Canon T80 - Early Autofocus SLR

Discussion in 'Modern Film Cameras' started by jdm_von_weinberg, Dec 7, 2012.

  1. T80 - Canon's First Autofocus SLR
    Kadlubek Nr. CAN0970

    Canon AC 50mm f/1.8 (FD(n)mount w/ AF motor)

    Canon AC 50mm f/1.8 4/6 1985 FD(n) - AC variant Kadlubek Nr. CAO4010
    Canon AC 70-200mm F/4.5 8/11 1985 FD(n) - AC variant Kadlubek Nr. CAO4030

    There was a third lens that I do not have, the AC 35-70mm f/3.5-4.5


    Not every step forward is a success.
    Sometimes you have to fall so you can learn to get back up (according to Batman's father, anyway).

    So it is 1985. Point and Shoot 35mm AF cameras are popping out all over the place, having come on the scene in the late 70s. It became clear to all the major marques that this was a step that had to be taken in their more "professional" cameras. Wikipedia has more on these times at . The early versions were mostly in-lens focus motors of various kinds that resulted in lenses with huge bulges -- what I call "goiter" lenses.

    I have already reported on a number of the more developed early AF cameras:
    Minolta Maxxum 7000 1985
    Canon EOS 650 1986
    Canon EOS 620 1986
    Nikon N2020 (F-501 outside North America) 1986
    Yashica 230-F 1987
    Pentax SF-1 (SFX outside USA) 1987
    Canon EOS 630 1989
    Nikon N8008s AF (F-801s outside North America) 1991
    Nikon F80D (N80QD in USA) 2000
  2. I also did some "Bridge" cameras that were AF, as well, e.g., Ricoh Mirai 1988

    Nikon also was sniffing around trying to make AF work with their mount and existing system at this same time- The Nikon F3 was brought out with an autofocus prism system - the F3AF,

    "capable of autofocusing with two special AF Nikkor lenses—the first of their kind, which included focus motors in the lens bodies. Those lenses were the AF-80mm f/2.8 Nikkor and the AF-200mm f/3.5 Nikkor. It was the first autofocus camera to be produced by Nikon." (Wikipedia ).

    The two in-lens-motor lenses also worked on the later F4 model.

    Canon's own version of this early effort was its FD(n) mount based AC lenses and the Canon T80 camera reported on here.

    However, the spoiler is right at the top of the list of reports I presented above -- the _Minolta Maxxum 7000_ which was the first "integrated" AF system with the AF sensors and the motor for the lens all a regular looking 35mm SLR body.

    Suddenly, the 'goiter' lenses not only looked unstylish, but the simple fact was the Minolta Maxxum was better than the competition in speed and accuracy of focus and general operation.
    So far, in the list above, my 'reports' have stuck to the AF camera responses to the Maxxum series. This is the first more-or-less per-Maxxum AF camera I have looked at.

    Only Canon elected to stay with in-lens AF motors. In the long run, this seems to have worked out better -- in general the more electronic something like this is, the more reliable and sophisticated it can be made. Some screwy little screw, after all, was not very 'hip'. Although the screw-drive cameras were able to achieve remarkable speeds with the mechanical solution, now even Nikon is abandoning the screw.

    I had decided when I was sort of not admitting I was doing this that I was going to stick to the "modern" AF systems (i.e., post Maxxum). However, I have been accumulating a lot of Canon EOS bodies. After I got a T90 and a T70, I found out that contrary to some of the other early, pre-Maxxum AF cameras, the Canon T80 and its three lenses were really in my "price of a fancy pizza or two" price range.

    So just what is involved with the Canon T80?
    Like the Nikon F3AF, Canon tried to maintain compatibility with their existing FD(new) bayonet system used on the A-series and the T-series.
    The Canon AC lenses will mount on FD bodies. The AC 50mm lens has only an inch or so of exposed manual focus ring, so cannot be used to good effect, but an AC lens with a continuous (small and inconvenient) focus ring (like the AC 70-210mm) could be used if, for some peculiar reason, you felt so inclined.
  3. An earlier focus-assist camera, the Canon AL-1(1982) formed some of the basis of the AF system (using linear contrast with a linear CCD). Here is the semi-silvered pattern on the T80 mirror and the electronic contacts.

