Featured Camera: The Canon F-1

We took a recent trip to Scotland and decided to take the Canon F-1 with us to capture all the beautiful scenes Scotland has to offer. This beast of a 35mm SLR film camera is wildly popular with amateurs and professionals alike. 

This article covers everything you need to know about the Canon F-1 and sample images that we have taken with the camera.

Canon F-1 camera in front of the Scottish ocean

What is the Canon F-1?

Some people haven't encountered the Canon F-1, so here is a brief introduction to the camera, and some of the features that made it my choice for this trip to Scotland. 

The Canon F-1 was introduced in 1971 and was produced until 1981. It was the first Canon camera to use the Canon FD mount lenses, which are used on the Canon AE range, such as the Canon AE-1.

The F-1 is considered Canon's first successful professional grade SLR camera. It was released alongside lots of professional accessories, including interchangeable prism viewfinders.

What features does the Canon F-1 have?

The Canon F-1 isn't loaded with features, but it has enough to make it a professional grade camera. 

The features the Canon F-1 has are:

  • Manual shutter speed
  • Manual aperture
  • Built-in light meter
  • Interchangeable viewfinder
  • View of shutter speeds in the viewfinder
  • Self-timer
  • Multiple exposure lever

and more!

What is the waist-level viewfinder on the Canon F-1?

The Canon F-1 has an interchangeable viewfinder. This means you can take the viewfinder prism off and change it to another one. The attachments can be hard to find, but the waist-level viewfinder can be used without an attachment.

It is not how the Canon F-1 was designed to be used, but having this screen available is good enough to focus and compose a waist-level shot. 

We were taking a lot of landscapes on this trip, so this is one of the main reasons for choosing this camera for this trip to Scotland.

Waist-level view of the Canon F-1
View of Bow Fiddle Rock taken on the Canon F-1
View of Bow Fiddle Rock taken on the Canon F-1

First and second images from the start of the roll, composed with the waist-level viewfinder

I usually suck at being able to get everything sharp and in focus on a manual focus camera, and it is one of the reasons I normally use autofocus point and shoots for holidays. However, I found the Canon F-1 to be really easy to focus and all my shots came back even better than I expected.

Using Adox Color Mission in the Canon F-1

We used Adox's Color Mission 35mm film in the Canon F-1 for some of the images on this trip. Color Mission is a new released film from Adox, who are a European company. They created Color Mission from some frozen film stock from decades ago and loaded into film canisters to be sold to fund a new colour stock coming to the film market. 

We used this film stock on our trip to Amsterdam (see the Olympus XA2 review) and were a little disappointed by its handling of the colours, however this roll of film exceeded our expectations. 

It performed really well with the blue tones of the sea and sky, and created a great contrast between all the colours of the film.

View of Bow Fiddle Rock taken on the Canon F-1 using Adox Color Mission film
Bow Fiddle Rock taken on the Canon F-1 with Adox Color Mission
View from Bow Fiddle Rock taken with the Canon F-1 with Adox Color Mission film

Views from Bow Fiddle Rock taken with the Canon F-1 using Adox Color Mission

What is the Canon F-1 light meter like?

The Canon F-1 has a really easy to use light meter in the viewfinder. It is very simple and involves two needles that need to match. 

There were a couple of occasions where the needle would sit either side of where it needed to match when changing between two settings. 

Overall, the Canon F-1 light meter performed very well and almost all of the photographs came out exposed correctly. On a couple of images, I metered using my eye as the foreground was really bright and the subject in the background was dark, or vice versa (see image of the bridge and the sky).

Person looking out across the Cairngorms
View of bridge taken with the Canon F-1
View of the sky taken with the Canon F-1

Two images where I had to meter the exposure using my eye and not the built-in meter

Using Portra 400 in the Canon F-1

A really common choice with all film photographers, this film doesn't really need any introduction. It is a special occasion when we use a roll of Portra 400 from the shop stock (shhh, don't tell anyone). 

We took the opportunity to use Portra in the Canon F-1 for what it is intended for: portraits. And we were really pleased with the results.

We really recommend using Portra for anyone who hasn't used the film yet. We have some available on our website, if I haven't used it all up yet.

Portrait of someone taken using the Canon F-1 and Portra 400
Landscape image of Prince Albert
View from Prince Albert

Two images of the Cairngorms taken on Portra 400 and the Canon F-1 (it's not just great for portraits!)

Final Thoughts on the Canon F-1

I really enjoyed using the Canon F-1 after using point and shoot cameras for so long. Going back to using manual settings and focus reminded me of the joys of shooting film and how you really do slow down when you are taking an image.

It is one of the great SLR cameras created and being so mechanical, it is a simple and pleasurable camera to use. The dials and settings are simple, without any frills and electric readings to distract you. You feel more connected to the images you are creating, and I think the results speak for themselves. Get your hands on a Canon F-1 and see what you think for yourself.

Still stuck on which film camera to buy?

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Max, owner of Cameras By Max

Article written by: Max

Max is the owner of Cameras By Max. They work full-time repairing and refurbishing all the 35mm film cameras you see on the website. Their favourite camera (at the moment) is the Olympus XA, and their favourite city in the world is Edinburgh.


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