CANON SLRs of the 1970's

(c) Frank Mechelhoff                NEW Aug. 2022                German Version     Deutsch 

Canon EF and AE-1

The Canon EF (1973-1978)

Canon EF is normally known as an SLR lens bayonet mount capable of Autofocus, which have started in 1987 with the EOS cameras. Previously it was the name of a semiprofessional SLR camera, launched in Nov. 1973 and sold for five years. Initial price was 89,500 yen w. FD 50/1.4 lens; 1978 at Sears catalog USA $459.99, in Germany 1200 DM, so it was on the more expensive side of SLR offerings. The EF camera can't be used with EF-lenses, because in it's days it used FD-mount, an outer bayonet which was offered by Canon between 1971 and 1990, and to which the EF mount isn't compatible at all.

Canon EF

Canon EF was the first Automatic Exposure (AE) SLR camera offered by CANON, using shutter speed priority AE-mode, mostly abbreviated as S ("shutter"), AE-S or Tv ("time value"). 1) It incorporates an eletromechanical controlled, vertical travel metal shutter of the type COPAL Square. This was the first time CANON used a shutter of non-own production as well as vertical travelling. Later COPAL shutters became very common in SLRs. A silicon photocell, also quite new, faster and more responsive (EV -2 to 18) than previuosly used CdS-cells, was used for full-aperture center-weighted averaging metering with all FD lenses. Fast shutter speeds from 1/2 sec. to 1/1000 sec. and bulb were mechanically-controlled, while slow speeds from 1 sec. to 30 sec. were electronically-controlled. So the EF can be used without batteries with most common shutter speeds in manual mode. AE functions naturally requiring batteries (2x PX625/old Mercury cells or V625U/new with no concern about accuracy).
It has a big metering switch level right of the finder window, so be sure not to forget to turn if off after usage, or your battery will deplete. Moreover it has a nice big shutter speed dial which protudes the fore camera edge, alike the Leica M5 before, or later on Nikon FG, with the shutter button in the center.
It also has a mirror lock.
The camera body based on the large F-1 chassis, but didn't support a motordrive. It's a large and heavy camera (151x96x48mm and 740g) but handles very well.

Canon EF from

EF use with lenses

For AE function, simply turn the aperture ring on any FD lens to the green o or A.
Earlier lenses (FL-mount) will work with stop-down-metering but not AE.The original FD lenses, introduced in 1971 (as well as their predeccessors FL-mount/1964 and R-mount/1959) do not rotate in the when attached to the camera; instead, a locking ring at the base is turned to fix the lens. This was often criticized as being slower than bayonet mounts of competing camera makers. The counter argument, though, was that since the lens/body mating surfaces did not rotate, there was also no wear that could affect the critical distance from lens to film plane. I personally like this "old" system much better than newFD which replaced it after 20 years in 1979.

EF Finder
A very nice (yet un-illuminated) viewfinder information with meter needle, providing the aperture range of the lens actual attached, but it has no info (follower needle or warning) when aperture is set manually (lack of lens aperture feedback). The field of view is 92-93% at 0.82x magnification with a 50mm lens.
Serial numbers seem to start with 100,000 and end about 424,000, estimated around 250,000 cameras made, a quite successfull run, but quite low when compared with the AE-1.

Production of EF ended after their new "Semi-Pro" model A-1 was launched, April 1978, but sales had faded since start of the feature-rich middleclass camera AE-1 in 1976.

Canon EF news

Overall subsumption of the EF

If you like to use/own a classic, full metal SLR camera and AE/ Auto Exposure and don't fear some more weight and size, there is definitely just one recommendation, the EF. But, because of the same name as the newer lens mount, they are difficult to find online.
When looking for a manual exposure SLR Canon for FD-mount, you don't save weight and size: The Consumer class FT/FTb (740g) is the same size and weight as the EF, and equal expensive nowadays.
Eventually you prefer NIKON, there is a couple of recommendations, heavy EL, lighter FE, FE-2 to F3. With manual exposure only, go for FM, FM2 or FM2T/ Titan, all true Classics (expect to pay more).
Link: Short comparison of Canon EF, Nikkormat EL and Pentax ESII
PENTAX, you may buy the K2 or LX. With manual exposure only, go for MX, KX, or the economy models KM and K1000, all of them ligther than 600g (the MX below 500g).

