The Rangefinder Lenses
Often called the S Series Lenses
Canon began in the 1930’s as the world was ramping up for war and the chaos that brought about. And in the
beginning they did not make their
their own lenses. Lens making is a
separate art apart from the
manufacture of cameras. It requires a totally different skill set.
Initially Seiki Kogaku Kenkyusho (Precision
Optical Instuments Laboratory), which later was to
become the Canon Camera Company, contracted with
Nippon Kogaku Kogyo (Japan Optical Industries), later to
become the Nikon company, to supply lenses and rangefinder optics for
their first cameras
Nippon Kogaku was an experienced lens manufacturer and at
the time was not producing cameras. Their lenses were mounted in various ways
usually with a view to avoiding infringing existing Leitz patents. The war intervened in this period and Seiki Kogaku struggled to produce a few cameras. The company was meeting chaos in its supply chains, its distribution channels, and available labour. It is understandable that record keeping was not a top priority and collecting cameras of this early period is fraught with problems in that regard.
Seiki-Kogaku began lens manufacturing during the war but no camera lenses were released commercially until 1945. By 1947 Canon was making enough of its own lenses to phase out the Nippon-Kogaku lenses and the last batch of lenses received from Nippon-Kogaku were used in March of 1948 finishing some Canon S-II cameras.
Seiki-Kogaku changed its name to Canon Camera Co., Ltd. in September of 1947 and after this date all Canon lenses bore the new company name.
The M39 threaded lens mount is simple and effective. The thread is clearly visible on the back of this Serenar 50mm f/1.9 collapsible lens.
M39 (Leica) Lens Mount
The earliest Canon lenses were not compatible with Leica lenses for a couple of reasons. The first was the existence of Leitz patents. However, after the War Leitz patents were largely ignored by everyone and that included Canon.
The advantages of compatibility were obvious: it would suddenly create a large pool of existing high quality lenses that could be used on Canon cameras and it created a market for Canon lenses on Leitz cameras.
However, initially, Canon lenses were not compatible. But those cameras are the
oldest of the Canon rangefinders and the most very expensive now as they are highly sought after by collectors.
I have none of these early cameras or lenses and, sadly, they are out of my price range and likely to remain so. As a result it is very difficult to discuss them as I have never seen or handled examples of them. But I live in hope. As they say, a man’s reach should exceed his grasp or what’s a heaven for?
But enough philosophy! Back to our story. When Oskar Barnack developed the 35mm camera he was working as an engineer for Leitz in Germany. At that time Leitz was heavily invested in the manufacture of microscopes and related optical equipment and the common thread used in those devices was called the Whitworth thread, a British developed industry standard form of thread. This standard defined the shape of the threads as well as set standard pitches. When Leitz decided to make the Leica I camera they already had the necessary machinery for producing this thread standard, So the Leica Thread Mount (LTM) was fixed at a 39 mm thread diameter with 26 threads per inch. This works out to a thread pitch of approximately 0.977mm. Thread pitch is the distance between thread crests. This all seems very technical but bear with me as it is part of the story.
Oskar Barnack – 1879-1936
The Nippon Kogaku lens in mounted in the focusing unit which will move it to and from the film plane to achieve proper focus. (Photo from pacificrimcamera.com)
This Canon Hansa has its 50mm Nippon Kogaku lens removed from the focusing mount. You can see that it is a bayonet mount into the focusing unit. (Photo from canonrangefinder.org)
Originally the Nippon-Kogaku lenses fit into a focusing unit that then screwed into the camera body. This screw mount was called the “J” flange and it had a pitch of approximately 1.1 mm. Very soon after the war ended Canon lenses dispensed with the Nippon-Kogaku focusing unit and built the focusing threads into the lens which simply screwed into the J flange. However, this mount was not compatible with the Leica M39 mount. Canon then flirted with what they called their Semi-Universal Flange which would accept some, but not all, Leitz lenses. It was not until the Model IIIA in 1951 that Canon finally produced their Univesal thread mount which was essentially compatible with the Leica M39 mount.
This early history is complex and not completely known. However, in these early lenses you will find incompatibilities and not all lenses will fit all cameras. If you find a lens resists being screwed into a mount, do not force it! They may not be compatible and forcing them together may damage them.
Canon Rangefinder “S” Lenses
The Canon Museum lists the first lens in this list as the first lens manufactured by Canon. It may be the first lens sold commercially but apparently Canon did manufacture some lenses during the war. But even Canon does not want to try and sort out the lenses on Canon cameras prior to 1946. I don’t blame them!
When reading this list, bear in mind that Kitchingman in his excellent book, finds many variations and sub classifications amongst these lenses. However, trying to collect all of these variations would quickly become prohibitively expensive, at least for me. I would be thrilled to have just one of each of these. The ones I do have are shaded with blue. You can see I have a long way to go!
