Japan Is The World Leading Camera Manufacturer, And This Is How It Happened

by Bret Hoy3 Comments

The most powerful camera manufacturers in the world seem to be congregated in certain spots. For the most part, Germany and Japan control most of the cameras sold around the world, and the history behind this concentration of camera tech is a very interesting one.

When speaking about Japan specifically, you can see how the culture of the country was affected and then how they nurtured that environment that allowed the technology to flourish.

In this fun, 30-minute video from the NHK World show Japanology, they discuss the history of Japanese cameras and how they came to dominate the world.

Beyond just that history, they talk in detail about the history of the autofocus camera, and hint towards a few trends in modern society that are very interesting. Our urge to document our lives and find meaning in small moments using Photo Haikus and our draw to authentic film and wet plate photography even in the times of incredibly easy access to great photography tools.

While the shooting style and quality of this piece aren’t top notch, the content is very interesting and gives you a slice of the interesting history regarding the Japanese and their beloved cameras.

Japanology Plus – Cameras


How Japan Became the Heavyweight of the Camera Industry

Via PetaPixel:

The episode is from the show Japanology by NHK World, Japan’s international broadcasting service. They brought in Japanese photographer and photography writer Chotoku Tanaka to discuss his country’s picture-making industry.

Read full article at PetaPixel “How Japan Became the Heavyweight of the Camera Industry”

Note: it is our policy to give credit as well as deserved traffic to our news sources – so we don't repost the entire article – sorry, I know you want the juicy bits, but I feel it is only fair that their site get the traffic and besides, you just might make a new friend and find an advertiser that has something you've never seen before

(cover photo credit: snap from PetaPixel)

Bret Hoy

Bret Hoy

Bret Hoy is a filmmaker, photographer and writer based out of St. Louis, Missouri. Mainly focused on documentary and experimental film, he has produced, directed, shot and edited many short films and a few long form works.

He shoots a lot and often.
Bret Hoy


  1. This film not only has technical errors, but gives Konica credit for “inventing” the autofocus camera. This is questionable, as Momose’s years of research got him basically nowhere, and he wound up using a Honeywell distance sensor. It has long been my understanding that Honeywell created a chipset specifically for autofocusing; it later won an infringement lawsuit against Minolta.

    The narrator’s complaint that his camera has more features than he knows how to use hits the nail on the head. It’s only recently that Japanese camera makers (notably Olympus) have begun making cameras whose //basic// operation is as simple as that of a film camera. One should never have to “fuss” with the camera, unless they’re doing something out of the ordinary.

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  2. The Konica C35 used a Honeywell module. All camera manufactures were working on different methods of range finding for autofocus. Several, used an infrared beam and moving sensor pick up, multiple sensor pickup or moving Infrared beam. All using a triangulation of a reflected point to determine subject distance. The Honeywell module with fixed and moving mirrors that reflected a view of the subject on to a sensor array put all Japanese company projects on hold when Konica used the module first. Everybody, including Minolta, Fuji, Nikon and others quickly grafted in the Honeywell sensor into the designs they were working on. The Popularity of the Honeywell, lens-shutter module was short lived however. I a little over a year, all of the infrared AF systems started hitting the market and Japan switched over to their own systems. The real holy grail was AF for SLR cameras. AF range finding was not difficult when using a fixed lens camera. Add interchangeable lenses and the complexity went way up. The system Honeywell used for their “reflected light system” was know as Phase Detection. I believe the discovery and invention was German. Perhaps with Leica. All Japanese camera makers were developing phase detection based systems around the time Honeywell created theirs, certainly shortly after Japan seeing how the Honeywell system worked. A year or so after Honeywell licensed the module used in the C35 to anybody who would pay the fee, they came back to Japan to show their development efforts toward making a module for SLR AF. It was slow, required a lot of light, but worked fairly well. It was the process of “viewing” Honeywell’s latest effort that just about killed Minolta and just about every other Japanese camera manufacturer. Each had to sign a “non-disclosure agreement” which should be expected when viewing a patented product that has a lot of close competition. And it was the difference is USA type patents (concept) and Japan-German type (use) that caused all the problems. Virtually all of the Japanese camera makers already had superior phase detection systems in the works when they signed of with Honeywell. Most were not impressed. Several attempted to use it. Nikon used in its N2020 which was a mechanically wonderful flop because of the awful AF. Olympus incorporated it into one of the most advanced SLR cameras ever created. Its AF caused failure caused Olympus to drop AF SLRs then SLRs and specialize in point and shoot cameras. Konica never really did much with AF. When Minolta introduced it 7000 camera in 1985, it incorporated every advance at the time from AF to built in film winding, to Auto Exposure with programmed shutter-aperture setting to off the film flash measurement. Instead of the all in one design, other companies were testing a separate AF lens with compatible camera body. The greatest failure of this design was Canon’s T-80. They were so embarrassed by the low functionality, it caused an all out effort to make an all in one like the Minolta 7000. The result was the EOS system. Konica not having an SLR to speak of met with Minolta engineers to help in getting them started (as they had a long time relationship). However, the AF SLR they showed at Photokina in 1986 was a nice wrapper with a 7000 copy underneath. It was close that they agreed to stop production at the suggestion of Minolta. That was it for Konica SLRs. But they sure did a lot with point and shoot cameras where the real money was. Honeywell sued Minolta as a test case. It took years to come to trial. Minolta was not found to have deliberately infringed on the Honeywell patent (as they already were working on a project using phase detection when they signed the non-disclosure agreement) but lost some 250 Million in a judgment in a NJ courtroom. Honeywell then took the judgment papers to Japan and made the rounds to all who signed the NDA. It was a very good year for Honeywell stockholders. However, shortly after their financial windfall, Honeywell was sued by another USA company over an infringed patent and they lost most of the money. Minolta got as close as one could to a point and shoot AF SLR with the 7xi and xi family cameras, the 9xi being my favorite. However, they found out something interesting: people like to “fiddle” with their cameras. The fuzzy logic based programmed exposure system introduced by Minolta was killed by Canon’s Stop to Select a shooting mode; then stop again to return to normal shooting. Everybody went to the image selection system which gave the illusion of “creativity” with no input or understanding from the buying public. At that point, “give them what they want” was direction of most companies and the functionality and quality of products suffered at the hands of the smiling masses.
    I finally got a smartphone (now there is a long story) but passed on an iPhone because it didn’t have the right mix of camera features. Thank you Samsung. So. be careful what you sign.

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