Canon IV Series
by Karen Nakamura
The Canon IV is a Leica screw mount lens compatible series of rangefinders manufactured between 1951 and 1955 in versions. It was Canon's second major revision of their LTM rangefinder series adding flash synchronization (the first revision was the Canon II & III series; the numerals indicate the lack or presence of slow speeds). From the IV onwards, all Canon rangefinders (except some lame ones) had slow speeds. The camera was made until 1956 when it was replaced by the V series, which had a more modern design. Using the text or images on this website without permission on an ebay auction or any other site is a violation of federal law.
I own two of this series: a user-condition IVS and a mint condition IVSB. According to Peter Dechert's (1985) Canon Rangefinder Cameras, the various versions of the IV are:
|IV||1951.4-1952.4||1,400||III + flashbulb sync via rail|
|IVF||1951.12-1952.8||6,900||IV+redesigned knobs, lever+redesigned screw flange|
|IVS||1952.4-1953.5||IVF+redesigned shutter crate (die cast)|
|IVSB||1952.12-1955.3||34,975||IVS+X sync slow speed+slow speed lock|
|IVSB2||1954.7-1956.7||16,800||IVSB+slow shutter split at 1/30 sec+universal shutter progression + non-rotating shutter dial + fast X sync+redesigned viewfinder|
The Canon IVS came originally with a 50 mm f/1.8 Serenar as an option. The Canon Museum notes that the original retail price of the 50mm f/1.8 kit was ¥77,000. The yen was fixed at ¥360 to US$1 at the time so the dollar price was approx. $213. According to the AIER, $213 in 1951 is worth approximately $1502 in current 2003 dollars. As you can see, it was a rather expensive camera, but not out of line with what a Leica or Contax would have cost you.
A little less than 4,900 Canon IVS units were made so my unit is on the rare side. The IVSB is much more popular, with almost 35,000 produced. Canon IV cameras aren't that expensive, you should be able to find a good condition one for less than $300. My one pictured here is in not in the best physical condition. The chrome is brassing through and the leatherette is totally shrunken and worn. But optically and mechanically it's in fantastic condition. I've had it re-leathered (by CameraLeather) and thinking of black painting it. As you can see, CameraLeather did an absolutely gorgeous job re-leathering it with their Cognac Lizard skin:
At an auction at the close of 2003, I bought a mint condition Canon IVsb along with a mint condition Minolta 35 Model II (also a Leica clone). As noted in the chart above, the IVsb added a faster sync speed, an 'X' sync detent on the slow-speed dial, and a slow-speed dial lock (which I can't figure out why it exists). Other than from that, it's almost identical.
The camera came in its original leather case. See the snaps on the right side of the photo above? That's to release the side of the case so that you can slide in the flash gun, which mounts on a rail on the side as you can see in the photo below. The flash guns are fairly useless unlike you like bulb flashes, but you can find an aftermarket Canon IV flash rail adaptor, which slips onto the rail and provides a PC-sync socket. I bought mine on ebay for less than $10, although I suspect the seller did not know what it really was.
My mint condition camera came with the original Serenar 50mm f/1.8 lens. How do I know it was the original lens? My camera also came with the original warrantee card, stamped 1953 listing the body, lens, and flash (which was not included in the auction, boo hoo). Canon at that time had a 5 year warrantee. It's now 50 years since then, I guess they won't honor it any more, but I'll keep it around just in case I need it serviced. :-)
There's another thing I found odd about the IVsb. In the leather case, there's a red card inserted in a hidden pocket. I'm assuming this is to aid in film loading as well as testing the shutter. Bottom-loading Leica-clones are a bit difficult to load since the film gets caught in the sprockets and film gate. A card inserted in front of the film gate helps. Also, Leica shutters are difficult to test because you can't look through the film gate to see if the shutter is capping, like with back-loading cameras. A red-card inserted behind the gate makes it easier to see if the shutter is working properly at high-speeds.
There's a red dot on the top plate, to the immediate right of the word "Japan" in "Canon Camera Company Inc. Japan" You can see it in the photo below. I was curious what this was since the IVs doesn't have this. The consensus on the Rangefinder list is that it's a film plane indicator mark. More recent cameras use a mark that looks like a greek F (phi) to indicate the film plane.
Interesting quirks (Canon IV series)
The Canon IV series shutter is horizontal running and is made of coated fabric. It's a very close copy of the Leica III shutter, right down to the second slow-speed dial on the front of the camera.
The camera is a Leica clone to the fault and uses the same pain-in-the-neck bottom loading design as the Leica III series. You have to cut your film leaders extra long to load them properly. Grr....
