The history of the single-lens reflex camera
predates the invention of photography
in 1826/27 by one and a half centuries with the use of a reflex mirror in a camera obscura
first described in 1676. Such SLR devices were popular as drawing aids throughout the 18th century, because an artist could trace over the ground glass image to produce a true-life realistic picture.
A British patent was granted in 1861 for the first internal mirror SLR photographic camera, but the first production photographic SLR did not appear until 1884 in America.
These primitive SLR cameras began to mature in the early 20th century, but their many disadvantages continued to make them unsatisfactory for general photographic use for decades. The SLR may be elegantly simple in concept, but it turned out to be fiendishly complex in practice. The SLR's shortcomings were solved one by one as optical and mechanical technology advanced and in the 1960s the SLR camera became the preferred design for many high-end camera formats. In the 1970s, the addition of electronics established an important place in the mass market for the SLR. The SLR remains the camera design of choice for most professional and ambitious amateur photographers.
Current Basic Design
Early large and medium format SLRs
The single-lens reflex camera (SLR) was invented in 1861 by Thomas Sutton, a photography author and camera inventor who ran a photography related company together with Louis Désiré Blanquart-Evrard on Jersey. The first renowned SLR with illustrious type name was Calvin Rae Smith's Monocular Duplex (USA, 1884). Other early SLR cameras were constructed for example by Louis van Neck (Belgium, 1889), Thomas Rudolphus Dallmeyer (England, 1894) and Max Steckelmann (Germany, 1896), and Graflex of the United States and Konishi in Japan produced SLR cameras as early as 1898 and 1907 respectively. These first SLRs were large format cameras. While SLR cameras were not very popular at the time, they proved useful for some work. These cameras were used at waist level; the ground glass screen was viewed directly, using a large hood to keep out extraneous light. In most cases, the mirror had to be raised manually as a separate operation before the shutter could be operated.
Following camera technology in general, SLR cameras became available in smaller and smaller sizes; medium format SLRs soon became common; at first larger box cameras, and later "pocketable" models such as the Ihagee Vest-Pocket Exakta of 1933.
Development of the 35 mm SLR
There is some dispute about what was the first SLR in the 35mm format. The Russian GOMZ Sport (Спорт) was developed in 1935, but did not enter the market until 1937. If it was the "first," this is of interest only in passing as an historical footnote, because it was camera manufacturers in Germany and Japan that brought the 35mm SLR to the worldwide dominance and popularity it has enjoyed for over half a century. In the 21st century, the 35mm SLR has been transformed successfully into the world of digital photography, assuring it a bright future in a largely filmless world.
The first German 35mm SLR camera was the Ihagee Kine-Exakta, produced in 1936, which was fundamentally a scaled-down Vest-Pocket Exakta. This camera used a waist-level finder.
Various other models were produced such as the Kine-Exakta, the Exakta II, the Exakta Varex (Featuring an interchangeable pentaprism eye-level viewfinder and identified in the United State as the 'Exakta V'), the Exakta Varex VX (identified in the United States as the 'Exakta VX'), the Exakta VX IIa, the Exakta VX IIb, the Exakta VX500 and the Exakta VX1000. Exakta also manufactured less expensive cameras under the 'Exa' camera label such as the Exa, the Exa Ia, the Exa II, the Exa IIa, the Exa IIb (which was generally not considered part of the "official" Exa line), and the Exa 500.
had begun work on a 35mm SLR camera in 1936 or 1937. This camera used an eye-level pentaprism, which allowed eye-level-viewing of an image oriented correctly from left to right. Waist-level finders, however, showed a reversed image, which the photographer had to mentally adjust for, while composing the image by looking downward and viewing and focusing. To brighten the viewfinder image, Zeiss incorporated a fresnel lens
in-between the ground-glass screen and the pentaprism. This design principle became the conventional SLR design used today. However, World War II had intervened, and the Zeiss SLR did not emerge as a production camera until Zeiss, in the newly-created East Germany
factory, introduced the Contax S
in 1949. This camera was the first "fixed" eye-level pentaprism 35mm SLR.
Another German manufacturer, Edixa
was a brand of camera
manufactured by Wirgin Kamerawerk
, which company was based in Wiesbaden, West Germany
. This company's product line included 35mm SLR cameras such as the Edixa Reflex, which featured a Steinheil 55mm f/1.9 Quinon lens, and an Isco Travegar 50mm f/2.8 lens; the Edixamat Reflex, the Edixa REX TTL, and the Edixa Electronica.
Rise of the Japanese SLRs
The earliest Japanese SLR for rollfilm was perhaps the Baby Super Flex (or Super Flex Baby), a 127
camera made by Umemoto and distributed by Kikōdō from 1938. This had a leaf shutter, but two years later came the Shinkoflex, a 6×6 camera made by Yamashita Shōkai, with a focal-plane shutter and interchangeable lenses. However, Japanese camera makers concentrated on rangefinder
and twin-lens reflex
cameras (as well of course as simpler, viewfinder cameras), similar to those of the Western makers.
Pentax (formerly 'Asahi')
took a different manufacturing path, inspired by the German SLRs. Its first model, the Asahiflex
I, existed in prototype form in 1951 and production in 1952, making it the first Japanese-built 35mm SLR. The Asahiflex IIB of 1954 was the first Japanese SLR with an instant-return mirror. Previously, the mirror would remain up and the viewfinder black until the shutter was cocked for the next shot. In 1957, the Asahi Pentax
became the first Japanese fixed-pentaprism SLR; its success led Asahi to eventually rename itself Pentax
. This was the first SLR to use the right-hand single-stroke film advance lever of the Leica
M3 of 1954 and Nikon S2 of 1955. Asahi and many other camera makers used the M42 lens mount
from the Contax S, often anachronistically known as the Pentax screw mount.
Miranda 35mm SLR's
Orion's (later name-changed to Miranda
's) Miranda SLR camera was sold in Japan from August 1955. The camera was narrowly the first Japanese-made pentaprism 35mm SLR. It featured a removable pentaprism for eye-level viewing, and also a waist-level finder (which would be used for waist-level use). (See
The Zunow SLR, which went on sale in 1958 (in Japan only), was the first 35mm SLR camera with an automatic diaphragm, which stopped down to the preselected aperture upon release of the shutter. The automatic diaphragm feature eliminated one downside to viewing with an SLR: the darkening of the viewfinder screen image when the photographer selected a small lens aperture.
General Operation of an SLR
As an example, if the photographer set a 'normal' 50mm f/1.8 lens (50mm lenses were a standard focal length lens sold with 35mm SLR's in the 1950s and 1960's) to its f/5.6 aperture setting, the camera lens would still remain at its maximum aperture for viewing purposes until the shutter was released. Then the following sequence of events would occur: the mirror would flip upwards, the diaphragm would stop down to the pre-selected f/5.6 aperture and the shutter would open; then these actions would conclude after the exposure. The shutter would then close, the reflex mirror would then return to its viewing position (but the reflex mirror would not be tensioned to the critical 45 degree angle; that step required the film advance lever to be wound again for the next exposure), and the diaphragm would reopen to its maximum aperture, which is the viewing aperture. (See
Standardization of Designs
The control layout used on the vast majority of SLRs in the next 30 years was kept standard, i.e. from left-to-right, the rewind crank would be on the left side, with the pentaprism housing next, followed by the shutter speed dial, the shutter release and then finally the single-stroke film advance lever, which in some higher-end SLRs was ratcheted so that multiple strokes could be used to advance the film. The exception to this design rule were the Nikkormat
FT cameras (manufactured with the brand-name 'Nikormat' in European countries and elsewhere) produced by Nikon, and the OM series produced by Olympus. These SLR cameras had the shutter speed control as a ring around the lens mount.
In 1959, photographers saw the introduction of new 35mm SLR's from various manufacturers, notably from Canon
and Nikon. The Canonflex
SLR, which was introduced in May, one month before Nikon introduced its 'F' model, was a moderate success. The camera featured a quick return mirror, an automatic diaphragm and was introduced with an interchangeable black pentaprism housing. It also featured newly developed 'R' series breech lock mount lenses. (See
webpage: http://www.canon.com/camera-museum/history/canon_story/1955_1969/1955_1969.html) This SLR was superseded by the Canonflex RM, a fixed prism SLR which featured a built-in selenium cell meter. Later came the Canonflex R2000, the first 35mm SLR to feature a top shutter speed of 1/2000 of a second. This model was also superseded by the Canonflex RM.
In 1962, FL series lenses were introduced along with a new camera body, the Canon FX, which had a built-in CdS light meter positioned on the front left side of the camera, a design which appeared much like the Minolta SR-7.
Nikon's 'F' model, introduced in 1959 as the world's first system camera, became enormously successful and was the camera design that demonstrated the superiority of the SLR and of the Japanese camera manufacturers. This camera was the first SLR system that was adopted and used seriously by the general population of professional photographers, especially by those photographers covering the Vietnam War, and those news photographers utilizing motor-driven Nikon F's with 250-exposure backs to record the various launches of the space capsules in the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo space programs, both in the 1960s. After the introduction of the Nikon F, the more expensive rangefinder cameras (those with focal plane shutters) became less attractive as, the SLR's dominance in acceptance and sales among many photographers, both amateur and professional eclipsed these types of cameras.
It was a combination of design elements that made the Nikon F successful. It featured interchangeable prisms and focusing screens; the camera had a depth-of-field preview button; the mirror had lock-up capability; it featured a large bayonet mount and a large lens release button; a single-stroke ratcheted film advance lever; a titanium-foil focal plane shutter; various types of flash synchronization; a rapid rewind lever; a fully removable back. it was a well-made, extremely durable camera, and adhered closely to the then current, successful design scheme of the Nikon rangefinder cameras.
Instead of the M42 screw mount used by Pentax and other camera manufacturers, Nikon had introduced the three-claw F-mount bayonet lens mount system, which is still current in a more modified form today. The focal plane shutter, unlike other SLR's of the period which used a cloth material for the focal plane shutter design (NOTE: with this design, it was possible to burn a hole into the cloth of the shutter during mirror lock-up in bright sunlight) used titanium foil which was rated for (according to Nikon) for 100,000 cycles of releases of the shutter. The F was also a modular camera, in which various assemblies such as the pentaprisms, the focusing screens, the special 35mm roll film 250 exposure film back and the Speed Magny film backs (two models: one using the Polaroid 100 (now 600) type pack films; and another Speed Magny was designed for 4x5 film accessories, including Polaroid's own 4x5 instant film back). These could be fitted and removed, allowing the camera to adapt to almost any particular task. It was the first 35 mm camera offered with a successful motor drive system.
