Canon F-1: A Workhorse Camera

I recently started testing my Canon F-1n, and found it quite enjoyable to shoot with.

The F-1 was first available in 1971, then updated in 1976 (F-1n), and replaced in 1981 with the New F-1, which was really a pretty substantial redesign.

I have a few different versions. Today I’m testing my 1979 F-1n which is a 1980 Lake Placid Olympic commemorative version.

The F-1 really is a tank of a camera. It’s solid metal, and heavy (almost 3 pounds with a 50mm lens). It has interchangeable prisms and focusing screens, and a huge selection of lenses and other accessories.

I was considering the differences between the Canon and Nikon pro cameras, in this case, comparing the F-1 with the Nikon F2. One of the things that I saw in the Nikon models is more standardization. Nikon has certain features (like turning the meter on and off with the film advance lever) that were the same through almost every camera model. I also believe that Nikon preserved the use of most all lenses through many more generations of cameras than Canon (or anyone else I know of). Canon also changed their filter size when they changed from the old FD to the new FD lenses (55mm to 52mm) while Nikon preserved the filter size at 52mm. In some ways I think the Canon cameras were minimalist in design. The F-1 wasn’t fancy, that’s for sure. It employed a fairly simple match needle manual exposure metering system. Some would say there’s a degree of elegance in the simplicity. I don’t know if that’s what they were going for, or if they just didn’t think big picture about the cameras they were making. It seems like they resolved this later on, and especially in recent years.

One of the things I never liked about the F-1 (actually most Canon SLRs from this era) is the viewfinder magnification. The image, when looking through the viewfinder, seemed small. My vision is bad, and the higher magnification in the viewfinder is one of the things I like about my Olympus cameras. Things just seem smaller in the Canon viewfinders – especially the F-1. It’s also very hard to find diopter adjustment eyepieces (it’s extremely easy to find adjustment eyepieces for Nikon). The standard Canon eyepiece is rubber rimmed, so I can wear my glasses pretty easily while focusing – which makes it possible to obtain sharp focus for me.

Well, here’s some images captured with my F-1 from 1979. I was actually fairly impressed with the results I was able to get with this camera. I actually shot these at ISO 400, and it was Portra 160 film. Processed normally, they actually look pretty nice. I better shoot another roll, set at the correct ISO, to be sure the meter isn’t off a little in the camera. I generally like to underexpose my shots a little anyway.