I love gifts to the Jim Grey Home for Wayward Cameras. I wasn’t in the market for any more all-manual Canon SLRs, but when this TLb landed in my hands, of course I had to shoot with it. Turns out, it’s a competent basic performer.

Canon TLb

Produced for a few years starting in 1974, the TLb was Canon’s entry-level 35mm SLR. It was based on the earlier, more fully featured FTb QL, removing three features: the 1/1000 sec. shutter speed (the TLb tops out at 1/500 sec), a hot shoe, and the Quick Loading (QL) film-loading system. Everything else is the same, down to the match-needle metering.

Canon TLb

The TLb, along with the FTb QL and the F-1, were Canon’s first cameras for the new FD lens mount. It replaced the earlier, similar FL mount; indeed, all of these cameras take FL-mount lenses, but then you have to stop down to meter.

Canon TLb

The TLb follows the 35mm SLR idiom well; all the controls are in the typical places. The only quirk is that the battery cover is on the side of the top plate, next to the rewind crank, rather than on the bottom. The meter runs on a dreaded, banned 625 mercury battery. As usual, I substituted an alkaline 625 cell with its slightly different voltage, worries about misexposures be damned.

By the way, if you like Canon SLRs, check out my reviews of the FT QL (here), the T70 (here), the AE-1 Program (here), the EOS 650 (here), and the EOS A2e (here). Or check out these non-SLR Canons: the Canonet 28 (here), the Canonet QL17 G-III (here), the Dial 35-2 (here), and the AF35ML (here). Or have a look at all of my camera reviews here.

I’ve owned a few Canon cameras with the QL system, and I always manage to screw up loading film with them. But I got film loading right with the QL-less TLb on the first try. Go fig. With Kodak Gold 200 inside and a 50mm f/1.8 Canon FD S.C lens out front, I took the TLb out on my recent trip with my friend Dawn along the National Road (US 40) in eastern Indiana. This scene is from a building in Greenfield. I can imagine it as a painting. Maybe I’ve seen one like it before.

Dog pumpkin shadow

When we reached Cambridge City, the sidewalks were lined with antiques for sale. We always seem to stumble upon some sort of festival or fair on our road trips. One of the dealers had this pottery for sale.


The antiques sale spilled into an alleyway off the highway. All of my daylight images seemed just a shade too bright. But detail is good.

Junk for sale

Up in Centerville, this old iron railroad crossing sign stands inexplicably in a courtyard, no tracks in sight.


The white and green Huddleston Farmhouse is hard to miss as you pass it by. It’s an Indiana Landmarks property; tours are available. I always manage to stop by when the house is closed, but the grounds have always been open for self-guided tours. This photo is of the well house on the property.

At the Huddleston Farmhouse

I could have taken all of those easy touristy photos with any of my cameras. Part of the point of owning an SLR is that you can do more than that with it. So I moved in close to this flower.


And inside an antique shop, I braced myself and the camera, opened the lens wide, and got this lovely shot of this old toy truck on a shelf. The depth of field is probably an inch or so here.

Allied Van Lines

I always like to see what kind of bokeh I can get out of a prime lens, so I moved in as close as I could to these mums in my front yard, opened the lens wide, and made this photo.


I brought the TLb with me one day after work when I met my brother Downtown for a drink. He likes rye; I like bourbon. Liberty Street has an impressive selection of both.

Liberty Street

To see more from this camera, check out my Canon TLb gallery.

I liked this TLb, shot after shot. It handled easily, moreso than many other manual, mechanical cameras in my collection, including the similar FT QL.

The TLb is a fine shooter. If you want a decent basic body for your FD mount lenses, one that still works (except the meter) when the battery dies, one you can pick up for cheap every day on eBay, the TLb is a fine choice.

If you like old film cameras, check out all of my reviews here!
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22 responses to “Canon TLb”

  1. pesoto74 Avatar

    I remember kinda looking down on these when they first came out. Although in retrospect they seem to be pretty capable cameras. And since they can use fd lenses there is no reason they can’t take excellent photos.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Well, with 1/500 top speed, they were in that lower tier of SLRs. But yeah, FD lenses don’t stink.

  2. dehk Avatar

    Not usually a canon user , I worked on an used one of them and I liked it the best out of all but limited canons I have touched .

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Strangely, this camera’s a keeper for me. I’m not a Canon guy either, but this just worked.

  3. jacullman Avatar

    Got this camera for my 16th birthday in 1974. Added a 135 mm lens and an off brand wide angle lens that my folks picked up in Hong Kong in the late ’70’s. It took great pictures- but the 1/500 speed was an obstacle. I used it until 2006 when I bought a Nikon DSLR – which is terrific but I still prefer the canon lenses. If only they could be used on a DSLR body….

