Canon F-1 Review: A Timeless Legacy of Reliability and Excellence

Last Updated on September 12, 2023


The Canon F-1 is a camera that to this day maintains its reputation as one of the most reliable cameras ever manufactured. Throughout its three versions, different variations were implemented to enhance its potential. In this Canon F-1 review, we will take a look at some of that technological evolution and what makes this line so special.

I’ve had a couple of F-1 cameras pass through my hands; it was one of the first I ever owned and remains one of my favorites. I don’t have a particular fixation on either Canon or Nikon; I’ve had various models from both brands in my hands, and with all of them, I’ve been able to create memories. However, my first impression of the F-1 will always remain vivid – holding it and being captivated by its quality and solidity.

Canon F-1 Review
Canon New F1 with 50mm f/1.4 non-S.S.C and AE Finder FN

General Canon F-1 Specs: All versions

Year ReleaseCanon F-1 (1971), Canon F-1n (1976), Canon New F-1 (1981)
Camera TypeSLR (Single lens reflex)
Film Type35mm (135 format)
Shutter SpeedBulb, 1″ to 1/2000 sec (F-1, F-1n) and 8″ to 1/2000 sec (F-1 New)
Flash SyncPC socket, X Sync at 1/60 sec (F-1, F-1n) and 1/90 sec (F-1 New)
ISO25 to 2000 ISO (F-1), 25 to 3200 ISO (F-1n), 6 to 6400 ISO (F-1 New)
Standard lensCanon 50mm f/1.4 FD
Lens MountCanon FD mount, Canon FL mount supporting
BatteryOriginal F-1 and F-1n: 1x PX625; F-1 New: 1x 6V PX28L

History and Evolution

Canon F-1 Speed Knob

March 1971, Canon unveiled the Canon F-1, a professional system camera that marked the company’s entry into the competitive market dominated by Nikon. This camera was meticulously developed over approximately five years, during which Canon conducted an exhaustive analysis of Nikon’s F Series, a benchmark for system cameras.

In 1976, the F-1N improved the photographic experience with slight technological enhancements, and in 1981, the Canon New F-1 represented the third generation of this series. This camera remained in production until 1992 and was kept in the showcase until 1994. It stood out for its precise manual exposure, TTL metering, and aperture and shutter priority options, as well as interchangeable viewfinders and compatibility with other Canon components.

The Canon F-1 aimed to meet the needs of professional photographers and journalists, leveraging their feedback to refine its design and features. The camera was conceived with a lifespan of a decade in mind, attesting to its robustness and versatility.

One of the notable distinctions of the Canon F-1 was its departure from Canon’s previous interchangeable lens reflex cameras. It incorporated the latest advances in camera technology, making it a compelling choice for professionals.

The transition from FL automatic aperture lenses to FD lenses with open aperture metering compatibility was a significant change. Canon undertook a complete redesign that encompassed both the lens barrel and the camera body.

The camera maintained compatibility with FL lenses through its mount point, but introduced several innovative mechanisms in the mount itself. These included pins to transmit open aperture values from the lens to the body, aperture coupling link, a genuine aperture coupling lever (compatible with FL lenses), and an automatic aperture signal pin.

The bayonet mount connecting the body and the lens remained, ensuring stability. This meticulous attention to lens compatibility recalls Nikon’s F Series approach.

FD Lenses

Canon FD 50mm
Canon 50mm f/1.4 S.S.C

Personally, I prefer the older FD lenses over the New FD series. The sturdy construction of the older FD lenses, despite their non-bayonet mount, satisfies my desire for substantial build quality. The New FD lenses, except for the white telephoto, seemed cheap to me and failed to earn my favor.

Anyway, this is a matter of preference, because it’s true that the “new” range of lenses for this mount is lighter and more practical, something that would eventually become the main feature of modern lenses.

Lenses from this mount are quite popular in the filmmaking world, used for short films or “indie” advertising due to the retro character they add to the images.

Some of the lenses I consider most relevant are as follows:

  • Canon 50mm f/1.4 S.S.C: The 50mm f1.4 S.S.C. Lens, based on the FL 50mm f1.4, produces clear images in both full aperture and stopped-down measurements. It’s a recommended choice for portraits and various purposes. Check price.
  • Canon 24mm f/1.4L: Another highly sought-after gem by filmmakers and also one of my favorite focal lengths. For me, a 28mm falls a bit short, whereas a 24mm never disappoints. With an f/1.4 aperture, we can even capture intriguing portraits. In its time, it was used by both photojournalists and advertising photographers. It’s simply a gem and expensive as frog. Price here.
  • Canon 85mm f/1.2L: Another enticing lens is the 85mm with the impressive f/1.2 aperture. This lens is creatively versatile and can be used for more than just portraits, although it truly excels in portrait photography. Price here.

