The Golden Era of the SLR

October 2nd, 2012

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I was thumbing through some old Popular Mechanics magazines recently and came across a bunch of ads for Japanese SLRs from the late ’70s. For those only versed in the language of megapixels and memory cards, there was a time when cameras captured images on film (how novel!). SLR stands for single-lens reflex — basically, a camera with a mirror in front of the shutter that would flip up when a photo was taken to expose a frame of film. SLRs were a big deal back in the day since they allowed the photographer to see through the same lens that was capturing the image. You see before the SLR, the rangefinder was king. The rangefinder didn’t allow a person to see through the lens taking the picture, so the photographer had to rely on a parallax viewfinder to get a shot in focus. SLRs gained in popularity among professional photographers in the late ’60s, but the amateurs were largely ignored until the mid ’70s. One of the early consumer SLRs was the Minolta SRT-101, but this was still a fully manual camera, meaning the photographer had to set the exposure time and f-stop using dials and rings. But with advances in technology, microprocessor computing power was harnessed for use in SLRs. The real breakthrough came in 1976 when Canon introduced the AE-1. This camera allowed the photographer to shoot automatically by letting the camera choose the appropriate shutter speed and/or f-stop based on data from the light meter. The AE-1 also incorporated copper plated acrylonitrile-butadiene-styrene (ABS) in the camera body, which reduced the overall weight and brought manufacturing costs down. Interior mechanics were also given a modular treatment, bring the total number of internal parts down and further reduced manufacturing costs.
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My favorite SLR of the late ’70s and early ’80s is the Minolta X-570. This camera is similar in many respects to the AE-1 which I also like very much, but I feel the Minolta has a more refined designed. In particular, I like the simple arrangement of controls on the top of the X-570 which are well marked. The viewfinder is also nicely implemented with an LED display for shutter speed. Also, while Canon made great FD mount lens for the AE-1, I like Minolta’s MD lens just a little better. Plus, with an adapter, I can use M43 lens on the X-570. If you are looking a great SLR, both of these cameras are worth considering.

Entry Filed under: Film, Photography

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