Makes Hasselblad great digital cameras
Sadao Imai, founder of the Imai Collection, Hokkaido, Japan
Private collector acquires over 500 Nikon cameras and lenses over a period of 45 years.
The Imai Collection *, a collection of cameras and related products, is owned by Sadao Imai, a leading Nikon collector. It's so big that it makes the 15-meter-long display of Nikon cameras in the Nikon Museum seem small. The collection occupies the top three floors of a four-story building and is housed in display cases that, if strung together, would be 170 meters long. On every floor there are cameras and lenses that will make any passionate camera fan green with envy, including historical masterpieces by Hasselblad, Linhof, Makina and Leica - to name just a few. The Imai Collection is unmatched among private collections in terms of size and quality.
At the heart of the Imai Collection are Nikon products - Imai's favorite objects. The collection includes over 500 Nikon cameras and lenses. In addition to standard models - from the Nikon Model I to the latest digital cameras - the collection also includes many rare objects, for example one-offs and sample cameras for shop windows. The showcases also contain many accessories and promotional items not intended for sale, as well as a profile projector and microscope - all with the Nikon logo.
* A private collection is not open to the public.
Your collection is really outstanding. How did you come to collect all of these products?
I started by collecting cameras that I wanted to use myself. Before I knew it, I had over 2,800 objects in my collection. I then had these wraparound showcases installed on three floors, but they filled up. So I didn't consciously start collecting. It was just like that: instead of swapping an old camera for a new one, I just kept the old one as a reserve. And as the number of cameras increased, I had to buy lenses for them too. This is how the collection came about.
When I was in my early thirties, I started a company that manufactured and sold snow-melting equipment. I was lucky enough to be very successful with it after a few years. But the more I was busy, the less time I had to take pictures. To compensate for this, on every business trip to Tokyo or Osaka I went to shops where used cameras were sold. And when I found something I liked, I bought it. So my collection grew in parallel with my company. Back then, everything was still paid for in cash, so I had to save up to buy these cameras. Maybe I got this far thanks to my enthusiasm for Nikon cameras.
I don't just collect cameras, however. I also own an 80-year-old Bentley and a Porsche 911 that I bought about five years ago, an Edison phonograph with wax rollers, a Myford lathe that was the model for many Japanese lathes, a tube amplifier that was custom-made by a friend is, and Altec Lansing speakers. The Imai Collection includes all of these memorabilia that have played an important role in my life.
Nikon F - the only camera that survives the winter in Hokkaido
Photo of a steam locomotive that Mr. Imai took when he was passionate about railways.
How did you first come into contact with a Nikon camera?
When I was young I wanted to paint. I painted watercolors, but painting takes a long time and costs money. When I started middle school, I joined the Photography Club and immediately knew, “This is it! I can paint with a camera. ”That's how I got into photography.
As a young adult, I loved taking photos of steam locomotives plowing through the snow. I am probably one of those first railroad fans that we in Japan call "tetchan". However, the camera I had at the time wasn't designed for low temperatures. As a result, the shutter did not always work smoothly and the exposure was often uneven. When I asked an employee in the camera shop, he said that only a Nikon could survive the harsh winters of Hokkaido. During this period, the performance of Nikon cameras generated a lot of buzz. It was reported that Nikon had been selected for the Apollo 15 manned mission to the moon. It was then that I bought my first Nikon, the Nikon F.
The F worked flawlessly, as promised, even on the blizzard-lashed plains of Hokkaido. I could photograph steam locomotives exactly how I wanted to. I took full advantage of the NIKKOR lens and was able to take great pictures in which everything was in focus - from the black contours of the steel locomotive to the clouds of smoke rising from its chimney.
Nikon's first camera, the Nikon Model I. The original packaging and leather case are in exceptional condition.
Nikon collection built up over 45 years
From left: COOLPIX P900, Nikon F2 Photomic A and Nikon F3.
Comparison of an old and a new 2,000 mm lens: The reflex NIKKOR 2,000 mm 1:11 (1972) makes the lens of the COOLPIX P900 (2015) appear tiny.
How did you get started collecting Nikon products?
I used the Nikon F and Nikon F2 when my hobby was gradually turning into a collector's activity. There were different F2 models and different accessories. It's the type of camera that you can play around with endlessly. She captured me completely. That was when collecting began.
They also have a lot of rare cameras. How did you get hold of them?
I have been collecting Nikon cameras for over 45 years. When I first visited dealers with used cameras, of course nobody knew me. But gradually, over a period of two decades, I became known as a solid collector. This enabled me to ask dealers to keep an eye out for anything Nikon-related. Dealers and store staff thought of me when they saw a Nikon, even in Ginza. They called me and asked if I was interested. This is how these rare products found their way into my collection. Of course, that they were so rare meant that they weren't cheap.
Once, when I was recognized as a camera connoisseur, I received inquiries from various people asking me to take care of their collections. I believe that the fact that prominent collectors entrusted me with their collections could have been the trigger for me to start collecting seriously myself.
Lens AI NIKKOR 85mm f / 1.4S.
A fisheye camera with a fixed hemispherical lens from 1957 that was discovered by accident in a used camera shop.
Why did you decide to show the Imai Collection to other people?