|Serenar 50mm f/3.5 I||Jan 1946||3||4||Thread mount – 24/in – 1.058 Pitch|
|Serenar 50mm f/2||Feb 1947||4||6|
|Serenar 85mm f/2 I||Jan 1948||4||6||48mm Filter|
|Serenar 100mm f/4 I||Jan 1948||3||3||34mm Filter|
|Serenar 135mm f/4 I||Mar 1948||3||4||40mm Filter|
|Serenar 135mm f/4 II||Jun 1948||3||4||40mm Filter|
|Serenar 50mm f/1.9||Jan 1949||4||6||40mm Filter – Collapsible|
|Serenar 35mm f/3.5||Mar 1950||3||4|
|Serenar 100mm f/4 II||Apr 1950||3||3||34mm Filter|
|Serenar 35mm f/3.2||Jun 1951||4||6||34mm Filter|
|Serenar 85mm f/1.9 I||Aug 1951||4||6||48mm Filter|
|Serenar 85mm f/2 II||Sep 1951||4||6||48mm Filter|
|Serenar 28mm f/3.5 I||Oct 1951||4||6||34mm Filter|
|Serenar 35mm f/2.8 I||Oct 1951||4||6||34mm Filter|
|Serenar 50mm f/1.8 I||Nov 1951||4||6||40mm Filter (Rigid – Canon Lens version)|
|Serenar 85mm f/1.5 I||Jun 1952||4||7||58mm (also as a “Canon Lens”)|
|Serenar 50mm f/3.5 II||Aug 1952||3||4||34mm Filter|
|Serenar 50mm f/1.5||Nov 1952||3||7||40mm Filter (Rigid – also as a “Canon Lens”)|
|Serenar 135mm f/3.5 I||Dec 1952||3||4||48mm Filter|
|Serenar 100mm f/3.5 I||Jan 1953||4||5||34mm Filter|
|Serenar 800mm F/8 I||Mar 1953||1||2||35.5mm Filter|
|Canon Lens 50mm f/2.8 I||Jan 1955||3||4||34mm Filter|
|Canon Lens 50mm f/1.8 II||Feb 1956||4||6||40mm Filter|
|Canon Lens 50mm f/1.2||Sep 1956||5||7||55mm Filter|
|Canon Lens 400mm f/4.5 I||Sep 1956||4||5||36.5mm Filter|
|Canon Lens 25mm f/3.5||Dec 1956||3||5||40mm Filter|
|Canon Lens 28mm f/3.5 II||Jan 1957||4||6||40mm Filter|
|Canon Lens 35mm f/2.8 II||Jan 1957||4||6||40mm Filter|
|Canon Lens 200mm f/3.5||Mar 1957||5||7||36.5mm Filter|
|Canon Lens 35mm f/1.8||May 1957||4||7||40mm Filter|
|Canon Lens 28mm f/2.8||Jun 1957||4||6||40mm Filter|
|Canon Lens 50mm f/1.4 I||Nov 1957||4||6||48mm Filter|
|Canon Lens 50mm f/2.8 II||Nov 1957||3||4||40mm Filter|
|Canon Lens 100mm f/3.5 II||Apr 1958||4||5||34mm Filter|
|Canon Lens 135mm f/3.5 II||Apr 1958||3||4||48mm Filter|
|Canon Lens M 135mm f/2.5||Jul 1958||4||6||58mm Filter (for Mirror Box 2)|
|Canon Lens M 200mm f/3.5||Jul 1958||5||7||58mm Filter (for Mirror Box 2)|
|Canon Lens 35mm f/1.5||Aug 1958||4||8||48mm Filter|
|Canon Lens 85mm f/1.9 II||Aug 1958||4||6||48mm Filter|
|Canon Lens 600mm f/5.6 I||Sep 1958||1||2||36.5mm Filter|
|Canon Lens 50mm f/1.8 III||Dec 1958||4||6||40mm|
|Canon Lens 100mm f/2||Jan 1959||4||6||58mm Filter|
|Canon Lens 50mm f/2.8 III||Feb 1959||3||4||40mm Filter|
|Canon Lens 50mm f/1.4 II||Aug 1959||4||6||48mm Filter|
|Canon Lens 300mm f/4||Jan 1960||4||5||48mm Filter|
|Canon Lens 400mm f/4.5 II||Jan 1960||4||5||48mm Filter|
|Canon Lens 600mm f/5.6 II||Jan 1960||1||2||48mm Filter|
|Canon Lens 800mm f/8 II||Jan 1960||1||2||48mm Filter|
|Canon Lens 1000mm f/11 I||Jan 1960||1||2||36.5mm Filter|
|Canon Lens 1000mm f/11 II||Jan 1960||1||2||48mm Filter|
|Canon Lens 85mm f/1.5 II||Mar 1960||4||7||58mm Filter|
|Canon Lens 100mm f/3.5 III||Mar 1960||4||5||40mm Filter|
|Canon Lens 50mm f/2.2||Jan 1961||4||5|
|Canon Lens 135mm f/3.5 III||Jan 1961||3||4||48mm Filter|
|Canon Lens 85mm f/1.8||Mar 1961||4||5||58mm Filter|
|Canon Lens 50mm f/0.95 (Dream Lens)||Aug 1961||5||7||72mm Filter|
|Canon Lens 35mm f/2 I||Apr 1962||4||7||40mm Filter|
|Canon Lens 35mm f/2 II||Jul 1963||4||7||40mm Filter|
|Canon Lens 19mm f/3.5||Aug 1964||7||9||55mm Filter|
Lenses in the Collection
I don’t have many of these S Series lenses as they are the scarcest and most expensive of the Canon collector lenses. However, I have a few. And with the blessing of the Canon R camera I am able to try them out. Unfortunately many, if not most, of these lenses have become fogged over the years. I have tried to remove this residue of age with things like ammonia, alcohol, and hydrogen peroxide usually to no avail. With all of them the construction is excellent and of the best materials.They are altogether marvelous.