Canon FX

Canon FX film SLR camera from Japan.

For the last 18 months, I have been concentrating my collecting on Nikon and Canon SLR cameras. My latest acquisition is this Canon FX. It is not a professional camera but it is well designed and well made. It dates from 1964.

  • lens: n/a
  • focal length: n/a
  • apertures: n/a
  • focus range: n/a
  • lens fitting: Canon FL mount
  • shutter: Cloth focal plane
  • speeds: 1 second to 1/1000 second
  • flash: 1 x PC connector
  • film size: 35mm

The body is made from cast aluminium alloy with pressed brass top and base plates – these are satin chrome plated on my camera but a few were made with black enamelled top and base plates. The body is covered with black textured leatherette. This camera has been stored in very damp conditions – I suspect a garage – and the aluminium body has significant corrosion and there is quite a bit of mildew on the shutter curtains. Some collectors would reject this camera based solely on condition, but I like my cameras to be in used condition and this is all a part of the camera’s story.

The size of the camera is pretty normal for a 35mm SLR. It measures 142 by 91 by 86 mm and the body with no lens attached weighs 670g. While 670g is not light – it is heavier than any of my Japanese rangefinders – it is not as heavy as many SLR cameras: Nikon F2, 840g; Nikkormat FT, 754g; Canon FTb, 750g; Ricoh 500, 800g.

So, now for a description of the camera starting with the top plate. The right hand side of the top plate is pretty much standard. Far right is the film advance lever. This is cut metal and plated (or anodised) to match the top plate. This has two rest positions – flush with the edge of the top plate or sticking out about 10 mm. The lever moves through 160º to advance one frame. The lever is on a ratchet so the film can be advanced with several short motions if required.

In front of the film advance lever is the window for the frame counter. This is reset by opening the camera back – it resets to S which is -2. Zero is in orange. Even numbered frames have numbers and odd numbered frames are just dots. Frames 20 and 36 are also in orange as these were the standard film lengths in 1964.

To the left of this frame counter window and still at the front of the top plate is the shutter release button. This is chrome plated metal and is threaded for a standard Gauthier cable release. Around the shutter release button is a rotating collar. This will rotate to one of two positions marked ‘A’ and ‘L’. ‘A’ is the working position and in this position the shutter can be fired. ‘L’ is the lock position and in this position the shutter release button cannot be depressed to fire the shutter but the shutter can still be fired by using a cable release. As well as functioning as a safety device to prevent accidental exposures, the ‘L’ position can be used with the B shutter speed setting to lock the shutter open for long exposures.

Left again is the combined shutter speed and film speed selector dial. Film speeds are selected by slightly lifting the selector dial and turning. There are two windows in the top of the dial to show the selected film speed – one for DIN and one for ASA. The film speeds available to be set range from 11 DIN/10 ASA to 30 DIN/800 ASA. The film speed numbers are in one stop increments but there are 1/3 stop increments available denoted by dots between the numbers. The numbers were originally painted in orange but the conditions that the camera has been stored in means that nearly all the orange paint has corroded away, making the setting hard to impossible to read.

Shutter speeds are selected by just turning the selector dial. Shutter speeds range from one second to 1/1000 second plus B and X. The index mark for the shutter speeds is to the left of the dial. The dial moves freely between speeds but not directly between B and X. B is ‘bulb’ and with this setting the shutter will remain open while the shutter release button is depressed. X is the electronic flash sync setting. The manual tells me that this is 1/60 seconds and I am not entirely sure why the user cannot just set the shutter speed to 1/60 as on all the other cameras I have seen but the manual is clear that the X setting should be used. It might be because the 1/60 sync speed is nominal and is actually slightly slower. 1/30 and slower can be used with electronic flash as well as X.

Towards the rear of the top plate, behind the shutter speed dial, is an engraved circle with a line through it. The line represents the position of the film plane inside the camera. This is intended for when the user is relying on measuring the focus distance rather than focusing by eye on the focus screen.

In the middle of the top plate is the pentaprism hump. Inside the hump is the focus screen. This is mostly a Fresnel screen with a central circle of ground glass for focusing. In the middle of this central circle is a split-image rangefinder. As there is no TTL meter, there is no information provided on the screen. My camera has been stored for a long time in damp conditions and this has had a deleterious effect on the silvering on the pentaprism. This silvering has peeled away from the edges. This makes the image on the focus screen less clear but will make no difference to the photographic image.

On the top of the pentaprism hump is the accessory shoe. This is a standard Barnack shoe – no electrical contacts so this is a cold shoe. The front of the pentaprism hump has the Canon logo engraved on it.

