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Kowa is a Japanese company, which manufactured cameras from 1954 to 1978. It continued to make binoculars, telescopes and mediacal optics(among much else), and in 2005 marketed a "spotting scope" with integrated digital camera, thereby again becoming a camera manufacturer of a sort.



The company was founded in Nagoya in 1894 as a textile shop, and entered the spinning industry in 1919.[1] In 1939, the trading and spinning activities were separated, and the trading company was incorporated as Kōwa K.K. (興和㈱).[1] After 1945, the company attempted to diversify its activities, and created the dependent Kōwa Kōki Seisakusho (興和光器製作所, meaning Kowa Optical Works) in 1946.[2] It produced eyeglasses for a short period, then switched to higher value products such as opera glasses, binoculars, rifle scopes or spotting scopes, some of which were bought by the US forces.[2] It also made projection lenses, both regular and anamorphic (for the CinemaScope process), under the Prominar brand name,[2] whose registration was applied for in 1947 and granted in 1948.[3]

The company entered camera production in 1954 with the Kalloflex 6×6 TLR, then made a series of 35mm cameras with a leaf shutter, some with a fixed wide-angle or tele lens and some with an interchangeable lens. Many of these were rebadged by Graflex as the Century 35 series.

In 1960, Kowa inaugurated a series of amateur 35mm SLR cameras, all with a leaf shutter. The last of the series was the Kowa UW190 (1972), equipped with a fixed ultra-wide-angle 19mm lens. In 1968, the company introduced a more ambitious project: the Kowa Six 6×6cm SLR, which would meet some success as the poor man's Hasselblad. It was upgraded in 1974 as the Kowa Super 66, which was Kowa's last camera in the century.

In 2005, Kowa, which had continued to sell equipment for birdwatchers and others, marketed a "spotting scope" with integrated digital camera, thereby again becoming a name on a camera. The product was the TD-1. In early 2009 the company described this as discontinued but still in stock; Kowa was marketing a variety of adapters to mate its spotting scopes with cameras from other manufacturers.[4]

35mm film

35mm viewfinder

35mm rangefinder

35mm SLR

  • Kowaflex (fixed lens/no light meter)
  • Kowa/Kowaflex Model E (fixed lens/external coupled Selenium meter)
  • Kowa H (fixed lens/external coupled Selenium meter with auto-exposure system)
  • Kowa SE (fixed lens/external coupled CdS meter)
  • Kowa SE R (interchangeable lens/external coupled CdS meter)
  • Kowa SET (fixed lens/internal TTL coupled CdS meter)
  • Kowa SET R (interchangeable lens/internal TTL coupled CdS meter)
  • Kowa SET R2 (interchangeable lens/internal TTL coupled CdS meter)
  • Kowa SET II (interchangeable lens/internal TTL coupled CdS meter)
  • Kowa UW190 (fixed ultra-wide-angle 19mm lens/internal TTL coupled CdS meter)

120 film

6×6 SLR

6×6 TLR

127 film

4×4 SLR


  • Kowa Kid, also called Kowa Zen-99, Super-Lark Zen-99 or Light Super

16mm film

Scope with digital camera


Large format lenses

  • Kowa 90mm f/8.0: hugest circle of any 90mm LF lens - covers 8×10in format at f/16.

Interchangeable lenses for 35mm cameras

See the article on Kowa lenses for other cameras.

  • Kowa lenses in Leica screw mount:
    • Prominar 35mm f/2.8
    • Prominar 100mm f/2
    • Prominar 200mm f/2.8 (for reflex housing)
  • Prominar 200mm f/2.8 in Exakta mount,[6] 42mm screw mount[7] or Nikon F mount[8]
  • Kowa lenses in Miranda mount:
    • Soligor Prominar 3.5cm f/2.8 (not marked Kowa)[9]
    • Prominar-Miranda 5cm f/1.9[10]
    • Soligor Miranda 50mm f/1.9 with K prefix (likely made by Kowa, not marked as such)
    • others

The Prominar 7.5cm f/3.5 and 7.3cm f/3.5 lenses in Leica screw mount are not marked as made by Kowa. They are similar to the Sun Sola 7.5cm and 7.3cm f/3.5, and were certainly manufactured by Sun or its predecessor. They were perhaps produced before the name was registered by Kowa, or renamed because of a trademark conflict.


  1. 1.0 1.1 History at the Kowa official website.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 Takasaki, p.12 of Kurashikku Kamera Senka no.40.
  3. Trademark registrations (商標登録) no.371965 and 371993, for the name "Prominar" (プロミナー), in the IPDL trademark database.
  4. Accessories for cameras from Kowa USA.
  5. See the review of the TD-1 at www.oceanwanderers.com and Kowa's product page (archived).
  6. Table in Shashin Kōgyō Summer 1957, p.109.
  7. Miyazaki, p.53.
  8. Picture in this page at Red Book Nikkor.
  9. Lens observed in a Japanese forum.
  10. Lens pictured at the bottom of this page of the Miranda Historical Society.


  • Lewis, Gordon, ed. The History of the Japanese Camera. Rochester, N.Y.: George Eastman House, International Museum of Photography & Film, 1991. ISBN 0-935398-17-1 (paper), 0-935398-16-3 (hard).
  • McKeown, James M. and Joan C. McKeown's Price Guide to Antique and Classic Cameras, 12th Edition, 2005-2006. USA, Centennial Photo Service, 2004. ISBN 0-931838-40-1 (hardcover). ISBN 0-931838-41-X (softcover). Pp.546–8.
  • Takasaki Akio (高崎晶夫). "Kōwa kamera no ayumi 1954–1978 nen" (興和カメラの歩み1954–1978年, History of Kowa cameras 1954–1978). Kamera Rebyū: Kurashikku Kamera Senka (カメラレビュー クラシックカメラ専科) / Camera Review: All about Historical Cameras no.40, December 1996. Kōwa no subete (特集:R型ライカのすべて, All of Kowa) and Roshia kamera korekushon (ロシアカメラコレクション, Russian camera collection). Pp.12–7.
  • Trademark publications for the names "Prominar" in roman and katakana script (プロミナー). The trademarks were applied for (商標出現) on 10 April 1947 (no.S22-3703 and S22-3705), published (商標広告) on 22 October 1947 (no.S22-4416 and S22-4418) and registered (商標登録) on 16 April 1948 (no.371965) and 20 April 1948 (no.371993). Available in the IPDL trademark database.


In English:

In Japanese:

In German:

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