The label "Made in Japan" was a put down, signifying a cheap imitation, this is what I was told was I was a small boy and held that belief when I reach my teen - I know it is kind of hard for anyone to believe given today's status on products from Japan but that was the kind of reaction where people reacted with Japanese's products those days before and after the post war period. Today, Japanese's products is symbolizes with keywords like precision, quality and reliability.
What has happened ?
It relates directly with photography. I found an article someone mailed me many years back - and cannot find the source with the photocopies BUT I think it is useful to let co-fellow photographers to have a little knowledge of how photography can actually help so much revamping a country's economy from the ashes of the war.
After the World War II, Japanese launched a design, manufacturing and most of all, marketing revolution to turn around Japan's fragile recovered industries to a commanding situation today with prestigious household names like Honda, Toyota, Sony, Matsushita, Fuji and practically every segment within the industrial sectors. Their success stories are modeled by many other Asian countries today, like South Korea, Taiwan and in certain way, including our country, Malaysia.
How did it began ?
From the article, things began during the first few years after the surrender documents were signed. Raw materials were scarce and only partial recovery with their once powerful but misused industrial capacity. Desperately and urgently to regain export markets lost during the war and more difficult to overcome is the resistance faced with Japanese goods and products overseas - especially in the East Asian region, where the shadows of the war crimes still persist. And the only solution is to look to the west where the impact of the war to the society was not so significant (Except to those many war heroes who devoted their lives to set the Pacific region freed - all involved in the creation of this page does so with all respects to the victims and their immediate family members...).
Nippon Kogaku, whose main business was focused more on manufacture and supplying precision optical instruments, and naturally, the government being the largest business venture, military requirements such as submarine periscopes and gunnery range finders for the naval force was one of their main core business products. For obvious reason, the American occupation authorities forbidden its further development and supply of weapon-related products of such nature and the company, like many many others are desperately to look for a substituting market - which is abroad for its continual survivor.
A crucial decision was made, even though the company has never produced a camera before this and decided to venture into the field to broaden their product range. During that time the dominating players are Contax and Leica in the quality 35mm camera market. With its advantage being an optical based company and a pool of talented scientists, optical designers and sales and marketing personnel, and most of all, with a touch of luck, the company established its presence within the few years to be a eventual serious contender to the status of Germany's optical industry.
Related article: An interesting article supplied by
Shriro Malaysia on a Nikkor lens on a Canon in 1935
the Nikon 1, 1948
(Click on the icon to view the bigger image)
A series of events happened that time. In 1945, a team was established internally to develop a serious 35mm "quality" Japanese camera, designated Nikon 1 with a array of lenses. Interesting was the fact that the first Nikon was not a 35 x 36mm camera, it is in fact a 40 24 x 32mm was opted instead. The market standard was the more popular European and US standard format of 35 x 24mm (which lasts until now). Nikon 1 started produced in 1948 (around 750 units of Nikon 1 were produced) - that is why making it one of the most sort after model in the collectible market.
Why 24 X 32mm ?
the Nikon M, 1950 the Nikon S, 1951
(Click on the icon to view some bigger images)
In the article, the author thinks the main reason was being practicality. First, we have to understand, after the war, goods are scarce and inflation is high. the saving of 4 extra exposures looked logical and practical to suit the circumstantial factor and further, the format matched more closely with the aspect ratio of commonly used 8 X 10 printing paper then. But in reality, it has never gained its impact after its launched, especially considering the fact that it came from a relatively, a new and unknown player. Nevertheless, the lesson was learnt and the subsequent models, the Nikon M has modified frame of 24 x 34 mm and eventually the Nikon S was changed to 36 x 24 mm then to suit the users' needs and conformed to the market standard. The whole process of formatting alone has inspired the Japanese to realize the importance of users' demand and thus, years followed, became a very important element to consider in developing products for mass users' market globally.
The original 50mm f1.4 with Leica screw mount (I retouched it to make it sparkling on photoshop - the source is real bad indeed from the photocopies, the same applies to the 85mm f2.0)
The eyes of camera - lenses, played a more important role in helping them to establish recognition and respect. Drawn heavily, both in optical designs and mechanical engineering, on German's optics in the initial stage, in particularly, Zeiss design (after all, as mentioned earlier, Nippon Kogaku has no experiences on camera making). The initial batch of Nikkor optics, 50mm f1.4, 50mm f1.5, f2 and a f3.5 version, 85mm f2 and a 135mm f4. Most of these were offered in both the Contax and Leica mounts - just like one of those third party lens supplier nowadays, supplementing some major brands.(Somehow, the Sigma's recent move into the 35mm hardware business reminds me with the resemblance of the path Nikon used to be, will it succeeds, time will tell ). It means to say, during that time, the Nikkors are not produced just for the Nikon but as a third party brand supplier to the Contax and Leicas.
