Japanese 35mm focal plane VF and RF (edit)
Leica screw mount Alta | Bessa L/T/R | Canon II/III/IV | Canon VT | Canon VIT | Canon P | Canon 7 | Canon 7s | ChiyocaChiyotax | Honor S1 | Honor SL | Ichicon-35 | Jeicy | Konica FR | Leotax | Leotax G | Melcon | Melcon II | Minolta 35 | Muley | Nicca | Nicca III-L | Nippon | Tanack 35/IIIS/IV-S | Tanack SD | Tanack VP | Teica | Yasuhara T981
Leica M mount Bessa R2/R3/R4 | Konica Hexar RF | Minolta CLE | Rollei 35 RF
Nikon mount Bessa R2S | Nikon rangefinder models
Contax G mount Contax G1 | Contax G2
Other Bessa R2C | Kwanon | Tanack V3
Japanese TLR and pseudo TLR ->
Japanese 6×6, 4.5×6, 3×4 and 4×4 ->

In November 1933 Yoshida Gorō (吉田五郎) and Uchida Saburō (内田三郎)[1] started Seiki Kōgaku Kenkyūjo (精機光学研究所, meaning "Precision Optics Laboratory"), the company we now know as Canon. They set out to produce the first 35mm camera made in Japan.[2]

The early models were marked Kwanon, already an archaic way of romanizing 観音 (which then and now would conventionally be romanized as Kannon), the Japanese name for the Chinese Guānyīn, the bodhisattva of mercy (probably derived from Sanskrit Avalokiteśvara).

Kwanon models[]

The Kwanon models were never marked with any of the letters "A" to "X", they're used here to distinguish between the four variations observed in advertisements and the specimen in Canon's camera museum. The "Kwanon" cameras are virtually unknown other than via magazine advertisements. They may never have gone beyond prototypes and were never marketed by Seiki Kōgaku. Canon's website even states the earlier models were only wooden models or illustrations.[3] One example survives in Canon's camera collection in Tokyo.

Kwanon Model A[]

The Kwanon A has a Leica-style wind knob/framecounter, but it is placed on the front of the camera. It had a 1/20 to 1/500s shutter[4], which eliminated the need to put a slow speed knob in this place. An ad on Canon's history hall shows an illustration of this early model. Film was lead from magazine to magazine so there was no need for a rewind knob. Rangefinder and viewfinder windows were placed on the top plate like in the Leica II. The top plate on the Kwanon is divided by two cylinders; one for the viewfinder and one for the rangefinder window. This first model was not marked on the top plate. It has been suggested[5] that this was a non-functioning prototype.

Kwanon Model B[]

A month after having announced the Kwanon A, Seiki Kogaku Kenkujo advertised another Kwanon model, the B. It was similar to the previous one and was probably never produced, but this version was to have a flattened top plate which was engraved with the word Kwanon and a curled underlining.[6]

Kwanon Model C[]

Two months later, in september 1934, a third variation was added, this time replacing the in-body viewfinder by a foldable albada finder. This type of finder was later found on the Canon Hansa line of cameras. The model C was the last design to have a winding knob on the front of the camera. At a 2006 auction, presumably a Kwanon model C was sold (see links).

Kwanon Model D[]

The model D, finally, moved the winding knob to the top of the body, leaving a frame counter only disc on the front, like on the Canon Hansa's. There is discussion if there even was a separate model D; illustrations of the Model C are so vague that C and D may have been the same camera.[7]

Kwanon Model X[]

The Kwanon-X is the earliest surviving Canon camera and may have been produced as early as 1933. This Leica II-inspired camera was not very well made and was sold in 1937. Canon bought it back from a consumer on an Osaka Trade show in the late 1950s.[8] This may be the last surviving example of a series of cameras made between 1937 and 1940 or it may be a prototype only. It has a KasyaPa 5cm lens with a maximum aperture of f/3.5. In compasison to the Model D, the front framecounter has disappeared and it has flat top plate with an integrated Leica II-style viewfinder. McKeown mentions a few reproductions of this camera were made for advertising use.


  1. As usual within Camerapedia, these Japanese names are presented in Japanese order, surname first. Popular sources in English may invert them.
  2. Dechert, Canon Rangefinder Cameras, p.9.
  3. Canon's history hall:
  4. Dechert, Canon Rangefinder Cameras, p.18.
  5. Dechert, Canon Rangefinder Cameras, p.18.
  6. Dechert, Canon Rangefinder Cameras, p.22.
  7. Dechert, Canon Rangefinder Cameras, p.18.
  8. Dechert, Canon Rangefinder Cameras, p.9.