The shutter button is smooth surfaced. If you want to attach a remote release, you need to use an adaptor. There's a little dot on the shutter that rotates when the film is winding and rewinding (that the sprockets are engaging). This is handy if you develop your own film as you can tell when the leader releases from the sprockets (the dot stops rotating) when rewinding the film. At that point, you can open the back leaving the leader still sticking out of cartridge, which makes it simpler to load into your reels for developing.
- The rewind release is located right above the shutter button. Rotate it counter-clockwise to the 'R' position for rewinding. You can rotate this to the 'R' position for deliberate double-exposures as well
- Yes knob-rewind is slow, but not as bad as you think
- Don't touch the rotating shutter speed button when you shoot the camera. You'll mess up the shutter speed.
The camera takes the Canon-proprietary film cartridges which were an option instead of the standard 35mm cartridges. Like the Leica, Zeiss, and Nikon proprietary cartridges (all of which are incompatible with each other), the Canon cartridges feature a light-trap that is keyed with the camera latch, allowing film to travel unfettered by emulsion-scratching felt. It also takes standard 35mm cartridges too, of course.
The Canon rangefinders are unique from the Leica brethren in that the Canons have switchable rangefinder magnification (as well as unified rangefinder/viewfinders, something Leica finally managed with the M3). The switch you can see on the right has three options: F, 1x and 1.5x. This actually switches the magnification of the rangefinder/viewfinder. This serves two purposes. First, it allows for framing of 50mm, 100mm, and 135mm (corresponding to F, 1x and 1.5x) lenses. Second, in the 1.5x position you can focus much more accurately, then switch back for framing.
The optical baselength is about 36mm according to my calipers. This makes the effective baselength (EBL): 24mm, 36mm, or 54mm depending on the magnification. In comparison, the EBL of some other cameras are: Canon P (41mm); Leica M3 (58.9mm); and Nikon S2 (60mm). So while the idea of switchable magnification is great, the EBL of the M3 or Nikon S2/SP is better than the Canon IV series.
Unfortunately, there are no projected framelines in the IV series so accurate framing is a bit of a guess. The viewfinder is also a bit squinty and difficult to use by eyeglass wearers. If Canon had managed to get projected framelines and increased the eye relief, this system would have been a huge success. The IVSB2 does improve the optical and mechanical ergonomics and Dechert calls it the finest bottom-loading Leica screw mount ever made, I'd like to try one sometime.
Despite all my moaning and groaning, I'm very fond of my IV series cameras, especially the IV s. It's become my bang-around* camera. Mounted with the Former Soviet Union Industar-22 50mm f/3.5 Elmar-clone shown above, it's a compact and very tough camera. I used to use my Canon P as my bang-around camera, but the P is a bit on the fragile side for my tastes with its large exposed finder. The Elmar-clone is a bit on the dark side with its f/3.5 max aperture, but fine for day-to-day photography with Fuji Neopan 400. I usually just guess-estimate the exposure. A Japanese magazine tested the I-22 against the Leitz Elmar and the I-22 won in both sharpness and flare control!
*Bang-around camera: Camera that I always have with me with little care given to taking good care of it. Used for miscellaneous street photography, family photos, and to bang in the occasional nail.
It's very easy to knock rangefinder cameras out of horizontal or vertical RF calibration with small knocks or jars. This is fairly common on older (and even newer) rangefinders. Thankfully, Canon provided for a way to adjust both horizontal and vertical RF calibration without opening the camera up. I asked the question on the RF list and Harland Harris and Jim Williams were kind enough to provide the answers:
The external adjustment is behind the large screw in the lower corner of the front viewfinder window. The outer screw is just a decorative cover; the actual adjustment is inside. It takes a VERY tiny screwdriver. The adjusting screw moves in and out as you focus the lens, so you may find it's easier to reach at either the infinity position or the close focus position, depending on your particular screwdriver.
Before you adjust it, check the vertical adjustment -- on a IV (as with other older series Canon and old Leicas) changing the vertical adjustment affects the horizontal adjustment, so if the vertical adjustment is off, it will affect the horizontal adjustment too. I find the vertical adjustment seems somewhat more likely to get knocked out of whack.
This is adjusted in the traditional Leica fashion by removing the knurled decorative ring around the round rangefinder window, and turning the round glass front. This is actually a shallow prism and moves the RF image in a circle as you turn it. After you've adjusted it, you have to check the horizontal adjustment and reset it if necessary.