There’s quite an extensive array of lenses with this mount, almost rivaling that of Nikon. However, I’ve limited myself to showcasing my favorites and those that I consider essential. Below, I’ve included images taken with these lenses.


Following the modular trend, the Canon F-1 body was designed to be easily disassembled and configured with various options, allowing photographers to customize their gear for different shooting scenarios.

This modular approach once again reflected the same philosophy as Nikon’s F Series, which emphasized the camera’s adaptability for different types of use.

Interchangeable Viewfinders

Canon F-1 viewfinders

Since the Canon F-1N was a partial upgrade, the main accessories remained similar to those of the Canon F-1. Viewfinder options like the Eye level finder, the low-light Booster t finder, exposure-controlled Servo EE finder, and extended eyepiece Sports finder continued to be compatible. However, the Sports finder proved impractical for sports photography as it required pressing the face against the back to prevent shaking, rendering it ineffective.

Focus Screens

Canon F-1 focusing screens list

While the Canon F-1 had four interchangeable focus screens, the Canon F-1N adopted a laser matte screen, expanding the options to nine. Changing the focus screen required aligning the “marks” with the lens side to maintain metering functionality.

It’s worth noting that the Canon F-1 / F-1N bodies had built-in exposure meters, allowing exposure metering to remain functional even when using accessories like the Sports finder, a feature superior to that of the Nikon F2.

Exposure Meter Switch

The exposure meter switch was located on the left shoulder, and the meter only operated when turned on. This often led to quick battery drain due to frequent forgetting to turn it off. While it would have been convenient for the meter to activate when the shutter button was pressed halfway or when the film advance lever was extended, the CAT (Canon Auto Tuning) system seemingly hindered such functionality.

In contrast, the exposure meter battery in the Nikon F2 was stored within the body, activating when the advance lever was extended—a design that drew envy.

Viewfinder Information Display

f-1 new viewfinder information display
New F1, viewfinder information display

In addition to the prominent moving meter needle and central indicator, the red out-of-range warning indicator in the Canon F-1n viewfinder was elegant. However, the absence of the aperture value display was disappointing, especially given that the Nikon F2 Photomic already had the aperture value display.

The meter needle of the Canon F-1, adjusted based on the maximum aperture of the connected lens, likely contributed to this limitation. Unfortunately, this flaw wasn’t addressed in the abandoned Canon F-1 and was only corrected in the Canon New F-1.

By the way, the Canon EF, introduced in 1973 before the Canon F-1N, featured both shutter speed and aperture value scales. The aperture value scale adjusted based on the maximum aperture of the connected lens for compensation. While similar to the aperture compensation method seen in the Canon F-1 and FTb, this feature was absent in the Canon EF.

Canon Motor Drive MF (F-1 and F-1n)

The Canon Motor Drive MF allowed continuous shooting at 5 frames per second, requiring attachment to the camera’s bottom plate. While better than the integrated bottom plate and back design of the NIKON F, the hassle of changing the bottom plate outweighed its advantages.

Additionally, fully equipped with ten AA batteries, the system became excessively heavy and consumed a roll of film in just 7.2 seconds, making it impractical for the average user. While its continuous shooting speed of 2 frames per second was unimpressive, the Power Winder F was sufficient for most users.

Canon F-1 Flash Adapter

Canon F-1 accessories
Old info page about Canon F-1 accessories

The Canon F-1 lacked a built-in flash shoe with sync contacts. To use a clip-on flash without a sync cord, the F-1 Flash Adapter was necessary. Similar to the Nikon F and Nikon F2, this reflected the professional preference for grip-mounted flashes or studio flashes rather than clip-on flashes.

Interestingly, attaching a flash to the F-1 Flash Adapter and applying pressure toward the lens side would cause deformation (confirmed) of the pentaprism housing, requiring caution during use.

Canon F-1 L Flash Adapter

Canon F-1 L Flash Adapters
Left: F-1 flash adapter, Right: Flash coupler L Adapter

The F-1 L Flash Adapter allowed clip-on flash attachment. However, unlike the F-1 Flash Adapter, the F-1 L Flash Adapter featured connections for the CAT system, meter coupling circuits, and power source.

It also provided illumination for the camera’s exposure meter. However, the larger size of the F-1 L Flash Adapter due to the inclusion of an H-D battery (for CAT) and a large H-P battery (for illumination), along with the inability to rewind film and open the back while connected, presented several disadvantages.

