In 1960, Nikon made the move from rangefinder to SLR along with Zeiss and the Contax. Meanwhile, the Canon 7 rangefinder came out in 1961, with the M39 Leica screw mount lens putting it in direct competition with the Leica M3 at the time. Canon may have seen this as their chance to pull ahead while Nikon was out of the rangefinder game, and it showed in their successful sales.
The Canon 7 has so many great features without crowding the camera in my opinion and without making it overly complicated. The biggest complaint Canon had with this camera was the lack of an accessory shoe, so they came out with a clip on shoe that attached to the side flash socket and laid across the top. Later, the Canon 7s did include a shoe.
Without the shoe, you can’t mount an external viewfinder for the wider lenses, and today it can be an even bigger issue because the selenium meters are usually dead, leading to the need for an external meter. In that case though, you may as well buy a Canon P.
The Canon 7 as well as the 7s have a dual mount for the M39 lenses and also a special bayonet mount specifically included for the super fast 50mm f/.95 lens. I have never personally used a lens that fast before, but the Canon 50mm f/1.8 is not too shabby.
The camera has a viewfinder selection knob on the top plate in order to choose between the 35mm, 50mm, 85mm, 100mm and 135mm lenses each with their own frame lines inside the viewfinder. With the exception of 85 and 100mm which share frame lines.
The Canon 7 also boasts a stainless steel shutter which keeps it from getting pin-holes or wrinkling like other cameras with cloth shutters.
Another great feature is the double lock system. This keeps you from accidentally opening the back to expose your film. On the bottom is the magazine key. To open the back door, you would first turn this key, then pull down on the lock lever on the side of the camera. The back door would then pop open.
Around the shutter release button is the film rewind ring. This allows you to go from A for taking shots, a red dot for locking the shutter, or R for rewinding the film. The camera having the rewind option makes it possible to take double exposures. If this is something you like to do, you would take your first shot, turn the selector to rewind mode (don’t advance to the next frame yet), turn the rewind lever 2.5 turns, and then push the advance lever to take your next shot over top of the last one.
Next to the shutter button is the shutter speed dial. It comes with speeds from 1 second up to 1/1000th of a second, as well as B for Bulb and T for Time. The X is used for electronic flash. There is also a self timer lever on the front of the camera.
Within the dial are the DIN and ASA options. This allows you to enter the ISO of your film. To do this, you have to hold in the small button in the back of the top plate behind the camera. As you hold this in, it allows you to raise and turn the shutter dial and choose your ISO.
Next to the dial is the light meter indicator. To use the selenium meter, located on the front right of the camera, you can first set your shutter speed. Then point the meter at your subject, and the meter indicator on top will tell you which aperture to select. If you would rather choose your aperture, then turn the shutter speed dial until the needle lines up with that f stop number in the meter indicator.
Now the key to using this meter correctly is getting to know when to change the light sensitivity dial located on the back of the camera on the top plate. The orange mark is used for high sensitivity metering indoors or before and after sunset. For this setting, you’ll read from the orange numbers on the scale in the meter indicator. The black mark is for low sensitivity and is used in bright scenes outdoors. For this option, you’ll read from the white numbers on the scale.
I have wanted a Nikon SP for a long time now. Being such a big fan of the Nikon F, I hope to one day own the camera it was made after. The price tag is just a little too steep. I also have been realizing that my eyesight is so bad when trying to focus an SLR that a lot of my photos are coming back off focus. I have always enjoyed using my Yashica Electro 35 rangefinder, so I asked around for what would be a good, affordable rangefinder.
Mike Eckman weighed in and said the Canon P would be a great option and they’re relatively affordable. He was nice enough to send me his Canon 7 to try out because it has a built in meter, unlike the P. One of the main reasons you’d buy a 7 over a P is the built in meter, so my main goal for this review was to test if a 60 year old meter could still be accurate and dependable.
I took it for a test run with a couple of other cameras which you can read about here or watch here, and I used the selenium meter as well as an external meter to test it out. As I explained in that article, the meter seemed to over expose in bright situations but was fine in all others. Looking back now, I know it was because I forgot to change the meters sensitivity accordingly, but when I first get a camera, I test it before researching how to use it in order to test its ease of use. This camera is pretty easy to use, but the meter does take some learning.
I tested the meter in different situations. I took pictures indoors while on the high sensitivity setting (orange dot), and I would compare the reading to my handheld Sekonic L-208 meter. Surprisingly they were exactly the same when used at the same distance from the subject.
