Canon Rangefinder Cameras


An Overview of All Canon Rangefinder Cameras 1935-1968



Canon Rangefinders 1936 1967

Hansa Canon of 1937 and Canon 7s of 1967


Organization of this Site


This site is devoted primarily to the history and technology of the range of 35mm rangefinder cameras produced by what became the Canon Camera Company. It covers the beginning from its development of the "Hansa Canon" (or "Canon Hansa") in 1935 until the end of production of the Canon 7s rangefinder in 1968. These 35mm film cameras featured lenses mounted in a Leica thread mount design, called the M39 (or in near equivalents in the first years of Canon production). Described here also is the wide range of interchangeable lenses and accessories Canon later developed for their cameras.


Other Rangefinder Cameras Covered by thie Site


In addition to the distinguished series of Canon Rangefinder Cameras, this site also has pages describing the Minolta Rangefinder Cameras which featured M39 interchangeable lenses. And a third section is devoted to certain other M39 interchangeable rangefinder cameras of interest to the author.


Origin of the Canon Rangefinder Camera


The company which is now recognized world-wide as Canon began its life as Seiki-Kōgaku Kenkyusho - Precision Optical Instruments Laboratory - or 精機光学研究所. According to the Canon Camera Museum history, the first laboratory of the company "...was founded in 1933 in a third-floor apartment of the Takekawaya Building in Roppongi, Azabu Ward, Tokyo." 4


Seiki Kogaku Roppongi

The location of the initial Seiki Kōgaku laboratory in the Roppongi district of Tokyo


Goro Yoshida and Early Canon Camera Development


The Canon website history 4 states that Goro Yoshida, an engineer who had worked with motion picture projectors and equipment disassembled and studied a Leica model II in 1932-1933. He found that the camera, which sold for more than six months of salary of a well-paid office worker, was uncomplicated in construction. Yoshida is quoted by Canon:


I just disassembled the camera without any specific plan, but simply to take a look at each part. I found there were no special items like diamonds inside the camera. The parts were made from brass, aluminum, iron and rubber. I was surprised that when these inexpensive materials were put together into a camera, it demanded an exorbitant price. This made me angry."


Goro Yoshida

Goro Yoshida in later years


In November 1933, with his brother-in-law Saburo Uchida (1899-1982) and with Takeo Maeda (1909-1977), Yoshida established Seiki-Kōgaku Kenkyusho (Precision Optical Instruments Laboratory) to develop a 35mm rangefinder camera. They produced a prototype 35mm camera, called the "Kwanon", but which was not commercialized. However Yoshida, left the laboratory in late l934 because the approach taken by the laboratory in producing cameras was no longer consistent with what he wanted to do. 4 From the "Kwanon" initial designs, Saburo Uchida with Takeo Maeda in 1934 and 1935 20 developed the camera which, with the suggestion of outside investors, became known as "Canon". After being equipped with a lens and lens mount described below, this first Canon camera was introduced to the Japanese market in February 1936. 1

Nippon Kōgaku and the development of the First Canon Cameras


From its earlies days, Seiki-Kōgaku Kenkyusho which was to become Canon Camera Company had a close relationship with Nippon Kōgaku, then the manufacturer of camera glass and its Nikkor lenses. The optical company Nippon Kōgaku Kogyo - 日本光学工業株式会社 or "Japan Optical Industries Co., Ltd." had been created in 1917 23 during World War I, aided by the Imperial Japanese Navy and the Mitsubishi group. 20 Nippon Kōgaku were not yet making cameras themselves. The later famous series of Nikon cameras was launched in 1948.


The newly developed Seiki-Kōgaku rangefinder camera needed lenses for its 35mm format, and Nippon Kōgaku was able to fulfill that need by developing a Nikkor 5cm f3.5 lens, described below.


Development of the Nikkor 5cm f3.5 lens


Hansa Canon Nikkor 1935

Nikkor 5cm f3.5 lens for the Hansa Canon


The another page of the site describes in more detail development of the Nikkor 5cm f3.5 lens. John Baird in his most interesting book The Japanese Camera 20 writes of Nippon Kōgaku's relationship with the historic German lens manufacturer Zeiss. Zeiss had private know-how and also patents, including in Japan on the production of optical glass and of lenses - particularly the Tessar-design lens. He writes:


"...the Japanese Imperial Navy and Mitsubishi paid for these [licenses to German patents] as part of their support of Nippon Kogaku [in the early 1930s]... Nippon Kogaku had direct access to Zeiss' designs, producing Tessar-type lenses such as the 5cm 1:3.5 Nikkor for the Hansa Canon in 1934." 20


Nippon Kōgaku provided not only the lens, but also a lens focusing mount as well as the design of the camera's rangefinder. So the Hansa Canon featured Nippon Kōgaku's new Nikkor 5cm f3.5 lens, bayonet-mounted into a Nikkor focusing mount.


