Canon FTb

With the advent of 35mm SLR design in the late 1940s, it did not take long for both the German and Japanese camera industries to come up with the ubiquitous SLR design popular in the 1960s and 70s. This fundamental design did not change much until the introduction of micro-processors and electric motors in the late 1980s.

  • lens: n/a
  • focal length: n/a
  • apertures: n/a
  • focus range: n/a
  • lens fitting: FD breach-lock
  • shutter: cloth focal plane
  • speeds: 1 second to 1/1000
  • flash: hot shoe plus PC socket
  • film size: 35 mm

So, this Japanese SLR camera from Canon in 1971 is very like an Asahi Pentax from 1961. For this reason, I will give a quick description of the top and as much detail of the rest as I can.

This camera measures 144 by 93 by 43 mm and weighs 750g. This is not a compact or light camera but is significantly lighter than a Nikon F2. In 1971, this camera cost £160 retail (recommended price was a bit more). This is the same price as the Nikkormat FTn which was Nikon’s equivalent camera, and slightly more than the Olympus FTL. I have no idea why three equivalent Japanese SLR cameras were all called FTx – I can only assume that FT has some meaning in Japanese that is not apparent in English. The layout is fairly ergonomic with my various fingers falling to the controls with no problems.

The film advance lever is cut metal with a machined grip at the tip. This marks the camera as being an early FTb as Canon started putting black plastic tips on the lever on later versions. This lever has two rest positions. It can sit flush with the top plate or proud of the top plate at an angle of 21º. This proud rest position is intended to make life easier for the user when using the camera but this annoys me and I prefer the lever to be flush. If you let the internal spring return the lever after advancing the film, the lever will end up flush with the body and if you let the lever return slowly, it will stop at the 21º stand-off position. To advance the film one frame, the lever moves through 174º and works through a ratchet, so the film can be advanced with several short strokes.

In front of the film advance lever is the window for the frame counter. In usual Japanese manner, this resets to S when the back is opened. Winding on three frames gets you to zero which is in red. Even frames have numbers, odd frames have dots. Numbers 20 and 36 are in red as these were the two sizes of 35mm film in 1971. The counter goes up to 39 – it is unlikely that you will fit more than 39 frames in a cassette.

Next to then frame counter window is the shutter release button. This is chromed metal and is threaded for a standard cable release. This is surrounded by a switch with two positions. “L” is lock and prevents the shutter release button being pressed. This mechanically prevents the button form moving but the shutter can still age fired by a cable release if fitted. The second positions “S” and in this position the shutter release button can be pressed. I have no idea as to what “A” stands for.

Dominating the right hand side of the top plate is the shutter speed dial/film speed dial. Shutter speeds are from 1 second to 1/1000 seconds and are selected by turning the dial – the dial will not turn between 1/1000 and B. 1/60 seconds is in red as this is the flash synchronisation speed for electronic flash. Flash bulbs can be used at any shutter speed. Film speeds are set by raising and turning the dial. Film speeds are in ASA (which is functionally the same as ISO) and run from 25 ASA to 1600 ASA (Kodak made 25 ASA Kodachrome film unto 2002). Behind the shutter speed/fiom speed dial is an engraved circle with a line through it. The line represents the position of the film inside the the camera for when accurate measurement is required for ultra-close-ups.

The pentaprism hump is central. This sports an ISO hot shoe with two additional contacts specifically for Canon’s dedicated flash guns. On the rear of the pentaprism hump is the viewfinder eyepiece.This is rectangular with grooves to accept accessories.

Inside the viewfinder is the focus screen. This is a Fresnel screen which helps to keep uniform brightness over the screen. In the middle of the focus screen is a smaller rectangle which denotes the area used by the metering system. Right in the centre is a disc of micro-prisms which act as a focusing aid.

On the right hand side of the focus screen is the light meter read-out. This is a match-needle type – the meter needle indicates the light level and the user adjusts the shutter speed and lens aperture until the moving disc is superimposed on the meter needle. If the set shutter speed is outside of the useable range of the meter, a red disc pops up at the bottom as a warning. This is dependent on the film speed set.

To the left of the pentaprism hump is the rewind crank. This is the usual folding type. Pulling this crank up releases the catch for the back of the camera. Around the crank is the switch for the light meter. This has three positions – on, off and “C”. On and off are self-explanatory. “C”is the battery check position. This last is surprisingly complicated. First, you need to set the film speed to 100 ASA. Then you need to set the shutter speed to 1/1000 seconds. Once these are set, move the switch to “C” (you will need to hold it there) and look in the viewfinder at the meter display – the battery is OK if the needle moves above the square index mark near the bottom of the display.

On the left edge of the top plate is the battery compartment. This is intended to take a PX625 mercury cell which are no longer available. These are 1.3 v cells – I Ama using a 1.5 v alkaline cell which is the same physical size but the wrong voltage. This will affect the meter reading.

The front of the camera has an FD breach-lock bayonet mount. This started off as the R mount (not to be confused with the EOS R mount), was updated to the FL mount and then the FD mount. Both R mount and FL mount lenses will fit this camera but with reduced functionality. The R mount was introduced in 1959 along with Canon’s first SLR camera – the Canonflex. R mount lenses used a different system to control the aperture to the later Fl and FD systems which means that using them is more awkward.

