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Canon

The first & most successful

Contents

(Scroll down or click on Links)

My Canon Page

Links to the Good Stuff

User Manuals etc.
The Canon Story
Canon Distributors
Shimomaruko Factory
“Made in” and Other Markings

“Made in”
<CPO> & <EP>
Other Markings

Canon Serial No.s & Naming Conventions

Serial Numbering
Naming Schema & Model Identification

Marked Model Names
Canon Rangefinder Body Dimensions
The Canon Rangefinder EBL
Black Bodies
The Models

Kwanon (prototype series)
Hansa Canon & Canon Original
Canon S
Canon J
Canon NS
Canon JS
Canon J II
Canon S I
Canon S II
Canon II B
Canon 1950 (trial series Canon III & IV)
Canon III
Canon II C
Canon IV
Canon III A
Canon IV F
Canon IV S
Canon II A
Canon II D
Canon II D1
Canon IV Sb/IV S2
Canon II AF
Canon II AX
Canon II F
Canon II S
Canon IV Sb2
Canon II S2
Canon II D2
Canon II F2
Canon VT
Canon L2
Canon L1
Canon VT de luxe
Canon VT de luxe Z (Peter Dechert name)
Canon L3
Canon VL
Canon VL2
Canon VT de luxe M (internal Canon name)
Canon VI T
Canon VI L
Canon P (Populaire)
Canon 7
Canon 7s
Canon 7sZ (Peter Dechert name)

X-Ray Cameras

Canon Lenses, Flash & Accessories Page

Contact Details

My Canon Page

I understand that there are Canon rangefinder owners, as there are Minolta 35 owners, that will take offence at the term “Leica copy” in reference to their camera. Like all categorisations, things are rarely black or white, most often they fall somewhere along a spectrum, in the case of Leica copies, from inspired by to exact copy. As explained on the Leica Copies Japan page, collectors, historians and authors such as HPR and Pont and Princelle have used certain criteria, not always agreed amongst themselves, to determine whether a camera is a Leica copy or not. In that context, the visual appearance and technical design solutions are secondary at best and maybe even immaterial. However, there is no doubt that Canon cameras were heavily influenced by Leica and that at least from 1951 onward, Canon was fully compatible with Leica.

My Canon page is different to both my other Japanese Leica copies pages on this site and my other site, Yashica TLR. Whilst I am fairly confident that those pages and site are the most detailed and accurate about their camera models that you will currently find on the Internet, I cannot claim the same for this Canon page.

I have come to Canon rangefinder cameras late, in fact it is the last step in my journey, whereas it is actually the starting point for the Japanese Leica copies story and along with initial lens partner, Nikon, one of the milestones and major drivers of the Japanese photographic industry. There are many Canon enthusiasts everywhere with a lifetime interest and commitment to the brand and I could not hope to match their knowledge in such a short space of time. And of course there is Canon itself. It would be like trying to write something new and fresh about Leica.

However, to put the Leotax, Nicca, Minolta and Yashica models into context, I feel I do need to provide some level of overview of the Canon models they were competing against whilst also still offering anyone seeking basic information about Canon models an accurate resource that may be lacking in some of the more nuanced detail but with guidance about where to look. If I can provide detail which is less discussed elsewhere, I will include it in.

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Links to the Good Stuff

First to the books. Anyone serious about collecting Canon interchangeable lens rangefinder cameras and/or their history should seek out the seminal work, “Canon Rangefinder Cameras 1933-1968” by Peter Dechert. This was first published in 1985 but time has not diminished its stature - work by others since has added to our knowledge but changed little of what Peter had researched. I have relied heavily on the guidance his book provides, both directly and through other sites and authors. Now out of print but used copies do become available. His monograph, “The Contax Connection”, which can be found on the Internet, also covers early Canon history and the company's relationship with Nikon and is worth the read for that, but in my view, then gets some things wrong about post-War Nicca history and Yashica models, which in fairness was not the focus of his article or research. However, that is more of a problem for those pages of this site than this one.

In his preface, Peter Dechert acknowledges people that assisted him along the way. Two of the most important are Japanese contributors Mikio Awano and Hayato Ueyama. Mikio Awano was the publisher of “Camera Collectors' News” and also a key contributor to Koichi Sugiyama's book, “Collector’s Guide to Japanese Cameras”. I have relied on Camera Collectors News articles in several places on this site, particularly in regard to Nicca cameras and Yashica YE and YF lenses. Hayato Ueyama is the author mentioned further below.

A camera is only as good as the lens/lenses it is offered with. Peter Dechert didn't provide much detail in this regard, particularly of the many minor variations found, but Canon aficionado and author Peter Kitchingman has covered it all in his really excellent book “Canon M39 Rangefinder Lenses 1939-1971”. Published in 2008, also out of print but in early 2023, the author still has some copies. (I'll say it now, whilst it has become common practice, I think the use of the “M39” name is misplaced, the “M” stands for metric and applies to mainly Soviet cameras. If Peter Dechert is correct, the early post-War lenses may have used a metric thread, and there was also the Canon semi-universal type, but the vast majority of Canon lenses used the Leica standard 26 threads per inch Whitworth, i.e. it is not a metric thread despite the 39 mm diameter.)

A book I know little about but is recommended by Peter Kitchingman is “Canon” by Japanese author Hayato Ueyama (see connection to Peter Dechert above) in Japanese.

Next the Facebook page,Canon Historical Society”. Peter Dechert posted here before his passing and Peter Kitchingman is a regular plus there are other luminaries and many, many other contributors doing their own research - an excellent resource.

Finally, links to Canon Rangefinder Related Sites. Not in any particular order but for anyone looking for documentation like user manuals, brochures etc., Pacific Rim Camera offers a boatload of free stuff for download as PDFs (plus lots of stuff for sale) and a great guide for identifying your Canon model (similar on the flynngraphics site):
https://global.canon/en/c-museum/ Canon History Museum (Note, Canon is not infallible with its own history, there do appear to be errors and omissions)
https://www.pacificrimcamera.com/rl/rlCanonRF.htm Reference Library - Canon Rangefinder. Camera, lens and flash manuals, brochures, price lists
https://www.butkus.org/chinon/canon.htm Mike Butkus. Camera and flash manuals
http://www.photosynthesis.co.nz/nikon/lenses.html#RF_5cm Roland. Nikkor lenses for early Canons
https://mikeeckman.com/2022/02/canon-original-hansa-1935/ Mike Eckman. Hansa Canon
https://mikeeckman.com/2019/10/canon-ivsb-1952/ Mike Eckman. Canon IV Sb
https://mikeeckman.com/2016/02/canon-p-1961/ Mike Eckman. Canon P
https://mikeeckman.com/2021/02/canon-7-1961/ Mike Eckman. Canon 7
http://corsopolaris.net/supercameras/CanonRF/CanonRF.html
https://flynngraphics.ca/the-collection/ Flynn Marr. Canon collection, camera and flash manuals
https://www.flickr.com/photos/80936052@N00/albums/72157704498817892 Kirk Thorsteinson. Canon x-ray cameras, copy stand and other Canon stuff. https://yashicasailorboy.com/category/canon-model-7/ Chris Whelan. Canon 7 stuff

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User Manuals etc.

Links to download user manuals and other useful documents were provided above. Below are links to my own small number of manuals, some the same as elsewhere, some a little different. These are also linked from the items they relate too. Click on cover for PDF of full manual, or for larger image, as appropriate.

(Note for MacOS users only: Safari is sometimes displaying only the left half of double page scanned PDFs if the first scan is a single page - common with my cover pages. If it is a problem, suggest using different browser, or Preview, instead.)

Cameras

Canon II D and IV S2 manual (July 1953), Canon II F (and D) addendum and Japanese Canon L2 and L3 manual (October 1957):

Lenses

Canon Lenses Directions and Tables, undated but identical to August 1954 and January 1955 printings:

Flash

Flash Unit B 1 packing slip below left and user manual on the right, both dated December 1950:

Late Flash Unit X manual, August 1952, and Late Flash Y manual, October 1955:

Auto-Up

Japanese instructions for V series Auto-Up, June 1957:

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The Canon Story

The historical context leading up to the establishment of Canon as Seiki Kogaku Kenkyujo  (Precision Optical Instruments Laboratory) and its early models, including Nippon Kogaku's (today's Nikon) important role, is broadly covered in The Japanese Copy Makers. Seiki Kogaku was founded in November 1933 by two men with no real experience in camera design or production and no product but they had a belief that Japan could produce a camera equal to the German Leica and Contax. The enterprise was initially located on the third floor of the Takekawaya apartment building in Roppongi, Azabu-ku (these days, Minato-ku) in Tokyo:

Goro Yoshida had the ideas and his brother-in-law, Saburo Uchida, was the businessman. Others that joined them included Takeo Maeda, a colleague of Uchida, and Tomitaru Kaneko who became the first factory manager. Only Maeda would remain long term, becoming Canon's president in 1974. Later in life photos of Goro Yoshida (1900-1993), Saburo Uchida (1899-1982) and Takeo Maeda (1909-1977):

Goro Yoshida was the driving force force for developing a Japanese precision 35 mm camera and principally responsible for the prototype designs. He was born in Hiroshima in 1900 and went to Tokyo before completing his middle school education and was apprenticed with a company repairing and remodeling motion picture cameras and projectors so he knew his way around camera type equipment, tools and instruments. At some point between 1932 and 1934, he disassembled a Leica II camera and discovered it was made of ordinary materials that didn't seem to justify its exorbitant price.

The prototype designs, the first evidence of which was a drawing that appeared in a June 1934 advertisement, were named “Kwanon” after the Buddhist Goddess of Mercy and its 50 mm f/3.5 lens with Leitz Elmar-like collapsible lens barrel was called “KasyaPa” (note, written on the lens with a capital “P”) after a disciple of the Buddha, Mahakasyapa. Film transport was cassette to cassette so no rewind knob was required. The film winding and shutter cocking knob looked similar to the Leica item but was mounted on the front in Contax I style.

It was decided to rename the production camera “Canon” which was pronounced the same but perceived as less religious and also more acceptable in English. A trademark application for the name was filed in June 1935 and granted in September 1935. The first ad for the Canon was in the October 1935 edition of Asahi Camera with production believed to have begun in 1936. Initially, production was very low as new skills were being learnt and experience developed. It picked up when a larger facility was acquired in the Meguro-ku area of Tokyo.

The production camera was somewhat different to the Kwanon with lens, focusing mount and rangefinder system now designed and made by Nippon Kogaku. These were significantly changed to avoid infringing Leica's Japanese patents granted in 1934. Goro Yoshida had been unable to come up with a workable alternative so Saburo Uchida approached Nippon Kogaku which seemed to be interested in diversifying from mostly military work. However, it meant that probably half or more of the value of the camera was now contributed by Nippon Kogaku. Goro Yoshida became disillusioned with the direction camera production was taking and departed in late 1934 with design becoming the responsibility of Tomitaru Kaneko.

Instead of the Leica mount's 39 mm thread with a pitch of 26 threads per inch (TPI), the mount for the Canon featured the same 39mm diameter but with a pitch of 24 TPI and the Nippon Kogaku made focusing mount was screwed into this. The removable lens barrel was inserted into it using a bayonet fitting. The design and execution was more than somewhat similar to the Zeiss Contax arrangement.

The viewfinder arrangement was also different, the rangefinder windows were in their expected positions but the viewfinder itself was a pop up type designed by Tomitaru Kaneko. The initial Kwanon drawings showed a centrally placed typically Leica type whereas the last design show a folding type mounted in a shallow recess on top of the rangefinder cover. The large dial on the front was the frame counter left over from the earlier Kwanon designs with the winding knob on the front. Curiously, but also most likely coincidentally, the counter arrangement was also somewhat reminiscent of the 1913 Ur-Leica (original prototype) and even more so, the later Leica prototype 3. From an early Hansa Canon brochure by distributor Omiya Shashin Yohin Co., Ltd:

In response to the 1934 release by Kodak of the disposable film cassette, production cameras featured a typical rewind knob in place of the cassette to cassette system of the prototype Kwanon.

Commonly called “Hansa Canon” by collectors for convenience sake, and even by Canon in more recent times, the model name was simply “Canon” and back then, Seiki Kogaku called it “The Canon Camera”. “Hansa” was, and still is, a trademarked brand name used by the camera's distributor, Omiya Shashin Yohin Co., Ltd. (meaning Omiya Photo Supply) which usually appears above “Canon” on the camera's top plate. Omiya Shashin Yohin owner, Hikotaro Noro, was one of the people instrumental in changing the name from Kwanon to Canon. Some cameras (later ones, according to my database) were sold directly by the factory and these don't have the Hansa engraving (called “Canon Original” by collectors). Marketing material issued by Omiya Shashin Yohin usually referred to the camera as “Hansa Canon”. A period Hansa Canon boxed set has the typical “Hansa Canon” markings on the body and the leather ever-ready case but the box is marked “Seiki Canon” and the user manual is titled “Canon” followed by Japanese text which translates as “how to use”.

At this stage, the fledgling camera maker was only barely being kept afloat by Nippon Kogaku's interest in the project when Dr. Mitarai, an obstetrician and friend of Saburo Uchida, made his first investment in the business in 1937 and became its auditor. On 10 August of that year, Precision Optical Instruments Laboratory was formed into Precision Optical Industry, Co., Ltd. (Seiki Kogaku Kogyo Kabushiki Kaisha) with the abbreviated maker name “Seiki Kogaku” appearing on models after the Hansa Canon.

Dr Mitarai's initial interest was in in x-ray recording cameras. These were developed in the late 1930s (although it evolved over time, the basic design remained largely the same from 1940 until 1956, a 6 x 6 cmm version was added to the 35 mm camera in the late 1940s). It was about this time that the first Seiki Kogaku made lenses also appeared for a finger print camera and the x-ray camera (R-Serenar 5 cm f/1.5) with the “Serenar” name being trademarked in December 1941. However, Dr Mitarai quickly became concerned with the young company's business direction and in 1942, he became president of Seiki Kogaku. He guided the company through the War years including the acquisition of independent optical manufacturing company, Yamato Kogaku Seisakusho, in February 1944 and also the post-War reconstruction. Note, I understand that the Kanji character “大和” for Yamato can also be pronounced Daiwa - Canon uses Yamato, Peter Dechert calls it Daiwa.

To avoid confusion and lack of recognition between the company name and its product name, Dr Mitarai was instrumental in changing the Seiki Kogaku company name to “Canon Camera Company, Ltd.” with effect 15 September 1947 (Peter Dechert's book says 15 August), changing again in January 1951 to “Canon Camera Co., Inc.” On 1 March 1969, the name was shortened to “Canon Inc.” to reflect the fact that Canon was no longer just a camera company. Together with Takeo Maeda, the only surviving member of the original team, Dr Mitarai continued to lead Canon through its growth as president until 1974 after which he served as chairman until his death on 12 October 1984. Takeo Maeda succeeded Dr Mitarai as company president until 1977.

Dr Takeshi Mitarai (1901-1984)

The pre-War introduced models following the Hansa Canon continued to be different from Leica because of patent concerns. Although the Canon S was advertised as early as November 1938, production didn't start until October according to Peter Dechert and Canon says it was “marketed” in April 1939. It wasn't called the “S” back then, Seiki Kogaku called it “Canon Newest Model” whilst referring to the still current Hansa Canon/Canon Original as “Canon Standard without slow speeds”. After Hansa Canon/Canon Original production ended in 1940, the Newest Model became the new “Canon Standard model”. According to Peter Dechert, the reference to it as the “S model” became so established that by the end of the War, even the factory used the name.

Also released in 1939, the budget model Canon J without rangefinder and slow speeds eliminated the expensive Nikon focusing mount and instead used the 39 mm 24 TPI screw mount directly in Leica fashion but of course was not Leica compatible. Without a rangefinder, it avoided Leica's focusing patent. This is now referred to as the “J mount”. At the time, Seiki Kogaku called the camera “Popular Model”. Peter Dechert tells us that early orders referred to as the “Junior Canon”, hence “J”, and after the War, the name stuck.

The War had devastated Japan and companies were struggling to exist let alone survive or thrive. Seiki Kogaku had been fortunate, only the Itabashi factory, a legacy of the Yamato acquisition, sustained significant damage and that was the result of an accidental fire. The main Meguro factory and the Takara-mura and Yamura-machi factories, established to undertake War-time production evacuated from Tokyo, remained operational but were closed with the end of the War. In order to restart production, Dr Mitarai applied to the Allied Occupation Forces for permission to produce consumer goods and this was granted on 1 October 1945.

Seiki Kogaku started by assembling the S model from left over pre-War and War-time parts and found a ready market within the occupying military personnel. These cameras are known as the S I model but are not different to late War-time model S examples. The Canon J was also assembled from parts but the supply was not so complete so included S bodies with the slow speed shutter dial hole blanked off and S viewfinder/rangefinder cover pressings. These cameras were called “Canon J II” and about 560 were made.

The Canon Camera Museum acknowledges the role of an American automobile engineer, William Reagan Gorham, who became a naturalised Japanese citizen in 1941, having moved there in 1918, and during the 1940s provided Seiki Kogaku valuable production and quality assurance advice.

With German patents no longer an issue, the first post-War designed model was the Canon S II released in October 1946. Still with the signature Canon hexagonal body ends, it otherwise looked very similar to a Leica III except for the first major innovation, the rangefinder and viewfinder were combined and there was a single viewfinder window. It was supplied with Seiki Kōgaku's newly developed “Serenar” named f/3.5 5 cm lens, although early on, there were still some Nikkor lenses. As Seiki Kōgaku production increased, the partnership with Nippon Kōgaku finally ended in 1948. Canon S II with Nikkor f/3.5 5 cm lens:

(web image)

Peter Dechert tells us that the Canon S II featured a mount referred to as “semi-universal” which was close to the Leica standard but would accept the earlier J mount lenses as well as most Leica lenses - to make it work, the threads were cut sloppier (some have suggested more so on the body mount). Peter Dechert says that until 1947, Seiki Kōgaku and Nippon Kōgaku engineers, like the Soviets before them, believed that the Leica thread pitch was 1 mm (metric) without realising it was 0.977 mm (based on 26 threads per inch Whitworth). The rigid barrel f/1.8 50 mm Serenar, developed during 1951 and released with the Canon IV F in January 1952, was the first Canon lens with “universal” mount, meaning it was finally fully Leica compatible.

The real innovation and major success came with the next model, the 1949 Canon II B (initially called the S IIb), which added three level magnification to the viewfinder and was a unique Canon feature appreciated by photographers until parallax corrected frame lines were introduced in 1959:

Progress continued with evolution rather than revolution with flash sync being added in 1951 and the last of the Series IV models receiving a new shutter in 1954 with 1/30 changeover speed and a two piece main dial that could be set cocked or uncocked. However, the Leica M3 release also in 1954 caused shockwaves in the industry and Canon responded with bigger changes in 1956 introducing a revised body with hinged opening back, a viewfinder with provision for the 35 mm focal length and a choice of trigger or lever film wind. The single non-rotating shutter dial appeared in 1958.

It was also in 1956 that Canon diversified into movie cameras with the release of the Canon Cine 8-T.

Whilst Canon had released its first SLR, the Canonflex, in 1959 and other copy makers had already fallen by the wayside, in September 1961, Canon launched its most successful model yet, the Canon 7. It took the shutter coupled accessory Canon Meter of recent models, patterned on the Leica M3's Leicameter, and built it in, the frame lines were projected rather than the reflected of the earlier Canon P and VI models and the lens mount included an external bayonet for the optional f/0.95 50mm lens:

(Image courtesy of Chris Whelan)

One of the reasons for Canon's growth and success during the 1950s was its strategy to leverage the development costs of its premium models and offer many variations of lower spec'd models at various price points to appeal to the biggest cross section of the market possible. If you wanted a Canon rangefinder, there was likely to be one within your budget and it still looked like the premium offering. By the time of the Canon 7, the market had changed and SLRs were making inroads at an ever increasing pace. Canon now only offered a single spec body but you could have a 50 mm lens with an f/1.8, f/1.4, f/1.2 or f/0.95 aperture.

The updated 1965 7s with CdS exposure meter was the last hurrah and in 1968, Canon's, and Japan's, interchangeable lens rangefinder camera era was over. SLRs, fixed lens leaf shutter rangefinders, point and shoot cameras, movie cameras and diversification into other products was now the company's future.

