This woman's job was to assemble and inspect every rear element of the Kiron 80-200mm zoom to ensure that there were no flaws in the multicoating and that every surface was dust-free. She also made a great bowl of nabeyaki udon.
Back during the early 1980s I used to be the marketing communications manager for Kiron, the U.S. marketing division of Kino Optical. Kino used to be one of the major lens suppliers for Vivitar. For those of you too young to remember, Vivitar used to be the U.S. distributor for the Olympus OM system, the legendary Vivitar 283 and 285 flash units, and Series 1 lenses. Series 1 lenses were made by Kino.
Kino decided it would be more profitable to market and distribute its lenses directly rather than through Vivitar. They named their U.S. distributor Kiron. My job at Kiron was to write brochures and instruction manuals, design point of sale materials and answer questions from consumers. For some reason the owner decided it would be a good idea to fly me to Japan to photograph their factory. Who was I to argue?
It was a great education in how lenses are made and assembled--or I should say, how they used to be made and assembled. Kino lens barrels were made of old school materials such as brass and aluminum. Their lenses had aperture rings (remember those?) controlled by levers, springs and cams. They also had functional focusing rings that turned as smoothly as silk.
This emphasis on mechanical design would eventually prove to be their undoing. When the age of autofocus and electronic control dawned, Kiron found itself edged out of the market. It wasn't that the new autofocus lenses were better; it's just that they were more convenient for the consumer. They eliminated onerous tasks such as turning a ring and having to decide for yourself whether the image was in focus or not. And if autofocus meant that your choices were limited to camera-brand lenses, well, that was all for the better right?
All sarcasm aside, I wasn't all that distressed by Kiron's disappearance from the market. I had already moved on to another company and, as history has shown, nothing lasts forever. I will say this though: If you still shoot 35mm film and have one of the older manual focus bodies, keep your eyes on the lookout for Kiron lenses in the bargain bins. For little more than the cost of an entree at a nice restaurant you'll have a solidly made, optically excellent lens that will outlive most of the plastic-fantastic lenses sold today. Just remember that you'll have to focus it yourself. If you can't figure out how, send me an e-mail and I'll send you back some instructions.