  4. In some alternate universe, where Canon, like Nikon, abandoned the in-lens model, the T80 would have been seen as a dead end. However, in our universe, Canon was as stubborn as they have often proved to be, and developed the FD camera system to near perfection with the T90 and invented new, small and compact in-lens motors of the sort becoming ubiquitous today. Although the T80 is just a plastic, squared-off version, sort of, of an A-series Canon, by the T90 the so-called jello-mold influence of the designer Colani was being seen ( ).

    Canon also decided that the hole in the camera for the lens was just too damn small for everything being attached, so - dies irae - they abandoned FD(n) and introduced a whole new camera system, EOS - Electro Optical System ( ). There are FD users to this day and others now using Nikons as a result of this change.

    Anyway, take the new lens focus motors, and the other Electro Optical System features, the new mount, and the rest of the features from the T90, and you have the look, feel, and functionality of today's Canon EOS line.

    The T80 turned out not to be a dead end so much as a beloved, but handicapped, uncle. As I found out.

  5. T80

    The basics are at . As it points out there, an earlier focus-assist camera (AL-1, 1982) formed some of the basis of the AF system (using linear contrast with a linear CCD).
    A pdf of the manual for it can be found at

    Canon's Camera Museum ( ) has the specifications which pretty much tell the story.
    Type 35mm focal-plane shutter AF SLR camera with built-in winder and multi-mode AE
    Picture Size 24 x 36 mm
    Normal Lens FD 35-70mm f/3.5-4.5, others
    Lens Mount FD mount (with AC signal transmission capability)
    AF System CCD for TTL focus detection with dedicated AC lenses. One Shot AF and continuous AF modes provided. AF locks during continuous shooting. AF detection range at ISO 100 and f/1.8: EV 4 - 18.
    Shutter Vertical-travel, focal-plane electronic shutter. With multi-program AE and preset aperture AE: 2, 1, 1/2, 1/4, 1/8, 1/15, 1/30, 1/60, 1/125, 1/250, 1/500, 1/1000 sec. For manual: B and 1/60 sec. X-sync at 1/90 sec. (hot shoe). Built-in electronic self-timer (with beeper and LCD to indicate countdown).
    Viewfinder Fixed eye-level pentaprism. 0.83x magnification, 92% vertical coverage, 93% horizontal coverage. Laser Matte with cross split prism rangefinder.
    Viewfinder Four LEDs and mask illumination. Correct exposure, In program mode: Correct exposure, camera-shake warning, manual, and warnings.
    Metering & Exposure Control SPC for TTL full-aperture metering (centerweighted averaging) with multi-program AE and TTL preset aperture AE. Picture-taking mode selected with pictograph on external LCD. Exposure compensation range of 1.5 EV. Metering range at ISO 100 and f/1.4: EV 1 - 19. Film speed range from ISO 12 to 1600.
    External LCD Program display, pictographs, film speed, film transport, battery check, frame counter, and other indications.
    Power Source Four 1.5 V size-AAA batteries
    Film Loading & Advance After aligning film leader at mark, close camera back for auto loading. Auto film advance with built-in motor. Continuous shooting at 0.7 fps.
    Film Rewind Power rewind with built-in motor.
    Dimensions & Weight 141 x 102 x 55 mm, 555 g
  6. I got the Canon T80 body with a AC 75-200mm f/4.5 lens for a 2-3 pizza price, and at the same time found a buy-it-now AC 50mm lens for the price of a fancy pizza, all on eBay.
    Everything arrived and worked, so I put film in the camera and took it and its lenses out to shoot at the same time I was using up the rest of the roll on my also new T70.

    These AC lenses turn out to be quite a pocket full, but here is a continuation of the "gray" theme I pursued with the T70 -- having no choice with even worse weather forecast and needing to try these out to make sure they really worked. The film is Kodak Ultramax 400 - glad I didn't throw in the Ektra 100, given the dark day.

