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Aero-NIKKOR

NIKKOR has long been established as a leading brand of interchangeable lenses for SLR cameras. Originally registered in December 1932 as a trademark for photographic lenses, the NIKKOR name was formed by appending an R to "NIKKO," an abbreviation of Nippon Kogaku K.K., as was often done at the time.

The design of Heinrich Acht


Aero-NIKKOR 50cm F4.8

When Nikon (Nippon Kogaku K.K.) was established, the majority of superior optical instruments were imported from overseas. Nikon's raison d'être was to create optical instruments domestically. However, while Nikon had developed excellent manufacturing technology for binoculars in the company's early days, range finders and periscopes required much more advanced technology that the company did not have at the time. Consequently, many of its products were defective, to the point that this had a negative effect on the management of the company. In order to break through this adverse state of affairs, Nikon called on eight optics and precision engineering specialists from Germany, which was said to be number one in the world at the time. After the German engineers joined the company in about 1921, the company's engineering started rapidly improving. One of the German engineers, Heinrich Acht, designed all kinds of lenses, including photographic lenses and those for microscopes. The design data and German-style design method that Acht left behind became fundamental design materials for the photographic lenses that followed.


Cross-section view of Aero-NIKKOR 50cm F4.8

After Acht's return to Germany in 1928, lens design and manufacture continued under Kakuya Sunayama, General Manager of the Lens Design Department. In that same year, Sunayama began to investigate large-scale photographic lenses for aircraft after visiting Europe to observe the optics industry. His report on the investigation was titled "The ideal stragegy for Nippon Kogaku is to make a prototype lens for aerial photography like the Zeiss f=50cm F4.8 Triplet," and he is said to have searched the photo lens shops in Berlin until he obtained one. The lens Sunayama brought back to Japan was used as a design reference, and he took survey data from it, disassembled it, measured it, and tested the assembly, thoroughly inspecting the lens. Manufacture of prototypes then began in 1929, and they were based on a slightly revised version of the optical design data left by the German engineer, Acht. However, the astigmatism was too large and the results were unsatisfactory. After applying some fundamental recalculation the second phase of prototypes were manufactured, and a lens close to the survey measurements of the Zeiss lens was achieved in around 1930. In addition, prototype manufacture of the Tessor-type Anytar 50cm F4.5, 12cm F4.5, as well as of 7.5cm and 18cm focal length lenses was also successful. With these prospects for photographic lenses it was decided to make them into a systematic series, and with this came a need for a unifying name. Thus the NIKKOR brand was born.

The NIKKOR lenses


Official notice of application for the NIKKOR trademark

The products manufactured for this series were the Tessor-type NIKKOR 7.5cm, 10.5cm, 12cm, and 18cm general photographic lenses; as well as the Triplet-type 50cm F4.8 and 70cm F5 for aerial photography. The NIKKOR lenses used for aerial photography were prefixed with the word "Aero," referring to the sky, and named "Aero-NIKKOR." The first orders came in 1933 from the Japanese Army Air Force for the 70cm F5, as well as for the 18cm F4.5 NIKKOR lens for small-scale aerial photography. The lenses were also exhibited at the exposition held that year, and sale of the lenses began.

As a final note, the Aero-NIKKOR 50cm F4.8 is kept in the Nikon Archives. To commemorate the 75th anniversary of the sale of NIKKOR lenses, it was displayed in the history corner of the Nikon booth at the Photo Imaging Expo held in March 2008, garnering much attention.