The story of the Imperial Canon


by Bellamy /

3 min read

The story of the Imperial Canon
Some of you may remember the re-painted Canon P that was on the site recently. Well, it became a bit of a sensation and many people wanted to know how it came to be. So Bernard, the owner of the camera, tells us about how the Imperial went from a vision to reality. And shares the first shots taken with the camera.

The Custom Camera
Vintage Canon Populaire:  Imperial Edition

Okay, where to start with this unique looking camera and why this camera? I have a pretty vast collection of SLR’s and Rangefinders. To me, with several long trips each year, durability matters. These old Canon Rangefinders are like tanks –pun accordingly I guess. The Canon rangefinders of this era are ones you can pick up after 50 years and start shooting again. I found the P has a simple viewfinder and quite basic elements. Perfect! No batteries, no meter, no excessive controls, easier than the Leica M3 to load film, all make this a nice long term option.


As for shooting style, I like street shooting –both day & night and B&W and color films. One problem remained personally, getting in front of people in an open yet friendly way. Sometimes I want stealthy, and others I want blatant.  Further, most of my street shooting happens in Asia. I am qweilo in Hong Kong & Guangzhou; while a gaijin in Japan. I stand out anyway, so why not have my camera stand out too. No need for tape over the camera name & logo. Rip it open and do the reverse.  For example, skipping the traditional black or chrome for the camera and going “white” –the opposite. I thought what colour could draw the most attention. RED. Then that idea hatched the thought of the Japanese Camera as the Hinomaru, or Japanese flag.  The next camera should be a German Leica or Zeiss with the familiar tricolor black, red, gold. On my Imperial Edition Canon P the amazing white leather case is compliments of Dan @ZDP189, and knowledgeable poster here on the Japan Camera Hunter site.


Here are the shots. I get people to do a second look at me and the camera. That’s when I can get the shot. These photos were the first roll of film after I met Bellamy Hunt to pick up my camera. The following are a festival in the Shinjuku, Tokyo temple. Straight away people looked into the camera and even inquired about it.  The woman in the Kimono presents the perfect example. I lined up the shot in the street for focus, aperture etc. She was looking around and saw me in the street, then looked away quickly yet turned back for a second look at what I would guess was the uniqueness of the camera. Thus, I got the shot at that moment.


The “Skirt Adjustment” shot was just a frozen moment for that girl. Just after the shot she broke down of embarrassment. Technically, she froze while I was taking the shot. Bet it was the camera.


The other girls in the festival where taking photos, and I asked if I could take their shot in return. Mind you this happens with my limited Japanese skills and their lack of English. When I held up the camera, there was a round of “Sugoi” or more likely said, “Sugoiiiiiiiiiii”. That means something more along the lines of “amazing” when translated into English.


Even the people seated next to me were happy to see such a patriotic camera. I think it should prove valuable in Japan in the coming years.


You can see the results. This is Kodak TriX400 pushed to 1600 using the Canon 50 f/1.2 lens. Perhaps this style of shooting would work for you, or perhaps you want a unique camera. Mine had a full rebuild and total assessment. Brilliant craftsmanship on the rebuild via Bellamy (Linky).  Thanks again, and I hope more of us can create some great works of art with some classic cameras.

@KabukichoKing on Twitter.

7 comments on “The story of the Imperial Canon”

    Nuno Cruz January 15, 2014 at 6:21 pm / Reply

    Looks like its uniqueness is working wonderfully for street photography. I always try to sneaky, but here it works greatly the other way around, probably due to the camera culture of the country, still great results.

    Han January 15, 2014 at 10:08 pm / Reply

    Nice pictures, i like them.

    Phil Adams January 18, 2014 at 3:26 pm / Reply

    Very nice camera, but if you think it has anything to do with how the photos turned out the way they do (especially at night and quite distanced from the subject), you’re a fool. But I can understand the need to justify one’s camera purchases… Later

    Mark Roy January 19, 2014 at 12:48 pm / Reply

    Phil, Bellamy is no fool. I also use this philosophy for street shooting, and it works. People do react differently to different cameras. When I pull out a little old folding camera, or a funky snakeskin leather rangefinder, they smile. When I pull out a big black rubbery DSLR with its mammoth lens, they generally frown. Fact. And in most of these shots the subject is clearly looking at the photographer, and I’d be really surprised if they couldn’t see this bright red-and-white camera! Although I would agree in the first shot the woman in the kimono probably looked twice because she’s crossing a road – not because of the camera.

    ZDP-189 January 25, 2014 at 11:27 am / Reply

    I love that camera; it worked out so much better than I had expected.

    – Dan K

    Miguel January 26, 2014 at 11:34 am / Reply

    Wow great results from pushing that film from 400 to 1600! i’m going to try this myself and see how the results are :)

    Thanks for the TIP!!

    Mike October 14, 2014 at 8:31 pm / Reply

    I’ve got the same colour scheme on my Canon 7, minus the repaint.

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