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Canon Distributors

Seiki Kogaku was a small start-up camera maker without marketing or sales skills trying to sell into a difficult, low wages market. The use of sales agents and distributors seemed to be common practice by the Japanese photographic industry both before the War and in the early post-War years, and later in Canon's case. As we have already seen, Omiya Shashin Yohin Co., Ltd. (Omiya Photo Supply), was appointed the exclusive sales agent for the Hansa Canon. Whilst the Hansa name didn't appear on subsequent models, the relationship seemed to continue until at least the War.

After recovering post-War, a large part due to targeting sales to occupation forces, Canon sought to kick-start exports to achieve further growth. In early 1950, C.R. Skinner Manufacturing Co. of San Francisco was appointed to handle US sales, but as it turned out, a roll it was apparently ill equipped to do. C.R. Skinner ad for the Canon II B in the April 1950 Popular Photography magazine:

Also in 1950, Dr Mitarai visited the US International Trade Fair in Chicago, held from 7 to 20 August. Whilst in the US, Dr Mitarai met with Bell and Howell to seek a distribution deal but this proved unsuccessful, mainly because of concerns about Canon's timber factories, typical for Japan, and the fire risk they posed.

In November 1951, a five year export agreement was entered into with Hong Kong based trading company Jardine Matheson Co. and with continued disappointing sales in the US, Canon and Jardine replaced Skinner with Balfour, Guthrie and Co., Ltd. which continued to be responsible for sales operations even after Canon set up New York based Canon Sales Co., Inc. in 1955 to take over US distribution. This was located at 550 Fifth Avenue, New York 10036, NY. In 1957, Canon opened the European Distribution Center in Geneva, Switzerland, to replace Jardine in that market area, in 1963 becoming Canon Geneva S.A.

Back in the US, Canon appointed Scopus to handle distribution for subsidiary Canon Camera Co., Inc., a role that Bell & Howell took over in 1962. Bell & Howell co-branding appeared on a number of models including the Canon 7 rangefinder.

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Shimomaruko Factory

As a consequence of the initial rejection of a business relationship by Bell and Howell on fire safety grounds, Canon purchased the former Fuji Aviation Instruments Co., Ltd., factory site in Shimomaruko, Ohta Ward, Tokyo, in June 1951. By November, after some modifications, Canon began relocating major functions from its head office in Ginza and the Meguro and Itabashi factories to its new flagship site:

The address in the Canon P user manual is listed as Canon Camera Co., Inc., 312, Shimo-Maruko-Cho, Ohta-Ku, Tokyo, Japan.

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“Made in” and Other Markings

“Made in”

The Japanese World War II surrender was announced on 15 August 1945 and formally signed on 2 September 1945. This was in accordance with the conditions of the Allies' Potsdam Declaration issued on 26 July 1945. On 14 August 1945, General Douglas MacArthur, Commander-in-Chief, U.S. Army Forces in the Pacific, CINCAFPAC, was appointed Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers in Japan, SCAP, pursuant to the agreement reached by the Allies and became the head of the Occupation forces.

On 20 February 1947, SCAP issued an instruction, SCAPIN 1535 (the “IN” in SCAPIN standing for Index Number) requiring all export products to be marked “Made in Occupied Japan” (MIOJ). Prior to this, it was not common practice to mark the country of origin on Japanese items, such as cameras, as most had not been intended for export. The need to earn export income only became an imperative after the War. Under the US Tariff Act of 1930, for example, items imported into the US were required to have their country of origin marked. With General MacArthur handing power over to the Japanese government, the requirement to use the MIOJ marking was repealed on 5 December 1949 and could be replaced by “Made in Japan” or simply, “Japan”. However, the occupation only ended with the San Francisco Peace Treaty signed on 8 September 1951 to take effect on 28 April 1952. Many camera makers (e.g.makers of Minolta, Leotax and Nicca cameras) continued to use the MIOJ marking until 1951 but Canon ceased quickly - as far as I am aware, no 1950 examples of any model have the marking, although here are some other early 1950 items, such as a lens case mentioned elsewhere.

On Canon cameras, the marking was on the base plate. With lenses, it was on the lens end cap and lens hoods of accessory lenses sold separately whereas as standard lenses sold with the camera don't appear to have been marked.

(Detail from larger web image)

In my database, there are a few Canon S-II examples marked MIOJ from serial number 1633x onward but after 1773x, it is most examples. There are the odd ones without it, perhaps destined for domestic consumption, and/or possibly, there has been some swapping of base plates. Most Canon II Bs have the marking up to and including 38944. From 39333 onward, none have the marking and like all Canon examples before MIOJ was introduced, there is nothing to indicate country of origin until late Canon III and all III A examples have “Japan” engraved on the top plate. A few of those also have “Made in Japan” engraved on the bottom plate, a practice that seemed very short-lived. Top and bottom plates of same camera:

(Detail from larger web images)

From then on, “Japan” remained on the top plate, or back of top plate for Series V and VI models, until and including the Canon P. Series 7 models changed to “Made in Japan”, still on the back of the top plate. Canon L2 on left and Canon 7 on right:

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<CPO> & <EP>

Cameras sold to occupation forces, typically through US Military Exchange stores, were not subject to the high taxes applied to post-War domestic Japanese consumption and in order to control those sales to prevent a black market developing with consequent loss of revenue to the Japanese Government, cameras and some other goods (accessory lenses, binoculars and porcelain have been identified) destined for the stores were marked with a diamond and inside that, the letters <CPO> standing for Central Purchasing Office, changing shortly after to their Japanese katakana equivalent <シーピーオー>.

Camera-wiki.org tells us that the use of the mark started in 1948, or 1949. In the Notes at the bottom of the page are these quotes from a 23 November 1948 General HQ, Far East Command (GHQ, FEC) letter:

“The Central Purchasing Office is established as a special staff section of General Headquarters, Far East Command, for the purpose of purchasing indigenous Japanese merchandise for resale to the Post Exchange type systems of the Allied Occupation Forces”. And “All CPO marked merchandise found in the possession of other than Allied personnel will be confiscated.”

Chapter 3 of the Volume 1 Supplement to the Reports of General MacArthur published by Department of Army tells us that FEC had been established on 1 January 1947 as a reorganisation of the earlier AFPAC (see MIOJ above) and General MacArthur's title changed from CINCAFPAC to CINCFE (Commander-in-Chief, Far East). GHQ, FEC (and GHQ, AFPAC beforehand) and GHQ, SCAP were physically combined. General MacArthur was two-hatted; as SCAP, his responsibility was limited to Japan, but as CICFE, he was responsible for all US Army Forces in the Pacific. An organisation chart locates the Central Purchasing Office within the Administrative and Executive Group of FEC. As I understand it, FEC also provided support to SCAP.

I don't know how other Allied occupation forces stores were structured, or operated, but in practical terms of numbers of military personnel and Exchange stores, tax free sales of cameras and such like would still have mainly applied to US personnel and stores. The US Exchange stores are typically Army Post Exchange (PX), Navy Exchange (NEX), Air Force Base Exchange (BX) and Marine Corps Exchange (MCX), but I'm not sure which were represented in Japan at the time.

Canon put the mark on its camera base plates, typical <CPO> shown on left and red <シーピーオー> on right (on the first and second of three S IIs in my database with the katakana mark, it is black but on the third, it is red and on the last and 3rd and 4th last II Bs it is also red whilst the others are black, but as I believe the red infill is applied over black, with wear and time, some/all of the black ones may have originally been red):

(Detail from larger web images)

The bodies of lenses not sold as part of the standard camera package were also marked.

The requirement didn't last long, seeming to end in late 1949, perhaps, as with the MIOJ mark, because SCAP was handing power and responsibilities back to the Japanese. The earliest camera in my database with the mark and serial number visible is Canon S II 1802x with the already later Katakana <シーピーオー> version. Next is a late Canon S II from perhaps the first half of 1949, serial number 2265x but perversely, a slightly later S II, 2279x, has the earlier <CPO> version - the base plate very likely belonged to an earlier 1947 or 1948 camera. Immediately after it is S II 2280x, another Katakana <シーピーオー> version. The mark appears on a number of early Canon II Bs, the last example being camera 2936x, almost certainly from before the end of 1949. The cameras in my Nicca database are also of the katakana type and span from 1948 to 1949, however, my Minolta 35 database is more interesting. I have details of five early cameras with the earlier <CPO> mark. The earliest of these are three Model A, type b examples which are undoubtedly from 1947, if the claims that the Minolta 35 was introduced in May 1947 are correct (almost certainly are). That would make the start of the scheme at least 12 months earlier than the 1948-1949 claimed by Camera-wiki.org. Then there are another 6 katakana types in the period from 1948 to 1949 but none later, just like the other camera brands.

In 1953, a new <EP> mark was introduced for similar purposes, possibly by the Japanese Government, or possibly by the Exchange stores themselves to meet compliance with Japanese taxation laws. Items found with the mark include cameras, accessory lenses, binoculars and 1960s and 1970s hifi gear. The exact meaning of the mark seems to have been lost in the mists of time but there are two broad schools of thought, the first focusing on military exchanges, the second focusing on the item's taxation status. There are adamant people on both sides but in my experience, none armed with facts and that includes some authors. Many of the first group claim that “EP” stands for “Exchange Post” which is Post Exchange backward and doesen't really make sense in terms of the name or other US Military Exchanges. Alternatively, there are suggestions that it is “Exchange Purchase” or “Exchange Product”, which seem a little more plausible. The second group's claims include “Exempt Purchase”, “Exempt Product”, “Export Product” and “Export Permitted”. Contributor Chris Whelan was stationed at a US Naval base in Japan in the late 1970s, by then the system had probably been phased out, but he's of the understanding that the <EP> mark stood for either “Exempt Purchase” or perhaps “Exempt Product”.

Camera-wiki.org claims that it started in 1948 and was phased out starting from 1955 as inventories were sold off, but “was applied until the early 1970s”, none of which make much sense to me. The mark does not appear on Canon, or other brand cameras I have collected information on, before 1953. My Yashica TLR website notes quite a few 1960's Yashica cameras and two from as late as 1976 and 1977 with the marks and the latest Canon rangefinder I have found is a latish 7s. A member of the Canon Historical Society posted photos of his Canon EF SLR, released in 1973, with the mark and another noted his purchase of a Canon F-1 in Okinawa. Incredibly, the mark was in use for at least 24 years (1953 to 1977), yet the only concrete information I have seen about it is the existence of the mark itself and the fact that it was found on items sold tax free by Military Exchange stores in Japan.

Typical of the Canon Series IV to VI models on left, typical of Series 7 models on right:

(Detail from larger web images)

As I noted above, the <EP> mark first appeared on Canon cameras in 1953. The first Canon IV Sb example in my database is 12013x after which almost 50% of that model have the mark. No Canon II D model (or II D1, or later II D2) has the mark. Some claim that the Canon II F was only sold through Exchange stores - that may be close to being correct. There is no mark on the first 1953 cameras from 9817x to 10777x then most have the mark with only the odd exception, my 149293 being one exception. By the IV Sb2, the incidence of the mark as a proportion of overall production was diminishing as Canon's exports to overseas markets was increasing and from the VT on, they only appear infrequently.

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Other Markings

Apart from the mandated markings, small numbers of some models were produced with customer requested markings, or in one case Canon's own commemorative insignia.

We have already seen the War-time Canon S with Imperial Japanese Navy markings and serial numbers. A small number of Canon III A cameras were sold to the US Army with base plates marked “U.S. Army. Signal Corps”. Lenses to be used with these cameras were also similarly marked.

There were later cameras, most commonly the Canon P, marked with what is believed (but not confirmed) to be the cherry blossom logo of the Japan Self-Defense Force on the top plate in red, or less often in black, below left, and on the right, the version claimed to belong to the Japan Maritime Self-Defence Force complete with presumably a sequence number of some sort - this is the only one I have seen, maybe real, maybe not (although I have seen a similar, but not the same, unnumbered logo in white on a make-believe green painted fantasy P):

(Detail from larger web images)

The logo is also referred to as “Sakura” meaning cherry blossom in Japanese.

Canon P cameras are also found in small numbers with a Canon eagle engraving. This was to commemorate the 1962 25th anniversary of the establishment of Seiki Kogaku Kogyo Kabushiki Kaisha (Precision Optical Industry, Co., Ltd.) in 1937. According to Peter Dechert, these cameras were only made available to Canon employees:

(Detail from web image)

With all the engraving types, if there is money to be made from adding perceived value, you can be fairly certain that there will be forgeries. The anniversary eagle seems to be one of the more lucrative and great care is needed if seeking to buy one. Obvious deficiencies found with fakes include incorrect eye detail and the missing vertical line delineating the beak from the head. Also, low serial numbers are an issue. Canon P production was from 1958 to 1961 so it seems likely that engraved cameras will be from towards the end.

Some Canon Ps have a “TE” in a rectangular box marking in their accessory shoes. As far as I am aware, nothing substantive is known about the origin of these. One theory is that it is the initials of some unknown company, organisation or group. Another is that TE stands for “Tax Exempt” and that may have been the final form of the <EP> mark - I think that is extremely unlikely, unless it originates in some other jurisdiction. As noted above, the <EP> mark continued to be found throughout this period and into the 1970s:

(Detail from web image)

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Canon Serial No.s & Naming Conventions

Some Canon models feature model names marked on the body but more don't. Canon serial numbers will get you to the correct series of models and even the correct model before serial number 52000 in 1951 or after 700000 in 1959. In the middle period range, you will also have to identify the camera's features against the specs listed further below.

Pacific Rim Camera have made the process easy with their Canon Rangefinder Identification Guide based on a question and answer process. There are other sites which have either borrowed it, or use a similar approach. “Naming Schema & Model Identification” after “Serial Numbering” below may not be as intuitive but it should get you to the right model, or close enough to confirm from more detailed information further down.

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Serial Numbering

Peter Dechert tells us that the only way to identify the production order of the Hansa Canon/ Canon Original is by the lens mount serial numbers, the internally stamped 4 digit numbers on the base plate indicating design types; 1xxx, 2xxx, or 3xxx (see next section).

The next model was the Canon S but I'll come back to it. The Canon J, JS and J II had their own 4 digit serial numbers, the J and JS sharing one range and the J II with its own unique range.

The common style of serial numbers began with the Canon S model which used a 5 digit number starting with 10xxx. Peter Dechert says from 10520. These continued consecutively ever upward. When a new model was released, it was easy because even if production overlapped, up to a point in the numbering, all the cameras were one model, all numbers past that were the next model, usually with a small gap of unused numbers in between. According to Peter Dechert, there is a slight overlap at the end of the Canon S II and the beginning of the Canon II B, but so far, I haven't observed examples of either model in this range. However, that changed in early 1951 when both the Canon IIC and Canon III shared the same serial number range starting from 52000. That was the first of many instances. There was no duplication but whilst a serial number remained a good indicator of relative ages of cameras, it could no longer assist with identifying the model, not till much later anyway.

One advantage for the company was that the same pool of pre-engraved viewfinder/rangefinder covers (top plates of later models) could be used for any of the models in production.

Some time in probably 1953, the serial numbers clicked over to 6 digits as 100000 was passed. In 1955, they reached around 229000 at the end of the Leica inspired models. The launch of the Canon VT at the beginning of V series cameras restarted numbering at 500000, Peter Dechert says VT production was numbered from 500010 on, but the system remained similar where a serial number could belong to any of several contemporary models but it was a little more complicated because there were differences in top plates, e.g. between knob wind and crank wind models, and even though numbers seem to overlap, they appear to have been issued in blocks so are not such a good indicator of relative age between cameras of different models, only within models. V series cameras continued until 1958 and ended at about serial 592000.

The Canon VI T and VI L launched in 1958 with serial numbering nominally starting at 600000 with both models using the same block. They ended at about 620000 and 621000 respectively. However, when the Canon P, a simplified VI L, launched in 1959, the starting serial number was reset to 700000 and from that point, all models used a discreet block. The Canon P ended at 798000, the Canon 7 ranged from 800000 to 999000 and the Canon 7s turned back the clock to restart with 6 digit serial number 100000. This ended at about 123000 (last found is 123001). The 7sZ is an unofficial model first named that by Peter Dechert to identify late examples with an updated feature set. There was a transition period from 115000 to 118000 during which examples with either feature set, or with only half the feature set, can be found.

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Naming Schema & Model Identification

Whilst Canon's naming schema seems to to be chaotic, it does sort of make sense. This might also be the point to note that I'm not altogether comfortable with Peter Dechert's practice for identifying variations as models and giving them their own model names; Canon 1950, VT de luxe Z, VT de luxe M and Canon 7sZ. It may be clever from a collector's point of view but it rewrites Canon's history.

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Bottom Loading Knob Wind Models

Pre-War Designs: Seiki Kogaku called the Hansa Canon/Canon Original “Canon Standard Model”. This featured a frame counter on the front, a pop-up viewfinder and a bayonet mount lens in a fixed focusing mount. The Canon S added slow speeds and moved the frame counter to under the rewind knob. Before the War, it was known as the “Canon Newest Model”. When production of the Hansa Canon ceased in 1940, the Canon Newest Model, became the new Canon Standard Model, a title first briefly held by the short-lived Canon NS - with popular usage of the “model S” abbreviation, that name stuck after the War. Similarly, the model that became known as the Canon J was initially called “Canon Popular Model”. It had no rangefinder and a screw mount lens. Some initial orders referred to “Junior Canon” and from that, “J” for junior became accepted. Variations included the Canon NS which was an S without slow speeds (NS, “New Standard” because both it and the Hansa were without slow speeds) and the Canon JS which was a J with slow speeds added. The J II arose from War-time shortages and was a J typically using a Canon S body with blanked off slow speeds and an S rangefinder cover pressing without the rangefinder.
Series II (from 1946): These are the first post-War designs and feature a combined viewfinder/rangefinder window. Top speed is still 1/500 with shutter dial split at 1/20. There are only two models, the Canon S II and II B with variable magnification viewfinder.
Series III (from 1951): Shutter dial split now at 1/25, the top models, the Canon III and Canon III A featured the new top speed of 1/1000. The IIIA added a new one piece magnification lever and film reminder in the rewind knob. The Roman II would be used until 1955 and then, from 1956, the Arabic 2 to denote lesser variants with 1/500 top speed. The budget model Canon II C had the same features as the Canon III, except the top speed remained 1/500.
Series IV (from 1951): Flash sync via side rail added to top models Canon IV, IV F, IV S, IV Sb (IV S2 in some markets, the “b” signifying the addition of X sync) and IV Sb2 (the “2” signifying new shutter with 2 piece dial and 1/30 speed split). Lesser II variants included the Canon II A (no sync or slow speeds), II AF (FP sync only, no slow speeds), II AX (X sync only, no slow speeds), II D and II D1 (slow speeds, no sync), II F (slow speeds, FP sync only) and II S (slow speeds, slow speed sync, high speed sync and X sync). There were also “2” versions; II D2, II F2 and II S2.

Hinged Back, Trigger or Lever Wind

Series V (from 1956): The Canon VT was initially advertised as the “Canon Model V”, undoubtedly the V meaning 5. However, the way the names developed, if a “V” is in the name, it means self-timer, not simply Series V (“V” stands for the German “Vorlaufwerk” meaning self-timer, e.g. Compur MXV and Prontor SV shutters). “T” means trigger wind and “L” means lever wind - top models included Canon VT, VT de luxe, L1 and VL, the L1 not featuring a self-timer. A “2” in the name signified a top speed of 1/500 and and pop-up rewind knob instead of crank (except in the case of the VT which pioneered the pop-up rewind knob), some didn't have X sync and some did, e.g. L2 and VL2 respectively. The one “3” model, the L3 was the L2 without any flash sync at all (except sometimes, see Canon L3).

Series VI (from 1958): Series VI is in the name of both the Canon VIT and VIL, the first with trigger, the second with lever. These introduced a single non-rotating shutter dial, parallax corrected reflected frame lines and auto frame counter reset. The 1959 Canon P (also known as “Populaire”) was a simplified VIL:

Series 7 (from 1961): The Canon 7 incorporates an in-built selenium cell exposure meter, projected frame lines and an external bayonet on the lens mount. The Canon 7s replaced the exposure meter with a CdS version and added back the missing accessory shoe. The 7s7 (not an official Canon model) features an improved viewfinder and larger rewind knob.

