H. S. Billimoria
The photography industry has been through a highly exciting but tumultuous century. During this period, many corporates have entered and exited the camera business. The industry has been severely competitive in the nineteen sixties, seventies and eighties and this inevitably took its toll. SP tracks those companies that did indeed play a part in the fortunes of the industry, but for a variety of reasons were forced to exit the business.
In this issue, we look at a number of small Japanese companies that surfaced before and during the boom years for SLR cameras namely in the 1960’s and 70’s. They were, for a variety of reasons, not able to withstand competition and therefore had to close down.
AIRES CAMERA WORKS
Let’s begin with the AIRES CAMERA WORKS, a Tokyo based company which started operations in 1949 with 35mm TLRs heavily based on the Zeiss Contaflex. The company made TLRs and rangefinders for nearly a decade. It then ventured into the field of SLRs with models like the Aires Penta 35 and the Aires Reflex 35. The company’s foray into SLRs met with little success and led to its bankruptcy in 1960. Aires cameras were noted for their interchangeable leaf shutters and had an unusually fast 1/1000 sec shutter speed for their time.
CIMA KOGAKU COMPANY
Cima Kogaku Company was a Japanese lens maker and used to make lenses for brands like Photax and Hanimex. Later, it started making lenses for its own brands named Cimako and Cimko. Some Topcon lenses also were made by Cima. The boom in the camera market encouraged Cima to buy over the production lines of Topcon when Topcon ceased production in the early 80’s. These lines were used to produce the Cimko LS1 in 1982. The timing for the launch, however, was clearly wrong and the LS1 remained the only camera that Cima ever produced. The company continues to make industrial lenses even today.
The Kowa Optical Company was founded in 1946 and produced opera glasses, binoculars and spotting scopes. The company entered camera production in 1954 and produced a range of TLRs. In 1960, Kowa ventured into the filed of amateur 35mm SLR cameras. The Kowa E was launched in 1962 and was followed by the Kowa SE, SW and a string of other models. The SLRs unfortunately had a proprietary Kowa bayonet mount which limited their success. Kowa’s last SLR was the UW190 which was launched in 1972. Subsequently, Kowa tried its luck with a 6 x 6m cm SLR called the Kowa 6 which met with some initial success but then rapidly petered out. Kowa stopped production of cameras thereafter. The company still produces binoculars, spotting scopes and projection lenses.
Tokiwa Seiki is still remembered for putting on the market the first high level 35mm SLR made in Japan. The name Tokiwa means ‘ever green’ and Seiki stands for ‘precision instruments’. Initially, the company’s products were distributed under the brand name FIRST. Accordingly, the Firstflex 35 was a leaf shutter SLR launched in 1954. The Pentaflex followed in 1955 and it was the first SLR with an eye level porroprism finder. Tokiwa Seiki is also supposed to have made a few TLRs but, in general the quality of their products was very average and the company could not survive beyond the 60’s.
Yashima Kogaku was the short lived optical company that was set up and run by the brother of the founder of Yashica cameras. Yashima produced just one 35mm SLR called the Yashima EMC750(also known as the OSANON 750). The SLR featured an interchangeable Pentax Praktica thread mount. With only a single product at its disposal, the Yashima company was not able to compete and went bankrupt in the early 1980’s.
ZUNOW OPTICAL INDUSTRY:
Zunow Optical Industry, formerly known as Teikoku Kogaku, started as a lens manufacturer and rapidly became a leading player in the Japanese market to produce fast lenses. Although the factory of the Company was completely destroyed during the second World War, it rapidly revived lens manufacture and the first lenses were released in 1953 as the Zunow 50mm f/1.1. The word Zunow in Japanese means ‘brain’. Zunow started making lenses for both still and cine cameras for other Japanese manufacturers. Its success with lenses encouraged the company to venture into 35mm SLRs. In 1958, the Zunow SLR was launched and it was highly innovative both in design and handing. It, however, failed in the market place and Zunow had to shut down in 1960. |SP