Canon FD 35-70mm f/4 AF - Canon's first SLR AF lens

Discussion in 'Modern Film Cameras' started by jdm_von_weinberg, Jan 3, 2013.

  1. Canon FD 35-70mm f/4 AF -
    Canon's first SLR AF lens 1981
    Kadlubek Nr. CAO1860


    Like some old rock star or tenor, I keep retiring from the wonderful world of early autofocus, but then make just one more final tour, over and over….

    What was intended to be my summary of the whole picture was at .

    Then I found the "first production autofocus camera, the Konica C35 AF

    Now, here I am again. But this one is really important, especially in the history of Canon AF. I know I won't be doing the Nikon equivalent since the collectors have made that one too rich for my budget (no pizza-prices there). I tell myself that I really don't need to do the Pentax ME F with its AF lens. The body is cheap enough, but I can't seem to find out what its 35-70mm AF lens would sell for. Kadlubek lists no price at all for it (PEN1595). So if any body feels the need to do that one, go to it!

    So. Maybe this will be my last AF post. I'm definitely not going to say 'never' again. In any case, if a camera belongs here that needs batteries to operate, how much more suitable is a lens that needs batteries!
  2. The first Canon AF lens

    From Canon's own Camera Hall

    • Marketed May 1981
    • Original Price 89,500 yen (at May, 1985, exchange rate that would be about $350 1985 US dollars)
    • Lens Construction (group) 8
    • Lens Construction (element) 8
    • No. of Diaphragm Blades 6
    • Minimum Aperture 22
    • Closest Focusing Distance (m) 0.5
    • Maximum Magnifcation (x) 0.15
    • Filter Diameter (mm) 52
    • Maximum Diameter x Length (mm) 85 x 99.5
    • Weight (g) 604

    Here's the text:

    "This is the world’s first autofocus zoom lens* with an autofocus function using Canon’s own SST (Solid State Triangulation) method. The incorporation of this function into the best-selling FD35-70mm f/4 (June 1979) interchangeable lens brought about automation of focusing for SLR cameras.

    The SST method is a system in which information on the photographed object that enters the sensor through two fixed mirrors is converted into an electric signal and distance is measured by a microcomputer, with focusing performed by moving a distance ring with a motor. The latest fixed imaging device CCD (charge-coupled device) technology is adopted to provide high resolution and a broad dynamic range able to detect low to high luminance, making it less susceptible to the contrast and pattern size of the photographed object and enabling highly precise autofocusing. Also, as the SST method does not have a movable section in the distance measuring mechanism, no vibration or electric noise is caused, which provides high reliability fitting of a high-end SLR camera."​

    Popular Science in December 1980, p 96 described the then current AF systems:

    *It may be the "first" using Canon's own system, but it was preceded in the market by a Pentax AF lens (SMC Pentax AF 35mm-70mm f/2.8 Zoom Lens autofocus lens) on the ME F body ( ) . That combination seems to have been the first of all SLR AF cameras. It, like the Canon lens discussed here, however, was what I have called a "Goiter Lens" because of the huge swelling on the lens to accommodate the AF motors, and other impedimenta.
  3. The Story of the Hunt (traditional among camera hunters and gatherers)

    I missed getting one of these lenses by being too cautious in bidding, so I made an offer to another vendor. He made a counter offer to which I weakly deducted $9 and we had a deal. The lens itself is in very good condition, but the lens case is crappy on the outside. It did its job, though, since the inside is nice and the lens was protected.

    The Canon AF lens will work on most Canon FD mount cameras. naturally, I chose to use what I consider the apotheosis of FD, the Canon T90 ( ). I put the lens on the T90 body, took some shots at my desk of a "label" image and went out to try some trees. I got exactly 5 shots, and then the arrow on the LCD of the T90 started to flash and the shutter would not trip. Canon does not describe this condition in the manual, but here on and elsewhere, I found out that this was the symptom of the dread T90 'magnet/shutter' failure. This was a blow and of course it took some time today to figure out whether the problem was the lens or the camera or both. Having found some possible home repairs for this (and I have the T90 service manual) I set the T90 aside for a later day. sob.
  4. So the choice was down to the A-1 ( )
    , the AE-1 Program ( ), or the T70 ( ). The lens is also supposed to work on the T80 AF model ( ), but that would have been too confusing to me anyhow.
    I chose the T70, after all. Here is that combo.
  5. How It Works
    I could find no instructions for this lens, but things were pretty obvious. It mounts like any other FD(n) lens. For automatic aperture/exposure control, one locks the lens on the green A. The AF lens can also be used with manual control as well, but I didn't get to this point to do that.

