Yashica

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Yashica was a Japanese camera maker, founded in 1945 and absorbed into Kyocera in 1983. It notably manufactured 35mm SLR cameras under the Contax brand from 1974 onwards.

Contents

Company history

Yashima period

The company was founded in May 1945 as Yashima Seiki Seisakusho (八洲精機製作所, meaning Yashima Precision Works) in the Nagano Prefecture.[1] It first acted as a sub-contractor for other companies, and notably made fuses for gun shells during the last months of World War II.[1] After the war's end, it manufactured components for clock or electric equipment makers.[1] In December 1949, Yashima became the stock company as Yashima Seiki K.K. (八洲精機㈱),[1] whose initial equity was ¥170,000.[2][3]

In early 1953,[4] the company began to make its first camera, the Pigeonflex 6×6cm TLR, on behalf of the distributor Endō Shashin-yōhin.[1][5][6] In June 1953, it changed its name to Yashima Kōgaku Seiki K.K. (八洲光学精機㈱, meaning Yashima Optical Precision Instruments),[1] reflecting its new involvement into the camera business. The same year, the company marketed its first camera under its own brand, the Yashimaflex, another 6×6cm TLR. The Pigeonflex and Yashimaflex were already equipped with Tomioka lenses, beginning a relationship that would last for years.

The Yashimaflex was very soon succeeded by a number of models named Yashicaflex, some of which had semi-automatic winding. In 1956, the company name was changed to Yashima Kōgaku Kōgyō K.K. (八洲光学工業㈱, meaning Yashima Optical Industries).[1] The same year, the inexpensive Yashica Rookie made further use of the Yashica brand, which was constructed from Yashima and Camera, similarly to "Leica", "Konica" and various others.

In 1957, the Yashima company released the Yashica-Mat with crank advance. The same year, it founded Yashica, Inc., its first subsidiary outside Japan, based in New York City to manage marketing efforts in the USA.[1] It also entered the 8mm cine camera market with the Yashica 8T.

Yashica from 1958 to 1973

In 1958, the company became K.K. Yashica (㈱ヤシカ, Yashica Co., Ltd.),[1][7] finally adopting the name of its products. By the time, it had ¥100,000 equity base.[2][8] It expanded into other segments of the market, releasing the Yashica 35, its first 35mm film camera, and the Yashica-44, a 4×4cm TLR strongly inspired by the Baby Rolleiflex, which caused conflicts with Franke & Heidecke.[5] Finally, it acquired the company Nicca Camera, which was making 35mm cameras with focal-plane shutter and went bankrupt in June 1958.[9][10]

In 1959, the former Nicca products were taken over under the Yashica brand with some modifications, the Nicca 33 becoming the Yashica YE and the Nicca IIIL becoming the Yashica YF. The Nicca Camera company itself became the subsidiary Taihō Kōgaku K.K. (大邦光学㈱, meaning Taihō Optical).[1]

For some years, the company had ties with the Konan Camera Laboratory, whose founder Nakamura Gakan trained various Yashica engineers detached for that purpose.[11] A direct result of that cooperation was the Yashica Future 127, a prototype camera taking 4×4cm film presented in 1959, and the first Japanese camera with automated exposure.

Also in 1959, Yashica further diversified into the subminiature market, releasing the Yashica Y16 with a novel system of preloaded cassettes.

The company also established ties with Polaroid, and it released the Japanese made Polaroid Pathfinder 120 in 1960.[1][7] That year, the company's equity base was ¥600,000, multiplied by six in two years.[2] The same year, Yashica also released the Pentamatic, a modern 35mm SLR with specific bayonet-mount interchangeable lenses, capitalizing on Nicca's experience in focal-plane shutters. The proprietary bayonet mount was soon abandoned, and Yashica adopted the popular 42mm screw mount for the 1961 Penta J and later 35mm SLR models. It is said that all the lenses sold under the Yashikor or Yashinon brands were supplied by Tomioka.

In 1961, Yashica released the Rapide half-frame camera, having effectively entered all the possible segments of the market (except for medium-format SLRs). It continued to work on auto-exposure cameras, with the Flash-O-Set and Yashica 35EE so-called "Electric Eye" cameras. Its first camera with electronically controlled shutter was the Yashica Electro Half, launched in 1965, whose shutter was developed by Copal;[12] this was also the first Japanese camera commercially available with an electronic shutter.[12][13] The full-frame Yashica Electro 35 followed in early 1966.[12][14]

In April 1968, the subsidiary Taihō Kōgaku (former Nicca Camera) was merged into the main company,[2] and in August, Yashica also acquired the lens maker Tomioka Kōgaku Kikai,[2] a major company with which it was linked for many years. Sales of 35mm SLRs continued to grow steadily, and Yashica was quickly acquiring a reputation for both electronic camera expertise and high-quality optics. The same year, Yashica launched its first 35mm SLR with electronic shutter, the TL Electro X, and released the Yashica Mat-124, which combined the cumulative improvements of Yashica's earlier TLR cameras.

Yashica and Contax lines

By 1973, Yashica was a production giant with considerable electronic camera experience, and was seeking ways to expand sales and improve brand name recognition in the highly competitive 35mm SLR market. Thus began a collaboration with Carl Zeiss to produce a new, professional 35mm SLR with an electronically-controlled shutter, bearing the Contax brand name.[15] The F. A. Porsche design studio was hired to complete an ergonomic and stylish body shape. The new Contax RTS appeared at the Photokina in 1974, and proved an immediate hit. A new prestige line of Contax/Yashica lenses designed by Carl Zeiss were introduced for the camera, with a new C/Y bayonet mount which was also adopted on the regular Yashica SLR line, allowing lens interchange between all 35mm Contax and Yashica SLR models.