Robust Shutter and Automatic Flash System

Canon F-1 Shutter

The Canon F-1 was built for durability and reliability, reflected in its shutter’s rating of 100,000 operations. To achieve this, Canon employed a reliable titanium foil shutter, ensuring consistent performance over extended use.

The camera reintroduced a shutter speed of 1/2000 seconds, a feature that had been uncommon since the Canonflex R2000.

CAT System

The CAT System, short for Canon Auto Tuning System, simplified flash exposure adjustment when used with the Speedlight 133D. Some sources incorrectly describe this system as an “automatic exposure adjustment” system.

It’s important to note that with manual exposure cameras like the FTb and F-1, exposure isn’t adjusted automatically. The term “exposure adjustment” might not accurately capture the nature of this flashmatic system.

The CAT system works as follows:

  1. Place the distance information ring on the FD lens mount, connecting it to the Speedlight 133D.
  2. Set the shutter speed to 1/60 second (sync speed).
  3. Focus on the main subject (to achieve proper exposure at the focused distance).
  4. The flash emits a signal corresponding to the distance, causing the meter needle to move.
  5. Adjust the aperture until the meter needle aligns with the center, achieving proper exposure.

The signal sent from the Speedlight 133D to the camera also takes flash charge level into account, allowing for variations in flash output due to charge level.

Furthermore, when combined with the AE mode of the Canon EF, exposure is determined by the aperture value on the meter needle, enabling automatic flash photography without step 5.

Innovative TTL Metering System

The TTL metering system in the Canon F-1 offered three distinct modes: open aperture metering, stopped-down aperture metering, and actual aperture metering. The cadmium sulfide (CdS) sensor, positioned alongside the condenser lens similar to the Canon FT, adopted a center-weighted metering approach, measuring the central 12% area of the viewfinder.

The clever use of a portion of the condenser lens as a semitransparent mirror to direct metering light to the sensor was a direct application of FT technology.

Pros and Cons

For this section, I’ll stick to being objective, as I can myself perceive advantages in a camera differently, and I know the reader will take that into consideration as well.


  • Durability and robust construction.
  • Versatility and modular adaptability.
  • TTL metering system.
  • Compatibility with previous lenses.
  • High-quality FD lenses.


  • New F-1: Requires a battery to operate across all speed ranges (mechanical, ranging from 1/90s to 1/2000s only)
  • Size and considerable weight.
  • Lack of flash shoe (Requires an adapter).
  • Outdated technology compared to contemporary cameras of the era.

Price and Buying Guide

Whether you decide to acquire an original Canon F-1 or an F-1n, the prices will be quite similar between the two. The variation in price will be influenced by the condition of the camera. For the Canon New F-1, the price increases by approximately 30% or more.

The approximate price range for the body of an F-1 (n) is between $150 and $400, as I mentioned earlier, depending on the camera’s condition. These prices are from online stores like eBay or KEH store. You can choose to buy the body, viewfinder, and lens together in one purchase. Alternatively, if you want control over each of these three components, you can buy them separately.

Depending on the lens you choose (in this case 50mm f/14), the camera’s total cost could range from $250 to $500.

My first F-1, which I bought back in 2008 and appeared to be in excellent physical condition, had a small issue when shooting at 1/2000, where half of the frame turned black. This is a possibility in cameras that haven’t received proper maintenance, meaning they aren’t well lubricated or have been in relatively humid environments. I mention this because it can happen, although it’s not common.

Check the original Canon F-1 price at KEH Camera store

also for Canon F-1n and Canon New F-1

Canon F-1 Sample Photos (New F-1)


The Canon F-1 is a testament to Canon’s commitment to producing a top-tier system camera that could compete with the all-powerful Nikon, which at the time dominated the professional sector with its F2. It achieved this by being able to introduce various improvements with each version and pushing its professional range to the highest standards. Its combination of technology, modular design, and features geared towards professional users ensured that the F-1 left a lasting mark in the industry, solidifying its position as a significant milestone in the history of photography.

Useful links

Camera Manuals

Canon F-1 (Original) User Manual, Canon F-1n User Manual, Canon New F-1 User Manual.


Mir’s F-1 overview

FD Guide on phillipreeve

Author: Jorge Ferrufino

Jorge Ferrufino

I am a fashion photographer and an analog photography enthusiast since the beginning of my career (15 years ago). I have had the opportunity and honor of showcasing my work in various galleries and publications around the world.

Regular contributor for Dusty Grain.

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