.[11] (This was ¥2,500 less than the Tanack IV-S with f/2 lens, an indication that rangefinder cameras were becoming harder to sell.) Other standard lenses available for the camera were the Tanar 5cm f/2.8 and f/1.5.[2]

The March 1959 issue of Shashin Kōgyō contains a detailed article on the camera by Saitō Tomosaburō (齋藤友三郎) of the Tanaka company, perhaps the main designer.[12] According to this article, the name "V3" was supposedly reminding the "3 Very good" points of the new model: its precise and advanced mechanism, its excellent feeling, and its low price.[8]

The July 1959 issue of the same magazine lists the Tanack V3 with the three lens options: with Tanar f/1.5 at ¥39,000, with Tanar f/1.9 at ¥36,000 or with Tanar f/2.8 at ¥29,000. The pictured camera is probably the same as in March; its serial number is barely legible but might be in the 1022xx range.

The last advertisement for the camera was published in September 1959 in Camera Mainichi.[13] The camera was probably available for a few more months, until Tanaka's failure in December of the same year.

Variations and total production Edit

Serial numbers for the Tanack V3 are confirmed in the 102xxx and 103xxx range, from 102446 to 103798,[14] in addition to body no.1022xx used in the press pictures. The total production can be estimated at about 1,500 units.

Almost all the examples have the range of speeds described above, up to body no.103736.[15] The last known camera, with no.103798, has a newer range going to 1/1000. Its main dial has the following positions: B, 30–1 (in red) and X (in green), 60, 125, 250, 500, 1000. Its front dial has T, 1, 2, 4, 8 and presumably 30 (in red). The fitting of 1/1000 was perhaps experimental only, and we may wonder if the older shutter design inherited from the Tanack IV-S could reliably sustain that speed.

The Tanack VP Edit

Description Edit

The Tanack VP is an evolution of the V3, mainly differing by the viewfinder and lens mount. The bayonet mount of the V3 was abandoned, and the VP has an ordinary Leica screw mount. The top cover is slightly higher than on the V3. The finder has a larger window for illumination of the bright frame, as in the Leica M3, including the square second image window for the rangefinder. There is a slot at the rear of the top cover, next to the viewfinder eyepiece, apparently for a magnification or bright frame switch that was planned but never installed.[16] The speed dials have the same geometric progression as on the late Tanack V3, but the top speed is 1/500 only.

The engraving of the Tanack name on the top cover differs from that of the V3. The model name is engraved below, as — VP — with two dashes. The company name Tanaka Optical Co., Ltd. is engraved at the rear of the cover, more to the right than on the V3. The serial number is not engraved on the top cover, and has moved to an unknown location.

The Tanack VP is normally paired with a Tanar 5cm f/1.8 standard lens, that was certainly specifically developed for the new model.

Production and surviving examples Edit

The Tanack VP was never announced or advertised in the press,[10][17] and was certainly not commercially sold before Tanaka's failure in December 1959.[4] It is said that a few examples were assembled afterwards and somehow reached the market.[4] The development of the camera was perhaps unfinished, as indicated by the unused slot near the viewfinder (see above). According to a repairman that disassembled a surviving camera, the design and build quality of the viewfinder unit was quite poor.[18]

Pictures of two different examples are available. One reportedly has body no.8084 and appears in various books, paired with lens no.82426.[19] The other lacks the rangefinder adjustment screw at the front and is paired with lens no.82325.[20] From this scarce data, it seems that only very few examples were made — surely less than a hundred and perhaps only a handful prototypes.

Notes Edit

  1. Saitō, pp.248–9 of Shashin Kōgyō March 1959: 本体のボディ・ダイカストは、タナックIVS型と類似しているように見えますがもちろん全く新しい設計であり、IVS型にすでに採用されてきた裏蓋完全開閉式を生かすための必要部分に、多少共通点がある以外はすべての点において強度と精度を第一として製作してあります.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 Saitō, p.249 of Shashin Kōgyō March 1959.
  3. Saitō, p.249 of Shashin Kōgyō March 1959: パララックスの匡正は価格の都合上自動式をやめ.
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 Teranishi, p.26 of Kurashikku Kamera Senka no.45.
  5. Saitō, p.249 of Shashin Kōgyō March 1959: シャター膜はキャノンに採用されている金属膜に匹敵する特殊膜(ガラスウールを主体とする)を使用し(実用新案申請中)従って従来のような直射日光による膜の焼損は試験結果からもほとんど認められません.
  6. Saitō, p.249 of Shashin Kōgyō March 1959: シャター速度は実用第1主義を採ったため、1/1000および1/15を省略し価格の切りつめをはかりました.
  7. 7.0 7.1 Awano, p.55 of Kurashikku Kamera Senka no.37.
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 Saitō, p.248 of Shashin Kōgyō March 1959.
  9. Saitō, p.248 of Shashin Kōgyō March 1959: しかしながら、レンズ交換の妙味は広範囲、かつ自由にレンズを選定できることが第1要件であり、いかに便利な方式と思われても、専用のマウントでは完全とはいえません.
  10. 10.0 10.1 Kokusan kamera no rekishi, p.389.
  11. Advertisement reproduced in Kokusan kamera no rekishi, p.253.
  12. Saitō, pp.248–9 of Shashin Kōgyō March 1959.
  13. Kokusan kamera no rekishi, p.389.
  14. Example no.102446 sold as lot no.142 of the October 15, 1998 auction by Christies; example no.103798, sold as lot no.259 of Westlicht auction no.10.
  15. Example no.103736 pictured in HPR, p.301.
  16. Teranishi, pp.26 and 27 of Kurashikku Kamera Senka no.45.
  17. Awano, p.55 of Kurashikku Kamera Senka no.37.
  18. Teranishi, p.27 of Kurashikku Kamera Senka no.45, quoting the repairman who opened the camera.
  19. Example pictured in Awano, p.54 of Kurashikku Kamera Senka no.37, in Sugiyama, item 3770, in HPR, p.303. The body number is reported in the latter.
  20. Example pictured in Teranishi, pp.26–7 of Kurashikku Kamera Senka no.45, and in this page of Nagoya's Camera Club.

Bibliography Edit

Original documents Edit

  • Saitō Tomosaburō (齋藤友三郎), of the Tanaka Kōgaku company. "Tanakku V3 no kikō to tokuchō" (タナックV3の機構と特徴, Mechanism and characteristics of the Tanack V3). In Shashin Kōgyō no.83, March 1959. Pp.248–9.
  • Shashin Kōgyō no.87, July 1959. "Line-Up: Kokusan fōkaru purēn shattā tsuki 35-miri kamera" (国産フォーカル・プレーンシャッター付35ミリカメラ, Japanese 35mm cameras with focal-plane shutter). Pp.38–9.

Recent sources Edit

Links Edit

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