Posts Tagged ‘Factory’

A quick tour of Fujifilm’s camera and lens factory in Sendai, Japan

11 Feb

Documentary cameraman Johnnie Behiri of Cinema5D was in Japan recently, when he was invited to visit one of Fujifilm’s camera and lens factories in Sendai, Japan. Having been on a few factory tours ourselves, we suggest you do exactly what Behiri did: say yes, and bring a camera to document your journey.

The factory Behiri visited is responsible for putting together Fujifilm’s Fujinon MK lenses, the X-T2 ILC, and the GFX 50S medium format camera and lenses. The tour is short and sweet, but you get to see how careful Fuji must be about cleanliness in a factory like this, and watch as the technicians assemble each Fujinon MK lens by hand.

This isn’t the first time someone has been invited inside the Sendai Factory. In fact, we went there ourselves in 2016. And one year before that, The Fuji Guys took their own tour of the factory, which you can watch below (even if it is a bit dated now):

Fuji fans can watch both tours above. And if this inspires you to go behind the scenes with a few other manufacturers, check out our visit to the Hasselblad factory in Sweden, the Leica factory in Germany, Canon’s L lens factory in Japan, and more.

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Take a look inside Hasselblad’s camera factory in Sweden

02 Jan

Take a look inside Hasselblad’s camera factory in Sweden

Hasselblad’s factory is located in Gothenburg – Sweden’s second largest city. The company has operated in Gothenburg since 1841, but it only became a camera manufacturer in 1941. Today’s HQ, down the river from the city centre, is where the company makes both the H-series cameras and the newer X1D mirrorless model.

During a recent visit I was shown around the factory and was lucky enough to get permission to photograph the production line in detail. They knew I was coming so any secret stuff was tucked away safely out of sight, but it was just as interesting speaking to the staff and finding out about the components of the cameras, what they do and seeing how they are made.

There were three things that really struck me about the factory. The first is that it is a lot smaller than other similar plants I’ve visited in the past. I was escorted almost all the time I was there, but there was no reception desk where I had to sign in, and I didn’t even have to wear a visitor’s badge – I guess because everyone knows everyone else and strangers stand out. The company employs 180 people worldwide, with only 40 people at the factory – and 30 of them working in production.

The second thing that caught my interest is the number of components that have been designed to be used in both H6D and X1D, thus making manufacturing more efficient. The third is the hand-made nature of the products. I’m used to factories powered by robots and automation, but this was a world of hand-tools and humans.

Click through this article for a tour.

The factory floor

This is the main area of the assembly line where the H6D and X1D are produced. I had expected to see the processes in a linear fashion from start to finish, but actually it seems different components are assembled as they are needed and each worker performs a range of tasks. This photo doesn’t show the whole factory, as there is an R&D area that I couldn’t go into, but this is where the current shipping products are put together. Hasselblad designs all the components itself but has most of them made by external suppliers, mostly from Sweden.

In this picture an X1D’s audio system is being tested in the foreground, and to the left a H6D body is being put together. In the distance, shutter units are being made.

Making the shutters

The shutter units start with a moulded ring of plastic onto which the components are attached. The company makes two sizes of shutter unit, both of which can be used in HC and XCD lenses for the H cameras and the X1D. The smaller, a 20mm shutter, uses one piezo-electric motor to open and close the iris, while the 28mm version has two.

A detailed shot of shutter unit, mid-assembly.

Making the shutters

So far the XCD lenses have only used the 20mm unit, but I’m told future lenses will use the larger one as well. The upcoming fast 80mm XCD lens will be a candidate for the larger shutter as its maximum aperture will be wider than f/2.

Measuring tension

The worker assembling the shutter units tests the tension of the shutter release mechanisms with her thumbs, as over time she has come to know what the right tension feels like. Once she thinks she has it right she tests each switch with a meter to verify her instincts.

After hand-testing the shutter release tension, the technician checks with a measuring tool.

Building the iris

Each blade of the lens iris is riveted by hand. It is then cleaned and attached to the main shutter mechanism.

Testing shutter accuracy

Each shutter unit is tested for accuracy and consistency of performance using a collimator and a device that measures the shape and size of the iris opening. Each aperture setting is tested multiple times, as is each shutter speed. If the unit isn’t up to scratch the operator on the testing desk either fixes it or sends it back a stage for investigation.

This shows a short sequence from a shutter accuracy test, measuring the shutter opening time and iris size. Other long term tests are carried out about once a week, and involve a shutter unit being put in a machine that triggers it for days on end. I was told the shutter life of Hasselblad lenses is quoted as over 1 million actuations.

H6D handgrips

The day I was at the plant, handgrips for the H6D were being made. There’s quite a lot of circuitry to fit into a small space.

50MP back for the A6D aerial camera

Here is the back of an A6D aerial camera being assembled. The main parts that go into the back are the 50MP sensor unit, the processing board and the control board. I was amazed that the company uses 32GB micro SD cards in these backs, but was told the calibration and firmware files the back uses are very big.

The ribbon cables and the boards are all connected by hand and fitted into the back during a delicate, pains-taking process.

