home page Home Page
"Nippon Format" or "Nihon Size" image format

Enter subhead content here

Minolta-35 Model A of 1947 with "Nihon" image size 24mmx32mm

Nikon I of 1948 with "Nihon" image size 24mmx32mm

"Nihon size" or "Nippon Format"
According to Dominique and Jean-Paul Francesch in their study "Histoire de L'Appareil Photographique Minolta de 1929 à 1985" Minolta was the first company, in 1947, to introduce the 24x32mm image format in a 35mm camera.  This image size, virtually unique to Japan came to be know as the Nihon size" or "Nippon Format".
In fact, the accepted opinion that the 24x36mm image format was the standard negative size, established by the Leica, and universally accepted by Contax, Kodak, et. al. is not totally correct.  Leitz first adopted a negative size of two frames of movie or cine film with an image size of 24x34mm.  Upon the commercial introduction of the standard Leica camera, this size was increased to the now standard 24x36mm image format, also used by Contax, Kodak, Voigtlander during the 1930s.  
Also, the 24x32mm "Nihon size" or "Nippon Format" was not unique to the Minolta-35, and was in fact used in a number of 35mm Japanese designs in 1948.  It is often forgotten that the first Nikon rangefinder, the Nikon I of 1948 used this format.  Also, the first Olympus 35mm format camera, the rangefinder Olympus 35 I of 1948 as well as the Minion 35 of 1949 employed this format.  The Minion's exposure counter went to 44, because the smaller images allowed at least 40 images per roll of 35mm film.  Olympus within one year decided to replace the Nihon format by the 24mmx36mm format which they used exclusively after 1949.
Nikon in its historic site refenced below gives further reasons for this negative size:
"...The reasons to adopt the 24 x 32 mm format were:
  1. The 3:4 proportion seemed to have better proportions than the "Leica" format (2:3).

  2. It could take 40 frames and was more economical than the "Leica" format of 36 frames.

  3. The standard of the slide projector provided by the Japanese Ministry of Education was 24 x 32 mm.

It was decided according to the basic idea of adopting our original picture size, which differed from that of the "Leica"...."  This is the version set forth in the Nikon historic site (internet link shown below).

A couple of mistaken impressions about the 24x32mm format: some sources refer to this image ratio (3:4) as being the "golden mean" (from Pythagoras).  That is incorrect, since the golden mean ratio is 1:1.618.  Another claim was that it was a consequence of the usual office paper size, but the A series of paper sizes (used in Japan then and now) are 1:1.4142, since for all sizes, the height divided by the width equals the square root of 2.

However, if not linked to office paper size, the 24x32mm image format is more practical for enlargement on photographic paper for enlargements, which is often a multiple of 3 x 4.  It is also interesting that there is now an industry movement to standardize on 3 x 4 as the format for image sensors for digital cameras.  Perhaps this 1947 format will make a big come-back in the Twenty-first Century!
Nikosan, in his interesting site referenced below, says that the "Nihon" negative size was banned by the "GHQ" (presumably Gen. MacArthurs' HQ), and Minolta then modified the Minolta-35 C to the 24x33mm format.  (Nikon at that time moved to the 24x34mm format, used in the Nikon M and Nikon S cameras.)  
Others have said the Occupation Authority would not allow this negative format to be exported, but in 1947 and until perhaps about 1952, almost no Japanese 35mm cameras were exported.  Minolta's first foreign subsidiary (in the US) was formed in 1950, and Canon US exports were primarily through US Post Exchange purchases in Japanese military bases.
Perhaps the US Post Exchange stores in Japan would not accept the format.   In any case, by the early 1950s, all Japanese manufacturers seem to have abandoned the 24x32mm format, although Minolta did not adopt the full 24x36mm format for the Minolta-35 until 1958.
Another explanation that I have read is that the US had import duties on cameras with language intended to favor European 35mm cameras, versus Japanese 35mm cameras.  This explanation claims that the duty specification referred to cameras having a 24mm X 36mm image size.  According to this story, the Japanese manufacturers adopted the smaller image size to circumvent the prohibitive US import duties by avoiding the definition.  I doubt this version, since in spite of research, I have not located such a US import duty from that era.  Also, considering the logic of this story, why would the US seek to favor the recently defeated Germany versus the recently defeated Japan,  both occupied by US forces, and both of which needed to restore their industries. 
However, there is another version, centered on Minolta and described in "Histoire de L'Appareil Photographique Minolta de 1929 à 1985" by Dominique & Jean-Paul Francesch.  They say, regarding this format: "However, the Minolta-35 possessed for the first time in the history of cameras a feature that was not unimportant; the 24x32 mm format.  It was the chief designer of Minolta, Hajime Miyabe, who perfected the new format, judged by him, and correctly so, more logical than 24x36 mm. Indeed, the corresponding proportions of 24x32 mm is very close to those of the paper formats used for enlargements.  The ratio of 24x32 is 1.333 whereas the ratio of 24x36 is 1.50; if the one compares these two ratios with the paper size usually employed in the developing laboratory, the excellent match is obvious."  This version credits the "Nippon Format" to the invention of Minolta.
Of all the "explanations" of the demise of the "Nihon format", most convincing to me is that the Kodak Kodachrome processing of color transparencies and mounting them into cardboard 35mm slides required the standard 24mmx36mm image size and spacing to function properly.
Minolta was the slowest to abandon the Nihon format.  Negative sizes of the Minolta-35 gradually increased from 1947 as shown in the Minolta-35 table (click link below), but it was not until the introduction of the Minolta-35 II B in 1958 that the Minolta-35 adoped the now standard 24x36mm format.

Olympus 35 I of 1948

Minion 35 A of 1948

Click here to see the Minolta-35 Rangefinder Camera history


Key Reference Sources:
Dechert, Peter. 1985. "Canon Rangefinder Cameras 1933-68": Hove Books Ltd, Small Dole, UK
HPR, 1994.  "Leica Copies": Classic Collection Publications, London
Francke, Harald. 1991. "Canon Modern Classics": Hove Foto Books, Channel Islands
Small, Marc James. 1997. "Non-Leitz LEICA Thread-Mount Lenses": Wittig Books, Hückelhoven, Germany
Rotoloni, Robert. 1983. "The NIKON Rangefinder Camera": Hove Collectors Books, Hove, UK
McGloin, Joe. 2006. "Minolta Viewfinder Cameras" at the excellent Minman website "THE WORLD'S PREMIER WEBSITE DEDICATED TO FILM-BASED, STILL, NON-AUTO-FOCUSING MINOLTA CAMERAS'
Another seminal source, superbly documented is the "Histoire de L'Appareil Photographique Minolt de 1929 à 1985" by Dominique & Jean-Paul Francesch, Dessain et Tolra, Paris 1985.
This excellent source is unfortunately now out of print.
As to Web sources, Mr. D. Colucci has collected abundant data on Minolta-35 models and serial numbers.  A valuable aata collection:
For Nikkor lenses, the Nikon official website has a wealth of historic information:
Another interesting source, but in Japanese is Kitamura's camera museum
Some interesting pictures and commentary  are in Nekosan's page at  This includes including the indication that the Minolta-35 was originally designed "...for 24x32mm format but the format(Nihon size) was banned by the GHQ..."  Presumably this was Gen. MacArthurs' HQ during the occupation.
YoungSang Camera Shopping Mall sometimes has interesting information.
Olympus official site has history of early Olympus rangefinders: