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Nick's Classic Corner - No 20 - Canon F-1, F-1n, and F-1N

Discussion in 'Classic Models & Marques' started by Benchista, Nov 3, 2013.

  1. Benchista

    Benchista Which Tyler

    Back in 1971, Nikon ruled the professional 35mm SLR roost with the Nikon F, but it was a camera that was really starting to show it's age by this point, having been introduced in 1959. Canon introduced the F-1 to go head-to-head with it, a camera that featured quite a few benefits in comparison with the Nikon, and a name chosen to show exactly what it was about.

    The F-1 is a fairly large, fairly heavy and extremely well-built camera that forms the basis of a huge system. Introduced with it were the FD range of full aperture metering lenses, and it had interchangeable viewfinders, including one that provided shutter priority AE, focusing screens, and could take a motordrive and backs such as a 250 exposure back - so it was aa true system camera. One of the main features that set it apart from the Nikon F (and even the slighly later F2) was that metering was built in to the body (metering actually from the screen), so could be used regardless of which finder was in use - you weren't limited to a "photomic" head, and because of the design of FD lenses, you didn't need to engage meter prongs.
    The design of the camera is pretty conventional. On the left of the topplate is the rewind crank/back release (with a locking button), surrounded by a mounting point for a flash shoe - no shoe on the removable finders, which have buttons each side to press for removal. There's a window to allow illumination to read the meter as well. On the other side is the shutter speed dial (1-1/2000) with inset ASA setting, a shutter button with locking collar, an all-metal windon lever with no stand-off position, and frame counter.
    On the front is Canon's combined DOF preview/self timer/mirror lock-up lever, and to the side of the mirror box, a little door which needs to be opened to connect an arm from the servo EE finder to set the aperture automatically.
    The back of the camera has a power switch, with a flash sync socket on the side.
    The base has a battery compartment (for the dreaded mercury battery), a rewind release button, and a tripod socket. To fit the motordrive, you have to remove the battery cver and take the base off the camera.

    I've only got the standard prism finder, which gives a reasonably bright life-size image with a 50mm lens. My screen just has a ground glass spot in the centre as a focusing aid, but that works well enough. Around it is a rectangle indicating the metering area. To the right is a match needle, with shutter speed displayed below, all out of the screen area.

    Inside, the shutter is a horizontally-travelling metal focal plane shutter with flash sync of 1/60, and a multi-slotted take-up spool for simpler loading.

    All in all, it's a simple camera with plenty of possibilities for expansion, and it works very well and feels great.

    In 1976, the camera was slightly warmed-over to produce the F-1n. I've absolutely no idea what the internal differences are - the obvious differences I've spotted are that the n model has a plastic-tipped windon lever with a stand-off position, a modified collar around the shutter button, and a red and white meter scale in the finder instead of a two-tone red one. The back has a memo holder, too. My particular copy has a split image/microprism screen - otherwise, they took the same accessories, and feel much the same; these are great workhorses that are tough as old boots, simple to use, and capable of great results. I certainly much prefer them to the Nikon F and even F2.

    By 1981, the F-1 was showing its age in the face of the Nikon F3 and Pentax LX. Additionally, press photographers were no longer quite as conservative as they had been - many Canon F-1 shooters had carried an A-1 in the bags, and were prepared to accept some automation and electronics - but not at the expense of getting the job done even without batteries. So the New F-1, or F-1N was introduced. It was a radically differenct camera in many ways - still with interchangeable motordrives, backs, finders and screens, but all different to the older ones, and with many new features. One of the main changes was the shutter - no longer was it entirely manual, but now a manual/electonic hybrid - x sync (1/90) and 1/125-1/2000 were mechanical, slower speeds (down to 8 seconds) electronic - so it could be used without batteries.
    Out of the box, the camera offers manual exposure, with a similar readout to the earlier models, albeit with the aperture selected shown. Fit the AE Finder FN, and aperture priority is available - however, this now shows new info in the viewfinder, with aperture shown via a Judas window at the bottom of the finder, and the shutter speed shown alongside. This finder has a viewfinder blind. Fit the winder or motordrive, and shutter priority is available.

    Other differences are the fact that the shutter collar now controls the meter on/off switch and self-timer, the rewind release is now a button behind the shutter release, and the ISO dial is now around the rewind crank - and features an exposure compensation dial. There's a battery check button where the little door was on the earlier models - the DOF preview is now activated by a button, what was the on/off switch is now a metering hold and backlight control, there's a hotshoe with connections for dedicated flash on top of the prism, and the winder connections are now on the baseplate, albeit with a couple of covers.

    Additionally, the screen is brighter and no longer has the metering area marked. Final point is that the battery is under a cover/grip on the front, and is a 6V lithium cell.

    All in all, it's a superb camera; one of my favourites.

    Incidentally, the F-1N was the basis for the world's first DSLR: http://eocamera.jemcgarvey.com/
     

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