PhotoHistory 1950s

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Chronological history of photography in Japan in 1950s (Showa 25-34)

Researched and compiled by Philbert Ono

1950 (Showa 25)

More than 100,000 "Made in Occupied Japan" cameras were made but priced beyond the reach of most Japanese due to a high taxation. For the masses, there were cheap mini-cameras which used 14mm-width roll film.

In May, MIKI Jun, a young Japanese photographer and a stringer for Life Magazine, visits Horace Bristol's office in Tokyo and shows him a Japanese-made 85mm f/2 lens. Miki claimed that the lens produced a very sharp picture and offered Bristol to test it. (At the time, German-made lenses were considered to be the best.) After testing, Bristol was very impressed and showed the sharp negatives to David Duncan who was a photographer for Life Magazine. With the help of Miki, Bristol and Duncan arranged to tour the Nippon Kogaku factory where the Nikkor lens was made. They wanted to test their existing Leica and Zeiss lenses with other Nikkor lenses. They were so impressed by the results that they replaced their German-made lenses with Nikkors.

In May, the Japan Professional Photographer's Society (JPS) is formed with about 70 members after the Shashinka Shudan, Seinen Shashinka Kyokai, and Nihon Seinen Hodo Shashin Kyokai associations agree to merge. The founding members include prominent photographers like KIMURA Ihe'e (who becomes the first chairman), WATANABE Yoshio, AKIYAMA Shotaro, and HAYASHI Tadahiko. The Society went on to become one of the most prominent associations of professional photographers in Japan.

In June, the Korean War breaks out and Duncan is assigned to Korea to photograph the fighting. He uses Leica cameras mounted with Nikkor lenses (50mm f/1.5 and 135mm f/3.5). The sharpness of the resulting photos create a sensation among the Life Magazine photo staff. As the word spread, other staff photographers at Life and other publications begin to use Nikkor lenses.

In October 1950, David Duncan during a visit to New York goes public with the news of how Nikkor lenses were superior to German lenses. A camera column in the Dec. 10, 1950 edition of The New York Times and the Feb. and March 1951 issues of Popular Photography feature stories about Duncan's use of Nikkor lenses when he covered the Korean War. Nippon Kogaku and Nikkor become then famous outside Japan. This boosted the Japanese camera industry. The Korean War also expanded the economy, greatly boosting the camera demand. The war endured until 1953.

The Nikkor 50mm f/1.5 lens was replaced by the 50mm f/1.4 lens which became the first high-quality f/1.4 lens to be mass produced.

DOMON Ken becomes a judge of the monthly photo contest held by Camera magazine, advocating photorealism.

Nippon Camera magazine (renamed from Amateur Shashin Futasho that had started in 1948) starts publication and becomes one of today's most prominent camera magazines in Japan. From July 1951, the bimonthly magazine became a monthly publication.

The Kinkakuji Golden Pavilion in Kyoto is set afire by an arsonist. It is later rebuilt.

1951 (Showa 26)

Japanese camera makers are no longer required to engrave their products with "Made in Occupied Japan."A portrait of Prime Minister Shigeru YOSHIDA photographed by MIKI Jun appears on the cover of Life magazine.

June 1 is set as "Shashin no Hi" (Day of Photography) in Japan.

1952 (Showa 27)

Asahi Optical Co. introduces its first camera, a 35mm SLR called Asahiflex--Model 1. It was the first Japanese SLR camera. The "Takumar" label also appears on its lenses for the first time. The lens was a 50mm f/3.5 lens based on the Carl Zeiss Tessar lens. In 1976, Asahi lenses were renamed Pentax SMC (Super Multi Coated) since they fit on a different mount.

Asahi Graph magazine publishes photos of the atomic bomb devastation after the publishing ban by Occupation authorities is lifted. The issue sells out on the day of publication.

In Dec., Canon Camera Company markets the Canon IVSb 35mm rangefinder camera, the world's first to feature X-sync flash synchronization.

The Allied Occupation of Japan ends and Japan regains its independence.

The Photographic Society of Japan (Nihon Shashin Kyokai) is established in Dec. to promote international goodwill and exchange and cultural development..

