Dec 22, 2015 | Canon A-1 vs. New F-1

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Update 12/24: Mike Santos from the Canon FD group on YouTube kindly suggested corrections. Thank you!

In the late 1970s and early 1980s Canon released two different 35mm film SLRs: the A-1 and the F-1. They were targeting different buyers: the consumer and the prosumer — and both left an indelible mark in the film camera industry. In a later post I’ll cover the differences between the A-1 and the AE-1 Program.

The A-1 was a significant step beyond its predecessor, the AE-1, in that it offered shutter priority, aperture priority, an a fully programmatic mode that would set both shutter and aperture automatically. In fact, it could be argued that the runaway success of the A-1 prompted Canon executives to follow up the AE-1 with the AE-1 Program, in order to take advantage of the AE-1’s success and brand but leverage the technological breakthroughs present in the A-1.

The Canon A-1's viewfinder has an LED readout, something even the F-1 does not provide.

One unique feature in the A-1 was the LED readout within the viewfinder, allowing the user to see what shutter speeds or apertures were selected by the microcontroller within the camera. It was not the first to do so — Minolta came out with the XD-7/11 a year prior to the release of the A-1 — but it is worth noting that it would be 6 years before another Canon (the T70) would arrive with both the support of multimode exposure control and a useful readout within the viewfinder.

The New F-1, similarly, set itself apart from the original F-1 and the subsequent (and confusingly named) F-1n. It was by far the more flexible of the three, supporting aperture priority or shutter priority with power winders. It had exposure compensation, and a hybrid electronic and mechanical shutter powered by a lithium 4LR44 battery (this, as opposed to the mercury batteries the older F-1s required). A separate set of motorized winders (Motor Drive FN and Power Winder FN) not only automatically advanced the film rolls allowing between 2 and 5 frames per second, but also enabled both shutter and aperture priority mode. A good warning raised by Mike was to ensure that neither both the lens and the shutter is set to “A” such that the body would set aperture priority at F/22 automatically — an inconvenient pair for sure!

By all accounts the F-1 and the A-1 are groundbreakers in their own right, being among the earliest film SLRs in the market to offer all of the common shooting modes in use today.

Noteworthy differences

Having used both, I actually prefer the A-1 over the New F-1. There’s something about the shiny polished black metal, the features hidden in such an unassuming exterior, the reassuring LED readout within the viewfinder — that, and the fact that the F-1 still commands a hefty premium online — makes me all feel like the A-1 just deserves to be cherished that much more.

A-1 New F-1
Released April 1978 September 1981
Price 83,000 JPY for the body alone 149,000 JPY for the body alone
Selling point First to provide automatic modes for aperture, shutter as well as manual Expandable and flexible “system” for maximum customizability, including 13 focusing screens and 5 viewfinders
Modes supported Aperture priority, shutter priority, auto-exposure Shutter priority with the Eye-level Finder FN, aperture priority with the AE Finder FN
Mount FD FD
Viewfinder size 93.4% vertical 95.3% horizontal 97%
ISO 6-12800 6-6400
Weight (body) 620g 795g

This entry was posted on Tuesday, December 22nd, 2015 at 11:20 am, EST under the category of Photography. Both comments and pings are currently closed.