Then I took a walk in the neighborhood at sunset, so the high sensitivity setting was still set.
Again, I tested it against the Sekonic and they always came up with the same reading. I really love the results I got.
I decided not to use up the whole roll that night. I saved a few frames for the next morning so that I could test the meter on the low sensitivity setting in bright sun. Again, I tested it against the Sekonic and again they had matching answers.
My fiancé posed as my model for a really quick shoot and I really like the results.
In the end, my tests revealed that this meter was very accurate. Now this isn’t always the case, Mike’s camera happens to have a working meter. It is not easy to find, but my goal was to see if an old selenium meter can still be reliable after all of these years, and I found that yes indeed it can be.
I absolutely love this camera and the results I get with it. It feels great in the hand, not too heavy, and for me the buttons and dials are all located in spots I can reach. I was even able to change the shutter from locked to unlocked with just my index finger quickly while taking a pic.
Sadly, I will now be returning it to Mike, but I am so grateful to him for letting me try it out, because now I know what I like and I know that even though I originally wanted the Canon P, I think I will save up and hopefully one day buy a Canon 7 of my own.
For more on my experience with this camera, please check out my YouTube video below. If you enjoy these reviews and would like to do so, please think about making a donation towards film, chemicals and the upkeep of this site on my donations page. Any amount is a huge help.
Until next time, stay motivated and keep shooting.
15 thoughts on “The Canon 7 Rangefinder”
It is a very capable camera. One of the ugliest I have ever shot with. That being said, I am on my 3rd one.
loved reading this 🙂
Thank you. Im glad
You got some excellent photos as usual Aly. Mine works well, including the meter, but it was just serviced before I bought it in Japan. Actually, the self timer broke soon after, but I seldom use that anyway. I seldom use mine because of the size, and I don’t find any Canon RF that easy to focus. For my eyes, any Leica is much easier to nail focus.
That’s interesting about the focus. Maybe in day I’ll get to try the Leica.
I used a Leica IIIa back in the days of Kodachrome and Plus-X Pan, along with a Nikon S2. The Leica M series was always just out of reach, so I invested in film, flash units, etc., instead. In the 1970’s Shutterbug Ads offered a vast variety of photographic equipment at interesting prices. (It was a newsprint magazine version of eBay.)
The Canon P was quite affordable and could do most of what the Leica M3 could do, so I bought one. (“Metered camera”? Real photographers use a Sekonic L-28C or a Pentax 1/21 light meter for accuracy.)
I’ve noticed that Leica M-series cameras need a periodic CLA to keep functioning, while Ye Olde Canon P just keeps going. Besides, Leica screw mount lenses are affordable and can equal Wetzlar’s best. If you can’t find a good Canon 7, the Canon P will also do the job.
Yes I agree. I probably will end up with a P. I think it was pure luck that Mikes Canon had an accurate meter in it. I don’t think I’ll find one like it.
Great review (and YouTube vid) Aly! Looks like an awesome rangefinder. The situation with the Selenium meter is interesting. I’ve always wanted an Olympus Trip35 but was scared that I’d never find one with an operating selenium cell. Mike’s Canon gives me hope they do exist! Also, nice shots as usual. I dunno what it is but rangefinders always seem to excel at B&W. I dunno if there’s a reason for that or it’s just in my head?
I agree I wonder what the reason is?
Hi Aly, nice detailed review of a lovely camera. A good friend of mine gave me this camera a few years ago which was very generous of him. I like it very much but….. there isn’t a dioptor adjuster so everything is blurry when I look through the viewfinder! I wear glasses and as a compromise I had to unscrew the outer ring surrounding it that contained a circle of glass and remove it . I think i unscrewed it a bit at a time to see if it improved but had to remove it. Its still not great for me but its better. Because the viewfinder ring does unscrew I wonder if Canon made different strength diopters that fitted into it.. Did you have any trouble with your focusing?
Hi Johnny. Thanks so much. I don’t think there’s and diopters for it because it’s a rangefinder. Is your viewfinder dim? I know sometimes they can start to dim. I do have trouble with all my cameras because of my glasses. I press them up agains the viewfinder and it’s difficult sometimes. They get all scratched up lol. On my Nikon F I got one of those rubber eye cups to keep from scratching.
Hi Aly, the viewfinder looks fine and the rangefinder patch is clear. I cleaned the glass but really it’s my eyeballs that are at fault! My Russian ZORKI 4K rangefinder has a diopter adjuster and I have no problem seeing things clearly with it though i prefer using the Canon 7. Guess I’ll have to make the best of it. Good snapping.