    The lens is active when the batteries (2 AA) are installed. There is an on/off switch for the focus confirmation beep, but the lens is focused when the black button on the side of the lens is pressed, regardless of the beep. There is also a battery confirmation button and light on the back, along with the release for the battery holder. On the sot-of bottom, there is a slider to zoom the lens from 35mm to 70mm. The lens may be the standard Canon 35-70 of the period underneath the motors and all.
  6. The lens focuses fairly quickly when the button is pressed, and the beep sounds if turned on. Normally, it sets right in to the correct focus with no apparent searching. Of course, this is nothing like the automatic sort of process on an EOS EF lens. If you are smart, hell even if you are a dope, you will see on the MF camera screen whether this AF business has actually worked or not. Sometimes when going from very close focus to infinity focus in adjacent shots, the poor thing just stops trying, so you have to find a more suitable line or contrast and all will start to work properly again. However, I was astounded at how very sharp and crisp the resulting images were. This is a far more accurate process than the Konica C35 AF (the "first production AF camera" ). Again, I emphasize that like the T80 AF system that I looked at earlier ( ) this is a different sort of autofocus than we are used to today. Much more participation by the photographer is required. Of course, we all know that you need to do this even with modern AF cameras for the best results, but so often we get used to everything working magically to the point where many people new to the field have never learned to manually focus or how to recognize in the finder or screen whether all is working as it should.

    You don't have a choice with this lens, but with the participation of the user, it works extremely well. Like so many of these little, "kit" 35-70mm or so zooms, the lens is optically far better than the user has any reason to expect.

    As an aside, I have often wondered whether these "kit" lenses are subsidized (loss-leader) by the camera makers to "hook" the first time user?

    Here just as a very approximate measure of the center and edge sharpness, is a series of crops from a lens testing chart. This was only poorly controlled-all were taken from the same place with the focal length varied, but no actual resolution judgments can be made. However it is possible to see the center versus edge definition for each focal length (35mm. 50mm, 70mm). Please, the comparison at best is only good for each focal length, so don't worry. No new standard of scientific testing is introduced here, but I had no way to get out to my usual brick wall today. ;)

  7. The Images

    Here is a series of images that are chosen in each case to look at some specific dimension of the lens. There is no Art here, in fact he went home for the inter-semester break.
    Just the examples. All are taken on Ektar 100. Blue color still dominates, but is easily adjusted-- but really, really nice grain.

    The first one is a low light close-up of my computer monitor taken with the lens on the T90.

  8. Then blinds in my house. Closest I could get to a brick wall, but little sign of barrel or pincushion distortion.

    The bottom picture was outdoors of a magnolia tree. AF seems to work fine with this sort of subject too, always with the aid of the mark 1 eyeball.
  9. That magnolia leaf picture was the last gasp of the T90 (sob). From here on out, the rest were taken on the same roll of film put through the T70.

    Here is a neighbor's house across the street at 70mm focal length.

  10. When I'm not at the lake, I like to take pictures of the town "Polyspheroid Water Tower" - even if it does look like it would be eligible for hemorrhoids rather than spheroids….
  11. Finally, here are two "equivalences", but snow, not clouds.
    I was amazed that the AF lens grabbed on to the texture and produced what are remarkably sharp images.

  12. Conclusions

    I was astonished that this lens worked so well. Although it looks awkward as all get out, it's not too bad in actual use. The "focus button" works well, but obviously they were too concerned about power usage to make it work like modern AF mechanisms. When you do push the button, though, it works well, as I have said.

    However, in engineering terms, this is a kludge. The parts are there, but are more jury-rigged than what they will eventually end up to be. It is important to make the distinction that is often confused here - although jury-rigged (made up of parts of this and that), the lens is not "jerry built"- that is. poorly made or poorly functional.