Canon EF w.
            chrome nose EF 2/35

Chome nose FD lenses (Nov. 1971-1973)

The first FD lenses available had a polished, chromed front ring (lens hood bayonet and filter ring), which was designed with use of the older lens hoods made of metal, which can scratch later lenses with black paint front. So this series is now called "chrome nose" (not to confuse with "chrom ring" which means the dull, chrome breech lock ring at the bayonet end typically for all FD-lenses before newFD modification 1979). These lenses are considered the best made of any FD lenses and probably all Canon lenses ever, but they are the heaviest and largest as well (even larger and heavier than Nikkor pre-AI lenses)
My four chrom-nose FD-lenses (marked in red above) are made between Dec.'71 (code L1206) to Feb.'74 (code 0200), and the 50/1.8 (code M703 - Jul.'72) came with my EF. All of them show no S.C.(Single) Spectra Coated - or S.S.C. (Multi) Super Spectra Coated-designation in beauty ring. My suggestion is the 35/2, 50/1.4 and both 55/1.2 were multicoated, since Canon started not before March 1973 with the coating designation, but started earlier with multicoating, as early as production start of the 55/1.2 (1971/72)2). It could easily be deteted when comparing them side by side with their newer, S.S.C.-marked counterparts and looking at the reflections from front in equal light. Single coated lenses would show more "colorfull" reflections, whereas the best coated lenses keep virtually black. Unfortunately my only FD-lenses are "chrome noses" so I have nothing for direct compare. But they look comparable with my Pentax SMC-lenses.

So from basic time line, most EF cameras were made when "chrome nose" series was already over. But I like them nevertheless with my EF. Next to them, I like the "chrome ring" FD lenses better than the newFD with plastic apterure rings. But they are still better when to compared with what you get know new from Canon.

CANON AE-1 (Apr. 1976-1984)

            AE-1Image Charles Lanteigne-Wikimedia

The Canon AE-1 was a great design, which stands in line with the Canon P designed 17 years earlier, and an even more great sales success (5.73 million cameras) and one of the most important cameras for Canon. Canon was in some business struggle in the mid 1970's, camera business running low, they had too much products. The sales success of the AE-1 allowed Canon to expand their offerings in the FD-lens-series and coming back astride with Pentax and Nikon.
Price of Canon AE-1 initially (Japan, April 1976 w. 50/1.4 lens) was 81,000 yen , in Germany 730 DM w. 50/1.8.
In 1980 it was listed for 423,- DM body alone (Fotoversand Wuerzburg/ mail order, 11/80), compared to 385 DM Pentax ME-Super or 415 DM for a Minolta XG-9 or 495,- (XD-5), but these other were launched after the Canon AE-1. 1976 was also the year when the small Pentax ME was launched- without shutter speed dial and manual mode - the next bigger AE SLR was the Pentax K2, which was in the "SemiPro" class and more expensive, and the bricks like Canon EF, Nikkormat EL and Minolta XE-1, also more expensive
. With its classical size and outlook, neither too big, nor too small, the AE-1 was exactly what most people asked for.
Canon AE-1
Canon AE-1 with "newFD" (since 1979) standard lens with typical notchy plastic aperture ring

Canon AE-1 was the first microprocessor-equipped SLR. It needs a 4SR44 (6.2V) battery for all functions. Without battery, the camera is a paperweight (not working at all!). When changing the battery, watch out not to break the plastic battery cover! Exposure metering (EV 1-18) was standard in its class, but 3 steps less extensive than EF's.