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Marked Model Names

More models don't than do have their names marked on the body. The following are the Canon cameras that have them, however, note that some models only feature them for the first or last part of their production runs:

Bottom Loading Knob Wind Models

(Note, earlier cameras don't have marked model names but whilst I don't have any idea about the Canon II A, II AF, II AX or II D1 models from a similar time as the cameras noted below, Peter Dechert doesn't include them either.)

The Canon IV, IV F, IV S, IV Sb/IV S2 and the IV Sb2 and IV Sb2 derivatives with the new shutter do not have their names marked.

Bottom loading cameras that have marked names have them on the bottom of the shutter crate like this Canon II F:

Canon II D: No name inside up to serial no. 11399x, then all have “MODEL II D”from serial no. 11498x on.
Canon II F: No name inside up to serial no. 13991x, then most have “MODEL II F” from serial no. 13814x on (there is a slight cross-over period).
Canon II S: Note, I have details of very few examples. Serial no. 10826x doesn't have the name inside, serial no. 11327x and later cameras have “MODEL II S”.

Hinged Back, Trigger or Lever Wind

Canon VT: “MODEL VT” on front face of base plate.
Canon L2: “MODEL L2” on bottom of base plate.
Canon L1: “MODEL L1” on bottom of base plate, in red on earliest example 54xxxx.
Canon VT de luxe: “MODEL VT de luxe” on front face of base plate, in red on earliest examples 54011x, 54074x and 54126x I have found and in black from 54245x.
Canon L3: “MODEL L3” on bottom of base plate up to serial no. 53734x, no name after serial no. 53797x.
Canon VI-T: “MODEL VI-T” on front face of base plate.
Canon P: “P” on top of top plate.
Canon 7: “Canon 7” on top of top plate.
Canon 7s: “Canon 7s” on top of top plate.

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Canon Rangefinder Body Dimensions

The Canon History Museum gives dimensions and weights of each model but the problem is that it is very inconsistent. Quite obviously, the Museum changes the rules about what is being measured with each model without telling us what is included and sometimes lenses are included and sometimes not. Personally, I think small protuberances like slow speed dials and strap lugs are inconsequential, I'm more interested in the footprint, basically the length and width of the base plate and the height of a camera and that is consistent with my other Leica Copies Japan pages. The dimensions and bare body weights are listed further down.

The four cameras below represent the two basic generations of post-War bodies; the bottom loaders and the the hinged backs. Top to bottom; Canon II B, Canon II F (same body as IV Sb), Canon L2 and Canon 7. The top two have the same footprint and the bottom two the same slightly larger footprint (5 mm longer):

Canon II B on left, Canon 7 on right:

Canon L2 on left, Canon 7 on right. Lever wind models up to and including the Canon P are the same height as the Canon L2, the Canon VT and other trigger wind models are the same height as the Canon 7:

 

Camera Base Plate Height Weight
Length
Width
Leica II/III
133mm
67mm
406g
Leica IIIc/IIIf
135mm
30mm
69mm
425/430g
Canon S II
135mm
30mm
69.5mm
Canon II B
135mm
30mm
71.5mm
Canon III-IV Sb2
135mm
30mm
72.2mm
500g
Canon VT-VIT
140mm
31mm
81mm
Canon L1-P
140mm
31mm
76mm
530g (L1-3)
Canon 7
140mm
31mm
81mm
670g
Canon 7s-7sZ
140mm
31mm
81mm
630g

 

The earlier model dimension from Hansa Canon to Canon S I are quoted within .05mm to 1 mm of the 1946 Canon S II and I suspect that the base plate dimensions are identical. As far as I can tell, I don't think that the basic body grew in this time except that the Canon S II seems to be 0.5 mm taller with its new single window viewfinder/rangefinder .

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The Canon Rangefinder EBL

Rangefinder accuracy is critical to obtaining sharp in-focus images. With smaller apertures and shorter focal lengths there is greater depth of field (DoF) and it is less important but as apertures and/or focal lengths increase, particularly at shorter camera to subject distances, DoF becomes razor thin and there is little margin for error.

Rangefinder accuracy is determined by “effective base length” (EBL), the longer the better. EBL = base length x magnification. Canon rangefinders are a bit short in this regard, particularly the Canon P but also the Canon 7 series with its optional f/0.95 lens. The models with variable magnification have a respectable EBL but only at the 1.5x setting. Whilst you can focus using any of the positions, depending on DoF, switching to the 1.5x view to focus accurately and back again to recompose might be a bit inconvenient but whether it is better or worse than switching between eyepieces on a Leica III and similar cameras is a matter of personal preference and use case. However, best practice was to have a long base, combined viewfinder/rangefinder and a big viewfinder that did not require positive magnification to achieve accuracy, the best camera EBLs include Kiev 4 at 72 mm, Contax II & III at 67.8 mm, Leica M3 at 62.33 mm and Nikon S2 and later at 60 mm.

For the record, Leica III models have a 39 mm base and a rangefinder magnification of 1.5 times giving an EBL of 58.5 mm. Official and/or confirmed details of Canon EBLs are hard to find but this is what I know:

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Black Bodies

A number of models were also offered with black painted metalwork instead of chrome plated finish. At the time, there was an extra cost and these days, they appear in very limited numbers and bring a significant premium at sales. This of course makes creating fakes a lucrative endeavour but there are also honest vendors that declare that a camera is a repaint and buyers who are willing to pay extra for a black body whether original or not. I'm not an expert in this regard and I would recommend that anyone interested in purchasing an original black body search the Facebook page of the Canon Historical Society first and then ask the forum if still not sure.

Of course, the first black bodies were the renderings of the Kwanon prototypes (not including the possibly earlier chrome version held by Canon). However, there were no black bodied versions of the bottom loaders made for retail sale or known military use.

According to Peter Dechert, the L1 and VT de luxe were the first Canon models offered in black and the Canon 7 was the last. The economy models, the L2, L3 and VL2 were definitely not available in black. In regard to the VL, Stephen Gandy's Cameraquest site says the following: “Original black paint Canon VL rangefinder, a camera so rare that Peter Dechert had never seen one when he wrote his classic Canon Rangefinder Cameras 1933 to 1968. Apparently a few were produced as samples, but never marketed to the public.” The VL pictured, serial number 560986, appears to be the real deal, matching the obvious original Canon factory specs.

Apparently, until mid-way, or so, through Canon P production, Canon painted the black over the original chrome finish, it is only later Canon P and Canon 7 models which are painted over bare brass. Typically, black camera self-timer levers have a small circular indentation near their tip which is filled in with white paint, chrome cameras have no indentation (or paint). Black cameras also feature both black painted strap lugs and strap hangers. These detail differences are the same for all affected models and are reflected in the chrome Canon P on left, original black Canon P on right:

(Web images)

Note, the strap hangers changed from “D” shaped to triangular. All the black P bodies in my database with strap hangers have the “D” type but there may be later examples with the other, whereas the chrome bodies can have either depending on age. An additional feature with Canon 7 cameras is that the rewind crank handle remains chrome.

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The Models

The models are listed in chronological order of release. From an impact perspective, I'm more focused on when they went on sale, based on Canon History Museum's “advertised date”, than Peter Dechert's production dates but I have quoted both. Typically, camera makers build up some stock before release and sales continue after production ends until stock is exhausted. When several models were going to be released simultaneously, at least in the same month, it could have been a toss of a coin which would go down the production line first. Clearly though, in a number of cases, the dates are out of step with each other but unfortunately, I don't have enough information to help me decide which is more likely to be correct. In my view, it's best to accept them with a grain of salt rather than make the wrong guess.

On the other hand, Peter Dechert's researched serial numbers are far more meaningful than my relatively small pool of found numbers (circa 880 across all models in early 2023). However, the found numbers do indicate the spread of the more easily found examples and in several instances, I have found serial numbers slightly outside of his range. I have also included a table of lenses likely supplied as original options with each model and serial numbers found. I have tried to exclude any obvious later swaps and other outliers but this is not definitive nor necessarily accurate. Serial numbers are indicative only and many lenses will lie outside my small sample size range. When numbers fall outside the range, compare to the the previous camera model for lower numbers or the next model for higher numbers. Obviously, body and lens serial numbers do not apply to the Kwanon.

Where I have quoted production numbers, these are Peter Dechert's, unless stated otherwise.

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Kwanon (prototype series)

There were a number of different designs of the Kwanon prototype, all fitted with the 50 mm f/3.5 Leitz Elmar-like collapsible lens called “KasyaPa” (identified as a Tessar design in an ad), although it is murky about what was actually built and what were operational or mock-ups. The History Hall of the Canon Camera Museum tells us that:

“A total of three Kwanon camera variations appeared in ads but the cameras were all either illustrations or wooden models, not actual products. In other words, the “Kwanon” was never actually put on the market. Although Yoshida testified that he had completed ten “Kwanon” cameras, no one had actually seen any one of them.”

Canon doesn't leave much room for doubt about its view. Presumably, that means that people that worked directly with Goro Yoshida hadn't seen them either. Any thoughts to the contrary would need some solid evidence.

Period advertisements show a somewhat Leica II-like black enamelled camera but with the film winding knob unusually placed on the front for the first three versions and no rewind knob, the film was transported from cassette to cassette. The body was hexagonal instead of with rounded ends and this would remain a signature design feature throughout the life of the Canon interchangeable lens rangefinder cameras and into the SLR era. The shutter speeds ranged from 1/20 to 1/500, there were no slow speeds. Specific details of the lens mount are unknown so whether it met Leica specifications is also not known, although at least one of the ads further down claims that “any lens can be attached according to your wishes”, implying some degree of compatibility with interchangeable lenses. It is clearly not a Zeiss Contax mount so Leica (Whitworth 26 TPI) would be presumed but noting Peter Dechert's comments in his book that until 1947, Seiki Kogaku and Nippon Kogaku engineers thought that Leica used a 1 mm metric thread (M39, equivalent to 25.4 TPI), it could have been M39.

Below is part of a detailed design drawing from a Japanese site, unfortunately, of low resolution (the sheet was curved and photographed at an angle, I have sort of straightened it, increased the contrast and upsized it). The heading machine translates to “Kannon Camera Assembly Diagram”. It's not known whether this is a copy of an original, or a more recent depiction, but it clearly features a cassette to cassette film transport system with central tripod socket and it looks like a Leica type viewfinder/rangefinder system so it is undoubtedly depicting either the Kwanon A or B (see further below):

Note, the elevation view is shown upside down.

Whilst camera-wiki.org identifies four four prototype designs referred to alphabetically as A to D, Peter Dechert refers to three designs, lumping A and B together as the first design, plus a magazine photo which he calls D. There is another quite different one called the “Kwanon X” which is an actual camera which Canon tells us came first. For this section, I am relying on Peter Dechert, the History Hall of the Canon Camera Museum and camera-wiki.org which references both Dechert and a later 1996 book by Japanese author Miyazaki Yoji, “Kyanon Renjifainda Kamera” (Canon Rangefinder Camera). At the end of the list, there is one more camera to consider but my belief is that it is a replica of some sort.

Kwanon X

The Kwanon X features the Kwanon name plus the logo depicting the deity on the top plate:

It is unlike either the other Kwanon designs or the Hansa Canon or later models. The camera is a close copy of the Leica II but with the distinctive hexagonal body ends of all Canon rangefinder cameras. The lens is engraved “KasyaPa” like the other Kwanon lenses and looks similar to those depicted in illustrations.

The History Hall of the Canon Camera Museum tells us:

“When Yoshida made his first prototype camera he named it the Kwanon, after Kannon, the Buddhist goddess of mercy, as he was a Buddhist and an ardent believer in Kannon. The camera’s logo depicted a thousand-arm Kwannon Goddess, and even its lens was named “Kasyapa” which came from Mahakasyapa, a disciple of the Buddha.”

That clearly puts this camera earlier than the other designs and it may have been completed by him before the Laboratory was formed. This is Peter Dechert's theory too.

However, some believe that it was assembled from leftover and later parts some time afterwards. The provenance of this camera is, according to Peter Dechert, that it was sold by the Shimbido camera shop in Tokyo in 1937 and was bought back by Canon at an Osaka trade fair in the late 1950s. Whilst it looks quite presentable in photos, it is described as being crudely made. In my view, there is little immediately familiar above the top plate, the closest Canon item to the viewfinder/rangefinder cover belonged to the Canon S (still different) and would have arrived two years after the sale. Also the logo featuring the deity is at odds with the general consensus that there was a need to remove the overtly religious overtones of the Kwanon name, hence the change to Canon.

I believe that Canon wouldn't have bought Kwanon X back or featured it so heavily over the years if it had any doubts. Peter Dechert also notes that Takeo Maeda, one of the original founding group and in charge of sales by the early 1960s, used it prominently to promote the Canon 7. For marketing purposes, Canon actually made several reasonably accurate replicas, except for the very strange rangefinder windows. One of these is the camera that represents the Kwanon X on the Canon History Museum site (the one at the top of this section is the real one which is the same image used on the Canon Global site, but there, Canon toned down the brassing):

Kwanon A

June 1934 magazine ads, Asahi Camera ad on right:

For the first three designs, the film advance and counter are on the front and there is no rewind knob, the main variation being the viewfinder. This first version depicts a narrow cover over the rangefinder mechanism, a typical centrally placed Leica-like viewfinder window and two tubes running back to the viewfinder and rangefinder eyepieces. There was no top plate engraving.

Kwanon B

The image in the July 1934 magazine ads depicts a very similar camera except that instead of the tubes for the viewfinder and rangefinder eyepieces, there was a more Leica II-like viewfinder/rangefinder cover. The ad on the left is from Ars Camera:

The camera in the second ad:

Peter Dechert calls it the final stage of the first design. The Kwanon name with a curved line under was engraved on the top plate as it was on the Kwanon C.

Kwanon C

The September 1934 ad depicts an otherwise similar body but significantly, the built-in Leica type viewfinder between the two rangefinder windows has been replaced by a foldable albada finder mounted in a shallow recess in the top plate. Peter Dechert explains that it is commonly called the Kwanon C but refers to this as the second design based on the main difference, the viewfinder system. This is his drawing based on the ad:

(Image from Peter Dechert's book, Canon Rangefinder Cameras 1933-1968)

Kwanon D - camera-wiki.org/Third Design - Peter Dechert

Camera-wiki.org calls this one the Kwanon D, Peter Dechert calls this the Third Design. Both he and camera-wiki.org cast doubts on whether the vague illustrations are of the Kwanon D/Third Design or are still of the Kwanon C/Second Design. Both the drawing in Dechert's book and the camera-wiki.org description indicate that this design has already adopted some of the forthcoming Hansa Canon features, e.g. the film wind knob has moved to the top plate with the film counter remaining on the front. However, Peter Dechert's drawing shows that the lens mount is the Nippon Kogaku focusing type of the Hansa Canon. Given the vagueness of the original illustrations and descriptions, I'm not sure how he can make any claims about the design other than by assuming, as he says on page 19 of his book, that “many of its structural features can be inferred from parts used on the very earliest Canon Hansa cameras”, i.e., by guesswork. In fact his drawing on page 22 is entitled “Suggested ‘Third Design’ Kwanon.” It may be accurate, or quite possibly not, but it doesn't really fit with the next Kwanon.

Kwanon D - Peter Dechert

Peter Dechert's book features a blown up small image from a post-War Japanese magazine of a camera that looks almost exactly the same as what I have called the “Kwanon D Replica” below. The Japanese text above the camera in the image in his book says that is is a “Kanon” (name in English) first produced in Showa 9 (1934) and fitted with a “KasyaPa f3.5” lens. Peter Dechert calls it a “Kwanon D” which seems to imply it is the same as the previous one. With the film wind knob still on the front, it's not like his “third design” or the equivalent camera-wiki.org Kwanon D. It looks like both their Kwanon C designs but with a rewind knob added. There is no Nippon Kogaku focusing mount, nor presumably matching Nikkor lens, as suggested in his final book drawing:

Peter Dechert is fairly positive about this being genuine, as he is about the existence of other examples and he suggests that various early Hansa parts originated with the Kwanon. He acknowledges that they were never marketed but seems to be doubtful about Canon's claim that none were ever made. In fact, he believes that the “Third Design Kwanon came close enough to production for parts, or at least dies, to have been completed in anticipation of assembly and sale.” He also thinks that the Kwanon D “is possibly the ‘Hansa Canon style Kwanon F3.5 camera’ advertised for sale by a Shimbido shop and presumably lost during the war.” Peter Dechert postulates that when Goro Yoshida departed Seiki Kogaku, he may have been taken one or more Kwanon examples with him and as he was a friend of the store's owner, Hideo Hokura, could have sold the cameras through him. All that sounds plausible but without verifiable facts, from the existence of Kwanon prototypes to their sale, to anchor it, it is just a story based on possibilities that make sense to Peter Dechert.

Specifically in regard to the Kwanon D, Canon says there was no such camera. From the History Hall:

“There was a camera called the “Kwanon Model D,” discovered in Osaka around l955, however, it was a copy of a “Leica Model II,” and was not made by Yoshida. The manufacturer of the “Kwanon Model D” is still shrouded in mystery.”

I am somewhat confused - the magazine photo is more Kwanon than Leica II, I presume that we talking about two different cameras.

Kwanon D Replica

The camera below appears to have the same features, including rewind knob, as Peter Dechert's Kwanon D in the magazine photo in his book. At first glance, it could be be the same camera appearance wise. However, as grainy and as low resolution that the blown-up magazine photo is, there is no evidence of any brassing. More importantly, a couple of the controls are different, see below. The KasyaPa lens appears identical to that on the Canon X and the same as in drawings and ad renderings for the other Kwanon prototypes. Apart from the addition of the rewind knob, it appears to be an accurate representation of the Kwanon C sketch in Peter Dechert's book. Some of the auction photos:

The Camera sold at a Boston USA auction 29 July 2006 for a record US$138,000 for a Canon model. The story is that Canon Inc. was not interested because there is no engraving of the “Kwanon” name. That's questionable whether it's a valid concern with a prototype but no doubt, Canon also had other more serious concerns.

I intially thought that the bottom photo with the base plate removed appears to show a die-cast body shell that first arrived during post-War Canon S II production rather than the expected earlier formed type body shell. However, Peter Dechert notes that early Hansa Canon bodies exhibited some Kwanon characteristics and that early Hansa Canon with lens mount no. 127 has a body which is either die-cast or milled, suggesting that might be a Kwanon feature (prototypes, Kwanons if they existed, were very unlikely to be die-cast at this time, milling - maybe but I think also quite unlikely). A single body might mean a later rebuild and although I have seen photos of two earlier ones since (with “Nippon Kogaku” named mounts no.s 6x and 8x), I'm still sitting on the fence regarding whether any of these three Hansa Canons are original. But back to the auction Kwanon, the aluminium alloy of the body shell appears to be darker than natural, certainly darker than the other three non-formed body shells, and almost exactly like the darkening introduced on late Canon II Bs, probably in 1950 (not the Canon III and the later blackening).

I'm not entirely convinced by the rest of this Kwanon D either, noting that Canon strongly asserts that no evidence has been found that any were actually constructed, apart from the original Kwanon X. It appears to have a later shutter with some screws removed, maybe to help keep it in character (more below). Furthermore, the middle photo of the top plate around the viewfinder shows an accessory shoe with a Leica II-like pressure depression in the top of the side rail - this only appeared after Canon S production commenced in 1938. The best of the renderings in the Kwanon ads don't show the depression and the early Hansa Canon was flat but with a curved cut-out from either side. Whilst there is now a rewind knob, there has been no obvious addition of a shutter release control to enable the rewind to be used. Also, there is no focus adjustment plug in the camera back, a feature of all production Canon models before the 1946 S II. There needs to be a matching hole in the pressure plate but it's not there in this one, see above photo of the lens mount and detached shutter curtains and hence, the naked pressure plate. Accessing the camera's film plane through the plug hole had been the standard method of adjusting the back focus of lenses on bottom loading Leica cameras until Leitz introduced focus standardisation for the Leica in the early 1930s (the back plug was also used on Nippons and the first Niccas and early Soviet cameras but not early Leotaxes). Of course, a prototype may have used some other method, or ignored fine adjustment but it certainly appears to be there in the Japanese drawings at the top of Kwanon (prototype series).

