27th in an occasional series

Staff writer
Shin Yasuhara, 34, is the founder, president, engineer, spokesman and salesman of Yasuhara Co., which he claims is the world’s smallest camera maker.

The firm was born out of communications on the World Wide Web. Yasuhara set up a Web site two years ago to talk about his plan, if not dream, to churn out from scratch an old-fashioned range-finder camera with a Leica L-type lens mount, which no major camera maker produces any more.

The Web site has attracted great attention and become a hot topic among Japanese camera enthusiasts.

A used Leica camera, which does not have a light meter and is difficult to handle, is usually sold for more than 100,000 yen at secondhand camera shops; the easier-to-use, brand-new but nostalgic range-finder T981 camera offered by Yasuhara is priced at 55,000 yen.

Yasuhara, a camera buff himself, said he wanted to produce a camera like the T981 because no camera maker now produces such a hobby camera due to the rise in commercialism and their pursuit of newer technologies. “Major camera makers now receive (high-tech) unit components from subcontractors and they simply assemble them. This system is good for mass production, but they can never produce a camera like this one,” Yasuhara said at his firm’s Tokyo office.

Yasuhara now exchanges e-mail and data on a daily basis with a Chinese state-owned optical equipment manufacturer in Jiangxi, southwest China, with which he jointly developed the T981.

More than 3,000 camera fans have rushed to place advance orders — many of them over the Internet — and late-comers will have to wait about a year before receiving the camera. “It would take at least three days to send a floppy disk to China by regular mail. I just can’t do my business (without the Internet),” Yasuhara said.

Four years ago, while sightseeing in China, Yasuhara discovered that old-fashioned metal-made cameras were still manufactured and sold there. “I bought one and showed it off to friends (in Japan.) They badly wanted them because such a camera is rare (here),” Yasuhara said.

He then ordered 50 units from the Chinese manufacturer to sell them to friends, and all were scooped up immediately.

Yasuhara, who was an engineer at a major camera maker, established his firm after receiving a government subsidy for starting up new businesses.

He quit his former company because he wanted to disrupt the peaceful but routine life he would have led until his dying days had he stayed on. He now goes fifty-fifty on the costs and profits with the Chinese optical maker, with which he entrusts the production of the T981.

Yasuhara said he has no intention of expanding his business further because he is fed up with the mass production of cameras, and he wants to remain an engineer, not a company manager.

“If I hire 20 or 30 people, I couldn’t do my engineering work by myself. I don’t want to count money and manage a company like that,” Yasuhara said, adding that a customer base of less than 10,000 would keep him happy.

Yasuhara Co.’s English Web site can be found at http://www.yasuhara.co.jp/

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