Tilt and shift adapter

Here’s a HTS 1.5 tilt and shift adapter being put together. The adapter provides ‘large format’ movements for six of the company’s H system lenses. It allows up to 18mm of shift in both directions and 10° of tilt, while multiplying the focal length by approx. 1.5x because of its thickness.

Tilt and shift adapter

Again, the device is assembled by hand, with each screw being secured in place with thread-locking glue.

Assembling the auxiliary shutter

Between the mirror box and the sensor of the H series cameras there’s an auxiliary shutter that has to be sprung with exactly the right tension. Again this shutter unit is assembled by hand from a number of small components and then tested by touch while the tension is adjusted.

The man working at this station told me he needed the tension to be about 0.9 Newtons, and then tested the one he had just made to find he was only 0.02 N out. He said it took a few months of continuous manufacturing for him to be able to get the tension right by touch.

Adding the AF module and shutter mechanism

The aluminum chassis of the H6D is made at a foundry not far from the factory and has remained very much the same since the original H1. The final assembly of the body looks very complicated, as there is a mass of ribbon cable to fit between the boards, as well as the auxiliary shutter, the mirror mechanisms and the AF module. The chassis, the steel mount and the body shell are all made in Sweden.

The shot on the left shows the AF module of the H6D, which sits behind the main mirror. The last shot shows the chassis loaded with electronics and ready to be fitted into the body and to have the handgrip attached.

Mechanical tests for the H6D

In this picture, H6D bodies await mechanical testing and measuring. The length of the body can’t vary by more than 0.02mm in order for the autofocus to work. This machine is used to measure the position of the AF module and the AF mirror, and to match the view of the viewfinder with the sensor via the position of the mirror.

Each body is then attached to a metal block for the orientation sensor to be calibrated – a process that helps facilitate the company’s True Focus feature. This feature measures the angle the camera moves during a focus-lock-and-recompose routine, so that the added distance between the image plabe and the subject can be compensated for in the focusing.

Calibrating the H6D

In a clean room each H6D undergoes its individual calibration procedure. First the sensor and filters are checked for dust and dirt, and cleaned until they are spotless. Then the sensor is checked for dead pixels and the color characteristics, dynamic range and brightness response are measured.

Calibrating the H6D

Each camera has its own calibration program which is loaded onto the body and fired up every time the camera starts. The calibration data is saved at the factory should it ever need to be reloaded to the camera.
It takes about an hour to calibrate each body.

X1D mechanical tests

Once assembled the cameras go through a series of mechanical and systems tests to ensure they are functioning correctly. Operators take a series of pictures with each model and check the audio system, among other things.

X1D mechanical tests

The technician looking down a long dark box is checking there’s no light leaking from the side of the rear LCD panel.

Profiling X1D bodies

Color response is recorded and adjusted so that the camera will produce ‘Hasselblad Color’. As with the H6D, each X1D body has its own tailor-made calibration which is loaded to the internal memory. That’s why the cameras take a couple of seconds to start up.
Each camera takes about 700 pictures during the calibration process.

Profiling X1D bodies

Here an X1D is being calibrated, and the monitor shows the characteristics that are being checked with. As can be seen, in this example the sensor (which is CMOS, not CCD as marked) isn’t aligned within tolerances, so it will be adjusted.

Final checks and cleaning

The last part of the process involves a bright light and a high powered magnifying glass. A lady personally inspects every model that leaves the factory for dirt, dust and marks. She cleans each body very carefully, rubs and polishes, before she is satisfied and it can be boxed.

Final checks and cleaning

X1D bodies towards the end of the production and checking process, before being boxed and shipped to customers all over the world.

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Nikon shuts down camera factory in China, blames ‘the rise of smartphones’

31 Oct

Earlier today, the Nikon board of directors announced plans to close Nikon Imaging (China) Co., LTD (NIC)—a subsidiary based in Wuxi City, Jiangsu, China, where NIC employed some 2,500 workers at a factory that produced compact digital cameras and DSLR lenses. The closure, says Nikon, is due to “the rise of smartphones” and the “rapidly shrinking” compact camera market.

Nikon’s announcement of the closure lays the blame for this cut squarely on the shoulders of the smartphone revolution.

In recent years […] due to the rise of smartphones, the compact digital camera market has been shrinking rapidly, leading to a significant decrease in operating rate at NIC and creating a difficult business environment. In this context, the Company conducted rounds of thorough reviews and discussions on the global manufacturing structure optimization measures stated in the company-wide restructuring plan announced by the Company in November 2016. The Company has decided to discontinue operations of NIC.

Nikon says expenses related to the closure of the factory and “discontinued operations of the consolidated subsidiary” are expected to reach about 7 Billion Yen (~$ 62 million USD).

Of course, the end of Nikon Imaging (China) doesn’t mean the end of Nikon cameras in China. According to Nikkei, Nikon controls 30% of the digital camera market there, and Nikon itself says it will “continue proactively developing business and services in China.” This move is simply in keeping with a harsh if unsurprising (and “old news”) reality: the smartphone has killed the entry-level compact.

