Nippon Kōgaku lenses before 1945

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Nippon Kōgaku, usually rendered in English as Nippon Kogaku, and later known as Nikon, was founded in 1917 by the merger of two military optics manufacturers. In their early years, they sought advice and expertise from German optical experts, whose work formed the basis of their early lens designs.

For the main article on the history of Nippon Kogaku, see Nikon.

Acht designs

Two years after its foundation in 1917, Nippon Kōgaku invited eight German advisers, who arrived in 1921.[1] They were specialists in optics and lens design and manufacture, among whom were Heinrich Acht, Hermann Dillmann and Max Lange.[2] Most of them returned to Germany in 1926 at the end of their contract, and only Heinrich Acht remained until 1928.[3] From 1925 to 1928 he designed a number of lenses, from 7.5cm to 50cm focal length and from f/2 to f/6.8 maximal aperture.[4] Among them were three-element Flieger Objektiv 50cm lenses in f/5.4 and f/4.8 aperture, probably for aerial cameras.[5] The other reported designs were a six-element Doppel Anastigmat f/6.8 (in 7.5cm, 10.5cm, 12cm, 15cm and 18cm), a four-element Dialyt Anastigmat f/6.3 (in 7.5cm, 10.5cm and 12cm) and f/4.5 (in 12cm), a three-element Porträt Objektiv 24cm f/3.0 and 30cm f/3.5 and a Projektions Objektiv 7.5cm f/2.0 projection lens.[6] It is not known if these lenses were actually manufactured or not, and it seems that none was mounted on a civilian camera.

Anytar lenses

The Anytar lenses have a Tessar formula, and were first drawn by Hermann Acht or the other German engineers, then recomputed by Japanese engineers.[7] It is said that a total of seven focal lengths were studied: 7.5cm, 10.5cm, 10.7cm, 12cm, 15cm, 18cm and 36cm.[8] Four of these designs: 10.5cm f/4.5, 10.7cm f/4.5, 15cm f/4.5 and 18cm f/4.5, appear in a notebook by the engineer Yoshihashi Kagorō (吉橋嘉五郎), dated May 1930 and kept in the company's archives.[9] The notebook reportedly attributes the 10.5cm to Yoshihashi himself (certainly working on an original design by Acht), the 10.7cm to Hermann Dillmann and the other two designs to Acht.[10] The attribution of the 10.7cm to Dillmann would mean that it was designed in 1926 at the latest. The company still owns a prototype of this lens, mounted in a dial-set Compur shutter and having no marking.[11]

After the departure of Acht in 1928, the lens design department was taken over by Sunayama Kakuya (砂山角野).[12] The first Anytar 12cm f/4.5 was completed in 1929, then improvements in the design and manufacturing process yielded satisfactory results from 1930 or 1931.[13] It was the only Anytar lens to reach preseries level. It has the name Anytar 1:4.5 f=12cm and Nippon Kogaku around the rim.[14] It is said that the company bought twenty Lily plate folders and equipped them with Anytar lenses and dial-set Compur shutters, for experimental purpose.[15] The lens numbers known so far are no.3045, 3087 and 3093, the first and last being mounted on Lily cameras.[16] It is said that remaining Anytar lenses were sold to company employees for ¥20 in 1937.[17]

Nikkor lenses

The trademarks "Nikkor" and "Aero-Nikkor" were applied for in July 1931 and granted in April 1932.[18] The name Nikkō (日光) was already used by the company as an abbreviation of Nippon Kōgaku (日本光学), long before the introduction of the Nikon brand, and the new trademark was created by adding the suffix "-r", common for lens names.

The Anytar 12cm f/4.5 lens was consequently renamed Nikkor in 1932.[19] It is said that the name change coincided with further improvements to the lens.[20] One early Nikkor 12cm f/4.5 lens reportedly has no.3187, probably in the same sequence as the Anytar no.30xx.[21]

Other Nikkor lenses followed in 7.5cm, 10.5cm and 18cm focal lengths.[22] These lenses were produced in small quantities, and were mounted on few cameras. At least one Nikkor 105/4.5 is known on a Konishiroku Idea (1930 model).[23] Nikkor 7.5cm f/4.5 lenses are pictured below on a Seica (4.5×6) and a Mamiya Six III. They have a serial number in the 75xxx range, whose first two digits certainly indicate the focal length.