Unlike most of the other manufacturers involved in 35mm camera production, the Nikon F was released with a full range of lenses from 21 mm to 1000 mm focal length. Nikon was also among the first to introduce what is commonly known today as 'mirror lenses' - lenses with Catadioptric system designs, which allowed the light path to be folded and thus yielded lens designs that were more compact than the standard telephoto designs. Subsequent top-of-the-line Nikon models carried on the F series, which has as of 2005 reached the F6 (although this camera has a fixed pentaprism). With the introduction and continued improvements being made in digital photography, the Nikon F6 is likely to be the last of the flagship Nikon F-line film SLR's.
's first SLR, the SR-2
, was introduced to the export market in the same year (in fact, at the same Philadelphia
show as the Canon and Nikon products) but had been on sale in Japan since August 1958. Lenses started with the designation 'Rokkor'. With the introduction of the SRT-101, the lenses added the designation of 'MC' for 'meter-coupled', and then later to 'MD' when the Minolta XD-11 was introduced with full-program mode.
Became 'Konica-Minolta' in the early 2000s - and dissolved in Sony on January 2006.
Miranda Camera Company
Miranda produced early SLR's in the 1950s which were initially manufactured with external auto-diaphragms, then added a second mount with internal auto-diaphragm. To list some of Miranda's cameras with external diaphragm, there was the Miranda Sensorex line. The internal auto-diaphragm Miranda cameras consisted of the Miranda 'D', the popular Miranda 'F', the 'FV' and the 'G' model, which had a larger than normal reflex mirror thereby eliminating viewfinder image vignetting when the camera was used with long telephoto lenses. Miranda cameras were known in some photographic discussions as 'the poor man's Nikon'.
One Unusual 'Standout' Design - The Olympus Pen F Series
The Olympus Pen F series was introduced and produced by Olympus of Japan between 1963-1966. The System consisted of the original Olympus Pen F, later the behind-the-lens metering Pen FT, 1966-1972; and the non-metered version of the FT, known as the Olympus Pen FV, which was manufactured from 1967-1970. The design considerations used were unusual. The camera produced a half-frame 35 mm negative; it used a porroprism as a design-replacement for the conventional pentaprism thus producing the 'flat top' appearance; and the view through the viewfinder was of 'portrait' orientation' (unlike standard 35mm SLR's which had 'landscape' orientation). These half-frame cameras were also exceptional in that all used a rotary shutter, rather than the traditional horizontally-travelling focal-plane shutter commonly used in other SLR camera designs. The camera was produced with various interchangeable lenses. The smaller image format made the Pen F system one of the smallest SLR camera systems ever made. Only the Pentax Auto 110 was smaller, but the Pentax system was of much more limited range in terms of lenses and accessories.
The Introduction of Light Metering
Professional Photographers of the 1940s and 1950's time-period preferred to use hand-held meters such as the Sekonic selenium cell light meters, and others which were common during these periods. These hand-held meters did not require any batteries and provided good analog readouts of shutter speeds, apertures, ASA (now referred to as 'ISO') and EV (exposure value). Selenium cells, however, could easily be judged for their light sensitivity by simply looking at the size of the cell's metering surface. A small surface meant it lacked low-light sensitivity. These would prove to be useless for in-camera light metering.
Built-in light metering with SLR's started with clip-on selenium cells meters. One such meter was made for the Nikon F which coupled to the shutter speed dial and the aperture ring. While the selenium cell area was big, the add-on made the camera look clumsy and unattractive. In order for built-in light metering to be successful in SLR cameras, the use of Cadmium Sulfide Cells (CdS) was imperative.
Some early SLR's featured a built-in CdS meter usually on the front left side of the top plate, as in the Minolta SR-7. Other manufacturers, such as Miranda and Nikon introduced a CdS prism which fitted to their interchangeable prism SLR cameras. Nikon's early Photomic finder utilized a cover in front of the cell which was raised and a reading was taken and the photographer would either turn the coupled shutter speed dial and/or the coupled aperture ring to center a galvanometer-based meter needle shown in the viewfinder. The disadvantage of this early Photomic prism finder was that the meter had no ON/OFF switch so the meter was constantly 'ON', thus draining battery power. A later Photomic housing had an ON/OFF switch on the Pentaprism. CdS light meters proved more sensitive to light and thus metering in available light situations was becoming more prominent and useful. Further advances in CdS sensitivity, however, were needed as, CdS cells suffered from a 'memory effect'. That is, if exposed to bright sunlight, the cell would require many minutes to return to normal operation and sensitivity.
'Behind-the-lens' or 'through-the-lens' metering
Japanese camera manufacturers introduced the first behind-the-lens metering systems (referred to by some as 'TTL') used in production-model 35mm SLR film cameras. The advantages to this system were that the photographer could light-meter a scene with a long telephoto lens attached and receive a reliable light reading, unlike a direct reading meter which would be unable to view the same kind of light as the telephoto lens and suffered from a parallax problem. Behind-the-lens meters would also be invaluable in photomicrography (micro photography) and photomacrography (macro photography) where the camera was metering light entering from a lens attached to either a microscope or else an adapter; or a lens attached to a bellows system for 1:1 or greater closeups or slide copying.
Pentax - the Spotmatic
Pentax was the first manufacturer to show a prototype camera with a behind-the-lens spot metering
CdS meter system in 1961, the Pentax Spotmatic
. Production Spotmatics, however, didn't appear until mid-to late 1964, and these models were featured with an averaging meter system.
Topcon - the Super D
's RE Super
, however, preceded Pentax into production in 1962. Topcon cameras used behind-the-lens CdS (Cadmium Sulfide Cells) light meters which were integrated into a partially silvered area of the mirror.
Minolta - the SRT-101 with Contrast Light Compensation
Japanese-made SLRs from the early 1960s included the Minolta SRT-101
, and later the SRT-202 and 303 models, which used Minolta's own version of behind-the-lens metering which they referred to as 'CLC' (which acronym meant: 'contrast light compensation').
Miranda and Other Camera Manufacturers
Other camera manufacturers followed with their own behind-the-lens meter camera designs in order to compete in the marketplace. 35mm SLR film cameras such as Miranda
with their Miranda Sensomat, unlike most other systems used a behind-the-lens meter system built into the pentaprism itself. Other Miranda 35mm SLR cameras could be adapted to behind-the-lens capability through the use of a separate pentaprism which included coupled or non-coupled built-in CdS meters. Miranda had a second lens system, consisting of the Sensorex models which had an externally coupled auto diaphragm. Sensorex camera bodies had built-in meters and these evolved to include TTL and 'EE' capability.
Nikon F and F2 with Interchangeable Photomic Prisms
The Nikon F, like the Miranda, was updated with various pentaprism TTL metering heads. The Photomic series of prisms, which was initially designed with a direct coupled-metering CdS photocell (2 models were produced). The Photomic prism head later 'evolved' to include the Photomic 'T', a behind-the-lens metering prism head which metered an averaging pattern of the focusing screen. The later-manufactured center-area reading Photomic Tn, concentrated 60% of its sensitivity in the central portion of the focusing screen and the remaining 40% for the outlying screen area. The Photomic FTn was the last of the Photomic finders for the Nikon F.
In 1972, the Nikon F2 was introduced. It had a more streamlined body, a better mirror-locking system, a top shutter speed of 1/2000 of a second and was introduced with its own proprietary, continually-improving Photomic meter prism heads. This camera was constructed mechanically superior to the 'F', with some models using titanium for the top and bottom cover plates, and featured slower shutter speeds via the self-timer mechanism. All Nikon F and F2 photomic prism heads coupled to the shutter speed dial of the respective camera, and also to the aperture ring via a coupling prong on the diaphragm ring of the lens, which design-feature was incorporated into most auto nikkor lenses of that time. It is still possible to have Nikon technicians install a coupling prong on 'D' type auto nikkor lenses so that these newer lenses will fully couple and operate with the older Nikon camera bodies. This is not possible with the 'G' type auto nikkor lenses and lenses with the 'DX' designation.
The 1970s - Improvements in design, light metering and automation
One of the most significant designs of the seventies for the 35mm SLR camera industry was the introduction of the Olympus
OM-1. After experiencing success with their small Olympus Pen half-frame cameras, particularly with their half-frame SLR-based Olympus Pen-F, Pen-Ft and Pen-FV cameras, Olympus set out with its chief designer Yoshihisa Maitani
to later create a very small, compact SLR--the M-1--with new compact lenses and a huge bayonet mount that could accept almost any SLR design optic. This camera was later renamed the OM-1
, to avoid a trademark problem with Leica
. The mechanical, manual OM-1 was significantly smaller and lighter than contemporary SLRs, but no less functional. The camera was supported by one of the most comprehensive 35mm SLR lens and accessory systems available. Maitani decreased the size and weight by totally redesigning the SLR from the ground up with unprecedented use of metallurgy, which included repositioning the shutter speed selector to the front of the lens mount, instead of a more conventional position on top of the body.
'Off-the-film' electronic flash metering
Olympus - the OM-2
Olympus made another significant advance some years later with the OM-2, featuring aperture-priority automatic with the world's first off-the-film plane flash metering and off-the-film (which Olympus referred to as 'OTF') available-light metering systems, which eliminated the problem of automatic flash units using a built-in photocell which only measured light directly, and not through-the-lens as Olympus' system accomplished. This system ended the problem of calculating apertures for flash-to-subject distance settings. This system was especially valuable in photomacrography (macrophotography) and photomicrography (microphotography).
The Olympus OM System was further enlarged; its Zuiko lenses gained a reputation as being among the sharpest lenses in the world, and in the nineteen eighties, Olympus added further improvements by replacing the OM-1 and OM-2 cameras with the OM-3, a mechanical manual SLR and the OM-4 automatic, both of which featured multi-spot metering capabilities. These cameras were further improved into the last of the OM SLRs, the titanium-bodied OM-3Ti and OM-4Ti, introducing at the same time, the world's fastest electronic flash synchronization speeds, at 1/2000 second with their new Full-Synchro strobe-based flash technology.
