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Rangefinders (Changeable Lens)

Canon 7 Review – The Perfect Leica Thread Mount Body? – By Mina Saleeb

March 2, 2021

This is a review of the Canon 7 Leica thread mount rangefinder – but first, my path to purchasing one.

Analogue photography is one giant and almost never-ending rabbit hole. You start somewhere, are inspired (or made jealous) by someone else’s gear. You end up scouring online web stores week after week, reading multiple conflicting reviews until you eventually just hit the “buy now” button.

That was my journey with interchangeable rangefinders; my first was a Fed 5b around the middle of 2017 which was quickly replaced by the slightly better built Zorki 4k. I then jumped ship when I got lucky during “garage sale” find with a Contax IIIa but the lens options were pretty limited, and the squinty viewfinder wasn’t very user friendly.

I abandoned the pursuit for interchangeable lens rangefinders when I started using vintage medium format folders but eventually made my way back after becoming enamoured with the Leica IIIg.

Cue hours of internet surfing to discover and research every possible thing about this model…

It seemed so romantic; the last of Leica’s screw mount bodies styled closely to the classic Barnack look… and then I saw the price. Perhaps in places like Europe and the USA, the supply is greater and therefore it was more affordable but in Australia my guess is that very few made it down here to begin with and those that have survived would require a full overhaul.

Disheartened with the prospect of having to outlay so much for a IIIg body and the likelihood it would need a full rehaul, I considered my other options… Return to the Soviet LTM bodies such as the Zorki and Fed? No, I wasn’t keen on the sketchiness of the quality. Use the Contax and Kiev clone bodies? Squinty viewfinders and sporadic lens choices made that a no as well. With a sigh, I once again left the search.

Fast forward six months to the first camera market for 2018 being held in Sydney and as I was perusing the various stalls, I came across two strange looking Leicas; at least I thought they were Leicas. Upon closer inspection, one was a Leotax and the other was Nicca. Neither of them were working and the vendor had them listed as parts only. I am not going to impress you and say I saved them both, took them with me, and fixed the two (I do hope they found a good home though) because things didn’t work out that way. But their names struck me as foreign to the screw mount bodies that I’d researched in the past.

Cue more hours of internet surfing to discover that a range of Canons were also produced to support the LTM mount…

Suddenly, a whole new world unraveled in front of me…

Canon had produced a series of Leica screw mount bodies! I will not bore you with the history as there are highly accurate articles that explain this elsewhere, but it was the evolution of their models that fascinated me the most. From the earliest examples which mimicked the Barnack Leicas of the late 30s through to the golden era of Canon’s in-house developed models during the 50s and up until the very last models which Canon farewelled the rangefinder world with in the late 60s, the sheer variety had me hooked. Price wise they were all pretty reasonable – probably because of the volume of production Canon had achieved alongside the global distribution making these bodies not overly rare or uncommon (save for a few select models).

But what would I choose to go with? Could there be a Canon rangefinder that was close enough to the Leica IIIg I had coveted for so long? Leica had released this model just after the M3 and production continued alongside the M3 in the 1950s & 1960s but the contemporary Canons of the day were still very Barnack styled. I scrolled through another decade of Canon rangefinder models until I got to the Canon 7 (previously reviewed on 35mmc here).

Cue heavenly chanting…

Full top plate - Canon 7

Canon 7 full top plate

Now let me say this – of the models that came after the Barnack inspired rangefinders, the Canon 7 is probably not the most aesthetically pleasing. My personal pick for that title would be the Canon P; however after many hours reading reviews of these two models (and eventually buying both), I settled on the Canon 7 for three main reasons:

  • Shutter speed dial is larger and more accessible on the Canon 7 versus the Canon P
  • The viewfinder in the Canon 7 has manually selected and parallax corrected frame lines for 35, 50, 85/100 and 135mm lenses whereas the Canon P has 35, 50 and 100mm but they are fixed (all of them show at the same time while those on the Canon 7 disappear as you select the one you want to use)
  • The viewfinder and rangefinder patches are clearer and more accurate in the Canon 7 than on the Canon P (the P does have 1:1 view though)

