- Night and Low-Light Photography Photo Workshop
- The Low Light Photography Field Guide
- The Complete Guide to Digital Night & Low-Light Photography
- Complete Digital Photography
- Night Photography: Finding Your Way in the Dark
- Creative Night: Digital Photography Tips and Techniques
Many of the innovations in optics and cameras that have led to today’s digital photography technology came from the minds and workmanship of the people at Canon, Inc. It was the company’s 1976 breakthrough with the AE-1 camera, which was the first with a microprocessor to focus and set exposure time, automatically, that started the era of digital photography. Like many of its Japanese competitors (Nikon, Sony, etc.), Canon also developed and produced many other optical products for global markets, such as copiers, laser and bubble-jet printers, facsimile machines, camcorders, binoculars, calculators, electronic typewriters, word processors, and medical, broadcasting and semiconductor equipment.
Although thousands of people have been responsible for making Canon the leading camera manufacturer (according to 2010 data), much of the company’s success can be attributed to Takeshi Mitarai. During 1933, Mitarai left his medical practice in gynecology to start Precision Optical Instruments Laboratory to design cameras with a number of friends who were optical technicians. Within a year, he and his colleagues introduced Japan’s first 35mm camera, which was a design “clone” of the famous German Leica 35mm camera. By 1940, Precision Optical demonstrated its prowess in a totally different piece of equipment, offering Japan the first indirect X-ray camera, which significantly contributed to stopping tuberculosis from spreading throughout the country.
Unlike Nikon, which maintained a relatively stable business during and immediately after World War II, Precision Optical only survived because of Mitarai’s heroic struggle. Production was crippled and finances tight because the market for Precision Optical’s 35mm cameras disappeared during the war. When U.S. troops occupied Japan, Mitarai made one of his most important marketing moves. He convinced the Allied commanders to sell the company’s cameras in post exchanges and Navy stores.
For the next few years, Precision Optical’s story would closely match Nikon’s. U.S. and other Allied troops took home Precision Optical’s cameras (as they did Nikon’s), which led to photojournalists and professionals discovering them. They quickly considered them the equal of, or better than, the German Leica; and then many photojournalist used Precision Optical cameras when they were sent to Korea during the early 1950s.
During 1947, Precision Optical became the Canon Camera Company, Inc., and, as its cameras began to spread around the globe through a growing, postwar export market, Canon expanded with subsidiaries in the U.S. and Europe. The company’s reputation and success was boosted by the introduction of a 8mm movie camera during 1956, and then a newer 8mm movie camera with a built-in zoom lens, three years later.
The 1960s were a decade of growth for Canon. It was already the primary Japanese manufacturer of middle-priced cameras, while Nikon made high-end cameras. Canon’s innovative spirit turned from cameras during 1964 to create the Canola 130 electronic calculator, the first in the world to use the now-standard, ten-key keypad. This led to a working relationship with Texas Instruments, and together they brought to the marketplace the first all-electronic, hand-held calculator, the Pocketronic, during 1970. Canon continued to expand its product development by taking what it learned making the Canofax 1000 photocopier during the early part of the decade to manufacture its first plain-paper copier during 1968.
Although Canon had many successful products that helped the company to grow globally, during the 1960s, the next decade saw some reverses mainly because of poor marketing and other decisions. For instance, Canon led the innovators again with its “liquid dry” copying system. The output of a photocopying machine was now dry pages, using plain paper and liquid developer. For whatever reason, Canon was unsure about its capabilities to market the new technology successfully, so it chose to license the system to other manufacturers, which limited Canon’s potential revenues from that product.
Read Part 2 of The Story of Canon to learn how the company continued to grow during the last 40 years.