Modern Classic SLRs Series : Additional info on Nikon Speedlights SB-1 to SB-21A/B

Flash Bulbs

A hardly used gadget nowadays but very popular way back to the '50 and '60. Many of the camera models introduced in that era were incorporated with terminals to accept various types of flash bulbs. They can come in various sizes and types and all work with a principle of burning metal foil in an oxygen atmosphere inside the glass bulb. Because the light is caused by combustion inside the glass envelope, light intensity increases from zero as combustion begins. It reaches a peak value and then falls off as combustion ends and completion of the flash cycle. They are fired or triggered by means of either shutter mechanism in the camera and waits for a specified time delay before it actually opens the shutter. The duration enables the flash bulb to get up to its full brightness. Unlike electronic flash that uses X-sync, flashbulbs works within a duration between triggering and firing the flash bulb and opening of the camera shutter curtain. Such 'time delay' varies among flashbulb types and in some cases, has the properties such as "M" works with daylight film. The Code letters used in various flash bulbs has its characteristic for such firing delay and is indicated by : 'F' for fast; 'M' for medium; 'MF' stands for medium fast while 'S' indicates slow.

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There is another special type of flashbulb operation: FP Flashbulbs. It is a special flashbulb that can be used at certain shutter speeds and "FP" stands for 'Focal Plane'. These are primarily designed to use with focal-plane shutters. As they make a nearly uniform amount of light for quite a long duration time. As it sounds very familiar to some AF flash units which can synchronize with virtually up to 1/4000 sec on some top AF camera models ! The principle is to turn on the light before the focal-plane shutter starts to open and keep the light on until the shutter is completely closed. In an AF flash with FP sync, the bulb in this case, was replaced with small continuous burst of lights from an electronic flash. That was an idea from Olympus that developed for their flagship model OM-4 Ti and OM-3 Ti. The main advantage is to allow use of flash at high shutter speeds with a focal-plane shutter. Generally, FP flashbulbs can be used with any shutter speed and any firing delay except X sync. The FP bulb will extinguish during exposure intervals longer than 1/60 second but enough light will have reached the film to make the exposure. <<< --- Credit: A beautiful image of this rare old Nikon F with BC-7 courtesy of "John and Linda Montayne" <buttons49@papadocs.com> Copyright 2002. All rights reserved. Please respect the visual property of the contributing photographer.

When Nikon entered into production of cameras (rangefinder days), they had already developed a series of flash units to suit user's demand for such devices, when the light condition is not ideal for hand held photographic situations. There were two groups of flash design: In features - collapsible fan or disc-type which use disposable flash bulbs as the main light source and in connection: all the early versions were cable-connected to the camera's sync terminal. They were either sit on camera's mount and/or on a bracket (in the case of disc-type version).

The first Nikon flash was probably introduced in 1951 to support the Nikon M and Nikon S rangefinder camera models. Both the early BC-1/BC-2/BC-B attach to the Nikon rangefinder bodies via a bracket flash rail. They are essentially the early handle flash and the height of the flash can be adjusted via the all chromed flash column.

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<<< ---- Image from my copyright-free image collection. eofooTM.gif Malaysian Internet Resources
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Instruction Manual (CLICK)

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MORE ...... See a few fabulous views of the original leather case of the BCB-flash Unit contributed by Mr. Werner Schrittesser (NEW upload)

NIKON FLASH UNIT BC-III F/ RANGEFINDER

The BC-3 has a shorter column and the back of the reflector and the bracket has a slightly tinted greenish metallic finishing. This was probably introduced in 1954/1955. The main highlight of this version is a clearly visible flash ready light design at the rear section. This rigid and very well built BC-3 unit is very scarce in number.

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" ..Nikon Flash Unit Model BC-III made during the Nikon S/S2 period of Nippon Kogaku rangefinder camera production..." - Tom Duncan -

Credit: The two images of the extremely rare Nikon BC-3 Flash Unit courtesy of Mr. Tom Duncan® <tomd@oddog.com> . Tom also operates a popular Ebay Store selling many used, highly collectible photo equipment. Image copyright © 2003. All rights reserved. Please respect the visual property of the contributing photographer.

Beginning with model number BC-4 and BC-5 and BC-6, were all a compact design. They are still bulb flash units, but they carry a fan-foldable type of design (except the BC-6 which has a fixed reflector). The main highlight of the BC-4 which is also Nikon's fist compact flash, is its direct connection option for Nikon S2, S3 and SP bodies. The compactness and collapsible feature has greatly enhanced their portability. The BC-4 probably started shipping in the mid-fifties. The BC-5 improved on the BC-4, with its flexibility of enabling the use of 22.5-volt battery and also accepting AG-1, M2 and M5 disposable flash bulbs. It also has a unique flash bulb ejector to facilitate faster bulb change. The BC-6 probably became available after the Nikon F was debuted. You can attach the flash directly to the Nikon F via flash coupler AS-1 and/or sync cord. The BC-6 is less flexible in terms of bulb compatibility as it only accepts AG-1 flash bulbs.

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Nikon BC-5 Instruction Manual. The BC-7 manual was also being uploaded. Credit: Courtesy of a Nikon collector from Italy, Mr."Enzo Mazzeo" <enzomazzeo@tin.it> priv. 11 80129 NAPOLI ITALIA Tel/Fax +39 081 5566616 Mobile +39 335 5323175

Most flash bulbs are plugged into a flash bulb holder with a reflector behind the bulb, so most of the light is directed toward the subject, which is very similar to modern day studio flash with a reflector. Not all are such type, there is another type which uses a sync terminal via a connector cord and there is another type that can mount directly on the camera accessory shoe. The principle behind all of these forms the basis of the Nikon BC-7 flash.

