Until now I had thought the first significant SLR cameras were German and that the Japanese pioneered the instant return mirror. Not quite so.
The interweb is a wonderful thing, not least because people are so generous with their time and knowledge. Until now I always thought the Germans made the first proper SLRs in the pre-war years (the Praktiflex and Kine Exakta) but that it was the Japanese who pioneered the instant return mirror that created the analogue SLR as we know it today. It turns out that’s not quite true. This article:
tells the story of the Hungarian Gamma Duflex, the first SLR in the world with an instant return mirror, which appeared in 1948/49. Only 550 were ever made, it appears to have been shut down so as not to compete with the Soviet and East German camera industry (allegedly). This makes it incredibly rare, so not likely to turn up on Lomography!
Though it looks like a rangefinder, the two viewfinder windows are actually for framing different lens lengths-this is a true SLR, with the image always in view as we are used to it today. I think it’s striking that a first attempt at solving the problem of the instant return mirror should also appear to have produced such an elegant, neat, and well thought-through design. As the article states, ending production of this design in some ways actually set European camera design back, and paved the way for the rise of eventual Japanese supremacy via the Asahi Pentax, Nikon, Olympus etc…