(for lenses scroll down, please)
Canon, Zeiss-Ikon, Leica, Contax, Hasselblad etc.
The history of photography started in Europe. Many camera and lens manufacturers were established more than 100 years ago. Probably Johann Christoph Voigtländer, who started his factory in 1756 in Vienna (Austria), has been one of the very first. In other European countries other camera and lens makers started a factory. Many of them disappeared rather quickly, others were taken over by larger and stronger competitors. Some well known companies are mentioned below. In Japan the optical industry started much later (1920's). A few of the most important companies will be listed below.
The production of cameras and lenses has moved from Europe to Asia since the 1980's. Some famous brand names have come into the possession of companies and/or persons that had/have no experiences in photography. Some are treated like a poor cousin. Some are used for products that do not reflect the quality and/or the emotion the original product once offered. Fortunately most photographic and optical products are fit for the reputation of the brand name on it.
Nikon's most important rival was founded in 1933 in Japan as Seiki Kogaku (Precision Optical Research Laboratory), by four college friends. In 1947 the name changed in Canon Camera Co.
From the start they produced rangefinder cameras, based on the Leica-design. All cameras were fitted with Nikkor lenses! Three of the four college friends had to join the Army in the late 1930's. No. 4, Takeshi Mitarai, graduated as an obstetrician, had to run the company, which he did successfully until 1974! Mitarai was a very social person; he was very concerned about the health of his staff. He also introduced - as one of the very first - the 5-day working week.
After the World War II Canon continued to produce cameras. In 1947 Canon started its own lens production. Canon has become the largest SLR manufacturer in the world, known among many professional photographers. Also as a lens manufacturer famous for its innovations. Unfortunately Canon changed its SLR lens mount four times, chasing customers away. Most professional photographers - however - are using Canon products with dedication. Canon has become an important manufacturer of office equipment as well. The sales of photographic equipment is just some 30 % of the total turnover of the Canon company.
In 1946 the Kashio family (father and his 4 sons) started a factory (later named Casio Computer Co. Ltd) of various electric and electronic devices, like calculators, digital watches, mobile phones, musical instruments and handheld PC's. In 1995 it introduced its first mass-market digital camera.
Founded in 1949 in Japan as Copal Koki Seisakusho (Copal Optical Works), named Copal Co. Ltd in 1962.
Started as a small-scale manufacturer of camera shutters in 1946 Copal was set up in 1949 in Nagasaki, Japan. Nearly all Japanese, and later other, cameras were or are fitted with Copal shutters. Not only Nikon, but also manufacturers as Leitz, Pentax, Mamiya, Konica etc. are making use of the quality products of Copal. The Copal Square I shutter became a world hit! The leaf shutters of the Nikkorex cameras weren't a great success, so the Nikkorex F, built by Mamiya, was - as one of the first cameras - fitted with the Copal Square I shutter. The famous and indestructible Nikkormat-series were/are all using Copal shutters. Copal still is Nikon's main camera shutter supplier.
Founded in 1934 in Japan as Fuji Photo Film Co. Ltd as a split-off photographic film operation of Dainippon Celluloid Co.
Started as a film industry Fuji also entered the film and digital camera world. Based on various Nikon and Canon film SLR's Fuji developed excellent professional digital SLR cameras, before the two largest camera manufacturers (Canon & Nikon) came with their own developments!
Victor Hasselblad founded in 1941 in Gothenburg, Sweden, a company to manufacture aerial cameras. His ancestors were in business since 1841, in photographic equipment since 1887.
Although too slow for reporters the Hasselblad 6x6 cameras (500C, 500C/M, etc.), including the famous Carl Zeiss optics, were and still are the absolute top in mid/large format photography. Hopefully the modern digital backs are competitive.
Hoya was founded on November 1, 1941 as an optical glass manufacturer.
Hoya is one of the largest producers of industrial glass, used in photomasks
for semiconductors, glass disks for hard disk drives, photographic lenses,
eyeglass and contact lenses, etc. In 2007 Hoya bought the well-known
camera manufacturer Pentax, which turned out to be an expensive and
bad investment. In July 2011 Hoya sold the Pentax camera business to
Ricoh, retaining the Pentax brand name, however.
Founded in Japan in 1873 by pharmacist Rokusaburo Sugiura.
Rokusaburo started to sell photographic material and made in 1903 his first camera (Cherry Hand Camera). His Konica company became famous with its first SLR - Konica Autoreflex T - with an automatic (electronic) shutter (made by Copal) and the possibility to change film format (full frame and half frame format). In 2003 Konica had to merge with Minolta. In 2007 Konica-Minolta left the camera market. The Konica Hexar RF camera is still a very much wanted high end camera.
