Rangefinders (Changeable Lens)

A Canon 7 Review – by Terry B.

I recall as a 16-year old and having taken up photography about a year earlier, seeing in the photographic press the arrival of the Canon 7 with a lens of the simply unheard of aperture for those days, a massive f0.95.  However, thoughts of owning one one day were not on the table.

The Canon 7 is the first model of three forming the 7 series; it was followed by the 7S and 7SII, and which were to see out the glory days of precision interchangeable lens rangefinder cameras. Zeiss had already ceased production of its famed Contax models in 1960, which year also coincided with the last model in Nikon’s rangefinder range. Only Leica would continue production, unbroken to the present day.  But despite the onslaught of the slr, the Canon 7 still sold around 100,000 units.

It is well made and, as befitting Japanese camera technology of the time, happened to be more advanced overall than the then current Leica offerings. I believe it was clear that Canon had Leica in its sights and from even a cursory glance one can see that there is much similarity.

The major difference is the built-in selenium meter and which is coupled to the shutter dial, but upon closer inspection, one will notice the rewind crank, the lack of an accessory shoe and no frame selector lever on the front left of the lens mount.

canon 7

It is the lack of the shoe that today’s users will likely find the most vexing. Unaided, the 7 can’t mount an external flash unit, or anything else you may want to attach, such as an optical finder for lenses wider than 35mm. On-camera flash is possible, but only with a bespoke flash coupler that attaches via a special bayonet on the top left side of the body. Today, these couplers are very hard to find and were it not for on-line auction sites the chances are you’d never come across one. They have a cold shoe which is par for the course in those days.

Viewing the top plate one sees certain features that differentiate it from an M3/M2:  a rewind crank, manual selector for lens frames, the exposure meter occupying the space where one would expect to have an accessory shoe, a large shutter dial with in-built film speed setting, a shutter release lock around the shutter release, and a small film advance confirmation window. As per the Leica M3, the frame counter auto resets and, it too, is numbered to 40.  To the right of the viewfinder eyepiece there is the meter switch for high/low sensitivity, and to the right of this is a little button to unlock the shutter speed dial for inputting the film ISO speed.

The back is hinged and has a double lock to prevent accidental opening. First the key in the base plate is turned and then the back release at the side and bottom is pulled down to release the back.

canon 7

 

Before Using The 7

Setting the film speed for the meter requires the small black button on the right rear to be depressed. This releases the lock on the shutter speed dial which can now be lifted and turned to the required film speed setting, viewed within the dial, and then the black button is released to lock the setting. When taking a reading, it is then simply a matter of aligning a chosen aperture against the meter needle by turning the shutter speed dial. This aperture needs, of course, to be set manually on the lens, but the meter alignment also sets the corresponding shutter speed.  It works just like a Leica Meter MC, although I’d give the nod to the Leica MC meter for its ease of reading the scale.

Film loading is conventional but opening the hinged back reveals the big surprise – the shutter curtains are all metal and not rubberised cloth.  And not metal slats as per the original Contax rangefinders, nor the bladed shutters as found with modern shutters. No, these are extremely thin all metal shutter curtains. They don’t perish nor are they susceptible to having pinprick holes burned into them by the sun. Apparently, they can take quite some abuse and still operate normally. It is not uncommon today to find fully working Canon 7’s with damaged curtains.

As the 7 is a screw body, it doesn’t have the facility to change frames automatically when a lens is attached, as on a Leica M. Instead the lens focal length is set using the dial on the top plate. Conveniently, this covers focal lengths from 35mm to 135mm in the following sequence: 35, 50, 85/90, and 135. Only the 85/90 frames are doubled up, making the wide focal length range far less messy than an M6, say, and obviating the need for an M3 and M2 to cover the same range unaided.  A really nice touch is that the chosen focal length is also indicated within the bright lines themselves as a constant reminder. As with Leica M’s the frames are auto parallax corrected.

The Model 7 in use

I don’t find the Canon 7 quite as comfortable in the hand as my M3/M6 cameras as these have the rounded ends that make holding any M Leica or earlier series L39 models so comfortable. The 7 is marginally bigger, but I don’t find this to be a disadvantage, despite my small hands. The Canon 7 handles very much like an M2/3/4 with their meters attached but then the cameras fall down when one wishes to use lenses wider than their v/f is designed for, or when on-camera flash is needed. (The exception is the M3 for which spectacled versions of the 35mm Summaron can be fitted.) The finder is a joy, being large and crystal clear, with a well delineated rangefinder spot.

