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Canon’s First Camera Just Turned 80; Here are 5 Things You Didn’t Know About the ‘Kwanon’



The breakneck pace of photo technology advancement makes it easy to forget how young our industry really is, but we had a reminder yesterday when, not long after ‘modern photography’ itself turned 175 years old, the very first Canon camera celebrated its 80th birthday.

It was called the Kwanon, and it’s getting some well-deserved attention from Canon, who was kind enough to share some killer photographic trivia about this shooter in a press release yesterday.


You can read the full release here, but below we’ve compiled the five most interesting (read: wow your photo nerd friends by sharing these facts at parties) tidbits:

  1. Produced in 1934 (in case math isn’t your strong suit) the Kwanon prototype was Japan’s first 35mm focal-plane-shutter camera.
  2. The camera was named after Kwannon, the Buddhist goddess of mercy. The engineers hoped this would entice the god to, “share her benevolence as they pursued their dream to produce the world’s finest camera.”
  3. Following this trend, the camera’s lens was named Kasyapa, after Mahakasyapa, a disciple of Buddha.
  4. This symbol, an image of the thousand-armed deity Kwannon, was originally engraved on the top plate
  5. kwanon4

  6. Canon’s first commercial camera, the Hansa Canon, was launched two years later in 1936 after much trial and error with the Kwanon. This camera would not have been possible without the cooperation of Nippon Kogaku K.K., present day Nikon Corporation. (the latter fact was conveniently sequestered in a footnote at the bottom of the release…)

“Over the 80 years since the birth of the Kwanon camera prototype, Canon has continuously innovated to fulfill the Company’s never-ending ambition to create the world’s finest cameras,” says Canon Managing Director and Chief Executive Masaya Maeda. “”Leveraging the technologies and know-how it has acquired over its history, Canon will continue contributing to the development of the photographic and video imaging culture through its technologies and products designed to satisfy the expectations of our customers.”

The Hansa Canon, produced in cooperation with Nippon Kogaku K.K. (present day Nikon) was released two years after the Kwanon prototype.
The Hansa Canon, produced in cooperation with Nippon Kogaku K.K. (present day Nikon), was released two years after the Kwanon prototype.

It seems if Canon can’t get you with its products, or its lower L lens prices, it’ll do its best to hit you in the nostalgia bone. We can neither confirm nor deny that this approach has worked on us…

To find out more and dive further into the history of Canon cameras, check out this Canon ‘History in Photos’ Fact Sheet released by Canon Europe.