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I'm browsing what the world has to offer me when I want to buy old (circa ’70s or ’80s) camera, e.g., a Canon EX Auto QL. And I've noticed that most of them have camera lenses made in Japan. Was Japan the only country that was making camera lenses?

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Japan was not the only country making cameras and lenses in the 1970's and 1980's but they had a huge market share. (they still do)

Before World War II most good cameras were made in Germany. Japanese companies started making copies of German cameras in the late 1930's and by the time the war ended, these Japanese cameras were very good quality. In the 1950's Japanese cameras became popular all around the world.

Here is a short list of camera companies and the country of origin:

Japan: Canon, Nikon, Pentax(Asahi), Ricoh, Olympus,

Germany: Leica, Rollei, Zeiss, Exakta, Minox, Pentacon, Praktica

Russia: Zenit, Lomo

Ukraine: Kiev

USA: Kodak, Polaroid

Sweden: Hasselblad

(apologies for any brands I left out)

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    One of the reasons why Japanese camera manufacturers took so much market share away from the German manufacturers was the lower cost of production in Japan vs Germany in the mid 20th century. It's not so cheap anymore to manufacture goods in Japan, so a lot of camera bodies and lenses are now manufactured in cheaper locations like China, Thailand, Malaysia, etc – osullic Jan 27 '16 at 13:27
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    It has to be said that some of the so called copies of German cameras and lenses were in fact the result of active industrial collaboration between Japan and Germany, rather than knock-offs as such. – HamishKL Jan 27 '16 at 22:50
  • I don't think anything from Praktica was ever produced in Japan. It's East German (DDR). – Henk Holterman Jan 29 '16 at 21:10
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As to why Japan was/is so successful a lens-making nation, the summary in this excellent thesis answers your question pretty well:

http://www.academia.edu/891283/Rivalry_and_Cooperation_How_the_Japanese_Photography_Industry_Went_Global

Edit: in a nutshell, the thesis linked here identifies that Japan benefitted from considerable market protection put in place by the United States after the end of WWII, partly to keep Japan's cash flow going to service war debt. This meant Japan had a captive market of sorts (albeit willing) for several decades, long enough for their already established lens-making industry to really take off and become the global leader in most respects.

Additionally, Germany and Japan had enjoyed a rather unique productive trade and development relationship since about the turn of the century, and this definitely had an impact on Japan's lens design progress prior to the second world war. German firms actually had seconded some of their top engineers to work in Japan for years at a time in order to further the capabilities of both nations' industries. I don't have any references on hand for the above paragraph but Google will surely expand on this and I can do some digging if anyone is interested.

  • Could you at least provide a cursory summary of the position taken by the article? In general "link only" answers are frowned upon here as the links often become obsolete thus rendering the answer useless. – Michael C Jan 27 '16 at 23:32
  • @Michael Clark - sorry, does my edit suffice? – HamishKL Jan 28 '16 at 11:18
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And to add "close East" remark. Soviet Union also make a lot of cameras and lens.

Cameras Source 1 (in Russian)

Cameras Source 2 (in Russian)

Cameras Source 3 (in Russian)

Lens Source 1

Lens Source 2

P.S. There is a lot of information in Russian language about old (and new) cameras and lenses, manufactured in ex Soviet Union and I just do not have enough time to translate it (moreover my English is broken :) ). If someone have interest of particular camera or lens will be glad to add translation for this item

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    Sorry, I forgot to mention Russia, but I have now edited my answer to include Russia. – Mike Sowsun Jan 27 '16 at 16:43
  • @MikeSowsun, just a small remark, some of the lens are manufactured in Ukraine, not only Russia. This is the reason I mention Soviet Union :) – Romeo Ninov Jan 28 '16 at 9:01
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    To quote Michael Clark, could you at least provide a cursory summary of the position taken by the article? In general "link only" answers are frowned upon here as the links often become obsolete thus rendering the answer useless. Also, I'm guessing, not many people here speak russian. – Rook Jan 28 '16 at 16:44
  • Ironically, russian photo equipment has a lot of wabi sabi philosophy to it, while japanese gear tends to be rather polished.... – rackandboneman Nov 10 '18 at 17:36

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