History in Detail
Note: The following section(s) of this document will eventually be expanded to include other significant eras in the history of Tamron.
1950 to 1959 The Foundation of The Company:
Taisei Optical Equipment Manufacturing was established in Urawa-city in 1950. This was a bold undertaking merely five years after the end of WWII. Consumers worldwide have Herbert Keppler, formerly of Modern Photography, to thank for this. Mr. Keppler suggested to many Japanese companies and individuals that production of photography equipment might be a good way to help rebuild the ravaged Japanese economy following the war. What did Taisei Optical initially produce? Binoculars and cameras. The cameras weren't spectacular, but the binoculars were pretty good and sold well. Thus in 1952 Taisei Optical Equipment Manufacturing, Inc. was established with a venture capital of 2.5 million yen a large amount of currency at the time.
The next five years were rather slow since Taisei Optical was carefully watching the success of the post WWII Japanese and U.S. camera manufacturers. This period saw the establishment of companies which we now call Pentax, Minolta, Nikon, and others. A wide variety of Japanese 35mm cameras became popular worldwide by the mid 1950s due to their very low price compared to German cameras. Thus Tamron in 1957 jumped into the camera lens making business by introducing the now famous "T" mount which permitted any T-mount lens to be coupled to virtually every 35mm camera in production at the time. Where does the "T" come from? Obviously from the first letter of "Taisei". Taisei introduced both the T-mount and their first T-mount lens, the 135mm F/4.5 model #280 in 1958. The lens itself offered decent performance for the time, yet its standard accessory 1.67x converter degraded the image quality since it consisted of a simple cemented two element design. Nevertheless this lens sold well since it was an affordable "dual" lens package which provided medium telephoto and long telephoto for one low price.
Sales had slowly increased by 1959. In September of that year, a head office and main manufacturing plant were established in Hasunuma, Omiya-city. The Tamron brand name was also registered as a trademark although the company's name didn't change at that time.
1960 to 1969 The Steady Growth of Taisei Optical:
1961 saw the production of the world's first affordable telephoto zoom lens, namely the 95-205mm F/6.3 model #910P. This zoom lens was both long and slow, yet its production persisted until 1969. This era also saw the production of test plates, ultra-precision lenses and prisms. If you have a really old refractor telescope which was produced in Japan, it is likely that the optics were produced by Taisei Optical.
In 1966, Taisei Optical introduced the first lenses of their Adapt-A-Matic lens line. These lenses featured interchangeable mounts and featured auto aperture mechanisms for cameras which supported this feature. Curious if there was a patent for these interchangeable mounts? There most certainly was! See U.S. Patent #3,500,735 and the division thereof, U.S. Patent #3,657,988, for details. These two patents are considered to be extremely important to Tamron's future success with regards to interchangeable lenses for different camera bodies. Other manufacturers produced the T-2, the T-4 and T-X mounts, yet these similar lens mounts quickly faded by the wayside. Were any patent infringement lawsuits involved? We don't have a clue, yet note that these competing products appeared and then rapidly disappeared from the marketplace.
1970 to 1979 Changing the Corporate Image:
Taisei Optical changed its company name to Tamron Co., Ltd., in 1970. This finally gave the company a one word company name similar to Nikon (formerly Nippon Kogaku) and Pentax (formerly Asahi Pentax). Obviously both brand and company name recognition was on Tamron's mind.
1976 was an extraordinary year for Tamron since they introduced a variety of new lenses which featured their new Adaptall mount system. The Adaptall mount system, in comparison to the earlier Adapt-A-Matic mount system, featured bayonet attachment of the mounts to the lens versus the earlier Adapt-A-Matic's screw attachment rings. In terms of convenience, these new Adaptall mounts were far more convenient to install and use. Reliability on the other hand left something to be desired. Tamron's subsequent Adaptall-2 mounts fully addressed the reliability issue and was the definitive step forward in terms of interchangeable mounts for camera lenses. No other manufacturer was able to come close to the brilliance of Tamron's Adaptall-2 mount designs which were introduced in 1979.
