If you follow any major analogue film account on Instagram or TikTok, chances are you have seen one of these cameras before – The Canon F-1. It was Canon’s professional SLR produced from 1971 to 1981 which quickly became popular on social media due to its removable prism. This exposes what is effectively a waist level viewfinder, allowing the user to shoot from the hip (and show your Instagram followers your composition).
Removing the prism to expose the waist level finder of a Canon F1
More about the camera
It wasn’t just the viewfinder prism that was interchangeable. Canon designed this camera to fit a huge number of different accessories such as; a plethora of lenses, viewfinders, focusing screens, power winders and even film backs! This made the camera completely modifiable and hence a hit with professional photographers of its time.
Examples of some of the accessories that were available for the Canon F-1, taken from the original user manual.
The Canon F-1 has a fully mechanical shutter which has a number of benefits. Firstly, you do not need a battery to operate the camera. That means you will never be left stuck in the middle of a photoshoot with a flat battery. Secondly, the absence of too many electrical components means that there is less to go wrong and it is easier to repair. With regular use and an occasional service this camera will likely outlive us all!
The Canon F-1 does have a built in light meter that was originally powered by a mercury battery. Due to the toxicity of mercury these batteries are no longer produced, leaving users with a couple of options. Either a 625 Alkaline battery or a Wein cell battery. Both choices have their drawbacks, therefore I opted to use an external light meter instead from a company called KEKS.
Shooting with the Canon F1
When I had the opportunity to shoot one of these cameras I opted to use a roll of Ilford XP2 and a Canon FD 50mm f/1.8 lens which produced some incredibly sharp images (see below). The camera is built entirely from metal which gives it a strong and sturdy feel, however; it does also make it heavy. The body alone weighs 820g which doesn’t sound like much but does make your neck ache after a day’s shooting. Nevertheless this was quickly forgotten when I heard the satisfying clunk of the mechanical shutter. Here are some of the photos I took using Ilford XP2: