(c) Frank Mechelhoff                             Last update 2. Jan. 2007

(German Language Version)
Canon P RF Camera aka "the populaire"
Who invented TTL metering ?
Canon "Dream-lens" RF 0.95/50mm
Canon RF 3.5/100mm
Jiro Mukai - optical masterpieces
Canon "Japanese Summicron" RF 2/35mm
Canon RF 1.8/85mm


In USA this was the "populaire". In Germany's camera world of Voigtlaender, Rollei, Zeiss und Leica nobody knows this one. Coming from 1958 even an occasional photograph will recognize this as a typical CANON. At that time a look was created that kept 30 years. Compare their beautiful harmonic lines (Bauhaus style) with the squiggled baroque from German companies at that time and you have found one answer why they all gone (except Leica). The Canon P wasn't a copy, but a successfull own development. They sold more Canon P's than of every single model before: more than 80,000 - with is a third of the number Leica build the M3, their most successfull rangefinder camera. At this point it starts to hurt LEICA. Although 1-2 years before the award-winning design of the Canon V, L and VI was very similar, now it was clear and perfected. This was the first CANON who proudly proclaimed her origin with a front-writing - the same which in small letters was engarved in the pre-war cameras and adorn cameras of this factory till present.

Canon P mit 2/35mm

Great reportage-combo: Canon P RF camera (1958) with lifesize finder and 2.0/35 (1963)

Whoever knows how to work with non-automatic cameras will get along with the P in five seconds. Everything is on place we use it till now: Loading film with hinged back plane, level for film advantage and shutter winding with one movement, metal shutter curtain, single shutter speed dial for short and long speeds from 1/1000s halved to 1s and "B", film rewind crank - maybe the most elegant crank in camera history, the final form wasn't found - selftimer lever in a form we are now used to... Everything is so self-evident, one might think every camera is build this way, but it wasn't then... OK there is no integrated meter - seen any meter at a Leica M4 20 years later? - but there is a seperate Selen-meter to attach at the accessory shoe which is coupled to the shutter speed dial and fast to read -  looks a bit odd when coupled to the camera, like a hunch - but works nicely like under "normal" light conditions like a selen-meter should be... and don't need batteries!

Canon P mit "Canon Meter"

Without the Canon-Meter you can place the Canon P at a desk together with cameras of the 70's, 80's and 90's - everyone would guess this camera is 10-20 years younger than it actually is, or exclaim: "I didn't know Canon build so nice and elegant cameras!" This is what is previously called a new, uncommon and bold design - then after decades of functional excellence gets awarded with the title "clear and ageless"...

Not only was the Canon P a nice design and technically in the leading but also a very solid and rugged constructes camera. For the small volume it's heavy. If you need to break a window in an emergency you can use it without concern. Most of these cameras 50 years still do their jobs without beeing ever adjusted, lubricated or cleaned. Many, if not all of them have slightly creased shutter curtains due to stay cocked in a closet for years and decades... but continuos to work precisely. You will have a hard time to find a German first clas camera to be so unpretentious - of this era and today as well...

Almost fourty years later another newcomer (like CANON was) in Japanese camera business, dared to bring a "populaire" Rangefinder camera below the Leica high-price segment to a market nobody could predict if it's still exists. This was COSINA, licenced from small German company Ringfoto to use the old-famous name VOIGTLAENDER for it. The Bessa-R made a deep impact and founded a new Renaissance for Rangefinder cameras which hold till present. The Bessa-R isn't very similar to the Canon P in the outline, but keeps similar charateristics plus some advantages. Like the old-fashioned P, the shutter works without batteries. But it has TTL-metering and 1/2000s, good for high-speed film and small depth of field. It's a bit shorter than the P and weights 200g less thanks to one-piece aluminium framework finish-milled at modern CNC instead of a complicated formation handcrafted of steel and brass. The covers are well painted but - common in our era - made of plastics (the newer Bessa-R2/ R2a/ R3 have metal covers)  


