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 Early History of Pentax


In the year nineteen hundred and nineteen the Asahi Optical Company Limited was formed and commenced manufacturing spectacle lenses. The name “Asahi” which, incidentally, means “Rising Sun” was selected as a characteristic symbol of hope and promise - a promise that over the years has been fully achieved.

In the year 1923 Asahi added to their production programme, lenses for cine-projectors, and certain other optical components, which continued up to 1931 when the first camera lenses were manufactured.

1948 saw the first prism binocular production, which was followed later by equally high grade telescopes, soon to become deservedly world renowned.

The year 1951 was later to prove of paramount importance in that Asahi manufactured the Asahiflex I, the first 35 mm SLR camera to be made in Japan. Further intensive development continued, but it was not until 1954 that what may be regarded as a somewhat revolutionary development in SLR camera design was announced - the instant return mirror, allowing uninterrupted screen viewing.

In 1955 the Asahiflex II a was introduced, differing only from the II b in that it had positioned on the front of the camera a separate dial for the slow shutter speeds. Two years later the name Pentax appeared when the first Asahi Pentax camera was introduced, and it was at this stage that the new eye-level Pentaprism finder was incorporated. Indeed, this model of the new Asahi Pentax set the basic design and shape of the latest models that we know today.

1960 will undoubtedly be remembered as a year of very real significance when Asahi perfected a through-the-lens metering system, which was eventually incorporated in the 1964 model and named the Asahi Pentax Spotmatic. Later developments include a motor drive unit and many accessories, both simple and complex. It may be of interest to many and perhaps a surprise to some, to learn of the true derivation of the Asahi Pentax name 'Spotmatic'. When the prototype Spotmatic camera was introduced for the first time at Photokina in Cologne way back in 1960 the metering device was, quite literally, designed for use as a Spot Meter measuring a restricted area of the subject only. However, after intensive discussions and considerable testing in laboratory and field, the Asahi technicians finally decided - albeit with some regret - that the employment of the 'Spot' system would be too complex for the average user, from the actual operating point of view, and, to a lesser degree, the time factor involved.

Consequently, the averaging method employed in the Spotmatic, as it is known today, was finally decided upon. Generally speaking, it was felt that this would help the user to achieve more consistent overall results.

Nevertheless, that very first appearance of the Asahi Pentax Spotmatic prototype, having caused such considerable and widespread interest (indeed, it was one of the major topics of conversation at the Fair) finally influenced Asahi to retain a name which was already becoming symbolic of a new evolutionary concept of the 35 mm SLR camera with one of the world's first through-the-lens metering systems. (Another world's first - the now historic instant-return mirror, had already been evolved in the year 1954).

As enthusiasts know, the Spot metering system is now available in the shape of a highly sensitive and accurate accessory (Asahi Pentax Spot-meter Mk. III). So, through the undoubted wisdom and now, correctly adjudged, foresight of the manufacturers, virtually the best of both worlds is available.

The underlying policy of the Asahi Optical Company is essentially one of evolution. This is not in any way to be confused with the present day tendency of some manufacturers to produce a new model once or twice a year purely for sales and publicity purposes, be it cars, refrigerators, or cameras.

Their sincere belief is that if through experience gained over the years even one single operation can be made easier, one component more efficient, or by the introduction of completely new thinking and applied technology, the advancement of a whole new system, then no effort should be spared in order to ensure the successful incorporation of results into new and existing equipment.

Not only does this development programme depend on the successful presentation of new ideas, but also the ability to transmit such ideas from paper to machine stage. It is here that Asahi's constant expansion and the subsequent availability of sophisticated electronic equipment and computers has enabled them to become leaders in the development, production, and sales of cameras, lenses, and accessories.

Thus it will be seen that Asahi Optical Co. have been lens manufacturers from the very beginning of the formation of their Company which must, inevitably, provide a unique background of specialist knowledge, later broadened with their introduction of binocular and camera design which, undoubtedly, will account for the superb quality of their products today. This has permitted the rigid quality control of every stage of operation in the design and manufacture of lenses and equipment undertaken within the Asahi plants.

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