The Canon P does have some strong benefits over the Canon 7 as well:

  • Sleeker overall design as the rewind crank folds into the body when not in use making the top plate perfectly flat
  • The Canon P has a cold shoe and typical placement of flash port; the Canon 7 does not have a cold shoe as the onboard selenium meter takes up this space
  • Shorter than the Canon 7 which is taller and a little bulkier; the Canon P is more balanced in the hand
Canon 7 50mm frame lines

Standard frame lines; notice how bright that patch is!

Canon 7 85 & 100mm frame lines selected

These two share the same dial position and both show at the same time; all other focal lengths have a unique frame unto themselves

The two models share the same metal horizontal focal plane shutter; many examples you’ll see are crinkly (I’m not too sure why) but as long as the speeds are correct, the crinkling has no impact on usability. The benefit of the metal shutter is almost no chance of burn holes as can be experienced with cloth/rubberised shutters and for the most part, they seem to also require less servicing to maintain the shutter speeds.

In use, the Canon 7 has a confident wind-on which allows you to ratchet wind as well – this is very useful for when you want to wind-on quickly as it does not require you to stretch your thumb all the way to the end of travel. The viewfinder is a real treat and truly the standout feature of the Canon 7 – it’s bright, the frame lines correct for parallax and the rangefinder patch is a relatively large rectangle in the centre with no colour casts.

Empty eye

Canon 7 w/ Canon LTM 50mm f/1.4 on Fuji Velvia 50

Vines on the gate

Canon 7 w/ Canon LTM 50mm f/1.2 on Fuji C200 (EI100)

Vespa

Canon 7 w/ Canon LTM 50mm f/1.2 on Fuji C200 (EI100)

Assuming your rangefinder is correctly calibrated, the Canon 7 is the perfect accompaniment to any of the LTM/screw mount lenses from both Japanese and German manufacturers. A quick word on Soviet lenses (of which many are stellar performers); they can however be slightly off focus when used on non-Soviet cameras. In real life, it is not noticeable in lenses that are 50mm or wider (think 35mm or 28mm) but once you start you using short telephotos or telephotos like the 85mm or 135mm, it can become an issue. The world of LTM lenses is broad and there were many marques that produced both common focal lengths such as 35mm, 50mm and 135mm lenses as well as more exotic types like 21mm and 15mm.

Canon 7 Shutter speed and rewind mechanism detail

The film rewind lock is integrated into the shutter button collar. “A” means the shutter is not locked, the red dot represents a locked shutter (you can’t depress the button) and “R” is for when you want to rewind the film.

Canon 7 Film door lock

Two way lock to prevent accidentally opening the rear; twist the bottom key then pull down on the door latch

Composing with wide angles doesn’t come naturally to me, so I paired this camera with a Canon LTM 50mm f/1.4 for a few months however a blend of it using strange filter sizes (48mm or something) and coming across a very well-priced LTM 50mm f/1.2 made me switch up. The 50mm f/1.4 is an excellent lens and even the “base” 50mm f/1.8 performs admirably. My first roll with this combination was on Fuji C200 (shot at EI100) around a suburb in Sydney, Australia. A few more were made with the 50mm f/1.4 before I sourced the f/1.2.

Leaves and concrete

Canon 7 w/ Canon LTM 50mm f/1.4 on Kodak Portra 400 (EI200)

Look up and square off

Canon 7 w/ Canon LTM 50mm f/1.4 on Fuji Velvia 50 (EI40)

Mad lane

Canon 7 w/ Canon LTM 50mm f/1.2 on Fuji C200 (EI100)

In practice, the Canon 7 is very “orthodox”; it doesn’t do anything out of the normal, there aren’t any strange knobs or levers to operate the camera and this means the Canon 7 simply gets out of the way. You’re left with setting the aperture and shutter speed, composing and shooting – simple and unobstructed by the tool you’re using.

