Photographica Pages

An online guide to collectable cameras and related stuff

Minolta (Nichidoku Shashinki Shoten, Molta, and Chiyoda)

Minolta has a long and storied history. Kazuo Tashima studied economics and sociology in Tokyo, spent a short time working at a newspaper, then joined his father's trading company, which allowed him to spend time in London, Paris and Berlin. At the age of 28 he founded Nichidoku Shashinki Shoten (translated means Japan-German Camera Store) on November 11, 1928 in Osaka, Japan. He had the help of two German engineers Billy Neumann and Willy Heilemann. The cameras were Japanese made, but tended to use German lenses and shutters as the technology to make them in Japan hadn't really developed yet. Camera names from this era all start with the word Nifca, which was derived from (NI)ppon (F)oto (CA)meras.

In 1931 the company name changed to Molta Goshi-gaisha. Molta stood for (M)echanismus (O)ptik und (L)insen von (TA)shima. The product names were changed. They continued to handle the marketing of their own cameras until an agreement was reached with Asanuma Shokai. (The Sirius and Arcadia were also distributed up to this point by Misuzu Shokai as the Lomax and Eaton). When Asanuma took over distribution the camera model names changed again. In 1931 and 1932 the German engineers left to form their own company, Neumann and Heilemann.

The name Minolta was registered in 1933, and first used on a camera that was very similar the the Plaubel Makina. It has been suggested that Minolta was derived from (M)echanismus, (IN)strumente, (O)ptik und (L)insen von (TA)shima" ("Mechanism, Instruments, Optics and Lenses by Tashima").

The company name changed again in 1937 to Chiyoda Kogaku Seiko Kabushiki Ksaisha, although it was also sometimes shown as Chiyoko from (CHIYO)da (KO)gaku. The name is Japanese and implied that the company would last for a thousand generations. That same year, Asanuma dropped all of their other camera lines and began to market Chiyoda products exclusively. By this point, all of the products carried the Minolta name.

In 1940 production of Rokkor lenses began, but for military use. Civilian production was suspended in 1943. All production was for the military, and included hand held aerial cameras. The Mukogawa, Amagasaki, and Sakai plants were focused on the war effort, and another plant was added at Komatsu to build machine tools. They took over the Fujimoto plant in Nishinomiya (the former Neumann and Heilemann factory) in 1943, and began melting glass at a new plant in Itami in 1944.

Their production made them a target for Allied bombing. The Mukogawa, Amagasaki and Komatsu plants were destroyed. However the Sakai, Itami and Nishinomiya plants survived, as did a distribution center in Honsha.

After the war, the company prospered, selling a wide range of everything from subminiatures to twin lens reflexes. The company name was changed to Minolta in 1962, reflecting the brand awarness the name carried. By this time it had eschewed copying products to instead favor innovation. It had also branched out into producing planetariums, office equipment and binoculars.

Minolta began cooperation with the German firm Leitz in 1972 to develop technology in camera electronics. They also jointly produced the Leica CL, a camera designed in Germany and produced in Japan,, and produced zoom lenses for the Leica R series SLR line.

Kazuo Tashima was succeeded by his son Hideo Tashima as president of the company in 1982, retaining the title of Chairman of the Board. He passed away in 1985, at the age of 85, having left quite a mark on the Japanese camera industry.

In the early 1980s Minolta focused it's resources on developing an autofocus camera system, and in 1985 introduced the Maxxum line. This was a significant development with the body containing the means of controlling the focus (most prior designs were mainly self contained autofocus lenses designed to work with existing manual focus bodies). The logo for the Maxxum line was the word Maxxum with the two letter x's crossed together, very similar to the logo used by the oil company Exxon. Exxon complained, and Minolta quietly changed their logo.

Although they were one of the most successful camera manufacturers, they could not rest on their success. The market was moving to less expensive cameras, which pushed designs to find ways to cut costs while maintaining quality and features. It also led to production in countries with cheaper operating costs. Minolta began offering consumer grade digital cameras in the late 1990s, some of which were fairly innovative. But they failed to catch on, and were quickly eclipsed by the offerings from Nikon, and particularly Canon, which began to dominate the market.

In 2003 they merged with another Japanese camera manufacturer with even a longer history, Konica. Konica Minolta did release a very innovative DSLR, the Maxxum 7D, but by then they had lost their momentum in the marketplace. They ended up selling their digital camera line to Sony in 2006, and have discontinued camera manufacture altogether.

Minolta TLRs