In a society that honours youth and novelty, the history of organisations may sometimes be deemed unimportant or irrelevant. However, it is by understanding history that one gets to learn valuable lessons. In this article, we share with you some pivotal moments of Canon’s history that displays the company’s journey of growth which may help you gain a stronger sense of purpose for your own journey in photography.

It started as a research laboratory

The origin of Canon dates back to the founding of Precision Optical Industry, Co. Ltd in 1937 by Takeshi Mitarai, Goro Yoshida, Saburo Uchida and Takeo Maeda in Japan.

Takeshi Mitarai

Prior to that, it was known as the Precision Optical Instruments Laboratory. This was simply a small room set up in Tokyo for conducting research into high-quality cameras. It was only till 1947 that the company was renamed Canon Camera Co., Inc.

The first camera prototype was named after the Buddhist Goddess of Mercy


Image credit: Canon Camera Museum

Through hard work and an enterprising spirit, the first 35mm focal plane-shutter camera prototype known as the ‘Kwanon’ was produced in 1934.

Interestingly, the creators named it after the Buddhist Goddess of Mercy with hopes that the deity would bestow her benevolence as they pursued their dreams in producing the world’s finest camera. The top of the camera body even featured an engraved symbol depicting the thousand-armed Kwanon!

The Hansa Canon is the first Canon camera placed on the market

After much trial and error with the Kwanon prototype, Canon’s first commercial camera known as the Hansa Canon was launched in 1936. It is considered to be one of the most historically significant cameras since it was the first precision 35mm camera to be produced in Japan. In other words, the Hansa Canon kick-started the Japanese camera industry.


Hansa Canon

Image credit: Canon Camera Museum

The Canon IV Sb was the world’s first camera to feature X-sync for Speedlites

Released in 1952, the Canon IV Sb is considered to be a historic model in the imaging industry for good reason. After all, it was the world’s first 35mm that came with electronic flash synchronisation. Photographers could attach flash units to the side rail without the need for a cable. The camera also had the “X” on the slow speed dial to indicate that it was synced for electronic flash.


Image credit: Canon Camera Museum

The first camera targeted at beginners was immensely popular

The Canonet was introduced in 1959 and it was a rangefinder camera targeted at the average consumer. In fact, the camera was tagged with the slogan “anyone can buy it and anyone can take pictures with it.”


Image credit: Canon Camera Museum

The company wanted to branch out from their primary lineup of advanced cameras with an easy-to-use device. The first Canonet incorporated the company’s electronic eye metering system, which involved wrapping the exposure meter around the lens. This camera took the market by storm and even sold out an entire week’s worth of inventory in merely two hours.

The NP1100 paved way for Canon into the printing industry

Today, Canon is recognised as a company that operates in a diverse range of markets, including the printing industry. In 1970, the company feared that the demand for plain paper copiers targeted toward the office market would eventually level off.

Thus, the first plain paper copying machine known as the NP1100 was launched using the ‘new process’ technology. This product appealed to a diverse customer base that ranged from the professional working class to families.

The Canon EOS 650 was the start of autofocus cameras

The late 1980s was a period of significant change and the highlight of that change was the introduction of the autofocus technology. Although it may seem ordinary in today’s context, the adoption of autofocus cameras certainly didn’t happen overnight.

Canon created the EOS (Electro-Optical System) line of cameras to reach out to the group of serious photographers. In 1987, the Canon EOS 650 debuted as the first of Canon’s new camera range.

EOS 650

Image credit: Canon Camera Museum

This system is based around autofocus cameras using lenses with internal motors. The EOS camera body determines the proper focus and communicates the information to the lens. This was the beginning of Canon’s strive in helping users create stunning images with perfect focus.

Canon’s corporate philosophy has not changed since the late 80s

At the heart of Canon’s corporate philosophy since 1988 is the word ‘kyosei’. Kyosei is the Japanese word for “living and working together for the common good.” It emphasises the importance of caring for the society, being a part of the community, and running a business in a sustainable way.

The dedication to this philosophy can be seen through the extensive environmental, conservation and recycling initiatives undertaken by Canon through the years.

The Canon DCS 3 helped increase efficiency for the mass media

The Canon DCS 3  was released in 1995 and it opened a new chapter in the EOS story. Speed and efficiency was of utmost importance back then, especially for those working in the  growing mass media. The Canon DCS 3 had the dimension of digital capture, which allowed imaging specialists to produce transmission-ready images straight out of the camera. It also came with a 260 MB hard disk card that allowed large size frames to be stored. On top of that, its wide range of ISO also made it a suitable gear for shooting in low-light conditions.


Image credit: Canon Camera Museum

The Canon EOS D30 was Canon’s first homegrown DSLR

The Canon EOS D30 was released in the year 2000, but what is it about this camera that makes it so special? Not only was it Canon’s first homegrown digital SLR, but the Canon EOS D30 also came with remarkable features expected of a professional camera, such as the first ever multi-megapixel CMOS sensor.

Another thing that makes this camera unique is the fact that it helped to open up the prosumer digital SLR market. That is, people were able to afford the camera without breaking their wallets. With all that is said, it is clear why this camera played a significant role in Canon’s history.


Image credit: Canon Camera Museum

It is worth celebrating significant milestones of organisations, especially those that have been in operation for a significant length of time. Since the birth of the Kwanon camera prototype, Canon has continuously striven to improve camera and lens technologies. Till today, the company continues to contribute to the development of photographic and video imaging culture through innovative features designed to delight its wide range of users.

Looking to play a part in our history? Feel free to share your images with us at #CanonSG for a chance to be featured.