Tokyo Optical Co./Musashi Manufacturing Co./Sanwa Photographic Supply
This is a rather complex story - and I keep adding more complexities as I learn more. I have amalgamated what are, according to the reference books, three different companies' sections here, first because of growing evidence that Musashi and Tokyo Optical (Tokyo Kogaku) were closely associated, and because it's increasingly difficult to see where the boundary (if any) lies between them. Sanwa I have added in because the Manaflex which is attributed to it seems to me clearly to belong to the same family.
If you find any errors on this page or have any camera I might be interested in, PLEASE LET ME KNOW. Click on the small "thumbnail" pictures below to go to larger ones.
Tokyo Optical is the best-known of these three, and you'll find more about them further on; first the two lesser-known names.
Musashi is, I think, listed only by McKeown (as manufacturer of the Malcaflex), and Kadlubek, who calls the company Musashino Koki. There is a modern company by the name of Musashi with a plant in the Netherlands, where it appears that the company may be involved in fuel cell technology, but whether there is any association I know not!
Sanwa Photographic Supply is credited by Sugiyama - and "Sanwa Shokai" by McKeown - with the Mananflex, the latter carrying the same details of the "Mananflex AII" pictured in the former, but without the "AII" tag. Sanwa Photographic is mentioned nowhere on the web, but there are at least two "Sanwa Shokai"s, one apparently a machine maker, but the other a camera store in Osaka. Lewis' History of the Japanese Camera - usually reliable - only mentions "Sanwa Shokai" briefly in connection with a small 1951 folding camera. What is clear is that the Sanwa identified by the reference books was the prolific producer of a (briefly very) successful series of 16/17.5mm subminiature cameras under the Mycro name - these have acquired a specialist collector interest.
Tokyo Kogaku = Tokyo Optical Co. This company is well known for making Laurelflex and Primoflex TLRs for different distributors, selling them also under its own name as the Topcoflex range. However, none of the key literature mentions the Fodorflex II here. Tokyo Kogaku went on to produce a wide range of middle-market Topcon SLRs up until the end of the 1970s.
Here, a short diversion. The Dorimaflex series (see under my "Other Japanese" page) is credited by Sugiyama and McKeown (I think copying Sugiyama) to "Tokyo Optical Works" - does that sound vaguely familiar? However, Lewis in the History of the Japanese Camera, which is usually reliable attributes both it AND the Mycro series to "Miwa Shokai". Since the Mycros are clearly labelled "Sanwa Co Ltd.", one wonders what the association was. Given the muddling up of all these names, there may here be further evidence for SOME association between Tokyo Kagaku and Sanwa (whoever Miwa Shokai might have been...).
There are other common threads which associate the three companies. Musashi/Musashino uses a "Horinor" lens in several instances, and this is the first clue which helped me to associate these cameras. In fact my early-model Gnoflex doesn't have a Horinor (see below), but both McKeown and Sugiyama insist that the ones that they list do! My Mananflex is different to the AII model quoted by Sugiyama (see below), which has an Elnor lens and NKS-SC shutter. Mine has a Horinor and a Synchro-Super shutter (the same as on the Gnoflex II).
This name of lens only appears on six cameras I know of:
* the Musashi Malcaflexes, of which there are two models I know of - I have one of each see below - both with these lenses;
* the very rare Microntaflex, which is pictured only on one Japanese website I've found;
* the Gnoflex, my example of which is shown below (Kadlubek and Sugiyama say this is a Taiyodo camera, McKeown doesn't attribute it to anyone);
* the very rare Sunflex VI, mine also shown below;
* some variants of the Fodorflex (see further comments);
* my Mananflex, which differs from the Sugiyama one as noted above
The use of particular common component on 1950s Japanese cameras does not necessarily imply any common ancestry - suppliers were notoriously promiscuous in their sales to the myriad small camera manufacturers. However, in this case, the Horinor (and the Elnor) seem to be limited to the family group shown on this page.
I had previously noted a particular oddity about the Sunflex VI. The case which came with it - and says Sunflex on it - also has a small "TOC" logo - see below
I think this logo on the Sunflex VI case looks a bit like it might be an early Tokyo Kogaku one (Tokyo Optical Co.). If it is, then this strongly suggests a link between Musashi and Tokyo Kogaku.
It was some further information received about the Fodorflex which led me to finally make the link to Tokyo Optical. My correspondent, Joep Walters of Holland, wrote to me that he had found my site whilst looking for information about his Fodorflex TLR. He discovered here that the Musashi Sunflex VI has the same taking lens as his Fodorflex - a Horinor 75mm f3.5 and the shutter is the same NKS-FB 1 to 1/300. He also has the identical "TOC" logo on the case.
Interestingly, Joep's Fodorflex must be a bit different from the Fodorflex which I have; it is clearly the same model as the one shown in McKeown, which looks identical to the Sunflex VI! So it looks as if McKeown hasn't made the link to Musashi. However, as noted below, he links it to the Sanwa Mananflex, which uses an Elnor lens like my Gnoflex! The plot thickens - is there any possible link to Sanwa?
By the same token, the Elnor lens on the Sugiyama Mananflex AII, and the Horinor on my Mananflex, led me to associate Sanwa here. On examination, the Mananflex uses an identical body to the Gnoflex, and many of the parts (notably the knobs and the back-opening latch parts) are also identical to the Gnoflex and others.
I have also established that Tokyo Optical rebadged at least one camera for sale by Soligor in the US and Europe - scroll down to Soligor details on this page
Does anyone know anything about more this? If so, PLEASE LET ME KNOW and I'll publish the details here!
My Gnoflex II (perhaps not the official numbering system, but it's clearly a later version than the early one shown first below) looks, incidentally, to be a hybrid of the early Gnoflex, the Laurelflex and Fodorflex II. The body is slightly different from that used on the Mananflex and early Gnoflex, although other parts are identical.
The Primoflex, along with the rarer Topcoflex, is the "typical" Tokyo Optical Co. TLR. The Primoflex is probably the most common of all their products, although still not all that often seen. They are more frequently found in Japan itself than elsewhere. Sugiyama shows ten variants, but McKeown list twelve in total, plus two "Primo-Jr" 4x4 models, although variations between early models are sometimes fairly minimal, if not verging on undetectable.