Konica and the JCII

Anyone browsing the web in search for information about Konica-related matters will sooner or later come across claims about the supposed importance of Konica quality standards in the Japanese Camera Inspection Institute’s assessment of equipment made by all other Japanese manufacturers. The claim usually takes one of two forms: That "Konica quality standards were used as a benchmark by the JCII…", which sounds vague, if intriguing; or that "Konica-made equipment was used by the JCII…", which sounds somewhat less vague and even more intriguing.

I’ve been curious about this claim for a long time, the more so as many Konica fans affirm it as if it were Revelation, while detractors treat it as mere fanboy hype. Konica literature is of no assistance in this matter as in many others, and thus far I haven’t been able to find any information from other sources.

But last year, as I searched for Hexanons on Ebay, lenses of a type previously unknown to me popped up. They were "P-Hexanon" lenses, which are magnification lenses that seem to come in various shapes and sizes. They mostly come in magnification rates of x10, x20, x50, and x100, although there is also the occasional P-Hexanon zoom. Most of them have what looks like a bayonet lugs on the outer barrel and many have Konica’s two-digit production code stamped on the underside.

Typical P-Hexanon lens found on many Mitutoyo comparators. Note the tell-tale Konica production code on the back. (W)

Such lenses have an additional inscription besides P-Hexanon: "Mitutoyo". This brand name had been vaguely familiar to me before but now that I saw it in connection with Hexanon, I decided to find out in what line of business Mitutoyo operates. I discovered that it is, and has been for decades, Japan’s largest and one of the world's most respected manufacturers of high-precision apparatus and measuring equipment – a company that does business on a global scale. 

When I searched Ebay for Mitutoyo equipment, I came up with thousands of items, from calipers and micrometers to laboratory and diagnostic tools. Among them were optical comparators and profile projectors, a very large number of which were equipped with P-Hexanon lenses. At this point, I deduced that the "P" in the name stood for "projector".

As I learned from a few articles I found on the web, optical comparators are used to inspect a manufactured object’s physical dimensions and proportions. This is done by projecting a greatly magnified image of some part of the object in question onto a screen, similarly as is done when viewing a document on microfiche, of by overhead projector, except that the magnification ratio is many times greater. 

Lenses used in such applications need to produce a very high degree of dimensional accuracy throughout the entire field of view because the image they project is then measured in microns. As such, they are quite a bit more difficult to manufacture than photographic lenses. Of the latter, only flat-field macro lenses come close. Comparators are used in workshops, industrial design firms, and in all production facilities that have a quality control lab. They are also used by institutions such as the JCII.

Given the relationship that exists between government and industrial corporations in Japan; given the fact that the JCII was established by – and was answerable to – the photographic industry and the Japanese Ministry of Industry; and given Mitutoyo's position as Japan's leading high-precision apparatus firm, I think it highly probable that, at least at some stage, the JCII used Mitutoyo optical comparators equipped with P-Hexanon lenses. In the event, it is likely to be at the origin of the claims mentioned in the opening paragraph above. And as is usual with rumors like this, as they circulate they become twisted almost beyond recognition.

IF the JCII did use optical comparators with Konica-made optics to inspect photo equipment made by all Japanese manufacturers, it seems to me that one would be entirely in the right to claim that "the JCII used Konica-made equipment…". Although it may seem correct by extension to claim that "the JCII used Konica quality standards as a benchmark…", I find this an excessively bold claim, as it seems to imply a conscious choice on the part of the JCII - one that may not necessarily have been made. After all, the JCII may have ended up using Konica-made lenses by default, for no other reason than the fact that those were the lenses to be found on Mitutoyo optical comparators.

Irrespective of whether the JCII used Konica-made projector lenses due to a conscious choice or simply because that's what Mitutoyo optical comparators came equipped with, I think the use of P-Hexanon lenses in such an application whether by the JCII or anyone else is testimony to Konica's expertise as a manufacturer of absolutely top-notch optics.