It also has a winder connection and created this as a standard for middleclass-cameras (Power winder A2 with 2 frames per second)

The exposure control system consists of a needle pointing along a vertical f-stop scale on the right side of the viewfinder to indicate the readings of the built-in light meter (center-weighted with a silicon photocell). Fo manually setting it had neither a follower needle to indicating f-stops set nor a plus/minus indicators for over/underexposure.

Dimensions and weight of the AE-1 was much smaller than the EF - 141x87x47.5mm, 590g - about the same as the much more mechanical (and expensive) Pentax K2, launched one year earlier. Other than most Automatic Exposure SLRs of their era it didn't used a metal blade sectional shutter (as made by Seiko and Copal) but Canon kept - different from the EF - their inhouse-made traditional cloth shutters with vertical slit.

Canon AE-1

In order to keep production costs low, Canon designed the AE-1 to use a significant amount of structural plastic for a lighter and cheaper camera. Canon went to great effort to disguise the use of ABS plastic (injection-molded acrylonitrile-butadiene-styrene) for the top panel finished with either satin chrome (or black enameled) to give the look and feel of metal. The bottom plate were made of metal. Extensive use of electronics also allowed simpler modular internal construction instead of mechanical linkages. Five major and 25 minor internal modules reduced the individual parts count by over 300. Modular construction, in turn, allowed automated production lines to reduce cost. Cost concerns also resulted in the use of plastic in some of the moving/operating mechanisms. Since cost of labor increased in 1970's Japan, there was no other way to sell cameras at previous price level, and the saturated SLR market demanded Automatic Exposure and electric film winder capability for the same price as former manually set cameras.

So CANON consequently developed most of their SLR offerings around this successfull model (like Pentax did it with their ME):

Canon AE-1 finder
AE-1 Finder informations

Oberall subsumption of the AE-1

The Canon A-series was succeeded since 1984 by the T-series (T70; 1986 top model T90 inheriting the A-1) with motorized film transport added, and a much more plasticy look. That's when I (aged 20 back then) actually stopped buying new SLR cameras because I didn't liked them (and had no feel to need their new functions). So the AE-1 is the last CANON camera following the design lines created in the late 1950's with the CANON P, when CANON was full-bloiwn, stood in line with NIKON, challenging LEICA.
Because of this, the AE-1 is a great camera for vintage-style film use for people who (like me) in general prefer Automatic Exposure function -- if you keep in mind their limitations, and you don't mix it up with a full-metall Semi-Pro camera like Pentax K2 or Nikon FE, but benefit from virtues of smaller size and weight. Because of the large shutter speed dial, I prefer it over the AE-1 Program. You don't want a lesser camera, like the AV-1 or AT-1. You might like the A-1, with it's cult 1970's "electric calculator red section digit LED readout" but it's plasticy black, heavier and misses the beautiful clear topline of the original AE-1. Also it's often squeels when fired (known as Canon Cough).

1) The overall first camera with automatic exposure (shutter priority) was the German made Zeiss-Ikon Contaflex Super B (1962), which was a Leaf-shutter-SLR and didn't had TTL metering yet and worked with a selenium cell. The first focal plane shutter SLR with AE (S) was the mechanically controlled KONICA Autoreflex /Autorex (1965). In the early 1970's there were some other focal plane shutter SLRs with aperture priority (often abbreviated A or Av) was the Pentax Electro Spotmatic (1971), Nikkormat EL (1972), and Minolta XE-1 (1974). In 1973 there was no AE (S) camera beside Canon EF.

Scan aus der Broschüre "Einführung in die Canon F-1", Canon Inc., Tokyo (1972)

Canon AE-1 next Canon P (1959)
Image: Canon AE-1 (1976) and Canon P Rangefinder w. 50/1.4 (1959). Both cameras weight 590g and have the same size (separate from AE-1 prism, but for the "P" you can conceive an about equally sized light meter added on top)
Just look how perfect the typing of the old Canon lettering was!

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