The Nikkor 85mm f2 - first Nikkor lens to have grabbed the attention of serious users.
Through some initial contacts and effort, the Nikon & the Nikkors finally has the real official chance to expose to the western community, more specifically, the optical reviewers as well as the press. Market exposure was one thing, real life application was another. The initial mechanical design concept, and more damaging is the nonstandard format issue of 24 x 32mm was apparent during the initial introduction. The west has a lot of reservation on the "proposed" format but the initial effort was not a total waste, as the Nikkor's optical performance really shone and they were impressed more with the lenses rather than the camera. Basically I agreed with the author's point of view, where an example, how would you take the Sigma's SA seriously where you have established Pro caliber makers like Nikon & Canon in sports or news scenes of professional arenas ? Basically, they are still treating Nikon's as third party lens supplier.
Overall, the separately marketed Nikkor lenses enjoyed more success than the camera counterpart, especially the screw-mount Nikkors for Leica. Please remember during that time, there are a lot of Leica and Contax's duplicates as options.
Below here, extracts of the author's detailed write-up :
"Life magazine was very active in Japan after the war, a young Japanese photographer, Jun Miki, (eventually became one of the most outstanding photojournalist in Japan) working as a Life stringer for some of the photojournalists stationed at Japan, used an 85mm f2 Nikkor on a Leica IIIf and took an casual shot of David Douglas Duncan, star Life photojournalist then who was on assignment, shooting a pictorial story about Japanese art and that candid shot of Duncan by Jun Miki - turned out to be one of the most important photograph in the course of history for Japanese camera.
David Douglas Duncan - photographed by Jun Miki, 1950 taken with a Nikkor 85mm f2.0 Jun Miki, a familiar name ? For those who has followed and participate the famed Nikon World Photography Contest should have heard of him - he was the Head of the Panel of Judges for this world renown Contest for many many years. (This photo was retouched in Photoshop to restore closest to its originality - man, took me hours).
It was not so much about the photograph itself, but it did "exposed" to the right man at the right time with the right lens. The enlarged 8 x 10 photograph for Duncan when shown, astonished with the sharpness and the image quality, Duncan and another Life hired and Japan-based photojournalist, Horace Bristol wanted to meet and find out more with its manufacturer. A meeting was arranged with the president of Nippon Kogaku, Dr. Masao Nagaoka and a special arranged lens testing was organized. Both of the photographers were impressed by the sharpness of their private testing and ended with replacing their personal lenses with respective mounts - Leica for Duncan and Contax for Bristol."
And thus, how the new Japanese lenses were discovered that time.
"In less than two weeks since they shifted to the Nikkors, on the morning of June 25, 1950 Korean war broke out. Duncan reached Korea in time to file a dramatic words and pictures report on "The First Five Days", followed by other notable coverage. All those pictures were taken virtually with the two Leica IIIc, fitted with Tewe Polyfocus finders and a Nikkor 50mm f1.5 in the combat zone. A classic series of war pictures followed in late August with the publication of his "A Timeless, Nameless, Dateless, Wordless Story Which Says Very Simply, Quietly - "This is War" (by the way, most of those pictures are compiled in the Book "This Is War" by David Douglas Duncan published by Little Brown & Company in an revised edition. Note: try amazon.com, I bought my copy there). Showing captures of close-up details faces and emotions of Marines in heavy combats environment to convey the gut feeling of combat in Korea".
Another reason was being, attributed to the slightly higher contrast range of the Nikkors, which is more "appealing" for newsprint output than the slightly lower contrast of the German optics (Not the new German lenses now....) - the higher contrast yield better resulting prints (Tends to render "sharpness" better) with newsprint's general resolution of around 80/120 lines.
Words started spread around, slowly and gradually a big portion of the photojournalists covering the Korean war shifted to the Nikkors and some even started trying out with Nikon-Nikkor combinations. The company in Japan capitalized on these exposures and opportunities by establishing first-classed support on repaired and cleaning service for those involved with the assignments in Korea, naturally, Japan became a back line support for all these activities since it is not far from Korea). There benefited from the raw input of comments and remarks from those returned from the harsh and difficult environment and thus able to made modifications and changes to their hardwares. Not many companies has this kind of exposures. Thus, these useful input help them to be able to incorporate them into later models, this is essentially why Nikon cameras has the best of human engineering in their models.
