Meet the Camera: Canon L1

Here we go again. I’ve rationalized so many camera purchases here I’m sure it’s becoming tedious to read my long-winded explanations, so here’s the short version: Canon P shutter started acting up just before a planned shoot. After servicing it, I decided I needed a backup LTM body. An L1 came up for sale at a reasonable price. I bought it. Brief enough for you? IMG_1419_Modified Anyway, on the camera. The L1 is a V-series Canon RF body derivative, placing it one generation before the P. There are a few differences in detail, but the bodies are dimensionally similar and the controls are laid out essentially the same way on both. Instead of the P’s fixed viewfinder with multiple framelines, the L1 has an adjustable viewfinder with settings for 35 and 50mm lenses as well as a magnified setting designed for precise focusing. Where the P has a single shutter speed dial, the L1 has the older arrangement of two dials, one for high speeds on top and one for low speeds on the front. The shutter speed dial on the L1 also rotates, whereas the one on the P does not. The frame counter on the L1 counts down and requires manual resetting, while the P’s resets itself when the back is opened and counts up. The P has steel shutter curtains while the L1’s are cloth. That’s about it for the differences – they are fundamentally very similar cameras. IMG_1421_Modified The viewfinder is the biggest difference in actual use. I’ve read a number of times that many people prefer the rotating VF for 35mm lenses because the framelines on the P are way out at the edges and can be hard to see. I can see the validity of the argument, as it is easier to see the full frame on the L1, though I have used the P with a 35mm without real problems. I also prefer the 1:1 view of the P, especially for street shooting. The magnification for precision focusing is a nice feature, however, and it is also conveniently quite close the view of a 135mm lens. IMG_1420_Modified Craftsmanship is typical 1950s Canon, which is to say it’s built like a tank. Heavy brass construction, solidly weighted controls, and a sense that you could use it as a hammer in a pinch. The L1 was one of a pretty wide model range at a time when the models changed frequently – the net result is that fewer than 8,000 were built.

My plan for the L1 is to use it alongside the P. If I need both B&W and color, I’ll load one with each; if I need 35 and 50mm lenses, I’ll set them up that way (the L1 is wearing my Canon 35/2.8 in these photos). If I want longer lenses, the P has 100mm framelines that work well with my 90/4 Elmar, while the L1’s magnifier setting should serve well with my Nikkor 135/3.5. No matter how they’re set up, the cameras are similar enough that you can use them interchangeably without much thought, but different enough that it’s easy to tell which is which.

Semi-Random Photo for 10 May 2014

A first taste of what the Pentax M-SMC 200/4 is capable of. More photos on a similar theme organized into a semi-coherent photo essay will be coming soon.

Pentax SFX, Pentax M-SMC 200/4, Kodak Portra 160
Pentax SFX, Pentax M-SMC 200/4, Kodak Portra 160

Meet the Lens: Pentax SMC-M 200mm f/4

Well Happy Birthday to me. A little while back Your Humble Filmosaur celebrated the day of his hatching and emergence into the stark terror of life (it does in some ways seem an odd thing to celebrate, but that’s a discussion for another time…). In acknowledgement of the dubious achievement of my continued survival, among my gifts were a pair of lenses for my trusty Pentax SFX, an SMC-A 50/2 and the SMC-M 200/4 I’ll be showcasing here.


In spite of having owned it longer than any other camera, the SFX is much newer than most of my collection; I got it new in or around 1989. For a while I had only the kit lens, a 35-70 zoom with macro. This was later supplemented with a 100-300 Sigma. Both were adequate for my limited needs, and I shot many rolls with them over the years. But since moving into more serious photography, I’ve become a devotee of prime lenses, and as such it seemed only right to get some for my old friend.

Manual focus Pentax SMC lenses are cheap and plentiful, and as it is well-established fact that I have no particular need for autofocus, this was deemed the way to go. A 50 of some sort was an obvious choice – it’s my preferred focal length for general purpose use – and a 200 offers considerably greater reach than the 135 I have for rangefinder use without being overly cumbersome.


The 200/4 has six elements in five groups, comes with a built-in hood, and is pretty lightweight and easy to handle. Since mine is the M version, the only modes available are aperture priority and full manual – not really an issue for me, as I rarely shoot out of manual anyway – and of course there’s no autofocus. The very wide focusing ring is easy to grip and makes using the lens feel very natural right out of the box.


The photos I have taken in just the first few rolls show just how sharp this lens can be. Very good across the frame, especially stopped down a bit. Color is bright and clear, with relatively high saturation and contrast (at least compared to my generally older rangefinder lens options). No signs of flare thus far, but that’s not terribly surprising given the depth of the lens hood and the quality of Pentax’s Super Multi-Coating. A sample or two will be along presently.