In many ways when I reflect on how the Canon 7 just “works”, I think of it as a worthy successor to the Barnack legacy and improves on it by being far more user friendly with the bright combined viewfinder. It’s also a step up from the Leotax, Nicca and older Canon models by incorporating switchable parallax frame lines; and a low maintenance metal shutter benefits me as I don’t have to freak out if my finger brushes past while loading the next roll of film…hey, that could be why so many of them are crinkled?

Overall, my experience with the Canon 7 is positive. If it had an M-mount, I can only imagine how many more would sport M-mount lenses and give the Leica M3, M2 and M4 a run for their money. My only gripe with the Canon 7 is that the Canon P is just far better looking; but as they say…

Canon 7 w/ Canon LTM 50mm f/1.2

This can get quite weighty in the hand without a strap due to the heft of the lens plus the bulkier than normal body

Thanks for reading; hope you enjoyed this amateur review and maybe it has inspired you to pick up a LTM rangefinder – there are plenty out there!

I can be found on Instagram as well as on my website or if you’re in Sydney, Australia then you might see me around the city.

 

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29 Comments

  • Reply
    Rolands Atvars
    March 2, 2021 at 10:23 am

    Canon Model 7 was my first “proper” rangefinder camera and whilst I am in the Leica camp now I still love Canon Model 7 ( and Canon P – because I don’t think it’s possible to dislike it as it looks beautiful ).

    My biggest gripes with the Canon 7 are – as you mentioned – the bulkiness of it. And the lack of cold shoe ( to mount 15mm viewfinder ). Ultimately the light meter is not working on most Canon 7’s so it’s just wasting space. At least Canon P doesn’t have it and so can be quite a lot smaller and in many ways nicer to handle. Viewfinder as framelines – as you mention – are nicer to use on 7 though. Tough battle. I often say that if you would mix Leica M3 with Canon P and Canon Model 7 you could have the ultimate best analog, manual camera.

    I also want to try Canon VI because it seems like the perfect mix of Canon P and Canon Model 7 but they are not the cheapest anymore.

    • Reply
      Rolands Atvars
      March 2, 2021 at 10:25 am

      Premature submit 🙁

      I also want to try Canon VI because it seems like the perfect mix of Canon P and Canon Model 7 but they are not the cheapest anymore.

      Now my comment is done…

    • Reply
      Tom Cervenak
      October 17, 2021 at 1:51 pm

      I have a nice rangefinder collection of Contaxes, Feds, Voigtlanders and a Zorki. The Canon 7 I have is really the most advanced of all them though not the prettiest, though it is still good looking. That title belongs to the Contax IIIa and IIa with their incredible Zeiss fit and finish.
      The frame lines on the Canon 7 work really well and makes it really stand out among competitors. People often shrug off the selenium light meter as being old and not reliable. I think this is an “urban myth” among vintage camera users. Almost all of the selenium meters on my vintage cameras work fine including my 1936 Contax III. The meter on my Canon 7 is dead on AND it has a low range. Really cool!

      • Reply
        Mina
        October 26, 2021 at 8:36 am

        I’d say you’re very fortunate to have selenium light meters that still work great *touchwood* – my experience with them has been they often meter on the side of overexposure as they show weaker readings. But all power to you if yours work!

  • Reply
    Steve Curzon
    March 2, 2021 at 10:26 am

    Great article. I have a Canon VL2 with a nice Canon 50mm lens and I’m knocked out by the build quality and the images it produces. Don’t know why they aren’t more popular.

  • Reply
    Paul
    March 2, 2021 at 11:49 am

    It seems like my path for a year now. I bought a kiev4a and a fed4. A month ago I was about to win a Canon 7 at an eBay auction but on the last raise I decided I would not buy it. And instead I decided to go back to giving life to the fed 4. For now it works but as soon as I can I will take it to a repairman. Why? Why? Because it has become a mission and I am fond of it. It’s ugly, it’s big, it’s old and shabby. But he still manages to take great pictures for me. So as long as I buy a Leica the gas won’t win again.

