Canon SLR Museum 1970-2000

Started Jan 13, 2011 | Discussions thread
PerL Forum Pro • Posts: 13,979
Re: Canon SLR Museum 1970-2000

Steve H wrote:

I know this is strictly off-topic but having put together a museum of Canon SLRs from 1970 to 2000, I thought a few digital-only "newcomers" to photography might be interested in a bit of Canon history. There are a couple of omissions in the line-up (particularly from the plethora of low-end EOS bodies in the 90's) but I've tried to find a nice example of all the significant SLRs released in this 30 year period.

Here they are and a brief rundown of each model:


Launched in 1971 alongside the F-1, the FTb was the mass market SLR in Canon's range. As was usual in this era, the camera was completely mechanical in operation (only the built-in meter needed a battery) and both aperture and shutter speed were set manually using a "match needle" metering display in the viewfinder. Manual focus and film advance with shutter speeds from 1 to 1/1000 sec. About $1350 in today's money with a standard FD mount 50mm/1.4 lens.


Canon's first SLR designed for the professional. The camera was actually the centrepiece of a huge system which Canon had spent five years and millions of dollars developing prior to its release. The objective was to knock Nikon off its perch as the choice of the professional SLR photographer and the F-1 was about as bullet-proof as a camera could be made. Again, a completely mechanical shutter offering speeds from 1 to 1/2000 sec with durability of 100,000 cycles. Interchangeable finders (including one allowing shutter-priority automatic exposure and another metering down to -3EV), interchangeable focusing screens and an add-on motor drive were just a few of the accessories offered. The basic camera with a 50mm/1.2 lens cost around $300 in 1971 ($2700 today) with the motor drive and a specialised finder costing as much again.


The first Canon SLR to offer automatic (in this case shutter priority) exposure. Another interesting feature was the Focal manufactured hybrid shutter which was mechanical at speeds from 1 to 1/1000 sec but electronic from 1 second down to 30 seconds - an exceptionally slow speed made possible by electronics. Very well built but without the option of F-1 style accessories it cost around $300 in 1973 ($2400 today).


Unashamedly aimed at the consumer market, the AE-1 represented a radical departure from the heavy, expensive, mechanical bodies of the early '70s to the widespread use of electronics and plastics to keep costs down, backed by an extensive marketing campaign to boost sales. Despite protests from traditional photographers who complained about cheap build and an "excess" of automation ruining the art of photography, automation proved to be the way to go and the AE-1 sold like hot cakes - around five million. The first SLR to use a microprocessor, it offered shutter priority AE or manual exposure speeds from 1 to 1/1000 sec. About $200 in 1976 ($1000 today).


Built on the same chassis as the popular AE-1, the A-1 was the first SLR offering programmed fully automatic exposure and an electronic readout of shutter speed and aperture in the viewfinder. A sensation when released, the camera offered aperture priority, shutter priority, full auto, manual and auto-flash modes. An optional motor drive which allowed shooting at 5fps was also available. About this time Canon also introduced the backward-compatible "New FD" mount where lens mounting was accomplished by the now common method of turning the lens in a bayonet fitting rather than by rotating a chrome locking ring. The A-1 was $500 in 1978 ($2100 today).


When Canon introduced the first F-1 in 1971, they gave a commitment to maintain it as their only professional body for ten years. In 1981, a "New F-1" successor arrived, commonly dubbed the F-1N. It incorporated all the advancements of the previous decade but unlike more recent offerings was built to the standards expected by professional photographers. Just like the original F-1 there was a vast range of interchangeable finders, screens, focusing aids and a motor drive to complement the camera. The version pictured here is one of a few thousand limited edition F-1Ns produced to mark the 1984 Los Angeles Olympic Games.


By 1983, the plethora of 35mm SLRs offering multiple shooting modes and their growing complexity was starting to alienate potential SLR buyers. Canon took a new tack and introduced a simple, almost point and shoot SLR (although autofocus was still a few years off) in the form of the T50. It offered only one mode - full program - and for the first time an automated film advance obviated the need for the familiar film advance lever (although you still had to rewind the film manually). $360 bought one ($950 today).

Continued next thread...
Steve H

Great stuff Steve - I prefer the oldies to the ones in part II – these were the goldens days of mechanical quality in SLRs IMO. They all look as new – are they unused?

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