Canon's first ever camera Kwanon was named after a Buddhist goddess, did the goodwill of gods help the company to its success?

80 years of Canon � from Buddha to international domination

Canon's first ever camera was built 80 years ago and named after a Buddhist deity to win the gods' support in a quest for the world's finest cameras. 

The 35mm focal-plane shutter prototype, produced in 1934, was the first bid of engineers in Tokyo-based Precision Optical Industry to create a product competitive with that time dominating European manufacturers. 

Essentially a copy of a Leica design, the camera got its name after Kwannon, the Buddhist goddess of mercy, as, the story says, the engineers hoped the goodwill of the deity would help them in their ambition to produce the world’s finest camera.

The engineers took precautions to have the Buddhist gods on their side and even named the camera’s lens after Buddha’s disciple Mahakasyapa. Additionally, the top portion of the camera body featured an engraving depicting the thousand-armed Kwannon.

It took further two years for the engineers to fine tune the Kwanon prototype into a commercially viable product – the Hansa Canon, which was launched in 1936.

In 1947, the company changed its named to Canon Cameras, later Canon, in honour of its first product. What followed were decades of continuous innovations, leading to the company establishing itself as a major player in the global market of photographic and cinematographic equipment, with its products winning over consumers and professionals alike.

"Over the 80 years since the birth of the Kwanon camera prototype, Canon has continuously innovated to fulfil the Company's never-ending ambition to create the world's finest cameras,” said Masaya Maeda, Managing Director and Chief Executive, of the Image Communication Products Operations at Canon.

Among the breakthrough products that helped Canon become a world leader in the imaging market was the field zoom lens for television broadcasting, introduced in 1958 or the world’s first movie camera with a zoom lens, the Reflex Zoom 8, unveiled one year later.

In 1959, Canon introduced its first single-lens reflex (SLR) camera, the Canonflex, followed in 1961 by the Canonet, an immensely popular rangefinder camera that took the market by storm, selling out an entire  week's worth  of inventory in a mere two hours.

Foreseeing the arrival of the digital era, Canon introduced the world’s first camera equipped with a built-in microcomputer, the AE-1, in 1976.

In 1987, following continued technological innovation, Canon launched EOS, the world's first AF (autofocus) SLR camera to employ a fully electronic mount system.

The 1990s marked a gradual shift away from film towards digital photography. Canon joined the digital photography revolution in 1995, introducing its first digital EOS camera, the first in the line of continuous technological improvements.

The most recent of Canon's contributions to the evolution of imaging technology is its Cinema EOS System, released in 2012, a line-up of professional digital cinematography cameras and lenses - a culmination of optical technology innovations achieved since the company's founding. 

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