The FL mount was introduced in 1964. This system has no way of communicating the set aperture so TTL metering must be done with the aperture stopped down, making the image in the viewfinder very dark. If an FL mount lens is used on this FTb camera, it will work fine but it is necessary to use the DOF preview lever to close the aperture while using the meter.

The FD mount has three components which allow open-aperture metering. There is a static pin which communicates the maximum aperture to the camera. This presses on a sprung pin in the camera’s mount. There is a lever which moves to a position dependent on the set aperture to indicate this to the metering system and a second lever to close the lens aperture just before the shutter fires. There is also a pin “reserved for future use” according to the instruction book for this camera provided by Canon. I do not know if they ever used this pin in later iterations of the FD mount.

The FD mount is a breach-lock mount which is different to most bayonet mounts in as much as the lens, once located in the bayonet, is not rotated to lock it. Instead, there is a locking ring to turn. This locking ring has a couple of attributes which caused me some concern initially. First, this locking ring on the lens will not turn at all while the lens is off the camera. this is to ensure that it is always aligned in the right [position for fitting the lens. The second attribute is that the two levers mentioned above will do nothing while the lens is disconnected – the lever that stops the aperture down will move but do nothing and the lever that signals the set aperture is always in the maximum aperture position and will not move. Again, this is so that everything links together properly when fitting the lens. At the top of them FD mount there is a notch with a red dot above it. this notch locates a pin on the lens and ensures that the lens is properly aligned.

Looking at the mount, to its right, is a PC socket for flash (the Japanese manual for this camera calls this a German socket). This is for when the user wants to use off-camera flash and the hot shoe is of no use.

On the left of the FD mount is a complex switch. There are four functions (or five) here. Pushing the lever in towards the lens will close the lens aperture to allow the photographer to judge the depth of field. Doing this is also used for stop-down metering when using FL lenses or close-up bellows or such. Rotating the lever in the opposite direction winds up the clockwork self-timer. When this is wound up and the shutter release button is pressed, there is a ten second delay before the shutter is fired.

At the bottom of this is a rotating switch with three positions. The default position is the white dot and in this position the switch does nothing. Next position is a red L. in this position, the DOF lever is fixed in position for stop down metering and allows the user to concentrate on the meter and lens aperture ring. The third position of this switch is an orange M. In this position, the mirror is raised up out of the way. Doing this results in much lesss vibration when taking a photograph and is used in critical close-ups and other situations where vibration must be kept to a minimum. It also necessitates the use of a tripod as the viewfinder is blacked out when the mirror is raised.

The back of the camera is opened by lifting the rewind crank. mostly, the inside is as you might expect – cassette on the left, film gate in the centre, thens sprocket shaft and finally the take-up spool. What is different here is the implementation of Canon’s QL (Quick Load) system. When you first open the back, the sprocket shaft and take-up spool are covered by a metal plate. As you open the back further, this plate is lifted out of the way. This reveals the strange design of the take-up spool which has three sprung leaves with a small rubber pad on each. To load a new film, you place the cassette in the left chamber and pull out the film leader until it reaches the orange mark. As you close the back, the film leader is covered by this metal plate and held close to both the sprocket shaft and take-up spool. When the film is advanced (after the back is closed) the film is pushed into the take-up spool by the sprocket shaft and held in place by the sprung leaves. This works very well but I fail to see the advantage over a slot in the take-up spool which most cameras (including Canon’s) had.

Being a Japanese camera, there are foam light seals which keep the join between the body and back light-tight. After 50 years, the foam has degraded to a sticky mess and needs to be replaced. This is a fairly simple DIY job – the self-adhseive foam is available on the Interweb – and the foam buffer for the mirror also needs replacing.

The base plate of the camera is very sparse. There is a tripod socket – 1/4 inch thread which I suspect will be UNC by this date – which is in line with the lens and there is the button to free the film advance system to allow the film to be rewound. There is no facility to attached a noter drive to this camera.

I have already run a test film through this camera, without replacing the foam light seals. This is risky but sometimes OK. In any event, I can judge the shutter action and the light meter. I have the wrong battery in the camera, as mentioned above, as the intended 1.3 volt mercury cell is no longer available. Instead, I am using a 1.5 volt alkaline battery. The voltage difference will affect the exposure but usually within the exposure latitude of the film. most of the 24 shots from the film are exposed as the meter determined but I have done two test shots. For each, I took a photograph according to the meter then a photograph with one stop less exposure and then a photograph with one stop more exposure than the meter suggested.

Exposure and light leaks apart, this is a good camera to use. I have been using it in sub-zero conditions (that is in Celsius for any foreign readers) and the camera is quite useable while wearing thick gloves.

Test Film

I now have the test film back. There is no sign of light leaks although the foam light seals are definitely degraded. I mentioned above that I have the wrong battery in the camera. My test shots show that using the meter with the wrong battery gives a usable negative but one stop more exposure gives a better negative – there is not really anything desperately different between the two. One stop less exposure definitely gives a poor exposure. My final thought is that this is an excellent camera that is a joy to use and it will probably remain a user over the next few years.

Here are a selection of the photos:


Author: John Margetts

I am a keen photographer who also collects cameras. I am retired with about 50 years photography experience.

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