Left of the pentaprism hump, towards the front of the top plate, is the camera serial number. Behind this, by the back of the top plate, is the light meter readout. This works in a way that I have never seen before. First, you set your required shutter speed. As you rotate the shutter speed dial, the aperture scale in the readout moves – in fact, there are two aperture scales, both of which move. One scale is orange (for use in low light) and one scale is white (for use in bright light). Second, you set the meter sensitivity by a lever around the rewind crank. This lever has two settings: ‘L’ for low sensitivity (or bright light) and ‘H’ for high sensitivity (or low light). The meter needle should now point to the aperture value which you set on the lens aperture ring. this is an entirely manual camera even though it has a light meter and you can ignore the light meter altogether if you wish to.

On the left hand end of the top plate is the rewind crank. This is the usual small folding crank. Unusually, the crank has no other function – it does not unlock the camera back. Around the rewind crank is the meter sensitivity switch already mentioned.

On the rear of the top plate, behind the meter readout, is a dial to switch the light meter on or to check the battery condition. On the front of the top plate, in front of the rewind crank, ids a circular meter sensor. The remaining component of the meter is the battery chamber. This is on the left hand end of the camera. It is intended to take a type 625 mercury 1.3 volt battery which is no longer available. However, you can get 1.5 volt alkaline 625 batteries which will work but not accurately. On my camera, the meter does not work at all.

So, moving to the front of the camera. In line with the pentaprism hump is a raised portion containing the lens mount. This is a three pronged bayonet mount. Canon’s SLR cameras (before the modern EF mount) used three different bayonet mounts. The first was the R mount. Canon upgraded this to the FL mount – R mount lenses would fit. Later, the FL mount was upgraded to the FD mount – again, both R mount and FL mount lenses would fit. The reverse is also true – FD lenses will fit R mount and FL mount cameras and FL lenses will fit R mount cameras. These three, R, Fl and FD mounts were all breech lock mounts where there is a locking ring to fix the lens in place rather than having to turn the whole lens to lock them.

This camera uses the FL mount and this FX model was the first model to use the FL mount. The FL mount offers little apart from attaching the lens. There is a lever to close the aperture on the lens just prior to the shutter firing and that is it.

To the right of the lens mount, towards the top of the body, is a small rotating lever. Turning this anticlockwise 1/4 turn will raise the mirror. This is for use in critical photography as it removes the vibration caused when the mirror flips out of the way.

Below this is a PC connector for attaching a flash gun. On the left of the lens mount is another rotating lever. This one is the self-timer mechanism. Turning this a half turn anticlockwise gives a delay of ten seconds between pressing the shutter release button and the shutter firing. I timed this with my phone’s stop watch and it was just about exactly ten seconds as close as I could time it – not bad for a 57 year old mechanism. Turning this lever just over a quarter turn will give a delay of six seconds – this is as short as I could make it work.

Moving to the base of the camera, this is fairly sparse. There are no facilities for connecting a power winder and no battery compartment. Towards the front of the base plate, in line with the centre of the lens, is a tripod socket. This is a 1/4 inch Whitworth thread. Also on the base plate is the rewind button. This does not need to be held in once you start rewinding the film which makes life easier. There is a small dot on the rewind button. As you rewind the film, the rewind button rotates and this dot makes it easier to see the rotations. Once the rewind button stops rotating, you know that the film leader is clear of the take-up spool and you can stop rewinding. Stopping at this point means that the film leader is still protruding from the cassette. Not only does this make it easier to extract the film for developing, it also means that the film is blocking the felt light trap on the lips of the cassette, reducing the risk of light entering and fogging the film.

At the other end of the base plate is a folding recessed key. Lifting this and rotating it 1/4 turn anti-clockwise releases the camera back. Opening the back, there is a relatively small pressure plate. To the left of this is a chrome bar across the height of the back. This keeps the film snug against the sprocket shaft. On the right-hand end of the back is a slightly sprung plate which keeps the film cassette snug in its chamber.

The edges of the back form a flange that fits into a groove on the camera body. this flange is not big enough to fully render the joint between the back and body light tight so the groove on the body contains a foam light seal that the flange presses against. This camera is 57 years old and the foam light seal has degraded to a granular mess. I shall have to replace it before I can use this camera which is a simple enough job.

The inside of the body has the chamber for the film cassette on the left. Protruding into this is the fork for the rewind crank.This can be raised out of the way by raising the rewind crank. The film gate is central and gives on to the shutter curtains. This shutter has two horizontally travelling cloth curtains. With these focal plane shutters, the shutter always travels at the same speed – shutter speed is changed by altering the width of the gap between the two curtains. The narrower the gap, the fast the effective shutter speed. As mentioned earlier, my camera has been stored in very damp conditions and there is significant mildew on the shutter cloth.