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Yeah, 1/500 top speed does limit what you can do. You know, there are adapters out there that will let you clip your FD lenses right onto your Nikon DSLR. Only challenge is that the DSLR’s sensor size is smaller than the 35mm frame size and so your lenses will be effectively much narrower. But you can get one of these adapters on Amazon I’m sure.

      What’s funny is that I prefer my AI Nikkor 50mm f/2 any day of the week to my Canon FD 50mm f/1.8! To each his own, I guess!

  4. owencolin94 Avatar

    Do you use a 1.5V battery? if is correct, it works fine?

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I did, and it worked for me.

  5. Marcus Gorman Avatar
    Marcus Gorman

    I bought this camera at a garage sale back in 1991 for $50 with a 300 mm lense, what a great camera to start on 📷

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      300mm! Wow, I can’t imagine starting there! I started with a 50 on my first SLR.

  6. Gary Stanley Avatar
    Gary Stanley

    I bought mine new in 1976, at the base exchange in Fairbanks, Alaska. I carried it and took photos for 14 years while in the military throughout Asia, Alaska, and the US. It never failed me even in the most remote locations. 90 percent of my photos and slides through the 70s, 80s & 90s were done with this camera. In 1977 I picked up a 70-210 macro lens for it in Japan. Must admit, I drop it out of a UH1 helicopter from about 14 feet up and it landed in a bog, but the air force photo lab took it apart and cleaned it out and I had it back in two days better than new. At the moment, its sitting behind me on a shelf ready to take pictures again.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      That is a fine testament to the build quality of the TLb! My first wife was a photographer in the Air National Guard btw and shot medium format on official business. I forget what camera she used.

  7. Sidney A. Bledsoe Avatar
    Sidney A. Bledsoe

    There is another difference in the TLB vs the FTB, and that is the focusing screen is
    simpler and doesn’t have a split rangefinder.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      A split viewfinder would be very helpful on the TLb!

  8. Chris Moore Avatar

    I very nearly purchased one of these at a flea market a few weeks ago, except while I have used Canon for a very long time I’ve never used the FD lenses before, so it really was not a good fit as nothing is interchangeable without adapter rings and so forth. But old Canon stuff is a strange curiosity so I may yet succumb to such things :)

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      You can pick up old FD primes for chicken feed. If you’re interested in experiencing one of these, you can do it for very little scratch!

  9. Jay Avatar

    These are fantastic cameras – Simplified version of other more equipped Canon SLR’s of the day but easy to use, basic & will take wonderful photographs! I just purchased this one a few minutes ago on eBay – camera, case, strap, prime lens plus an FD 100-200 lens with a case for that, too – 24.44 out the door. Another awesome ‘tank’ to add to the collection. Your photos are beautiful. Thank you ~

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Yup, this TLb is just a solid everyday shooter, nice to use and yields good results. I’m more a Pentaxian and Nikonian — just like the “look” the lenses give better. But if I had to shoot nothing but this TLb and the 50/1.8 for the rest of my life, I’d just get on with making wonderful images forever.

  10. Mark Schmidt Avatar
    Mark Schmidt

    Just bought one of these online…Refurbed, lubed and working, Canon 35 – 70 lens, all I will ever need. My first usable 35mm in years. Liked the Canons since the 1960’s and glad to have this one.
    Thanks for this review.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      You should get many years of pleasant use from your TLb!

  11. Libby Avatar

    I bought mine brand new in 1977 & still have it, unfortunately I lost the battery cover! In my purse! I haven’t found a new one & choosing a light meters makes my eyes glaze over. Plus film is hard to find around here & processing isn’t cost effective.

    I used it until the family bought me a Lumix 30something & used that until I dropped it on the shutter button (yeah talented eh?). 2.5yrsish ago I chose my new camera, a Canon D90. I like digital because I can shoot to my heart’s content (or card limit) but I struggle with lighting. My TLb was so easy to use. I used to shoot concerts, pushing 400ASA film to 800ASA and it took amazing black & white photos.

    It was so neat to stumble onto this site (I was looking to see if the battery cover for the TLb & FTb were interchangeable) and discovered people who discovered the joy of a camera that didn’t have any bells & whistles! Oh, it is so sturdy (read heavy & solid) that it can double as a weapon if needed!

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      You should be able to find a parts body on eBay for not much money to get that battery cover!

      I’m pleased you enjoyed my review. The TLb is a terrific 35mm SLR for sure. And yes, it could definitely do some damage as a weapon!

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