1950 One Minute Story Worldwide Recognition of Japanese Products

NIKKOR's Pivotal Encounter with David Douglas Duncan

A day in June, 1950, just before the Korean War broke out. Two men were at the Tokyo office of LIFE,the world's most renowned photo magazine.

One of them was David Douglas Duncan. He was a well-known photographer for LIFE magazine, visiting Japan in order to photograph Japanese art.

The other was Jun Miki. He was an assistant of Mr. Duncan and the only Japanese photographer working with LIFE magazine at that time.

Another photographer, Ryuichi Murai, came to visit.

His Nicca camera was attached to a lens that Mr. Duncan was unfamiliar with.

It was a Nikkor 85mm F2 lens.

Mr. Miki took a snapshot of Mr. Duncan using that camera and lens.


Mr. Duncan:What is that lens?

Mr. Miki:This is a Japanese Sonnar lens*. *Sonnar: German Carl Zeiss lens

Mr. Duncan: (laugh) Oh, a Japanese Sonnar. Where is a Japanese Cadillac?

At that time, products made in Japan were often ridiculed. The Japanese were thought to be good at copying products, but unable to make anything with acceptable quality.

The following day.

Mr. Miki: I developed the portrait that I took of you yesterday.

Mr. Duncan: What?

It's very sharp. Amazing! Mr. Miki, let's go to visit this company right now.

It was the moment that led to a NIKKOR lens being introduced to the world.

Here's what happened next...

Mr. Duncan immediately decided to purchase NIKKOR lenses at the Ohi Plant.

The following day, Mr. Miki visited the Ohi Plant of Nippon Kogaku K.K. (the current Nikon Corporation) along with Mr. Duncan and Horace Bristol from FORTUNE magazine. While there, they compared NIKKOR lenses with those made by Leitz, and Zeiss lenses, which were carried by Mr. Duncan and Mr. Bristol at that time, by using a projection inspection instrument. Directly after they realized the outstanding performance of NIKKOR lenses, they purchased them for their Leica cameras on the spot.
When the Korean War broke out on June 25, 1950, Mr. Duncan traveled to the battlefront carrying two Leica cameras equipped with Nikkor 50mm F1.5 and 135mm F4 lenses.
Looking at his magnificent photographs, TIME's LIFE magazine HQ was asking, "What kind of equipment do you use?" and "Which lenses do you use?" So Mr. Duncan informed them "It was a NIKKOR".
From that time, American photographers started purchasing NIKKOR lenses and Nikon cameras. Nippon Kogaku provided free 24-hour cleaning of the cameras belonging to photographers returning from the front lines to the Tokyo Press Club, regardless of the brand of camera.

"Made in Japan", became a synonym for world-class quality.

When shooting in the northern part of the Korean Peninsula in the midst of a severe winter, Nikon cameras continued to function reliably, even in cases when all other brands of cameras malfunctioned due to the extremely low temperatures. The images vividly showing various aspects of the brutal war were displayed for the whole world to see in the pages of LIFE magazine. The images captured by Mr. Duncan and others using NIKKOR lenses were awarded U.S. Camera Achievement Award in 1950.
On December 10, 1950, The New York Times reported Nikon's excellence with the headline "Japanese camera". This drew the world's attention to Nikon and NIKKOR, which completely changed the image of products that were made in Japan.

The cover of LIFE magazine showing the image captured with a Nikon lens.
LIFE logo and cover design©Time Inc. LIFE and the LIFE logo are registered trademarks of Time Inc. used under license.

The New York Times December 10, 1950 edition.
© 2018 The New York Times

The photojournalist who captured the world with his unforgettable pictures taken with Nikon cameras and NIKKOR lenses. David Douglas Duncan

A distinguished American photojournalist.
He extensively covered the Pacific War, Korean War and the Vietnam conflict as an American combat photographer. His works have been published in The New York Times, LIFE magazine, and numerous other publications. Outside war journalism, he is also known for his portraits of Pablo Picasso.

This movie was recorded in 2012 when Mr. Duncan was 97 years old, as a part of Nikon 100th anniversary projects.