Gradually, other manufacturers incorporated this feature into their own SLR camera designs.
By 1974, the autoexposure SLR brands had aligned into two camps (shutter-priority: Canon, Konica, Miranda, Petri, Ricoh and Topcon; aperture-priority: Asahi Pentax, Chinon, Cosina, Fujica, Minolta, Nikkormat and Yashica) supposedly based on the superiority of their chosen mode. (In reality, based on the limitations of the electronics of the time and the ease of adapting each brand's older mechanical designs to automation.) These AE SLRs were only semi-automatic. With shutter-priority control, the camera would set the lens aperture after the photographer chose a shutter speed to freeze or blur motion. With aperture-priority control, the camera would set the shutter speed after the photographer chose a lens aperture f-stop to control depth of field (focus).
Canon – the A-1
Perhaps the most significant milestone of the 1970s era of SLR computerization was the 1978 release of the Canon A-1
, the first SLR with a "programmed" autoexposure mode. Although the Minolta XD11
was the first SLR to offer both aperture-priority and shutter-priority modes in 1977, it was not until the next year that the A-1 came out with a microprocessor computer powerful enough to offer both of those modes and add the ability to automatically set both the shutter speed and lens aperture in a compromise exposure from light meter input.
Programmed autoexposure, in many variations, became a standard camera feature by the mid 1980s. This is the order of first introduction of 35 mm SLRs, by brand, with a computer programmed autoexposure mode, before the rise of autofocus (see next section): 1978, Canon A-1 (plus AE-1 Program, 1981 and T50, 1983); 1980, Fujica AX-5; 1980, Leica R4; 1981, Mamiya ZE-X; 1982, Konica FP-1; 1982, Minolta X-700; 1982, Nikon FG (plus FA, 1983); 1983, Pentax Super Program (plus Program Plus, 1984 and A3000, 1985); 1983, Chinon CP-5 Twin Program (also first with two program modes); 1984, Ricoh XR-P (tied with Canon T70 as first with three program modes); 1985, Olympus OM-2S Program; 1985, Contax 159MM; 1985, Yashica FX-103. Of the brands active in the mid 1970s, Cosina, Miranda, Petri, Praktica, Rolleiflex, Topcon and Zenit never introduced programmed 35 mm SLRs; usually the inability to make the transition forced the company to quit the 35 mm SLR business altogether. Note that the Asahi Pentax Auto 110, Pentax Auto 110 Super (Pocket Instamatic 110 SLRs from 1978 and 1982) and Pentax 645 (a 645 format SLR from 1985) also had programmed autoexposure.
The autofocus revolution
compact cameras had been introduced in the late 1970s. The SLR market of the time was crowded, and autofocus seemed an excellent option to attract novice photographers. The first SLR to demonstrate autofocus capability was the Pentax ME F
of 1981, which used one special autofocus lens with an integral motor, while in the same year Canon introduced a self-contained autofocus lens, the 35-70 mm AF
, which contained an optical triangulation system that would focus the lens on the subject in the exact center when a button on the side of the lens was pushed. It would work on any Canon FD
camera body. Nikon's F3AF was a highly specialized autofocus camera. It was a variant of the Nikon F3
that worked with the full range of Nikon manual focus lenses, but also featured two dedicated AF lenses (an 80 mm and a 200 mm) that coupled with a special AF viewfinder and would not work with any other Nikon model. Nikon's later AF cameras used an entirely different design.
These, and other experiments in autofocus from other manufacturers, had limited success.
Minolta - the Maxxum 7000
The first true 35mm SLR autofocus camera that had a successful design was the Minolta Maxxum 7000
, introduced in 1985
. This SLR featured a built-in motor drive and dedicated flash capability. Minolta also introduced a completely new bayonet mount lens system, the Maxxum AF lens system, which was incompatible with its previous MD-bayonet mount system, in which the lenses' focusing action was driven from a motor in the camera body. This reduced complexity in the camera body and the lens. Canon responded with the T80
and a range of three motor-equipped AC
lenses, but this was regarded as a stopgap move. Nikon introduced the N2020 (known in Europe as the Nikon F-501), which was their first SLR with built-in autofocus motor, and redesigned autofocus auto nikkor lenses. Nikon's lens mount, however, remained compatible with older Nikon 35mm SLR cameras.
Canon - the new EOS System
In 1987, Canon followed Minolta in introducing a new lens-mount system, which was incompatible with their previous mount-system: EOS
, the Electro-Optical System
. Unlike Minolta's motor-in-body approach, this design located the motor within the lens. New, more compact motor designs meant that both focus and aperture could be driven electrically without motor bulges in the lens. The Canon EF lens mount
has no mechanical linkages; all communication between body and lens is electrical.
Nikon and Pentax
Nikon and Pentax both chose to extend their existing lens mounts with autofocus capability, retaining the ability to use older manual-focus lenses with an autofocus body, and driving the lens focus mechanism with a motor inside the camera. Later, Nikon added Silent Wave Motor (SWM) mechanisms into its lenses, supporting both focusing schemes until the introductions of the entry-level Nikon D40
and Nikon D40X
Consolidation to Autofocus and the transition to Digital Photography
The major 35mm camera manufacturers, Canon, Minolta, Nikon, and Pentax were among the few companies to transition successfully to autofocus. Other camera manufacturers also introduced functionally successful autofocus SLR's but these cameras were not as successful. Some manufacturers eventually withdrew from the SLR market.
Leica, for example, still manufactures its 'R' series of manual-focus SLRs, while Nikon may still produce its manual-focus SLR, the FM-3A. Olympus continued to produce its OM system camera line until 2002. Sigma and Fujifilm also managed to continue manufacturing cameras, although Kyocera ended production in 2005 of its (Contax) camera systems. The newly formed Konica Minolta sold its camera business to Sony a year later.
The Arrival of Digital Photography
In the 2000s, almost the entire photographic industry moved from film to digital photography, which had a huge impact on all camera manufacturers and the SLR market in particular. Nikon, for instance, has ceased production of all film SLRs except for its flagship 35mm SLR film camera, the F6; and the introductory-level Nikon FM10.
Most digital point and shoot cameras (also known as digicams) manufactured and sold today feature an LCD viewfinder display. Digital SLRs (DSLRs) however, despite their initial high cost, have gained early popularity with professional photographers working in the news media, sports, photojournalism and various types of outdoor photography, who could retain the use of their investment in expensive 35 mm film lenses. DSLR camera designs resemble their film predecessors except that most use sensors that are significantly smaller than 35 mm film frames, with the exception of the Canon EOS 1Ds and 5D, the new Nikon D3 and the Nikon D700, and some discontinued DSLR's produced by Kodak such as the DCS-Pro SLR/n ('n' for Nikon mount lenses) and SLR/c ('c' for Canon mount lenses), which used either CCD or CMOS full-frame sensors.
Over time, DSLRs have become more affordable, and manufacturers such as Canon, Nikon, Olympus, Pentax, Sigma and Sony have come to dominate the DSLR market. Olympus, for example, in the early 2000s, introduced the world's first purely digital SLR format (the Four Thirds System) and was soon joined by Matsushita (Panasonic), Leica, Sigma, Sanyo, Fuji and Kodak.
Many newer "digital only" SLR lenses (i.e., Sigma refers to their digital lenses with the 'Di' designation) are designed to work only with the smaller sensors common among DSLRs, permitting a wider range of focal lengths, smaller housings, and different designs at lower cost than is possible when designing and constructing lenses for the larger 35mm film frame. However, those lenses produce unacceptable vignetting when used with 35mm film or full-frame digital SLRs. So there are now effectively three lens design standards for digital SLRs (aside from differences in lens mounts): traditional 35 mm film-style lenses, smaller-coverage "digital only" lenses, and the Olympus proprietary Four-Thirds system lenses.
While twin-lens reflex cameras have been more numerous in the medium format film category, many medium-format SLRs had been (and some still are) produced. Hasselblad of Sweden has one of the best-known camera systems utilizing 120 and 200 film to produce 6cm x 6cm (2 1/4" x 2 1/4") negatives. They also produce other film backs which produce a 6cm x 4.5 cm image; a back which uses 70mm roll film, a Polaroid Back for instant 'proofs' and even a 35mm film back.
Pentax produces two medium-format SLR systems, the Pentax 645, which produces a 6cm x 4.5 cm image; and the Pentax 67 series, which system evolved from the late 1960s introduced Pentax 6 x 7 camera. These Pentax 6 x 7 series cameras resembled huge 35mm SLR camera in look and function.
Bronica (which has discontinued camera production), Fuji, Kyocera (which has also ceased production of their Contax cameras), Mamiya, Rollei, Pentagon (former East Germany), and Kiev (former Soviet Union) have also produced Medium Format SLR systems for a considerable period of time. Mamiya produces what is termed a medium format digital SLR. Other medium-format SLRs, such as those from Hasselblad, accept digital backs in place of film rolls or cartridges, effectively converting their film designs to digital format use.
In the case of Polaroid Corporation with its instant film line, the introduction of the Polaroid Polaroid SX-70 was one of the few SLRs produced that was a rare case of a folding SLR.
The vast majority of SLRs now sold are digital models, even though their size, form factor, and other design elements remain derived from their 35 mm film predecessors. Whether a dedicated digital design such as the Olympus Four-Thirds system, which permits equivalent performance with smaller and lighter cameras, will ultimately succeed the film-derived designs from Canon, Nikon, Pentax, and Sony is as yet unclear.
Significant SLR firsts (including optics peculiar to SLRs and important SLR evolutionary lines now extinct).
1676: Johann Sturm (Germany) described first known use of a reflex mirror in a camera obscura
. The camera obscura was known to Aristotle
as an aid in observing solar eclipses, but its use as an artist's aid was first expounded by Giambattista della Porta
(Italy) in 1558. The reflex mirror corrected the up-down image reversal that could make using a non-SLR camera obscura disconcerting – but not the left-right reversal.End of 17th century: Johann Zahn (Germany) developed a portable SLR camera obscura
with focusable lens, adjustable aperture and translucent viewing screen. These are all the core elements in a modern SLR photographic camera – except for an image capture medium. It would not be until 1826/27 before Joseph Nicéphore Niépce
(France) made the first permanent photograph using a bitumen photosensitized pewter plate in a non-SLR camera. All advances in photographic technology since then – mechanical, optical, chemical or electronic – have been convenience or quality improvements only.18th century: SLR camera obscuras
popular as drawing aids. Artist can trace over the ground glass image to produce a true-life realistic picture.
