History of Tamron

Overall Summary

Tamron is one of the few Japanese after market lens manufacturers which has withstood the test of time. Several other very good independent lens manufacturers, established in the first two decades after WWII, have long since vanished from the marketplace. Tamron is well known for their past and present innovations in optical and mechanical design, for their unique Adapt-A-Matic, Adaptall and Adaptall-2 lens mounting systems, and for the aesthetically pleasing and consistent overall styling of lenses which belong to a particular Tamron lens series. The company holds numerous USPTO and worldwide patents for various, adapter systems, optical designs and manufacturing processes.

Tamron's founder, the late Mr. Takeyuki Arai, is literally a legend within Tamron and the industry for his superb skills in guiding and steering this company through several decades of change. Tamron's name is derived from the name of Mr. Uhyoue Tamura, who was a prominently recognized optical engineer and who laid the basic technological foundations of the company. While Tamron is by no means the first company to use computer optical design programs to design lenses, Tamron is one the first companies to use these crude first generation optical design programs very successfully. Why? Because in those early days of computer optical design, the computer programs were not capable of automatically optimizing optical designs. Tamron's optical engineers had to rely on their intuition and past experience in order to make design changes which further optimized the optical designs. Even though today's optical design programs are extremely capable and powerful, you might correctly guess that optical design was and still remains very much a work of art since there are just too many variables which must be fully considered.

As a company, Tamron slowly grew during the 1950s and 1960s with the introduction of their T mount system. The 1960s saw the introduction of a variety of prime lenses and the introduction of Tamron's first zoom lenses. These products were successful yet were never so successful as to greatly stimulate growth of the company. Growth was more rapid during the 1970s following the introduction of Tamron's Adapt-A-Matic mount system in 1969 and Tamron's Adaptall mount system in 1973. Numerous lenses were designed and introduced between 1969 and 1978 to compliment these two mount systems, but this was nothing compared to the vast array of mostly new along with some cosmetically redesigned lenses which were introduced in 1979 along with Tamron's Adaptall-2 mount system. Tamron's Adaptall-2 mount system was a much more refined development of their earlier Adaptall mount system, and it was compatible with a much wider array of camera models produced about a dozen different camera manufacturers. The unparalleled success of the Adaptall-2 lens system, combined with the popularity and optical performance of Tamron's SP and Adaptall-2 lenses, firmly established Tamron in the 1980s as one of the world's premier lens manufacturers.

Tamron capitalized on its rapid growth and popularity during the 1980s by continuing to develop significant optical innovations which lead to many very popular products. During the 1980s, Tamron developed and patented their own proprietary manufacturing techniques for applying aspherical surface substrates to conventional spherical lens elements. This is the manufacturing technology which revolutionized the optical industry and which saw the introduction of the first high performance ultra wide angle to ultra telephoto zoom lenses. Tamron's optical patents, combined with their patented aspherical lens manufacturing processes, allowed Tamron to transition into the OEM optical manufacturing segment of Japan's optical industry. Many OEM camera manufacturers sought out Tamron for their optical expertise and proprietary aspherical lens manufacturing technologies, and contracted with Tamron to supply aspherical lens optics and sometimes entire lenses.

Tamron has never been a company to rest on its laurels. Since 1980, Tamron has had significant developments for almost every year thereafter up to the present day. For example, Tamron introduced the world's first autofocus zoom lens for manual focus cameras, introduced the world's first economical zoom lenses which incorporated aspherical lens elements, and introduced a variety of autofocus lenses which were compatible with the most popular OEM camera bodies. Tamron also was the first independent lens manufacturer to achieve ISO 14001 certification for its production facilities.

Today, Tamron continues to be a very strong manufacturer of both OEM and after market lenses for the worldwide consumer market. Tamron has smartly diversified into other fields which include cellular phone lenses; surveillance, industrial vision and image processing lenses, as well as injection molded components and complete optical device units. While we have noticed a few ups and downs in Tamron's marketing strategies for specific products over the years, the one thing which we have never noticed is a lack of innovation. This perhaps is the fundamental key to Tamron's longevity and continued success within the optical industry.

Take a look at Tamron's history as shown within their home headquarters corporate web site:

History of Tamron (Japan Web Site)

Alternatively, take a look at a more detailed history of Tamron as shown on Tamron USA's web site:

History of Tamron (USA Web Site)

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.

Relative sizes of SP and Adaptall-2 lenses circa 1980. SP lenses are on the left and Adaptall-2 lenses are on the right.

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.

Tamron Drafting Department (Late 1970s)
Tamron's drafting department in the late 1970s.

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 Series 1lenses) since Vivitar was creating lenses with very similar lens barrel designs. Perhaps this is the reason why Vivitar used forward flared lens barrels since Tamron's patent clearly shows a backward flared lens barrel. Shown below is Mr. Arai examining several prototype Adaptall-2 lenses in January 1979.

Tamron Staff Meeting 1978
A Tamron staff meeting in January 1979. Mr. Arai is seated at the head of the table. Curious about the prototype lenses being examined at this meeting? Left to right are prototypes for the 28-50, the one-touch 70-150, the 75-250, possibly an early prototype of a revised SP 70-150 one-touch SOFT lens, and the SP 500 mirror. Note that the SP 500 is situated away from the other lenses, suggesting that it is an example of the final production lens.

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.

Sales (in billions of Yen) between 1975 and 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.

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