About ten years ago I kept my cameras in boxes. But it was a shame to leave them in the boxes. That's why I had the three glass showcases made for my collection. Then the process of categorization and presentation began. It took about a year to completely fill the 170 meter long display cases. For me, the purpose of the Imai Collection was originally to be able to look closely at every object. Collecting cameras is my hobby after all. If I want to change my mood, I sit on a chair in front of a showcase and pick up a Nikon Model I or listen to the shutter sound of the Nikon F. That makes me happy and I can spend hours like this. It makes me forget the irritations of everyday life. Sometimes I have a philosophical conversation about it with a friend. You know, the good thing about a hobby is that it makes time fly by. You are completely absorbed and forget the time.
I created the Imai Collection for myself, but I decided to invite friends and acquaintances to see it. Not to show off. It's to see if I'm doing it right. I wanted to know if the collection was of any value.
Stereo-NIKKOR 3.5 cm 1: 3.5, an extremely rare lens with a Nikon S bayonet for stereo photographs.
This British Compass camera, which measures approximately 57 x 70 mm, fits into a special box with a tripod, remote release and film. It was made by a Swiss watch manufacturer.
What are your three favorite cameras in your collection?
My first choice right now would be the COOLPIX P900. I like its solid proportions - you really feel like you're holding a lens. This is exactly how a camera should be. The zoom performance is excellent, up to a focal length of 2,000 mm. Everything you need is conveniently available.
My second choice would be the Nikon F2. The Nikon F is a good camera, but it can be difficult to use at times. To remove these barriers, Nikon developed the F2. There are several versions of it with different types of viewfinder. I especially like the Nikon F2 Photomic A; it is compatible with the Ai system, so you can use different lenses with it. That's great.
My third choice would be the Nikon F3. It was the first flagship camera model with an electronic shutter and automatic exposure control with aperture preselection. It is almost perfect and has a very nice design. If, like me, you like to have every setting under control - aperture, exposure time and depth of field - then this camera is for you.
Among the lenses, I particularly like the AI NIKKOR 85mm f / 1.4S. It is an ideal lens for portrait photos. I also like the 135mm and 55mm lenses, which were made around the same time. The NIKKOR lenses from that time are really fantastic.
Aside from cameras, you also have many other items related to Nikon.
I'm such a big fan of the Nikon and Nippon Kogaku * that I've collected everything that bears the name Nikon over the years. I have a microscope that has two camera housings and a large profile projector. I have calendars from at least forty years. One of the curiosities is these Nikon sembei, baked rice crackers with the brand name "Nikon". I bought them from a pastry shop called Kibundo (on Kogaku St., which passes Nikon's Oi factory) about 30 years ago. They only had two boxes left so I bought both. I shared one box with a friend, but the other is still unopened and is part of the exhibition. I also have Nikon wine here - you don't find that very often either. This strap I am wearing was made in the USA but was not intended for sale. And so on. There are many more curiosities in my collection.
* Nippon Kogaku Kogyo Kabushikigaisha (Japan Optical Industries Co., Ltd.) is the old name of today's Nikon Corporation.
Visitors to the company were previously given these Nikon rice crackers baked by Kibundo, a pastry shop on a side street of the Nikon factory in Tokyo's Oi neighborhood.
This wall adorns an impressive display of Nikon calendars.
The collection also includes rare objects and promotional items not for sale.
This wall adorns an impressive display of Nikon calendars.
The collection also includes rare objects and promotional items not for sale.
I want to paint with a camera!
Architectural drawings for the new building.
What do you want from Nikon in the future?
Hope they don't just focus on pixels and other specs. The key is whether a camera can take great photos or not. So I hope Nikon will focus on this expressive quality. The camera has a long history. It has developed into a very powerful recording device that can even capture things that are invisible to the human eye. What interests me, however, are the camera's artistic abilities. I started taking photos because I wanted to "draw pictures" with a camera. You know, it's not about automating everything. Before I take a picture, I want to be able to see what the shutter speed, exposure and depth of field look like. Only when I am satisfied with these values do I take photos. I don't care whether it's a medium format camera, with a tripod or without - the main thing is that Nikon builds a camera that I can use to enjoy photography in my spare time. My personal request to Nikon is to build cameras that I can paint with.
Do you have any plans for the future of the Imai Collection?
Well, I actually plan to pack up the Imai Collection and rebuild it in another location, in my hometown of Kamikawa. When I made that decision, I figured I could put the cameras and lenses in boxes and then lock them away. It would be fascinating if someone discovered it then, say, 50 years after my death. Would they see it as a bunch of clutter or would it cause a lot of buzz? An inestimable treasure, industrial design masterpieces? However, I have shelved this time capsule plan. People told me it was a waste that they really wanted to see the collection. So I decided to sell this building and have a new one built in my hometown to house everything.
I do not plan to open the new building to the public. In addition to a garage for my vehicle collection, showcases for the cameras and audio systems, measuring instruments and transceivers will be installed in the two-story building. The total length of the display cabinets will be 200 meters, 30 meters more than now. I will call the collection Imai Collection 78 * ¹. And because the collection is like a second thread that runs through my life, I will call the building Yokomichi no Yakata * ², a name that suggests a detour or excursion. I would like to see my collection as a physical testimony to my accomplishments, the sum total of my life.
* ¹ Mr. Imai is 78 years old.
* ² The building will not be open to the public.
Mr. Sadao Imai
Message to Nikon on the company's 100th anniversary
First of all, I would like to congratulate Nikon on everything they have achieved over the past 100 years. Well done! Nikon is world famous, a brand that Japan can rightly be proud of. The Nikon Model I was introduced when I was a kid. I feel like I've been with Nikon for half my life. From 1948 to the present day, Nikon has steadfastly produced cameras that represent Japan. My wish is that the company will continue to be proud of the Nikon name and set the standard as the world's leading camera manufacturer.
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