To the right of the film gate is the sprocket shaft. This has teeth that engage in the holes on the edges of the film. When advancing the film, this sprocket shaft will stop once eight holes have moved passed the shaft – eight holes equals one frame. To the right of the sprocket shaft is the take-up spool. This has a single slot for attaching the film leader. The take-up spool turns clockwise. This means that is stores the film emulsion side outermost – doing this reduces the amount of curl in the film once it has been developed and aids the film lying flat when being printed from (or when being scanned in our digital world).

Nikon Nikkorex

Nikon’s first SLR camera was the professional Nikon F which introduced the F mount which is still (in modified form) in use today. In order to tap into the large enthusiast market, Nikon introduced the Nikkorex range. There were three models in the Nikkorex range. The first two models seem to have been modelled on the Zeiss Ikon Contaflex – fixed lens and complex leaf shutter in the lens. This third model in the range, the Nikkorex F, is a standard SLR with a removable lens and a focal plane shutter – this camera uses the same lens mount as the Nikon F and so also the same range of lenses. It dates from 1962. In fact, the Nikkorex F was supplied with the same lens as the Nikon F. (Initially, Nikon was the name of a range of SLR cameras, not the name of the company which was originally Nippon Kogaku.) This Nikkorex model was designed by and made by Mamiya for Nikon. After Nikon dispensed with this model (at the introduction of the Nikkormat range), Mamiya sold the design to Ricoh. I assume that the reason for Nikon choosing the same name – F – as their flagship Nikon F was to instil visions of quality into the customer’s mind.

  • lens: n/a
  • focal length: n/a
  • apertures: n/a
  • focus range: n/a
  • lens fitting: Nikon F mount
  • shutter: Copal Square focal plane
  • speeds: 1 second to 1/1000 second
  • flash: 2 x PC connector
  • film size: 35mm

I shall use my usual method of describing this camera, starting with the top plate. The top plate is made from pressed brass which has been satin chrome plated. On the far right is the film advance lever. This is pressed metal and also satin chrome plated apart from the tip which is bright plated. When not in use, this lever sits over the top plate out of the way. In use, it sits just proud of the top plate making it easier for the user’s thumb to move it.

In front of the film advance lever is the frame counter. This is reset to S (or -3) by opening the camera back. Left of this window is the shutter release button. This is metal and is threaded for a standard Prontor type cable release. Left of this, centrally on the top plate, is the shutter speed dial. This is pretty much as you might expect. The speed range is from one second to 1/1000 second plus B. The dial turns freely between speeds but not between B and 1/1000. As you move the dial to a faster speed you can hear the mechanism wind up. To move from 1/125 to 1/250 and faster requires significantly more effort than between the slower speeds. The speeds from 1 to 1/125 are printed in orange – these are the flash sync speeds. 1/250, 1/500 and 1/1000 are printed in green Between B and 1/1000, there is a small metal stud. This is used to connect the optional light meter – more later.

Just left of centre on the top plate is the pentaprism hump. My camera has a large dint on the top which seems to have no adverse effect on its function. The front of the pentaprism hump is an engraved capital ‘F’ which is the model name. The rear of the hump has the viewfinder eyepiece. This is circular and has a screw-in ring which can hold vision correction lenses for people who wear glasses.

Inside the viewfinder is the focus screen. Mostly this is a Fresnel lens which gives even illumination over the screen. In the centre of the screen is a disc of plain ground glass to ease focusing (the Fresnel lens part is hard to focus on). Inside this is a smaller circular split-image rangefinder spot. As this camera has no meter, there is no additional information in the viewfinder. Left of the pentaprism hump is the rewind crank. This is the very usual small folding crank. This only has the one function of rewinding the film – it doesn’t open the back as with many cranks.

The front of the camera is mostly as you would expect with one surprise – more later. In line with the pentaprism hump is a raised portion. At the top of this is the model name – Nikkorex – in capital letters. On the right of this raised portion (as when looking at the front), there is a small stud on the side in line with the model name. Again, more later. Further down this raised portion is the lens mount. This is Nikon’s F mount as introduced in 1959 – no electrical contacts and no AIS ring around the mount. On the left of the mount, on the side of the raised portion, is a chrome button. Pushing this down closes the lens aperture so you can gauge the depth of field of the image. On the front of the camera to the left of the raised portion is the self-timer lever. This winds about 90º anticlockwise and is activated by pressing the shutter release button.