"Just Leica copies ?"
At 5th Feb.1958 the Japanese engineer Takeshi Goshima registered No. 2937582 at the US patent office for CANON. Claimed is the invention of  a rangefinder camera (looking similar to the just announced Canon VI-L)  with  light-metering through the lens. Triggered by a manual lever a photocell swings into way in front of the shutter curtain, metered upside the camera on a scale. This was the first spot-metering patent of the world.
Thirteen years late the system was realized in a similar manner at the Leica M5 and CL series.
This was more than two years before Pentax announced and patented their Spot-Matic TTL-metering system - which also wasn't feasible to be build in series at that time. Why? Because there were no photocells available, small and sensitive enough to insert into the light ray chut of a 35mm camera in 1958 and 1960. This would have changed when battery-powered CdS-cells were available (since ~1961). But it seems that CANON stopped development of the TTL metered camera at this early stage, launching their first CdS-metered camera as late as 1964. The Canon 7 was launched with conventional Selen-cell in 1961 - at least a proven technique and more user-fault-tolerant than a manual driven TTL spot-metering. Maybe CANON had seen the future of ambitious 35mm cameras in SLR at that time, so they throttled the development-speed of rangefinder cameras. But as we know today, they lost advantage to newcomer Pentax, who made most sales in the next decade with their Spotmatic family and marginalized Canon as a professional camera maker.... Different to rangefinders, with SLR cameras the addional problem was getting the photocell out of the visual field of the finder when metering, and even Pentax had research until 1964 for a solution.

Note: The very first patent on a through-the-lens metered camera was registered by the great engineer Karl Nuechterlein in 1940 who has designed the KINE-EXAKTA and was missed as a soldier in the last days of WWII. Men like him could have made alter-coursed the fate of German camera industry! Nuechterlein planned (Selen-) photo-cells surrounding the light chute and a semi-transparent finder mirror with a  needle instrument be seen though the finder as well as outside (DRP315262, US-Patent 2297428). Alas, this invention was far away from feasibility at that time...

CANON RF 0.95/50mm

This is the quite-unknown "monster" that keeps the record since 1961. With a front-lens diameter of 61mm quite huge. 72mm filter, not too bad for a standard lens...Weights 605g so you will neither forget to have it screwed on your camera, nor even screw it on if you don't need the highest speed, or the special visual effects this lens renders. I didn't have compared it 1:1 with the newer 1.0/50 USM but the newer one weights 985g although more plastic on mount! The RF 0.95/50 is very impressive made with brass and black-enamal alloy. Even after 40 years the blank metal surfaces shines like silk.

Canon 7 mit 0.95/50 von oben

The rear lens was so big that it fills the 39mm opening completely with not leaving enough room for a thread mount. For the rangefinder cam the rear lens was to cut-in (it's not round!). This lens wasn't to screw like other M39 (Leica) thread mounts. It was carefully inserted in the small camera hole and then locked with flange at the special outer bayonet at the Canon 7.

Spezialanschluss Canon 0.95/50
This glass has to be inserted in the camera hole without touching! At the right you see the cut for the rangefinder cam. Right and left the locking-flange  is visible at the rearside. The lens isn't to turn. Turn this flange by 45° and it's fixed!

The lens was only to use for the Canon 7 series. They improved the rangefinder for focusssing it. At that time some specialists converted ith for use with Leica-M because Leitz didn't offered a very fast lens until 1976.
So how the pictures are at f/0.95? Remarkable sharp and contrasty. Details are not very sharp at the corners, but this is no problem because the very small depth-of-field make the photographer concentrating to the center of the picture, doesn't make skin surfaces harsh and makes a beautiful atmosphere when used at night or in the evening without strobe. Closed to f/2-2.8 it's sharp in all aspects and to the edge. But for f/2.8 you don't need that lens.
Common with very fast manual lenses, it has a long focus turn which is not very fast. But it can be focussed precisely and soft like silk at a Canon 7 in the close distance area when your eyesight is well, and adjustment of rangefinder and lens is correct. The disadvantage of every super-fast lens on a rangefinder camera (even the newest and most expensive one): you are unable to control the depth-of-field and out-of-focus-area before you get the results developed... cause you have no focussing screen! That's where SLR's are fore.
The lens is also common with a TV-adpater (called the TV-lens), missing the rangefinder coupling then. This can be modified from an expert with a fine-mechanical shop and optical bench for adjusting, which both is rare and expensive as well as the know-how.