Hansa Canon

1936 Hansa Canon with 50mm f3.5 Nikkor lens removed from the Nikkor bayonet focusing mounting


Nippon Kōgaku Kogyo provided the Nikkor 5cm f3.5 lenses in metal tubes to which Seiki-Kōgaku added a lens mounting flange for insertion into the Nikkor focusing mount. The focusing mount design avoided the Leica focusing patent which had been issued in Japan 1. Under this patent, each Leica lens was mounted with its own helicoid focusing mount, which the photographer turned to focus the lens. The lens assembly then screwed directly into the Leica camera body. The Nikkor focusing mount avoided the Leica patent because focusing was done by the mount rather than by the lens itself. Each of the Nikkor focusing mounts had its own serial number on its outer bottom.


Hansa Canon lens mount

Hansa Canon lens mount of 1938 or 1939

Appearance of the Nikkor lenses on the Hansa Canon


These early Nikkor lenses had f-stops selected on the front of the lens. Initially, the marked f-stop progression was the earlier series then in use: f3.5, f4.5, f6.3, f9, f12.5, f18. The Nikkor lenses came first with black faces and beginning in 1937 with white faces.


Hansa Canon lens black

1936 Hansa Canon black face Nikkor 5cm f3.5 lens


Hansa Canon lens white

1937 Hansa Canon white face Nikkor 5cm f3.5 lens


Commercialization of the First Canon Cameras


Seiki-Kōgaku did not yet have camera sales ability. However, they had a contract with Omiya Shashin Yohin Co., Ltd. (Omiya camera and accessory shop) (大宮フォトサプライ). The owner of Omiya, Hikotara Noro had been one of those instrumental in changing the camera name from "Kwanon" to "Canon". Omiya Shashin Yohin Co., Ltd. used the marketing name "Hansa", and their Hansa trade name was engraved on the top of the camera.


Hansa Canon logo


Omiya launched the Hansa Canon in February 1936. 1 Peter Dechert described the early days of the Hansa Canon commercialization:


"Although the Hansa Canon was originally advertised in October 1935, very few were available for purchase. Operating from their initial small workship in the Ripoongi area of Tokyo, Seiki Kogaku's assemblers and finishers were still learning the art of putting a precision camera together. Not until June 1936 was a larger facility in the Meguroku area acquired in order to 'produce large quantities' of the Canon camera." 1


Hansa Advertisement

a 1935 advertisement featuring "Canon Camera" and "Nikkor f 5cm 1:3.5"


As well as selling via Omiya, Seiki-Kōgaku also sold some of these Canons, without the Hansa logo, directly to photographers.


Growth of Seiki-Kōgaku


After the successful launch of the Hansa Canon camera on 10 August l937, the company was reorganized as a public stock company with the name "Precision Optical Industry Co., Ltd." - 精機光学研究所 - which Canon considers its official founding. 4


Then, in late 1938, seeking to expand, Canon introduced the Canon S, or 'Standard' model. 1


Canon S

1939 Canon S


Canon S and Later Development of Canon Rangefinder Cameras


Other pages of this website give descriptions of all the later Canon rangefinder cameras, including the Canon S of late 1938. The site then describes all models of Canon rangefinder cameras commercialized until the end of 1968. The distinguished Canon lens line 1946-1975 is also described in separate pages (links are shown below).


Finally in this site, there are pages describing the range of Minolta M39 mount rangefinder cameras 1947 to 1959. These were produced by Chiyoda Kōgaku Seiko K.K. (千代田光学精工㈱) of Osaka, Japan. It produced a series of 8 models of interchangeable lens rangefinder cameras.


Also, over time, pages on other M39 mount interchangeable lens rangefinder cameras of interest to the author will be added.


You can click on the links in the table below to consult these pages of the site.


Canon Rangefinders

Hansa Canon of 1937 and Canon VT of 1957


Navigation: Click Below to Jump to Desired Subject Page
Canon Rangefinder Cameras - 1 Canon Rangefinder Cameras - 2 Canon Rangefinder Lenses
Canon Hansa Canon IIAF, IIAX Development Nikkor 50mm
Canon S Canon IVSB2 Canon 19mm
Canon J Canon IIS2, IID2, IIF2 Canon 25mm
Canon NS Canon VT, Canon L2 Canon 28mm
Canon JS Canon L1, L3 Canon 35mm
Canon S-I Canon VT Deluxe Canon 50mm
Canon J-II Canon VL, VL2 Canon 85mm
Canon S-II Canon VI-L, VI-T Canon 100mm
Canon IIB Canon P Canon 135mm
Canon III, IIC, IV Canon 7 Canon 200mm-1000mm
Canon IIIA, IVF, IVS Canon 7s Canon Accessories
Canon IIA, IID, IID1 Nicca Rangefinders Canon Finders
Canon IVSB Leotax Rangefinders Minolta Rangefinders
Canon IIF, IIS Other Rangefinders Minolta Lenses
  Comparison Canon - Nikon Rangefinders other M39 lenses
Go to home page


Hansa Canon

Hansa Canon of 1936



Any additions or corrections to these pages would be welcome simply by contacting this site as shown at the foot of this page .