Ernst Leitz (1843-1920) working in a small optical shop of C. Kellner in Wetzlar, Germany, took over that company in 1869 and named it Ernst Leitz GmbH (Gesellschaft mit beschränkter Haftung = company with limited liability).
No need to explain the reputation of this lens and camera manufacturer. Its rangefinder cameras are the best cameras ever made as well as the lenses. Leitz signed a cooperation agreement with Minolta in the 1970's, of which some results are the very disappointing Leica SLR cameras. Unfortunately the Leica rangefinder cameras - for film or digital - have been flogged to death.
Mamiya Koki Seisakusho (Mamiya Optical Works) was founded in May 1940 by the inventor Seiichi Mamiya (1899-1989) and banker Tsunejiro Sugawara (??-1988).
The company made high end twin lens reflex (TLR) and single lens reflex film cameras for medium-format, and compact and single lens reflex cameras for 35 mm film format. It produced its own lenses, named Sekor after its Setagaya Koki factory. It is still active in digital photography as partner of Phase One and Leaf digital backs for medium and large format cameras.
Mamiya produced some amateur cameras for Nikon Corporation as well as some lenses. See here for more info.
Nichi-Doku Shashinki Shokai (Japan-Germany Camera Company) founded in 1928 by Kazuo Tashima (1900-1985)
Manufacturer of excellent cameras and lenses but missed the professional camera market rather early. Made a deal with Leica to produce the Leicaflex cameras. Had to merge in 2003 with fellow camera manufacturer Konica in order to survive. Has also an interesting office equipment branch. In 2007 it left the camera market.
Founded in 1919 in Japan by Takeshi Yamashita and Shintaro Terada as Takachiho Seisakusho but renamed Olympus in February 1921.
Famous for its excellent reflex cameras (OM-series and PEN-series) and innovative (Zuiko) lenses Olympus is facing hard times. Its office & laboratory equipment division may be of help. The re-born Olympus PEN digital system camera has become an interesting development. In June 2020 Olympus announced to leave the camera market by signing an agreement with Japan Industrial Partners. ("a partner for revitalization of industries").
Asahi Kogaku (Asahi Optical Co.) Tokyo, founded in 1919
Pentax made photography accessible to the general public by introducing the compact SLR Pentax Spotmatic, made excellent cameras for various film formats and is trying hard to keep pace at the digital camera market.
Tokyo Tsushin Kogyo K.K. (Tokyo Telecommunication Engineering Corporation) was founded in 1946 by Masara Ibuka (who started a radio repair shop in 1945) and Akio Morita.
is called Sony Corporation since 1958.
Sony’s first products were transistor radios, later followed by
more audio and video equipment, for amateur and for professionals. In
1989 Sony acquired Columbia Pictures and became an important player
in Hollywood. One year before it introduced the world’s first
digital still camera: the Mavica. In 1994 Sony’s PlayStation was
born, in 1995 the digital video camcorder “Handycam”, in
1996 Sony Cybershot digital camera and the VAIO laptop. In 2001 Sony
Ericsson was created, one year later AIWA was acquired. It is impossible
to list all companies Sony presently has. In 2006 Sony bought the camera
division of Konica Minolta and stepped into the consumer market with
a line of digital rangefinder and reflex cameras.
Carl Zeiss Jena (Germany) founded in 1846 by Carl Zeiss (1816-1888)
Again a German manufacturer with an indestructible reputation when it comes to cameras and - especially - lenses. Carl Zeiss was and still is a leading lens manufacturer. Many of its engineers (Abbe, Rudolph, Schott and others) invented optical formulas - and lens coating techniques - that are still in use by many lens makers. Zeiss-Ikon is a merger of various German camera and lens makers. Hundreds of versions of cameras in various film formats were marketed through the years. Unfortunately Zeiss-Ikon lost competition on the computer market during the early 1970's and had to cease production. The brand name (Zeiss-Ikon) is still marketed. Carl Zeiss has kept up its reputation as one of the best optical industries, after the reunification of Germany
Third brand lenses for Nikon cameras
(in random order)
Note: most lenses produced by lens makers listed below may function on any Nikon SLR camera, but full operation is not guaranteed! Especially AF-lenses may give software problems resulting in malfunctioning of camera-lens combinations. In Asia and in Russia camera and lens manufacturers are offering products that are using the Nikon F-mount. And since 2000 many lens makers are mushrooming in China, like Kerlee, Dulens, Mitakon, Meike, Yasuhara and more. Be careful in using this gear!