1861: Thomas Sutton
(UK) received first patent for SLR photographic camera. An unknown number made but very few; no known production model; no known surviving examples. The manually levered reflex mirror also served as the camera's shutter. Used glass plates.1884: Calvin Rae Smith Monocular Duplex
(USA): first known production SLR. Used glass plates (original model 3¼×4¼ inch, later 4×5 inch); many were adapted to use Eastman
sheet film. Large-format glass plate or sheet film SLRs were the dominant SLR type until circa 1915. However, SLRs themselves were not commonplace until the 1930s.
Early 20th century
1900: J.F. Shew & Co Delta Reflex Camera
(UK): first focal plane shutter SLR. Used 3¼×4¼ inch plates and had cloth focal plane shutter with speeds to 1/1000th second.1907: Folmer & Schwing Graflex No. 1A
(USA): first medium format roll film SLR. Took eight exposures of 2½×4½ inch frames on 116 roll film
. Had folding waist level finder and focal plane shutter. A sister SLR camera, the Graflex No. 3A
, was released at about the same time. It took 3¼×5½ inch "postcard" frames on 122 roll film
. Roll film (usually 120 type
) SLRs became the dominant SLR type in 1930s. The various models of large and medium format Graflex SLRs made beginning in 1898, and culminating in the 4×5 inch sheet film Graflex Super D
of 1948, are the best and most famous American-made SLRs, if only for the shortage of competition. Graflex quit the camera business in 1973. A-127 is the rarest and most valuable at 1254 dollars - 3400 dollars1925: Ernemann (merged into Zeiss Ikon
, 1926) Ermanox Reflex
(Germany): first SLR with high speed lens (10.5 cm f/1.8
or 85 mm f/1.8 Ernostar
). Established SLR as viable photojournalist's available-light camera. Had folding waist level finder and focal plane shutter. Used 4.5×6 cm glass plates or sheet film; adaptable to roll film.
1933: Ihagee VP Exakta
(Germany): first 127 roll film
SLR, first camera with internal flash synchronization. Preliminary designs were on paper by June 1932. Took eight exposures of 4.5×6 cm frames on 127 roll film. Had folding waist level finder and focal plane shutter. Established oblong body shape and handling soon to be standard in 35 mm SLRs except that Exakta SLRs had primarily left-handed controls and were more trapezoidal shaped than rectangular.1934: Eichapfel Noviflex
(Germany): first 2¼ square format, medium format roll film SLR. Took 6×6 cm (2¼×2¼ inch) frames on 120 roll film
. Also had a fixed lens and focal plane shutter. The 1937 version had interchangeable lenses. The square frame format precluded the awkward manipulations needed to take a vertical photograph with horizontal rectangular format SLRs having then standard waist-level viewfinders. The Noviflex was not commercially successful; it was the Franz Kochmann Reflex-Korelle
(Germany) of 1935 that established the popularity of the 2¼ square format SLR.1935: 135 film
, commonly called 35 mm film, introduced by Kodak
(USA). Was (and is) 35 mm nominal width (1⅜ inch actual width), acetate base, double perforated film, pre-loaded into felt-lipped, daylight-loading cartridges ready-to-use for still cameras. Originally intended for Kodak Retina
, Zeiss Ikon Contax
and E. Leitz Leica
35 mm rangefinder cameras. Previously, bulk rolls of 35 mm motion picture film would need to be user cut and loaded, in complete darkness, into camera specific cartridges or magazines. The September 1936 release of Kodachrome
(the first high speed [ISO 8 equivalent], realistic color film) in standardized 135 format (but not medium format roll film) spurred explosive growth in the popularity of all types of miniature format 35 mm cameras. The vast majority were not high-end SLRs or RFs, but basic amateur RFs such as the nearly three million selling Argus C3
(USA) of 1939. Originally, each US$3.50 (including processing) Kodachrome cartridge gave eighteen exposures if the camera used the 24×36 mm frame size (double the frame size of 35 mm cine cameras) established by the Multi-Speed Shutter Co. Simplex
(USA) camera of 1914 and popularized by the E. Leitz Leica A
(Germany) of 1925. The 24×36 mm frame size did not become the universal standard frame size until the early 1950s. Note that 135 film cameras using non-standard frame sizes, such as 24×18 mm or 24×24 mm, continued to the made into the early 1990s. Panoramic 135 film cameras using extra-wide aspect ratio frame sizes (up to 24×160 mm for the 360º revolving slit Globuscope
[USA] of circa 1981) were still available in 2006.1936: Ihagee Kine Exakta
(Germany): first production 35 mm SLR, first system SLR, first interchangeable lens camera with bayonet lens mount. This was exhibited at the Leipzig Spring Fair in March and was in production by April 1936. Had left-handed shutter release and rapid film wind thumb lever, folding waist level finder and 12 to 1/1000th second focal plane shutter. Well-integrated design with excellent interchangeable lenses and good accessory system. Fewer than 30,000 Kine Exaktas were made before World War 2 stopped production in 1940. Production of improved models re-started after the war and Exakta was the best known 35 mm SLR brand until 1959.1937: GOMZ Sport
), (Soviet Union); A prototype 35mm SLR was made in 1934, and this was improved and developed over the next few years. However, it was not until 1937 that it was perfected and brought to a state suitable for production. This began at the end of 1937 / beginning of 1938. The Sport, however, was a technological dead end that had no influence on later SLRs.
1947: Gamma Duflex
(Hungary): first instant return mirror SLR, first metal focal plane shutter SLR, first internal semi-automatic lens diaphragm SLR. Also had a mirror "prism" viewfinder, an intermediate step to a solid pentaprism. Reflex mirrors coupled to the shutter release had been spring actuated to rise automatically since the 19th century, but the viewfinder would remain blacked-out until the mirror was manually cocked back down. With an automatic, instant return mirror, the viewfinder blackout time might be as short as ⅛th second. The semi-auto diaphragm closed the lens diaphragm with shutter release, but it needed to be manually re-cocked open. The Duflex was very ambitious, but very unreliable and Gamma's first and last production SLR.1948: Hasselblad 1600F
(Sweden): first 2¼ medium format system SLR suitable for professional use. Took twelve exposures of 2¼×2¼ inch (6×6 cm) nominal frames (56×56 mm actual frames) on 120 film
. Had modular design accepting interchangeable lenses, film magazines and folding waist level finder. The 1/1600th second corrugated stainless steel focal plane shutter was unreliable and was replaced by a slower but more reliable 1/1000th second focal plane shutter in the Hasselblad 1000F
(Sweden) of 1952.1948: Alpa Prisma Reflex
(Switzerland) had a pentaprism viewfinder in 1948, but its eyepiece was angled upward at 45º.1949: VEB Zeiss Ikon (Dresden) Contax S
(East Germany): first pentaprism eyelevel viewing 35 mm SLR. (The Italian Rectaflex Standard
came very soon after.) First M42 screw mount
camera. (The East German KW Praktica
came out at about the same time.) With earlier "waist level" SLR viewfinder systems (in which the photographer looks downward at the reflex mirror's image on the focusing screen), moving subjects are seen to track across the field-of-view in reverse direction of their actual motion, making action shooting counter-intuitive. A pentaprism is a five-sided chunk of glass silvered on two sides that collects, redirects and re-reverses the light from the mirror with minimal light loss. With a proper pentaprism, all a photographer needs to do is hold the camera up to eyelevel and everything is there. The pentaprism SLR had first been proposed in the 19th century and was used in non-35 mm SLRs in the 1930s. Similar systems (or, in the 1990s, its cheaper alternative, the pentamirror) became so common in 35 mm SLRs by the late 1950s that it is the characteristic pentaprism "head" atop the camera body that defines the type for most people.