Earlier, I mentioned that the controls on the Kwanon D in the magazine photo were different to this one. In fact, the magazine photo's controls are very similar to the controls in the rendering of the Kwanon B in the ad further above, namely the chrome shutter button and whatever the dial in front of it is for. Below is a comparison between the ad Kwanon B on the left and the auction Kwanon D on the right:

I don't know what the roles of the raised chrome screw or small chrome knob on the bottom right of the B are (not there in the Kwanon A ad but shown in Peter Dechert's drawings) but they're not there/not obvious in the magazine photo so I'm ignoring those. What is different is that the auction D has a large black screw in place of the dial (purpose unknown) in front of the shutter button rather than the chrome dial of earlier Kwanons, including the magazine photo. Also, its shutter button just looks like a black pimple on the top plate. There is no collar, nor thread for a cable release, both of which featured on every Kwanon version, including the X, and all Hansa Canons (no thread from Canon S to IV Sb2). All of them were also chrome. Given the brassing on this body, the black shutter button looks remarkably wear free.

Along with film transport, another big issue for me is the base plate below. The earlier Kwanon designs (not the Kwanon X with its Leica-like rewind knob) wound film from one cassette to another, i.e. there was no need for a film rewind knob. This body has a rewind knob and spindle shaft for the removable take-up spool so obviously has been adapted for single cassette use. However, the base plate still has two bottom locks, both with the Hansa Canon-like cassette opening/closing mechanism, which is the “C” shaped device on each lock. The one at the spool end is redundant now and that is a big problem. In its place, there should be a vertical shaft/pin to support the spool. Every Leica and Leica copy without a fixed spool has some method of supporting it, otherwise there would likely be winding and flatness issues. Both “C” shaped openers show an equal amount of brassing but only the one at the cassette end should have been contacting anything. The lock at the cassette end has a tab which would normally turn under the saddle usually screwed to the end of the shutter crate (see Hansa shutters further below) which in this case is missing. How the base plate is currently secured is a mystery to me (there also seems to be a tab at the spindle end - redundant even with a cassette to cassette system):

In comparison, below are inside and outside views of early Hansa Canon base plates with centre tripod mount still - on the outside there is the blanked-off indentation for the second lock/magazine key, so presumed to be an adapted Kwanon design. Note, the key for the Hansa Canon base plate lock is designed so that it can only fold in one direction, on the other hand, the pair of keys on the Kwanon base plate above can fold in either direction, a design that wasn't adopted by Seiki Kogaku until the 1946 S II. The outline of the three rivets for the tripod mount are just visible. On the inside, there is a pin for the spool end. There is also a channel section baffle/body support, typical of Leica practice and later Canons, blind riveted to the base plate in the same way as the tripod mount (Peter Dechert's book shows base plate 1316 with no signs of rivets on the inside for either the channel or mount but the items themselves are still the same). The notch in the channel is explained in the Hansa section. On the auction Kwanon, the missing channel can perhaps be explained by its prototype status but the tripod mount and its attachment are also completely different on the prototype and there seems to be some sort of lumpy bodge going on under the black paint:

(Web images)

It occurs to the cynic in me that the unexpected rewind knob and associated film transport bits, and the problems that this caused with the bottom plate etc., may have been added to explain the absence of parts for the “designed” cassette to cassette system.

Other than the redundant magazine opener, I also find other aspects of the brassing worrying. The black enamel paint on the body is in good, smooth, relatively scratch free condition (apart from the base plate) yet the brassing appears to some degree along all the hard edges. It seems to occur discreetly, evenly, symmetrically even and dare I say, with artistic good taste. The brassing on the bottom of the shutter crate appears to be rubbed with no hard or ragged edges whereas the reality is that there are very few wear points on a shutter crate and it is much more common to see chipped paint here or flaking paint, not worn. There is a lot of brassing and fine scratches on the lens barrel but much of it is even and circular, not really typical of a hard used lens. Then there is the camera lens mount - there are fine marks on the surface but most of these are tangential, not circular as would be expected and there are no signs of a well used mount that the degree of brassing and broken shutter curtains would suggest.

Below is a comparison of the auction Kwanon with some early Hansa Canon shutters and a Canon II B with darkened die-cast body shell. First is the Kwanon, note 6 toothed tension adjusters which didn't appear until the Canon S (they do look “toothier” than typical S examples), the brass disc, positions and number of screws, including missing ones, and the nature of the brassing:

Earliest Hansa Canon in my database, mount number 15x (they start at 55 according to Peter Dechert, I have partial photos of 6x and 8x). This one and the next two types don't have the disc of the auction Kwanon, or typical of later cameras - Peter Dechert refers to it as a “flywheel”, on models with slow speeds, it has been identified as a “brake”, a pin on the underside interacting with a hump on the slow speeds flat spring:

A couple of other early examples have a flat spring without cut-outs, Peter Dechert suggests that these are the earliest type of shutter and may be inherited from the Kwanon prototypes (the design, probably, if it had progressed that far, otherwise, just the first design). The first has mount number 19x, this one is 20x:

A slightly different early type without the disc, mount number 43x, but getting close to the final form, the last of this type in my database has mount number 62x:

Finally, the majority look like this and somewhat resemble the auction Kwanon shutter:

(Above are web images)

Late die-cast Canon II B with darkened body, earlier examples were a natural light colour:

Yet with all my concerns about the camera, I look at the top plate shape and it is a work of art, completely faithful to the detail in the earlier renderings. The rewind knob is unexpected and the accessory shoe and the shutter button are questionable but the rest of it is convincing. The lens too, with its quite different base and distance scale, is faithful to what we have already seen, however, lower down and under the skin, such as the body structure, the shutter, the unresolved locking and film transport issues with the bottom plate, all seem like the result of less careful attention to detail. It makes me wonder whether the top plate, and likely the lens too, may not be authentic prototype parts that someone has later assembled with newer bits and pieces into a complete make believe Kwanon? Maybe, maybe not. If the camera is not the real deal, and I really doubt that it is, externally it is too well made and accurately detailed to be just called a fake, that's why I would prefer to call it a replica.

The back story to the Bonhams Skinner auction seems to be that although Peter Dechert is credited with assisting with the catalogue notes, there was no expert evaluation, documentation or other assurance of provenance apart from this auction claim: “From information supplied by the consignor, the camera was acquired ten years ago from the daughter of a real estate agent in the Bronx, New York, along with a Contax I and a Leica II, who reported that all three cameras had been in the family since the early 1950s.”

A slightly more detailed story was provided by Jeanne Schinto writing for the November 2006 Maine Antiques Digest: “A consignment from a collector who is a Nikon specialist, it sold after a battle between two phone bidders for $138,000, more than four and a half times the high estimate and a Canon auction price record. Skinner sci-tech department head Nick Hawkins said the buyer was a collector overseas.”

And: “The Kwanon had good provenance. It also could legitimately be called extremely rare, even unique. Hawkins said the consignor acquired it about ten years ago from a family in the Bronx. They'd had it in their household since the 1950's after having received it as a partial rent payment from tenants, Hawkins said. How did the tenants get hold of it? Who knows? But the balance of their rent that month was paid by two other cameras, a Contax I and a Leica II, according to the family.”

Continuing: “The numeral 2, stamped into the inner surface of the Kwanon's base plate, lends credence to the idea that it was the second operable prototype made by the company.” To me, it seems that the “numeral 2” could actually mean anything, even if it had been one of the Kwanons made by Goro Yoshida. I also question the “good provenance”, I personally think that it is very questionable, there is virtually nothing about this camera's known history to link it to Japan and Seiki Kogaku circa 1934 or 1935.

However, regardless of anything else, apart from maybe the rewind knob and a few minor trim bits, you can accept it as an excellent representation of what a late Kwanon prototype may have looked like, if built. Is there a connection to the very similar magazine photo? Don't know, it just adds to the mystery.

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Hansa Canon & Canon Original

Production
(Peter Dechert)
Marketed
(Canon)
Slow
Dial
Main Dial
Sync
S/Timer
1935/10-1940/06
1936/02
No
Z, 1/20-1/500
No
No

 

Serial Numbers
Source
From
To
Peter Dechert
55
5200
Found
15x
515x

(Note, for this model only, the serial number belongs to the focusing mount. There is no other external number and according to Peter Dechert, the number engraved inside on the base plate reflects design variations (see Canon Serial No.s & Naming Conventions).

Lens Mount: Bayonet in J mount focusing unit
Normal 50mm Lens (Peter Dechert): Nikkor f/3.5
Found with Lens:
Lens Description
Serial Numbers
From
To
Nikkor f/3.5 Collapsible. Black face
n/a
5050x
Nikkor f/3.5 Collapsible. White face
50117x
Nikkor f/3.5 Collapsible
50142x
50176x
Nikkor f/4.5 Collapsible. White face
502x
5086x

(Note, there are no serial numbers on early black face and very earliest white face lenses.)

The Hansa Canon was first advertised in October 1935 but there is some doubt about whether it went on sale in 1935 or early 1936. “Hansa Canon” on left and “Canon Original” on right, otherwise identical (see The Canon Story for a detailed explanation but basically, “Hansa” is a trademarked brand name belonging to camera distributer Omiya Shashin Yohin Co., Ltd.):

(Detail from larger web images)

The three Canon Originals in my database are from near the end of production but may have been made in small numbers throughout, Peter Dechert suggests 3 or 4 times as many Hansa engraved examples, in my database, it is 7 times.

As noted earlier, the Canon features lens, focusing mount and rangefinder system were designed and made by Nippon Kogaku to circumvent Leica patents, the lens and mount heavily influenced by the Zeiss Contax I. The main lens mount is 39mm diameter like the Leica but with a pitch of 24 TPI instead of 26 TPI and into this the focusing mount is screwed and secured by set screw. The removable lens barrel is inserted into the focusing mount using a bayonet fitting. The viewfinder is a pop up type. The frame counter is on the front and is a carry over from the Kwanon winding knob design:

(Detail from larger web images)

The first Hansa Canons featured a recessed area on top of the viewfinder/rangefinder housing into which the pop-up viewfinder drops. It is believed to be another carry over from the Kwanon prototypes. Design wise it certainly was but the actual Kwanon recess was very probably deeper to accommodate its fold-up viewfinder:

(Detail from larger web image)

Some of the first examples also featured a base plate with centred tripod socket and blanked off indentation where the Kwanon's second magazine opening key would have been. Below are inside and outside views of first centre socket base plates and a later offset socket version, note standard 3/8” European thread of both (two cameras from near the end of production have Canon S style base plates, it is not known whether they are original or not):

(Web images)

Note, the rectangular diversion in the side of the channel which is to clear the screw and tab for securing the shutter crate to the body - it's no longer there on the Canon S:

(Web image)

Just over half of early Hansa Canon cameras in my database feature a Nikkor f/3.5 with “black face” lens with the aperture ring on the front:

(Web image)

These were replaced by a similar design “white face” lens followed by the later Nikkor f/3.5 design on the right with outer aperture ring viewable from above (only fitted to some Hansa models at the end of production):

(Detail from larger web images)

Earlier lenses were nickel plated, later ones chrome (Peter Dechert says from serial number 50540 onward).

Rear view with viewfinder popped up. Note circular plug in the middle of the back. This is to assist with infinity focus adjustment when matching lens to body accomplished with adding or subtracting shims under the lens mount. It is found on all early bodies before the 1946 Canon S II (Leica also used this system until the early 1930s before they were able to adopt a standard back focus).

(Web image)

Most examples feature an accessory shoe with curved cutouts on the side rails but late examples, including the three Originals in my database, feature straight rails with pressure depressions inherited from the new Canon S. Note also that the shutter dial was marked with the German “Z” (zeit) on all models before changing to “B” (bulb) with the 1946 Canon S II and the shutter button cable release thread which would disappear with the Canon S and not return until the 1956 Canon VT:

(Web images)

Hansa Canon kit:

(Detail from WestLicht Auction photo)

Note, I have the same type Bakelite film magazine canister. Peter Kitchingman suggests that this is a latish bottom loader type and the evidence seems to support that, so probably not original even though one would have been supplied originally. It would likely have been the slightly wine barrel shape as in the period brochure below and as appears in another photo for a Canon Original complete with its box and papers:

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Canon S

Production
(Peter Dechert)
Marketed
(Canon)
Slow
Speeds
Main Dial
Sync
S/Timer
1938/10-1945
1939/04
1-1/8
Z, 1/20-1/500
No
No

 

Serial Numbers
Source
From
To
Peter Dechert
10520
12500
Found
1055x
1218x

 

Lens Mount: Bayonet in J mount focusing unit
Normal 50mm Lens (Peter Dechert): Nikkor f/2, f/2.8 or f/3.5, Canon adds f/4.5
Found with Lens:
Lens Description
Serial Numbers
From
To
Nikkor f/2 Rigid
502x
5043x
Regno-Nikkor f/2 Rigid
5044x
Regno-Nikkor f/2 Rigid
140015A
Nikkor f/2.8 Collapsible. White face
5030x
5015x
Nikkor f/3.5 Collapsible
50130x
50223x
Nikkor f/4.5 Collapsible. White face
5018x
5022x

 

As noted earlier, Seiki Kogaku originally called this camera “Canon Newest Model”. When the Hansa Canon ended production two years later, the new camera took over the mantle of “Canon Standard Model”, which was abbreviated to “Canon S” after the War (see also Canon NS which is known as the“New Standard Model”).

The Canon S updated the Hansa Canon design with a simplified more Leica-like separate viewfinder/rangefinder cover in place of the full width top deck of the original, move of the frame counter to the more usual position under the film wind knob and the addition of slow speeds with a front mounted setting dial complete with a crank to make operation easier in its close proximity to the toothed focusing wheel.

New f/2 and f/2.8 Nikkor 5 cm lenses were offered in addition to the existing f/3.5. Found in smaller numbers, there was also an f/4.5, originally developed for the Canon J model. The f/2 Nikkor was a 6 element Zeiss Sonnar design. Very early examples feature a front set aperture with a smallest stop of f/22, note the 4 digit serial number:

(Web images)

However, most feature an external aperture ring and minimum aperture of f/16. Additionally, there was also the uncommon f/2 Regno-Nikkor which has a minimum aperture of f/11 and is thought to have originally been intended for use with X-Ray cameras.

Canon S with later type standard Nikkor f/2 mounted (note, the tall mushroom shaped shutter surround is an accessory and features a new button with cable release thread - the same type is fitted to four Canon S examples and one JS in my database):

(Web image)

Regno-Nikkor f/2, note f/11 minimum aperture:

(Detail from larger web images)

Nikkor f/2.8:

(Web image)

The base plate now looks more like later base plates but several things will change by the early 1950s. The diameter of the Hansa Canon style cylinderical locking mechanism still includes the lift-up “D” shaped key, i.e. half of the solid cylinder is a smaller diameter to allow for the key to lay flat but only in one direction. It wasn't until the Canon S II that the smaller diameter became uniform and the key could pivot down in either direction. It also features a European 3/8” tripod socket with the 1/4” socket first appearing on the Canon S II and becoming the most common type on II Bs. Also, the S-O” dialogue will change to “Open-Close” with the Canon III:

(Web image)

According to Peter Dechert, a very small batch of Canon S cameras was made with Imperial Japanese Navy markings in about 1942. They have their own serial numbers, those known to him were from 111 to 126, serial numbers that have surfaced more recently are 143, 167 and 170. Most/all were fitted with the Nikkor f/2 lens. Number 170 below, the mount number is 2540:

(Japanese auction photo)

There is a belief that is repeated on many websites that these were made for use on Japanese submarines. As most were destroyed during the War, it is said that it would explain the small number of these cameras found. Perhaps, but given the small number made, the War-time military environment and the circumstances of Japan's defeat, the fact that a number have surfaced (excuse the pun) suggests to me that there is nothing out of the ordinary about the ratio of found cameras to the total made.

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Canon J

Production
(Peter Dechert)
Marketed
(Canon)
Slow
Speeds
Main Dial
Sync
S/Timer
1939/01-1941+
1939/04
None
Z, 1/20-1/500
No
No

 

Serial Numbers
Source
From
To
Peter Dechert
1700
2125
Found
180x
204x

 

Lens Mount: J
Normal 50mm Lens (Peter Dechert): Nikkor f/4.5, some late Js with f/3.5
Found with Lens:
Lens Description
Serial Numbers
From
To
Nikkor f/3.5 Collapsible
50185x
50222x
Nikkor f/4.5 Collapsible. White face
501x

 

The pre-War introduced models following the Hansa Canon continued to be different from Leica because of patent concerns. However, the 1939 budget model Canon J without slow speeds also omitted the rangefinder, thus eliminating the need for the expensive Nikon focusing mount to avoid infringing Leica patents for the lens connection to the rangefinder and instead used the 39 mm 24 TPI screw mount directly in Leica fashion, but of course not being Leica compatible. This was referred to as the “J mount” and also used immediately post-War. The pop-up viewfinder of the earlier models was replaced by a simpler built-in more Leica-like type but with squared-off end next to the rewind lever. The lens was typically a Nikkor f/4.5 but when Nippon Kogaku ceased production of this later in the War, a few late examples were fitted with the Nikkor f/3.5 in a J mount barrel. Nikkor f/4.5 lens:

(Web image)

Seiki Kogaku initially called this the “Popular Model”. According to Peter Dechert, some early orders referred to it as the “Junior” Canon but after the War, the abbreviation “J” stuck. It was not a successful model with production probably of no more than a few hundred and after 1941, small numbers may have been made for military purposes only.

The example below has a fitting mounted that suggests that it may have been used as copy camera during the War.

(Web images)

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Canon NS

Production
(Peter Dechert)
Marketed
(Canon)
Slow
Speeds
Main Dial
Sync
S/Timer
1940/01-1942
1939/11
None
Z, 1/20-1/500
No
No

 

Serial Numbers
Source
From
To
Peter Dechert
10800
11900
Found
1079x
1156x

 

Lens Mount: Bayonet in J mount focusing unit
Normal 50mm Lens (Peter Dechert): Nikkor f/3.5 or f/4.5
Found with Lens:
Lens Description
Serial Numbers
From
To
Nikkor f/3.5 Collapsible
50138x
50157x
Nikkor f/4.5 Collapsible. White face
5025x

 

The Canon NS is a Canon S without the slow speed mechanism or dial and was to be a replacement for the Hansa Canon. According to Canon, it was introduced when the tax rate was significantly increased to support military expansion as war clouds were gathering, but wasn't a commercial success. According to Peter Dechert, advertisements described it as “Canon new standard model without slow peeds” and that “NS”, abbreviating “New Standard” is a “recent suggestion”. He thinks that approximately 100 were made, as does Canon claim. According to Dechert, most were supplied with the f/4.5 lens, Canon says “Nikkor 50mm f/3.5 and others”, this one is the f/3.5:

(Michaels' auction photo)

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Canon JS

Production
(Peter Dechert)
Marketed
(Canon)
Slow
Speeds
Main Dial
Sync
S/Timer
circa 1941
1939?
1-1/8
Z, 1/20-1/500
No
No

 

Serial Numbers
Source
From
To
Peter Dechert
1900
2130
Found
201x
210x

 

Lens Mount: J
Normal 50mm Lens (Peter Dechert): Nikkor f/4.5

 

The Canon JS is a Canon J with added slow speed mechanism and dial. According to the Canon Camera Museum, it was intended for close-ups, photomicrography, astrophotography and other special applications which required slow shutter speeds and didn't benefit from the rangefinder of the S model. Canon claims that it was released pre-War, Peter Dechert says that it was never advertised and thinks that it was mainly War-time production for the Japanese Army as a possible copy camera. He believes that no more than 50 were made.

(Detail from larger web image)

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Canon J II

Production
(Peter Dechert)
Marketed
(Canon)
Slow
Speeds
Main Dial
Sync
S/Timer
1945/12-1946/11
1946/01
None
Z, 1/20-1/500
No
No

 

Serial Numbers
Source
From
To
Peter Dechert
8000
8700
Found
803x
856x

 

Lens Mount: J (early) & modified J (late)
Normal 50mm Lens (Peter Dechert): Nikkor f/3.5, a few with Serenar f/3.5
Found with Lens:
Lens Description
Serial Numbers
From
To
Nikkor f/3.5 Collapsible
50199x
50223x
Nikkor f/3.5 Collapsible
5707x
7041x
Nikkor f/3.5 Collapsible
46020x
46021x
Serenar f/3.5 Collapsible. Seiki Kogaku
801x
811x

 

In order to get production going again, the post-War Canon J II featured the Canon J specs using Canon S parts. The slow speed mechanism and dial were removed and a plate with three screws was mounted over the hole for the dial. The viewfinder/rangefinder housing used the model S blank with the end wrapping around the rewind knob. According to Peter Dechert, Canon records indicate 506 were made but other lists indicate only 164 completed. It seems that some early Serenar f/3.5 lenses may have been made for the J mount.