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Sony Kumamoto sensor factory earthquake: first public footage

14 Aug

Sony Kumamoto sensor factory: first public footage of the 2016 earthquake

On April 16, 2016, disaster struck in Kumamoto in the Kyushu region of Japan. A series of earthquakes, including an unprecedented 7.0 mainshock struck beneath Kumamoto City where Sony’s sensor factory resides. The factory itself was a mere 20 kilometers from the earthquake’s epicenter. A foreshock (warning) of magnitude 6.2 came approximately two days earlier, which gave the factory time to evacuate; however, the damage to the carefully built, precision controlled and automated factory with clean rooms was devastating. Not to mention the impact on the lives of those in the region…

During a recent trip to the repaired Kumamoto factory, DPReview was afforded an inside look at the facility and a chance to meet the very people that keep one of the world’s largest sources of imaging sensors operational. We watched a video that showed the extent of the damages and repair efforts. Combined with a better of understanding of how the facility operates, we were able to appreciate just how extensive the destruction and repair processes were. We’ll get to that in the following slides, but have a look above at the public’s first look of footage from the facility during the earthquake, and the massive repair efforts that followed.

Massive impact

Before we dive more into the impact on Sony’s sensor factory itself, we’d be remiss to not mention the impact on the region. The foreshock and mainshock together claimed more than 50 lives, injured 3,000 others, forced more than 44,000 people to evacuate from their homes and left over 180,000 people seeking shelter in the days after the earthquake. The entire city of Kumamoto was left without water, flights were grounded, as was rail service due to a derailed train. A thousand buildings had been seriously damaged either directly by the earthquake or due to the resulting fires and landslides, and an entire hospital had to be evacuated due to the building being knocked off its foundation.

More than 140 aftershocks were registered within just two days. The estimated economic costs due to the earthquake are estimated to be up to $ 7.5 billion USD. Although you can’t quite appreciate it in this image, the sensor factory is surrounded by mountainous hills resulting from a tectonic line housing many active faults. Earthquakes of some magnitude or another are common to the area. In the following days we’ll have more pictures of the area, as we traveled extensively within the Kyushu region.

Source of statistics: Wikipedia

‘The outside was visible from inside the clean-room’

Many sections of the 40,000 square meter facility were severely damaged. There were continued aftershocks for many days that made it difficult to even re-enter and start repairs. In fact, the region is used to After it was deemed safe to enter, the damage was assessed. It was extensive. Heavy duty H-beams for structural support buckled, causing walls and ceilings to collapse. Here is an image showing the ceiling of the clean room ripped open, exposing the sky above. ‘Now we were speechless’ said the camera crew filming the damage.

And those ceilings aren’t your typical roofs over your head: they house tracks that carry many of the parts from machine to machine in the automated processes of taking a silicon wafer and generating active sensors from them. Essentially, many parts of the sensor development process were disrupted.

Delicate, precision machinery: shattered

The extensive damage to the clean room meant that many of the machines automatically processing silicon wafers to generate sensors* were destroyed, including the many wafers each machine contained. Throughout the video you’ll see shattered silicon – at various stages of the silicon-to-sensor process – scattered everywhere. Ultimately many functional machines were salvaged, removed, and brought back after the clean room was reconstructed, but many were deemed too damaged to ever function again.

* Stay tuned for an in-depth look at the actual sensor manufacturing process, which we learned about during a recent trip to the factory.

All hands on deck

The sensor factory in Kumamoto produces most sensors Sony manufactures not just for their own cameras, but for other manufacturers as well, including those in the smartphone, security camera, webcam, automotive, medical and other imaging-related industries. The disruption of this facility had no small impact: consider that by July 2017, Sony has sold 7.2 billion sensors worldwide.

Therefore, it was imperative to restore operations to normal as soon as possible. And that’s why Sony factory members themselves, including executive ones, went to work right away restoring the factory. There are nearly 2700 employees at this factor, and it was all hands on deck.

A spirit of personal responsibility and dedication

Imagine an earthquake at your corporate office that ruined much of your workspace. Would you expect to return to clean up and help repair the damage yourself? That’s what the Kumamoto employees did. The spirit is really remarkable when you stop to consider that most of us here in the States would expect our companies to simply ‘deal with it’. Here is a factory employee vacuuming up thousands of fragments of broken silicon wafers.

Operations resumed ahead of schedule

The factories worked with such diligence and dedication that they restored operations ahead of schedule. They did this whilst putting in place precautions that would lower the lead time from 3.5 months to 2 months were this sort of disaster to happen in the future. These measures included stronger piping as well as the engineering of self-stop systems that halt precision processes when shake is detected. These systems respond in particular to P-waves, the first of two major elastic seismic waves to arrive at a seismograph during an earthquake.

A human story of courage, dedication and ultimate success

And so the story ends on a happy note. Here is an image of the team of employees that worked countless hours to restore the Kumamoto facility to normal operations. We can only imagine the dedication involved, and how heartening it was to work together to bring back to life such an important part of the company. It’s a story of not just company dedication and culture, but a human one of working together to achieve an honorable goal.

We were obviously touched watching the video and seeing the spirit of the employees. Were you? Let us know in the comments below.

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Behind the scenes: An interview with the heads of Canon’s L lens factory

22 Mar
From left to right, Mr Hayakawa, Mr Okada and Mr Izuki, the three men in charge of development and keeping things running smoothly at Canon’s Utsunomiya lens plant. 