  • Reply
    Markus
    March 2, 2021 at 3:45 pm

    By the way, the Leica IIIg was released in 1957, three years AFTER the M3’s debut in 1954.

    • Reply
      Mina
      March 2, 2021 at 8:17 pm

      Thank you for the note 🙂 – correction has been made.

  • Reply
    Doug Anderson
    March 2, 2021 at 4:07 pm

    I was tempted by a Canon 7 I saw at Fishkin Bros in Perth Amboy (sadly departed) but I was put off by the size compared with my Barnack Leicas, and by the non-functioning light meter. I was attracted to it mostly because of the build quality and optical performance of the 50/1.4, 85/1.9 and 135/3.5 Canon LTM lenses I had been using with my Leicas.

    One minor point. The IIIg (1957-1960) was introduced after the M3 (1954-1967).

    • Reply
      Mina
      March 2, 2021 at 8:14 pm

      The Canon 7 is larger than the Barnack style Leicas but then you’ve got the benefit of combined rangefinder and much brighter viewfinder overall – it’s probably a matter of personal priority.

      Thanks for the note on the IIIg vs M3 🙂

  • Reply
    James Hofweber
    March 2, 2021 at 4:51 pm

    Wonderful article. Entertaining and informative. I’m now going shopping for a Canon P to go with my 7s.

    • Reply
      Mina
      March 2, 2021 at 8:07 pm

      Thanks! Good luck with the search 🙂

  • Reply
    MB
    March 2, 2021 at 5:38 pm

    I have found that a soviet Jupiter 8 50mm lens on my Canon 7 focuses accurately at infinity but is slightly back focused close up.

    • Reply
      Mina
      March 2, 2021 at 8:09 pm

      Yes; I have heard of inconsistencies like this. Unfortunately it comes down to copy variation as well.

  • Reply
    Andrew L
    March 2, 2021 at 6:26 pm

    I almost went with one of the Canons a couple of years ago, a (semi-)local shop had a couple of 7 and P models in great shape, however I ended up with a Voigtlander Bessa-T instead. I can’t remember just how my thought process went on that! But I like the unconventional Bessa with its separate rangefinder window and accessory viewfinders, it’s a fast way of shooting zone. However a 7 or a P would still be a nice addition for shooting easily with a 50mm (50mm shoe mount finders are expensive and rare). Always room for one more!

    • Reply
      Mina
      March 2, 2021 at 8:09 pm

      There is ALWAYS room for one more hehehe. The Bessa bodies are an excellent choice as well.

  • Reply
    Thierry LE GUENNEC
    March 2, 2021 at 7:19 pm

    Canon 7 S looks better and has a cold shoe. Mine would bé perfect if the ISO setting worked…

    • Reply
      Mina
      March 2, 2021 at 8:10 pm

      The 7s is indeed nicer to look at (though that circular meter is a bit distracting in my opinion).

  • Reply
    David
    March 2, 2021 at 7:35 pm

    Two areas the Canon 7 never managed to correct,
    The fuzzy edged rangefinder patch and its annoying halo around it AND its ever problematic meter. Other than that my two Canon 7’s are proof of my faith in these workhorses.

    • Reply
      Mina
      March 2, 2021 at 8:11 pm

      My patch seems fine – perhaps there’s copy variation or maybe I’m just fortunate to have a clean rangefinder rectangle. Have you considered servicing it?

      With the meter though – it’s selenium so no luck there, mine barely moves.

  • Reply
    Sprouty
    March 4, 2021 at 7:16 am

    I’ve just been down this rabbit hole, now thankfully I’ve crawled back out…

    It started with an M6 TTL I purchased years ago and which I still have.

    Then I found an immaculate Minolta Himatic 7S for $20 and thought it would make a nice companion camera.

