Canon Camera Story
1933-1936 At a Glance
The Birth of Canon

Phantom Prototype Camera, "Kwanon"

In the early thirties, the two most popular brands of miniature cameras were Leica and Contax, both made in Germany, the camera kingdom of the world. These two brands attracted the camera fans, receiving enthusiastic support throughout the world as super grade cameras. At this time the price of the Leica was 420 yen whereas the average starting salary of a university graduate in Japan was around 70 yen per month. There was a Japanese man who disassembled a Leica camera in an attempt to develop a high-grade 35mm focal-plane-shutter rangefinder camera (hereafter referred to as a 35mm rangefinder camera). This person was Goro Yoshida (1900-1993). In 1933, Yoshida, together with his brother-in-law, Saburo Uchida (1899-1982) and Takeo Maeda (1909-1975), a former subordinate of Uchida, established the Precision Optical Instruments Laboratory in a room of an apartment located in Azabu Ward, Tokyo. Although it was reported that they were able to produce several prototypes of a high-grade 35mm rangefinder camera, "Kwanon (equipped with the Kasyapa = Kashapa lens)," no such camera is thought to exist today. "Kwanon" became a phantom prototype camera.

Release of "Hansa Canon" Camera

In spite of the intensive trial and efforts made to commercialize the "Kwanon" camera, Precision Optical Instruments Laboratory did not have a lens, an essential component, to meet the requirements for a high-grade camera. After agonizing deliberations, the laboratory decided to elicit cooperation from Nippon Kogaku Kogyo (Japan Optical Industries, Inc., the predecessor of Nikon Corporation) to use their Nikkor lens. With this arrangement, in February 1936, the Precision Optical Instruments Laboratory released the "Hansa Canon (Standard Model with the Nikkor 50mm f/3.5 lens)," which was the first commercial camera made by Canon, (although some have said that the actual release was in October 1935). Incidentally, "Hansa" was the trademark of the Omiya Shashin Yohin Co., Ltd. (Omiya camera and accessory shop), which had previously concluded an exclusive sales agreement with the Precision Optical Instruments Laboratory. "Canon" became the new trademark of Precision Optical Instruments Laboratory. "Canon" has such meanings as "standard for judgement or biblical scriptures," which was most appropriate for the company striving for precision as its motto.
Although some in the camera industry called the “Hansa Canon” a Japanese-made imitation of the Leica, there was no question that it represented Japan's first high-quality 35mm cameraand the “Hansa Canon” camera attracted a great deal of interest and expectations from inside and outside of the camera industry.

In June 1936, the laboratory moved to Meguro Ward, Tokyo. Along with this change of location, its name was changed to the Precision Optical Instruments Laboratory.