1950: Ihagee Exakta Varex V
(East Germany; called V
within USA): first interchangeable viewfinder, first interchangeable focusing screens, first viewfinder condenser lens SLR.1950: Angénieux 35mm f/2.5 Retrofocus Type R 1
(France): first retrofocus wide angle lens for 35 mm SLRs (for Exaktas). Regular wide angle lenses (meaning short focal length lenses) need to be mounted close to the film. However, SLRs require that lenses be mounted far enough in front of the film to provide space for the movement of the mirror — the "mirror box." Therefore, the focal length of early 35 mm SLR lenses was no less than about 40 mm. This prompted the development of wide lenses with more complex retrofocus optical designs. These use very large negative front elements to force back-focus distances long enough to ensure clearance. Retrofocus wide angle lenses reached fields of view as wide as 118º with the Nikkor 13 mm f/5.6
(Japan) lens for Nikon 35 mm SLRs in 1975, but they are extremely large compared to non-SLR short focal length lenses because of their gigantic negative elements.1951: Zenit
(Soviet Union, Russia; Зенит
): first Russian pentaprism eyelevel viewing 35 mm SLR.1951: Kilfitt 4 cm f/3.5 Makro-Kilar
(West Germany/Liechtenstein): first close focusing "macro" lens for 35 mm SLRs (for Exaktas and others). Version D focused from infinity to 1:1 ratio (life-size) at two inches; version E, to 1:2 ratio (half life-size) at four inches. Because SLRs do not suffer from parallax error, they are far superior for close-up photography than cameras with other viewfinder systems. Most SLR lens lines continue to include macro lenses optimized for high magnification, although their focal lengths tend to be longer than the original Makro-Kilar to allow more working distance. "Macro zoom" lenses began appearing in the 1970s, but traditionalists object to calling most of them macro because they usually do not focus closer than 1:4 ratio with relatively poor image quality.1952: Asahiflex I
(Japan): first Japanese 35 mm SLR. Had folding waist level finder and focal plane shutter. From 1952 to 1983, Asahi Optical (today called Pentax) manfactured cameras exclusively of SLR type and has made them in the greatest variety of formats of any modern camera company - from 110 to 6×7 film, and today's digital.1953: VEB Zeiss Ikon (Dresden) Contax E
(East Germany): first built-in light meter SLR. Had an external selenium photoelectric cell mounted behind a door on the pentaprism housing, above the lens. The meter was uncoupled – the photographer would need to wait until the meter stabilized and manually set the shutter speed and lens aperture to match the indicated exposure reading. The first camera with a built-in meter (also uncoupled) was the Zeiss Ikon Contaflex
(Germany) 35 mm twin-lens reflex
(TLR) camera of 1935.1953: Zeiss Ikon Contaflex I
(West Germany): first leaf shutter 35 mm SLR. Had Synchro-Compur leaf shutter and fixed 45 mm f/2.8 Tessar lens. For many years, reliable focal plane shutters were very expensive and SLRs equipped with Compur or Prontor leaf shutters were strong competitors. As focal plane shutters improved, their faster available speeds won out and leaf shutter 35 mm SLRs disappeared around 1973.1953: Metz/Kilfitt Mecaflex
(West Germany): first (and only) square format 35 mm SLR. Took up to 50 exposures of 24×24 mm frames on 135 film
. A compact Prontor leaf shutter design with bayonet mount interchangeable lenses. 135 film's standard 24×36 mm frame size is inefficient. Its 3:2 aspect ratio is too wide, recording only 59% of a required 43.3 mm diameter lens image circle. This makes lenses for the format overly large for the image area. A square 24×24 mm frame maximizes coverage at 64% of a smaller 33.9 mm image circle. The Mecaflex's designer, Heinz Kilfitt, also designed the Robot
(Germany) of 1934, the first 24×24 mm 35 mm (not 135 type) camera. Both failed to disturb the entrenched rectangular format and the 3:2 ratio still dominates digital SLRs. Olympus' Four Thirds System
digital format of 2002 is the latest attempt at a narrower, albeit not square, format. Note that dual 24×24 mm frames on 135 film were used by the non-SLR David White Stereo Realist
(USA, 1947), leader of the 1950s stereo photography fad.1954: Asahiflex IIB
(Japan; called Sears Tower 23
in USA): first SLR with reliable instant return mirror.1954: Praktina FX
(East Germany): first available spring powered motor drive accessory for SLR, first breech-lock lens mount.1954: Tokiwa Seiki Firstflex 35
(Japan): first interchangeable lens, leaf shutter 35 mm SLR. Otherwise a wholly forgettable camera; cheaply made to low specifications and of poor quality, with waist level finder.1955: Miranda T
(Japan): first Japanese pentaprism eyelevel viewing 35 mm SLR. Note that the Tokiwa Seiki Pentaflex
(Japan), a modified Firstflex 35 (see above), had an eyelevel viewfinder four months before the Miranda, but using a porroprism.1956: Zeiss Ikon Contaflex III
(West Germany): first high-quality, interchangeable lens, leaf shutter 35 mm SLR. Was improved Contaflex I (see above) with bayonet mounted front cell lenses.1957: Asahi Pentax
(Japan; called Sears Tower 26
in USA): first SLR with right-handed rapid-wind thumb lever, first fold-out film rewind crank, first microprism focusing aid. First Asahi SLR with M42 screw mount
. Established the "modern" control layout of the 35 mm SLR. Well-integrated focal plane shutter, instant return mirror and pentaprism design.1957: Hasselblad 500C
(Sweden): replaced the Hasselblad 1600F/1000F's (see above) problematic focal plane shutter with reliable interlens Synchro-Compur leaf shutters and made the 2¼ medium format SLR the dominant professional studio camera by the late 1950s. Well-integrated, durable and reliable design without instant return mirror, but with excellent auto-diaphragm interchangeable lenses and large accessory system.1958: Zunow SLR
(Japan): first internal auto-diaphragm (Zunow-matic Diaphragm System) 35 mm SLR and lenses. Well-integrated focal plane shutter, instant return mirror, pentaprism and auto-diaphragm design with excellent lenses and good accessory system. Stopping down (closing) the lens aperture (iris) to prepare for exposure transmits less light to the mirror and the viewfinder may become very dim - perhaps even too dark to see the image. Auto-diaphragms coupled to the shutter release that automatically stop down when the mirror swings up and reopen when the mirror comes down provides almost continuous fully open aperture viewing. Auto-diaphragm lenses and instant return mirror, focal plane shutter SLRs require precise camera-to-lens linkage, but can choreograph the entire shutter-button release, raise mirror, close lens, open shutter, close shutter, open lens, lower mirror exposure sequence in as little as ⅛th second. Originally, these were mechanical spring/gear/lever systems energized concurrent with manually winding the film, but modern systems are electronically timed and operated by an electromagnet
. The financially weak Zunow company was unable to capitalize on its design; few examples of the camera (and much fewer of the wide and tele lenses for it) were produced before the company switched back to lenses for other companies' cameras. Zunow went bankrupt in 1961.1959: Zeiss Ikon Contarex
(West Germany): first SLR with a built-in light meter coupled to a viewfinder exposure control indicator – a galvanometer needle pointer. It had an external, circular selenium photoelectric cell mounted above the lens; earning it "Bullseye" (in USA) and "Cyclops" (in UK) nicknames. For proper exposure, the photographer would adjust the meter, which was also coupled to the shutter speed and lens aperture, until the needle was centered on a mark. (The Carl Braun Paxette Reflex
[West Germany] leaf shutter SLR had an external top mounted, coupled light meter needle system in 1958.) The Contarex also had interchangeable film backs, a feature common with medium format SLRs and used in some 35mm rangefinder cameras, but almost exclusive to Contarex/Contaflex series among 35 mm SLRs. Although Contarex SLRs and their Zeiss lenses were of extremely high quality, they were also extremely expensive and of idiosyncratic (even clumsy) handling.1959: Nikon F
(Japan): first pro caliber 35 mm system SLR, first electric motor drive accessory for SLR. (The Japanese Nikon S2
35 mm rangefinder camera had first electric motor drive for any camera type in 1954.) Well-integrated, durable and reliable focal plane shutter, instant return mirror, pentaprism and auto-diaphragm design with excellent interchangeable lenses and huge accessory system. Although the F was not technologically ground-breaking, it sold 862,600 units and made the 35 mm SLR the dominant professional miniature format camera (displacing the 35 mm RF) by the early 1960s. The perfection of the optical and mechanical formulae of the interchangeable lens SLR in the one-two punch of the Hasselblad 500C (see above) and Nikon F also ended the popularity of the medium format twin-lens reflex
(TLR) camera (typified by the Franke & Heidecke Rolleiflex/Rolleicord
series (Germany, later West Germany)) by the early 1960s. The F's improved successor, the Nikon F2
(Japan) of 1971, is widely regarded as the finest mechanically controlled 35 mm SLR camera ever made.1959: Voigtländer–Zoomar 1:2.8 f=36mm–82mm
(USA/West Germany): first zoom lens for 35 mm still cameras. Designed by Zoomar in USA and manufactured by Kilfitt in West Germany for Voigtländer. Originally mounted for Voigtländer Bessamatic
series (West Germany) 35 mm leaf shutter SLRs, but later available in Exakta and other mounts.
1960: Royer Savoyflex Automatique
(France): first autoexposure SLR. Had an unreliable mechanical shutter-priority autoexposure system controlled by an external selenium light meter, Prontor leaf shutter and fixed 50 mm f/2.8 Som-Berthiot lens. The first autoexposure still camera was the non-SLR Kodak Super Kodak Six-20
(USA) of 1938 with a mechanical system controlling both aperture and shutter speed via trapped-needle method coupled to external selenium photoelectric cell.1960: Krasnogorsky Mekhanichesky Zavod (KMZ
(Soviet Union; Нарцисс
): first subminiature SLR. Took 14×21 mm frames on unperforated, specially spooled 16 mm film. Compact design with interchangeable lenses and removable finder. Submini film format cameras (those using smaller than 135 film) have always been unpopular with serious photographers because the very high level of enlargement needed to make even small 3½×5 inch prints from such tiny negatives can magnify normally minor image limitations unless using the highest quality cameras, lenses and films.1962: Nikkorex Zoom 35