-- Jim Williams
Note: This operation while simple, has the possibility of fouling your camera if you have the wrong size screwdrivers or slip while the driver is inside the camera. Please use reasonable and appropriate caution when thinking about doing this.
Choosing a Canon Rangefinder
by Jim Williams
All the Canon III- and IV-series models look and work like an old-style screwmount Leica, except that they have combined range/viewfinders (with switchable magnification.) They're beautifully made and fun to use, but the viewfinders don't have framelines and are very squinty by today's standards. The III and IV models have conventional fabric shutter curtains that are no less durable (but no MORE durable) than the same type of curtain used on Leicas.
The V-series (the V is a roman numeral) and L-series (the L is just a letter) are similar to prior models under the skin, but have larger, more modern-styled bodies (with a conventional back door for easier loading) and a viewfinder with a larger eyepiece. This makes viewing more pleasant, but you still don't get framelines or parallax compensation. Late models in these series switched from fabric shutter curtains to ones made of epoxy-coated stainless steel foil. These are the ones you've heard about getting 'damaged' -- the foil can be dented by finger pokes during loading, or if the camera is left to sit for years and years with the shutter cocked. BUT -- minor denting (the most common type) doesn't affect the accuracy of the shutter, and unlike fabric curtains, these won't rot or burn through, meaning they're actually MORE durable than fabric ones. So, as long as the shutter runs smoothly, don't be put off from buying a camera with the steel curtains.
The V came in two flavors: the V-T series, which advances the film via a horizontal trigger on the bottom, and the V-L series, which is identical except for having a conventional advance lever. The L-series was an 'economy' range with equal quality but somewhat simplified features; all these had a lever-type advance lever. (Either flavor rewinds by a knob, which is a bit slow but par for the course in that era.) All the Vs can be good, reliable user cameras if you find an clean example, and are very usable if you don't need framelines and don't mind the slightly antique shutter-speed-dial arrangements.
The next generation after the V-series was the VI series (also a roman numeral, so say "six" rather than "vee-eye.") This series was much more modern in terms of features: it had a squared-off body and back-door loading like the V, but the shutter is a more modern type with all speeds on a single dial that doesn't rotate as you fire. (All the previous models had an old-Leica-style speed dial that spins when the shutter fires, with slow speeds -- if any -- controlled by a separate dial on the front.)
The VI also had a viewfinder with switchable magnifications, but with the added feature of framelines for 50mm and 100mm lenses (there was a separate position for 35mm lenses with no framelines.) The frames are reflected off a glass inside the eyepiece, rather than being projected through a frosted window as on a Leica M3 or Cosina/Voigtlander. The Canon's reflected system isn't as sharp and clear, but at least the lines do move as you focus to compensate for parallax. The great thing about this viewfinder was that the 50/100 position showed you the finder image at full life-size magnification, so you could keep both eyes open while looking through the camera. The downside was that the complex optics in this finder system haven't aged well, so it's not uncommon to find a VI with a hazy viewfinder and dim framelines. Cleaning may help the haze, but there doesn't seem to be anything that can be done about the framelines -- they're silvered onto a glass plate and the silvering simply deteriorates with age. Also, the finder system has an unusually strong minus diopter built into it, and if you've reached the age where you need reading glasses you may find it difficult to accommodate your eyesight to a VI finder. Aside from those potential drawbacks, if you can find a VI with a finder that's clean and has good framelines, it's very effective and pleasant to use.
Like the V, the VI came in -T and -L series flavors with trigger or lever film advance, now with a folding rewind crank for faster rewinding. They were made in about equal numbers, but the -T is more common in the US and the -L is more common in Japan. Either is a bit of a collectible nowadays so may be a bit disproportionately expensive as a 'user' camera, but a good one IS really nice to use.
Like the V series, the VI had an economy-model companion, called the P. In this case the strategy may have backfired a bit, because the P was so nice that many people liked it BETTER than the higher-end models; it wound up outselling the VI cameras by a margin of about 5 to 1. Although it was considered the economy camera, it was as well-made as the VI and had the same shutter design and basic features as the VI-L, including thumb lever film advance and folding rewind crank. The only major cost-cutting change was a simpler viewfinder: no switchable magnifications, and with 35mm, 50mm and 100mm framelines all together in the same view. But many people preferred this, because it gave parallax compensation with the 35mm framelines as well as 50 and 100 (although the 35mm lines are 'way out at the edges and hard to see.) The finder was still full life size, so you could view it with both eyes open, and its built-in diopter isn't as strong as the VI, making it an easier adaptation for users' eyesight. The P's framelines can deteriorate the same way as on the VI, but because the finder optics are simpler, P viewfinders seem to have aged better. If you're primarily a 50mm lens user with occasional forays to 35mm or 100mm, the P is maybe your best choice; unfortunately, a lot of other people have figured this out, so you'll pay the price of its popularity!