L shaped bracket for flash

Above the self-timer lever, on the front of the top plate, is the surprise I mentioned previously. This is a vertically mounted but otherwise standard Barnack accessory shoe. Being vertical, it is entirely useless for connecting a normal flash gun. However, that is not its intended function. It is there to attach the optional Nikon light meter. This light meter has three attachment points: 1) the vertical accessory shoe, 2) the stud on the shutter speed dial, 3) the pin on the side of the raised portion mentioned earlier. I do not have this optional flash gun so I can say no more about it. If you do want to connect a normal flash gun, Nikon provided an L shaped bracket which fits into the vertical accessory shoe to provide a horizontal accessory shoe.

The rear of the top plate has, on the right, the legend “Made in Japan” and the serial number – 356786 in the case of my camera. On the left of the rear of the top plate is the maker’s name – “Nippon Kogaku Tokyo” – this is the original name of the company that now calls itself Nikon (this ignores the fact that this camera was made by Mamiya for Nikon).

In the middle of the back is a circular memo. This allows the user to set the speed of the film in use – ASA only – and the length of the film. The options here are either 20 or 36 exposures and in either red or black (i.e. colour or monochrome).

The base plate of the camera is also made of brass which is satin chrome plated. In the middle of the base plate, in line with the centre of the lens, is the tripod socket. This has the 1/4 inch Whitworth thread – the international standard later changed to UNC threads but not in 1962. Also on the base is the rewind button.

On the left hand edge of the top plate are two PC connectors for flash. The front connector is marked with a green M and is for use with flash bulbs. The rear connector is marked with a red X and is for use with electronic flash. Below these two PC connectors is the sliding catch for the back.

Inside, the camera is just as you would expect. In the middle of the back is a nice large pressure plate which keeps the film flat against the film gate. Inside the body, there is a chamber on the left for the film cassette. – no DX contacts at this age. In the middle is the film gate which has a large surround to match the pressure plate.

To the right of the film gate is the sprocket shaft. For those readers new to film, this sprocket shaft counts the holes on the edges of the film and stops the film advance after eight holes have passed over the shaft – eight holes equals one frame. To the right of the sprocket shaft is the take-up spool. This has one slot to take the film leader – the slot is outlined in yellow to make it easier to find.

The camera came with a Nikkor-S lens. This has a maximum aperture of ƒ/2 and a minimum aperture of ƒ/16. Its focal length is 5cm – an old-fashioned designation for the 1960s, I would expect it to be 50mm which is the same size but consistent with industry standards. The lens bezel has the maker as Nippon Kogaku – the same as the camera. The focus range is from just short of two feet (about 500mm) to infinity. The “S” in the designation “Nikkor-S” stands for Septum which is Latin for seven. This indicates that the lens is made from seven glass elements. This is the same lens as was provided with Nikon’s flagship model Nikon F so this lens is no slouch.

As with all Nikkor lenses from before 1977 (that is, F mount lenses; the rangefinder S mount lenses were also called Nikkor), the lens has a pair of ‘rabbit ears’ protruding from the aperture ring at ƒ/5.6. These link to the light meter system to tell the electronics which aperture has been set. As this camera has no light meter, the rabbit ears do nothing. If you fit the optional light meter mentioned earlier, that meter has a prong which will engage with these rabbit ears.

At some point, the shutter on this camera has failed. It is clear from the state of the screws holding the base plate on, and the screws under the base plate, that someone has been inside the camera, presumably to repair the shutter. As the shutter is 60 years old, I doubt that it was ever going to be repairable. I am not going to be able to use this camera so I cannot comment on how well it works.

Pentax Program-A

This camera dates from 1984. This camera is clearly a development of the Pentax ME Super of 1979. Indeed, the ME Super was discontinued the year that this model was released.

  • lens: n/a
  • focal length: n/a
  • apertures: n/a
  • focus range: n/a
  • lens fitting: Pentax KA mount
  • shutter: Seiko MFC-E5 vertical metal electronic
  • speeds: 15 to 1/1000 seconds
  • flash: hot shoe for dedicated Pentax flash guns plus PC socket
  • film: 35 mm

The Program-A has a fully automatic exposure system which is dependent on using ‘A’ series lenses. Other K mount lenses can be used but doing so will not allow the automatic exposure system to work – automatic aperture priority exposure is still possible.

As mentioned above, this camera is a development of the ME Super which is reflected in the top plate. This camera is made from metal. There is some plastic used but it is not used structurally. The body is die-cast aluminium and the top and bottom plates are black painted brass. The body measures 131 by 87 by 48 mm and weighs 490 g with no lens attached.

This camera is entirely electronic and will not do anything at all without batteries. The instruction booklet (which was nicely supplied with this second-hand camera) says that the camera takes two 1.5 volt batteries – no indication as to which style batteries. I have fitted two LR44 alkaline batteries which fit in the battery compartment nicely and the camera works well with them.

