Camera - - CLASSICS -

Be­cause the Chi­non name more or less dis­ap­peared from the front of cam­eras in the early 1990s, there’s a chance you’ve never heard of it, but the brand was a ma­jor player dur­ing the glory dates of 35mm film, both in SLRs and com­pacts.

Es­tab­lished in 1948 in Tokyo by a young en­tre­pre­neur called Hiroshi Chino (then aged 28), the com­pany was first named San­shin Seisakusho and made the main phys­i­cal com­po­nents for cam­era lenses, such as bar­rel tubes and in­ter­nal sleeves. Th­ese parts were supplied to Canon and a num­ber of other lead­ing Ja­panese cam­era man­u­fac­tur­ers. The com­pany then branched into mak­ing the lenses for 8mm movie cam­eras and, in 1959, pro­duced the world’s first 8mm zoom lens. In 1962 the man­u­fac­ture of 8mm movie cam­eras be­gan, and the com­pany changed its name to San­shin Op­tics In­dus­trial Co. Ltd. The man­u­fac­ture of 35mm cam­eras be­gan in 1971, but mostly for other cus­tomers un­der OEM agree­ments and Chi­non-badged mod­els didn’t ap­pear un­til 1973, when the com­pany name was changed to Chi­non In­dus­tries, Inc. Dur­ing the early 1970s, movie cam­eras rep­re­sented the big­gest part of Chi­non’s busi­ness and it was the first Ja­panese man­u­fac­turer to de­velop 8mm movie cam­eras which recorded both pic­tures and sound. In 1976 the com­pany’s an­nual output of 8mm movie cam­eras reached 800,000 units, which rep­re­sented 35 per­cent of the global mar­ket.

In the 35mm cam­era busi­ness, Chi­non was in­volved in the all the ma­jor tech­no­log­i­cal de­vel­op­ments of the 1970s and 1980s. In 1978 it was one of the first Ja­panese man­u­fac­tur­ers to in­tro­duce an aut­o­fo­cus 35mm com­pact cam­era (which, like a num­ber of mod­els at the time, used Honey­well’s pas­sive Visitronic mod­ule) and, in 1981, be­came the first Ja­panese com­pany to de­velop an ac­tive near-in­frared aut­o­fo­cus­ing sys­tem. This was used in both its 35mm com­pact cam­eras and in­ter­change­able lenses for its 35mm SLRs, a 50mm f1.7 and a 35-70mm f3.3-4.5 zoom. Both mod­els in­cor­po­rated the ‘bug-eye’ IR AF mod­ule, drive mo­tor and power sup­ply (three AAA-size bat­ter­ies) and so were bulky af­fairs, but in the early 1980s they rep­re­sented the first ten­ta­tive steps to­wards an aut­o­fo­cus 35mm SLR. De­signed to com­ple­ment the AF lenses, the CE-5 35mm SLR body had a green LED in-fo­cus in­di­ca­tor in its viewfinder, but Chi­non al­ready had a num­ber of re­flex cam­era de­signs un­der its belt by then.

The com­pany’s first 35mm SLR was called the Chi­non­flex TTL and, in­tro­duced in 1966, it used the M42 screwthread lens mount which, as the name sug­gests, built-in me­ter­ing (al­beit for stopped­down read­ings). The first few Chi­non 35mm SLRs were largely un­re­mark­able, but the CE Me­motron, which was in­tro­duced in 1974, was a much more pro­gres­sive de­sign, es­pe­cially for a cam­era which had the M42 screw mount. Us­ing an ar­range­ment which in­tro­duced the idea of me­ter­ing by press­ing the shut­ter re­lease to a half-way po­si­tion, Chi­non has able to pro­vide not just open aper­ture me­ter­ing, but also aper­ture-pri­or­ity auto ex­po­sure con­trol. Fur­ther­more, if the shut­ter re­lease was held at this po­si­tion, the me­ter read­ing was held as well… the first it­er­a­tion of the AE lock which Chi­non rather grandly called “Me­motron”. Un­like other sys­tems (most no­tably

from Pen­tax and Yashica), Chi­non’s worked with any M42 screwthread lens and the com­pany pro­moted its Me­motron mod­els (there was sub­se­quently a CE II and CE-3) as “An au­to­matic elec­tronic cam­era to fit the lenses you al­ready own”. Con­se­quently, Chi­non kept the M42 mount alive un­til the very end of the 1970s when, with the CE-4, it fi­nally switched to the Pen­tax K bay­o­net fit­ting. The CP-5 Twin Pro­gram, in­tro­duced in 1983, was the world’s first 35mm SLR with pro­gram shift via ad­just­ment of ei­ther the aper­ture or shut­ter speed, and it evolved into the CP-5s (with spot me­ter­ing added) and CP-6 (with au­to­matic film speed setting via DX de­cod­ing. The CP-7m (1986) in­cor­po­rated a built-in au­towinder ca­pa­ble of 2.5 fps and, in 1988, Chi­non in­tro­duced its first and only aut­o­fo­cus 35mm SLR, the CP-9AF. By now, though, the com­pany was start­ing to con­cen­trate mainly on OEM work, pri­mar­ily for Ko­dak which, in 1997, be­came a ma­jor­ity share­holder. With its Genesis se­ries cam­eras (198892), Chi­non was an en­thu­si­as­tic sup­porter of the ‘bridge’ con­cept – es­sen­tially well­specced 35mm SLRs with fixed zoom lenses – but the cat­e­gory ended up be­ing com­par­a­tively short-lived. From 1993 on­ward, Chi­non’s main ac­tiv­ity was man­u­fac­tur­ing dig­i­tal com­pact cam­eras for Ko­dak, in­clud­ing the game-chang­ing DC20 (1996) which was also mar­keted as the Chi­non Pocket Dig­i­tal ES-1000.

Fol­low­ing a com­plete take-over by Ko­dak Ja­pan in 2004, Chi­non ceased to ex­ist as a sep­a­rate en­tity, but the name has since been re­vived by de­scen­dants of Hiroshi Chino and the new Chi­non has re­turned to its roots, man­u­fac­tur­ing retro-style Full HD dig­i­tal video cam­eras which look like the com­pany’s orig­i­nal Su­per 8 film mod­els, and also re­vive the “Bel­lami” name.

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