We all know the famous German optical industries, but in France there were innovative lens makers too. Like Claude Berthiot, Ed. Lutz, Marco Mendoza and of course Pierre Angenieux! Pierre Angenieux, a French scientist, who founded his lens making industry in 1935 in Saint-Etienne in France. Since 1993 the factory belongs to Thales Angenieux. The products of Angenieux are certainly the best of all lenses of all lens makers mentioned on this page. Angenieux received high respect from e.g. NASA and many movie makers in Hollywood. He even received two Oscars for his contribution to the international film industry. Angenieux introduced - as the world's first - the retro focus lens and was improving the first zoom lens for photographic and movie cameras. Many lens makers, mentioned above, are making use of the optical designs of Angenieux. A few lenses were/are available in Nikon F-mount.
In 1950 some former Nikon engineers founded a factory in Japan for OEM (original equipment manufacturer) lenses. The factory - now belonging to Kenko - mainly uses glass made by the world's largest producer of optical glass: Hoya. Tokina lenses are available in Nikon F-mount. Some Tokina lenses were produced on the basis of designs of the beforementioned Angenieux. Tokina became partner of Pentax recently. It also produces most lenses for the Sony Alpha digital cameras. Since 2011 it took over the French filter factory Cokin.
Founded in November 1950 as Taisei Kogaku Kiki Seisakusho by Arai Takeyuki in Urawa (Saitama City) in Japan. In 1957 this lens maker introduced the T-mount system, followed by the Adaptall-2 system in 1979. Tamron lenses are available for Nikon cameras via an Adaptall-2 adapter. In 1995-1998 Bronica merged into Tamron Co.
This well known and now the world's largest lens maker was founded in 1961 by Michihiro Yamaki in Tokyo, Japan. In 2008 it bought sensor designer Foveon. Sigma lenses are available in Nikon F-mount. Some lenses are sold under the name of Quantaray.
Brand name used since 1956 by American distributor Allied Impex Corp. A German sub-company (since 1993 Soligor GmbH) is still marketing camera accessories. Older Soligor lenses were available in M-42 screw mount, which would fit older Nikon SLR cameras via an adapter. Soligor lenses were sold as Vivitar, too
Two German immigrants, Max Ponder and John Best founded in 1938 in Hollywood (USA) Ponder & Best Inc. The company was renamed Vivitar Corp. in 1979. Its lenses - marketed as Vivitar - are produced by other (mainly Asian) lens makers. Vivitar lenses may fit Nikon cameras via adapters.
Cosina Company Ltd. of Nagano, Japan was founded in 1959 by B. Kobayashi as Nikoh. In 1973 the company's name was changed into Cosina (from Koshi - area in Nagano and Na from Nakano). Besides under its own name Cosina produced and still produces many camera bodies and lenses for fellow camera manufacturers like Nikon, Olympus, Contax and many others. Cosina leases the brand name Voigtländer from the German Ringfoto since 1999. In 2005 Cosina started a partnership with Zeiss. Since a few years several high-end manual focus (Carl Zeiss) lenses are available in Nikon F-mount and (as Voigtländer) in Nikon S-mount.
Samyang Optics Co., founded in 1972 in Korea, is a relatively new player on the international lens market. It produces various optics for photography, movie and CCTV cameras and for independent lens makers, like Vivitar and others. Some wide-angle and telelenses are fitted with a Nikon F-mount. Samyang lenses were sold as Rokinon, too.
Anhui ChangGeng Optical Technology Company Limited (Venus Optics) is a new Chinese camera lens manufacturer based in Hefei, Anhui. They manufacture and distribute lenses in F-mount under the brand name of ‘Laowa’ (According to Google HK: Old frog) .
Another young Chinese lens producer is Yongnuo Photographic Equipment Co., Ltd, based in Shenzhen. Some prime lenses were introduced recently.
This lens brand name belongs to TH Swiss AG, based in Baar, Switzerland. It produces prime lenses with F-mount in South-Korea.
An old name (Meyer-Optik) in our photography world re-surfaced in 2014 by Globell Deutschland in Germany. Meyer-Optik was founded in 1896 by Hugo Meyer and Heinrich Schätze and produced thousands of various lenses for many camera manufacturers. Based in the German Democratic Republic (DDR) it had to close down in 1971.