    Here, continuing the "gray" theme of my T70 post done on the same day is the gray National Guard Armory. The upper Left is with the AC 50mm f/1.8 lens. Focus was pretty good after it hemmed and hawed for a while getting there. The upper right image is with the AC 75-200mm f/4.5 lens at 75cm. Lower right is the same lens at roughly 135mm, and the eagle alone, with the lens at 200mm.

    Patience was required, but the end product was surprisingly good. The problem was not the accuracy of autofocus, but its speed. I can't imagine trying to use this camera and lens for sports or mobile wildlife photography.
  7. The rest of the images are all with the AC75-200mm lens. Remember, all of these are with the camera set for AF in the Program mode. What I was interested here was the early AF capability.

    It was gray at the cemetery too. Here is a classic "Woodmen of the World" (a fraternal organization sort of like the Elks or some such) grave. The camera/lens locked right on, if deliberately.

  8. Here is a long shot at 200mm of a gray bank building. Again, focus is as good as I could have done with my eyes. I should mention that there was a very nice focusing screen with even a rangefinder prism wedge in it so that it was easy to see when the AF had got it right. There is no touch-up like newer AF/manual motors allow, but you could see not to 'snap' until focus was achieved -- sort of one step beyond focus confirmation.

  9. I actually did shoot a brick wall, but suffice it to say that the AC 75-200mm lens is pretty decent wide and medium, with just a touch of pincushion distortion at 200mm.
    One last shot showing the ability of the tele at 200mm - a roof detail against the gray sky of the oldest surviving cinematic emporium in town -- this was somehow overlooked in the multiple restylings it has had since it was built.
  10. To wrap up this rather over-long report, I have to point out that the marketing of this camera was as Herbert Keppler put it in his preview of it--after introducing the then recent concept of bridge cameras, he said

    It could be argued that Minolta's MAXXUM is the first "bridge" camera since it does combine all the auto features of the lens-shutter camera with SLR interchangeable lens autofocus, but it really is a sophisticated bells, whistles, apertures and shutter speed camera. A simpler MAXXUM, said to be in the works, may indeed make this grade.
    This leaves the Canon T80 as the very first true "bridge" camera. Users of point-and-shoot cameras with no desire to know an aperture or shutter speed from a hamburger will feel right at home. Picturegraphs on the top LCD panel indicate proper settings to give the user the most depth in sharpness, shallow depth to throw backgrounds out of focus, an action setting, a general setting and a variable setting when you would like to pan or show motion as motion... Modern Photography 1985-05.

  11. Here's an early ad for the camera, further backing up Keppler's discussion of its planned market (which really didn't much materialize.