(Japan): first 35 mm SLR with fixed zoom lens (Zoom-Nikkor Auto 43–86 mm f/3.5
). Had non-pentaprism, four mirror reflex viewfinder and leaf shutter. Fixed lens SLRs have been an occasional phenomenon bridging simpler viewfinder cameras and more ambitious interchangeable lens SLRs. Presently, they are off-again with non-SLR electronic viewfinder (EVF) superzoom digital cameras occupying this market segment.1963: Olympus Pen F
(Japan): first single frame (also called half frame) 35 mm SLR. Took up to 72 exposures of vertical 18×24 mm frames on 135 film. Had flat-topped non-pentaprism porroprism reflex and optical relay viewfinder, and rotary focal plane shutter. Well-integrated compact design with excellent interchangeable lenses and large accessory system. The original non-SLR Olympus Pen
(Japan) of 1960 helped give 35 mm still cameras that used the standard motion picture frame size of 35 mm film a burst of popularity. It ended by the late 1960s. Although single frame cameras used standard 135 film, single frame photofinishing was always special-order. Kyocera
/Yashica unsuccessfully attempted to revive the format as "Double 35" with their Yashica Samurai
series (Japan) SLRs in 1988.1963: Topcon RE Super
(Japan; called Super D
in USA; name became Super D worldwide in 1972): first SLR with through-the-lens (TTL) light meter for convenient exposure control. Had internal cadmium sulfide (CdS) cells mounted behind non-silvered slits in the reflex mirror for coupled center-the-needle, open aperture, full area averaging metering with auto-diaphragm lenses. Film is rated at a particular "speed" sensitivity. It needs a specific amount of light to form an image. Originally separate selenium photoelectric devices to sense the ambient light, miniature light meters built into the camera that gave TTL light exposure readings were a great leap forward in convenience introduced by the Feinwerk Technik Mec 16SB
(West Germany) non-SLR subminiature (10×14 mm frames on 16 mm film) camera in 1960. TTL metering became normal in virtually all 35 mm SLRs by the late 1960s. The durable and rugged RE Super had excellent interchangeable Exakta mount lenses and was the only pro level 35 mm SLR to compete with the Nikon F (see above) with any success. However, Topcons never progressed and Tokyo Kogaku (or Tokyo Optical) quit the consumer camera business circa 1980.1964: Asahi
(Honeywell in USA) Pentax Spotmatic
(Japan): second SLR with coupled center-the-needle TTL metering (stop-down aperture, full area averaging). Well-integrated, compact and reliable focal plane shutter, instant return mirror and pentaprism design with excellent non-auto-diaphragm interchangeable lenses. Although the Spotmatic's stop-down (manual diaphragm lenses) system was less convenient than the RE Super's open aperture (auto-diaphragm lenses) system, the Spotmatic's two CdS cells on either side of the eyepiece reading off the focusing screen was less expensive and complex than the RE Super's system (see above), and thereby more popular. The Spotmatic's TTL system was (and is) very influential and widely imitated, often with open aperture. It (and rival TTL metering SLRs, including the Canon FT
[1966; stop-down aperture, partial area], Minolta SRT101
[1966; open aperture, modified centerweighted] and Nikkormat FTN
[1967; open aperture, centerweighted]; all from Japan) made the Japanese 35 mm SLR the dominant advanced amateur camera by the late 1960s.1964: Krasnogorsky Mekhanichesky Zavod (KMZ
) Zenit 5
(Soviet Union; Зенит 5
): first SLR with built-in electric motor drive. Had a nicad battery powered motor for automatic single-frame film advance with a backup film wind knob. Built-in motor drives did not become common in 35 mm SLRs until the mid 1980s when high-powered, energy efficient micro-motors were perfected, but accessory drives or autowinders taking four to twelve AA (LR6) batteries were very popular in the 1970s. This is, of course, a non-issue in modern digital SLRs.1964: Kodak Retina Reflex IV
(USA/West Germany): first SLR with standard ISO hot shoe
atop the pentaprism housing for direct flash mounting and synchronization. Was a 35 mm, leaf shutter design. A flash is a necessary accessory for auxiliary or fill light in dim or high contrast conditions. The first camera with any kind of hot shoe connector was the Univex Mercury
(USA) non-SLR half frame 35 mm in 1938 and many post World War 2 non-SLRs had a Leica-type accessory shoe with added electrical contact (the present day ISO hot shoe). Although the Nikon F
(see above) had a non-ISO hot shoe surrounding the film rewind crank in 1959, most 1960s 35 mm SLRs used screw-on accessory shoes attached to the eyepiece to mount flashes but a PC cable socket to sync them. The ISO hot shoe became a standard SLR feature feature in the early 1970s. However, in 1971, SLRs using "dedicated" electronic flashes with automatic flash exposure control began appearing with the Canon FTb
(Japan). They used ISO-style shoes with extra electrical contacts. Each SLR brand used incompatible contact configurations and the time of use-any-flash-with-any-SLR passed by the late 1970s.1965: Canon Pellix
(Japan): first pellicle reflex mirror SLR. Virtually all SLRs use fast moving reflex mirrors that swivel out of the way to take the picture, causing mirror shock vibration, blacking-out the viewfinder and delaying shutter firing. Camera shake can blur the image and the subject (which might have moved) cannot be seen at the instant of exposure. A fixed semi-transparent pellicle reflex mirror, reflecting 30% of the light to the viewfinder and transmitting 70% to the film, prevents camera shake and viewfinder blackout, and reduces shutter lag time at the costs of a dimmer viewfinder image, longer exposure times and possible image quality loss. Modern instant return mirrors are fast enough and have efficient enough shock damping systems that the trade offs are not usually considered worthwhile. Pellicle mirror SLRs are very rare and are usually specialized designs for ultra-high speed (10+ frames per second) sequence shooting.1966: Praktica Electronic
(East Germany) first SLR with an electronically controlled shutter. Used electronic circuitry to time its focal plane shutter instead of spring /gear/lever clockwork mechanisms.1966: Konica Autorex
(Japan; called AutoReflex
in USA): first 35mm SLR with successful shutter-priority automation using a focal plane shutter. The camera also had the rare ability to allow selection between frame sizes (horizontal 24×36 mm or vertical 18×24 mm) between frames on the same roll of film. The camera used a mechanical 'trap-needle' autoexposure system controlled by an external CdS meter that read light directly (not through-the-lens).1967: Zeiss Ikon Contaflex 126
(West Germany): first Kodapak Instamatic 126 cartridge film
SLR. Was a Voigtländer focal plane shutter design unrelated to 35 mm Contaflexes (see above), accepting fully interchangeable lenses. Took 26.5×26.5 mm frames on paper-backed, singly-perforated, 35 mm wide film pre-threaded into double-ended cartridge with film supply and take-up spools. Drop-in loading 126 film was introduced in 1963 as Kodak
's first attempt (of many) to solve the problem of amateurs' difficulty in loading 135 film
manually. It was briefly an extremely popular non-SLR snapshot format, but almost dead by 1972.1968: Konica Autoreflex T
(Japan): first SLR with internal open aperture TTL metering autoexposure (mechanical shutter-priority). Was an improved Konica AutoReflex (see above) with internal CdS centerweighted light meter and reduced shutter button travel, but without half frame capability.1968: OP Fisheye-Nikkor 10 mm f/5.6
(Japan): first SLR lens with aspherical elements. Was a 180º orthographic projection fisheye lens for Nikon and Nikkormat 35 mm SLRs. Typical lens elements have spherically curved surfaces. However, this causes off-axis light to be focused closer to the lens than axial rays (spherical aberration) and degrading image sharpness; especially severe in retrofocus wide-angle lenses. This can be prevented by using elements with convoluted aspheric curves. Although this was understood for over a century, the grinding of aspheric glass surfaces was extremely difficult and prevented their consumer use until the Nikkor 10 mm. The Asahi SMC Takumar 15 mm f/3.5
(Japan/West Germany) of 1975 was the first rectilinear SLR lens with aspherical elements; for M42 screw mount Asahi Pentax SLRs (co-designed with Carl Zeiss [Oberkochen]). The use of modern precision molded plastic or glass aspheric lens elements has made aspheric lenses common today.1969: Yashica TL Electro X
(Japan): first SLR with all solid-state electronic light metering system. Had a stop-down aperture, full area averaging, CdS light meter linked via a four transistor circuit board to an extinguish-both-red-over-and-underexposure-arrow-lights exposure control system instead of a galvanometer meter needle. Also had another four transistor timing circuit to electronically control its metal-bladed Copal Square SE focal plane shutter.1969: Asahi
(Honeywell in USA) Pentax 6×7
(Japan; name shortened to Pentax 67
in 1990): first 67 medium format SLR. Took ten exposures of 2¼×2¾ inch (6×7 cm) nominal frames (56×69.5 mm actual frames) on 120 film
. The 67 format is called "perfect" or "ideal," because its aspect ratio enlarges to an 8×10 inch print without cropping. The Pentax 6×7 resembled a greatly scaled-up 35 mm SLR.
1970: Mamiya RB 67
(Japan): first 67 medium format system SLR. Took ten exposures of 2¼×2¾ inch (6×7 cm) nominal frames (56×69.5 mm actual frames) on 120 film
. Also had "revolving" rotatable interchangeable film backs to easily take vertical photographs with the normally horizontal format and standard interchangeable waist level viewfinder.1971: Asahi SMC Takumar
lenses (Japan): first all multicoated (Super-Multi-Coated) lenses for consumer cameras; for M42 screw mount
Asahi Pentax SLRs. Process co-developed with Carl Zeiss (Oberkochen, West Germany). Lenses with glass elements "single-coated" with a very thin layer (about 130-140 nanometers) of magnesium or calcium fluoride to suppress flare producing surface reflections became standard for high quality cameras by the early 1950s. Coating lenses with up to a dozen different layers of chemicals to suppress reflections across the visual spectrum (instead of at only one compromise wavelength) was a logical progression.1971: Asahi Pentax Electro Spotmatic
(Japan; name shortened to Asahi Pentax ES
in 1972; called Honeywell Pentax ES