The top plate closely resembles that of the ME Super. On the right is the film advance lever. This has a stand-off position at 30º from the body. This is intended to make film advancing easier but if the photographer wishes, the lever can be kept flush with the body. To advance the film one frame the lever must be moved through 135º from the stand-off position. There is no ratchet so the lever must be moved in one movement.

In front of the film advance lever is the window to the frame counter. As is usual, this is reset when the camera back is opened. The automatic exposure system does not kick-in until the frame counter reaches 1. Before that, the shutter speed defaults to 1/1000 seconds. Even frame numbers are in white – odd numbers are dots. 0, 20, 34 and 36 are in red (34 is in red to indicate that the film is very nearly at an end.

Next along is a selector wheel. This has the options of LOCK, AUTO, MAN, 100⚡︎ and B. When this wheel is in either the LOCK or AUTO positions, it is locked in place and you need to press a grey portion of the wheel in order to turn it. In either MAN, 100⚡︎ or B positions, the wheel can be turned freely.

The lock position locks the shutter and turns off the electronics. AUTO sets the automatic exposure system. MAN allows the user to set both aperture and shutter speed – camera control of the aperture is disabled and the aperture ring on the lens must be moved from “A”. 100⚡︎ forces the shutter too 1/100 seconds for flash synchronisation. B allows the shutter to remain open while the shutter release button is depressed.

In the centre of the selector wheel is the shutter release button. This is chromed metal and is threaded for a standard cable release. This shutter release button is electrical and sends a signal to the electronic shutter.

Left of this selector wheel, hard by the pentaprism hump, are two buttons, 5 by 3 mm each. These are to adjust the shutter speed in manual mode – the front button increases shutter speed and the rear button reduces speed.

The pentaprism hump is in the middle of the top plate as usual. On top of the hump is a hot-shoe accessory shoe. This is synchronised for electronic flash as designated by the red X. As well as the ISO standard central contact, there are two smaller auxiliary contacts. These are for Canon’s dedicated flash guns and allow the camera to automatically set the shutter speed and lens aperture to the required values. For non-dedicated flash guns, the user must set the selector wheel to 100⚡︎ and manually calculate the required lens aperture.

On the front of the pentaprism hump is an oblong translucent panel that illuminates the meter display in the viewfinder. The rear of the pentaprism hump has the viewfinder eyepiece. This measures 15 by 10 mm. Inside the viewfinder is the focus screen. This is plain ground glass with a central micro-prism spot and a split-image spot in the middle of that. These are focus aids.

Below the focus screen is the light meter readout. On the left is a window for the shutter speed. When in AUTO mode with the lens aperture set to ‘A’, the shutter speed is preceded by a ‘P’ to indicate Program mode. On the right is the window for the aperture value. This only displays in program mode (aperture set to ‘A’, wheel to AUTO). Otherwise, it gives values from -3 to +3 to indicate how far out the exposure setting is.

To the left of the pentaprism hump is the film rewind crank. This is the usual fold-out crank. When pulled upwards, this crank acts as the catch for the hinged back. Around the rewind crank is a wheel to set exposure compensation. Normally, this will be set to 1x but the exposure can be adjusted from 1/4 to 4 times the value set by the exposure system. On the left of this wheel is a small button. if you press this while rotating the exposure compensation wheel, you adjust the film speed setting instead. This is in ASA (functionally the same as modern ISO speeds) and runs from 6 ASA to 3200 ASA. 3200 ISO film is still readily available (in 2020) but I think you would struggle to find 6 ISO film!

Moving to the front of the camera, the front is dominated by the lens mount. This is Pentax’s K bayonet mount introduced in 1975 (it was originally a joint development between the German Carl Zeiss and the Japanese Asahi Optical Co, but Carl Zeiss pulled out of the arrangement and development was completed by Asahi alone). Previously, Pentax cameras used the M42 screw lens mount and to make things as simple as possible the new K mount used the same flange distance (distance from the outside of the lens mount to the film) as the M42 mount. This made using adapters for older Pentax lenses much simpler.

Originally, in 1975, the K mount was entirely mechanical. There is a ring just inside the mount that connects to a lever on the lens to tell the exposure system what the set aperture is and a lever on then other side of the mount which closes the lens’ aperture when the shutter release is pressed.

lens showing the ‘A’ setting (white dot)

The version of the K mount on this camera is known as the KA mount. The difference between the vanilla K mount and the KA mount is the presence of six electrical contacts on the surface of the KA mount, on the lower left. Five of these contacts protrude slightly and are spring loaded so they can push in as a lens is being mounted/demounted. The sixth contact (the third one down) is flush with the mount and not sprung. This is the opposite on the lens portion of the mount – five contacts on the lens are flush and one is protruding and sprung. On the lens, this protruding contact is connected to the ‘A’ position on the aperture scale. If ‘A’ is set, this contact protrudes and if an actual aperture value is set then this contact is retracted – this signals to the camera’s AE system that the camera is to control the lens’ aperture.