Following the CP+ 2017 show in Japan, we headed to Canon’s Utsunomiya lens factory to take a tour (see what we found) and interview the gentlemen who oversee all operations and development. This included Kenichi Izuki, the Plant Manager, Masato Okada, Deputy Chief Executive of Image Communication and Products Operations and Shingo Hayakawa, Deputy Group Executive of Image Communication and Products Operations.

The Utsunomiya plant is where all Canon’s L series, cinema, and broadcast lenses are produced. It’s also where all Canon lenses are designed. Many of those designs can be attributed to the three men pictured above. In fact just before we started the interview Mr Izuki informed us that he had been lead designer of the EF 35mm F2 IS lens we’d chosen to document the factory tour. So there’s also a pretty good chance you have one of them to thank for your favorite Canon glass!

Please note that this interview was conducted through an interpreter, and has been edited slightly for clarity and flow.

The magic place where all Canon L lenses are born.

What percentage of L lenses are manufactured in the Utsunomiya lens plant?

Because this is the ‘mother’ factory, 100% of L lenses are made here.

How many different lenses can be manufactured simultaneously in this plant?

Basically, we create all lenses every day [including L-series EF, Cinema EOS and broadcast]. The only exception is some of the broadcast lenses.

Which lenses in particular are the most difficult to manufacture and why?

Any large super telephoto lenses because of the size of the glass elements. In terms of skill required for lens assembly: the TV broadcast lenses are most difficult.

How many lenses are produced at this lens plant every year, both in terms of types of lenses and total units?

We do not disclose total production for this plant. That said, Canon has produced a total of 120 million lenses over the years. Of course, many of those are kit lenses, which are not produced here, but in our facility in Taiwan.

Mr Izuki, the plant manager, teaching us about the lens production process. 

Tell us a little bit about the history of the plant.

The facility as a whole has been here for forty years, however prior to 2005, we were located in an older building on the other side of the property. And the land where the current plant sits was initially owned by the Du Pont family. When they returned it to the prefecture, we bought it.

The current lens facility opened in 2005. When we moved in we completely revamped our lens-making machines and devices. Not all, but the majority. This helped to push [us] to a higher standard of quality.

Over the past 40 years, lenses have changed a lot, with autofocus introduced, aspherics, etc., what was the largest paradigm shift in lens technology?

We are reaching the 30th anniversary of the introduction of the EOS line. It was at that time, in 1987, that we moved into autofocus. When we did that, I believe we were the first ones to go fully-electronic mount autofocus. Because the motors were built into the lens we had a significant competitive edge.

As DSLR resolution increases, it can be a challenge to achieve precise focus because AF errors are more noticeable. How do you reduce this risk in the manufacturing and quality control process?

Overall precision is something customers are increasingly requiring. In this factory, we have increased the level of precision of our machines so that lenses have more accurate autofocus.

A lens going through QC testing. Information from the test will be saved on a chip in the lens.

During the tour it was mentioned that Canon lenses now store their quality control test data using on-board memory. Can that data be used to improve autofocus reliability?

We do store data from final lens testing on each unit. I won’t be able to speak in greater detail other than saying, yes, in theory, that data could be used to achieve higher autofocus performance [better AF precision] with a DSLR.

How long does it take a lens like the Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L III USM to make its way from start to finish in the assembly line?

From raw material being polished, to the final tested product being boxed: about 24 hours of work, in theory. But the physical production would actually take longer. This is because we are producing parts in batches and there are machines that need to be fitted. These variables aside, if you take the actual time of labor, assembly and packaging, it is about 24 hours.

You mentioned you were looking to hit an 80% automation rate in this facility. What kind of efficiency gain does that represent?

It’s difficult to say in terms of time, but I can say it use to take about 70 people to make a lens like that prior to automation, now we need about 6 or 7.

As production becomes more automated will you require fewer skilled manual workers?

In one sense yes. But it’s not about firing the rest of these people, it’s about allowing them the time to build up their skills. This way they can face challenges and difficulties like increasing precision and performance. So we’ve essentially been able to allocate these workers to a different environment.

A lens in the final assembly process. It can take 25-30 years to become an Assembly Meister at Canon’s Utsunomiya plant. 

Typically how long does someone train before they attain the title of ‘Meister’?

In terms of the level of ‘Lens Meister,’ it would take 30-35 years. For ‘Assembly Meisters”, 25-30 years.

Now that the process for assembly, element polishing and quality control is so automated, we’re curious how many lenses pass QC the first time vs those that have to go back for re-calibration.

In terms of maintaining a level of quality before going into mass production, we do a lot of checking and scenario building [using a super computer] to make sure everything will go right. Once a lens goes into mass production we can safely say that we have seen no lenses returned for further calibration.

What impact did the 2011 have on this facility and how long did it take to recover?

A lot of the ceilings came down. We took a big hit in that regard. But, we were able to come back into operation within about 2 to 3 months.

While not the most exciting photo, if you look very carefully, you might see some minor impressions on the linoleum. This is (subtle) evidence of the 2011 earthquake, which caused some ceilings to collapse. The yellow tape line is used by computerized robots in the factory.

Did you implement any changes as a result of the earthquake?

