Since launching in 1921, the “MIKRON” compact binocular series has always been manufactured using almost the same basic structure, is still reproduced, and remains in the market today.
Unraveling the historical background that surrounded its birth and the product features in its early days sheds light on this optical equipment known as “binoculars” that draws in the reality spreading in front of us.
Contents supervisor: WIRED JAPAN,
Japanese text: Shinya Yashiro,
Photo: Junpei Kato
As reflected in the product name “MIKRON”, these binoculars’ compactness exceeds expectations. The high accuracy of the eyepieces is guaranteed by the smooth focus-adjusting mechanism. Such features realize a pleasant visual experience, creating an illusion as if the binoculars and eyes become one via the user’s hands to provide the enjoyment of enhanced vision.
The MIKRON 6× (hereafter referred to as the MIKRON) which was manufactured and released in 1921 by Nippon Kogaku K.K., the predecessor of Nikon, is far beyond what we would envisage as binoculars from over a century ago. It almost presents itself as the ultimate model of “the binocular” as optical equipment — a convincing reason why the MIKRON is still reproduced today while maintaining its original structure, and remains in the market as a synonym for binoculars that Nikon takes pride in.
The MIKRON, which was released to the world over 100 years ago, has “compactness” as its self-explanatory concept.
In a pamphlet from the Peace Commemoration Tokyo Exposition, where the MIKRON was exhibited the year after its release, you can see the words, “Fits in your pocket without being too bulky.” In fact, it is said that it was widely used by the general public for nature observation during outdoor excursions.
In addition, the same document also states, “The lens was painstakingly designed by German engineers…” and “…the clear image is far superior to imported products”.
Sentiments that crossed oceans with the technology
There is a reason why Nikon's predecessor Nippon Kogaku K.K. had German engineers. In 1921, the company invited eight engineers from Germany, which was considered to be a pioneer in the optical technology field at the time. These specialists included Professor Max Lange, who was the works authority on lens design, and optical designers such as Heinrich Acht.
The company engaged in technological research together with the German engineers to create an integrated production system for optical equipment in Japan.
Nippon Kogaku K.K. continued to further refine its optical equipment manufacturing. Through interactions with German engineers, a lot was learned about manufacturing.
Technologies that achieved both accuracy and efficiency
The glass required to make the lenses was imported from Germany. However, the entire production process including the processing and polishing of lenses was located within Nippon Kogaku K.K.
The confidence of Nippon Kogaku K.K. to create products “far superior to imported products” is seen throughout its product pamphlet of the time, mentioned earlier.
This confidence stemmed from the technologies applied during production. To create the high-precision body, aluminum die casting which is still widely employed today was used. According to contemporary records, production at the works was very efficient even at that time.
Behind its unique design
In addition to its historical background, the MIKRON’s unique shape is also worth noting. The distinctive peak-shaped protruding compartments located next to the objective and eyepiece lenses are the very same shape as the light-reflecting prism that is an essential element in binoculars. The iconic shape was the result of efforts to make the MIKRON as minimal as it possibly could be for a pair of binoculars.
Products renowned around the world
The marking “JOICO” on the body refers to the Japan Optical Industry Company, the precursor of Nikon. It was also a registered trademark arranged in preparation for potential exporting opportunities in the future.
The same name was also engraved on the "JOICO Microscope" released in 1925.
Just as anticipated, the MIKRON steadily gained worldwide recognition as Japan-made optical equipment. Then exports from Japan became active.
Rediscovering the immersiveness of three-dimensional vision
Even now in the 21st century, a 100-year-old MIKRON is the perfect partner for exploring an art gallery or park.
The focus adjustment ring attached to the eyepiece lenses moves as smoothly as desired and is virtually stress-free. Image shake is rare, mostly due to the appropriate magnification and field of view, which help users capture their intended target and view with ease.
Nowadays, we spend large amounts of time looking at flat images on PCs and other digital screens. Using binoculars for the first time in a while helps us realize again the dynamic power of a three-dimensional view with real, natural colors. We feel convinced that the sense of how each eye is individually connected to the world is not something virtual reality can effectively achieve. Taking a MIKRON out casually and bringing what is far away close to us is a simple action, but sure to spark our curiosity.
Simply observing the far distance.
When viewing with a MIKRON, it reminds us that we have recently receded from such natural behavior patterns.
Over 100 years ago, when the MIKRON was born, we can only wonder what people were thinking when they looked through binoculars. The MIKRON stirs up such feelings in our imaginations.
Reference: “The history of binoculars: the development of prism binoculars and technologies” written by Nakajima Takashi
(published by Chijin Shokan, 2015, Japanese only)
Contents supervisor: WIRED JAPAN, Japanese text: Shinya Yashiro, Photo: Junpei Kato