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.

Meet the Camera: Konica III

One of the things that seems to happen a lot these days is that when people discover you still shoot film, they offer you cameras. I’ve already got the typical photographer’s problem of accumulating more gear than I can use all on my own; with the various cameras that people have given me, the collection is growing slightly out of control, and that’s with me plaintively (though half-heartedly) refusing some of what’s thrust at me.

But there are some cameras you can’t refuse. When my uncle told me he had several of my late grandfather’s old cameras that he wanted to send to me, I knew they were coming; but I didn’t know what I would be getting.

When they arrived, it was a typical mixed bag; about what you’d expect from someone who was buying cameras to take snapshots with between the 1950s and the 1970s. There were a couple of obsolete cameras: a Kodak Ektralite 10, a 110-film bar camera, and an Agfa Isomat Rapid that was designed for the long-gone Agfa Rapid system. But then there was the prize: a Konica III rangefinder.

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Debuting in 1956, the Konica III followed the earlier (wait for it) Konica I and II, which were pretty traditional post-war Japanese fixed-lens rangefinders. The III was anything but conventional. Instead of the knob-wind of the earlier models, it used a double downstroke lever operated by the left thumb to advance the film and cock the shutter. A focusing tab was placed at the bottom of the lens barrel to facilitate focusing with the left index or middle finger. It’s an odd arrangement, but it does work once you get used to holding the camera in what feels like a slightly awkward position.

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There’s no way around it: the thing weighs a ton. It’s not a particularly large camera, but it feels like it’s filled with lead. I’m sure it isn’t, but that’s what it feels like. Styling is very 1950s Japanese – think low-budget science fiction movies or metal wind-up robots. Nonetheless, quality of construction is very, very high, and the overall finish is excellent. My example lived in its original ever-ready case and looks essentially new.

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The lens is a 48mm f/2.0 Hexanon, apparently a coated Planar-type design of six elements in five groups. It is quite capable, producing very sharp images and reasonably nice bokeh (why do I always feel slightly stupid using that term?) in the out-of-focus areas. Aside from a little haze – now removed – my example is flawless.

The shutter is a Konirapid, a Synchro-Compur copy offering speeds from 1 second to 1/500, plus B. Speeds are quite accurate by my testing. There is also a self-timer for those so inclined; mine is working fine, but I’m always a bit nervous engaging the timer on an old camera for fear it will lock up the mechanism in some inconvenient way.

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I didn’t need this camera. I wouldn’t have gone looking for one of these, as I have plenty of other cameras that do more or less the same things. But it was my grandfather’s, and my uncle wanted me to have it. Turns out that it’s an excellent piece of machinery that happens to work perfectly. It’s really pleasant to use, and the images it produces exhibit a very nice character. I’m lucky it fell into my hands, and I’m more than happy to have it in my collection.