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Flash Unit BC-7 One of the very early portable flash units designed by Nikon for their Nikon F and also usable on the late rangefinder bodies. It was a compact and cordless flash unit which fits directly onto the Nikon F. A standard 1.5V battery is used. | Instruction Manual(s) for other Nikon BC-series | Nikon BC-B | Nikon BC-5 | Nikon BC-7 | Nikon SB-1 <<<-- Front view of the BC-7. The major difference between earlier BC-5 and the later BC-7 is located at its flash mounting foot. Credit: MCLau that took some time off and shot these images for me.

Synchronizing cord terminal is fitted to facilitate the use of an extension flash. The reflector is a collapsible fan type. Click-stop swivel head permits direct or bounced light. It is provided with a three-way socket permitting use of bayonet, miniature base or AG-1 flash bulbs. Test circuits incorporated allow check of the bulb, capacitor charge and synchronizing circuit. It is essentially a holder for flash bulbs discussed earlier, it is designed to mount directly on the proprietary accessory shoe of Nikon F and F2 camera bodies (F3's special hot shoe can also be mounted via flash coupler AS-3 which couples Nikon F/F2-dedicated Speedlights to hot shoe of Nikon F3 series cameras. A flash coupler AS-2, would be required to mount the BC-7 onto cameras that have a standard ISO type accessory shoe (Couples Nikon F/F2-dedicated Speedlights to ISO type hot shoe of Nikon F5, F100, F4 series, Nikkormat FT and EL series models, FM, FE, FM2n, FE-2, FA, F90x/ F90 /F801s/F70, F60, F50, F301 or older Nikon SLR models.).

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Credit: Image courtesy of camera$@EBAY®. He also operates a popular Ebay Store where he often lists many used RARE pieces of Nikon, Leica and other old classic photo equipment, Images are also well taken for visual confirmation for buyers - he is also one of my favourite bookmarked Ebay dealer. Image copyright © 2006. All rights reserved. Please respect the visual property of the contributing photographer.

Nikon AS-1

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There is also a 20cm long sync cord available, so the flash holder can be hand held away from the camera if desired, remaining connected electrically through the sync cord. More info is available in Michael Liu's Nikon F - Flash section

It has an old fashioned circular type (Sorry for the choice of words to whoever owns it ..) collapsible fan, metallic reflector which also can be unfolded behind the flashbulb to reflect more light toward the subject.

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Of course, it can also be left folded and the unit used as a bare bulb flash. Indoors, bare-bulb flash gives softer and more diffused illumination because light from the flashbulb travels in all directions and much of it reflects off room walls before illuminating your subject. Light from several directions at once makes shadows that are less dark and less distinct. The flashbulb socket and the reflector can be pivoted upward so all or part of the light bounces off the ceiling before illuminating the subject. Bounce flash also gives softer shadows and more even illumination. Try it for portraits, either with flash bulb or electronic flash. Useful accessory:- Nikon original Flash couplers for various flash models foot incompatibility


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Even when the Nikon F2 and the Nikkormat was introduced, the BC-7 was still quite popular among many photographers with this old flash type flash design much due to its very evenly distributed soft light effect which is quite suitable for portraiture. Mounting the BC-7 onto the Nikon F or F2 is a direct mount process, but if you wish to use it on later bodies with a standard ISO type hot shoe such as the Nikkormat, you would require a flash coupler AS-2. <<<< --- (Below) Front and back view of the BC-7 that my friend Chuck Hester managed to bid successfully for me. I am using it to supplement my Nikon SP. Credit: MCLau that took some time off and shot these images for me.

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With a little imagination, here are 4 basic views of the BC-7 that well illustrated how this flash looks and functions.

Note: Both electronic and bulb-type flash units can mount on the Nikon F's hot shoe. If you intend to use a modern flash unit like SB-16B or SB-15 with ISO type flash mounting foot on the Nikon F, use AS-1 Flash Unit Coupler. If you have F3's flash mount units and wish to share it with your Nikon F or F2 bodies, you can use a Errrr..... oh, a AS-5 Flash Coupler.

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Nikon BC-3 (see top of the Page with the Nikon BC-B Flash Unit) and BC-5 Flash (Credit: Info by: Michael Liu) Not a whole lot of information is known about these units, except that it used the same battery as the BC-7, and that it had a fixed (i.e. non-folding) reflector. It apparently takes standard FP bulbs, and comes with a connecting cord (perhaps one of the BC-X series), folding camera bracket, and a separate battery case which also holds the capacitor. The operation of this unit is probably similar to that of the BC-7. Nikon BC-5 was mentioned in some literature with early Nikon Rangefinder bodies. * Please supply more info and raw images, appropriate credit will be given.

<<<--- With a little luck and some help from a good friend of mine; I managed to get both a BC- 7 featured earlier and this hard to come by BC-5 in mint condition. The main difference is at the respective mounting feet. The BC-5 was a companion flash unit designed specifically for the Nikon rangefinder cameras and is NOT able to mount directly to the F/F2's proprietary accessory shoe. The BC-7, can be mounted without the use of any flash adaptor. Other than the flash foot, the back of the calculator dial is slightly different between the two units. The BC-7 has a striking red test button in front.

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Modern Classic SLRs Series :
Additional info on Nikon Speedlights SB-1 to SB-21A/B
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