Company Profile: Topcon

Pekka Buttler, 03/2024

Quick summary

For some two decades (1957–1976) Topcon was a front-row camera manufacturer that was – at its peak – seen as a serious contender to companies such as Nikon, Canon and Pentax.

Today Topcon has withdrawn from camera manufacture entirely. Even so, Topcon lenses and even several of the cameras still command a high price and have a significant following.

History of Topcon

The company known as Topcon was founded in 1932 through merging the optics/optomechanics divisions of two other companies. The company’s actual name – Tōkyō Kōgaku Kikai K.K – indicates its strong link to Tokyo.

A Topcon–Nikon rivalry

From almost the onset Topcon (Tōkyō Kōgaku) and Nikon (Nippon Kōgaku) were fierce rivals. While these companies would later diversify, both started as pure optics companies.

In pre-war (and wartime) Japan, there existed another fierce (and altogether more significant) rivalry, namely that between the Imperial Japanese Army (IJA)1 and the Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN)2 – two branches of the Imperial Japanese Armed Forces that were so fiercely opposed that they could not agree on policy, could not share an air force (resultantly, both had their own air forces) and both had their own cohorts of industries supporting and supplying them. Nikon was a supplier to the IJN, while Topcon supplied the IJA, deepening the rivalry.

After the Japanese surrender in 1945 and during the years of frantic reconstruction, that rivalry abated for a while. Until, that is, both companies set their sights on the up-and-coming product type of Single Reflex Cameras.

While far from the first Japanese SLR (that title goes to the (Pentax) Asahiflex I) – Topcon launched its SLR – The Topcon R – in 1957, beating both Nikon and Canon by some years. However, it soon became clear that while in the Nikon-Topcon race the Topcon R was ‘first’ the Nikon F was ‘best’. That did not mean that Topcon stopped trying.

The Topcon–Nikon rivalry reached its peak in the mid 1960s, with Topcon unveiling significant improvements on its original design. The Topcon RE Super (1963) was the first camera to offer TTL exposure metering as standard and did so in a rugged, reliable and versatile body that convinced even the professionals. The apogee of Topcon’s trajectory came in 1971 with the Topcon Super D – a rugged yet sophisticated camera so good that The US Navy chose it as its official combat camera over all the other Japanese and German alternatives.

However – as is often (too often?) the case – having a superior product does not yet make you a winner3. After the Topcon Super D, Topcon made one more improvement to its flagship model: the Topcon Super DM (1973–1976)), then gradually retreated from the fight – first from the manufacture of professional-level SLRs (1976) and then from consumer optics altogether.

Topcon product lineups

As already mentioned, Topcon started out as an optics company, manufacturing optics for both industrial and military purposes. Topcon’s early adventures in the camera business centered on manufacturing roll film (120 and 127 format) cameras, as well as offering optics and interchangeable lenses for other cameras.

With regards to 35 mm film cameras Topcon offered both some early viewfinders and rangefinders, before launching an all-out assault on the nascent SLR market. In this no-holds-barred assault, Topcon used a – from today’s perspective – somewhat odd policy.

First (chronologically), Topcon offered its professional range of cameras starting with the Topcon R and ending with the Topcon Super DM (1957–1976). These cameras used Topcon’s implementation(s) of the existing Exakta bayonet mount and are generally referred to as the Topcon RE-line. (Models: R I, R II, R III, RE Super, RE-2, Super D and Super DM).

Second, Topcon offered a line of lower-end, fixed-lens leaf shutter SLRs cameras (1959–1963) (Models: PR, PR II, Wink Mirror, Wink Mirror E)

Third, and clearly based on the above, Topcon offered (1963–1978) a medium range line of interchangeable lens SLRs combining a leaf shutter and interchangeable lenses in an SLR package (this seems to have been a thing in the 1960s). This line of cameras and lenses used a proprietary mount known as the Topcon UV mount. Resultantly, this line of cameras is also known as the Topcon UV line (Models: Wink Mirror S, Uni, Unirex, Unirex EE, IC-1 Auto, (new) IC-1 Auto).

Finally, as Topcon was already on the cusp of withdrawing from camera manufacture, Topcon also offered three more cameras that technically continued on the Topcon-RE line (the RE 200 and RE 300), as well as the RM 300 (which used the Pentax K mount) but these were a far cry from the workmanship and quality of the 1970s flagship models.

Topcon Lenses

Beside various optics for fixed lens cameras (both Topcon and others), Topcon manufactured lenses for a range interchangeable lens mounts as well as for the Topcon/Horseman large format camera. Since the early 1950s Topcon lenses were harmonised under the Topcor trade name.

Leica Thread Mount

During the late 1940s and 1950s Topcon manufactured LTM mount lenses (typically copies of early Leitz and Zeiss designs) for Japanese Leica-type cameras, most promimently the Leotax.

Topcon/Exakta lenses

As you might have deduced from the above, Topcon had to make some rather radical changes to its line of professional lenses to keep ahead of the competition. Hence, not all lenses that feature the Topcon/Exakta mount are fully cross-compatible, nor are their operation and ergonomics entirely similar. While most of these differences matter little for adapting Topcon/Exakta lenses, it is worthwhile to enumerate the main variants of Topcon/Exakta lenses:


Topcon launched the Topcon R – its first professional level SLR – in 1957. From the beginning this system used the Exakta mount as the physical connection between camera and lens, but Topcon did not go for full compatibility with Exakta. Most importantly, Topcon placed the shutter release on the other side of the lens, leading to that Exakta lenses ‘pod’ was in the wrong position on Topcon bodies (and vice versa).

