The Beseler Topcon Super D was the combat camera for the US Navy.

by John Waco Jr September. 20, 2019 75 views

Bother my older brother’s served in US Navy from the 1968s to the 1988s after winning a competitive test with the Nikon F and several other Japanese and German cameras. It won for much stouter construction and better ergonomics. The US Army and US Marines went with Leica for silence. It fits to your hand like a perfect weapon, with the front-facing shutter button right under your right forefinger. Also, that huge, 5.8 cm f/1.4 lens is one of the sharpest ever honed and does not vignette, even when shot wide open. At this late date, not even Nikon manages this because it's much too expensive. The case is also real, made of pebble grain leather.

The Beseler Topcon Super D was the combat camera for the US Navy

Topcon's Super D was very popular with the US Navy. Different versions were ordered 1) without the mirror lock up 2) with the mirror lock up 3) the Super DM. The first two versions were ordered primarily in chrome, but some black bodies were available. All variations have "US NAVY" engrave on the baseplate. While the Navy ordered standard Topcon lenses, a few special US Navy lenses were ordered with infinity lock and a red "N" preceding the serial number to indicate "Navy." One such lens is the 135/2.8 Black.

A number of Navy Topcon’s were assembled in a "Submarine Periscope 35mm Camera Set KS-93A” set which included a Topcon Super D body (non mirror lock version), motor drive, and 100/2.8 Topcon, supplied in an aluminum case. The Super D was marked US Navy on the bottom plate. The 100/2.8 had the red "N" engraving on the filter ring indicating Navy.

Production is unknown, but the Topcon US Navy Super D's are much more plentiful than the Nikon Navy F's. I believe a reasonable guess would be 2,000-5000 cameras, produced through the three major Super D variations.

In one of its 1968 ads, Topcon proudly proclaimed its choice by the US Navy and the FBI. What markings, if any, were used on the FBI cameras is unknown. At the time, Topcon was distributed in the US by Beseler, and the camera was called the Beseler Topcon. A popular story at the time was Topcon got the Navy contract because a Navy purchasing agent thought Beseler was an American made camera! I'm not sure, but I would not be surprised if it were true.

A few Topcon Units have shown up with US Navy property tags.

"The RE-Super/Super-D camera bodies were built like tanks. Very durable, although they eventually do need clean/lube/adjust service after 20-30 years. The square corners get dented up easily. Wide selection of focusing screens, which can easily be changed without any exposure compensation. The metering works well, although some claim that by metering at a point that is not in focus (the mirror), the metering pattern is a bit screwy to say the least. My Super-D exposed a lot of Kodachrome 64 quite accurately.

The camera is heavy. Lots of very strong pot-metal castings. The lenses are mostly 100% aluminum, to make up for the heavy camera.

The Navy apparently used Super-D's in the Orion sub chaser planes that used to prowl the coasts, especially the Pacific coast. That's why the lenses made for them had infinity locks, you're always flying high enough to focus at infinity. They took a beating in this service, probably being dropped and picked up frequently in the planes. The Navy cameras were marked "U. S. NAVY", and the lenses had an "N" on the front ring.

The late RE GN Topcon 50/1.4 was indeed a very sharp lens. Unfortunately, they achieved this using radioactive Lanthanum glass, and they are all turning rather brown by now. (I have one I bought new for $99 in 1978, and I recently bought a Geiger counter and made this discovery. Hotter than the radioactive Submicron.)"

I bought my first camera in 1970 at a charity shop in Oxnard, California with six lenses, two extension rings, an extra different focusing screen, an angled critical focus magnifier, the pain in the bum hot shoe fixture, and a huge plug-in-the-wall type flash (went up in flames decades ago) all in a cardboard box for 300 USD. The camera body is engraved "US Navy" on the bottom cover.

All the B&W photos were taken within the services time prior 1968 to 1988 by my two brother’s and the older one’s my farther from 1941 to 1948. ALL the colour photos were taken by me.

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Buster Bruce 3 weeks ago

Love these images John! Awesome retro!

3 weeks ago Edited