Modern Classic SLRs Series :
Canon New F-1 - The Shutter Mechanism

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The design concept and some personal view

Generally, the shutter has two basic functions: it protects the un-exposed film from light when not making an exposure, and it controls the amount of time the film is exposed to light when during an exposure process after you have tripped the shutter realease button or via a remote release.

New F-1 Backview.jpg (13k)
It is imperative that the professional's camera be equipped with a shutter durable enough to withstand anything short of abuse. The New F-1, behind the experiences that came along with the F-1, with its proven basics in shutter design, and applied new technology resulting with a shutter that claimed to be extremely durable.

As compared, it was more taxing for the shutter in the new camera than the previous F-1. Firstly, it needs precision speeds ranging from 1/2000 sec. to a full 8 sec., moreover, the New F-1 needed to be withstand harsh punishment by heavy users with an objective of provide trouble-free operation for over 100,000 exposures as in the case of the old F-1. Is the figure good enough ? Nikon has been capitalising on this point in terms of marketing, both the Nikon F2 and F3 has given official announcement that "It can provide trouble free mechanism and exposure cycles of minimum 150,000 exposures...".


This Canon's figure interpreted for durability and reliability has been retained on its current EF mount Auto Focus EOS1 and EOS1n. Thus, I don't think that is relevant. If a camera can accompany and assist you for a cycle of 15 years, one shouldn't complaint much.

Credit: Image courtesy of Mr. Claudio®. who is a collector for Canon photo gear, he also has an Ebay Section as well as maintaining a website on his own where occasionally trading some photo equipment. Image(s) copyright © 2003. All rights reserved. Please respect the visual property of the contributing photographer.

But in real life - sadly, the New F-1 doesn't has that luxury to last that long in business - although its rugged body could easily sail you on for a safe 20 years to a serious amateur. You think that was a joke ? Fine, but the New F-1 will be soon celebrating its twentieth anniversary in another few years time, and look at the F-1, that was a model launched in 1971 - closed to thirty years and you can refer to the Message Board of the F-1 and see what are those users commented up there and you will know what I meant. Thus, I respect those guys a lot behind the camera design - at least, they have given a definition of what is called longitivity and durability. Take a ride down here and you will understand of how much attention a camera was being made to that level of ruggedness.

Four Shafts.jpg (12k)
Basic structure of the Shutter mechanism

The New F-1 shutter is a four-shaft, horizontal-travel focal plane shutter designed for all uses.Titanium was chosen as the composite material, its focal-plane shutter travels horizontally and is mechanically controlled by four shafts integrated in the die-cast body. Al1 materials are critically selected for maximum durability to allow use under the harshest conditions imaginable.

ALL pro level cameras in the seventies and eighties were using horizontal-travel principle. Vertical-travel principle was rejected much due to image skewing of fast-moving subjects, although strangely, most mid-range models in the eighties were adopting the vertical travel focal plane shutter, made by metal blades or either titanium that has a shorter travelling time of the shutter, resulting in higher top shutter speed and more importantly, higher sync speed as well. Moreover, it would have been difficult to construct the New F-1's interchangeable viewfinder system with this design. The horizontal-travel shutter was ultimately chosen, mainly because of its durability and reduction of blur and image skewing. The four shaft design was adopted over the old-fashioned three-shaft design for its greater compactness. Moreover, the four-shaft design actually allows for a larger mirror-box, enabling better viewfinder coverage of the actual picture and better reflection baffling. The New F-1 has a very close 98% image coverage in the viewfinder, although still short of its main rival, Nikon F3's virtually 100% picture coverage. But the most attractive feature of the New F-1 to a photographer like me, was: Its shutter is controlled both electronically and mechanically. This hybrid design incorporates the best features of each system.

Why both? The reasoning is quite sound: completely electronic designs are battery-powered, occasionally leaving the photographer in the field without an operable camera. This being many a photographer's nightmare,
the New F-1 - operate both with and without a battery. If the battery suddenly fails and is removed from the camera, the New F-1 will still function at all speeds covered by mechanical control. The camera's mechanical shutter speeds range from 1/125 sec. to 1/2000 sec., in addition to flash sync (1/90 sec.), and "B" (bulb). (The Nikon has only a 1/60 back up speed workable mechanically, while Pentax LX works both ways just like the New F-1, from 1/2000 sec to X 1/75 sec and "B" setting.

Main Map.jpg (34k) may need sometime to download this image.
The Blue is on auto mode
while the gragh on green
is the mechanical shutter.
Credit: Canon Marketing

Note: Check the table for a easier reference

Through the New F-1's hybrid shutter design, the advantages of both electronic and mechanical control are combined for a more versatile and durable shutter. Since the shutter speeds from the top and higher speeds are mechanically governed, while the slower speeds (1/60 sec. to 8 sec.) are electronically controlled. Why lower speeds has to be electronically controlled ? Since mechanical parts, springs doesn't guaranteed shutter accuracy at lower speed range and a more complex mechanism required for aperture-priority AE operation, on the other hand, stepless speed control over the complete range of shutter speeds can be made to fine tune to exacting exposure and setting like time exposures (bulb mode) may be operated without battery drain. What about full AE ? Well, of cause the first thing crossed our mind is, camera operations completely may be disabled in the absence of battery or AC power but that was well covered by the New F-1 higher speed range and "B" setting that run mechanically. Thus, from both an accuracy and a reliability standpoint, cameras having only one method of shutter speed control are at a distinct disadvantage, so, both Pentax and Canon thought otherwise from the Nikon (It still has a 1/60 sec to operate if battery fails).

The New F-1 shutter is also coordinated with the flash synchronization circuit, and responds to the charge-completion signal of dedicated Canon Speedlites by automatically switching to X sync (1/90 sec). Therefore, when the New F-1 is used with a Canon Speedlite, it is not necessary to set the shutter dial to flash icon in the shutter dial (1/90 sec.). This system completely eliminates any chance of shutter speed setting error when using flash, of cause for flash makes other than the Canon, some have dedicated extra contact to make that works as well.

But how reliable the Canon has made that shutter ? Canon marketing service team in Malaysia has provided some very useful and informative info relating to that.

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Instruction Manual: Canon New F-1 Camera | Motor Drive FN | Canon High Speed Motor Drive Camera |
Main Reference/Layout Map for body: HTML | PDF (471k)
Specifications: HTML | PDF (58k)

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