1953 (Showa 28)

The Korean War ends and an economic depression sets in. Many small camera equipment manufacturers go out of business. The remaining companies start to look into exporting their products.

The National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo holds its first photo exhibition titled "Contemporary Photography in Japan and the United States."

1954 (Showa 29)

The Japan Camera and Optical Instruments Inspection and Testing Institute (JCII) is established under MORIYAMA Kinji. The camera industry recognized a need to establish quality standards to encourage growth. Before a camera could be exported, it had to pass JCII's strict quality-control tests. Within 10 years, the label "Made in Japan" became associated with high quality.

The Japan Camera Industry Association is established by Canon President Takeshi MITARAI who serves as the association's first chairman. The association, consisting of major camera and film manufacturers, is today a key organization which also holds the annual Japan Camera Show.

JCII, manufacturers, and American importers worked to export Japanese cameras. By the 1960s, only West Germany was the chief competitor. American, British, and French manufacturers were already out of the picture. Eventually, the chief competitor of a Japanese manufacturer was another Japanese manufacturer. Since 1954, 170 Japanese companies have made cameras. By 1984, only about 32 manufacturers remained.

1955 (Showa 30)

Headed by MORIYAMA Kinji, the Japan Camera Information and Service Center opens in New York City. It received many complaints about the reliability of Japanese cameras, prompting manufacturers to improve quality assurance.

1956 (Showa 31)

"The Family of Man"</b> photo exhibition by Edward Steichen tours Japan, and over 1 million Japanese see it.

1957 (Showa 32)

The Nikon SP rangefinder camera is introduced. The viewfinder framed automatically for four of its interchangeable lenses.

The Canon L1 35mm rangefinder camera and Canon Cine 8T movie camera become the first cameras to receive the Good Design Award from the Ministry of International Trade and Industry.

1958 (Showa 33)

The Minolta SR-2 is the first SLR camera with an automatic diaphragm which maintained maximum aperture for brightest viewing and stopped down only when the picture was taken.

The Asahi Pentax K camera was the first to have a focusing screen featuring a microprism area to make focusing easier.

The Japan Advertising Photographers' Association (APA) is established in June. KANEMARU Shigemine becomes its first chairman.

Camerart magazine (in English) starts publication.

1959 (Showa 34)

The venerable Nikon F camera is introduced. With interchangeable focusing screens, mirror lock-up, precision construction, and the nucleus of the first SLR camera system, it was the first camera truly dedicated to the professional. It remained in production for almost 14 years with only slight modifications and became the camera of choice among professionals.

In the U.S., it is vigorously promoted by Joe Ehrenreich, a semi-legendary campaigner of Nikons.

In May, Canon markets its first SLR camera, the Canonflex. Although it was just as good as or better than the Nikon F, it was not promoted well enough in the U.S. and soon became forgotten. Canon's underestimation of the SLR's popularity in the '60s led to its dwindling fortunes in the camera market and financial trouble. This, however, spurred them to diversify its product lines (especially office machines). It did not concentrate so much on the small, professional segment of the market like Nikon did.

As it turned out, conquering the pro market was the key to a favorable corporate and public image and Nikon scored a coup in this regard with the Nikon F. (It wasn't until 1970 when Canon introduced the F-1, its first pro-use, system-oriented camera.) Nikon's efforts to make the best professional camera and a superb promotional campaign established an aura of prestige for Nikon, something that eluded Canon until the 1980s.

The Zenza Bronica is the first Japanese 6x6cm format camera with interchangeable lenses and film backs.The Olympus-Pen compact camera is the first Japanese camera offering the half-frame format for 35mm film, doubling the number of exposures.

The Widelux 35mm-format panoramic camera by Panon Camera Co. is introduced. The lens moved along an arc during the exposure of the film which was set on a curved focal plane. 140-degree horizontal coverage and 55-degree vertical coverage, almost the same as the human eye's field of vision.

VIVO agency is formed by TOMATSU Shomei, HOSOE Eikoh, NARAHARA Ikko, KAWADA Kikuji, SATO Akira, and TANNO Akira.

Crown Prince Akihito marries Michiko, a commoner.

A TV set, washing machine, and refrigerator become the so-called "Three Sacred Treasures" for Japanese families becoming increasingly materialistic.

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