With their meters attached the M2/3/4 tie up their accessory shoe; the Canon 7 simply doesn’t have one!  Flash brackets can be used but are somewhat impractical for use with accessory W/A viewfinders. Instead, with the 7, Canon did provide a proprietary flash coupler.

Lenses from 35 to 135mm, pose no real problems, but lenses wider than 35, and which require a separate optical finder, can be somewhat problematic owing to the absence of the accessory shoe.  It seems obvious to us today how useful these are, but this was the penalty for having the built-in meter.

A nice little feature is the film advance confirmation which is indicated by the red dot in the small window to the left of the film advance crank. As this is attached to the sprocket shaft it is in fact doubly useful, more so in fact, when rewinding a film as it will stop rotating once the film leader has been pulled past the sprockets and the cassette can be removed with the leader showing. A very useful feature for photographers who develop their own film or need to change films mid-roll.

My Canon 7 wasn’t really acquired to be used, but out of a desire to own one and put it in my camera collection. In fact, I only used it on two occasions, both using the excellent Voigtlander (Cosina) lenses.  I did a walk-around in Birmingham City centre one Sunday with the Voigtlander f4.5/15 Heliar with the optical v/f taped precariously to the top of the camera, and later on a holiday to Normandy and Brittany with the f1.7/35 Ultron and f1.5/50 Nokton.

Lens Choice

Having an L39 mount, means choice is limited to the older Leica screw lenses as Leica’s newer computations are M mount only, or L39 lenses designed specifically for Leica L39 mount, such as those from Canon or other period lenses, such as the Topcors for the Leotax.

Fortunately, more modern lenses do exist in L39 mount, courtesy of Voigtlander/Cosina, and these are truly excellent. The 15mm is very sharp over most of the frame used around f8 to f11, but does need precise handling as it can exhibit wide angle perspective distortions that are inevitable for such an extreme FoV. Sometimes the effect can be amusing, such as in the shot of the tour bus where the street lamp seems to be leaning precariously. The Heliar is much less prone to flare than I would have anticipated.

The f1.7/35 Ultron, is another admirable performer when used sensibly i.e. stopped down so it can give of its best performance when, in good lighting, images are very sharp and crisp with excellent contrast. But for me, the star of these early releases is the f1.5/50 Nokton. It too, provides all the sharpness and contrast I can use, and stands up well in low light.  I’d prefer focusing rings with more grip on the 35 and 50, but my 50 is better than the 35 in respect of its being larger and with easier, silkier, focusing.  The Canon f1.8/50 was added a couple of years ago purely as it is contemporaneous with the body.

Regarding the images, the negatives have been scanned at the maximum resolution of 2820dpi on my Minolta Dimage Scan Elite II film scanner. For ease of reference I’ve added text for which lens was used.

Summary

So, today, the Canon 7 is still eminently usable and has the advantage of being far less expensive than a Leica M body, even in excellent fully working order and with an f1.8/50 lens. Some damage to the metal shutter curtains, provided it is not too excessive, will not impact on the shutter. If a working meter is important, then inevitably these cameras command more, but a non-working meter doesn’t otherwise prevent the camera from being used.

 

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13 Comments

  • Avatar
    Reply
    Kodachromeguy
    March 18, 2018 at 8:03 pm

    These are gorgeous cameras made with the best of craftsmanship. I read that the last 7sZ bodies were made in 1968. That is when I bought my first “serious” camera, a Nikkormat. Back then, in the United States, SLRs were all the rage and I do not recall seeing the Canon rangefinders for sale. Oddly, some of the screwmount Canon lenses were available new as late as 1978. I recall visiting a camera store in Providence, Rhode Island, and they had the 135mm as well as a wide angle. The 135 had its own viewfinder tucked into a compartment in the leather case. All of it was gorgeous workmanship. Sorry to drone on. does your selenium meter work?

    • Avatar
      Reply
      Terry B
      March 18, 2018 at 9:02 pm

      Hi, Andrew. Yes, it still works and I agree they are well made. From what I can determine the 7sZ had a reasonable lifespan and it is considered the one to get because of its rarity. As for looks, although the 7S and 7sZ are better overall cameras, I still prefer the 7.The cds windows look like pimples!