We have fortified the building, so that it is more earthquake-proof. And the assembly tools we use are put together in such as way that they are shake-proof.

Are there major differences in how you QC test broadcast and cinema lenses vs EF lenses?

The concept for testing is basically the same. But, in terms of broadcast/cinema lenses there are some unique customizations that we offer depending on the particular cameraman or filmmaker. If they want to zoom by hand, for instance, we can accommodate the pressure of the mechanism to their requirements.

A lot of your users use EF lenses for video creation. Has that changed the way you design some EF lenses?

In terms of stills shooter, when it comes to autofocus, the faster the better. On the other hand, videographers tend to require a variance in autofocus speed. Sometimes they want a slow effect. So we had to create a motor that could actually do both fast and slow focus. This is why we introduced Nano-USM. It’s in both the 18-135mm F3.5-5.6 IS USM and the 70-300mm F4-5.6 IS II USM.

Will that kind of autofocus be used more in the future as video becomes more of a requirement for users?


At any given time, how many new lenses are in development at this facility?

I can not give you a number, unfortunately. But I can say that new lenses are in development as we speak. So I hope you look forward to them.

Results of a QC test.

Editors note (by Dan Bracaglia):

Let me begin by saying how grateful I was to be given access to Canon’s lens factory and what an honor and privilege it was to sit down and interview the creators of some of Canon’s most legendary glass. In my six and a half years writing about photography, this was one of my most memorable and rewarding experiences. 

As you might expect, there were nearly endless points of fascination. Some of which are covered in this interview, others in our factory tour slideshow. Something that particularly interested me is the fact that all the information from a lens’ final calibration and quality control check is saved on a chip within the lens itself. The idea here is this information can been used, in theory, when a lens comes back in for cleaning or recalibration. It also means that at some point, perhaps camera bodies will be able to access this information, which could lead to better AF precision. This is solid forward thinking on Canon’s part. 

I was also intrigued to find that Canon manufactures every L lens in the same factory. Not only that but every current lens in the L series is being made every day. As you might imagine, security at the facility is very tight. 

“Canon, it seems, recognizes just how important pushing lens development is”

Also hearing Canon put a concrete number on their automation goals (80%) was interesting. Of course you could read that as Canon displacing workers with machines, but throughout the tour and the interview, our guides made it clear that automation wasn’t about replacing workers, rather dedicating more workers to research and development. Canon, it seems, recognizes just how important pushing lens development is, all while maintaining a high level of quality control. Automation offers just this. 

And I’m not ordinarily one to be starstruck, but when Mr. Izuki told me he designed the Canon EF 35mm F2 IS, my jaw dropped a little. There’s nothing quite like standing of front of the creator of one of your favorite lenses. Speaking of favorites, we also asked Mr. Hayakawa, Mr Okada and Mr Izuki which Canon lens they’ve designed/worked on over the years they are most proud of. We got some great answers. We’ll be posting those in a separate article soon, so stay tuned!

Barney, just prior to entering the factory floor. We also went through a room that blasted us with air. Dust is the enemy in a lens factory. 


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Abandoned Tobacco Factory Gets an Acid-Toned Makeover & a New Purpose

21 Mar

[ By SA Rogers in Art & Installation & Sound. ]


An abandoned, dark and dilapidated tobacco factory is ‘activated’ as a public meeting place to talk about revitalizing unused spaces through a cheerfully haphazard application of vivid, acid-toned paint. Puerto Rican artist Sofia Maldonado created ‘Kalaña’ as part of the series ‘Cromática: Caguas a Color,’ a collaboration with six other artists exploring the intersection of art, community and abandoned architecture.

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kalana 6

You can take in the cavernous space while it’s empty and appreciate it for all its wild neon drips, sprays and strokes, taking in how much this simple application of paint has transformed the feel of the space, making it exponentially more welcoming. But Maldonado doesn’t consider the work complete until it’s buzzing with people, serving its ultimate purpose.

kalana 3

kalana 4

“My work is mainly inspired by colors and also by the Caribbean way of living; just experiencing light and color,” she says. “The project itself is not just painting an abandoned building. It’s also the idea of having an agenda. It’s a different format of how a public art piece can also become a creative and educational hub.”

kalana 5

kalana 7

Now, a circular bike ramp encourages playful interaction with the space, and there’s a small stage for speeches and performances. The space will host workshops, lectures, music, presentations and other events.

Screen Shot 2017-03-20 at 3.03.35 PM

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“This project was very challenging, but I think it’s exactly what I needed in order to create a new sort of dialogue that could place my work in a different context…” says Maldonado. “It allows me to bring my work into a bigger dimension and also to start a dialogue with the community and open a door for people to have a different perspective and intends to bring new meaning to what painting is, what public art could be, and also how can you integrate a community that surrounds it.”

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[ By SA Rogers in Art & Installation & Sound. ]

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The home of the L-series: We tour Canon’s Utsunomiya factory

20 Mar

The home of the L-series: Inside Canon’s Utsunomiya lens factory

Recently, following the CP+ 2017 show in Yokohama, we were granted the enormous honor of a guided tour through Canon’s Utsunomiya lens factory. Canon has been making lenses in Utsunomiya since 1977, and we were the first journalists ever to be allowed to see the L-series assembly line.