  12. As it turned out, something more like the Mirai was what "bridge camera" users wanted, and the Maxxum set the tone for all future AF interchangeable SLRs.
  13. Fascinating report. Thanks for going into so much detail.
    I question your idea that the throat of the FD mount was getting "too crowded" and that's why Canon decided to create the EF mount (unless you have some documentation to support it, of course). Nikon and Pentax, with much smaller throat diameters, have had no problem fitting all the electronics in, even while preserving legacy mechanical connections. My guess (which is all it is, a guess) is that Canon really wanted to get away from all the old mechanical linkages as well as the breech-lock mount (which was still a breech-lock at its core even if Canon had made it seem more bayonet-like by making the entire outer barrel of the New FD lenses serve as the breech-lock ring).
    Like Nikon and Minolta, Canon had a lens mount that dated back to the late 1950s, long before computer technology began to invade cameras. Connections for things like automatic aperture stop-down, open metering, and shutter-priority aperture selection were implemented with mechanical links that by the mid-1980s looked rather primitive. All the camera companies that had invested in this technology had to consider carefully whether to retain full backward compatibility or to start afresh to design a fully-electronic system. Nikon, a traditionally conservative company, which as the market leader had a lot to lose from irritating their existing customers, chose to favor compatibility, and went with a clunkier solution that was more expensive to manufacture (more moving parts) and had comparatively clunky AF performance. Canon and Minolta, both of whom had a history of using cutting-edge technology to challenge Nikon's dominance, went all-out for the sexiest, most computerized, least mechanical camera systems they could devise.
    In Canon's case, at least, the results clearly justify their decision; their all-electronic interface with in-lens focusing motors blew away Nikon in AF performance, and they now co-rule the 35mm/APS-C camera market with Nikon, instead of being a perennial challenger as they were for many years. Nikon themselves began switching to in-lens motors with the introduction of AF-S lenses in 1992, and over the years has gradually de-emphasized the role of mechanical camera-to-lens linkages.
    I don't know why the EF mount has such a huge throat diameter, but I would guess that it has less to do with making room for electronics than with providing better physical support for longer, heavier lenses. It is sometimes claimed that the larger throat enables Canon to make super-fast lenses, but I'm pretty sure this is not true, or at least not the reason for the wide throat.
    Industrial design is a matter of taste, of course. I know you like the look of the Canon T-series cameras, but I personally find them hideous. The T90 is the best of a bad lot in that regard. My vote for prettiest Canon SLRs goes to the A-series.
  14. The "too crowded" may have been overstatement, but I was repeating, perhaps too credulously, the sort of argument I had seen elsewhere. We agree that it turned out to be to their advantage in the long run.
    Actually, aside from the T90, I am not a fan of the design of the external form of the main series of T cameras. "Hideous" is strong, but like the later Triumph 'wedge' sports cars, this was part of the times.
  15. Yes, the look of the T-series was definitely part of the zeitgeist of the '80s. I was in my late teens and early 20s during the '80s, and even at the time I found the era rather appalling in many ways. Looking back, it seems to me that things from the '80s (specifically from about 1983 to 1990 or so) seems more dated and more tied to their time than just about anything else from the 20th century. It was a period when computer technology reached the masses and everything had to be "high-tech" in form and function, and in form that generally meant it had to look like a fashion accessory for Arnold Schwarzenegger as The Terminator. It was very '80s for Canon to throw away their existing product line and go all-electronic for the EOS system, which is to say that it was a very smart marketing decision to make at that time. Nikon definitely started looking a bit old-fogeyish around then. On the one hand, you can still use a 1977 AI Nikkor lens on a 2012 Nikon D800, but on the other hand, only an old fogey (which by '80s standards means anyone not obsessed with new technology for its own sake) would want to.
  16. That brings back memories of the family camera shop. We had not planned to stock the T80, but one of our customers wanted one so we ordered one with the zoom and flash. Thanks for posting.
  17. You may be able to still mount that 1977 AI lens on a modern Nikon, but I can also mount that same lens on my Canon EOS bodies with TTL metering. What's more, I can use all my extensive library of Nikkor NON-AI (1959-1977) lenses on my Canons, not to mention that every EF lens made still works on all Canons.
    But who's counting, right? ;)
  18. Well, JDM, you only have yourself to blame for opening up this can of worms. The Canon T80 is one camera that is near and dear to my heart. It's one of the most misunderstood and unfairly criticized cameras around.
