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
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.