The unique mirror of this camera solved viewfinder blackout during exposure.


Canon Pellix

Canon broke with their customary nomenclature to call this camera the Pellix. Nominally part of the legendary F series of cameras developed over a period of 9 years from 1964 to 1973, the Pellix was a part of the F series evolution, but set apart in more ways than just its name.

Why is the Canon Pellix a Landmark Camera?

1: The first and only SLR camera with a translucent fixed mirror.
2: Canon’s first SLR with TTL metering.

Cannon Pellix top

The User Experience

The Canon Pellix is a big and beautiful camera. The F series are so well-made, it seems incredulous they weren’t regarded as professional cameras. Sold with the Pellix’s unusually bright 50mm f/1.4 ‘kit lens’, the combo is heavy. It isn’t the kind of weight I would want pulling on my neck for very long.

The Look

It’s a looker in classic chrome and black leather. I think it edges out its successor, the FT, in the looks department. Maybe it’s because of the chrome shutter speed dial and the stencilled name of the camera proudly displayed on the pentaprism, usurping the brand name that has been relegated to the the body.

Canon Pellix

The Feel

Canon Pellix rear

It feels similar to the FT, which isn’t surprising! 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/1.4 breech lock lens has a different quality when you select an aperture. The click stops are a bit ‘clacky’. The shutter release is neither too firm or too soft. It also has a release lock switch. The shutter sounds similar to the FT.

Canon 50mm f/1.4 lens

In Use

The viewfinder is unequivocally dim, and it is the price paid for Canon’s clever technical innovation and the reason the Pellix was sold with a brighter than average standard lens. A very thin, semi-transparent film was used as a fixed mirror. The fixed pellicle mirror reduced the amount of light reaching the film by half.

If only the Pellix had open aperture metering!

Engaging the meter stops the lens down to the taking aperture (depth of field preview), dimming the view and in some circumstances making it impossible to see the meter needle to determine the correct exposure. The pellicle system simply pulls too much light away from the viewfinder. If only the Pellix had open aperture metering!

To be fair to this camera, the pellicle mirror did solve the problem of mirror blackout, but it is of limited benefit in good light only.

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

Quick Load

The Canon Pellix was not introduced with the quick load system, but my revised version of the camera introduced at the same time as the FT QL has it. The quick loading system 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.

Canon Pellix quick load system
Film door open showing the quick load system

Dual purpose lever

Another 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.

Canon Pellix

Semi-spot metering

The Pellix has partial metering, 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.

Retractable internal shutter

The pellicle mirror created a potential exposure problem. Because of its fixed nature, there could not be a mirror lock up feature for long exposures. There’s the potential for light to enter the finder window and cause internal reflections and metering problems. Canon resolved this with a viewfinder shutter. There is a dial around the rewind lever which activates the shutter when moved to the to the black square position. Problem solved.

Canon Pellix with lens cap and soft case

Further Reading:

Photoethnography
Canon Camera Museum