(Web image)

Because of the pop-up viewfinder, the Canon S had the maker name and serial number next to the model name. The Canon J on the other hand featured the shortened squared-off viewfinder/rangefinder housing without pop-up viewfinder and therefore the maker name and serial number moved to under the model name. With the model S housing, the J II reverted to the side-by-side layout up to somewhere between serial numbers 8078 and 8158 (see above photo) after which the details moved to below the name:

(Web image)

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Canon S I

Production
(Peter Dechert)
Marketed
(Canon)
Slow
Speeds
Main Dial
Sync
S/Timer
1945/12-1946/11
1946/01
1-1/8
Z, 1/20-1/500
No
No

 

Serial Numbers
Source
From
To
Peter Dechert
12386
14160
Found
1228x
1254x

 

Lens Mount: Bayonet in J mount focusing unit
Normal 50mm Lens (Peter Dechert): Nikkor f/3.5
Found with Lens:
Lens Description
Serial Numbers
From
To
Regno-Nikkor f/2 Rigid
14113x
Nikkor f/2.8 Collapsible. White face
5021x
Nikkor f/3.5 Collapsible
50203x
50209x

 

The Canon S I is the Canon S produced after the War at the same time as the Canon J II. However, unlike the J II, it appears to be physically identical to late War-time production and much the same as when released. In fact, Peter Dechert says that “S I” was Seiki Kogaku's name for the model but these days, the Canon Camera Museum refers to it as “S” as opposed to “S (Newest Model)” for the pre-War version. According to Peter, 97 made.

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Canon S II

Production
(Peter Dechert)
Marketed
(Canon)
Slow
Speeds
Main Dial
Sync
S/Timer
1946/10-1949/06
1946/10
1-1/8
B, 1/20-1/500
No
No

 

Serial Numbers
Source
From
To
Peter Dechert
15000
23375
Found
1515x
2360x

 

Lens Mount: Semi-universal (some J & experimental mounts)
Normal 50mm Lens: (Peter Dechert): Serenar f/2, f/3.5 or Nikkor f/3.5
Found with Lens:
Lens Description
Serial Numbers
From
To
f/2 Serenar Collapsible. Seiki Kogaku
20003
2008x
f/2 Serenar Collapsible. Canon Camera Co.
2038x
2154x
f/3.5 Serenar Collapsible. Seiki Kogaku
813x
921x
f/3.5 Serenar Collapsible. Canon Camera Co.
961x
1447x
f/3.5 Serenar Collapsible. Canon Camera Co.
8325x
8347x
f/3.5 Nikkor Collapsible
57079x
57101x
f/3.5 Nikkor Collapsible
610x
f/3.5 Nikkor Collapsible
6107x
6108x
f/3.5 Nikkor Collapsible
70540x

 

The first post-War designed model was the Canon S II released in October 1946. Ad from Camera times of 20 December 1947, by then the first accessory lens, the 135 mm f/4, had been released:

The S II featured Seiki Kogaku's first major innovation - the rangefinder and viewfinder were combined and there was a single viewfinder window. However, with a short 38.5 mm rangefinder base length and 0.6x magnification giving an EBL of 23.1 mm, it was less than ideal from an accuracy viewpoint and likely the main reason why the first 135 mm f/4 lens was initially not rangefinder coupled.

There was a small number of early Canon S II examples with the J lens mount but most featured the new “semi-universal” thread which is somewhere between the J mount's 24 and Leica's 26 TPI and would accept both J mount and most Leica lenses as well (see “Semi-universal Mount under ” Lens Mounts).

This example is probably from 1948, almost exactly halfway through the production run and from after the two major updates experienced by this model, the maker name change and body construction:

This was the first Canon model without the focus adjustment plug in the camera's back, although some early ones still have a hole in the pressure plate, probably remaining parts from earlier models:

The top view is a typical Leica III layout. The accessory shoe side rails have lost the pressure depressions first introduced by the model S and as mentioned, this example already features the later maker name:

The base plate features the first Canon locking key that can fold flat in either direction (see the model S). As far as I am aware, until now, the tripod sockets had been the European standard 3/8”, as this one, but 1/4” started to appear with later production.:

The other major change during production was the introduction of a stronger and more accurate die-cast body shell. Just slightly later, the four blind rivets securing the channel section inside the bottom plate (see further below) were replaced by non-mechanical attachment means (perhaps brazed?):

Maker Name Change

Generally speaking, until somewhere between serial numbers 1674x and 1694x according to my database, the maker name marked on the camera was “Seiki-Kogaku Tokyo” after which it became “Canon Camera Company Ltd.” However, there is also a small group in my database of 4 earlier examples between serial numbers 1561x and 1595x with the Canon name followed by another 14 cameras still with the Kogaku Seiki name:

(Left detail from larger web image)

Body Shell

Between camera 1730x and 1784x, Canon changed construction of the body shells from forming to shape to the more accurate and stronger die-casting. Formed body on top with even thin thickness all around, note also the base plate channel section secured by four blind rivets, die-cast below with cylindrical internal ends, angular on the outside:

(Web image)

MIOJ

In my database, there is the occasional base plate marked “Made in Occupied Japan” (MIOJ) beginning with serial numbers 1624x and becoming increasingly common until by 2021x, all have the marking:

(Web image)

Lenses

As in the ad further above, the usually supplied lenses were the new Seiki Kogaku Serenars (rebranded from Seiki Kogaku to Canon in 1947), the f/3.5 (based on then current Nikkor Tessar design) and slightly later released f/2 5 cm (a Gauss based design quite different to the Nikkor Sonnar type), but early on, there were still some Nikkor f/3.5 lenses too. Canon branded f/3.5 Serenar on left, f/2 on right:

(Detail from larger web images)

Canon S II with coated Nikkor f/3.5 5 cm lens from the October 1946 batch:

(Web image)

Shutter Dial Markings

Before the S II, the main shutter dial had featured the German “Z” marking for bulb, now changing to “B”. Most S II examples are marked “B” but the two earliest examples in my database, plus a couple of later ones, are still marked “Z”. Also, late camera, 2207x, and the last three S II examples in my database, 23335x, 2343x and 2360x, have the “20-1” marked on the main dial, the “20” on the slow speed dial and the “0” on the frame counter picked out in red, like the following II B. “Z” version found on some early examples, typical all black “B” version found on most S II examples in middle, red infill on main dial example on right:

(Left and right detail from larger web images)

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Canon II B

Production
(Peter Dechert)
Marketed
(Canon)
Slow
Speeds
Main Dial
Sync
S/Timer
1949/01-1952/07
1949/04
1-1/8
B, 1/20-1/500
No
No

 

Serial Numbers
Source
From
To
Peter Dechert
21050
42400
Found
2500x
4184x

 

Lens Mount: Semi-universal (maybe some late Universal ones)
Normal 50mm Lens (Peter Dechert): Serenar f/1.9 or f/3.5
Found with Lens:
Lens Description
Serial Numbers
From
To
f/1.9 Serenar Collapsible. Canon Camera Co.
2094x
3937x
f/3.5 Serenar Collapsible. Canon Camera Co.
1187x
1505x

 

The real innovation and major success came with the next model, the 1949 Canon II B (initially called the S IIb), which cleverly used a rotating prism to add three level magnification to the viewfinder of the S II:

The most commonly supplied lens was the new f/1.9 5 cm, basically a recomputed version of the f/2 released for the Canon S II, although the Serenar f/3.5 remained as a budget alternative.

Strap lugs were also added for the first time:

Somewhere between serial numbers 35000 and 37000 in my database (Peter Dechert narrows it down to around 36000), Canon introduced a process to darken the natural alloy around the bottom lip of the body shell:

The accessory shoe changed from a plain 3 screw type to a four screw type with springs and between camera 2542x and 2581x, the “20-1” marking on the main shutter dial, the “20” on the slow speed dial and the “0” on the frame counter were given a red infill instead of the uniform black numerals:

The 1.5x magnification provides the most accurate focusing and the approximate view of a 135 mm lens, the 1x magnification provides the approximate view of a 100 mm lens and the F position equates to 0.67x magnification and provides the view of a 50 mm normal lens:

From between serial numbers 3894x and 3933x onward, base plates were no longer marked MIOJ (as on Canon S II above). Most Canon II B examples feature the 1/4” tripod socket:

A minor change during production was that the screw in the rear of the viewfinder/rangefinder housing lined up with the screw below it in the top plate in cameras before 3985x, as in the camera below, and lined up with the centre of the accessory shoe in later cameras after 3957x, as in the late camera above.

(Detail from larger web image)

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Canon 1950 (trial series Canon III & IV)

Production
(Peter Dechert)
Marketed
(Canon)
Slow
Speeds
Main Dial
Sync*
S/Timer
1950/07-1950/10
T, 1-1/8
B, 1/25-1/1000
M/FP
No

(*Sync: Slow speed sync at 1/8 and below is for M class and other peak type bulbs as well as FP, high speed sync is for FP bulbs at 1/25 and above)

Serial Numbers
Source
From
To
Peter Dechert
50000
50199
Found
5005x
5017x

 

Lens Mount: Semi-universal
Normal 50mm Lens (Peter Dechert): Serenar f/1.9
Found with Lens:
Lens Description
Serial Numbers
From
To
f/1.9 Serenar Collapsible
2592x
3873x

 

The “Canon 1950”, 1950 being the year of its appearance, is the name given to the trial series of the Canon IV, which was later discovered to also include Canon III cameras. They shared all the important new features including a new shutter with 1/1000 top speed, a cross over speed of 1/25 instead of the old 1/20 and a “T” for Time setting for the first time. The shutter included a flash synchronisation mechanism for flashbulbs on the IV version, a first for Canon, and a side mounting rail with direct “hot shoe” type connection. There was also a new rewind release mechanism mounted on a raised platform.

Although Canon documents suggest the facility commenced with Canon III serial numbers, the take-up shaft on the bottom of the shutter crate was notched to allow use of the newly developed Canon Rapid Winder baseplate patterned on the Leitz Leicavit.

Like the Canon 7sZ, the Canon 1950 name is another Peter Dechert invention. In his book, he was aware that it was a trial series for the forthcoming Canon IV with flash sync. He thought that most of the 50 or so examples produced were shipped to new US importer, C. R. Skinner Manufacturing Co., for sale. He also believed that Canon confusingly called the camera Canon II C before reusing the name for a later unsynced model. The II C camera and new Flash Unit X are pictured in a C. R. Skinner ad in the February 1951 edition of US magazine, Photography.

However, in a 2006 article for Shutterbug, he updated his understanding as a result of what he had learnt since 1984. Production had been higher than 50 and probably closer to the 200 suggested by the serial numbers. Around 50 had been sent to C. R. Skinner for sale but some had been kept by Canon, presumably for further testing and marketing purposes (also used for some of the photos in the subsequent user manuals) and some had been issued to experienced photographers for evaluation. Also, some of the cameras were unsynced but had most of the new features and therefore appeared to be trial versions of the Canon III (their serial numbers appear to be at the end of the 200 number range). In this context, he considered the “Canon 1950” name a mistake and proposed three separate names “Canon IV-1950” (for testing and evaluation cameras), “Skinner Canon IV-1950” and “Canon III-1950”.

Also, rather than Canon naming the cameras Canon II C, he now believed that in the absence of any guidance from Canon, Skinner had given its allocation that name as the camera followed the II B.

There were some minor, mainly cosmetic variations in this period but by and large, the cameras are hard to tell apart from the following Canon III and IV except for their serial numbers and maker names. According to Peter Dechert, the 1950 models still feature “Canon Camera Company, Ltd.” on the viewfinder/rangefinder housing, except for the last few, whilst the Canon III and IV examples reflect the early 1951 change to “Canon Camera Co., Inc.” One of the “last few” Canon III-1950 examples (note the serial number 5019x) with the updated maker name:

(Detail from larger web image)

The Skinner Canon IV-1950 models featured a base plate marked: “MADE IN OCCUPIED JAPAN/SERVICED AND GUARANTEED IN SAN FRANCISCO CALIFORNIA”.

(Detail from Peter Dechert's 2006 Shutterbug article)

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Canon III

Production
(Peter Dechert)
Marketed
(Canon)
Slow
Speeds
Main Dial
Sync
S/Timer
1951/02-1952/12
1951/02
T, 1-1/8
B, 1/25-1/1000
No
No

 

Serial Numbers
Source
From
To
Peter Dechert
50200
81850
Found
5084x
8102x

 

Lens Mount: Semi-universal (maybe some late Universal ones)
Normal 50mm Lens (Peter Dechert): Serenar f/1.9 or f/3.5
Found with Lens:
Lens Description
Serial Numbers
From
To
f/1.9 Serenar Collapsible
3706x
4894x

 

The Canon III was an improved II B, the main change being the new shutter with 1/1000 speed, 1/25 cross over, T setting on the slow dial and the ability to use the new Rapid Winder baseplate with a notch added to the take up spindle to connect to the lug on the Rapid Winder (later model with finer leatherette pattern pictured):

(Detail from larger web image)

A revised body shell for all new models featured a groove near the bottom of the shell from under the lens mount to where the flash sync connector would be installed on sync'd models. This was to enable the wiring to be installed under the leatherette. On non-sync'd models, like the Canon III, the groove and hole for the flash sync fitting was filled with a white grout (badly corroded Canon II D pictured):

(Web image)

The new shutter was given a bottom cover plate for the first time allowing a warning label about the length of the the film leader to be included. As well as tidying things up, its main purpose was to protect the sync components of sync'd models. The body shell lip was also given a black finish instead of the dark grey of the II B:

(Web image)

It also introduced the revised maker name, “Canon Camera Ltd.” becoming “Canon Camera Company Inc.”. The well received Canon film take-up spool with spring loaded pop-up grip arrived shortly after release and was later copied by Leica (see IV Sb model). Early Canon III, note also the new raised platform under the rewind release lever:

(Detail from larger web image)

Late Canon III, note “Japan” and red dot film plane mark added under the maker name (they didn't arrive at the same time). For a period of maybe 12 months or less, a few cameras were also marked “Made in Japan” on the base plate. This one still has two of the three features that separate the III from the later III A; the old style knurling on the film wind and rewind knobs and no film reminder, but it does have the new type magnification lever of the III A. Peter Dechert calls these transition cameras “hybrids”. With these, the mix of parts can involve any of the three variables, deciding which model it is depends on majority rule:

(Detail from larger web image)

With the Canon III, the base plate lock/magazine key dialogue changed from the previous “S-O” to “Open-Close”. This example also features “Made in Japan” whilst the late camera itself has the new “Japan” marking on the top plate (but not red dot film plane mark yet) even though it is not one of the hybrids:

(Web images)

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Canon II C

Production
(Peter Dechert)
Marketed
(Canon)
Slow
Speeds
Main Dial
Sync
S/Timer
1951/03-1951/08
1950/07
T, 1-1/8
B, 1/25-1/500
No
No

 

Serial Numbers
Source
From
To
Peter Dechert
50200
57850
Found
5029x
5550x

 

Lens Mount: Semi-universal
Normal 50mm Lens (Peter Dechert): Serenar f/1.9 or f/3.5
Found with Lens:
Lens Description
Serial Numbers
From
To
f/1.9 Serenar Collapsible
3969x
3984x

 

The Canon II C was the economy version of the Canon III, only differing from it by having a shutter top speed of 1/500. With the II B continuing in production, the similar specs meant that there was little appetite to pay a premium for the improved model with new shutter and production only lasted 5 months with 800 made. The II C improvements over the II B are the 1/25 cross over speed, the raised platform for the release lever and the mushroom shaped shutter button surround (it's similar to the later II D but that has the die-cast shutter crate and the giveaway revised knurling on the knobs and one piece magnification lever):

(Web image)

Peter Dechert tells us that many II Cs featured 3/8" tripod sockets with expectation of European sales. I have found some, but probably more 1/4” types. It may have been the 3/8” socket's last appearance.

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Canon IV

Production
(Peter Dechert)
Marketed
(Canon)
Slow
Speeds
Main Dial
Sync*
S/Timer
1951/04-1952/04
1951/04
T, 1-1/8
B, 1/25-1/1000
M/FP
No

(*Sync: Slow speed sync at 1/8 and below is for M class and other peak type bulbs as well as FP, high speed sync is for FP bulbs at 1/25 and above)

Serial Numbers
Source
From
To
Peter Dechert
51270
67825
Found
5654x

 

Lens Mount: Semi-universal (maybe some late Universal ones)
Normal 50mm Lens (Peter Dechert): Serenar f/1.9
Found with Lens:
Lens Description
Serial Numbers
From
To
f/1.9 Serenar Collapsible
3541x

 

The Canon IV was the flash sync version of the Canon III, the pair being issued as a limited trial series in 1950 before its formal release in 1951. Whilst it already looks similar to later flash sync'd models, it still has the first type magnifier lever and no film type reminder:

(Web image)

The flash sync mechanism was for flashbulbs only and operated via a contact in the side rail used for mounting the flashgun. Its companion flash unit was the Flash Unit X, the centrepiece of a comprehensive flash system. Canon IV and flash unit on cover of instruction manual:

(Web image)

Note: In early 1953, US sales agent, Balfour, Guthrie & Co., Ltd., announced a free conversion of Canon IV cameras to IV S2, i.e. adding zero second advance for electronic flash. A few months later, there was a second announcement that the temporary arrangement had been replaced by “a new official Canon Service Agency”, Professional Camera Repair Service. Undoubtedly, some Canon IV, IV F and IV S cameras have been converted. Presumably, these will now have slow speed shutter dial with “X” position.

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Canon III A

Production
(Peter Dechert)
Marketed
(Canon)
Slow
Speeds
Main Dial
Sync
S/Timer
1951/12-1953/09
1951/04
T, 1-1/8
B, 1/25-1/1000
No
No

 

Serial Numbers
Source
From
To
Peter Dechert
61150
105800
Found
6372x
8973x

 

Lens Mount: Universal
Normal 50mm Lens (Peter Dechert): Serenar f/1.8 or f/3.5
Found with Lens:
Lens Description
Serial Numbers
From
To
f/1.8 Serenar Rigid
6223x
7965x

 

At first appearance, the Canon III A is largely a cosmetic update of the Canon III with new knurling on the film wind and rewind knobs, film speed reminder in the top of the film winding knob and new single piece magnification lever:

(Detail from larger web image)

Other changes that occurred during its life include the addition early on of “Japan” to the viewfinder/rangefinder cover (already there on late Canon III examples), the addition of a red dot to the right of “Japan” to indicate the film plane, a new high speed shutter dial with clearer numbers and significantly, a new die-cast shutter crate. Previously fabricated from a number of different parts, the die-cast version made assembly easier whilst improving rigidity and uniformity of production.

There is a significant discrepancy between Peter Dechert's claimed production dates and Canon's marketing, or release, dates, Peter Dechert claiming production started in December 1951, same as for the IV F, and Canon saying that the marketing date was April 1951, some 6 months before the production date but also 9 months before the IV F was released. Without access to Canon's records, there is no way to confirm one way or the other, however, whilst Peter Dechert says that the III A and IV F jointly introduced the universal lens mount, it may be that it came to the III A once the IV F was launched. That is the safe view I am taking but it may not be correct. In fact, although many examples have had their lenses removed, all found ones with lenses in my database came with the new Serenar f/1.8 which adds support to Peter Dechert's chronology.

A small number of Canon III A cameras have base plates marked “U.S. Army. Signal Corps”.

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Canon IV F

Production
(Peter Dechert)
Marketed
(Canon)
Slow
Speeds
Main Dial
Sync*
S/Timer
1951/12-1952/08
1952/01
T, 1-1/8
B, 1/25-1/1000
M/FP
No

(*Sync: Slow speed sync at 1/8 and below is for M class and other peak type bulbs as well as FP, high speed sync is for FP bulbs at 1/25 and above)

Serial Numbers
Source
From
To
Peter Dechert
52610
69000
Found
6458x
6884x

 

Lens Mount: Universal
Normal 50mm Lens (Peter Dechert): Serenar f/1.8
Found with Lens:
Lens Description
Serial Numbers
From
To
f/1.8 Serenar Rigid
5158x
6609x

 

The Canon Camera Museum ignores the IV F as a model and simply notes that the IV F was renamed IV S. Peter Dechert says that is also how Canon recorded production details. Below is the cover of the user manual for Canon III and IV F models:

The Canon IV F brought the same improvements to the IV model as the Canon III A brought to the III model including new knurling on knobs, new magnification lever and film speed reminder:

(Web images)

However, the biggest and most important news was that the Canon IV F was released with Canon's “universal” lens mount - Canon was finally fully Leica Thread Mount compatible. This came with a new matching lens, the highly regarded rigid f/1.8 50 mm Serenar:

(Detail from larger web image)

All subsequent bodies (and later III A examples at least, all according to Peter Dechert) featured the universal mount but given stocks of lenses in other aperture and focal length sizes, some may have not changed until renamed “Canon” or were discontinued first.