    The popular myth is that, when Minolta introduced the Maxxum a few months after the T80, Canon went into a panic, withdrew the T80, went back to the drawing board, and then introduced the EOS 650 and EF lens mount in 1987. A look at Canon's 35mm SLR development history indicates a roughly 5-year development cycle, and that they were well into the EOS/EF design and engineering in 1985.
    After Canon introduced the last of its FL mount SLRs in the mid-1960s, they began work on the FD mount. Canon has stated that they spent at least five years developing the F1 and its accessories. The FD mount, introduced in 1971 and discontinued around 1992, remained functionally unchanged during this period. Any FD lens is fully operational on any FD body with no modifications. Further, any FD lens is fully functional on any FL body with no modifications. The first generation chrome nose FD lenses will work properly in any AE mode, while the last FDn lens made will provide shutter priority AE on an original F1 with the Servo EE Finder.
    The Canon EOS 650 and EF mount lenses were introduced and available in 1987. This means that all of the needed processes and tooling were in place when production began in late 1986. I have a Canon EOS 650 brochure dated July 1988 which shows a full range of 13 EF lenses, from the 15mm fisheye to the EF 300mm f/2.8L Ultrasonic. As with the FD mount, the EF mount has remained essentially unchanged since its introduction. As JDM noted, any EF lens will work on any EOS body, analog or digital, with no modifications. The image stabilization on my EF lenses work perfectly on my EOS 650 body. Clearly, Canon's design and engineering of its autofocus SLRs and EF mount lenses were essentially complete by the time the Minolta Maxxum appeared.
    It seems to me that Canon designed and engineered their cameras for long term stability and future development before starting production. To presume that the T80 was a mis-step doesn't ring true. Historically, Canon has produce what I call "technology demonstrators" to showcase their abilities, to test their technology in the real world, and to preview the next generation. The Canon Pellix showed they could think outside the box. The EF led to the subsequent generation of electronic AE cameras. The AL-1 provided basic AE and focus assistance to amateurs who wanted the higher quality and flexibility of an SLR, but who were intimidated by them. As the replacement for the AL-1, the T80 was intended to appeal to these same advanced amateurs, adding auto focus, multiple programmed AE modes, and fully motorized film transport to the mix. It also pioneered the user interface that was roundly criticized at the dawn of the AF SLR era but which ultimately became the norm.
    Most critics of the T80 have probably never seen one in the flesh, let alone used one. Having owned and used one extensively since 1989, I can state that it has been my favorite FD camera for snapshots and quick shooting. It's light, comfortable and has been totally reliable.
  19. The three AC lenses available for the T80 are optically the same as their FDn counterparts. Some users have used AC lenses successfully on other Canon FD bodies since they all have a manual focus override, though I've never even considered doing this. One important thing to keep in mind is that AC lenses are AE-only lenses. In essence, they are like an FD lens with the aperture ring permanently locked on the green "A" setting. This means that the pin on the lens mount that switches the camera body into AE mode is fully and permanently extended, and that you should never try to mount an AC lens on a Canon SLR that does not support AE. If you try, you'll break the pin. Further, even though an AC lens can be mounted to FD bodies with only aperture priority AE (AV-1, AL-1), they will not meter properly since the lens must be set to a specific aperture. In any case, mounting an AC lens on anything but a T80 will be at your own risk.
  20. I normally avoid debates on the aesthetic and tactile qualities of plastic vs metal in cameras and in lenses. I realize these are personal preferences. However, it irks me when the implication is made that metal has been replaced with simple and cheap plastics.
    A review of the Canon AE-1 appears in the May 1977 issue of Popular Photography. In his stripdown report, Norman Goldberg states:
    As for the lens mount parts, Canon's engineers told me they used a mix of polycarbonate and glass fibers that's 70 percent glass by weight. This produces a lens barrel whose rate of expansion/contraction with changing temperature is nearly equal to that of the glass elements mounted within the barrel.
    It's my impression that the "plastics" used in the T series bodies and AC lenses are of the same construction, and are more accurately described as composites similar to fiberglass. The trade off is that, while plastic composites can chip or crack, they don't dent or deform like metal. My T80's body has held up extremely well.
  21. To presume that the T80 was a mis-step doesn't ring true. Historically, Canon has produce what I call "technology demonstrators" to showcase their abilities, to test their technology in the real world, and to preview the next generation.​
    Some "technology demonstrator"! :)