Nippon Kōgaku also made a range of Nikkor lenses for the early Canon models. They would form the basis for the lenses made after World War II for the Nikon rangefinder cameras.

Trimar and Aero-Nikkor lenses

In 1929, Sunayama drew a 50cm f/4.8 three-element aerial lens called Trimar.[24] It was certainly an evolution of the Flieger Objektiv designed by Acht,[25] though it is also said that Sunayama brought a Zeiss Triplet 50cm f/4.8 from Europe in 1928, using it as a model.[26] Other Trimar lenses are known on Japanese cameras of the period, but they are certainly unrelated.

The three-element aerial lens became the Aero-Nikkor 50cm f/4.5 in 1932. At least one surviving example is still held by the company.[27] Its barrel is engraved N°4, with the exact focal length in millimetres.

The 50cm f/4.8 was followed by the Aero-Nikkor 70cm f/5, also completed in 1932,[28] which was ordered by the air force of the Imperial Japanese Army in 1933.[29] The same year, the air force also ordered a 18cm f/4.5,[30] but it is unclear if this was the regular Nikkor lens or a specific Aero-Nikkor design.[31]

Other Aero-Nikkor lenses reported in the company's 75-year history book are the 7.5cm f/3.5, dated 1937, and the 10cm f/5.6 wideangle, dated 1939.[32] An Aero-Nikkor 20cm f/3.5 was also produced, perhaps for the SK-100 aerial camera.[33]

Finally, the R-Aero-Nikkor 50cm f/5.6 was designed in 1944 for the Automatic Aerial Camera Type 1, and 600 units of the lens were made until the end of the war.[34] One example of that lens is pictured in this page at Red Book Nikkor. It has a NIKKO logo on the front rim, and serial number 38352376.


  1. Baird, p.52.
  2. Baird, p.52.
  3. Baird, p.53; Tanaka, p.89 of Kurashikku Kamera Senka no.10.
  4. Tanaka, p.89 of Kurashikku Kamera Senka no.10, Lewis, p.184.
  5. This table from an unknown Japanese source (archived) says both f/4.8 and f/5.4. Braakhuis also says f/4.8 and f/5.4 in "The History of Nippon Kogaku 1600–1949". Baird, p.53, mentions f/5.4 only, and Lewis, p.184, only f/4.8. Schwanner says f/4.5 in "Nikon 1917–1997", certainly by mistake.
  6. Table from an unknown Japanese source (archived) reproduced in Fotóművészet Online.
  7. Itō, "Anytar lens". Baird, p.54, says that the Anytar were developed by Sunayama from 1929.
  8. Full list in Itō, "Anytar lens". Baird, p.55, only mentions the 7.5cm, 10.5cm, 15cm and 18cm.
  9. Itō, "Anytar lens", where the cover page of the notebook and the lens scheme of the 10.5cm f/4.5 are reproduced.
  10. Itō, "Anytar lens".
  11. Lens pictured in Itō, "Anytar lens".
  12. Itō, "Anytar lens"; Itō, "The Aero-Nikkor"; Baird, p.54.
  13. Itō, "Anytar lens"; Baird, pp.54 and 56.
  14. Tanaka, p.89 of Kurashikku Kamera Senka no.10, says that the mount looks very much like the imported Wekar f/4.5 lens equipping some Japanese cameras of the time.
  15. Sugiyama, item 1126; Baird, p.56.
  16. Lens no.3045 reported in Yazawa, p.23 of Camera Collectors' News no.271, on a Lily. — Lens no.3087 reported in Baird, p.55. — Lens no.3093 reported in Awano, p.3 of Camera Collectors' News no.43, and in Baird, p.55, on a Lily.
  17. Itō, "Anytar lens".
  18. Trademark publications (商標公告) no.S07-1808 and S07-1809, for the names "Nikkor" and "Aero-Nikkor", in the IPDL trademark database.
  19. Itō, "Anytar lens"; Baird, p.57.
  20. Itō, "Anytar lens".
  21. Lens no.3187 reported in Awano, p.3 of Camera Collectors' News no.43, and in Baird, p.55.
  22. Itō, "Anytar lens" and "The Aero-Nikkor".
  23. Example pictured in Sugiyama, item 1103.
  24. Lewis, p.184; Yazawa, p.21 of Camera Collectors' News no.271.
  25. Lewis, p.184; Yazawa, p.21 of Camera Collectors' News no.271.
  26. Itō, "The Aero-Nikkor".
  27. Itō, "The Aero-Nikkor", says that the lens was exhibited at the Photo Imaging Expo in 2008. Pictures appear in this Japanese blog.
  28. This page at Red Book Nikkor by Akiyama Michio, quoting the 75-year history book by Nikon.
  29. Itō, "The Aero-Nikkor".
  30. Itō, "The Aero-Nikkor".
  31. Itō, "The Aero-Nikkor", mentions a Nikkor, and this page by Akiyama Michio, quoting the 75-year history book by Nikon, mentions an Aero-Nikkor.
  32. This page by Akiyama Michio, quoting the 75-year history book by Nikon.
  33. Examples pictured in this page at Red Book Nikkor and this page at Wetwing Aerial Camera. See also full documentation of an Aero Nikkor 20cm | by Dirk Spennemann
  34. This page by Akiyama Michio, quoting the 75-year history book by Nikon (the English version slightly differs and is probably less accurate).