    Then my brother gave me a 1958 Contax Type iiA. It so clean and well preserved that it literally looks like it came out of a box yesterday.

    Then a good deal on Canon P came my way and it was also clean and reasonable in price that grabbed it.

    And finally one late night after a few beers I impulsively hit the buy it now button on a lovely M3.

    A month ago I pulled them all out wondering why such a wonderful collection of some of the world’s best rangefinders were getting so little use?

    The obviousness of the answer was as simple as it was surprising – that my M6TTL is better, both subjectively and objectively, than any of them.

    Viewfinders, focusing, film loading, metering, smoothness of operation, you name it and I prefer the M6.

    So last week I started listing them. The M3 went in a few hours, the Canon P about a day, the others I’ll get to, but they are going as well.

    • Reply
      Mina
      March 4, 2021 at 9:40 pm

      It is very easy to go into a spin with these cameras; many are far more affordable and available with international markets being accessible to each of us. Very happy you’ve found your favourite though – not sure I’m there yet!

  • Reply
    Andrew
    March 5, 2021 at 1:29 am

    I was lucky enough to find the attachment that puts a cold shoe on top of the canon 7. It is well designed but still not as elegant as the 7s. I leave it on my 7 most of the time. The main issue is its rarity and cost.

    • Reply
      Mina
      March 5, 2021 at 10:13 pm

      They are indeed rare and costly – well done on finding one 🙂

  • Reply
    rl1856
    March 24, 2021 at 1:22 pm

    I have a black Canon P with a Canon 50mm 1.8 lens. While it is a LTM RF camera, I think it inhabits a space all it’s own. It doesn’t have the feel of delicate efficiency that most Barnaks have, but it is much more refined than a typical Soviet LTM body. There is a heft and solidity to the P body that I find comforting. I could use to hammer a nail, and the mechanism would be unaffected. All 60yr old bodies require some maintenance, but the Canon design with its robust mechanism and metal screen shutter is more likely to work in the present with less care than similar bodies from other makers. If one takes a close look, it should be apparent that the basic 7/P body was used for the 1st gen of Canon SLR bodies.

    Regarding Soviet LTM bodies, the sleeper may be the Zorki 3m. Large bright viewfinder and RF patch. Seems more refined than other bodies, and much better overall than most FED offerings. My opinion is the designers may have borrowed some of the look and function of the M3, making the body better overall because of their “homage”.

    • Reply
      Mina
      March 24, 2021 at 10:20 pm

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts! Agreed; it seems like the first generation of SLRs from Nikon and Canon were heavily based on their most recent rangefinder products. I guess this makes sense given there wasn’t really a blueprint to go off when it came to creating an SLR (bar the Exakta and Praktina?)

  • Reply
    Canon 7 review - Kosmo Foto
    August 15, 2021 at 10:37 am

    […] Canon 7 review on 35mm by Mina Saleeb […]

  • Reply
    giovanni
    August 30, 2021 at 8:02 pm

    Ho acquistato la CANON P molto prima d’aver letto la tua recensione. Ho anch’io navigato su internet fino allo stremo delle forze e poi all’improvviso ecco apparire …. l’oasi. Ho anche avuto la fortuna di aver acquistato una fotocamera che sembrava fosse stata conservata in uno scatolo, senza essere stata mai usata. Quindi ancora più bella. Ma a parte questo la cosa che conta di più è la sensazione di gioia nel premere quel tasto che obbedisce dando la sensazione di aver fatto una foto senza mosso. E poi il telemetro, ci si abitua subito e anche questo porta gioia. Adesso devo solo fargli vedere dei bellissimi panorami, bei bellissimi volti, insomma, delle bellissime atmosfere. Che bella macchina.

    • Reply
      Mina
      August 30, 2021 at 11:54 pm

      Grazie per il tuo commento Giovanni – apologies my Italian isn’t great. Pop Giovanni’s comment into Google Translate to hear how lovely the Canon P is for him. It’s certainly a model that is revered and adored by many users.

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