Return to
Mamiya Fixed
Lens SLR

If you would like to
make a donation to
help fund this site,
click below!

Mamiya Auto-Lux, Canon Canonex & Osawa *
In the early 1960s, Osawa (or Bell & Howell Japan, as it was then known) was Mamiya's wholesaler in Japan. It was also Canon's. It seems likely someone, probably at Osawa, decided a few mutual product development programs between Canon and Mamiya would be a good thing. However it came about, this triumvirate engaged in some SLR activity and, while a sideline to the main story of Mamiya development, nevertheless resulted in similar products that must be mentioned -- the Mamiya Auto-Lux and Canon Canonex.

Auto-Lux and Canonex
First, despite some minor differences, they obviously look alike. The controls, and even the assmbly bolts of each, are placed identically, right down to their X-synchronization outlets at 3 o'clock relative to the lens. The Auto-Lux is finished in a plastic fabric whose little "M" protrusions make it look like knurled rubber, whereas the Canonex is covered in the more usual thin leatherette. There are very minor differences in the levers and trim pieces of the two models, but your first and lasting impression is that this is one camera dressed in two sets of clothing. Shutters are the same, and so are the finder readouts, although the Auto-Lux has a microprism instead of the Canonex split-image focusing aid. Even the Mamiya-Sekor 48mm f/2.8 lens appears to be virtually identical to the one on the Canon.

It All Depends on the Spin
There are some rather obscure Canon records that indicate the Canonex, the only leaf-shuttered camera ever distributed by them, had a very short production life (less than six months). Only about 20,000 of them were ever made. But at least some were sold by Mamiya, in the form of the Mamiya Auto-Lux (there are no known Mamiya production records to confirm total production units). Mamiya does, however, document that a "joint technology development was made with Canon for 35mm EE SLR camera assembly" in November 1962. This statement is in their 50th Anniversary promotional booklet, published in 1990.

Canon historian Peter Dechert states that "Mamiya may have built the Canonex," but he also believes it was possible that Canon designed and built both cameras, and Mamiya continued distribution of theirs after the Canonex distribution was halted. That is a very "Canon" spin on things. Personally (to add my "Mamiya" spin), I think the rebranding was far more likely to have occurred as something Mamiya did, because Mamiya did a great deal of camera rebranding in the early part of its company history.

And the Winner Is?
So, who built the Canonex and the Auto-Lux? Which was really first on the market, and why do two virtually identical versions of the same model exist at all, much less under two different manufacturer's names? As Peter Drechert puts it, until definitive production information can be found, it is one of those "interludes that so endear the study of oriental ways to occidental minds."

* Rewritten here, a large part of this information was contained in an article by renowned Canon historian Peter Dechert.

Mamiya Auto-Lux 35, c.1963  R.Herron Collection

Canon's short-lived Canonex, c.1963  Photo courtesy Canon, Inc.

©  2000-2010 R.L. Herron     All Rights Reserved.   Legal