The next model in line was the 7, and Canon dropped more than the roman numerals here -- the new camera was much larger and a very different design (although the shutter system was similar to the VI.) This is a BIG camera by RF standards, and not quite as nicely finished as the earlier ones -- although its internal design is very tough and well-engineered. The biggest change for this model was to the range/viewfinder: the 7 has true projected framelines like a Leica or Cosina/Voigtlander (although not as bright as either, but still very visible.) You select frames via a flat dial on the top, with choices of 35, 50, 85, 100 or 135mm, and you can't forget which you chose, because they're clearly labeled in the viewfinder! The 7's lensmount accepts standard Leica-type screwmount lenses, but there's also an external bayonet flange around it that's not present on older models; this flange is the only way to mount the 50mm f/0.95 lens, if you should take a fancy to doing so. (The performance of the 50/0.95 isn't nearly as crummy as is often claimed by people who have never used one; still, its images have a distinctive "look" that's an acquired taste, so don't worry about hunting one down unless you really LIKE that look.)
The 7 also had a coupled selenium meter, which was hot stuff by 1961 standards but not very useful today; you probably will prefer to use a hand-held meter instead, so you can save a few bucks by finding a 7 that's otherwise in good shape but has a defunct meter. One odd little quirk to keep in mind: the 7 has NO accessory shoe, which means you're stuck if you want to use any lenses other than those covered by the built-in frames as there's no place to put an accessory viewfinder! (Okay, Canon offered an add-on shoe, but this is an 'unobtanium' accessory today!)
Despite its mild peculiarities, the 7 was a strong competitor to the Leica Ms and was the best-selling interchangeable-lens RF Canon by a wide margin, even outselling the P. Thanks to this, it's among the easiest to find today and the most likely to be reasonably priced. (The later model 7s was even better, with improvements including a useful CdS meter and an accessory shoe; but by then SLRs were taking over and it didn't sell well, so you'll pay a premium for its niceties and rarity.)
Overall, assuming equal condition (a big 'if' anytime you're buying a 40-to-50-year-old camera!) I'd say the 7 is the best buy for a user who likes to use a range of lenses, while the P is the best buy for someone who's happy with just a couple of lenses and appreciates a smaller, more classically elegant camera body. I also agree with the person who said you get more picture-taking bang for your buck by buying a nice, new Cosina/Voigtlander Bessa, with its brighter, sharper viewfinder, built-in TTL meter, and new-camera reliability. But the Canons have a solidity, finish and 'presence' that you just don't get from a Bessa -- so if that sort of thing appeals to you, go for it!
Used with kind permission of Jim Williams who wants to add the caveat that he wrote this while waiting for his dinner and this should not be considered to cover every minor variation between the models.
|Camera Name||Canon IV Series|
|Place of Manufacture||Japan|
|Date of Manufacture||IVs:
1952.4-1953.5 (about 4,900 produced)
IVSB: 1952.12-1955.3 (about 35,000 produced)
rangefinder (~36 mm optical base length)
Leica M39 screw mount compatible
focal plane shutter (rubberized cloth)
IVsb-slow: T 1 2 4 8 X 25 (locks on '25')
cold accessory shoe
Type 135 film (35mm standard)
|Dimensions and weight||
Body + lens:140 x 72.2 x 67 mm, 790 g (with Serenar 50mm f/1.8)
¥77,000 with Serenar 50mm f/1.8
Canon started out its life as Seiki Kohgaku Kenkyuujo (Precision Optical Research Company). Its first goal was to produce domestic inexpensive Leica clones, and it released the Kwanon, its first camera in 1934. Interestingly, they used Nikon lenses since Nikon was already established as an optical lens manufacturer and was not making any of its own camera bodies at that time. Canon soon gained the ability to make their own lenses and never looked back. Nikon also went on to produce some reasonably popular cameras of its own as well.
The name 'Canon' comes from the Buddhist deity Kwanon and early Canon cameras were actually spelled 'Kwanon' and the lenses were named 'Kyasapa' after another deity.
Side note: Canon is my favorite Japanese company along with Honda. I actually interned for Canon Japan (ok, Canon Sales Japan, a part of the Canon keiretsu) during a summer in college and loved my coworkers to death. They keep coming out with innovations that take your breath away.