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Canon Rangefinder Lenses

Nikkor 50mm f3.5 for the Hansa Canon - 1936

Ad from Japanese website showing Canon S lens choices - circa 1940

The First Canon Rangefinder Lenses:


The first Canon rangefinder lenses were produced by Nippon Kogaku, the company that eventually became famous as Nikon.  Nippon Kogaku was originally a subsidiary company in the Mitsubishi keiretsu, and was created in July, 1917.  The Nikon Corporation information site states that Nippon Kogaku began research on optical glass, and its first melt of optical glass began in 1918.  Subsequently, a glass research laboratory was constructed in 1923, and  Nippon Kogaku's first microscope was produced in 1925. 


Nikon history states that the Nikkor tradename was applied for in 1931 and registered in 1932.  Nikon history states that the Nikkor lenses of the mid-1930s were for larger formats: 75mm, 105mm, 120mm and 180mm Tessar formula lenses, and two long lenses for aerial photography: a 500mm and 700mm triplet formulations.


Early Nikkor 50mm Lenses for the Hansa Canon:


Kakuya Sunayama, head of Nikon’s design department made the first 35mm camera format Nikkor lens prototypes in 1932.  In July, 1935, the first production Nikkor lens for this format, the 50mm f3.5 model was introduced on the Hansa Canon, followed by the 50mm f4.5 in late 1936.


These were followed by the Nikkor 50mm f2.0, introduced in August, 1937, and the 50mm f1.5, introduced in January, 1939.  The 50mm f1.5 was used not only on Canon rangefinder cameras, but also on Canon's indirect x-ray cameras in a version without an iris, since a maximum aperture fixed opening was used for x-ray images.


The earliest models of the 50mm f3.5 had f-stop number in white numerals on a black background, such as the illustration to the left.  The f-stop progression was the older sequence of f3.5, f4.5, f6.3. f9, f12.5 and f18.  this was followed by the white face Nikkor, also illustrated.


These earliest Nikkor 50mm lenses were in a bayonet mount that fitted the Nikkor focusing mount illustrated to the left.  Bayonet versions of the f3.5, f4.5, f2.0 and f1.5 were produced, and mounted on the Hansa Canon, the Canon S, the Canon NS, and the Canon S-I.


Lenses for the Canon J Mount:


These lenses were also produced in the Canon J mount, which were screwed directly into the body in the case of the Canon Model J, Model J-II and Model S-II.  Click on the link to the Evolution of the Canon Rangefinder Lens Mount, below to read more about the J mount.

Lens Compatibility with the Leica Thread Mount:
It should be noted that until about 1947, The lens mount used in the Canon Models J, J II and the earlier S II, were slightly incompatible with the Leica "universal" thread mount.  In 1947 with the introduction of the "semi-universal" thread mount on Canon S-II production, the Canon mount was close enought to the Leica "universal" mount to be interchangable.  Most Leica Thread Mount lenses would properly mount on Canon bodies, and the Seiki Kogaku and later Canon Serenar lenses would properly mount on LTM bodies.   
Canon went to fully standard 39mm x 26 tpi mount with models produced in late 1951. 
As stated elsewhere, this lens mount incompatiblity was only as to the threading of the mount, since the lens to film plane distances were identical to Leica cameras.

Canon lens manufacture at the Shimomaruko Plant - 1954

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