Actually, another MAIN factors is being: many publications (photographic and commercial) helped to promote the cameras and lenses. The ever influential Popular Photography (for hobbyists), and New York Times (News). The story line, decided to feature an exclusive article on Duncan's Korean photography and an attached article on how the Japanese superb camera and lenses were "found" - the Popular Photography ' 51 issue and the December 10, 1950 issue of the Times. American has just enjoyed some peaceful moments after the War and all of a sudden, another war broke out in the far east, media played their role to calm and explained decision makers policy making. No body likes war in the first place - especially when you send your boys to die for someone problems thousand miles away from home. Articles like this help and calm emotions and stimulate support for whoever housed in that white building - saving the power struggle behind the curtain as well.
To fill the ever hungry information readers, Popular Photography generously allocated 10 pages in March issue 1951 featuring Duncan and the "discoveries" of Nikon. The kind of publicity, topicality, supplemented by some powerful images captured during the war and with the colorful personality of Duncan himself drew a lot of attention among its readers and within the photographic community. (Duncan himself and his works is a legend today, as far as photography is concerned).
That was nothing more to ask for with an robust publicity for an industrial products, with a leading colourful character and the full squad of professional news photographers' help demonstrated its quality in a major historical war event and thus, Nippon Kogaku stamped its marks and establishing their footing from there - it is still enjoying its prestigious status as a premier professional camera hardware and high quality optical lens supplier to the professional users worldwide.
Oh What a year for them...
1950, truly marked the turning point in the history of the Japanese photographic industry and more importantly as a whole, helped the Japanese to establish a modeled platform to penetrate the global market for its products in general caused by the destruction of the war. Ten years downed the road, American involved in another blood shed war in Vietnam and the same process repeated once again and there the famous character had his last shot there...
Anyway, the Nikon and Nikkor success story was a great psychological breakthrough to Japanese manufacturers as a whole, not just for the industrial photographic community in Japan, it has also shown and inspired a way for the other manufacturers to look for at the nontraditional market places outside their mainland and they were the first consumer products from Japan to win recognition and a large measure of respect from the west and paved the way for many other better things to come.
The onus of a label "Made in Japan" could not be dispelled overnight of coz'. But the Nikon and Nikkor success stories did gave the Japanese a way to figure out how to tackle issues and be more alert looking into related issues like quality and services for the rest of other brand names to establish themselves as global quality producers. Just took the case of Japan Camera Inspection Institute (JCII), was the direct process of forcing the unified and standardization of minimum quality for export on Japanese photographic equipment - I heard the authority has abolished the establishment now, due to many camera and optical companies are reallocating their manufacturing plants overseas and even those assembled in Japan now, the non-main components manufactured are sourcing from other third world countries. (Certain Nikkors are made in Thailand and once even some entry models were being produced in South Korea, while some of the major models of Minolta and Canon are made in Malaysia).
the Nikon SP, 1957 (Click on the icon to view some bigger images)
* Another two relative interesting articles has been uploaded in this site: Canon's old logo & Nikon/Canon hand in hand jointly developed an oldies.
Source: Popular Photography, "This is War"- David Douglas Duncan; The History of Japan Cameras; Photojournalism. Nippon Kogaku, Nikon & Nikkor are registered trademarks of Nikon Corporation Ltd.; "Life" magazine & "New York Times" are registered trademarks of their respective companies. And can anyone help to identify the author mentioned here ? The friend of mine has migrated to Australia. I thought credit should be given.