However, unlike with the Canon III A, the introduction of the die-cast shutter crate resulted in a new model designation, Canon IV S.

Note: Some US sold items may have been converted to include X synch, see Canon IV above.

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Canon IV S

Production
(Peter Dechert)
Marketed
(Canon)
Slow
Speeds
Main Dial
Sync*
S/Timer
1952/04-1953/05
T, 1-1/8
B, 1/25-1/1000
M/FP
No

(*Sync: Slow speed sync at 1/8 and below is for M class and other peak type bulbs as well as FP, high speed sync is for FP bulbs at 1/25 and above)

Serial Numbers
Source
From
To
Peter Dechert
64000
85000
Found
6921x
7594x

 

Lens Mount: Universal
Normal 50mm Lens (Peter Dechert): Serenar f/1.8
Found with Lens:
Lens Description
Serial Numbers
From
To
f/1.8 Serenar Rigid
6665x

 

The only change from the Canon IV F was the introduction of the die-cast shutter crate. Peter Dechert explains Canon's reason for the name change as being driven by the realisation that “4-F” meant “unfit for service” in US military parlance, a problem with Canon aggressively marketing to US military personnel. Cover of later Canon III A and now IV S user manual, note the typographical mistake, “VI S”:

Note: Some US sold items may have been converted to include X synch, see Canon IV above.

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Canon II A

Production
(Peter Dechert)
Marketed
(Canon)
Slow
Speeds
Main Dial
Sync
S/Timer
1952/03-1952/09
1952/03
None
B, 1/25-1/500
No
No

 

Serial Numbers
Source
From
To
Peter Dechert
64255
73500
Found
7031x

 

Lens Mount: Universal
Normal 50mm Lens (Peter Dechert): Serenar f/3.5
Found with Lens:
Lens Description
Serial Numbers
From
To
f/3.5 Serenar Collapsible
1507x

 

According to Peter Dechert, produced a month earlier than the IV S, the II A is a III A without slow speeds, the dial hole covered by a leatherette covered blank. It was apparently ordered by distributor, Jardine Matheson Co., which only accepted partial delivery. Perhaps 99 made:

(Web image)

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Canon II D

Production
(Peter Dechert)
Marketed
(Canon)
Slow
Speeds
Main Dial
Sync
S/Timer
1952/08-1955/02
1952/10
T, 1-1/8
B, 1/25-1/500
No
No

 

Serial Numbers
Source
From
To
Peter Dechert
64020
160150
Found
7624x
15954x

 

Lens Mount: Universal
Normal 50mm Lens (Peter Dechert): Serenar/Canon f/1.8, f/2.8 or f/3.5
Found with Lens:
Lens Description
Serial Numbers
From
To
f/1.8 Serenar Rigid
7323x
f/1.8 Canon Chrome
7780x
13038x
f/3.5 Serenar Collapsible
1036x
1233x
f/3.5 Canon Collapsible
2081x
2357x

 

Budget version of the unsynced Canon III A with top shutter speed reduced from 1/1000 to 1/500 and no film reminder. Lens name changed from “Serenar” to “Canon” during production (with introduction of IV Sb):

(Web image)

From between serial number 11189x and 11498x onward, the model name was marked on the film loading diagram on the bottom of the shutter crate (see Canon II F).

The II D didn't get its own user manual, it shares the IV S2 manual (see IV Sb below), but it barely rates a mention in that apart from a note that it doesn't have flash sync. See also the II F model.

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Canon II D1

Production
(Peter Dechert)
Marketed
(Canon)
Slow
Speeds
Main Dial
Sync
S/Timer
1952/10-1954/06
1952/10
T, 1-1/8
B, 1/25-1/500
No
No

 

Serial Numbers
Source
From
To
Peter Dechert
72400
12500
Found
9455x
9873x

 

Lens Mount: Universal
Normal 50mm Lens (Peter Dechert): Serenar/Canon f/1.8 or f/3.5
Found with Lens:
Lens Description
Serial Numbers
From
To
f/1.8 Serenar Rigid
6179x
f/1.8 Canon Chrome
8455x

 

Simply a Canon II D model with film reminder added to film winding knob. Only 2,400 produced compared to 21,725 II Ds.

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Canon IV Sb/IV S2

Production
(Peter Dechert)
Marketed
(Canon)
Slow
Speeds
Main Dial
Sync*
S/Timer
1952/12-1955/03
1952/12
T, 1-1/8
B, 1/25-1/1000
M/FP/X
No

(*Sync: Slow speed sync at 1/8 and below is for M class and other peak type bulbs as well as FP, high speed sync is for FP bulbs at 1/25 and above, X sync is approximately 1/25)

Serial Numbers
Source
From
To
Peter Dechert
65760
160000
Found
6757x
16516x

 

Lens Mount: Universal
Normal 50mm Lens (Peter Dechert): Serenar/Canon f/1.5 or f/3.5 or Canon f/1.8 or f/2.8
Found with Lens:
Lens Description
Serial Numbers
From
To
f/1.5 Canon Chrome
1428x
1829x
f/1.8 Serenar Rigid
7086x
7713x
f/1.8 Canon Chrome
8439x
12589x
f/2.8 Canon Zebra
1019x
f/3.5 Canon Collapsible
2345x

 

Canon IV Sb was the official factory name but for export markets, it was usually called IV S2, e.g. all the English language manuals I have seen refer to the IV S2. It is a Canon IV S with two additions, a slow speed shutter dial lock and X sync for using electronic flash. X sync was engaged by setting the slow speed dial to the new “X” position with the sync speed being around 1/15. Canon IV Sb with f/1.8 50mm Canon lens, note the film take-up spool with spring loaded pop-up grip introduced shortly after release of the Canon III:

The IV Sb was a very important model for Canon with 34,975 produced and the first model to make a real impact outside of Japan. Only the Canon P and 7 models sold more.

According to Peter Dechert, Canon announced that it was replacing the Serenar name with “Canon Lens” and lenses with that marking were delivered from the beginning. However, the seven earliest IV Sb examples in my database with the f/1.8 lens still have lenses marked Serenar. Five of the lenses have serial numbers in the 7086x to 7713x range which seems to lead into the Canon range, the other two are slightly lower and could be later replacements. The newly arrived f/1.5 50 mm lens was initially available as a Serenar but soon changed to the Canon name. The alloy barrelled black and silver “zebra” patterned Canon f/2.8 50 mm lens arrived a little later and was destined to replace the f/3.5.

By the way, one Canon claim to fame doesn't quite stack up. On the Canon Camera Museum page for the Canon IV Sb, “marketed Dec 1952”, Canon claims; “The world’s first camera of its kind to feature X-sync for Speedlites.” Technically, perhaps it was the first with an “X” marked on the shutter dial but on the relevant History Hall page it makes a more global claim with; “The IV Sb was the world’s first 35mm rangefinder camera with electronic flash synchronisation.” That's simply not correct. The Nicca Type-III S with a likely September 1952 release had both FP and X sync sockets but the two year earlier 1950 Leica IIIf featured a flash delay setting dial with the ability to use electronic flash as well as most types of bulbs. For electronic flash, 1/30 sec with delay set to 2 on the earlier black dial model, 1/25 with delay set to 0 or, 1/50 set to 20 on the 1952 red dial model. These were generally faster speeds than the IV Sb 1/25 X sync. A more correct statement would be; “The world’s first camera of its kind to feature simplified X-sync switching for Speedlites.”

July 1953 user manual:

(Click on cover for PDF manual)

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Canon II AF

Production
(Peter Dechert)
Marketed
(Canon)
Slow
Speeds
Main Dial
Sync*
S/Timer
1953/06-1953/08
1953/06
None
B, 1/25-1/500
FP
No

(*Sync: There is no slow speed sync for M class and other peak type bulbs, only high speed sync for FP bulbs at 1/25 and above)

Serial Numbers
Source
From
To
Peter Dechert
92165
95500
Found
None

 

Lens Mount: Universal
Normal 50mm Lens (Peter Dechert): Canon f/3.5 (“presumed”), Canon claims it was the Canon f/1.8

 

The Canon II AF is a Canon II A, the model without slow speeds, with flash rail and flash sync for flash bulbs added.

Peter Dechert presumes that the normal lens was the Canon f/3.5, however, the Canon Camera Museum claims that the normal lens for both the AF and AX was the the Canon f/1.8. Peter Dechert also says “exactly 15” were produced.

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Canon II AX

Production
(Peter Dechert)
Marketed
(Canon)
Slow
Speeds
Main Dial
Sync*
S/Timer
Doesn't exist
1953/06
None
B, 1/25-1/500
X
No

(*Sync: Canon claims that X sync is at approximately 1/40)

Serial Numbers
Source
From
To
Peter Dechert
n/a
n/a
Found
None

 

Lens Mount: Universal
Normal 50mm Lens: Canon claims it was the Canon f/1.8

 

According to Peter Dechert, the Canon II AX is “mythological”, he claims that it didn't exist. His reasoning appears logically sound and he adds, “it is my understanding that Canon's own historians now agree with this conclusion.” However, notwithstanding his belief, almost 40 years after his book was published, the Canon Camera Museum still lists the model and has this to say about it:

“Often called the mysterious Canon, the II AX was named “Flash-dedicated Camera” during its development. It was a II A with 1/40 sec. X-sync and a side flash rail with built-in flash sync contacts. Shutter speeds slower than 1/8 sec. were not provided. The slow shutter speed dial hole was covered by a round patch like the II A. Altogether only about 20 II AX and II AF cameras were made.”

History doesn't always follow a logical path and in any case, logic requires that you have access to all salient facts, rarely the case in the historical context. My mind remains open on this one.

If Peter Dechert's claim is correct that precisely 15 Canon AF cameras were made and Canon is correct about the total for the two models being around 20, then 5 Canon AX cameras may have been made. Even if it did exist, it wasn't a pivotal model and the chances of ever seeing one would be miniscule so it hardly matters in the bigger scheme of things.

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Canon II F

Production
(Peter Dechert)
Marketed
(Canon)
Slow
Speeds
Main Dial
Sync*
S/Timer
1953/07-1955/03
1953/06
T, 1-1/8
B, 1/25-1/500
FP
No

(*Sync: There is no slow speed sync for M class and other peak type bulbs, only high speed sync for FP bulbs at 1/25 and above)

Serial Numbers
Source
From
To
Peter Dechert
84380
166050
Found
9817x
15909x

 

Lens Mount: Universal
Normal 50mm Lens (Peter Dechert): Canon f/1.8, f/2.8 or f/3.5
Found with Lens:
Lens Description
Serial Numbers
From
To
f/1.8 Canon Chrome
8738x
14296x

 

The Canon II F is another budget model but with 11,900 made, was well received even though it was largely anonymous - it didn't seem to appear in any Canon advertising or documentation, perhaps because the great majority were sold through US military exchange stores. It is missing the IV Sb's 1/1000 top speed, slow speed shutter dial lock and X and slow speed sync sync whilst still offering sync for FP flash bulbs at 1/25 and above which would have fulfilled most amateur photographer's needs in the 1950s.

Whilst I am not aware of a user manual, or “Directions”, which specifically covers the II F, below is a yellow slip found inside a Canon II D/IV S2 (IV Sb) user manual which was very probably what was in the II F box (see IV Sb above for manual download). The differences and flash limitations between the three models is clear:

Although it doesn't have slow speed sync either, without the dial lock and X sync, it is more like an IV S with 1/500 top speed in the same way as the II S is an IV Sb with 1/500 instead. Whilst there is no <EP> mark on the first 1953 cameras from 9817x to 10777x (the mark was only introduced in 1953), from that point on, most have the mark with only the odd exception. Nearly all the examples in my database found with lenses came with the f/1.8 50 mm Canon. Example below with the Canon lens but later camera with no <EP> mark:

From between serial number 13814x and 14071x onward, the model name was marked on the film loading diagram on the bottom of the shutter crate.

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Canon II S

Production
(Peter Dechert)
Marketed
(Canon)
Slow
Speeds
Main Dial
Sync*
S/Timer
1954/02-1955/03
1954/02
T, 1-1/8
B, 1/25-1/500
M/FP/X
No

(*Sync: Slow speed sync at 1/8 and below is for M class and other peak type bulbs as well as FP, high speed sync is for FP bulbs at 1/25 and above, X sync is approximately 1/25)

Serial Numbers
Source
From
To
Peter Dechert
108870
160150
Found
10826x
12678x

 

Lens Mount: Universal
Normal 50mm Lens (Peter Dechert): Canon f/1.5, f/1.8, f/2.8 or f/3.5
Found with Lens:
Lens Description
Serial Numbers
From
To
f/1.8 Canon Chrome
10020x
11243x
f/3.5 Canon Collapsible
1933x

 

Whilst the Canon II F features sync for high speed flash bulbs only, the Canon II S also includes X and low speed sync - it is basically a Canon IV Sb without the highest shutter speed of 1/1000. Only 1,850 were made. Unless it is one of the later examples with the name inside, the only way to tell the II F and II S apart is the slow speed dial, the II S has the IV Sb dial lock and the “X” sync marking both missing on the II F:

(Detail from larger web image)

From between serial number 10826x and 11327x onward, the model name was marked on the film loading diagram on the bottom of the shutter crate.

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Canon IV Sb2

Production
(Peter Dechert)
Marketed
(Canon)
Slow
Speeds
Main Dial
Sync*
S/Timer
1954/07-1956/07
1954/03
T, 1-1/15
B, 1/30-1/1000
M/FP/X
No

(*Sync: Slow speed sync at 1/15 and below is for M class and other peak type bulbs as well as FP, high speed sync is for FP bulbs at 1/30 and above, X sync is approximately 1/45 on main dial or approximately 1/30 on slow dial for older electronic flash units)

Serial Numbers
Source
From
To
Peter Dechert
122490
229000
Found
17123x
22811x

 

Lens Mount: Universal
Normal 50mm Lens (Peter Dechert): Canon f/1.5, f/1.8 or f/2.8
Found with Lens:
Lens Description
Serial Numbers
From
To
f/1.5 Canon Chrome
1877x
2224x
f/1.8 Canon Chrome
10626x
16668x
f/2.8 Canon Zebra
1552x

 

(Web image)

Whilst the IV Sb2 is externally similar to the IV Sb there were a number of improvements, all but two visible in the photo below. The changeover speed from slow to high speeds has increased from 1/25 to 1/30. X sync has moved to the main dial with a speed of about 1/45 whilst the position on the slow dial remained to cater for older long delay strobes. However, the slow dial adds a 1/15 speed for the first time. The main shutter dial is now in two parts and the speed can be set cocked or uncocked and although the dial still spins, the two parts and set speed stay locked together. There is also the serrated wheel between the film wind knob and frame counter disc. I can't find any documentation or mention of it anywhere but from memory, it can be set against the frame counter to indicate the number of exposures available on the roll. Not visible in the photo is the improved viewfinder eyepiece or the re-engineered shutter which enabled the updates noted above:

(Detail from larger web image)

A minor update on the “2” models is a new film leader instruction label on the bottom of the shutter crate. Whilst it looks more “modern”, it sacrifices the “Stop! Draw out no further” warning for more patent numbers:

(Web images)

Peter Dechert says that production started with serial number 122490 in July 1954 but numbers under 170000 are quite low (I haven't found any) whereas the companion models, the II S2, II D2 and II F2, didn't arrive until serial number 170000 starting in February 1955. Canon actually claims that the IV Sb2 was “marketed” in March 1954 yet strangely, an October 1955 user manual for the Canon Flash Unit Y offers two sets of tables; one for IV Sb, II S and II F cameras up to serial number 169999 with shutter cross over speed of 1/25, the other for the same models (see below) over 170000 with cross over speed of 1/30. That ignores any earlier IV Sb2 production. It is an anomaly I have no answer for, a guess is that there may have been a trial series, a reason perhaps for the low numbers, its purpose misremembered in the passing of time.

The IV Sb2 was an important model for Canon, setting the high bar for bottom loading LTM rangefinders. Peter Dechert called it “the finest bottom-loading 35 mm rangefinder camera anyone has ever built” but I'm certain that he wasn't including the bottom loading Leica M3 in that comparison. About 16,800 were made, less than half the IV Sb number which continued concurrently for some time. The new shutter lived on in Canon's V series models.

Canon has now embraced the naming of the IV Sb2 and its lesser siblings but the evidence is that back in the mid-1950s, Canon barely acknowledged any difference to the earlier IV Sb, e.g. an April 1955 Canon camera brochure displays pictures of the IV Sb2, II S2 and II D2 (not the II F2 though) showing the updated features, casually includes the new shutter progression including 1/15 and 1/30 speeds but avoids any other discussion and uses the old names without the “2” suffix. Peter Dechert tells us that the confusion started with Canon simply referring to the new models as “improved” and that the Japanese character for that looked like a western “2” and then the 2 stuck. Sellers in Japan these days still refer to the IV Sb2 as “IV Sb (modified)”, or similar (as machine translated), and the same for its companion models.

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Canon II S2

Production
(Peter Dechert)
Marketed
(Canon)
Slow
Speeds
Main Dial
Sync*
S/Timer
1955/02-1956/07
1955/04
T, 1-1/15
B, 1/30-1/500
M/FP/X
No

(*Sync: Slow speed sync at 1/15 and below is for M class and other peak type bulbs as well as FP, high speed sync is for FP bulbs at 1/30 and above, X sync is approximately 1/45 on main dial or approximately 1/30 on slow dial for older electronic flash units)

Serial Numbers
Source
From
To
Peter Dechert
170000
227000
Found
17171x
227593

 

Lens Mount: Universal
Normal 50mm Lens (Peter Dechert): Canon f/1.5, f/1.8 or f/2.8
Found with Lens:
Lens Description
Serial Numbers
From
To
f/1.5 Canon Chrome
2089x
2172x
f/1.8 Canon Chrome
13229x
16731x
f/2.8 Canon Zebra
1467x

 

The Canon II S2 is the IV Sb2 minus the 1/1000 shutter speed. It is still a very capable camera and proved quite popular with 16,575 made, a lot more than the II S it replaced:

(Web image)

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Canon II D2

Production
(Peter Dechert)
Marketed
(Canon)
Slow
Speeds
Main Dial
Sync
S/Timer
1955/03-1956/07
1955/04
T, 1-1/15
B, 1/30-1/500
No
No

 

Serial Numbers
Source
From
To
Peter Dechert
170160
228200
Found
17851x
22770x

 

Lens Mount: Universal
Normal 50mm Lens (Peter Dechert): Canon f/1.8 or f/2.8
Found with Lens:
Lens Description
Serial Numbers
From
To
f/1.8 Canon Chrome
13727x
16630x
f/2.8 Canon Zebra
1105x
1590x

 

The Canon II D2 brings the same improvements to the II D1 (the II D version with film speed reminder) as the the IV Sb2 brought to the IV Sb plus it adds the slow dial lock missing from the original. Or, a simpler way to consider it is as a Canon II S2 minus flash sync and side rail. It was also made in similar numbers to the II S2:

(Web image)

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Canon II F2

Production
(Peter Dechert)
Marketed
(Canon)
Slow
Speeds
Main Dial
Sync*
S/Timer
1955/06-1955/11
1955/04
T, 1-1/15
B, 1/30-1/500
FP
No

(*Sync: There is no slow speed sync for M class and other peak type bulbs, only high speed sync for FP bulbs at 1/30 and above)

Serial Numbers
Source
From
To
Peter Dechert
173200
217100
Found
18175x
19683x

 

Lens Mount: Universal
Normal 50mm Lens (Peter Dechert): Canon f/1.8 or f/2.8
Found with Lens:
Lens Description
Serial Numbers
From
To
f/1.8 Canon Chrome
12434x
14868x

 

The Canon II F2 is identical to the II S2 except that there is no slow speed sync or X sync, as indicated by the shutter dials without the “X” position marked. Production of 2,625 was much lower than the original II F but it arrived late and was only made for 5 months. Canon II D2/II F2 dials:

(Detail from larger web image)

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Canon VT

Production
(Peter Dechert)
Marketed
(Canon)
Slow
Speeds
Main Dial
Sync*
S/Timer
1956/04-1957/02
1956/08
T, 1-1/15
B, 1/30-1/1000
M/FP/X
Yes

(*Sync: 2 position switch, FP/M is for FP bulbs from 1 to 1/1000 and M bulbs from 1 to 1/250, X/F is for electronic flash at approximately 1/50 and F bulbs from 1 to 1/30)

Serial Numbers
Source
From
To
Peter Dechert
500010
540000
Found
50011x
51814x

 

Lens Mount: Universal
Normal 50mm Lens (Peter Dechert): Canon f/1.2, f/1.5, f/1.8 or f/2.8
Alternative 35 mm Lens (Peter Dechert): Canon f/1.8 or f/2.8
Found with Lens:
Lens Focal Length/ Description
Serial Numbers
From
To
f/1.8 Canon 50mm Black
20745x
22129x

 

Whilst there is an argument that the Canon IV Sb2 was superior to the Leica IIIf, the Canon VT was Canon's first effort to try to narrow the gap to the Leica M3 by offering something different. It used the same IV Sb2 shutter and much of the internals were the same but there were some major changes to how it operated. Instead of adopting lever film wind, Canon had in fact permanently mounted its trigger operated Rapid Winder on the bottom and made the courageous call that this was the future. Whilst no doubt in some circumstances for some people it offered advantages, in others such as portrait mode and using on tripods, or copy stands, it was an obstacle and for that reason, and also for winding on the first two frames when loading film, a vestigal film wind knob was also provided (note, the requirement to knob wind the first two frames and be gentle with the lever wind for the last three frames only appeared as red stamped additions on pages 11 and 20 of the later version user manual marked “VT”).