1 Dechert, Peter. Canon Rangefinder Cameras 1933-1968. Hove Collectors Books. West Sussex, United Kingdom. 1985. ISBN 0-906447-30-5.
Peter Dechert's book is the most important expert source of information regarding Canon Rangefinder Cameras.
2 Kitchingman, Peter. Canon M39 Rangefinder Lenses 1939-1971. A Collector's Guide. Published by Peter Kitchingman. Perth, Australia. 2008. ISBN 978-0-646-48144-9.
Peter Kitchingman's book is the definitive study of the more than three decades of M39 format camera lenses developed for Canon Rangefinder Cameras.
3 Nostalgic Canon Camera Book. 懐かしいキヤノン EI Publishing Co. Ltd. Tokyo, Japan. June 2003.
Peter Kitchingman's book is the definitive study of the more than three decades of M39 format camera lenses developed for Canon Rangefinder Cameras.
4 "Canon Camera Museum" history website. published by Canon, Inc. accessed in 2019.
5 Rajner, Hans P. (author), John Wade (editor). Leica Copies. Classic Collections Publications. London, UK. ISBN 13: 9781874485056
Hans P. Rajner's book is an excellently detailed and carefully researched study of camera from around the world which used the Leica M39 lens mount and the same lens to film plane distance.
7 Dechert, Peter. Canon Single Lens Reflex Cameras 1959-1991. Historical Camera Publications. Yakima, Washington. 1992. ISBN 1-879561-04-2.
8 Tomlinson, Shawn M. The Film Photography Book. Lulu Pulbications. 2016. ISBN: 9781365263972
9 Sartorius., Ghester. Identifying Leica Lenses. Classic Camera 19. Tokyo, Japan. 2001. ISBN 4-257-12029-0
10 website consulted 2019.
11 O'Reagan, Douglas M. Allied Exploitation of German Science after World War II. Johns Hopkins University Press. Baltimore, Maryland. 2019. ISBN 9781421428888
12 website consulted 2008.
13 Minolta expert Andrea Aprà has posted information on minoltarangefinders group and other groups and further detailed information by email. (thanks Andrea !)
14 website consulted 2019.
15 Small, Marc James. Non-Leitz Leica Thread-Mount Lenses. Wittig Books. Hückelhoven, Germany. 1997. ISBN 3-930359-47-2.
16 the Nikon Corporation website: consulted 2019.
17 p 152. Ray, Sidney F. Photographic Lens ISBN 9780240510323
18 website accessed 2019
19 Katz, Jerome. The Kardon camera story: a dedication to Peter Kardon, great American patriot & pioneer. SJF Enterprises. New York, New York. 1977.
20 Baird, John. The Japaneese Camera. The History of the Japanese Camera Monograph Collection. Historical Camera Publications. Yakima, Washington. 1990. ISBN 1-879561-02-6.
21 interesting website accessed 2019
22 Alexander, Jeffrey Scott. Nikon and the sponsorship of Japan's optical industry by the Imperial Japanese Navy 1923-1945. MA Thesis. University of British Columbia. 2001.
23 Alexander, Jeffrey Scott. Nikon and the sponsorship of Japan's optical industry by the Imperial Japanese Navy 1923-1945. PhD Thesis. University of British Columbia. 2010.
24 Lewis, Gordon, editor. Fujimura, Amy and Fujimura, William, translators. The History of the Japanese Camera. International Museum of Photography at George Eastman House. Tokyo and Rochester. 1991. ISBN 0-935398-17-1.
25 Rotoloni, Robert. Nikon Rangefinder Camera: An Illustrated History Hove Books Ltd. Sussex, UK. 1993. ISBN-13: 978-1874707073
26 Eastland, Jonathan. Dr. Leica M Compendium: Handbook of the Leica-M System Hove Books Ltd. Sussex, UK. 2006. ISBN-13: 9781897802052
27 Dechert, Peter. The Contax connection The Japanese Roots of the Recent Contax Cameras. Monograph Collection. Historical Camera Publications. Yakima, Washington. 1990.

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