Canon 0.95/50 - lichtstärkstes Normalobjektiv der Welt
Compare the 0.95/50 RF "dream lens" with chromering FD 1.4/50 (1972) which in no way is  a compact SLR standard lens. You can see the Canon 7 is an impressive sized camera too...

Nowadays this lens is cheaper to have than any Noctilux. The Noctilux-1.0 is also a 7 elements-construction without aspherical element and isn't famous for sharpness and contrast wide open. As the construction of the Canon is 15 years older and glass-sorts, lens design methods and coating have significantly improved then, I wouldn't expect performance at the same level, if tested at an optical bench. If the photographer will see differences 1:1 from the results, I will doubt.

Canon 0.95/50 wide open

CANON RF 3.5/100

I like this one. Lightweight! 185g (another Canon record till present), 5-elements, very sharp! No true telephoto due to its long size, but a "long-focus-lens" but no matter. Imagine a telefoto to keep in your pocket, and forget about it until you need it? Sounds revolutionary for you SLR-folks? Probably ask your grandfather because this one is 50 years old, and no need to hide the results...

Canon 3.5/100

Try to find a hood for this lens. It will improve backlight shots.

Beispielbilder (anklicken für Ausschnitt mit grösserer Auflösung):
Kronberg (Canon 3.5/100mm)

Jiro Mukai - Optical masterpieces

Probably you've heard about Rudolph, Bertele, Mandler, Tronnier and their fantastic lens designers work. But what's about Jiro Mukai and his work in the late 50's, early 60's for CANON?

http://www.google.com/patents?vid=US...q =jiro-mukai
The famous 1.8/85. Normally things develop from simple to complicate but not in this case. Mukai took the 2/100 design of 1959, combined the 4th and 5th element to one and got a very compact 85's of elite quality. See the sleek aberration curves.

The 1.5/35mm (highest speed wide angle lens of the world back then)... compare the curves of spherical aberration and astigmatism with the above... Mukai claims a highspeed wideangle lens of f/1.4 but this was a bit overstretched. I remember a f/1.4 prototype sold last year in a Japan internet auction house for a decent price.

But still better corrected than the 2.8/28, see here:

The 1.8/35mm, a sleek lightweight fast wideangle lens, predecessor of the famous 2/35:

The last designed, excellent CANON Rangefinder lenses:

CANON f/2.0 35mm


CANON RF 1.8/85mm

This is one of the least developed Canon Rangefinder lenses. With f/1.8, 68mm long, 470g it replaced two old and heavy telephoto lenses of the 1950's, namely the 1.5/85 (82,5mm, 730g) and 1.9/85 (86,5mm, 610g). This was designed also for SLR use in a modified mount (different from the 2/35mm which design cannot is too short for the SLR mirror. Since it was designed with RF- and SLR (Canonflex and FL) mount itlooks very much like an SLR lens with its alloy mount, knobbed focus and chrome ring. This look Canon continues to the 1980's as FD series untill they omit the breech.-mount chrome-ring and plastic mountings appeared..  

Canon 1.8/85 an Canon 7

Since it has no dual helicoil mount, the front f/-stop ring turns when youn focus this lens. From the weight of the lens you would expect it otherwise.
It makes very sharp and contrasty pictures, very perfect like the best modern glass. The formula consisting of 5 single elements looks modern (quite minimalistic) even today and remembers to the newest LEICA APO-Summicron 2/90, although of course it lacks the aspherical glass when compared with it. It replaced a 7- and a 6-element construction and there was probably a good reason why Canon retained this optical design in different mountings up to the FD up to the late 1990's when the current USM 9 elements design replaced it. My girlfriend has this lens at her EOS-300 and very much likes it....

Auch eine tolle Kombination: 1.8/85 an Bessa-R

Canon RF 1.9/85  (1951)
Canon RF 1.8/85  (1961)
Leica-M 2/90 APO-Summicron ASPH   (1990)
Vorgängermodell 1.9/85mm
Canon 1.8/85
Summicron APO Asph 2/90

mit passender Gegenlichblende - gibt der Bessa deutlich "Länge"...


