A friend and fellow photographer posted on my Facebook wall an image which looked like a religious icon. I responded asking him to illuminate me. Kwanon, as it turns out, was a logo used by Canon. It was named Kwanon by Goro Yoshida, the camera designer/maker/engineer.
Kwanon is the name given to the Buddhist Goddess of Mercy, or Bodhisattva. The image depicted a Buddha with 1000 hands encircled by flames. What does this mean? It, according to Canon, “reflected the benevolence of Kwanon, the Buddhist Goddess of Mercy, and embodied the Company’s vision of creating the best cameras in the world.”(1)
Buddhism appears to have a strong influence on the Japanese camera maker. To marry this Kwanon camera, the attached lens was named Kasyapa, abbreviated from Mahakashapa, a disciple of Buddha.This marriage of Kwanon and Kasyapa resulted in Japan’s first prototype 35mm focal plane shutter camera, with a 50mm f3.5 Kasyapa lens [read about it here (4)].
The Kwanon motif was said to be engraved on the prototype camera. A total of 10 models were produced but never made it to the market. But this didn’t stop the company from advertising the so-called camera. An advertisement appeared in the June 1934 issue of Asahi Camera, with a bold claim, “The best submarine is the Igo. The best airplane is the Model 92. The best camera is the Kwanon. They are all the best in the world.” (2)
Canon realised, however, that a religion-neutral name was required to penetrate the world market. In 1935, Kwanon was dropped in favour of ‘Canon’, which means precision in Latin. The word canon has other meanings, including scriptures, criterion and standard. Since canon reflected the company’s strive for optical precision, meeting world-class criteria and industry standards, the name was registered as a trade mark that year.
Today, we are all familiar with the distinctive red Canon logo. In more than 60 years of Canon has made more than 90 million cameras for professional and amateur photographers. And, it still lives by its current catchline, “Delighting You Always”. Canon still strives to be the best camera and lens maker in the world.
Related Post: Kwanon Prototype Camera: An Anecdotal History
3. Read the History of early CANON: http://www.canon.com/camera-museum/history/canon_story/1933_1936/1933_1936.html