More usefully, it features a hinged opening back for film loading/unloading with fixed take-up spool.

Canon had taken note of the trend to using 35 mm focal length lenses as normal lenses and modified the viewfinder/rangefinder to give a 35 mm lens view at the widest setting with 0.4x magnification, a 50 mm lens view at the middle setting with 0.72x magnification and a setting with 1.4x magnification for accurate focus purposes only. The magnification lever was replaced by a thumbwheel on the back and a circular indicator window in the top plate with clockwise markings “50”, “35” and “RF”. In addition, Canon now offered camera sets with 35 mm normal lenses in addition to the usual 50 mm lenses.

Whilst the camera's viewfinder doesn't offer parallax correction, a very useful feature is built-in parallax correction for the matching Series V accessory viewfinders. A pin at the front of the accessory shoe raises or lowers the front of the viewfinder as the camera is focused.

The “X” position was removed from the slow speed shutter dial and a tab operated switch added under the high speed dial for selecting X or bulb sync, although it is not quite as simple as that, see above table and description under. The 1/250 maximum speed for M sync was perhaps overly ambitious, it dropped initially to 1/125 on the L1 and following Series V models, then back to 1/250 on Series VI cameras before dropping to 1/15 on the 7 models, the 7s user manual mentioning that up to 1/250 was possible “where only the central part of the picture is necessary.” The earlier flash rail was incompatible with the opening back and was replaced by a bayonet fitting at the end of the top plate. Inside this is a standard PC socket which allows connection of any flashgun with cable and PC plug, or cleverly, direct mounting of the new Canon Flash Unit Model V.

With the new 35 mm lens focusing capability also came a new f/1.8 35 mm lens. The earlier chromed brass f/1.8 50 mm lens was rehoused in a new lighter alloy barrel in mainly black to better match the style of the VT. At the same time, a new hero lens was launched, the f/1.2 50 mm.

Other new features included the first self-timer offered by Canon and a pop-up rewind knob released by the surrounding lever:

(Web images)

Note, the Canon VT has a tripod socket on the right side (when viewed from the front), i.e. the wrong side, to enable mounting of the accessory pistol grip. Consequently, there is no key to close and open the reloadable film magazine as found on the prior bottom loading models and in a different form, on the earlier accessory Rapid Winder. That means that Canon film magazines can't be used.

The Canon VT is easy to recognise, the name “MODEL VT” is engraved on the right side (looking at the camera) of the front of the base plate. This wasn't so before its actual release. Perhaps Canon hadn't even envisaged a future lever wind version, or maybe it just hadn't thought through its naming system. There are a lot more brochures and ads found for the “Canon V” camera than the “Canon VT” and there are instruction manuals for both names. The camera that is mostly featured in the “V” documents has serial number 303002 whereas production cameras belong to the range beginning with 500010 so it is clearly a pre-production example. Where the relevant area is visible, most documents show it without a model name, including the first user manuals, but at least a couple of “V” brochures show the same camera with “MODEL” visible under the lens, presumably with modified artwork rather than camera but it is too far to the left in any case. Below left is the earlier type “Canon MODEL V” instructions and below right, a “Canon VT” brochure cover (note range of standard lenses offered):

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Canon L2

Production
(Peter Dechert)
Marketed
(Canon)
Slow
Speeds
Main Dial
Sync*
S/Timer
1956/11-1956/12
T, 1-1/15
B, 1/30-500
FP
No
1957/05-1957/12
1957/03

(*Sync: The L2 is synchronised for FP bulbs only from 1/60 to 1/500, i.e. there is no slow speed or M synch)

Serial Numbers
Source
From
To
Peter Dechert
505850
583000
Found
506096
58328x

 

Lens Mount: Universal
Normal 50mm Lens (Peter Dechert): Canon f/1.8 or f/2.8
Alternative 35 mm Lens (Peter Dechert): Canon f/1.8 or f/2.8
Found with Lens:
Lens Focal Length/ Description
Serial Numbers
From
To
f/1.8 Canon 50mm Black
20871x
22428x
f/2.8 Canon 50mm Zebra
1945x
2148x

 

Peter Dechert tells us that 11 Canon L2 cameras were produced in November and December 1956 and the rest from May 1957 onward. That makes the first batch another trial series and means that the L2 didn't really come before the L1 based on his production dates but according to Canon's marketing, it did.

Compared to the VT, the L2 replaces the VT's trigger with lever wind but misses out on its 1/1000 top speed, self-timer, X sync and slow speed sync for both FP and peak bulbs. The sync switch is absent, the window left empty. The L2 brought back the key to open and close the film magazine but it seemed to necessitate a change from the Zeiss inspired magazine design of the bottom loaders to a more Leica-like design for V series magazines. The name is marked on the bottom of the base plate. Lens selection was limited to just the f/1.8 and f/2.8 50 mm lenses:

Note the parallax correcting pin in the front of the accessory shoe:

Japanese L2 & L3 user manual dated October 1957:

(Click on cover for PDF manual)

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Canon L1

Production
(Peter Dechert)
Marketed
(Canon)
Slow
Speeds
Main Dial
Sync*
S/Timer
1957/02-1957/12
1957/05
T, 1-1/15
B, 1/30-1/1000
M/FP/X
No

(*Sync: 2 position switch, FP/M is for FP bulbs from 1 to 1/1000 and M bulbs from 1 to 1/125, X/F is for electronic flash at approximately 1/50 and F bulbs from 1 to 1/30)

Serial Numbers
Source
From
To
Peter Dechert
540000
566000
Found
54206x/div>
56328x

 

Lens Mount: Universal
Normal 50mm Lens (Peter Dechert): Canon f/1.2, f/1.5, f/1.8 or f/2.8
Alternative 35 mm Lens (Peter Dechert): Canon f/1.8 or f/2.8
Found with Lens:
Lens Focal Length/ Description
Serial Numbers
From
To
f/1.2 Canon 50mm Black
4347x
f/1.8 Canon 50mm Black
21039x
24160x

 

The L1 is a cross between the VT and L2 but brings a new innovation as well. It is a VT with lever wind but misses out on the self-timer whilst adding the L2's magazine key. The top sync speed for M class bulbs is 1/125, half of the VT's 1/250, as it is for the other Series V models (see VT above). The innovation is a new rewind crank that folds neatly into its top plate recess:

(Web image)

(Detail from larger web images)

According to Peter Dechert, the L1 and VT de luxe were the first Canon models available in a black painted finish.

The last camera in my database is an anomaly. It has serial number 581721 (not included in the range above) which is higher than Peter Dechert's range end, 566000, and my second highest found, 56328x. It has metal shutter curtains and the viewfinder system seems to have the cooler colour of the later VL which would make sense in terms of its serial number, however, it doesn't have a self-timer.

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Canon VT de luxe

Production
(Peter Dechert)
Marketed
(Canon)
Slow
Speeds
Main Dial
Sync*
S/Timer
1957/02-1957/09
1957/05
T, 1-1/15
B, 1/30-1/1000
M/FP/X
Yes

(*Sync: 2 position switch, FP/M is for FP bulbs from 1 to 1/1000 and M bulbs from 1 to 1/125, X/F is for electronic flash at approximately 1/50 and F and M-2 bulbs from 1 to 1/30)

Serial Numbers
Source
From
To
Peter Dechert
540000
545500
Found
54074x
54486x

 

Lens Mount: Universal
Normal 50mm Lens (Peter Dechert): Canon f/1.2, f/1.5, f/1.8 or f/2.8
Alternative 35 mm Lens (Peter Dechert): Canon f/1.8 or f/2.8
Found with Lens:
Lens Focal Length/ Description
Serial Numbers
From
To
f/2.8 Canon 35mm Black
3376x

 

The only change from Canon VT to Canon VT de luxe is the substitution of the pop-up rewind knob with the new L1 rewind crank. There is still no magazine key. As with all three VT de luxe variations, the name “MODEL VT de luxe” is engraved on the right side (looking at the camera) of the front of the base plate.

(Web images)

Peter Dechert says that the model name is generally picked out in red but so far, only the three earliest I have found, 540110, 540745 and 541267 are in red, from serial number 542454 the ones I have found are in black. Red and black examples below:

(Detail from larger web images)

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Canon VT de luxe Z (Peter Dechert name)

Production
(Peter Dechert)
Marketed
(Canon)
Slow
Speeds
Main Dial
Sync*
S/Timer
1957/04-1958/06
T, 1-1/15
B, 1/30-1/1000
M/FP/X
Yes

(*Sync: 2 position switch, FP/M is for FP bulbs from 1 to 1/1000 and M bulbs from 1 to 1/125, X/F is for electronic flash at approximately 1/50 and F and M-2 bulbs from 1 to 1/30)

Serial Numbers
Source
From
To
Peter Dechert
540500
560000
Found
54812x
55499x

 

Lens Mount: Universal
Normal 50mm Lens (Peter Dechert): Canon f/1.2, f/1.5, f/1.8 or f/2.8
Alternative 35 mm Lens (Peter Dechert): Canon f/1.8 or f/2.8
Found with Lens:
Lens Focal Length/ Description
Serial Numbers
From
To
f/1.2 Canon 50mm Black
2475x
2537x
f/1.8 Canon 50mm Black
21857x
22728x

 

The Canon Camera Museum only acknowledges one version of the Canon VT de luxe but there were two updates. Whilst internal Canon production summaries differentiate between the first and this one, there was no separate name, the naming of this one “Canon VT de luxe Z” is another Peter Dechert initiative.

The update the VT de luxe Z brings is the new L1/L2 style magazine key now adapted to the trigger type base plate with combined key and tripod mount also used for the accessory pistol grip.

(Detail from larger web image)

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Canon L3

Production
(Peter Dechert)
Marketed
(Canon)
Slow
Speeds
Main Dial
Sync
S/Timer
1957/10-1958/12
1957/11
T, 1-1/15
B, 1/30-1/500
No
No

 

Serial Numbers
Source
From
To
Peter Dechert
529000
592000
Found
52692x
581060

 

Lens Mount: Universal
Normal 50mm Lens (Peter Dechert): Canon f/1.8 or f/2.8
Alternative 35 mm Lens (Peter Dechert): Canon f/1.8 or f/2.8
Found with Lens:
Lens Focal Length/ Description
Serial Numbers
From
To
f/1.8 Canon 50mm Black
23782x
24475x
f/2.8 Canon 50mm Black
2426x
3051x

 

The Canon L3 is a Canon L2 with the flash sync removed and the bayonet socket fitting blanked off:

(Web image)

But sometimes it is a lot more than the L2. Below are photos of an L3 with flash socket, X sync and X sync/flashbulb switch. This is not an odd one, there are 9 examples with the expected 1/500 speed that I have either seen, or that have been confirmed by members of the Canon Historical Society Facebook group, and there are another 4 examples with a 1/1000 speed. One of the group members claims that he has recorded around 20 from observing eBay auctions:

(Detail from larger web images)

Another L3 oddity is that unlike the L1 and L2, the L3 name does not appear on all base plates. In my database, the name is there on all examples from serial number 526928 up to 537348. It is not there from serial number 537971 to the end at 581060. All except the last two L3s with flash sync fit into the first half of serial numbers and all have the “L3” marked base plate as expected. Of the two examples with higher serial numbers, on one the base plate is not visible but the second also features the L3 name.

The examples with the 1/1000 top speed have the same specs as the L1 but remain differentiated by retaining the pop-up rewind knob instead of crank. The 1/500 shutter dial with X sync marked is likely to be a Canon VL2 part. Speaking of the VL cameras, I also have photos of a camera with L3 base plate, L3/L2/VL2 top plate with knob rewind, L1/VL shutter dial with 1/1000 and X sync, L1/VL/VL2 mode switch and sync socket, i.e. the same as the 4 previous 1/1000 examples so far, but it also adds the VL/VL2 self-timer. Unfortunately, the serial number is hidden by the accessory finder.

These are just statements of fact, I'm not going to try to explain it because anything is just a guess. I will say that I have seen it suggested on several occasions that perhaps Canon ran out of parts. As well as being an unlikely scenario for a company like Canon, as noted, the majority of examples are from the first half of L3 production. For a niche model, the L3 sold in good numbers, some 12,975 even though it seems to have been a domestic Japanese market only model. Strangely, according to Peter Dechert, it entered production in October 1957, only two months before the L1 and L2 ended production in December 1957, being replaced by the VL and VL2. Therefore, even though it was an L2 without flash sync, in its basic form anyway, it was more a junior partner to the VL and the VL2 than to the L1 and L2.

Japanese L2 & L3 user manual dated October 1957:

(Click on cover for PDF Manual)

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Canon VL

Production
(Peter Dechert)
Marketed
(Canon)
Slow
Speeds
Main Dial
Sync*
S/Timer
1956/05 (22)
T, 1-1/15
B, 1/30-1/1000
M/FP/X
Yes
1957/12-1958/12
1958/03

(*Sync: 2 position switch, FP/M is for FP bulbs from 1 to 1/1000 and M bulbs from 1 to 1/125, X/F is for electronic flash at approximately 1/50 and F and M-2 bulbs from 1 to 1/30)

Serial Numbers
Source
From
To
Peter Dechert
555000
592000
Found
547640
56774x

 

Lens Mount: Universal
Normal 50mm Lens (Peter Dechert): Canon f/1.2, f/1.5, f/1.8 or f/2.8
Alternative 35 mm Lens (Peter Dechert): Canon f/1.8 or f/2.8
Found with Lens:
Lens Focal Length/ Description
Serial Numbers
From
To
f/1.2 Canon 50mm Black
2291x
f/1.8 Canon 50mm Black
22711x
f/2.8 Canon 50mm Black
2884x

 

The Canon VL does not have a name marked on its body. The only obvious external difference between the Canon VL and L1 is the addition of the self-timer, however, the VL was an important Canon milestone introducing metal shutter curtains made of thin stainless steel for the first time. These operate the same way as cloth curtains and are interchangeable. Whilst subject to wrinkling, more often a euphemism for careless finger poking, they have proven entirely reliable whilst also eliminating the problem of pinholes burnt by the sun. One other improvement was to use silver coated finder optics, noticeable by the comparatively cooler cast to the view:

(Web images)

Peter Dechert tells us that an initial 22 VL examples were made in May 1956, some 18 months before release, presumably for long term testing. However, he adds that these may have had the “L1” marked baseplates, the name hadn't been finalised and they may or may not have had self-timers. To my mind, these could simply have been L1s fitted with metal curtains and Peter Dechert says as much. These are both V series cameras but Canon only used “V” in the name for models with self-timer, perhaps because “V” is commonly found on German cameras to indicate self-timer. I don't think the name had anything to do with the curtains. As such, I wouldn't include the 22 early examples in VL reckoning other than as part of the background to development of the metal curtains.

However, Peter Dechert's serial number range for the VL is from 555000 to 592000, not including the original 22 (serial numbers unknown) but I have found 4 cameras below that range, 547640, 553456, 554285 and 554610. Of these 553456 appears to have a cloth shutter (perhaps a replacement?) but also an “L1” base plate. Whilst that might sound like some fiddling going on, 554610 has both metal curtains and an L1 base plate as does a slightly later camera from within Peter Dechert's VL serial numbers range, 564323. Note, even though two of the three with L1 base plates don't fit into Peter Dechert's VL range, they are well above early examples of the L1 which was released months after the 22 VLs were claimed to be made. So another mystery from this period.

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Canon VL2

Production
(Peter Dechert)
Marketed
(Canon)
Slow
Speeds
Main Dial
Sync*
S/Timer
1958/01-1958/12
1958/03
T, 1-1/15
B, 1/30-1/500
M/FP/X
Yes

(*Sync: 2 position switch, FP/M is for FP bulbs from 1 to 1/1000 and M bulbs from 1 to 1/125, X/F is for electronic flash at approximately 1/50 and F and M-2 bulbs from 1 to 1/30)

Serial Numbers
Source
From
To
Peter Dechert
527000
585000
Found
53697x
58350x

 

Lens Mount: Universal
Normal 50mm Lens (Peter Dechert): Canon f/1.8 or f/2.8
Alternative 35 mm Lens (Peter Dechert): Canon f/1.8 or f/2.8
Found with Lens:
Lens Focal Length/ Description
Serial Numbers
From
To
f/1.2 Canon 50mm Black
2047x
f/1.8 Canon 50mm Black
23017x
24192x

 

The only two differences between the Canon VL and VL2 are that the VL2 uses the pop-up rewind knob instead of crank and that it is missing the 1/1000 top speed. Unlike the earlier L2 version of the L1, it retains the full VL flash synchronisation:

(Web image)

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Canon VT de luxe M (internal Canon name)

Production
(Peter Dechert)
Marketed
(Canon)
Slow
Speeds
Main Dial
Sync*
S/Timer
1958/01-1958/12
T, 1-1/15
B, 1/30-1/1000
M/FP/X
Yes

(*Sync: 2 position switch, FP/M is for FP bulbs from 1 to 1/1000 and M bulbs from 1 to 1/125, X/F is for electronic flash at approximately 1/50 and F and M-2 bulbs from 1 to 1/30)

Serial Numbers
Source
From
To
Peter Dechert
540100
585000
Found
54624x
58370x

 

Lens Mount: Universal
Normal 50mm Lens (Peter Dechert): Canon f/1.2, f/1.5, f/1.8 or f/2.8
Alternative 35 mm Lens (Peter Dechert): Canon f/1.5, f/1.8 or f/2.8
Found with Lens:
Lens Focal Length/ Description
Serial Numbers
From
To
f/1.2 Canon 50mm Black
2301x
f/1.8 Canon 50mm Black
26750x
f/2.8 Canon 50mm Black
2858x

 

The name marked on the front is “MODEL VT de luxe”, the same as the previous two versions identified by Peter Dechert. Whilst he notes that Canon used “M” internally to distinguish this version, Canon's marketing only ever treated the three variations as one model, as reflected on the Canon Camera Museum website.

