Canon SLR Museum 1970-2000 -- Updated

Started Jul 1, 2011 | Discussions thread
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Steve H Senior Member • Posts: 2,648
Canon SLR Museum 1970-2000 -- Updated

Earlier this year I posted a thread summarising some of the more significant Canon SLRs released between 1970 and 2000. It generated a lot of interest and I've since added another seven models to my collection including a few "requests" that came out of the earlier post. For those interested in a bit of Canon history prior to the digital era, here they are with a brief rundown of each model. Original prices are MSRP in US dollars when fitted with the "standard" lens of the day. Enjoy!


Launched 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 $900 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 a durability of 100,000 cycles. Interchangeable finders, 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 $325 in 1971 ($1800 today) with the motor drive and a specialised finder costing nearly as much again.


The first Canon SLR to offer automatic (in this case shutter priority) exposure. The EF is also the only Canon SLR to use a shutter made by another company - its Focal manufactured hybrid shutter was mechanical at speeds between 1/2 and 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 ($1500 today).


Unashamedly aimed at the consumer market, the AE-1 represented a radical shift from the heavy, expensive, mechanical bodies of the early 1970s 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, the AE-1 was a runaway success with around five million units sold. The first SLR to use a microprocessor, it offered shutter priority AE or manual exposure speeds from 1 to 1/1000 sec. About $270 in 1976 ($1000 today).


Built on the same chassis as the popular AE-1, the A-1 was the first SLR to offer programmed fully automatic exposure - the "P" mode we take for granted today. A sensation when released, the camera offered aperture priority, shutter priority, full program, manual and auto-flash modes. An optional motor drive allowed shooting at 5fps. 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 ($1800 today).


When Canon released 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 large range of interchangeable finders, screens, focusing aids and a motor drive to complement the camera. It cost just under $1000, equipped with a 50mm/1.2 lens ($2500 today). The version pictured above is one of a few thousand limited edition F-1Ns produced to mark the 1984 Los Angeles Olympic Games.


The last of the six A-series bodies, the AL-1 was Canon's first experiment with camera-based autofocus technology. Although manual focus (it used normal FD lenses), the camera was equipped with an electronic rangefinder which provided focus assistance rather than the usual split circle/microprism aid. A patterned mirror split off part of the incoming image to a CCD array which determined precise focus. Three viewfinder LEDS indicated whether the focus ring needed to be rotated to the left, to the right, or that the image was in focus. $360 in 1982 ($850 today).

Continued in Part II...
Steve H

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