Canon FTB

CANON FTB review (by MFLenses member cooltouch)

I owned a couple of cameras before I bought an FTb, but it wasn't until I began to use my "new" FTb that I really started learning the craft of photography. All too soon thereafter, my modern, automatic-everything cameras lay forgotten, accumulating little more than dust. Why was this, you may be wondering. 

canon_ftb_300Well, back in the day, I shot almost exclusively slides. Even now I still prefer slides over any other sort of photo emulsion. But one of the characteristics of slides is a very narrow exposure latitude. With the A-series Canons I was using before, their centerweighted metering patterns were not very well suited for slide photography because they would take in too many stray light sources, which would negatively affect the images -- often causing severe underexposure. But the FTb meters only the central 12% of the screen -- indicated by a rectangle visible when looking through the viewfinder. Metering occurs only within that rectangle. So for unusually lit scenes, I could maneuver the camera around so that the rectangle was, in effect, averaging the light from the sources I wanted to pay attention to. Set the camera to that exposure value, and *bing!* Nailed it. The FTb's meter was also very accurate, which helped a lot. I got to where I was so comfortable with this metering practice that I never felt the need for a spot meter for unusually lit scenes. 

The fact that the camera is all mechanical and the battery powers the meter only is always a big plus. I've been in situations then and now where my camera's battery has died, just leaving me in the lurch. Not a problem with the FTb. Besides there are charts that you can get a hold of that explain exposure situations to such a level of precision that if the FTb's battery should fail, you could use one of those charts and wouldn't really need any sort of meter at all. 

Speaking of the battery, since the 1.35v mercury battery is no longer available, one can buy the Wein battery for about $6 to $7, or one can buy 675 hearing aid batteries. They are a little smaller, but they are zinc-air just like the Wein and deliver the same voltage. They don't last as long as the old mercury battery, but the good thing about the 675s is they are cheap. I buy them in a 30-pack at Costco for $10. Yup, 30 cents apiece.  

One of the big reasons why I bought my FTb was because it had mirror lock up. I do a lot of high-magnification photography, whether it be long telephoto work or macro lenses with bellows. Either way, the smallest vibration can degrade an image. Being able to lock the mirror up so that only the shutter moves for the exposure is a very valuable tool, and one that I've always preferred to have on my mechanical cameras. 

The FTb was produced in two different versions. The first version has a plain metal film advance lever and Canon's earlier, contoured self-timer lever. The second version, from approximately 1974 on, had a plastic tip added to the film advance lever, and the same self-timer lever as found on the F-1 and EF. It also shows the shutter speeds in the viewfinder. This later FTb is known informally as the FTbn, although Canon never indicated this new designation anywhere in their literature. 

The FTb is a basic photographic tool with a few nice features. Its shutter speeds range from 1 second to 1/1000 second plus B. It has Canon's unique 4-into-1 device that incorporates a self-timer, momentary lens stop down for checking depth of field, locking lens stop down for stop-down metering, and mirror lock-up. It has a hot shoe with two additional contacts for Canon's CAT system, an early attempt at flash automation, ISO range from 24-1600, and Canon's QL film loading feature, a novel approach to easy film loading that really works. It has a PC sync terminal. It also accepts Canon's accessory Booster Meter, which extends the low light EV down to -3.5 (15 seconds at f/1.2, ISO 100). The FTb meters the central 12% of the scene only, which can be determined by observing a central rectangle inside the viewfinder. Metering occurs only within that rectangle. 

Two areas where the FTb falls a bit short is 1) no interchangeable focusing screens, and 2) no motor drive option. Back when the FTb was introduced in 1971, it was introduced more-or-less simultaneously with its big brother, the F-1. The F-1 has interchangeable everything, darn near, plus a few different motor options, so Canon felt at the time that the FTb would serve the amateur market just fine and that if somebody wanted more, they could always move up to the F-1. It makes sense, really. But you know? To be honest, I've always been happy with my FTb just as it is. I have an F-1 also, and maybe that's some of it. 

If you're looking for a solid FD-mount workhorse, the FTb is just about the best there is.

Comments (1)
1Sunday, 29 April 2012 19:18
I bought an FTb in 1975; it had the Canadian Olympic symbol on it, and it was a FINE camera. I bought a "new" F1 body in 1981. I also accumulated Canon 100, 28, and 20mm lenses for it. Unfortunately, the cameras, the lenses, 4 Vivitar 283 flashes, all the filters, an expensice gadget bag, and more, were stolen in 1987.

The police found the F1, 50 and 100mm lenses in a pawn shop a year and a half later. They were in fairly good condition, but the theft took the life out of my photographic spark.

Your article is right, though: while the FTb didn't have drive or screen options, it was perfect if you didn't need them. I even stopped using batteries in the Canons; I had a Sekonic Studio Deluxe light meter (though fortunately was not in the bag that night.

Now I've had Nikon and Canon digital point-and-shoot cameras; they take a while to focus, and I can't get a good photo out of them. I miss the old days sometimes. and manual focus is the one thing I miss most. Can't afford the digital-era lenses and bodies, though, and they go obsolete so fast now that it's not worth buying one.

Thanks for the good memories!

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