Nikon: Nippon Kogaku KK/Nikon Rangefinder Series:- Main Index Page:- Nikon 1(1948), Nikon M (1949), Nikon S (1951), Nikon S2 (1954), Nikon SP (1957)/ Nikon SPX, Nikon S3 (1958), Nikon S4 (1959); Nikon S3M (1960; others:- Nikon S2000; Nikon SP 2005; Nikon M35/M35s
SLR camera models:-
Nikon professional single digit-F SLR camera Series: Nikon F (1959). Nikon F Photomic (1962-66), Nikon F Photomic T (1965-66), Nikon F Photomic Tn (1967-68), Nikon F Photomic FTn (1968-74); Special Versions: Nikon NASA FTn, Nikon Fisheye Camera (1960). Nikon F Limited Edition GOLD, Nikon F Olive Color Body; Nikkor-F camera (German market, 1969); Nikon F Navy KS-80A; Nikon F36 TRIBUNE High Speed Motor Drive camera; Nikon F High Speed Motor Drive camera (model 1/2 - 1971~76); Others: Nikkorex series; Nikon F Red Dot; Nikon F Appollo; Nikon F black; other possible variations: Nikon F white leather, Special numbered; early prototype; Nikon F NATO
Nikon: F2 Series: Nikon F2 (1971): Nikon F2 Photomic (1971-77); Nikon F2 Photomic S (1973-76); Nikon F2 Photomic SB Photomic (1976-77); Nikon F2 Photomic A (1977-80); Nikon F2AS Photomic (1977-80). Special Versions:: Nikon F2/T (Titan & no Titan Inscription model) (1976/1978)) Nikon F2H (high Speed Motor Drive Camera) (1978/80), Nikon F2 25th Anniversary model; Nikon F2 Data cameras (F2A, F2S & F2AS DATA cameras) + Other variations | Nikon F2 GOLD; Polaroid Speed Magny 100-2 by Mikami-Japan, Nikon F2 PIN
Nikon: F3 Series: Nikon F3 Prototypes: 1974 / 1977; Nikon F3 (1980); Nikon F3HP (1981/2); Nikon F3 AF, Nikon F3/T (champagne), Nikon F3/T Limited Edition (champagne, 1982), Nikon F3/T (Black, 1984), Nikon F3 Press (1983), Nikon F3H High Speed Motor Drive camera (1997), Nikon F3 Limited (1983); Nikon F3/T Classic Limited Edition, Nikon F3 Digital DCS-3, Nikon US NAVY; Nikon F3 NASA 250 Special NASA modified camera w/Modified Nikkor 35mm f/1.4
Nikon: F4 Series: Nikon F4 Series - Nikon F4 (1988), Nikon F4s (1988), Nikon F4e, Nikon F4P Press / NASA Nikon F4
Nikon: F5 Series: Nikon F5 prototype; Nikon F5 (1996-2004), Nikon F5A (50th Anniversary) (1998/9)
Nikon F6 Series:- Nikon F6 (2004)
Nikon mid-range SLR Bodies:-
Nikkormat/Nikomat: Nikkormat FTn (1967), Nikkormat FT-2 (1975), Nikkormat FT-3 (1977), Nikkormat EL (1972), Nikkormat ELW (1976), Nikon EL-2 (1977)
Nikon FM Series: Nikon FM GOLD, Nikon FM (1977), Nikon FM2 (1982), Nikon FM2n (New FM2) (1983), Nikon FM2/T (Titan) (1994), Nikon FM10 +(1995) FM2n Millennium 2000, Nikon FM3A (2001); Variants:- Nikon FM2/T Limited Edition | Nikon FM2 Tropical Edition | Nikon FM2N LAPITA, Japan
Nikon FE Series: Nikon FE (1978), Nikon FE2 (1983), Nikon FE10 (1996) + Nikon FA (1983); Nikon FA Limited Edition GOLD, Nikon FE Green Lizard-Skinned Body
Compact Nikon SLRs: Nikon EM (1979), Nikon FG (1982), Nikon FG-20 (1984); Nikon F301
Nikkorex camera Series: Nikkorex F (1960-1964); Nikkorex 35, auto-35, Zoom-35 compact series
Nikonos underH20 Series:- Nikonos 1 (1963, Nikonos II (1968), Nikonos III (1975), Nikons IVA (1980), Nikonos V (1984), Nikonos RS (1992)
Others: - Nikon 35Ti & 28Ti (1993) compact cameras; Nikon M35/M35s;
Nikon D (Digital SLR Series):- Nikon SVC (1986), QV-1000 ((1988), D1 Prototype (1993), Nikon E2/E2s (1995), E2N/E2NS (1996), Nikon E3s (1998), Nikon D1 (1999), Nikon D1X (2001), Nikon D1H (2001), Nikon D100 (2002), Nikon D2H (2003), Nikon D70 (2004), Nikon D2X (2000)
Kodak Digital SLR DCS-Series: - Kodak DCS-100/DSU (1991), Kodak DCS-200 (1993), Kodak DCS-410 (1994), Kodak DCS-420 (1995), Kodak/EOS DCS-1 (1995), Kodak/Canon DCS-3 (1996), Kodak/Canon DCS-520/560 (1997/8), Kodak/AP's NC-2000 (1995), Kodak DCS-460 (1996), Kodak DCS-315/DCS330 (1998), Kodak DCS-620 (X, M) (1999), Kodak DCS 720/760 (2000)
Fuji Digital SLR S- series:- Fuji's FinePix S1 Pro (2000), Fuji's FinePix S2 Pro (2002), FinePix S3 Pro (2004)
Home - Photography in Malaysia
A pictorial history of:
Nikon, Hasselblad, Rollei.
Nikkor lenses of my choice, some which I have owned and some aiming..or dreaming...to own one.
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