Within the Yashica line, the Y/C bayonet mount first appeared on the FX-1 (1975) and FX-2 (1976). Yashica took the opportunity to upgrade and expand its regular line of 35mm SLR lenses, introducing improved optical designs and coating technologies (for the multi-coated ML lenses). The upscale Yashica FR, released in 1977 and partly based on the Contax RTS design, was a manual-exposure, electronically-controlled camera designed to appeal to the semi-professional and serious amateur user, while also capable of using the entire range of Carl Zeiss T* lenses. This practice of ‘pairing’ similar Contax models with more affordable, less full-featured, but still high-quality Yashica models would continue for the next 10 years.

The FR was quickly followed in April 1977 by the FR-I and FR-II. The FR-I had both manual and auto-exposure modes, and was even closer in design and features to the premium Contax RTS. The FR-II was an auto-exposure only SLR designed for a growing market of new photographers who did not want or need full manual metering capability. The FR-I and FR-II reached the U.S. market early in 1978. All of these cameras were on the whole extremely well-designed and manufactured, and even incorporated a few improvements over the RTS. Popular Photography tested the FR in its September, 1977 issue and described the camera as being tougher in some ways and better sealed against dust than its older brother. Along with the ability to mount Carl Zeiss T* lenses, Yashica offered a multitude of Contax/Yashica accessories and power winders for the FR series, competing seriously for the first time in the professional and semi-pro SLR marketplace.

In 1979, Yashica introduced a new inexpensive 35mm consumer SLR, the FX-3, intended for entry-level buyers. Like all Yashica manual-focus bodies, the affordable FX-3 would also accept Carl Zeiss T* lenses. This simple, lightweight manual-exposure SLR camera proved to be an immediate hit with new and experienced photographers alike, and millions were eventually sold. The FX-3 was developed by Yashica and produced by Cosina, a company with a successful history of making cameras for many other camera brands, including Minolta, Olympus, Revue, and Vivitar. In the early 1980s, the compact, mid-priced FX-D and FX-70 cameras were introduced to good reviews. As before, these cameras were derivatives of the current Contax models (139Q and 137MA). The new Yashicas signalled the company's return to its middle-of-the road, moderately priced amateur market.

Into Kyocera

In October 1983, Yashica Company Ltd. was acquired by ceramics giant Kyocera. Initially, the merger resulted in few outward changes. The manual-focus (MF) FX-103 Program, introduced in 1985, continued the ‘pairing’ tradition of high-end Yashica SLR models with Contax (Contax 159mm), and was the first Yashica SLR with TTL flash and full programmed exposure capabilities.

Yashica and Contax models made after 1983 are described in the Kyocera page. In 2005, Kyocera halted production on all Contax, Yashica, and other Kyocera branded film and digital cameras.

35mm film cameras

SLR

Fixed lens

Yashica proprietary bayonet mount

M42 screw thread mount

Contax/Yashica (C/Y) bayonet mount

Autofocus SLR (Kyocera/Yashica mount)

Autofocus SLR (half-frame, fixed lenses) by Kyocera

Rangefinder, fixed lens

Rangefinder, interchangeable lens

Viewfinder

Half-frame Viewfinder

120 film cameras

6×6 TLR

127 film cameras

4×4 TLR

4×4 rigid

126 film cameras

  • Yashica EZ-matic
  • Yashica EZ-matic Electronic
  • Yashica EZ-matic 4
  • Yashica Minipak

16mm film cameras

Minox film cameras

APS film cameras

Light meters

  • YEM-31
  • YEM-31 Super
  • YEM-35
  • YEM-35 Super
  • YEM-55

Notes

  1. 1.00 1.01 1.02 1.03 1.04 1.05 1.06 1.07 1.08 1.09 1.10 Sakai, p.6 of Kurashikku Kamera Senka no.26.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 Sakai, p.7 of Kurashikku Kamera Senka no.26.
  3. A previous unsourced version of this page says that the company had eight employees by the time.
  4. Dates of the earliest advertisements and articles listed for Yashima's Pigeonflex in Kokusan kamera no rekishi, p.360.
  5. 5.0 5.1 Shibano, p.8 of Kurashikku Kamera Senka no.26.
  6. Kyōshū no burando ten, p.10.
  7. 7.0 7.1 Shibano, p.9 of Kurashikku Kamera Senka no.26.
  8. A previous unsourced version of this page says that the company had 1,982 employees by the time.
  9. Lewis, p.104.
  10. A previous unsourced version of this page said that the company also absorbed Zunow in 1960 or 1961, but this was surely a mistake.
  11. Shirai, pp.61–2 of Maboroshi no kamera o otte.
  12. 12.0 12.1 12.2 Shibano, p.10 of Kurashikku Kamera Senka no.26.
  13. The first cameras in the world with electronically controlled shutter were the Polaroid 100 and the Japanese Artronic prototype, both presented at the 1963 Photokina. (Lewis, p.118.) A previous unsourced version of this page said that the world's first electronically controlled 35mm camera was the Yashica Electro 35, but this is definitely a mistake.
  14. A previous unsourced version of this page says that 5 million units of the Electro 35 were eventually sold, but this is unconfirmed.
  15. A previous unsourced version of this page says that this collaboration was called ‘Top Secret Project 130’.

Sources / further reading

Links

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