90 Million Canon EF interchangeable lenses for EOS cameras delivered by May 2013–approaching 100 million soon. 73 different models of EF lenses for still photography, 14 EF Cinema lenses, broadcast and industrial lenses. Incredible numbers.
Mr. Masaya Maeda, Managing Director and Chief Executive, Image Communication Products Operations at Canon, has pointed out that Canon is the only company where digital cameras are made 100% in-house: sensors, software, image processors, and lenses. “To take the best shot under any conditions,” continues to be the goal. Mr. Maeda once told me, “What we would like to achieve is filming a crow in the middle of the night. And maybe, some day, the black spots on the sun.” Some day. Meanwhile, innovation abounds and it is especially apparent in their lenses.
Canon recently arranged a visit to the magical place where their high-end lenses are made: 50 minutes north of Tokyo on the high-speed Yamabiko-129 train, 30 seconds to scramble for the train’s exit at Utsunomiya. The aroma of Gyoza (dumplings filled with meat or vegetables) permeates the station. Our destination is a few miles away. It’s a “company town” of 1 million people. But, like Shangri-La, Canon’s Utsunomiya Lens Factory has been open to few mortals (except those who work there.)
Canon’s modern industrial park of factories is enormous. The lunch room is probably the size of a football field. The large rooms filled with grinding, polishing, smoothing, centering, and coating machines are immaculate. Something unique among all the lens factories I have visited is how quietly these machines run.
Cine lenses, of course, require special care, extra attention to detail and hand assembly. And, like an island in this vast sea of production millions, is the cine lens department. It takes a couple of years to acquire the skills necessary to even begin working on a cine zoom or prime lens. It takes 25 years to become a “Lens Meister,” an exalted master of the opto-mechanical craft with a German title.
I went to Utsunomiya ready to be impressed by the incredible technology and machinery. And I was. However, as I mentioned to Yuichi Ishizuka, Eliott Peck, Hitoshi Doi, Larry Thorpe, Len Musmeci, Leigh Nofi, and anyone else at Canon kind enough to listen — it turned out to be the people who impressed me the most. Passion and pride, attention to every detail, and compulsive perfectionism are qualities necessary in any cinema lens factory anywhere in the world. The difference here at Canon was the massive scale of training for students. An entire area–the size of most other cine lens factories–is dedicated to teaching and training the next generation of Lens Meisters: grinding, polishing, building one’s own tools (tool making), coating–everything. While many other companies face backlogs of orders because of the challenges of finding skilled workers, Canon is diligently preparing a new generation with the necessary high-tech optical and mechanical skills.
A more in-depth report will follow in an upcoming printed edition of FDTimes. This is like the Gyoza at Utsunomiya station–just an appetizer.