in USA): first SLR with electronic aperture-priority (using stop-down TTL metering) autoexposure plus electronically controlled shutter. Earlier mechanical AE systems tended to be unreliable, but reliable and convenient AE systems (as well as other electronic control systems) that electronically set either the camera shutter speed or lens aperture from light meter readings once the other was manually set began with the Electro Spotmatic. Rival electronic AE SLRs included the Canon EF
(1973; shutter priority), Minolta XE–7
(1972; aperture priority) and Nikkormat EL
(1972; aperture priority), all from Japan. Electronic AE came to most 35 mm SLRs by the late 1970s. The Japanese electronic AE SLR effectively ended the German camera industry when they failed to keep up with their Japanese counterparts. After ailing throughout the 1960s, such famous nameplates as Contax, Exakta, Leica, Rollei and Voigtländer went bankrupt, were sold off, contracted production to East Asia, or became boutique brands in the 1970s.1971: Praktica LLC
(East Germany): first interchangeable lens camera with electric contact lens mount, first camera with electromechanical lens diaphragm stopdown control. Had M42 screw mount
modified for open aperture metering. The M42 mount was a very popular interchangeable lens mount system for a quarter century. It was used by almost two dozen different SLR brands, most notably Asahi Pentax. (Asahi became so closely associated with this mount that it was, and still is, often erroneously referred to as the Pentax screw mount.) However, by the early 1970s, the M42's limitations, especially no provision for auto-diaphragm lens open aperture viewing and metering, were becoming serious liabilities. After unpopular and uncoordinated attempts to modify the screw mount to support auto-diaphragm lenses with open aperture metering, Asahi in 1975 abandoned the M42 screw mount, effectively ending production of this lens mounting system.1972: Polaroid SX-70
(USA): first instant film SLR. Had non-pentaprism mirror reflex system and electronic autoexposure in flat-folding body with bellows and fixed 116 mm f/8 lens. Took ten exposure, 3⅛×3⅛ inch frame Polaroid SX-70 instant film packs. The principle of self-developing "instant photography" came to Edwin Land
in 1943. The first production instant camera was the non-SLR Polaroid Land Model 95
(USA) of 1948, producing sepia-toned, peel-apart pictures. Steady improvements culminated in the seven year, nearly quarter-billion dollar SX-70 camera and film project to create full-color, self-contained, develop-before-your-eyes, "garbage-free" prints.1972: Fujica ST801
(Japan): first SLR with viewfinder light emitting diodes
. Had a seven LED dot scale to indicate extreme overexposure, +2 EV, +1 EV, correct exposure, -1 EV, -2 EV, extreme underexposure readings of its silicon photodiode light meter, instead of the traditional but delicate galvanometer needle pointer. A sister camera, the Fujica ST901
(Japan) of 1974, was the first SLR with a viewfinder LED digital data display. It had calculator-style LEDs showing camera's aperture priority autoexposure set shutter speeds from 20 to 1/1000th second in 14 nonstandard steps. Although they were replaced by more energy efficient and informative LCDs in the 1980s (see Nikon F3, below), the use of LEDs in the ST801/ST901 were major steps in the escalation of electronics in 1970s camera design1972: Olympus OM-1
(Japan): first compact full-featured 35 mm SLR. At 83×136×50 mm and 510 g, it was about two-thirds the size and weight of most earlier 35 mm SLRs. Excellent mechanical design with excellent interchangeable lenses and large accessory system. Note that the initial production camera models were marked with the M-1
designation, but this designation was quickly changed when E. Leitz objected over conflicts with their Leica M-series RFs trademarks. This camera is currently a collector's item SLR.1974: Vivitar Series 1 70–210mm f/3.5
(USA/Japan): first professional-level quality macro zoom lens for 35 mm SLRs. Early zoom lenses often had very inferior optical quality compared to prime lenses, but improvements in zoom lens design and construction allowed annual Japanese 35 mm SLR zoom lens production to surpass prime lenses in 1982 and zooms became normal on virtually all but the highest end still cameras by the late 1980s.1975: Mamiya M645
(Japan): first 645 medium format system SLR. Took fifteen exposures of 2¼×1⅝ inch (6×4.5 cm) nominal frames (56×41.5 mm actual frames) on 120 film
.1975: Olympus OM-2
(Japan): first SLR with TTL, off-the-film (OTF) flash autoexposure. Had two rearward facing silicon photodiodes in the mirror box to meter light reflecting off the film. Circuitry could detect when enough light was exposed and automatically quench a specially "dedicated" accessory Olympus Quick Auto 310
electronic flash. Manual flash exposure control for a natural look is complex and convenient TTL autoflash metering became standard in virtually all SLRs by the mid 1980s.1976: Canon AE-1
(Japan): first SLR with microprocessor electronics. Well-integrated and compact shutter-priority autoexposure design with excellent interchangeable lenses and large accessory system. Backed by a major advertising campaign, including celebrity endorsements, TV commercials and a catchy slogan ("So advanced, it's simple."), that targeted snapshooters, the AE-1 sold five million units and immediately made the 35 mm SLR an important mass-market camera. An improved model, the Canon AE-1 Program
(Japan) of 1981, added another four million units to the tally.1976: Asahi Pentax ME
(Japan): first autoexposure-only SLR. Had aperture-priority exposure control only (photographer could not manually select a shutter speed) for simple snapshooter operation. Interchangeable lens autoexposure-only SLRs disappeared in the mid 1980s, because even snapshooters demanded that SLRs (as "good cameras") have a manual mode. However, most recent amateurs never use manual control and even some professionals depend on autoexposure, making the great majority of modern SLRs de facto
autoexposure-only cameras.1976: Minolta 110 Zoom SLR
(Japan): first Pocket Instamatic 110 cartridge film
SLR. Had built-in zoom lens (fixed 25–50 mm f/4.5 Zoom Rokkor-Macro). Took up to 24 exposures of 13×17 mm frames on paper-backed, singly-perforated, 16 mm wide film pre-threaded into double-ended cartridge with film supply and take-up spools. Compact, drop-in loading 110 film was introduced by Kodak
in 1972. It was briefly an extremely popular non-SLR snapshot format but almost dead by 1982.1977: Fujica AZ-1
(Japan): first interchangeable lens camera to be sold with a zoom lens as the primary lens. The AZ-1's Fujinon-Z 43-75 mm f/3.5-4.5
zoom, despite its modest specifications, was the earliest attempt to supersede the 35 mm SLR's heretofore standard 50 to 58 mm "normal" prime lens with today's ubiquitous zoom lens. The regular Fujinon-Z 55 mm f/1.8 lens remained a popular option. The AZ-1 was also one of the last Japanese-made M42 screw mount
cameras released. The purchase of a zoom instead of a prime as the first lens became normal with virtually all amateur 35 mm SLRs in the latter 1980s.1977: Minolta XD11
(Japan; called XD7
in Europe, XD
in Japan): first dual mode autoexposure SLR. Had both aperture-priority and shutter-priority autoexposure. Previously, each AE SLR brand offered only one or the other mode, and aggressively touted their choice as superior to other. The XD11 offered both modes and trumped the debate.1978: Canon A-1
(Japan): first SLR with an electronically controlled programmed autoexposure mode. Instead of the photographer picking a shutter speed to freeze or blur motion and choosing a lens aperture f-stop to control depth of field (focus), the A-1 had a microprocessor computer programmed to automatically select a compromise exposure from light meter input. Virtually all cameras had some sort of program mode or modes by the mid-1980s. It was also the first camera to have all four of the now standard PASM (program/aperture-priority/shutter-priority/manual) exposure modes. Canon's long term emphasis on the highest possible technology eventually allowed the company to dominate the 35 mm SLR market; first at the amateur level, with their AE-1 (see above) and A-1, and then (despite a stumble in the mid 1980s when they came late to autofocus) the professional level in the early 1990s with the Canon EOS-1
(Japan) of 1989. Canon remains the leading digital SLR maker, with a 43% worldwide market share in 2007.1978: Polaroid SX-70 Sonar OneStep
(USA): first electronic autofocus SLR. Had active ultrasonic sonar echo-location rangefinder AF system. This unique-to-Polaroid AF system had no influence on any other type of AF SLR. Took ten exposure, 3⅛×3⅛ inch frame, Polaroid Time-Zero SX-70 instant film packs.1978: Asahi Pentax Auto 110
(Japan): first interchangeable lens Pocket Instamatic 110 film
system SLR. Mini-35mm SLR-like programmed autoexposure design with good interchangeable lenses and large accessory system. Was the smallest and lightest SLR ever made – 56×99×45 mm, 185 g with Pentax-110 24 mm f/2.8 lens. The Auto 110 and its improved successor, the Pentax Auto 110 Super
(Japan) of 1982, were the only interchangeable lens 110 SLRs ever produced and the most advanced 110 cameras ever made, but were unable to prevent the demise of 110 film.1979: Konica FS-1
(Japan): first SLR with built-in motorized autoloading. Also had autowinding (motorized single frame or continuous up to 1.5 frames per second film advance), but not auto-rewind. A snapshooter's great dislike (and Kodak bugbear) of 135 film was the need to manually thread the film leader into the camera's take-up spool. Built-in, motorized, automated film-transport systems (auto-load/wind/rewind) arrived with the Canon T70
(Japan) in 1984. Completely automated film handling systems appeared when automatic "DX" film speed setting was added to auto-transport in the Minolta Alpha/Maxxum 7000
(Japan; see below) in 1985 and became standard in virtually all 35 mm SLRs by late 1980s. This is, of course, a non-issue in modern digital SLRs.1979: Asahi Pentax ME Super
(Japan): first SLR with primarily electronic push button controls. Had increase/decrease push buttons for shutter speed selection instead of a traditional shutter speed dial. As digital computerized SLR features multiplied, push button controls also multiplied and replaced analogue electromechanical dial switches in most 35 mm SLRs by late 1980s.1979: Sedic Hanimex Reflex Flash 35
(Australia/Japan): first SLR with built-in electronic flash. Otherwise a wholly forgettable camera; a cheaply made 35 mm SLR of low specifications and poor quality, with a fixed Hanimar 41 mm f/2.8 lens and mirror gate shutter.