No I'm not a luddite... I do digipics, i.e. for this site. These were made with a Casio QV5700 5MP and (of course) Canon lens f/2-2.5 7-21mm. Not too bad, if you are not very demanding. German magazine ct' tested this lens with about 1300 linepaires at picture height, quite an excellent result. Comparing with 35mm film, a good lens reaches 80 lp/mm with 200 ASA film, that means 1920 lp at picture height, or 11 Megapixel for the whole format. With a Pro-Digicams you have the capability to fill such a big chip. With a consumer-digicam you won't fill a half of it with optical data effectively, although you got 5 or 8 Megapixel to waste disk space later on your PC.
Moreover, excellent lenses for 35mm film will cover (at least in the center of the picture) 100-150 lp/mm, so they could fill bigger chips than available with data. Cosina and Zeiss are developing a Rangefinder camera for the Leica M-bayonet with a digital sensor of about 10 Megapixel full format 24mm x 36mm so with a proper adapter you can use that old screwmount lenses even if film will not longer exists (which I personally doubt to be happen in the next 25 years)

So what are you missing? If you look for a very good digicam, buy a Leica, Zeiss, Nikon or Canon lens with high speed (at least f/2.5). You will need that speed the more Megapixel you have, because the sensor always covers the same size, and incoming light is stil very much the same, and less than at a 24x36 film format. No, it makes no sense to set the speed manually to 400ASA, this is quite nonsense at a digicam if you want good pictures. Your lens is slow (f/4 or something) but you get a 10x zoom? Gee, move your feet coming closer to your subject! You want flashlite at every picture and pale faces.? Go ahead with your slow lenses... ;-)

A note about my pictures, tests and stuff like that...

As I stated before I'm a user. My cameras and lenses need to work excellent, not to be "mint" to show them in a perfect condition. I do not polished them before taking these pictures. I will not sell them. My "tests" are not professionally taken like MTF-charts. Although I did, if possible, the pics on the same film or with the same lab job. My scanner isn't the best either. Probably nobody will do professional tests with these old lenses. But don't worry. If you got an old lens which (from design or factory name) can be expected to take good pictures with, put a roll film in, then go out and make a test. practice proves, not theory. And most important, have fun doing that...


My first camera for Leica Screw Mount lenses was the Voigtlaender Bessa-L - the legend finderless minimal camera, more a filmcage with a shutter and battery-powered TTL-meter - which was developed of existing SLR-assemblies Cosina used to craft for Nikon, Kyocera and other companies as a subcontractor. These assemblies were modified for the Bessa-L, a special wide-angle-camera, and was one part of the double-stroke of Mr. Kobayashi. It takes the venerable big ame which Cosina was licenced to use on the Bessa cameras rightfully. After my Bessa-L (which was not so cheap in Germany 2000) I looked for another screw mount camera on which I could use my terrific 4.5/15 super wideangle Heliar lens. The Bessa-R was more expensive than 50 year old Canon screwmounts, which impressed me through their appearance and all-metal outfid. I found a reliable, rugged, easy to handle mechanical camera and high-quality lenses which allow prints of 10x and higher magnification. With my experience, this is not very common with equiment of the 1950's, and absolute rare with 1930's.

Of course good old German LEICA-III was an option, but too odd, old-fashioned and slow handling for my feeling (I learned photographing with a Pentax Spotmatic in the 1970's).In addition I found the price/performance ratio inadequate. The showcase-collectors make the prices and furthermore presents an ignorant, snobistic and adamant attitude - not my world.

Old NIKONs are a seperate planet due to their special bayonet mount - and, as well as for Leicas, prices are exorbitant. Many rich collectors, few users. In contrast, old CANON Rangefinders fits well to the new Bessas - leneses and cameras as well. Prices are still affordable.

As a German camera collector I would prefer Contax and stuff like that - German cameras from East and West of the 1950's. The last great decade before the downfall. Still very usable for making great pictures. In the 1960, Japanese companies took the lead in production numbers, quality and price. Ten years later German camera industry is history. A pity, but like history went, this was not unforeseeable, in some way inevitable. Leica und Zeiss keep the German banner up - yet... Now Zeiss strike out in Rangefinder high quality/ high price segments towards it's old rival in Solms. The final count-down...?

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