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…
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
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.
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.
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.
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…
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!