      • Avatar
        Reply
        Kodachromeguy
        March 20, 2018 at 3:59 pm

        Terry, a quick look at ePrey shows a decent number of Canon 7 bodies for sale at reasonable price. And for many of them, the sellers claim that the selenium meters work. Interesting. The 7s and 7sZ bodies are more expensive but many of them have non-functioning meters. I wonder if there was some weakness of the CDS cells or the circuits? And I wonder if anyone has parts for repair?

        As an aside, I give credit to Leica for still manufacturing (or at least selling from existing stock) a brand new film rangefinder. I use a Leica M2 from 1962 (about the age of your 7), but it is great one can still buy a new one.

        • Avatar
          Reply
          Terry B
          March 20, 2018 at 6:16 pm

          Andrew, yes, it is surprising how reasonable the prices for Canon 7 bodies can be, in fact absolute bargains compared to Leica M’s, and even with working selenium meters. I did read somewhere that if you want to make a Leica M owner turn green, simply turn up with a Canon 7, let him play with it, and then tell him how little you paid for it! I can get away with this sort of comment as I do own seven Leicas, so I can’t be chided as a Leica basher.

          I think one does need to look closely at a lot of 7 listings. As with all old cameras, as you will know, condition varies. If the photos are good, cosmetic imperfections should be readily seen, but whilst I’ve commented that damaged metal shutter curtains won’t necessarily stop the camera from working, I’ve seen listings with quite severely damaged curtains and the seller claims all is well. It’s just do you really want one with such a degree of damage, even if it is functioning OK?

          Regarding the in-built meters, I’ve not come across anything to suggest that reliability was an issue, per se, but meters of all sorts do fail over time, but age isn’t always the factor. I have a smallish meter collection and I’ve got some pre-war and early 1950’s selenium (obviously) meters that are still giving strong deflection, and some 1960’s meters that have either failed completely, or can’t give a full deflection.

          As for spares, who knows, but I’d guess extremely unlikely today. This is a big plus for Leicas and the number of specialist repairers to service them.

  • Avatar
    Reply
    Karl Valentin
    March 19, 2018 at 7:56 am

    Well written article even for me as a Nikon guy I have to admit that these Canon rangefinders are pretty well made even when I would prefer a Canon F1 (old) and some FL lenses for the same priced instead……

    • Avatar
      Reply
      Terry B
      March 19, 2018 at 8:45 am

      Karl, thank you for your kind words about the review.

      Just checked out the F1, and that was some camera and outfit! Sadly, collector attention influences prices, but there are truly excellent, and very usable, cameras that slip under the radar. I believe this is where film cameras have an advantage: if it was good in its day and provided it still functions properly, the results obtained today can be just as good as when it was new.

  • Dan Castelli
    Reply
    Dan Castelli
    March 19, 2018 at 2:26 pm

    Very cool. I can’t get enough of these ‘old’ camera articles…Thanks for sharing your shooting experiences and for Hamish for hosting this site.
    When was your camera actually made?

    • Avatar
      Reply
      Terry B
      March 19, 2018 at 2:49 pm

      Hello, Dan. I know how you feel about reading about old cameras. From what I gather, the Model 7 was produced between 1961 and 1965, but I don’t know in which year mine was actually made.

  • Avatar
    Reply
    Picturenaut
    June 4, 2018 at 8:52 am

    It’s a late reply but i just now had time to read your review, Terry B. I use two Canon 7 bodies frequently for street photography and I have no problems with lesser comfort than a Leica M3/6. Feeling comfortable I think is a matter of how often you use such a camery. For me, the only advantage of a M6 over a Canon 7 is its focusing spot in the viewfinder, because the Leica has a clearly framed one, whereas the Canon’s focusing spot has a bit visually fuzzy edges. But that’s a minor drawback. The advantage of such a Canon rangefinder is that it doesn’t look like a rich Chinese’s gadget like a Leica nowadays.