    That story would make more sense if the same events/circumstances did not also apply to Pentax and Nikon in their equally abortive first AF 'systems'. The differences there were their abandonment of in-lens motors as though they were a dead skunk.
    I am quite sure that Canon did not intend that the camera would be a misstep, but the success of in-lens AF was dependent on the development of small AF motors. The system on the T80 is usable, if one makes allowances for the
    • whirr (there yet?, no)
    • whirr (almost there)
    • whirr (overshoot focus, go back)
    • whirr (there's your uncle).
    In my experience with the two lenses and the body, I found that part of the success of the AF system was the success of the operator in recognizing focus being achieved in the viewfinder.
    "snapshot" NOT ;)
    I have shot a very large sample of the early EOS cameras (report with references to others here), and the most primitive of them (the EOS 650) is a revolutionary leap beyond the T80. Even the Maxxum 7000 (which is why its kind prevailed) is a usable AF system by standards not attuned to sports photography.
    Mind, I like the T80 for its 'bravery' but I'd take a A-series camera (I will be doing a report soon on a 're-animated' A-1) or more particularly a T90 as my first choice for FD-mount shooting.
    As Gordon points out, the plastic issue is a red herring. These are not your grandfather's plastic.
  22. From my perspective, the real technologies demonstrated in the T80 were the user interface employing an LCD, buttons and slide switches; the compact and highy efficient motorized film transport; the more sophisticated electronics; and the expanded use of composite materials. The auto focus lenses were not much more than warmed over variations of Canon's FDn 35-70mm f/4 AF lens from 1981, which is why I don't judge the T80 based on its AF performance. I look at it as an AL-1 with significantly enhanced features. What other camera of its era had focus confirmation with any lens that you could attach?
    When I bought my T80, my main camera for serious work was an A-1 with a Motor Drive MA (and 12 AA batteries). My backup bodies were an F-1n, FTbN and my original FTb. The AC lenses were clearly intended to be consumer level lenses and I rarely use them. For casual shooting, the T80 with an FD or FDn lens is much less cumbersome than my A-1 setup, the viewfinder is noticeably brighter and the multiple AE modes are easy and quick to select.
  23. As for
    you only have yourself to blame for opening up this can of worms​
    That's basically my motto, although the metaphor I use usually has to do with a stick and a wasps' nest.
    I acknowledge the help of others, but accept all blame for myself - the academic way of saying, "if it's wrong, don't blame me.." ;)
  24. My apologies, ADM. I normally try to be factual and helpful in my posts, and usually avoid pontificating. You just happened to be the innocent bystander who gave me the opportunity to vent some of my pent-up frustration. I respect your opinions and comments since they're based on actual hands-on experience rather than the mere parroting of anecdotal information and accepted folklore.
  25. Make that JDM...
  26. As long as you don't call me "Smith". :)
  27. In re the clubs.
    De Tocqueville in the 1830s particularly noted how "club/social group"-oriented Americans were by comparison to Europeans. My professional opinion is that was conditioned by population movement that made neighbors more important on a day-to-day basis than were the kin - often "back East".
    I think the rise of what we call "age-grades" in America has a lot to do with the decline in "sodalities". To be sure, the automobile and modern communications are also factors.
  28. JDM: Because of your exposee, I was THIS tempted recently to bid on an exceptionally clean T-80 on our favorite auction site. Complete with paperwork, lens and box. It sold for 53 dollars I believe. I watched it for awhile then passed and went in search of an FTBn, I knew in my photographic heart of hearts I would not use the T-80 much after it's novelty wore off and also felt that walking around with this photographic albatross of a lens / body combo would not help me pick up chicks (actually nothing helps). Plastic is ok, but if it's too light as with the Rebel G, then it's a problem. That camera is so light the optional battery pack should have been standard ! So light it kinda reminded me of those old Diana cameras or the Time Life cameras that one got with a paid subscription.
  29. Excerpts from Norman Goldberg's report on the T80 in the June 1986 issue of Popular Photography:
    "Essentially, this [the T80] is a T70 with the autofocus detection module from the AL-1, that appeared briefly in 1982."
    "It uses a zinc alloy casting for its film plane within a glass-reinforced polycarbonate body. This casting extends out to meet another zinc casting, the front plate, resulting in an all-metal 'box' frame between the lens flange and the film."
    "The T80 is a highly sophisticated mechanical, optical, and electronic instrument. Don't be fooled by its all-plastic exterior and picture-symbol exposure setting display - it's one more example of picture-taking simplicity backed up by sophisticated engineering."
  30. More at
    on the AL-1 focus confirmation camera

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