Until about 1960, the names of plate and film formats in Japan were usually not direct translations of those used in other countries.
The plate formats used in Japan came either from the inch-based English system or from the metric continental system. From the beginning of the twentieth century to the 1920s, inch-based formats were the most popular.
The three main formats were called kabine (カビネ) or kyabine (キャビネ), tefuda (手札) and meishi (名刺). Kabine (from the French cabinet) corresponds to "half-plate": 4¾×6½″=12.1×16.5cm. Tefuda (elsewhere used to mean "nameplate") corresponds to "quarter-plate": 3¼×4¼″=8.3×10.8cm. Meishi (a card identifying oneself, e.g. a business card) is half of tefuda, about 5.4×8.3cm. In today's sources, these formats are usually rounded to 12×16.5cm, 8×10.5cm and 5.5×8cm respectively.
Other formats were less widespread. Nimaigake (二枚掛) is the half of kabine: 3¼×4¾″=8.3×12.1cm, easily rounded to 8×12cm. Hagaki-size (はがき判) is a direct translation of "postcard size": 3¼×5½″=8¼×14cm, often rounded to 8×14cm.
Yotsugiri (四切 or 四ツ切) is a larger format (25.4×30.5cm, 10x12") used on field or studio cameras, and yatsugiri (八切 or 八ツ切) is a less frequent smaller version (16.8×21.3cm, 6½x8½", corresponding to "whole-plate").
No.0 size or reiban (零番) was a small format, half of meishi, about 4.2×5.4cm, usually rounded to 4×5cm in modern sources. It was introduced in 1901 on the Britannia No.0 sold by Ueda, and met some success with the Sweet camera sold by Sone, to the point that it was often called sweet-size (suīto-size, スイート判). Sweet-size was mainly used for inexpensive cameras and was supplemented by metric 4.5×6cm, called Atom (アトム, atomu) after the ICA Atom models.
In the 1910s and 1920s, meishi was gradually replaced by metric 6.5×9cm, called daimeishi (大名刺), meaning large meishi. Similarly, metric 13×18cm was called daikyabine (大キャビネ) and was used on field or studio cameras. Tefuda was the only inch-based format to remain popular until World War II.
Among these names, kyabine (which has supplanted kabine) and yotsugiri remain commonly used for sizes of photographic paper in the 21st century.
The common rollfilm formats received a nickname in Japan, used until the late 1950s. This name was usually that of the camera which made the format popular in the country, the same as for sweet and atom plate sizes. Full-frame 6×9cm on 120 film was dubbed buronī (ブロニー) size, after the Kodak Brownie (which also gave its name to the Bronica), and 4×6.5cm on 127 film was vesuto (ヴェスト) or besuto (ベスト) size, after the Vest Pocket Kodak.
The half-frame and square formats on 120 film were called semi (4.5×6cm) six (6×6cm, shikkkusu) after the "Semi Ikonta" and "Ikonta Six", commercial names of the Zeiss Ikon Ikonta 4.5×6cm and 6×6cm models in Japan. This is why most of the cameras produced in that format have "Semi" or "Six" in their name.
For 127 film, most 3×4cm cameras were called "Baby", after the "Baby Ikonta", and most 4×4cm cameras were called "Four" by analogy with the "Six". However the film formats themselves were usually given as "sixteen exposures on Vest film" (from the Vest Pocket Kodak) or "twelve exposures on Vest film". The name leica-size was sometimes used for 24×36mm format on 35mm film, but this was less common.
After World War II, buronī-size (6×9cm) and vesuto-size (4×6.5cm) cameras for amateurs quickly disappeared from the Japanese market. (The former lingered for press and other professional cameras.) As labels, the names "buronī-film" and "vesuto-film" were gradually replaced by "120 film" and "127 film" respectively. For many years no Japanese company made 127 by any name (until 2014 with the introduction of Rera Pan 100); 120 is easy to find and much used, and although always labeled 120 is still frequently referred to as buronī.
The names Semi and Six were used until about 1960, and were replaced by "645" and "66" on later cameras. ("Six" lingered for the Mamiya 6.) After 1960, the Japanese names for film formats became direct translations of the foreign equivalents, and the tradition of giving nicknames after a successful camera brand disappeared: after the introduction of the Olympus Pen in 1959, 18×24mm was significantly called half-size instead of pen-size.
- See the plate sizes at R. Konishi Rokuoh-sha, giving actual measurements. It appears that nimaigake does not correspond to 4×5in size, unlike what is said in some sources.
- Even when it was besuto, the primary allusion was to "vest" and not "best". Japanese lacks a v sound. The closest is the bilabial sound (in IPA [β], conventionally romanized v), but even this is marginal. Thus it is not uncommon for a foreign word with a v sound to have two different Japanese versions.
- The actual dimensions of the film gate of course only approximate the 4.5 x 6 cm format and also differ between manufacturers. Measured are:
- Rokuoh-Sha Semi Pearl (1939): 42.2 x 57.0mm;
- Nissan New Semi Condor (1939): 41.2 x 56.9mm;
- Kuribayashi BB Semi First (1940): 45 x 58mm;
- Kuribayashi Semi Rotte (1940): 39.5 x 55.8mm;
- Fujimoto Semi Sport (1940): 41.1 x 56.8mm;
- Okada Waltax Senior (1951): 42.8 x 56.2mm;
- Shōwa Kōgaku Semi Leotax DL (1951): 42.7 x 57.0mm;
- Tōkyō Seiki Doris (1952): 42.1 x 56.4 mm;
- Daiichi Zenobia C (1953): 40.6 x 54.9mm;
- For the use of the term buronī film in a modern context, see for example the list of Google hits for "hasseru" AND "buronī" (both terms in katakana; hasseru is the familiar name for Hasselblad). Vesuto may be more widely used for 127 (when this is mentioned at all) than buronī is for 120; as one example, when Ōtake Shōji (大竹省二) explains which camera and film was used for which photograph within the collection of his early work Haruka naru uta (遥かなる詩; Tokyo: Kirihara Shoten, 1983), he uses the terms 120 and vesuto-ban.