The lens release button is on the left of the mount (or on the right when using the camera). This is the opposite way to most SLR cameras that I have . Just above the lens release button is a second lever. This is a depth of field preview lever and needs to be pressed towards the camera body. Slightly above and behind this is switch marked ‘SELF’. pushing this switch up sets the self-timer. This gives a delay of around 12 seconds between pressing the shutter release button and the shutter opening. A red LED flashes once the shutter release button is pressed and this flashes faster during the final two seconds of the delay.

On the other side of the lens mount is a PC socket for use with an off-camera flash gun.

The base plate of the camera has the usual items. There is a standard 1/4 inch tripod socket. The ISO standard for tripod threads was set in 1973. Previous to this, the threads were 1/4 inch Whitworth but the ISO states they should be 1/4 inch UNC. As this camera dates from 12 years after the introduction of the ISO we can be sure that this is a UNC thread. This tripod socket is in line with the centre of the lens. Next to this is the battery compartment which takes two LR44 cells. The third usual item is the release button to allow the film to be rewound. Once this button has been pressed in, there is no need to hold it in, making rewinding easier.

Also on the base plate are the paraphernalia for connecting a motor drive, two models of which were available. These consist of two locating holes, a set of four electrical contacts, a set of two electrical contacts and a clutch connected to the film advance system. Also on the base is the camera’s serial number.

As mentioned earlier, the back is released by pulling up on the rewind crank. The back can be completely removed and can then be replaced with the optional Data Back which would print the date and time on each negative. This data back uses another set of two electrical contacts on the back of the base plate.

The inside of the camera is quite normal. The chamber for the film cassette is on the left. Strangely, inside this chamber is a second serial number which is close to but not the same as there serial number on the base of the camera. The shutter is a vertically running metal focal plane shutter made by Seiko. This is the model MFC-ES shutter (detail curtesy of the printed instruction booklet) and it is entirely electronic – it does not work at all without battery power. Centrally is the film gate – this is absolutely standard. On the right is the take-up spool. This has what Pentax call Magic Needles. These are a series of loosely fitting plastic needles around the take-up spool. When you fit a new film, you just push the film leader between any two of these needles and wind the film advance.

Being a Japanese camera, the joint between the camera back and the camera body is rendered light tight by a groove with a foam light seal in it. As is also usual, these foam seals have deteriorated and will need replacing before the camera is used. One last thing that a is worth mentioning is the presence of a memo holder on the back of the camera. This is intended to hold the end of the cardboard carton the film comes in to serve as reminder as to which film type is in use. These should be on every camera to my mind but they are not so frequent, unfortunately.

A scanned copy of the instruction booklet can be found here.

Test Film.

I have now run a test film through this camera and the results are mixed. The film I used was Agfa Vista, 200 ISO – a couple of years past its best-before date so basically fine. On a positive, there are no light leaks and the shutter is moving smoothly. On the negative, quite a few of the negatives are very thin, indicating significant underexposure – I still have images from these as scanning is very forgiving but they are not really useable.

The images:

One of the thin, underexposed negatives, This was a bright but cloudy day – plenty of light around.
Well exposed, as are the next three.

Nikon F2 Photomic

Nikon F2 Photomic 35 mm film SLR camera from the early 1970s

This is my fourth Nikon camera but my first professional Nikon. My first two Nikons – the F301 and the F601 – were made from plastic and were automated. These two were strictly amateur cameras. My third Nikon – the Nikkormat EL – was metal with automatic exposure if required. Again, an amateur’s camera but a nicely made metal one. This Nikon – the F2 – is a strictly professional camera and it shows. The camera is metal, a cast aluminium chassis with brass top and base plates. The basic camera has no viewfinder but the buyer had a choice of viewfinders. This was basically a choice between a plain pentaprism finder for use with a hand light meter or the ‘Photomic’ finder with a built-in TTL light meter.