1979 was also supposed to be a good year in that Tamron established Tamron Industries, Inc. as a corporation within the state of New York. Unfortunately, Tamron chose to allow Berkeley Marketing Companies (BMC) to remain as Tamron's sole distributor within the United States. BMC was the U.S. distributor for a variety of Japanese products, yet was notorious for extremely long delays for repairs of the products which they marketed. This had a severe impact on the distribution of Tamron products amongst smaller camera stores within the U.S.
On the other hand, Tamron had an excellent, aggressive, and very reliable distributor within the U.K which also had excellent repair services. Tamron's U.K. distributor subcontracted the photographing of Tamron products for use in brochures and magazine advertisements. These photographs were subsequently used in several Tamron catalogues as well as in numerous magazine advertisements worldwide. And yet, at least in the U.S., Tamron lenses remained available mostly from only the largest photography stores located in the northeast.
The "Magic" Decade (late 1979 to 1989):
Take a quick look at the group photo shown below, circa 1980, of Tamron's SP and Adaptall-2 lens lineups. Most of these lenses were introduced in 1979 although the introduction of a couple of these lenses being delayed until the following year due to protracted development. The late 1970s represents the time period during which Tamron decided not only to introduce their refined Adaptall-2 mount system, but also to introduce nearly two dozen completely new or redesigned lenses. Tamron's goals were to capture a larger segment of the consumer marketplace and to firmly establish the Tamron brand name as a sign of quality in terms of optical design and mechanical construction. The introduction of these and subsequent products during the 1980s met with great success amongst consumers. This is why we consider this time period to be Tamron's "magic" decade, as well as the defining period which assured the success of this company for years to come.
Development and tooling setup for the manufacture of these SP and Adaptall-2 lenses represented a huge financial investment. Essentially Tamron staked the future of the company based on the expertise of both their optical engineers and on their mechanical design team's ability to create reliable and robustly constructed lenses which featured very good ergonomics and which were aesthetically pleasing in appearance. Obviously, during the late 1970s when the SP and Adaptall-2 lens lines were being developed, CAD software was virtually nonexistant as a tool for mechanically designing lenses. Shown below is Tamron's drafting department where engineers and draftsmen worked together in teams to create these beautifully designed lenses.
A little known fact is that Tamron's founder
himself, the late Late Mr. Takeyuki Arai, had a vision for the overall
appearance and styling to be incorporated first in Tamron's Adaptall lenses and
later in Tamron's SP and Adaptall-2 lenses. Mr. Arai filed ornamental design
patents which clearly show his vision. See
U.S. Patent #D248,766 "Barrel For Interchangeable Lens".
Why did Mr. Arai feel compelled to file such a basic ornamental design patent?
At the time, virtually all OEM and aftermarket lens manufacturers were
designing their lenses strictly from a mechanical standpoint. None of them
cared if the focus or zoom rings were of different diameters since their
primary goal was to produce lenses which mechanically were straightforward to
assemble during the manufacturing process. Thus Mr. Arai wanted Tamron's lenses
to be uniquely identifiable as being made by Tamron, and and to imply that a
greater amount of forethought and engineering went into the design of every
Tamron lens. It is also possible that Mr. Arai wished to counter any possible
threat from Vivitar (with their
The mechanical construction of these SP and Adaptall-2 lenses was so good that Tamron provided 6 year warranties with them. Tamron's SP lenses were more expensive than most after market lenses, yet these lenses offered nearly as good, as good, and in some cases superior optical performance compared to equivalent OEM lenses of the era. These lenses rapidly gained in popularity and acceptance amongst consumers once the many photography magazines started publishing reviews and test reports. Just how successful were the new SP and Adaptall-2 product lines? Have a look at the sales chart, below, which was taken from a Tamron Company Guide brochure. Note the exponential growth rate between 1979 through 1981.
Tamron, after the introduction of their SP and Adaptall-2 lens lineup in 1979, introduced several other excellent SP and Adaptall-2 lenses between 1979 and 1989. Examples include the SP 28-80 and SP 28-135 lenses, the SP 35-210, the four very high performance SP LD-IF telephoto lenses, several very good Adaptall-2 lenses, the world's first economically mass produced wide angle to telephoto zoom lens featuring aspherical elements, namely the 28-200, and the world's first autofocus zoom lens for manual focus cameras. Thus the 1980s was the decade in which Tamron firmly established themselves as the world's premier independent lens manufacturer due to the quality and performance of their lenses.