  • Awano Mikio (粟野幹男). "Anitā renzu tsuki Rirī kamera" (アニターレンズ付きリリーカメラ, Lily camera with Anytar lens). In Camera Collectors' News no.46 (April 1981). Nishinomiya: Camera Collectors News-sha.
  • Baird, John R. The Japanese Camera. Yakima, WA: Historical Camera Publications, 1990. ISBN 1-879561-02-6. Pp.54–6.
  • Braakhuis, Hans. "The History of Nippon Kogaku 1600–1949". Published in pdf format in Nikon Information.
  • Itō Mikio (伊藤幹生). Archivist's Memo No.2 "Anytar Lens" (メモ No.2「アニター・レンズ」). Published in the Nikon official website (see links below).
  • Itō Mikio (伊藤幹生). Archivist's Memo No.4 "The Aero-Nikkor" (メモ No.4「Aero-Nikkor」). Published in the Nikon official website (see links below).
  • 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). P.184. (The first name of Sunayama Kakuya is misspelled, and the maximal aperture of the Anytar 12cm is wrong.)
  • Schwanner, Endre. "Nikon 1917–1997". Published at Fotóművészet Online (see links below).
  • Schwanner, Endre. "Sixty-five year history of Nikkor lenses". Published at Fotóművészet Online (see links below).
  • Sugiyama, Kōichi (杉山浩一); Naoi, Hiroaki (直井浩明); Bullock, John R. The Collector's Guide to Japanese Cameras. 国産カメラ図鑑 (Kokusan kamera zukan). Tokyo: Asahi Sonorama, 1985. ISBN 4-257-03187-5. Items 1103 and 1126.
  • Tanaka Masao (田中政雄). "Hekisā F4.5 no tanjō" (ヘキサーF4.5の誕生, The birth of the Hexar f/4.5). 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.10, September 1987. No ISBN number. Konishiroku kamera no rekishi (小西六カメラの歴史, special issue on Konishiroku). Pp.88–9. (Mentions the early lenses by Nippon Kōgaku.)
  • Trademark publications for the names "Nikkor" and "Aero-Nikkor". The trademarks were applied for (出現) on 24 July 1931 and granted (公告) on 7 April 1932 (no.S07-1808 and S07-1809). Available in the IPDL trademark database.
  • Yazawa Seiichirō (矢沢征一郎). "Renzu no hanashi (181) Torimā renzu" (レンズの話[181]トリマー・レンズ, Lens story [181] Trimar lens). In Camera Collectors' News no.271 (January 2000). Nishinomiya: Camera Collectors News-sha. Pp.21–3.


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