Canon’s innovative, mid sixties FL mount SLR was built to last.

Canon FT QL and September 1966 copy of Shooting Times and Country Magazine.

I have never been to Australia, but this camera has. The sturdy leather case still has a previous owner’s Perth address label stuck to it. I acquired it via the online auction site, from a seller in the Channel Islands. During its long journey from south to north, it evidently spent some time in an extremely dusty environment. The camera came to me with a thick layer of fine dust coating it. I have managed to remove it from the metal exterior, but this dust is still pitted into the leather grain and the milling on the lens barrel. It’s not so bad though. Introduced to the world in the same year I was, 1966, it scrubs up well just like me.

Why is the Canon FT QL a Landmark Camera?

1: Canon’s first SLR camera with TTL metering.
2: Canon’s first camera to use the excellent QL (quick loading) system along with the Canon Pellix QL introduced at the same time.

Canon FT QL top view

The User Experience

If I could use a single word to describe the Canon FT QL, it would be ‘heft’. It’s heavy and on the large side. I am not great with even a moderately heavy camera hanging around my neck, so it sat in my left hand while I wasn’t using it when out and about. At the same time though, the size and weight of the camera gave me reassurance that it wasn’t going to give up on me, even if I dropped it. It is so well made and no doubt can survive a fair bit of rough treatment.

The Look

I find it to be a handsome camera in classic chrome and black leather. It isn’t fey or jewel like. It’s a chunk of Japanese engineering excellence with FT confidently engraved in capitals in a serif font to the right of the lens mount. It looks rugged and purposeful, and its size and weight emphasise that.

Canon FT QL front view

The Feel

It feels great! There is heft, but it does not feel agricultural. It looks functional, but has refinement. The shutter speed selector dial is up there with the best I have used. It has a wonderful damped quality as you turn the dial smoothly and silently through the speeds. There’s no nasty ‘clickiness’. The 50mm FL f/1.8 breech lock lens has similar qualities when you select an aperture. The click stops are smooth. The shutter release is neither too firm or too soft. It also has a release lock switch.

In Use

Well, it isn’t perfect. The viewfinder is somewhat dim, but I do not know if this is due to the way light is directed to the CdS meter. A diagonally-cut condenser lens block is semi-silvered on the diagonal surface. This beam splitter enables incoming light to be split for the viewfinder image and metering cell. This is effectively taking some of the light away from the viewfinder. I would have preferred the finder to have a split-image rather than a microprism focusing aid, but that is probably just my personal preference.

View through the viewfinder
Canon FT QL viewfinder showing meter needle and correct exposure indicator circle.

Quick Load

The Canon FT QL redeems itself with three great attributes though. The first is the quick loading system, which works beautifully. You simply open the film door with the catch located on the base plate, load the film in the chamber and pull the film lead out to the red line. Then just close the back. No fannying on slotting the film anywhere and trying to get the film to engage.

Dual purpose lever

The second excellent feature is the dual-purpose lever on the front of the body to the right of the lens mount. This serves as both a timer when pulled away from the body, and engages the meter when pushed towards the body. The meter can be locked for continuous light measurement by flicking the switch at the bottom of the dual purpose lever.

The fly in the ointment here is that engaging the meter stops the lens down to the taking aperture (depth of field preview), dimming the view and in some circumstances making it difficult to see the meter needle to determine the correct exposure. So although the Canon FT QL has TTL metering and lenses with an automatic diaphragm, it does not have open aperture metering. Canon didn’t achieve this until 1971, with the introduction of the F-1, FTb and the new FD mount lenses.

Canon FT QL with metal lens hood

Semi-spot metering

The third and final top feature of the FT is its partial metering implementation, or semi-spot, taking a light measurement from a central area of the finder, which can clearly be seen when you look through it. This not-so-common type of metering nails exposure superbly when your subject is back lit.

I exposed a roll of film while wandering around Durham one day. I enjoyed using the camera and would have liked to have produced 36 perfectly exposed images, but I catastrophically cocked up the negatives when developing the film! So we will never know until the FT QL gets another run out.

Further Reading:

Vintage Camera Labs
Canon Camera Museum