Canon New F1 – Needles, dials, aperture priority, joy

I’ve been building my Canon film SLR collection. My latest acquisition, all the way from Japan and all the way from 1981, is a New F1. And it’s probably the best of the lot.

(When I say New F1, it is new to me, and it’s an F1. But it’s also a New F1, as opposed to an F1, or an F1n AKA the F1 later model. Canon… sort out your naming conventions…)

As ever, I’m going to start by saying that with an equivalent lens and the same film any of the Canon film SLRs will produce pictures of exactly the same quality.

What’s different about them is how easy a camera makes it to get the exposure you want. And apart from one missing feature (see below), this camera makes life really easy.

When updating their F series in 1981 Canon did a brave thing. Rather than beef up the ground breaking A1, they built a more up-to-date version of the older F1. They ignored the A1’s buttons and LEDs and kept the F1’s dials and needles. And they ignored the A1’s program AE.

What they added was a new AE finder option (you can change finders and focusing screens) that gives the F1 an aperture priority mode. Joy. (You can have shutter priority with a motor drive, but I don’t care about that.)

They also kept the original F1’s excellent match needle manual mode – the A1’s manual mode just doesn’t cut it.

And they gave the camera a new, matt finish. Somehow, despite the dials and needles, it feels modern.

Canon F1n (left), New F1 (top right), A1 (bottom right)

Needles and dials – good

With an AE finder fitted (like the old F1s you can change the finder and focusing screens) set the speed dial to ‘A’ and a shutter speed scale and needle appear in the viewfinder.

Use the aperture ring on the lens to set the aperture (I don’t much like the A1’s tiny dial) and the camera shows you what speed it has chosen.

The scale and needle work better than the A1’s LEDs. Like a speedo in a car, an analogue dial gives you a better feel for where you are than just a number.

And while we’re thinking about what’s better than the A1, you can set the meter to ‘hold’ and it stays on for 15 seconds. You can take readings without having to hold a button.

F1n finder. Shows aperture scale (no numbers), aperture needle (circle), meter needle, shutter speed as a number.

A1 finder. Shows shutter speed and aperture as numbers.

New F1 finder – AE mode. Shows numbered shutter speed scale, meter needle, aperture (as a number).

New F1n finder – manual mode. Shows numbered aperture scale, aperture needle (circle), meter needle, shutter speed (as a number).

No AE lock – bad

The one thing I miss (that the A1 has) is an AE lock. A pity because it is something I use a lot. Meter from one part of the scene, lock, recompose, shoot.

However, move the speed dial off ‘A’ and you are straight into manual.

A different speed scale appears (you always know what mode you are in) with meter needle and aperture indicator. Match (or don’t match) the needles, recompose as much as you like. It’s a little more time consuming than an AE lock, but it works. In this mode your New F1 has become an F1n.

The New F1’s manual mode is way better than the A1’s equivalent. The A1 shows you the aperture you should pick for any given speed, but no idea of what the exposure will be like for the aperture and speed that you have picked.

This all makes it sound like the A1 is a poor camera. It isn’t. In aperture priority or full program mode – suck on that New F1 – it’s much nicer to use than a breakdown of the controls makes it sound. That said, I prefer the New F1’s dials and needles.


It’s a lovely camera to hold and use. It’s big, solid and matt black. The needles and dials work better for me than LEDs and buttons. It’s my favourite of the FD SLRs.

Is it perfect? No. There’s no exposure lock. The rewind button next to the film advance lever is fiddly and weird. And the shutter lock/self timer switch is non-intuitive. I have to look at it to see what setting it is on, and even then it’s hard to see because the rewind button hides the marking. Hopefully as I use the camera more more I’ll get used to it.

Is it a great camera? Yes.

Canon New F1 Resources

Canon museum:


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