More 'populaire' than ever
Type: Interchangeable lens coupled rangefinder
Mount: Leica thread mount (LTM)
Film Format: 135
Shutter Speed: 1/1000s - 1s
This Camera has gained a huge following in recent years, reviewed by many photographers and widely praised for its simplicity and beautiful looks. This review will be no different, but for what it's worth, I would like to offer my views on this camera based on the last 7 years and looking at some of the reasons why it's loved by so many and living up to its 'populaire' name even today.
I purchased this Canon rangefinder after needing a LTM mount replacement for my Zorki 4 - which wasn't a bad camera at all, but I felt was let down by its unfamiliar operation and vague viewfinder. I took a risk on the Canon after reading about how its handling was very similar to the other cameras I had at the time and additionally was very affordable.
A last hurrah in a time of change
Our story starts with a time of change. In the 1950's, there was a shift happening in the world of photography. Rangefinder style cameras were rapidly becoming old hat and manufacturers were moving towards the future by opting to release more SLR style cameras. The Canon-P could be considered one of the last commercially successful, widely adopted interchangeable lens rangefinders. It was produced between 1959 and 1961 and sold in respectable numbers during this time, with over 90,000 units making their way into the hands of photographers worldwide.
The Canon-P was on the lower-end of a series of other rangefinder cameras that were released by Canon in the mid to late 1950's, following Canon departing from producing 'Leica clone' cameras in 1956 with the release of the Canon VT. Canon continued to innovate and introduce their own unique designs and ideas into their Cameras, which as well as further separating them from their German counterparts, solidified their reputation as a producer of quality, and precision made cameras.
The first time a camera of Canon quality has ever been offered at a popular price
The Canon-P was intended to be a budget version of their more advanced 'VI L' model. The price of the Canon-P was kept low by removing or replacing expensive to manufacture features and materials found on their higher-end models. Features such as manual selection of a viewfinder field of view, in favour of a 1:1 viewfinder with etched framelines for 35, 50 and 100mm.
The camera was paired with the 50mm 1.4 LTM lens and accessory light meter, and sold in Japan for just over 52,700 Yen, around two and a half times the average monthly salary at the time alternatively it could be brought for 37,700 yen without the accessory light meter and a slower 50mm 2.8 lens. Internationally in the US market, the more expensive setup would cost $200 around half the average household salary. Not cheap as chips but certainly not outside the limits of the amateur photographer who the camera was marketed towards.
Apart from the minor detail of the viewfinder, it's difficult to see which other corners they have cut to reduce cost, the camera itself feels incredibly robust and solid in all the right places. The canon boasts a dependable metal horizontal focal plane shutter with speeds from 1s all the way up to 1/1000 sec. I have not had the pleasure of using any other Canon rangefinders besides picking one up for curiosity's sake at my old local camera shop, but I can confidently say that it feels premium next to the many fixed lens rangefinders I have handled of the same era.
Less is more
Let's take a deeper drive and look at the camera in closer detail. From the top, the camera keeps a very slim and minimalist profile, with dials, controls, winders all recessing, shapes and sizes so that when you look at the camera from the front, the top is perfectly flat.
Looking from above, we have the shutter dial with speeds that range from Bulb to 1/1000s, The advance winder shutter release all occupying the familiar places and taking the familiar forms. It's worth noting here that despite the Canon-P being on the lower end of Canon's rangefinder offering, nothing feels cheap here. The shutter speed dial clicks into place with a satisfying movement and does not move unless intended, the single-stroke film advance lever is made of solid metal, moves and rests in place with a precision that is hard to come by. Nothing rattles and everything is machined with precision which brings to mind its far more expensive German counterparts.
There are a few features that are easily missed, ingenious in their decision to include and taken for granted. First there is a little circular recessed dial just below the shutter button called the 'film transport indicator'. This rotates whenever wind on the film, but more importantly, there is a little line indicator on the film winder handle that also rotates when the film is advanced. These both give you confidence that your film is loaded correctly and winding on as it should - speaking of the winder, it also slides nicely into the camera body, removing the worry of any accidental breakage or getting caught on your clothing.
Turning our attention to the viewfinder, as mentioned earlier, this was a significant area of 'Cost-cutting' from Canon. Whereas the more expensive offerings came with a viewfinder which has an in-built focal-length adjustment, the Canon-P has a 1:1 viewfinder with etched framelines. But - before you close this site thinking this isn't worth it, I can honestly say, it is.
The viewfinder in my case, is very bright and clear - a far cry from the viewfinder on my Zorki which the Canon-P replaced.
The 1:1 view through the viewfinder creates the effect of having your frame lines overlaid on top of your normal vision, it allows both eyes to remain open when framing your shot, with the added bonus of being able to see outside and around your frame, perfect for street photographers.
The viewfinder also has parallax correction, which means when you focus the lens to closer distances, the framelines move to account for the distance between lens and the viewfinder which becomes more problematic when focussing on close subjects. This is not a cheap feature by any means and once you need it, you will appreciate that Canon had the courtesy to include it.
Loading and unloading
Even something as normal as loading and unloading the film has even been taken into consideration with the Canon-P.
Looking at the bottom of the cameras, we find something a little different. Instead of, usually noting, we find a catch, which when flipped out and turned anti-clockwise, moves another catch on the side of the camera which allows the 'back lock' to be pulled down. This two-step process is very secure and just oozes of quality and you can be sure the back of the camera can't be opened accidently either by user error or if it is knocked accidently.
Another nice touch are arrows that tell you which way to move the take-up spool when loading film, again, unnecessary to some, but another great example of Canon going that extra mile for the ease of the customer.
Finally, when your film is loaded and you're ready to go, there's a handy little dial on the back which can be adjusted to match the film that's inside your camera, just as an extra little reminder for you that saves you from resorting to other means.
The Canon LTM 50mm 1.4
Now, let's talk about that lens. I would not be exaggerating when I say that it's really quite special, many sources around the internet wax lyrical about its quality in terms of sharpness and its overall character. I will add at this point that I don't have anything against this lens or its reputation at all. It produces beautiful images and is a lens that I can rely on to produce great images whenever I need it to.
The LTM 50mm 1.4 came in two versions, type I and type II. The lens pictured below is the second type, the first being much more rare and likely more expensive but sources say that the optical formula is the same (6 elements in 4 Groups) between the two with the difference being purely cosmetic.
I won't go into too much detail about the lens as this is talked about in more detail elsewhere (links at the end of this post) but it's very solidly built, there is no play in the feel of the lens and it's all-metal construction commands respect.
Japanese precision and performance for a nice price
I imagine my final thoughts on the Canon-P won't be very different from what others have already said elsewhere (assuming I am not the first place you have read about it) It's just a very solid, reliable and dependable feeling camera.
If I were to draw comparisons, it's on-par with my first film camera, the Pentax Spotmatic in terms of its robustness and build quality. I wouldn't hesitate to say that if Pentax had ever made a rangefinder, it could well be similar to this.
Since owning the Canon-P I've had to calibrate the rangefinder (I'll write about this in a later post) and that's about it in terms of any maintenance. I purchased an aftermarket half-case for it which comes with an integrated comfortable thumb rest, which, when combined with a wrist strap makes it a very comfortable shooting experience that you have by your side when shooting on the streets.
The shots I have received back from the Canon have been free of unwanted flaws such as light leaks, missed frames etc which can plague cameras of this age. I can only hope that it lasts the next 60 years.
If I had to point out any flaws in the Canon-P, the rangefinder lines can occasionally be a little difficult to see in harsh light, in may case, fortunately, the rangefinder patch remains reasonably bright which can't be said for others of the same age or model. The LTM screw mount is a very old mount, but amazingly, some manufacturers such as Voigtlander still make lenses for this ageing mount. However, vintage offerings such as other Canon LTM lenses, Leica LTM lenses and even Former Soviet Union lenses from Mir and Jupiter are all steadily increasing in price, making them out-of-reach for many hobby photographers.
Overall, the Canon-P is a well thought through, reliable and a classic piece of Canon's history that I can highly recommend to anyone, just get it now whilst it's still priced to be 'Populaire'.