From the beginning, the SLR moved inexorably from all mechanical, all manual toward full electronic automation. I happen to enjoy SLRs from the 1970s, which routinely feature open-aperture meteting and often aperture- or shutter-priority autoexposure, but manual everything else. To me, older SLRs feel like too much work with all that stopping down or no metering at all. And later SLRs are too easy: just frame and press the button.
Canon’s T series SLRs represent transition. The 1984 T70 automates everything but focusing. A few years later, Canon’s EOS series would finally automate that.
T-series cameras were the first SLRs to proudly look like they were made of plastic. Camera makers had been using more and more body plastic since the mid 1970s, but had the decency to paint those parts to sort of look like they were still metal. With the T series, Canon said nuts to it. They also said nuts to dials and knobs, changing over to little buttons with an LED window that shows settings. Curiosity and low price ($30 shipped) drove me to buy one: how would this plastic-fantastic camera handle?
One aspect of the T70 felt familiar: setting the aperture ring to A for automatic exposure. Beyond that, as a devotee of mechanical SLRs I was in uncharted territory. I liked that the T70 wound and rewound the film for me. That’s why the T70 looks kind of lopsided, by the way: the winder and the battery chamber are hidden within that enormous grip. And the heavens sang Hallelujah: the T70 takes two AAs, not some discontinued battery like so many old cameras. However, somewhere deep inside that body lies a lithium battery that remembers your settings. Replacing it involves taking the camera apart. Ick.
The big and bright viewfinder takes a little of the sting out of knowing that the internal battery will die one day. Will that render this camera inert? I hope never to find out. Also, despite that big grip making the T70 look unbalanced, it doesn’t feel that way in the hands. I found it to be quite comfortable.
But I found the controls to be uncomfortable. It would be several more years before camera makers figured out that it’s easier to twist a mode dial than to press buttons to cycle through modes. A dial is a great visual affordance: it seems obvious just by looking how to set your mode. The buttons require reading the manual, which all of us know means admitting defeat.
At least the T70 offers a generous range of exposure modes: three program modes, a shutter-priority mode, a couple of flash modes, and even a stop-down metering mode for when you’ve adapted a non-FD-mount lens. The T70 even offers full manual mode; you press DOWN and UP to select shutter speed. The T70 even offers two metering modes: center-weighted average and “selective area” which meters just the center 11 percent of the frame. Whatever modes you choose, your settings appear in the easy-to-read LCD panel.
My T70 came with an FD 50mm f/1.8 lens — a fine lens, as I learned when I shot one on my Canon AE-1 Program.
I shot an entire roll of Fujicolor 200 using center-weighted average metering and normal program mode. I forgot to set ISO — thank goodness whoever used this camera before me shot ISO 200 film too. Cameras that set ISO by reading the film canister’s DX code were just starting to appear when the T70 was new, but alas, the T70 missed that bus.
This angel lighting the way is my favorite photo from my test roll.
I spent some time at a park near my home where the city recently built this building. I think it has something to do with the sanitary sewer system recently installed in my part of town, as enormous pipes were laid from the street into this building — a pumping station, perhaps? Anyway, the T70 handled easily, in no small part because I kept my fingers off the top-plate controls. Seriously: this is a great point-focus-and-shoot camera. It just goes.
I used to bring my sons to the former playground here when they were very young. That construction obliterated this park for more than a year, and I worried that the playground would not be rebuilt. But this much nicer playground was installed at the end of the project.
Unfortunately, by that time my kids were too old to care. I come here every now and again just to make photographs, as the colors are good. The light wasn’t very interesting this day, however.
I took the T70 to work. This is the corner of my desk. The Magic 8 Ball is for my guests to play with. I’ve had it for years and remain amused by how many people pick it up and ask questions of it.
I spent a little time photographing the Episcopal church over on Meridian Street. The shapes and textures are interesting there. I had just looked through a book of Ansel Adams Polaroids and noticed how often he had at least three “layers” in his photographs. It helped me notice this three-layered scene.
I’ve shared more photos from this roll in my Canon T70 gallery.
If you’re looking for a lazy day of shooting, it’s easy to like the Canon T70: frame, focus, press the shutter button, get nice photographs. Heck, sometimes I even found myself wishing the T70 would just focus for me already.
But if you want more control over your work, however, you might find the T70 to be annoying. Or maybe it’s just me: I just don’t find it easy or obvious to futz with the UP and DOWN buttons. But I did learn the much more complicated controls of my Canon S95 digital camera. It’s my main camera; I wanted to get the most from it. If I were similarly motivated, in time I’d learn the T70’s nuances and become quite adept with it.
Do you like old cameras? Then check out my full list of camera reviews!