Pictured Exakta camera and CZJ Flektogon 25 mm f/4 lens with the shutter actuation pass-through mechanism (alias: pod) typical for that era of Exakta lenses.

Auto-TOPCOR lenses would stop down automatically when pressing the pod to trigger the shutter, but necessitated the user to operate a lever to open the aperture back up again (very much like early semi-auto Praktina lenses)

While revolutionary on its launch in 1957, the Topcon R was replaced in 1960 by the R II, which brought a new lens type/variant. Before that, only three Auto-TOPCOR lenses were launched (35/2.8, 58/1.8 and 100/2.8)

While you can use Auto-TOPCOR without issues on any dumb adapter, they were not compatible with any Topcon cameras after the first Topcon R camera.

R. Topcor

Whereas the Auto-TOPCOR lenses were geared towards stop-down automation, the R. Topcor lenses were an early line of preset lenses. Being preset lenses, they did not try to automate aperture action, and were therefore fully compatible with every Topcon/Exakta camera.

Available lenses: R. TOPCOR 50/2.8, 90/3.5, 135/3.5, 135/2, 200/4, 300/5.6, 300/2.8


A series of lenses designed for the R II and R III cameras, supporting full aperture automation and lens-body communication. Not compatible with other cameras than R II and R III (but can be adapted without problems).

Available lenses: F. Auto-TOPCOR 35/2.8, 58/1.8, 100/2.8, 135/3.5.


A series of lenses designed for the RE Super, supporting full aperture automation and lens-body communication. Fully compatible with all subsequent Topcon RE -class cameras.

Available lenses: RE. Auto-TOPCOR 20/4, 25/3.5, 28/2.8, 35/2.8, 58/1.8, 58/1.4 85/1.8, 100/2.8, 135/3.5, 200/5.6, 300/5.6, 500/5.6, 58/3.5 macro, 87-205/4.7


As RE. Aut-TOPCOR, but with Guide Number (GN) automation as part of a manual system for improvement of the reliability of flash photography. Only introduced on the new 50 mm focal length standard lenses. The last real Tokyo Kogaku lenses.

Available lenses RE GN TOPCOR 50/1.8 and 50/1.4


Series of lenses introduced together with the RE 200 camera. Fully compatible with every Topcon camera since the RE Super, but no longer manufactured by Tokyo Kogaku (instead designed and manufactured by Cima Kogaku). Many do not consider these to be anywhere near Topcon quality.

Available lenses: RE TOPCON 28/2.8, 35/2.8, 55/1.7, 135/2.8, 200/3.3

Topcon UV lenses

For use with the Topcon UV line of interchangeable lens leaf shutter cameras. These lenses have the name ‘UV Topcor’ on the lens’ name rings. In this, the ‘UV’ refers to that all these lenses are coated with a special coating designed to block UV light and therefore do not need a UV filter for colour photography (not that the lenses are for UV photography).

Available lenses:
UV TOPCOR 28/4, 35/3.5, 50/2.8, 50/2, 53/2, 100/4, 135/4, 200/4

Topcon HI lenses

After the 1974 introduction of the IC-1 Auto camera that no longer used a leaf shutter but still used the physical mount of other Topcon UV cameras, a new line of lenses was launched baring the name HI TOPCOR. I have found no explanation for the ‘HI’.

Two of the lenses available as HI TOPCOR were renamed, earlier UV TOPCOR lenses (the 50/2 and 50/2.8), but two new lenses were also introduced to make use of the more roomy throat of the IC-1 Auto and its successor (the 55/1.8 and the 87-205/4.7 zoom).

Available lenses:
HI TOPCOR 50/2.8, 50/2, 55/1.8, 87-205/4.7

Dating Topcon equipment

Tokyo Kogaku seems to not have had the intention to make the retroactive dating (ascertaining year of manufacture) easy. In fact, the serial numbering system does not seem to have any discernible logic for pairing serial numbers with months or years. Therefore, until someone digs up a lot of old records from the depths of Topcon’s archives there seems to be no better way than to accept that a sample of a lens that was manufactured over 5 years narrows it down to those five.


Topcon still exists today. After having withdrawn from manufacturing cameras, Topcon focused on measurement instruments, especially for surveyors. Today you can find Topcon gear on many construction sites and integrated in many types of heavy construction machineries (from dumpers to excavators.)

As an aside, Topcon has sometimes been referred to as Japan’s Leica4. I was not really sure of the reference until I laid my hands on my first Topcon RE.Auto lens, as the optics and workmanship really is second to none. Therefore, there is some sweet irony in that one of Topcon’s main competitors (in the surveying/geo-measurement industry) today is none other than Leica Geosystems.

Topcon-related articles on JAPB

Lens mounts: Topcon UV
Topcon RE. Auto-TOPCOR 28 mm f/2.8 data sheet
Topcon RE. Auto-TOPCOR 58 mm f/1.8 data sheet
Topcon RE. Auto-TOPCOR 100 mm f/2.8 data sheet
Topcon RE. Auto-TOPCOR 200 mm f/5.6 data sheet
Topcon UV TOPCOR 35 mm f/3.5 data sheet
Topcon UV TOPCOR 53 mm f/2 data sheet

Further reading:ōkyō_Kōgaku


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  3. I have seen three lines of speculation as to why Topcon could not compete (economically) with Nikon and the other Japanese major manufacturers, and while their hypotheses make sense, I’m not yet convinced. ↩︎
  4. You know that a company holds a special position in many hearts when it is repeatedly being compared with some of the greatest names in its industry. ↩︎

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