The VT de luxe M updates the previous version by adding metal curtains and silver coated optics, as on the VL update to the L1. Well used example but with the cooler optics and stainless shutter curtains (wrinkled) clearly on display:

(Web image)

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Canon VI T

Production
(Peter Dechert)
Marketed
(Canon)
Slow
Speeds
Main Dial
Sync*
S/Timer
1958/06-1960/07
1958/09
Single dial
B, 1-1/1000
M/FP/X
Yes

(*Sync: FP sync from 1 to 1/1000, except 1/30. M sync from 1 to 1/250, except 1/30. F bulbs 1 to 1/30. X sync at 1/55)

Serial Numbers
Source
From
To
Peter Dechert
600000
620000
Found
60163x
61795x

 

Lens Mount: Universal
Normal 50mm Lens (Peter Dechert): Canon f/1.2, f/1.4, f/1.5, f/1.8 or f/2.8
Alternative 35 mm Lens (Peter Dechert): Canon f/1.5, f/1.8 or f/2.8
Found with Lens:
Lens Focal Length/ Description
Serial Numbers
From
To
f/1.2 Canon 50mm Black
2247x
3387x
f/1.8 Canon 50mm Black
24259x

 

The Canon VI T, with “Model VI T” engraved in the usual place for trigger models on the the front of the base plate, was released at the same time as its lever wind companion, the VI L. They are the first two of the Series VI cameras which were attempting to play catch up with Leica and Nikon and the VI T is Canon's last attempt to convince the market about trigger operated film wind.

Canon had finally caught up with the competition with a single non-spinning shutter dial which also enabled the use of a shutter coupled exposure meter like the Leica M3 and Leica Meter and the 1957 Nikon SP with its meter, however, the “T” position did not carry across from the previous shutter. Also, the viewfinder/rangefinder was improved to provide a 0.65x magnification for the 35 mm view, 1x magnification for the 50 mm view and 1.55x magnification for the accurate focusing position. The indicator window in the top plate was re-ordered to now read clockwise “Mg”, “50” and “35”. The 50 mm lens view was a little wider and now incorporated parallax corrected 50 mm and 100 mm bright line frames.

Canon also implemented an auto reset film counter for the first time. Flash sync speed increased to around 1/60 and no longer required switching between flashbulbs and X sync.

(Web image)

(Detail from larger web image)

The Series VI cameras also feature a new film type/speed reminder on the camera back instead of on the rewind knob. Earlier black on silver version on top which featured on nearly all examples, later colour coded type on bottom, camera serial number unknown, but on the sibling lever wind VI L, the change occurred between camera 61580x and 62020x, so right towards the end of VI T production which finished earlier:

(Web images)

Accessory shutter coupled Canon Meter mounted via the accessory shoe:

(Detail from larger web image)

See Canon Meters for more information.

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Canon VI L

Production
(Peter Dechert)
Marketed
(Canon)
Slow
Speeds
Main Dial
Sync*
S/Timer
1958/06-1961/03
1958/09
Single dial
B, 1-1/1000
M/FP/X
Yes

(*Sync: FP sync from 1 to 1/1000, except 1/30. M sync from 1 to 1/250, except 1/30. F bulbs 1 to 1/30. X sync at 1/55)

Serial Numbers
Source
From
To
Peter Dechert
600000
621000
Found
60061x
62020x

 

Lens Mount: Universal
Normal 50mm Lens (Peter Dechert): Canon f/1.2, f/1.4, f/1.5, f/1.8 or f/2.8
Alternative 35 mm Lens (Peter Dechert): Canon f/1.5, f/1.8 or f/2.8
Found with Lens:
Lens Focal Length/ Description
Serial Numbers
From
To
f/1.2 Canon 50mm Black
2652x
4893x
f/1.8 Canon 50mm Black
20516x
23783x
f/2.2 Canon 50mm Black
1026x

 

The Canon VI L is the lever wind companion model to the VI T released at the same time but like the late L3, VL and VL2 lever wind models and unlike its trigger operated sibling, its name is not marked on the body. All the same improvements apply including the non-spinning single shutter dial, increased magnification viewfinder, raised X sync speed, auto frame counter reset etc.:

(Web image)

I have found only one f/2.2 lens (released in January 1961) with a VI L (a late example). Whilst according to Peter Kitchingman, the lens was made for the Canon P, the VI L was still in production and I have only found one with the Canon P as well. Whether any were sold with the VI L is unknown. Peter's reasoning for singling out the Canon P is that the two colour distance scale of the lens matches the colours of the later type Canon P film reminder dial on the back, this also featured on the very late VI L (and also right at the end of the VI T, see above) - it's there on camera 62020x but not the previous one, 61580x. Peter Dechert didn't identify this lens, it is believed to have been sold only in the Japanese domestic market and is quite hard to find.

The VI pair were not a success for Canon, the VI T was a hard sell in any case but the reality was that they were only a little less expensive than Leica M3 and Nikon SP but the VI pair had been late to market and didn't offer enough to get attention. Nevertheless, the VI L is an excellent camera and has more to offer than the very popular Canon P offspring.

See Canon Meters for more information regarding the accessory coupled exposure meter.

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Canon P (Populaire)

Production
(Peter Dechert)
Marketed
(Canon)
Slow
Speeds
Main Dial
Sync*
S/Timer
1958/12-1961/05
1959/03
Single dial
B, 1-1/1000
M/FP/X
Yes

(*Sync: FP sync from 1 to 1/1000, except 1/30. M sync from 1 to 1/250, except 1/30. F bulbs 1 to 1/30. X sync at 1/55)

Serial Numbers
Source
From
To
Peter Dechert
700000
798000
Found
70123x
79x999

 

Lens Mount: Universal
Normal 50mm Lens (Peter Dechert): Canon f/1.2, f/1.4, f/1.8 or f/2.8
Alternative 35 mm Lens (Peter Dechert): Canon f/1.5, f/2 or f/2.8
Found with Lens:
Lens Focal Length/ Description
Serial Numbers
From
To
f/1.2 Canon 50mm Black
3610x
4246x
f/1.4 Canon 50mm Black
1902x
2857x
f/1.8 Canon 50mm Black
24238x
30186x
f/2.2 Canon 50mm Black
1001x
f/2.8 Canon 50mm Black
3754x

(The 50 mm f/2.2 was made from January to June 1961, believed to have been for the Japanese domestic market only. It is a hard to find lens these days and not identified in Peter Dechert's book.)

The Canon P, in some markets known as the “Canon Populaire” certainly lived up to its name with 87,875 produced, second only to the Canon 7. This was at a time when other Japanese rangefinder makers were either abandoning the market or going bankrupt. The Canon P is the third Series VI model and is the VI L with simplified viewfinder and the accessory shoe parallax correcting pin removed, changes which enabled a price that seemed to totally change the value for money perception.

The viewfinder/rangefinder was modified by removing the variable magnification facility and making it 1x with a 35 mm bright line frame added to the 50 mm and 100 mm parallax corrected frames:

Whilst the magnification was competitive, it was applied to an exisiting rangefinder design with a relatively short base length of either 43 mm (Canon) or 41 mm (other sources) resulting in an Effective Base Length of either 43 mm or 41 mm, about 2/3 of the Leica M3 and Nikon EBLs and the shortest of any Canon since the 1946 S II. First image shows shutter coupled Canon Meter 2 mounted (see Canon Meters for more information):

(Web images)

Like the Canon VI T and VI L, the Canon P started with a black on silver film reminder dial on the camera back and changed to the colour coded type above. Being introduced some 6 months later, the Canon P change occurred very early on between serial numbers 70711x and 70994. First black on silver type:

(Web image)

Black bodied example with matching black 50 mm f/1.8 lens:

(Web image)

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Canon 7

Production
(Peter Dechert)
Marketed
(Canon)
Slow
Speeds
Main Dial
Sync*
S/Timer
1961/06-1964/11
1961/09
Single dial
T, B, 1-1/1000
M/FP/X
Yes

(*Sync: FP sync from 1 to 1/1000, except 1/30. M sync from 1 to 1/15. F bulbs 1 to 1/30. Electronic flash at X, B and 1 to 1/30 positions)

Serial Numbers
Source
From
To
Peter Dechert
800000
999000
Found
80135x
94155x

 

Lens Mount: Universal
Normal 50mm Lens (Peter Dechert): Canon f/0.95, f/1.2, f/1.4 or f/1.8
Found with Lens:
Lens Focal Length/ Description
Serial Numbers
From
To
f/0.95 Canon Black
1133x
1498x
f/1.2 Canon Black
5053x
5154x
f/1.4 Canon Black
5215x
11577x
f/1.8 Canon Black
29695x
33749x
f/2.2 Canon Black
1282x
1385x

(The 50 mm f/2.2 was made from January to June 1961, an economy option believed to have been for the Canon P, and possibly the Canon VI L, for the Japanese domestic market only. It is a hard to find lens these days and not identified in Peter Dechert's book. However, I have only found one lens with a Canon P, one with a VI L but three with Canon 7 bodies. Lenses get swapped around but all three have higher serial numbers than those on the other two cameras. It is possible, but by no means necessarily likely, that excess stock may have been sold with some Canon 7 bodies.)

In September 1961, Canon launched the Canon 7, its by far most successful model of all with 137,250 made. It featured a built-in shutter coupled exposure meter, projected frame lines rather than the earlier reflected type and an external bayonet lens mount for the optional f/0.95 50mm lens (also used with the Mirror Box II reflex housing). It was also the last model available in black.

The superstructure was new, incorporating the new viewfinder, its illumination window and the selenium cell exposure meter, essentially the Canon-Meter 2 built in. The “T” setting made a return to the shutter dial and the film rewind crank changed from the unique Canon recessed design to the more common crank on a disc type. The camera's footprint remained the same but its height increased to be basically the same as the trigger operated models. However, the superstructure is thicker than earlier models with the selenium cell adding a some millimetres at the front and the rangefinder/viewfinder housing bulging out at the rear.

The rangefinder base length was increased to 59 mm to improve focusing accuracy, particularly with the new f/0.95 lens. Peter Dechert notes that the base length is longer than any previous Canon model but with magnification of 0.8x, the effective base length (EBL) is only 47.2 mm which is significantly less than the Leica and Nikon competition and less than Canon models offering 1.5x magnification (variable magnification models) and only longer than the 1946 Canon S II and Canon P. However, the viewfinder is a far more useable and pleasant experience than Canon's earlier ones. The five projected frame lines are parallax corrected and selectable with a four position dial switch on the top plate; 35 mm, 50 mm, 85 mm and 100 mm together and 135 mm.

The large meter readout in the middle of the top plate caused a problem for placement of the accessory shoe so it was simply omitted, probably the main negative that can be said about the camera. To be fair, the Canon flash system didn't require an accessory shoe and most focal length lenses didn't require a matching accessory viewfinder and in any case, Canon did offer two accessory shoe types. Both mounted via the sync socket bayonet, the smaller neater one placing the shoe over the rewind knob and only really being suitable for non-Canon flashguns, the larger one placing the accessory shoe in the middle of the top plate over the meter readout and this also makes it suitable for mounting viewfinders for wider and longer lenses, an essential feature of most rangefinder cameras. However, the removable shoes are ungainly extras and not entirely satisfactory solutions, both have to be removed to rewind film and whilst the larger one has a cut-out for the meter readout, the meter is difficult to read with anything mounted in the shoe. Canon was happy to sell you one of these shoes back in the 1960s but finding them these days is not easy.

The Canon 7 was undoubtedly the finest LTM rangefinder made till then, only surpassed by the updated Canon 7s. It is not perfect but features wise it was also competitive with the perhaps slightly more professional Nikon models (by then, they had ceased series production) and the rangefinder benchmark, the Leica M3.

Canon 7 with f/1.18 50mm lens which was now the budget option. The serial number is a bit early for this model and the lens probably originally belonged to a Canon VI T, VI L or P:

The knob on the back is for setting the light meter sensitivity:

The dial near the rewind crank is for selecting the viewfinder frame lines:

An example with the f/0.95 50 mm lens mounted:

(Web image)

A black body (with correct paint over brass strap lugs, white dot on self-timer and chrome film rewind crank) and an example with Bell & Howell co-branding resulting from Bell & Howell taking over USA distributorship in 1962 (features the rare Canon 50 mm f/2.2 lens but this is almost certainly not original to the camera, production ended mid-1961 at the time of the Canon 7 release, well before the Bell & Howell distributorship, and in any case, it was likely a domestic Japanese market only product):

(Web images)

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Canon 7s

Production
(Peter Dechert)
Marketed
(Canon)
Slow
Speeds
Main Dial
Sync*
S/Timer
1965/02-1967/08
1965/04
Single dial
T, B, 1-1/1000
M/FP/X
Yes

(*Sync: FP sync from 1 to 1/1000 plus B and T, except 1/30. M sync from 1 to 1/15 plus B and T, also from 1/60 to 1/250 “where only the central part of the picture is necessary”. F bulbs 1 to 1/30 plus B and T. Electronic flash at X, B, T and 1 to 1/30 positions)

Serial Numbers
Source
From
To
Peter Dechert
100000
118500
Found
10472x
11557x

 

Lens Mount: Universal
Normal 50mm Lens (Peter Dechert): Canon f/0.95, f/1.2, f/1.4 or f/1.8
Found with Lens:
Lens Focal Length/ Description
Serial Numbers
From
To
f/0.95 Canon Black
1700x
f/1.4 Canon Black
10767x
f/1.8 Canon Black
28777x
33179x

 

The Canon 7s was released in April 1965. This update brought two significant improvements and some smaller related changes. The biggest change was the replacement of the selenium cell exposure meter with a battery powered CdS type. In the process, a new small meter readout window in the top plate allowed the second major change, the return of the accessory shoe.

The new exposure meter resulted in several other changes as well. A battery compartment was added to the base plate (see below) and the Canon 7 meter sensitivity switch, function now incorporated into the CdS cell bezel, was replaced by a meter off/on switch with battery check position.

Two minor unrelated changes were the removal of the bayonet flashgun mount, probably due to rationalising flashgun production away from bayonet models to more standard types shared with Canon's SLRs and fixed lens rangefinders, and restarting serial numbers at 100000 with 6 digits instead of ticking over to 7 digits.

(Web image)

The rear of a different camera, this one has the <EP> mark on the film wind lever. The light meter sensitivity knob is now an exposure meter on-off switch and battery check:

(Web image)

The battery compartment for the CdS meter is where the tripod mount used to be so the mount was moved towards the other end:

(Web image)

The PC flash sync socket on the end of the camera is now without the bayonet fitting of the Series 5 to Canon 7 models making it necessary to use either a typical accessory shoe mount type or bottom mount bracket. Note the spanner slots in the fitting, these disappeared with the 7sZ:

(Detail from larger web image)

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Canon 7sZ (Peter Dechert name)

Production
(Peter Dechert)
Marketed
(Canon)
Slow
Speeds
Main Dial
Sync*
S/Timer
1967/08-1968/09
n/a
Single dial
T, B, 1-1/1000
M/FP/X
Yes

(*Sync: FP sync from 1 to 1/1000 plus B and T, except 1/30. M sync from 1 to 1/15 plus B and T, also from 1/60 to 1/250 “where only the central part of the picture is necessary”. F bulbs 1 to 1/30 plus B and T. Electronic flash at X, B, T and 1 to 1/30 positions)

Serial Numbers
Source
From
To
Peter Dechert
115000
123000
Found
11647x
123001

 

Lens Mount: Universal
Normal 50mm Lens (Peter Dechert): Canon f/0.95, f/1.2, f/1.4 or f/1.8
Found with Lens:
Lens Focal Length/ Description
Serial Numbers
From
To
f/1.4 Canon Black
11382x
11693x
f/1.8 Canon Black
31873x
34381x

 

Canon made some improvements to the Canon 7s during its production run but whilst Canon chose not to identify it differently, or additionally, to the original, author Peter Dechert decided that it needed its own name and coined “Canon 7sZ”, the “Z” being the final letter in the Roman alphabet seemed to be a fitting name for the last model. For the record, I don't like the idea of inventing names for models that didn't exist, there are other ways of identifying an updated version, e.g. “late type”, maybe in brackets, but 7sZ has stuck almost universally so that is what we all call it, even though you will not find that model in the Canon Camera Museum.

The external changes are the screw-in PC flash sync socket no longer has any spanner slots, the rewind crank and knob are now larger diameter and lower profile but are no longer semi-recessed and the cover for the rangefinder adjustment screw and cover has moved from adjacent to the top right of the shutter dial, just opposite the shutter button, to above and between the “n” and “7” in the name “Canon 7s”. The more important internal change was a new viewfinder/rangefinder to address ghosting issues with the Canon 7/7s. Note, the changes didn't occur simultaneously, there was a transition period from about camera serial number 11532x (featuring only the new rewind knob) to 11836x (first with new sync socket as well as the other two changes). In my database, the signature change to the rangefinder/viewfinder was around camera 11647x:

(Web image)

This then was the ultimate form of the ultimate series of Canon rangefinder cameras.

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X-Ray Cameras

From the perspective of our Leica copy narrative, the X-ray cameras are a footnote to the main story but they are relevant to the development of the company and the first Serenar lenses. Peter Dechert covers the 35 mm versions on pages 164 to 170 of his book and Peter Kitchingman has a picture of one and details of the R-Serenar 5 cm f/1.5 on pages 84 to 85 of his book. Serious collector Kirk Thorsteinson features his post-War Circa 1948 6 x 6 cm version and several others on the Canon page of his Flickr site and provides detailed notes and variation history which I have relied on for the larger version of the camera.

As mentioned earlier, the X-ray camera was a direct result of Dr Takeshi Mitarai's involvement with the company and his concern for public health. It was intended for recording fluoroscope images rather than direct imaging. Leitz did something similar but it was based on the Leica Standard body. Prototypes were made for the Imperial Navy during 1939 and early 1940 with production starting in late 1940. The camera was basically a light tight box with film transport. There was no shutter, a dark slide being used instead. The camera featured a bayonet lens mount with the lens surrounded by a metal cone for mounting to the pyramid shaped fluoroscope hood. The 35 mm version used 35 mm film with an image format of 24 x 25 mm being settled on for maximum economy. There were only minor changes until production ended in 1957. Initially only engraved with the Kogaku Seiki eagle logo, from 1947 it was named “X-Ray Canon 35” and from 1951 or 1952, “X-Ray Canon CX-35”.

Peter Dechert speculates that prototypes used a Nippon Kogaku made 5 cm f/1.5 lens but it is more certain that Nippon Kogaku supplied 50 such lenses for the first production cameras, however, no examples of either batch are known to still exist. Seiki-Kogaku's own R-Serenar 5 cm f/1.5 arrived in 1943.

Below are the basic components of a post-1951 CX-35 set normally supplied in a timber box; camera body, lens and lens mounting cone. Note that unlike the normal Canon rangefinder cameras, the body tapers slightly before ending in the typical hexagonal shape. Also, this example is missing the chain usually attached to the film winding knob which enables winding on remotely:

(Web images)

According to Peter Kitchingman, the R-Serenar ended production in 1946. What replaced it is not clear. The rangefinder camera Serenar 50 mm f/1.5 arrived in October 1952 and one month later, it was already named “Canon Lens”. The CX-35 examples I have seen have been fitted with Canon 50 mm f/1.5 lenses, presumably the standard glass in special barrels. The serial numbering appears to be part of the normal 50 mm f/1.5 range. What happened between 1946 and 1952 is a mystery to me:

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The larger 6 x 6 cm 120 roll film camera was released in 1946 (from 5th version Canon user manual) and is engraved “X-Ray Canon 6x6”, becoming “X-Ray Canon CX-60” in Circa 1950. These cameras underwent more significant development than the 35 mm version, by the fourth version, the body also losing its hexagonal ends in favour of rounded ones. Five versions have been identified, by the third, the boxed kit included the roll film body, lens and cone plus 6 cut-film holders and a second “body” for use with the film holders. Kirk Thorsteinson calls this an “adapter” but whilst the roll film camera is simply a light tight box with film transport built in, this is also a light tight box when the cut-film holder is mounted, even though it looks like a shallow rectangular funnel with a lens mount at its mouth. It is in effect a second camera even though it doesn't look like one. Canon also treats it as a second class citizen, a fifth version one is named “CX60B” without serial number. Probably from the fourth version, the kit also included a second roll film body.

Initially, the 8 cm f/2 lens was named as a “Seiki Kogaku Serenar”, this soon changed to “Canon Serenar” and then “Canon X-Serenar”. A new 100 mm f/1.5 “Canon R-Serenar” lens was introduced in 1949 (Kirk Thorsteinson research) or 1950 (5th version Canon user manual), becoming the “X-Canon Lens” when the Serenar name was dropped. Below is Kirk Thorsteinson's early 2nd version X-Ray Canon 6x6. See his site for higher resolution photos and his research into the x-ray cameras:

(Images courtesy of Kirk Thorsteinson)

Below are images of a fifth version set without its timber kit box, note the cut-film holders and their “camera body”:

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Canon Lenses, Flash & Accessories Page

Contact Details

My name is Paul Sokk and I can be contacted by email at paulsokk@live.com.au.

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