What can we tell?

I am not certain how exact an image of reality can be produced by a sample of 12,000 lenses. Nevertheless, the image that emerges from the Hexanon database has made it possible to uncover some interesting facts; to ascertain certain things with greater precision; and to refute some ideas long accepted as fact in the Konica users’ community.

The first thing that emerged from the database was the fact that the first Hexanon lens versions had no production code. Of course, no database was needed for this, as this would have been obvious to anyone looking at Hexanon lenses with the intention of finding out which ones had a code and which ones didn’t. In 35 years of using Hexanon lenses, I was used to the idea that some lenses had a code and some didn’t, but I never associated this fact with the existence of different Hexanon lens versions. Once the key to the production codes became clear, superimposing the same serial number ranges of lenses with and without a production code revealed that the production codes were introduced over a one year period starting in early 1972, and ending in early 1973. For more on this, see 'Production codes' in this section.

By far the most significant and interesting fact that emerges from the database is the sudden collapse of lens production in 1980-1982 by nearly 90% in fact. It is generally thought in the Konica community that a large quantity of Hexanon lenses, including most of the highly desirable ones, were in production until the company withdrew from the SLR market in 1988 and that production decreased gradually. In fact, of the 566 Hexanon lenses in the database manufactured after 1982, Tokina made 442, while Konica itself seems to have produced only 124 (about 28%). The latter were of only 3 types, one of which was made until 1984 only, and the two others until 1987.

Note:  The figures for 1972 and 1973 could be higher by up to 50% and 25%, respectively. In those years a great number of lenses with no production code were made.

Of the 12,000 lenses in the database, only 4.2% were manufactured between 1982 and 1988, an interval that represents over 29% of the period during which Hexanon AR lenses were manufactured. The average yearly production of 844 lenses for the period 1972-1980, fell to 86 during the period 1982-1988 – with 479 being made in 1981. It looks like Konica’s fortunes as a photo equipment manufacturer took a turn for the worse much sooner than I, for one, suspected, and that this turn seems to have been a dramatic one.

What could explain this? What follows is pure speculation as I don’t have any hard data but looking in retrospect, the turn of the seventies to the eighties was a difficult period for Konica. It was approximately at that time that the parent company in Japan decided to terminate its relationship with Berkey Photo, its US agent, and 'go direct'. One may sympathize with Konica’s desire to reduce costs, as everyone in the industry was doing the same in one form or another, but I suspect this move may have been very counterproductive, given the company’s unfamiliarity with the US market.

Another contributing factor may have been the public relations crisis related to the weak electronics of the FS-1's first production run. Until 1979, when this model was introduced, Konica enjoyed an enviable reputation as an OEM and its cameras were seen as solid and highly dependable tools. It is with the FS-1 that the some people began to see the company as the manufacturer of quirky and troublesome devices an image that persists in some quarters till this day. Having started using Konica gear in the second half of the seventies, I remember this image shift. Unfortunately, the company’s efforts to remedy the situation on the PR front were not as successful as they were on the technical one.

The database also makes it possible to establish with greater accuracy when specific lens versions were introduced. For example, it is often thought that some UC lenses were a 'very late addition to the line', whereas they all seem to have been made between 1975 and 1981. In fact, most Hexanon lens versions were only made for a few years, usually 5-6. The longest production run of any Hexanon AR lens with an unaltered optical construction is that if the portrait 85/1.8 it was made for 22 years (1965-1987).