My camera has the Photomic finder – the DP1 version – which Nikon calls the head. The Interweb tells me that this model camera was made between 1971 and 1980. The Interweb also tells me the date of this particular camera. The serial number starts with 7 5xx xxx and this gives a date range of between February 1975 and April 1975. (data from www.destoutz.ch/typ_production_data_f2.html)

  • lens: n/a
  • focal length: n/a
  • apertures: n/a
  • focus range: n/a
  • lens fitting: Nikon F mount
  • shutter: Titanium foil horizontal focal plane
  • speeds: 1 s to 1/2000 s plus B and T
  • flash: Hot shoe plus PC connector
  • film size: 35 mm 

When writing these articles, I frequently skim over the description of the top plate as they tend to be much of a muchness. The top plate on this camera has a number of idiosyncrasies so I shall describe it in some detail. On there far right is the film advance lever. This has two rest positions. When close to the body, the lever acts as a switch to turn off the light meter if the Photomic head is attached. At the second rest position, standing proud of the body by nearly a centimetre, the metering head is switched on and the advance lever is readily available to the user’s thumb. The lever moves through 90º to advance the film one frame and is on a ratchet so the film can be wound on by a series of short strokes. The lever is metal with a metal cover.

Right in front of the film advance lever is the window to the frame counter. In usual SLR fashion, this is reset to S (-2) by opening the back of the camera. Even numbers are displayed in white, odd numbers by dots. 12, 20 and 36 are in red as these were the standard film lengths in the 1970s. The counter will count up to 40.

Shutter release with collar set to Lock

To the left of the frame counter window is the shutter release button. This is chromed metal as is the collar that it sits in. This button is not threaded for a standard cable release but the chromed collar is threaded for a Nikon proprietary cable. Around the release button is a second collar. This outer collar is black pained brass. This has two functions. If you lift it and turn it clockwise so that the notch aligns with the letter L on the top plate, the shutter is locked against accidental exposures. The second function is to set the shutter speed to T – more later.

Left of the shutter release button is the shutter speed dial. When the Photomic head is attached, this is covered by the head itself. This dial has speeds from one second to 1/2000 seconds. 1/60 and slower are in white, 1/125 and faster are in green. Between 1/60 and 1/125 is a red line. This is the flash sync speed and is 1/80 seconds. Between 1/1000 and 1/2000 is a pin. This is to connect the Photomic head to the shutter speed dial.

Top plate with no viewfinder

Next to the speed dial is a largish hole in the top plate. This gives on to the focus screen which is replaceable. Normally, the viewfinder fits over this hole. On either side of this hole, towards the front, are two sprung electrical contacts to provide power to the Photomic head.

On the left of the top plate is the rewind crank. This is the standard folding crank seen on nearly every 35 mm camera. This crank will pull up six millimetres to make rewinding the film easier. When the camera back is open, the crank pulls up further to ease the insertion and removal of film cassettes.

Rewind crank with flash shoe around it.

What is entirely missing on this camera is a standard, Barnack style, accessory shoe. This prevents you using non-Nikon flash guns. In order to allow you to use Nikon flash guns, there is a Nikon specific shoe around the rewind crank. This has two long springs, one either side of the crank, to keep the flash gun secure. At the rear is a single electrical contact for the flash. At this date, there is no fancy flash control so no extra contacts.

This camera had options for the viewfinder – what Nikon called heads. I shall use the term ‘head’ from now on. My camera has the light-metering head – the DP1 – which gives the model name F2 Photomic. First and foremost, the Photomic head is a pentaprism viewfinder. The pentaprism adjusts the image on the focus screen so that the viewer sees the image the right way around. It also includes a light meter, a method of reading the set aperture and a method to set the shutter speed.

The head measures 68 by 70 by 41 mm and weighs 220 g – which is a significant weight to add to a camera. Looking down on the head, on the right is a film speed dial in ASA. This runs from 6 ASA to 6400 ASA and can be set in 1/3 stop steps. Setting this is achieved by lifting and turning the outer ring of the dial. This dial is also used to set the shutter speed. In this case, you set the shutter speed by turniung the dial without lifting. This dial connects to the shutter speed dial using the pin between 1/1000 and 1/2000 mentioned earlier.

On top of the head, there is a square window. The rear portion of this is translucent grey. This provides the illumination for the meter display in the viewfinder. The front part of the square is a very small meter read-out.

On the right hand side of the head, in front of the film speed/ shutter speed dial, is a small lever. Pushing this towards the head and down at the same time releases the front of the head for removal (there is a second release for the rear of the head). On the left hand side of the head, towards the rear, is a small metal pin. This connects to the Nikon flash when fitted and provides a flash-ready signal in the head.

underside of Photomic head

Looking at the bottom of the head, the base is dominated by the base of the pentaprism. Behind this are two small pins which locate on the fastener on the body (this fastener is released by a small button on the rear of the top plate to the left of the viewfinder eyepiece). In front of the pentaprism base is a third pin which also locates in a fastener on the body and is released in the same way as the other two pins. In front of this third pin are two prongs which locate on two pins on the front of the body – these are released by the lever on the head mentioned earlier. Either side of the pentaprism base, towards the front, are two pointed pins. These connect with the two sprung electrical contacts on either side of the hole in the top plate already mentioned and provide the power for the light meter. Right at the front of the base of the head is a groove which contains a pin which locates on the rabbit ears prong on the lens. This pin relays the set aperture to the light meter.