    It is done.
  13. Hi JDM, thanks for sharing. I still have one of these, rarely use it nowadays. Yours looks a bit better, mine has been used and has travelled all over the world. As a result of this thread I just checked it, still works fine and slow. Guess I'm used to the EOS USM lenses' speed.
    Unfortunately batteries that I placed outside of the lens had leaked, electolyte leaked onto the lens. Now the battery check button is stuck; needs some work to clean it. While checking the lens I found out that the battery door of the AE1 is broken. FD system seems to be falling apart :)
  14. I completely enjoyed this well researched and presented post. Although ungainly in size, it provides a very nice optical performance. I also very much liked your snow "Equivalences" Thank you again for an interesting article. It's a pity that the site administration does not view individuals who provide such a constant stream of well presented content worthy of "hero" status, but in my book, it's intelligent articles like this that keep me coming back to this site.
    BTW, I have the Pentax version of this lens, which, if I remember, was on the first AF SLR, the Pentax ME-F. It is a much faster, more compact optic that performs on par with the Canon. Being highly sought after and rarer than Kryptonite, I fear it would exceed pizza money.
  15. That Canon AF lens looks like something from Star Wars! I am glad that you had fun with it, JDM.
  16. Thanks, all.
    Although I couldn't find any of the Pentax AF lens for sale, or having recently been sold, I was pretty sure that -- like the Nikon -- it was outside the parameters of my 'collection-project' (=cheap). The Pentax body it went on, interestingly, is really very inexpensive.
  17. I found a copy of the Pentax lens for sale on the unnamed auction site with a $99.99 BIN price (item no. 230831402756). I also found several completed auctions with sale prices ranging from $11.60 to $128.76.
  18. Gordon, it's obviously Kismet. I found nothing when I looked.
    I'll really be looking forward to your report on the Pentax AF system. :)
  19. prices ranging from $11.60 to $128.76​
    What! You mean I won't be able to retire with the sale of this as I had planned? Darn the luck. Maybe I'll break down and do a report on it since I have it though I haven't actually shot with it for years. Of course, I don't have JDM's perseverance or research skills.
    I flirted with Pentax-M gear for a short while in the late 80's while still smarting over Canon's abandonment of me, well actually the FD system, and thought I would change brands for spite. BY 1995 I mended the error of my ways and finally bought into the EOS system. I think I still have a Pentax MX and some lenses also floating around here somewhere. But now I'm convinced, I have GOT to get rid of some of this old gear.
  20. Just as an additional datoid - the lens seems to be parfocal - that is, changing the zoom focal length does not require any re-focus.
    I'd really like to see a report on the Pentax system. Whoever wrote the Wikipedia article on it was mixed in their review:
    Although it autofocused poorly and was a commercial failure, the pioneering ME F was a major milestone in the history of camera technology that pointed the way to all present day AF SLRs​
  21. Well, JDM, don't hold your breath. The only AF cameras I own and use to any extent are my Canon EOS bodies (35 mm and APS), a Canon Elph 370Z and, of course, my T80. I did finally get a nice, clean, working Canon FD35-70 f/4 AF with case last year for a reasonable price, though I haven't tested it with film yet. I have way too many cameras in my collection and no plans to add any more AF models.
  22. Wait, I just looked again and still don't see any of the SMC Pentax AF Zoom 35-70mm lenses of the early type on eBay. There were the newer, modern Pentax AF 35-70 lenses, though.
    Gordon, were the ones you found the "goiter" lens like the one shown by Louis?
    (Hold on Louis, maybe you can retire yet).
  23. Here are the item numbers of the completed eB** auctions for lenses that appear to be the same model as the one pictured in Louis' post:
  24. Thanks, Gordon. I was only looking at current live auctions...
    They're cheap enough, but I gotta stop somewhere. Don't I?
  25. Many prototypes were shown at shows going back a long ways, but the Nikon AF production lens was only released in April, 1983 (see MIR on this).
    Many are shown, but few are actually produced.
  26. Big system response problems tonight.
    Many are shown as prototypes, but the Nikon F3AF production models were 1983.
    By the way, that picture seems to be the only trace left of that one.
  27. I did stop looking at the auction sites I'd been frequenting and haven't bought a single camera or lens for several months now. If I don't see 'em, I won't impulsively buy 'em. Don't know how long I can hold out, though ...
    I did manage to pull out my FD 35-70 AF lens and test it on a T80. Not surprisingly, the lens works just fine. The T80's focus confirmation beeper agrees with the lens' beeper. Now that I think about it, the FD 35-70 AF was introduced in 1981, the same year that the white Canon "L" lenses first appeared.
  28. the Pentax version of this lens, which, if I remember, was on the first AF SLR, the Pentax ME-F​
    Allow me to correct myself. The Polaroid SX-70 Sonar OneStep was the first SLR autofocus camera, released in 1978. The ME-F was the first 35mm SLR AF camera.
  29. NTIM, but I did look for the first model of the Polaroid SX-70 on eBay. Aside from the prices being all over the place, I figured it was hard to work that one into a user collection.
    Another peculiarity of that one, is that a search for it reveals vast numbers of offers of various kinds of replacement for the "cover" (leatherette?) on the camera. To judge from that, the quality of the original cover for Polaroid must have equaled that of the notorious Contax and Yashica offerings.
  30. Wow that thing is old. I was one of the people who thought an AF lens could not ever be made, boy was I wrong !
  31. JDM,
    This has been a wonderful series. I really missed the first generation of AF cameras. I didn't buy my first AF SLR until 1996 so your posts have been very informative.
    I found a lens test in Modern Photography. They do a good job of testing a lens and for new types give a good explanation of the inner workings. It was originally tested in March 1983.
    Here is part 1.
  32. Here is part 2.
  33. Thanks, yet again, Marc.
  34. Here is the same review as Marc's but in compressed pdf form (197K) from Modern Photography of March, 1983.
  35. Much later, I found from November of 1980 a rather skeptical note from Modern Photography's "More Gear for '81":
    As noted above, Canon got it on the market by May of 81.
    As for the Ricoh AF module, I have seen pictures of a commercial product, but a quick look didn't say when it was actually put on the market, so I don't know if it beat the Canon or not. None seem to be offered at this moment on eBay except for one in Germany offered for 90€.
  36. I've got one of those Ricoh autofocus 50mm lenses, and it works just fine, but I've no idea how old it is. It came with some other stuff in an auction purchase.

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