1980: Nikon F3
(Japan): first SLR with viewfinder liquid crystal display
digital data display. LCD showed shutter speeds; manual mode and under/overexposure indicators. As computerized SLR features multiplied, comprehensive viewfinder LCD panels became normal in virtually all 35 mm SLRs by late 1980s1981: Rolleiflex SL 2000 F
(West Germany): first 35 mm SLR to not use the oblong body plus viewfinder head configuration and handling established by the Kine Exacta, 45 years before (see above). Had a cubic body, like a miniature 2¼ medium format SLR, with fixed dual telescopic eyelevel plus folding waist level finder. Also had interchangeable film backs, built-in motor drive, aperture priority AE and TTL autoflash. The 1980s saw varied attempts to stand out in a crowded marketplace by using unconventional 35 mm SLR body layouts. Besides the professional level Rolleiflex, they included the vertical Yashica Samurai
series and the flat Ricoh Mirai
(both 1988 and from Japan) point-and-shoot SLRs. They were all unsuccessful in establishing a new paradigm and the rectangular body plus pentaprism head layout reemerged universal again in the early 1990s, albeit usually with a large handgrip and rounded contours.1981: Pentax ME F
(Japan): first built-in autofocus 35 mm SLR. Had passive contrast detection AF system. Autofocused poorly and was not commercially successful. Also had Pentax K-F mount
, a unique bayonet lens mount with five electric contact pins to pass focus control information between the ME F and its unique autofocusing SMC Pentax AF 35mm-70mm f/2.8 Zoom Lens
. Note that the Ricoh AF Rikenon 50mm f/2
(Japan) lens of 1980 had a self-contained passive electronic rangefinder AF system in a bulky top-mounted box and was the first interchangeable autofocus SLR lens (for any Pentax K mount 35 mm SLR).1982: Ricoh XR-S
(Japan): first (and only) solar powered SLR. Was a Ricoh XR-7
(Japan) aperture priority AE 35 mm SLR of 1981 modified with two silicon photovoltaic cells in the sides of the pentaprism housing that charged a unique "5-year" rechargeable 6 volt silver oxide battery. This battery could be replaced with two regular 1.5 volt S76 (SR44) silver oxide batteries. The XR-7 and XR-S also had unusual viewfinder LCD showing meter pseudo-needle pointing along an analogue shutter speed scale to indicate light meter recommended settings, mimicking a traditional galvanometer needle.1982: Polaroid SLR 680
(USA): first high-quality SLR with built-in electronic flash. Also had active sonar echo-location AF system. Took ten exposure, 3⅛×3⅛ inch frame Polaroid 600 instant film packs. Was improved Polaroid SX-70 Sonar OneStep (see above) AF SLR with almost-all plastic (acrylonitrile butadiene styrene
(ABS)) body, built-in flash and faster film. The SLR 680 represents the zenith of instant photography and was the finest instant camera ever made. For a time in the 1960s and 70s, Polaroid instant cameras outsold all other high-end cameras combined, but the popularity of instant photography waned throughout the 1980s as auto-everything 35 mm point-and-shoot cameras and fast one-hour film developing became common. Polaroid went bankrupt in 2001.1983: Pentax Super A
(Japan; called Super Program
in USA): first SLR with external LCD data display. With push buttons for shutter speed selection instead of a shutter speed dial, the Super Program used an LCD to show set shutter speed. As computerized SLR features multiplied, large external LCD panels became normal on virtually all 35 mm SLRs by the late 1980s.1983: Nikon FA
(Japan): first camera with multi-segmented (or matrix or evaluative; called Automatic Multi-Pattern) light meter. The FA had a built-in computer system programmed to analyze light levels in different segments of the field of view for convenient exposure control in difficult lighting situations. Earlier metering systems could be fooled 10+% of the time, and matrix metering systems became virtually standard in 35 mm SLRs by 1990. Modern matrix meters are virtually 100% technically accurate. Note however, the technically correct "18% gray" exposure is not necessarily the artistically desirable exposure.1983: Olympus OM-4
(Japan): first camera with built-in multiple spot-meter (2% of view; 3.3º with 50 mm lens). Meter could measure eight individual spots and average them for precise exposure control in difficult lighting situations. Spotmeters versus matrix meters represent the opposite ends of the light meter spectrum: fully manual contemplative metering versus completely computerized instantaneous metering. 1985: Minolta Alpha 7000
(Japan; called Maxxum 7000
in USA): first commercially successful autofocus 35 mm SLR, first passive phase comparison AF SLR, first system AF SLR, first SLR with completely automated film handling (auto-load/wind/rewind/speed setting). Well-integrated PASM autoexposure and built-in motor winder design with very good interchangeable lenses and large accessory system. Ever since the first autofocus camera, the non-SLR Konica C35 AF
35 mm P/S of 1977 (with its built-in passive electronic rangefinder system), AF had been common in 35 mm point-and-shoot cameras. The phenomenal success of the Maxxum immediately made the AF SLR the dominant 35 mm SLR type.1985: Kiron 28-210mm f/4-5.6
(Japan): first very large ratio focal length "superzoom" lens for still cameras. Was first 135 film zoom lens to range from standard wide angle to long telephoto; albeit with a small variable maximum aperture to keep size, weight and cost within reason. Although consumer Super-8
movie and Betamax
video cameras long had superzooms, early 35 mm SLR zoom focal length ratios rarely exceeded 3 to 1, because of 135 film's much higher acceptable image standards. Despite their many image quality compromises, convenient superzooms (sometimes with ratios over 10 to 1) became common on amateur level 35 mm SLRs by the late 1990s. They remain a standard lens on today's amateur digital SLRs, with the Tamron AF18-270mm f/3.5-6.3 Di II VC LD Aspherical (IF) MACRO
attaining 15× in 2008.1987: Pentax SFX
(Japan; called SF1
in USA): first interchangeable lens SLR with built-in electronic flash (first built-in flash with TTL autoexposure in any camera). Built-in electronic flashes for convenient auxiliary light in dim situations or for fill-light in high contrast situations first appeared on the non-SLR Voigtländer Vitrona
(West Germany) of 1964 and had been common on point-and-shoot cameras since the mid 1970s. Built-in TTL autoflashes became standard on all but the most expensive 35 mm SLRs cameras by the early 1990s.1987: Canon EF
mount (Japan): first all-electronic contact camera lens mount for interchangeable lens cameras. Introduced by Canon EOS 650
and EOS 620
SLR bodies and Canon EF lenses, this lens mount is essentially a computer data port. Mechanical camera-to-lens linkages can link auto-diaphragm lenses and instant return mirror, focal plane shutter SLRs, but electronic autofocus required additional electronic data exchange between camera and lens. Canon decided to place everything under electronic control, even though it meant that earlier Canon lenses would not be usable with the new bodies.1989: Yashica Samurai Z-L
(Japan): first SLR intentionally designed for left-handed operation. Took up to 72 exposures of horizontal 18×24 mm single frames (also called half frames) on 135 type film. Had flat-topped non-pentaprism mirror reflex and optical relay viewfinder. Also had unique-to-Samurai-series vertical body design with fixed autofocus 25–75 mm f/4–5.6 zoom lens, interlens leaf shutter, programmed autoexposure, built-in motor drive and electronic flash. Was mirror copy of auto-everything, point-and-shoot Samurai Z
1991: Kodak Digital Camera System DCS
(USA/Japan): first digital still capture SLR. Was a heavily modified Nikon F3
(Japan) 35 mm SLR and MD-4 motor drive with 1024×1280 pixel (1.3 MP) charge-coupled-device (CCD) sensor, 8 MB DRAM memory and a tethered 200 MB (160 images) Digital Storage Unit (DSU) hard drive. Used manual focus Nikon F mount lenses with 2× lens field of view factor compared to standard 135 film. List price was US$19,995 (standard Nikon F3HP was US$1295 list; MD-4, US$485). Electronic still (then using analogue processing and called still video) photography was first publicly demonstrated by original Sony Mavica
(Japan) 490×570 pixel (280 kP) CCD, prototype SLR camera in 1981. Digital photography did not alter the basic focal plane shutter, instant return mirror, pentaprism, auto-diaphragm lens, TTL meter, autoexposure and autofocus formula of SLR camera design developed over the previous century - except, of course, it is filmless.1992: Nikonos RS
(Japan): first waterproof 35 mm system SLR for 100 m maximum depth, underwater diving use. Had autofocus, autoexposure, TTL autoflash, excellent interchangeable lenses and good accessory system.1995: Canon EF 75-300mm f/4-5.6 IS USM
(Japan): first SLR lens with built-in image stabilization (called Image Stabilizer; for Canon EOS 35 mm SLRs). Had an electromechanical system to detect and counteract handheld camera/lens unsteadiness, allowing sharp photographs of static subjects at shutter speeds much slower than normally possible without a tripod. The first stabilized lens for consumer cameras was the 38-105 mm f/4-7.8 lens built into the Nikon Zoom-Touch 105 VR
(Japan) 35 mm point-and-shoot of 1994. Image stabilized lenses were initially very expensive and used mostly by professional photographers. Stabilization surged into the amateur digital SLR market in 2006 – although there is now a great engineering and marketing battle over whether the system should be lens-based (counter-shift lens elements) or camera-based (counter-shift image sensor).1996: Minolta Vectis S-1
(Japan/Malaysia): first Advanced Photo System
(APS) IX240 film SLR. Took up to forty exposures of 16.7×30.2 mm frames on polyethylene napthalate base, singly-perforated 24 mm wide film coated with invisible magnetic data encoding stripe, pre-loaded into self-locking ready-to-use cartridges. Had flat-topped non-pentaprism sideways mirror reflex and optical relay viewfinder. Compact design with good lenses and large accessory system. APS film was introduced by Kodak, Canon, Fuji, Minolta and Nikon in 1996 as Kodak's last attempt (of many) at drop-in film loading. APS was moderately popular, but faded quickly and almost dead by 2002.
2000: Canon EOS D30
(Japan): first complementary metal-oxide-semiconductor (CMOS) sensor digital SLR; first digital SLR intended to be a relatively affordable, advanced amateur level camera. Took up to 1440×2160 pixel (3.11 MP) digital images. Used Canon EF mount lenses with a 1.6× lens factor, compared to 135 film. The use of a cheaper and lower quality CMOS sensor allowed a price (US$3499 initial list price; US$2999 in 2001; body only) about half of contemporary professional CCD digital SLRs; giving ambitious amateurs the choice of an interchangeable lens digital SLR, in addition to the digital point-and-shoots common in the late 1990s.2003: Canon EOS Kiss Digital
(Japan; called EOS Digital Rebel
in USA, EOS 300D Digital
in Europe): first sub-US$1000 high-resolution digital SLR. Well-integrated focal plane shutter, instant return mirror, pentamirror, auto-diaphragm, autoexposure, matrix-metering, autofocus, built-in autoflash, computer-controlled design with excellent lenses and good accessory system. Took up to 2048×3072 pixel (6.3 MP) digital images using a 15.1×22.7 mm complementary metal-oxide-semiconductor (CMOS) sensor (1.6× lens factor). With an original list price of US$899 (body only; US$999 with 18-55 mm f/3.5-5.6 Canon EF-S zoom lens), it sold 1.2 million units around the world in sixteen months and was primarily responsible for digital SLR sales vaulting past film SLR sales worldwide in 2004.2006: Olympus Evolt E-330
(Japan): first live view digital SLR. Had a secondary CCD sensor to send a live video feed to a swiveling 2.5 inch color LCD panel (normally used for camera function data) and allow its use as an auxiliary viewfinder when the photographer's eye cannot be at the SLR viewfinder eyepiece. A sharper live view mode was available that temporarily flipped aside the reflex mirror (blacking out the primary porro-mirror SLR viewfinder) and opened the shutter to send a live feed from the primary 2352×3136 pixel (7.5 MP) Four Thirds
format MOS image sensor. Most new for 2008 digital SLRs have a live view mode. Although today live view has limitations (unintelligibility in bright sunlight, image lag with moving subjects, rapid battery drain, etc.), its perfection, plus an electronic shutter, would make the expensive precision mechanisms and optics of a focal plane shutter, instant return mirror and pentaprism unnecessary and allow the camera to be a completely electronic device. (This has already occurred with snapshot cameras – the vast majority of point-and-shoot digital cameras lack an optical viewfinder.) In other words, live view has the potential to end the history of the single-lens reflex camera.
- The Japanese Historical Camera. 日本の歴史的カメラ (Nihon no rekishiteki kamera). 2nd ed. Tokyo: JCII Camera Museum, 2004. The (minimal) text is in both Japanese and English.
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