Utunsomiya (indicated with the dropped pin) is the capital and largest city of Tochigi Prefecture, in the northern Kant? region of Japan – about 80 miles north of Tokyo.

On February 27th, we made our way from Yokohama to Utsunomiya in the company of several representatives from Canon Inc., and our friends Dave Etchells and William Brawley from Imaging Resource. Click through this slideshow to see what we found.

The home of the L-series: Inside Canon’s Utsunomiya lens factory

Plant Manager Kenichi Izuki introduces his team. Of the six ‘Master Craftsmen’ within Canon, two of them work at the Utsunomiya plant. 

The home of the L-series: Inside Canon’s Utsunomiya lens factory

Mr Izuki explains what the Utsunomiya plant does. As you can see, several different families of products are manufactured in Utsunomiya, from high-end broadcast and EF lenses to components for office equipment.

The 2-story plant itself employs around 1,700 people and covers an area of almost 80,000 square meters (roughly 20 acres). 

The home of the L-series: Inside Canon’s Utsunomiya lens factory

Painted yellow lines snake through the corridors of the Utsunomiya factory. These are ‘read’ by robotic carts that carry components to various parts of the plant on pre-programmed routes.

The home of the L-series: Inside Canon’s Utsunomiya lens factory

Why, here’s one of them now!

The home of the L-series: Inside Canon’s Utsunomiya lens factory

One of the two ‘Master Craftsmen’ at the Utsunomiya factory, Mr Saito explains the incredibly fine tolerances involved in the creation of 4/8K broadcast lenses. Canon claims a tolerance of +/-30 nanometers. As such, if one of the finished elements were scaled up to the size of an Olympic stadium, the surface variation would be no thicker than a plastic grocery bag. 

Yes, you read that correctly.

The home of the L-series: Inside Canon’s Utsunomiya lens factory

To make these lenses, first you must make the tools which shape them. In the foreground, on the left you’ll see a steel ‘prototype standard’. Every element in a broadcast lens was born here, from a prototype standard – effectively a ‘master’, rather like a shoemaker’s last, from which the element takes it essential shape. Canon stores thousands of them.

The home of the L-series: Inside Canon’s Utsunomiya lens factory

On the left is the diamond plate, which takes its shape precisely from the prototype standard. This is used to make the lens polishing tool. Each grey disk on the plate is a diamond grindstone. On the right is the polishing tool itself, with its array of polyurethane pads, which is used to polish a single side of each glass element.

Each surface of every element takes roughly 90 minutes to polish, and this is done by hand.

The home of the L-series: Inside Canon’s Utsunomiya lens factory

The grinding and polishing process of broadcast lens elements explained. 

The home of the L-series: Inside Canon’s Utsunomiya lens factory

A replica prototype standard, with a measurement tool on the right. The tool is incredibly accurate, and is used to check for surface inaccuracies. Even a divergence of 0.1 microns (1/10,000th of a millimeter) from design parameters would be considered unacceptable.

The home of the L-series: Inside Canon’s Utsunomiya lens factory

Mr Saito demonstrates how a diamond plate is shaped by hand, using a large (and very heavy) carborundum disk. 

The home of the L-series: Inside Canon’s Utsunomiya lens factory

With decades’ of experience, Master Craftsmen (or ‘Takumi’) can tell when to apply more or less pressure by feel alone. Some processes, like this one, are considered so critical that they must be performed by hand.

It typically takes between 25-30 years before a lens polishing technician attains the status of ‘Meister’, and their experience is essential to the production line. 

The home of the L-series: Inside Canon’s Utsunomiya lens factory

Here, an element is being smoothed. Afterwards it will be centered, and then polished. Every day, the manufacturing process uses 400 tonnes of water, which is purified and re-used continually in a ‘closed loop’ system.

The home of the L-series: Inside Canon’s Utsunomiya lens factory

Not everything is done by hand. When it comes to EF lenses, Canon is expanding its automated manufacturing capabilities. We were extremely privileged to be shown this lens element polishing machine, which processes glass elements from a raw ‘cake’ of glass right through to final polishing, without any human intervention. 

During our tour, this particular machine was processing elements for the new Canon EF 16-35mm F2.8L III USM. From a raw cake of unpolished glass to a finished element the process of grinding, polishing and centering takes about 30 minutes. If this were done in the traditional (non-automated) manner it would take about 3 days per element. 

The home of the L-series: Inside Canon’s Utsunomiya lens factory

Here’s a single element from the Canon EF 16-35mm F2.8L III USM at the beginning of its life, as a cake of raw glass. This is what gets fed into the polishing machine. A finished element emerges from the machine every two minutes, and we’re told that all of the non-aspherical elements in the new Canon EF 16-35mm F2.8L III USM are processed in this way. 

Aspherical elements are produced using a separate high-precision molding process, which happens elsewhere in the facility, behind closed doors. 

The home of the L-series: Inside Canon’s Utsunomiya lens factory

Canon is at pains to point out that machines like this can only be created as a result of the Master Craftsmen’s decades of experience. The machines themselves are made in-house too, by Canon’s Production Engineering Headquarters. 