The front of the head has the legend ‘Nikon’ in nice large letters. While looking at the front of the head, on the left is a small button. This is a test button – pressing this allows the meter needle to move across the meter window if there is sufficient battery power available and if the needle does not move much the batteries need replacing. On the lower left of the front of the head is a window which displays the maximum aperture of the lens. This gets set by the indexing process when fitting a new lens – more later. The rear of the head has the viewfinder eyepiece. This is circular and the eyepiece unscrews to allow the user to add a compensating lens if they find using the camera difficult when wearing glasses.

The front of the camera has the nice big lens mount. This is the original 1959 F mount. There is no screwdriver linkage for autofocus and no electrical contacts for automatic operation of the lens. This is where indexing the lens comes in – when fitting a lens, the aperture ring must be turned to the minimum aperture and then to the maximum aperture – the maximum aperture should then appear in the window on the front of the head. On the right of the lens mount (while looking at the front of the camera) is a button to release the lens. Above this, near the top of the camera, is a PC connector for off-camera flash.

On the other side of the lens mount, towards the bottom of the camera, is the self-timer lever. You set this by turn ing the lever to either 2, 4, 6, 8 or 10 seconds. When you turn this lever, a small chrome button is revealed. Pressing this button starts the count-down. This self-timer also has another function. If you set the shutter speed to B, the collar around the shutter release button to T and then set the self-timer to 2, 4, 6, 8 or 10 seconds then the shutter will stay open for that length of time. Example: shutter speed B, shutter release collar T, self-timer to 6 and then press the shutter release button (not the small self-timer button), the shutter will remain open for 6 seconds. Indefinite exposures can be achieved by setting the shutter speed to B, collar to B and then pressing the shutter release button. The shutter will then stay open until you return the collar to its normal position.

Still on the left of the lens mount, above the self-timer lever, is a combined button/lever. The button is a depth of field preview button. Pressing this closes the iris diaphragm in the lens and allows you to see how much is going to be in focus. The lever here raises the mirror before the exposure. This acts to reduce vibration during the exposure but has the side effect of blacking out the viewfinder, so a tripod is absolutely essential here. To turn this lever, you need to press the lever towards the camera body while turning the lever through 120º.

The base of the camera has six items on it. Starting at the right, there is a folding key marked O and C. This opens the back of the camera. Turn the key to O and then turn further against spring resistance and the back will pop open. When closing the back, you need to turn the key to C to lock the back closed.

Next along his the battery compartment. This holds two button batteries, either LR44 alkaline cells or A76 silver cells. This camera is entirely mechanical and works perfectly with no batteries fitted. The batteries are only required to power the Photomic metering head. Next to the battery compartment is the tripod socket. This is nearly in line with the centre line of the lens which is good for stability. I suspect that a this is the older 1/4 inch Whitworth thread rather than the ISO 1/4 inch UNC thread but I am quite happy to be contradicted.

Towards the other end of the base, near to the rear of the camera, is the button to disengage the film advance mechanism to allow the film to be rewound. It is necessary to keep this pressed in while rewinding the film. In front of the button is a second button. This is a secondary shutter release button which is used by a motor-drive if fitted. Right at the end of the base is the mechanical linkage for the motor-drive advance the film.

The rear of the camera has a memo holder which takes the end flap of a film carton to act as a reminder as to which film is in use. I have never understood why every film camera does not have one of these.

Inside the camera, things are as you would expect in a 35 mm SLR. In fact, it is pretty much the same as the 1949 Contax S which was the archetypical film SLR. In one respect, this camera is more like a German SLR than a Japanese SLR. This is the complete absence of any foam light seals. Light tightness is achieved by deep grooves and flanges. So, no foam to go bad and no need to replace the gooey foam seals with new ones, whichNI was fully expecting to have to do. I have new batteries installed and a film fitted – Agfa Vista 200 ASA (sorry, 200 ISO) which is actually Fuji film.

TEST FILM.

I have my test film back from the lab and all is well. The meter is clearly working well – all the negatives are well exposed. I cannot show this here as the scanning process corrects a lot of faults but visual examination of the film strips shows a good image density. There are no light leaks and I would not expect there to be any as there are no foam light seals here.

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