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I've noticed a naming convention which seems to come up on a number of different makes of camera and lens, and I'm curious whether this is related to the Japanese language, or just something which has crept in to the industry as a tradition.

My main camera is a Fujica ST705, notably made by Fuji, and the lens is branded Fujinon.

Similarly, Zenza lenses are sometimes branded Zenzanon, and I've seen the same convention with Yashica and Yashinon lenses.

Although it's far from ubiquitous, it seems that the company name uses the 'ca' suffix for cameras, and the 'non' suffix for lenses.

I'm curious whether this is the result of a quirk of the Japanese language translated into English, or whether it's just a pseudo tradition/convention which stuck.

Any insight would be appreciated, as this has puzzled me for a while now.

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Lens Suffixes

Here are a few more Japanese lens names:

  • Konica called their lenses "Hexanon"
  • Konica also had a cheaper line of "Hexar" lenses
  • Nikon used to call their lenses "Nikkor"
  • Some Minolta lenses were called "Rokkor"
  • Minolta also had some named "Celtic"
  • Asahi (Pentax) lenses were called "Takumar"
  • Fuji (as noted in question) uses "Fujinon"
  • Olympus calls theirs "Zuiko"
  • Canon just calls theirs "Canon"

Of those:

  • Takumar is apparently named after Takuma Kajiwara, who was the brother of the founder of Asahi, the (original) parent of Pentax.
  • Zuiko apparently comes from a couple of the characters in the name "Mizuho Optical Research Laboratory".
  • Rokkor comes from the name of a mountain near Osaka, Japan.

So that mostly just widens the question a little bit--where did "ar", "or" and "on" suffixes come from?

I'd guess the answer is that they were mostly inspired by the names of some of the German lenses that dominated when Japan was entering the camera/lens market.

  • Goerz Dagor
  • Leica Summicron
  • Leica Summitar
  • Leica Elmar
  • Zeiss Biogon
  • Zeiss Biotar
  • Zeiss Distagon
  • Zeiss Tessar
  • Voigtlander Skopar
  • Voigtlander Skopagon
  • Schneider Xenar
  • Schneider Xenon
  • Rodenstock Imagon
  • Rodenstock Heligon

There are at least a few dozen more that I haven't listed here, but you get the general idea--when the Japanese got involved these suffixes were all in fairly wide use.

The earliest German lens using the "ar" suffix seems to be the Ziess Unar, from the 1890s (but possibly the Goerz Frontar, which is from around the same time frame). I haven't been able to find much about where the "ar" suffix came from in either of those cases. Goerz had quite a variety of names, and I think that element of that name just happened to get copied.

In the Zeiss line, shortly after the Unar came the Protar. Those were then "bred together"1 to produce the Tessar. By then, it was starting to form a pattern for Zeiss lenses.

From there, the spread of names is often fairly easy to trace--for example, the Leica Elmar and Schneider Xenar are basically Tessar clones.

The "on" suffix seems to go back to the Goerz Hypergon. Like the Frontar, I haven't been able to find a real source for that name.

The "or" suffix probably comes from the Goerz Dagor. "Dagor" is apparently an initialism for "Double Anastigmatic Goerz Optical Refractor". The Dagor design was extremely successful, and has formed the basis of an immense number of lens designs since.

Camera Suffix

I'd guess the "ca" for cameras probably comes chiefly from Leica (which, if I recall correctly, is more or less a contraction of "Leitz Camera".

There were a lot of other cameras around at the time, of course, but Leica was clearly the one to beat (or at least imitate) at the time. For that matter, there's a fair argument that it still is.

References

  1. Zeiss Article on the Tessar
  2. Zeiss Article on the Distagon, Biogon, Hologon
  3. Goerz History

  1. Almost literally--a Tessar is basically the front elements of an Unar with the rear elements of a Protar.
  • 1
    That is by far and away the most comprehensive answer i’ve ever received on SE, thank you! I did wonder if it was simply a convention which stuck, but that is much more detail than i was expecting. Spot on!!! – Alex Apr 4 '18 at 22:06
  • They are also specific names used for the lens formula equations. A book on lens design classifies lenses by their lens formula irrespective of their manufacturer. They are intellectual property and have patents where applicable and can be licensed. – Stan Apr 5 '18 at 20:57
  • @Stan: Some recent designs are undoubtedly patented. If there was ever a patent on the design of something like a Tessar or Summicron, it's long since expired. – Jerry Coffin Apr 6 '18 at 18:01
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There's nothing about the Japanese language that I can think of (disclaimer - I'm a native Japanese speaker, but not a linguist nor historian) that would lend itself to the 'non' suffix. It does not have any particular meaning in modern Japanese, aside from the psuedo-convention in camera equipment. I would offer a hypothesis that the trend began by other makers imitating "Canon" to help associate their own (new at the time) names with camera gear, but that's pure speculation on my part.

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I was going to say that I'd assumed the Japanese camera and lens names were often imitative of the German trade names. Now most lenses, sensors, and cameras are built in Japan, but the German manufacturers were the original market leaders and a lot of the Zeiss lens names ended in "-on" (model names, but the naming convention was used by Japanese companies for make names). Note that the German "design names" for lens models (e.g. Zeiss lenses: Biogon, Distagon, Hologon, etc) were not imitated by Japanese, who stuck with the simple focal length, f-number, (and possible special purpose, e.g. "Macro") as designators.

Personally, I think the way Zeiss names their different lens lines is genius marketing. Maintaining and extending those "model names" and lines does much to maintain intrigue in a way that saying 100 f/2.8 just can't.

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