Although there has been a factory on this site since 1977, Canon opened the current building in 2005. According to Masato Okada, Deputy Chief Executive of Image Communication Products Operations, this move provided an opportunity for Canon to completely revamp its lens production methodology.

The home of the L-series: Inside Canon’s Utsunomiya lens factory

After watching elements being polished, the next stage of the tour is lens assembly. Before we set foot in this area of the facility, we need to don coveralls and take a cool, refreshing ‘air shower’ to make sure we don’t accidentally contaminate the production line. Here’s Barney, trying not to brush against the (sticky) walls of the decontamination room. 

The home of the L-series: Inside Canon’s Utsunomiya lens factory

This area of the factory is where Canon’s high-end L-series lenses are assembled. Like the broadcast lenses, much of the assembly process for fast prime telephotos is still done by hand. 

The home of the L-series: Inside Canon’s Utsunomiya lens factory

Here, a Canon assembly line Meister (her badge tells us she’s been a Meister for 17 years) works on the front assembly of a telephoto prime lens. 

The home of the L-series: Inside Canon’s Utsunomiya lens factory

A finished EF 300mm f/2.8L IS II USM is checked by computer before its final housing is put on.

The home of the L-series: Inside Canon’s Utsunomiya lens factory

‘OK’ – this one passed! You can read up on Zernicke Polynomials here, if you like that sort of thing.

The home of the L-series: Inside Canon’s Utsunomiya lens factory

This finished lens is being checked on a computerized test rig, which measures the lens’s optical characteristics in three positions, across 48 points of a proprietary test chart (which we’re not allowed to show, sorry). The camera is a modified EOS 5D Mark III. We don’t know exactly how it’s been modified, but our guide mentioned some firmware and hardware differences compared to a stock model. 

Interestingly, information about the lens’s optical characteristics is saved to a chip inside the lens itself. This data can be read and updated by Canon if and when the lens comes back for service. This allows information to be gathered about the durability of certain components over time and allows Canon to learn about long-term wear patterns.

The home of the L-series: Inside Canon’s Utsunomiya lens factory

Although rarely-used now, some lenses are still occasionally tested partly by using the traditional ‘projection’ method. Here, in a darkened room off to one side of the assembly line a technician (just visible in the background, under the image of the chart) is inspecting the image projected through a telephoto prime lens.

The home of the L-series: Inside Canon’s Utsunomiya lens factory

Increasingly, Canon uses automated assembly processes for its L-series zooms, which have a comparably higher sales volume than telephoto primes and broadcast lenses.

Again, the new EF 16-35mm F2.8L III USM is at the forefront of developments in automation. Roughly 50% of the assembly process of this lens is automated and Canon tells us that, they’re aiming for 80% automation within a year.

The home of the L-series: Inside Canon’s Utsunomiya lens factory

Because the non-aspherical elements in the EF 16-35mm F2.8L III USM are polished automatically, and 50% of the assembly process is done by machines, the amount of people involved in the manufacture of the new EF 16-35mm F2.8L III USM is relatively small. Roughly 10% of the manpower required if it were manufactured entirely by hand, we’re told.

The home of the L-series: Inside Canon’s Utsunomiya lens factory

Here, the view from a tiny camera inside the assembly machine shows a technician what’s happening. A EF 16-35mm F2.8L III USM’s focus positioning brush switch is being installed – a highly delicate procedure which requires extremely precise positioning.

The home of the L-series: Inside Canon’s Utsunomiya lens factory

Here’s another one of those modified EOS 5D Mark III lens checking cameras, this time hooked up to a finished EF 16-35mm F2.8L III USM.

The home of the L-series: Inside Canon’s Utsunomiya lens factory

It passed! We get the impression that very few lenses don’t. From start to finish, it takes roughly 24 (non-continuous) hours to manufacture each 16-35mm.

Editors’ note:

It’s impossible to come away from Canon’s Utsunomiya plant without an appreciation for the vast amount of expertise employed by Canon in the manufacturing of its high-end lenses. One striking aspect of the assembly process of broadcast lenses is how many steps are deemed so critical that they must be accomplished by hand. In the broadcast lenses assembly line we were told repeatedly that ‘this process is too complex to be performed by a machine’.

One of the reasons that Canon’s broadcast lenses are so costly is that as we saw, each element is hand-polished – often by someone with a minimum of 30 years’ experience. Internally, assembling one of Canon’s high-end broadcast lenses is considered among the most difficult jobs in its entire production line.

Manufacturing high-volume EF lenses in this way would be impractical (the wait-times for new models would likely stretch into decades…) but even so, when it comes to fast telephoto primes, much of the process is still performed by hand.

‘anyone that fetishizes the words ‘made by hand’ should try shooting with the EF 16-35mm F2.8L III sometime.’

Perhaps most impressive though is the automation. Canon has clearly invested a lot of time and energy (not to mention money) in automated lens polishing and assembly. We’ve been lucky enough to visit several factories, run by several manufacturers, and Canon’s Utsunomiya plant is definitely the most advanced that we’ve seen. Automation of critical lens polishing and assembly processes makes perfect sense for mass-produced products, and anyone that still blindly fetishizes the words ‘made by hand’ should try shooting with the EF 16-35mm F2.8L III sometime.