    For those considering such a M39 screw mount body I can highy recommend Canon’s impressively sharp 35mm f/2 and Canon’s 50mm f/1.4 as a standard lens. The latter is a bit faster than the also nice f/1.8 (I have one, too) but it still is light, compact, sharp and delivers wide open a nice bokeh. If you are a bit crazy, get also Canon’s 100mm f/2 RF lens. I use one quite frequently in the street, and it works! The Canon 7’s rangefinder is good enough to control it even wide open

    • Avatar
      Reply
      Terry B
      June 4, 2018 at 9:44 am

      Picturenaut,
      Great to read of your personal use and appreciation of this wonderful camera. And the accuracy of the r/f even with your 100mm f2. “Feeling comfortable I think is a matter of how often you use such a camera.” You’ve hit the nail on the head. Although my 7 had a couple of outings early on, it was really acquired to add to my burgeoning collection, rather than a user model. And, of course, the bargain price at the time means there isn’t a great deal of money tied up in it!
      I’ve only one other personal experience of a Canon lens and it is a bit of an oddity. It was (is, as I sourced the camera on ebay recently) a semi-auto f1.9/50 with an Exakta bayonet and seems to have been specifically sourced for the “Reflexa” badged Mamiya Prismat. This was my first slr that I acquired in 1967 and that lens was incredibly sharp. I did see a friend’s slides taken with the slr version of the f2/35 on his AE1, and that lens was exceptional, to say the least.

      • Avatar
        Reply
        Picturenaut
        June 5, 2018 at 7:25 am

        Terry B, thanks for your long reply, in fact I didn’t expect such a quick response. Well, the Canon lens you mention is an SLR lens, so that’s a different world. Like Nikon and other classic manufacturers, Canon made so many lenses until now, and some of them are great, others not so great. The last rangefinder lenses from Canon have a special quality, they deliver a more look on a Leica screw mount camera.

        I recommend sometimes the Canon 7 to younger people asking me about this camera, because it allows a nice start into the old Leica world on a budget. In fact, I got my first Canon 7 for a few Euros in a “let’s play a bit with a Japanese classic one” mood – and then I fell in love with it when I realized how easily I can shoot with it. The only odd thing about the first 7 series is its missing hot shoe, but for me a rangefinder is made for “stealth” – or maybe better “non-intrusive” – photography without flash anyway.

        Have a nice day!

  • Avatar
    Reply
    David
    June 27, 2018 at 12:29 am

    I have used and love the Canon 7 series. Their big viewfinder is a plus but as others have mentioned their fuzzy edged rangefinder spot is a bit frustrating sometimes. Especially when it has a weird halo around it (flare?)
    The meter most of the time does not function and having a Gossen pilot or the like helps. But in terms of durability it will last longer than you and me. The best lens combo is the canon 35 f2 and 50 f1.8. If you are lucky and can get a Canon 19 f3.5 you can get really wide-angle shots. Unfortunately they are expensive and rare.

    • Avatar
      Reply
      Terry B
      June 27, 2018 at 12:58 pm

      David, yours is not the first comment I’ve seen about the fuzzy edges to the rangefinder spot, or indeed flare. As for fuzzy edges, nothing in my personal experience of rangefinder cameras comes close to the sharply defined edges of my M3 and M6, the Leica is simply the best of the breed. But fuzzy edges haven’t spoilt my use of such cameras over the years, but clarity of the rangefinder spot itself has.
      But your comment about flare, or even halo, did arouse my curiosity as it is something which, again, hasn’t bothered me or which had particularly grabbed my attention. My 7 was cla’d before purchase and this no doubt is what made me sit up and notice just how clear and sharp overall the v/f was, and being used to fuzzy edges of r/f spots this didn’t bother me. However, today I decided to follow up on your flare/halo observation and to check if it has always been there and I’d simply ignored it, and so put my 7 to the sword, as it were.
      It is brilliantly sunny outside (the UK is in the middle of a heatwave) and deliberately held the camera facing the sun to observe the v/f and r/f spot. What surprised me was just how immune the v/f was to any flaring whatsoever and, indeed, I was almost blinded by the reflectance of the brightline frames. The v/f remained crystal clear, as did the r/f spot such that focusing it was not affected. However, closely observing the area outside of the r/f spot, but not adjacent to it and separate to the spot itself, I did notice a faint halo effect, almost like a ghostly picture frame with a border separating the r/f spot from the halo. So it is there, but doesn’t impinge on focusing as the r/f spot still remined crystal clear.

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