Nikon Historical Society Journal

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The Reflex Housing II

By Robert J. Rotoloni, from NHS-37, Sept 1992

Actual operation of the reflex housing was quite simple. It bayoneted to the body exactly as a lens would. On the users right side was a small protrusion that housed two fittings. The forward receptacle would take either a Nikon cable release or the standard equipment finger tip release. The finger tip unit stood nearly three inches high and had a locking plunger. It served as the primary release for the entire camera-housing-lens setup and was quite comfortable to use. As you depressed the plunger the mirror would begin to rise. At the same time a rod would rise within the second rear mounted receptacle, to which was attached a special cable supplied with the housing. The other end of this cable attached to the shutter release on the Nikon body. As the rod extended upward into the cable it would release the camera shutter. The time of release could be user adjusted to synchronize exactly with the rising mirror! A locking knob visible on the side of the rear fitting could be used to adjust the height of the release socket. Careful adjustment of the height allowed for the shutter to release only when the mirror was fully raised with practically no delay factor. It works, try it! As mentioned a regular cable release could be used in place of the finger tip if wanted. Both releases could be locked to hold the mirror in the I up' position. Why? Well, if you were shooting with a motor on rapid sequence for a few frames you could do it without the mirror getting in the way. Maybe a bit crude, but it worked for short bursts.

The user could switch from horizontal to vertical format by depressing a small chrome button on the left side of the housing. This allowed the body mount to rotate 90 degrees. This movement was, via a geared wheel, connected to the fine ground glass focusing screen. As you rotated the camera through the 90 degrees the screen also rotated to indicate the proper vertical frame! A nice touch and it works quite smoothly.

Serial numbers appear to begin at #471101 (which is pictured here!), and have been reported as high as #471769 (also in this article!). This would suggest that less than 800 were made. More may exist but probable production is under 1000! The prisms are also numbered, but were not mated to the housings in exact order. The 45 degree prisms are numbered from #67001 and have been recorded up to #67623. The 90 degree prisms begin at #77001 but have only been reported up to #77056!!

The Nikon Reflex Housing was never made in large numbers, and the 90 degree prism can be considered rare. They are also an impressive item and mechanically interesting, all of which makes them an exceedingly valuable accessory today, with reported sales at 20 times original list price!

This article is concerned with the second version of the Nikon Reflex Housing, which we call the Type Two. Its predecessor will be covered at some later date, as not enough information is available at this time to produce a definitive report on the much rarer Type One. However, even though this second type was made in larger numbers, it also is not what can be called a common item, and changes hands at very high prices. In addition, two of its accessories can be considered extremely hard to find, if not actually "rare".

The first price sheet which lists the new type reflex housing that I am aware of is dated May 1, 1956, while the last one showing the older type is from November 15, 1955. Therefore, we can assume that sometime in the early months of 1956 the new and improved second version was released at a price of $129.50 (dealer cost was $84.18!), including the 45' angle prism, 4.3X magnifying eyepiece, finger release and cable! The latest listing I have is dated April 1, 1964 where its price had risen to $138.50, still a bargain. The accessory prices were cable release ($7.95), finger tip release ($5.95) and 90' pentaprism ($42.00), about which more will be discussed later.

This newer housing differed significantly from its predecessor in design, if not in function. Its exterior finish was changed from a glossy black to a krackle surface, which extended to both types of interchangeable prisms. Nearly every corner and edge was rounded and contoured to produce an item that, though bulky by nature, was easy to grasp and hold, and seemed less intrusive. The standard prism (of the image erecting type), was newly angled at 45 degrees, a marked improvement over the original model's straight up design. Not only was this new prism more comfortable to use, but it also had a built in 4.3X magnifier and dioptor correction! It was mounted and removed via a very easy to use bayonet locking system.

A second interchangeable prism was announced as early as 1957, but doesn't seem to have been actually available to possibly as late as 1959. It was a 90 degree pentaprism that allowed the user to focus at eyelevel, as you would with a single lens reflex camera! With this prism mounted you could actually aim, focus and shoot in what is, for most photographers, a more natural position. It also had a focusing eyepiece and bayoneted on and off in the same manor. Its original price was only $42.00 but it did increase to $45.00 later on. Though bulkier and heavier than the standard 45 degree prism, it did offer the user a choice of viewing angles. It appears that every few users took advantage, as to this day collected serial numbers still suggest a production run of less than 100 pieces!

The above 2 photos are of a very late example of the Nikon Reflex Housing Type 2 #471769 (actually the latest number on my list at this time). This particular unit came with a 45' finder #67562 and are a matched pair, as both numbers appear on the box it came in. As mentioned in the text, the finder numbers do not follow the housing numbers exactly. Below left shows the finder removed. The two prisms bayonet on & off easily. Bottom right; These two housings currently reign as the earliest and latest numbers known to me at this time. On the left is #471101 and on the right is #471769. Unit #471101 "may" be the first one made as #471128 is used in the instructions & Nikon generally starts things at '01'!

The most interesting accessory, as well as the rarest, made for the housing is the 90 degree penta prism finder. This is a genuine eyelevel prism with an upright, non-reversed image just like that found on any SLR today. It is finished exactly like the housing and the 45 degree finder, and it also has a focusing eyepiece with dioptor control. Serial numbers begin at #77001 and have been recorded as high as #77056. This is unit #77032 mounted on a mid-production housing #471376 (which has a special modification shown on page 6!). The lower left photo shows finder #77018 with its original plain unmarked box which simply has written on the bottom "Pentaprism Finder for Reflex Housing"! Below are units #471101 (left) & #471769 (right). Note the modified exit pupil. The earlier squared off type has been seen as late as #471422. Did the round exit produce less vignetting? Robert J. Rotoloni

The array of releases includes the finger tip,cable (black) & standard cable release which replaces the finger tip. Also made was the Microswitch unit seen in the upper left photo. It would mate the housing to a motorized Nikon. Note the round locking wheel below the chrome fitting. This is the wheel that was used to synchronize the shutter release to the rise of the mirror!

The camera body could be rotated 90 degrees for vertical photos using the side mounted button. As the body was rotated, an interconnected geared wheel would simultaneously rotate the focusing screen to the vertical mode! Very neatly done! Below is the modified unit #471376 mentioned on page 4. Note that it has a built in mask for the half-frame format! When the body is in the hori zontal mode the screen is vertical, as is correct for half-frame. Why has this been done? who did it? is it a factory modification? Its existence makes sense for the simple fact that if you were usin Nikon S3M with the housing the full size screen would be useless for framing! Wouldn't it? Yes, Virginia, someone somewhere would need a half-frame reflex housing, and here it is!

Although there are no major variations, the reflex housing,.as with any Nikon product, was slowly modified over time. Note the large black screw head just above the chrome flange release button in the two photos above. The left unit is #471101 while the right unit is #471110! Obviously the earlier type is much larger. The only other one I have recorded with this larger screw is #471128 used in the instruction sheet, yet my own #471110 has the smaller type! Could this be a prototype feature?

Above left ... #471110 with 3 lens mount retaining screws..l on each side near the lug and one on the bottom. Above right ... #471769 with 5 screws ... 2 on each side of lug and one on the bottom. Units with 3 screws are known up to at least #471422. Later type would be a much stronger mount! Below left ... button to rotate camera on #471110. Below right ...same on #471769 has a serrated edge.

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