Canon’s self-calibrating lens polishing machines (designed and manufactured in-house) are capable of incredible precision, and the data gathered by automated testing and eventual servicing can be used in any number of different ways, to improve quality control over time.

After watching the entire assembly process from lens element polishing to final QC checks, we’re most excited by the possibilities which emerge from Canon’s inclusion of a chip inside each recent lens, which saves data about its own specific optical characteristics.

‘This could allow for… a bespoke ‘lens profile’ to be applied automatically’

As well as data-gathering and long-term quality control improvement, this also opens up the possibility that at some point a lens’s specific optical characteristics might be made available to the camera to which it is attached. This could allow for automatic AF fine-tuning, or potentially even for a bespoke ‘lens profile’ to be applied automatically to correct for optical characteristics unique to that one lens. This isn’t possible right now, but we’re told that Canon is working on making it a reality.

What did you make of this tour through Canon’s Utsunomiya factory? Let us know in the comments. 

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Pictures show how badly earthquakes damaged Sony’s Kumamoto sensor factory

28 Jan
Photo via Sony

If you wondered why it took Sony so long to get back on its feet after an earthquake hit its sensor fabrication plant in Kumamoto, this picture taken in the aftermath might give you a clue. The halt in production at the factory had a devastating effect on large sections of the camera industry in 2016 as it was the provider of sensors for a huge range of products – from the Nikon DL cameras to the 100MP backs for Phase One and Hasselblad medium-format bodies.

This picture of the chaos inside the plant emerged in October last year as Sony announced plans to ensure such natural disasters would only knock out production for a maximum of two months. The earthquake that hit in April 2016 kept the Kumamoto business silent for over three and a half months, and it took until September for production to return to pre-quake levels. According to a report by the Nikkei Asian Review Sony estimates the event cost the company $ 776 million in lost operating profit. 

Tragically, at least fifty deaths are attributed to the earthquakes and around tens of thousands were forced from their homes in the prefecture. Recovery continues as displaced residents have begun moving back into the region.

More dramatic pictures of the quake-hit plant can be seen in this article on the Apple Daily website.

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Hawks Factory announces new 35mm F2 in M-mount

07 Jan

Japanese optical manufacturer Hawks Factory has released details of a new lens it has designed in homage to ‘old-style’ Leica M lenses. The Tsubasa Swallow 35mm F2 comes in a Leica M-mount and intends to produce images with a retro feel, according the company. It will display high resolution in the center of the frame and a soft blur at the edges when used wide open. Hawks Factory claims that the style of image the lens produces is something that ‘fascinates people all over the world’. 

The Tsubasa Swallow 35mm F2 is constructed using eight elements in six groups and features an iris created with 14 blades that closes to F16. The company says the glass and the polishing are Japanese, and that they designed their own helicoid for the focusing ring. The lens has an all-metal barrel that is said to be designed to withstand decades of use, but the company doesn’t specify whether the focusing mechanism is coupled to the camera’s rangefinder system or whether users will be expected to focus via Live View.

The lens is expected to be released for sale in February and, according to Leica Rumours, will be priced ¥198,000 (approx. $ 1800). For more information and some sample images see this translated version of the Hawks Factory website.

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Rebuilding Blocks: Mobile Factory Turns Disaster Debris into Modular Bricks

26 Sep

[ By WebUrbanist in Architecture & Houses & Residential. ]


In the wake of intentional demolition or unexpected disasters, the Mobile Factory system can be shipped inside just two cargo containers and begin to turn rubble from ruins into building blocks for reconstruction.

Developed in The Netherlands, the technology filters concrete from other rubble, which is then cast into interlocking blocks (like LEGO bricks) that require no joinery to form stable walls. These units can be stacked without specialized training or equipment, making it possible for communities to rebuild efficiently and cheaply.

The resulting structures are earthquake-resistant, held together in part by bamboo rods threaded through voids in a certain subset of the wall blocks (which can also be used to thread in utilities, including plumbing and electrical lines).


Since the system fits into a pair of shipping containers, it can easily be transported from site to site, building blocks close to where they will be used and reducing transit time and costs. The reversibility of this construction approach also means that temporary buildings can be erected quickly in the wake of a disaster. In turn, these can be disassembled or adapted easily in the weeks, months and years following an emergency situation.

Consider the 2010 earthquake in Haiti that left hundreds of thousands dead and millions homeless. Over five years later and the country is still littered with 25 million tons of construction debris, which technologies like this can help turn into affordable housing. Indeed, the Mobile Factory organization is looking into expanding their work in Haiti, Peru and other countries in need of this tech.


“In disasters, you have piles and piles of rubble and the rubble is waste. If you are rich, you buy more bricks and rebuild your home,” said one of the organization’s founders. “But what happens if you are poor? In disasters it is the poorest people who live in the weakest houses and they lose their homes first. I thought, what if you recycled the rubble to build back better homes for poor people?”

Beyond wars and tsunamis in nations further afield, there are potential urban applications in densely-built places like the Europe and the United States: cities like Baltimore and Detroit spend vast amounts of money demolishing buildings (and in some cases: entire blocks), then clear the rubble and put it in landfills. This technology suggests an alternative: reusing on or close to the demolition site, reducing material and energy waste as well post-demolition transportation costs.

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