Last year, a neighbor gifted me a really nice camera, and I’ve now had a chance to use it with both the Tamron 28-70mm kit lens and a newly acquired Canon 50mm f/1.8 lens. Meet the Canon F1.

Built Like a Tank

Canon F1

Canon F1  ~1971-1973

This camera is a beast. I swear it weighs more than my Leica. It’s all body, too. The lenses aren’t that significant in weight. Interestingly, the camera has auto-shutter and both lenses have auto-aperture. I set it mostly to Aperture Priority, since I like to control depth of field, and let the meter handle the shutter speeds. It does surprisingly well. In fact, the only time I have any issues with metering, is when I try to pull or push in my head essentially fighting the meter.

Canon F1, Tamron 28-70mm, Expired Kodak Gold 400.

Canon F1, Tamron 28-70mm, Expired Kodak Gold 400.

The camera has a learning curve if, like me, you’re transitioning from rangefinder cameras. The split focus viewfinder is not as easy as the rangefinder VF. Luckily, another friend told me to focus the lens by going out of focus and then back in. It is much, much easier to nail focus this way. The other thing I found is that I like the 50mm prime better than the Tamron kit. With the prime I have consistent results, and I’m not constantly zooming in/out through the available focal lengths. Plus, I’m still stoked I got the 50mm f/1.8 for $15.

Tender Cowboy Moment, Canon F1

Tender Cowboy Moment, Canon F1 (f/4, auto shutter – probably 1/200s).

It certainly isn’t a quiet camera, for sure. In fact, it sounds a lot like my Zenit 11. Loud clunks are the rule, not the exception. This is not a stealthy camera. It is, however, good for self-defense being that it’s square and heavy. It has this interesting integrated ISO selector built into the rewinder, which itself has a “lock/unlock” I assume so you can do double-exposure ? I’m still experimenting with this camera, though, so maybe I’ll try that out.

I’ve been shooting mostly expired slide and color film through it, although I did manage a few black and whites with the prime lens. It’s soft at f/5.6 and higher, but tightens up when stopped down to f/8 but still not the sharpest lens. In fact, every time I look at the images I think to myself “My Nokton 50mm is so much sharper than this,” but I spent considerably more than $15 on the Nokton, too. I’m having Leica withdrawal, can you tell ?

In the weeds - Canon F1, Canon 50mm f/1.8, Kentmere 100

In the weeds – Canon F1, Canon 50mm f/1.8, Kentmere 100

Believe it or not, this is f/4. It can be sharp close up with wider apertures. I suppose it’s really just me. I’m still adjusting to shooting with a split-focus viewfinder. The most surprising part is that this camera isn’t even as interesting as perhaps the Canon AE1 or the Olympus OM-1, or even the Nikon F1, but it certainly commands a huge return at auction. I checked last week and the bodies alone fluctuate between $100 and $300. This one sits squarely in that range, although it has sentimental value to me, so it stays in the collection.

Cowboy Stare, Canon F1

Cowboy Stare, Canon F1

Overall Opinion

If I had to take one camera to the Zombie Apocalypse, this would be it. I could slay zombies with it, and generally trust it to survive a war (I believe it might have survived about 4 by now). It’s one of the only SLRs in my collection I really like shooting, and now that I’ve got more than one lens for it, it will be the go-to SLR.