This is a syndicated blog post from Rio Akasaka. It is being republished with permission.
The view within a viewfinder has always been an opportunity to display additional information to the user. In the photos below I go over 8 film SLR and rangefinder camera viewfinders.
CANONET 19 (1961)
The Canonet’s viewfinder, which sported what Canon called a “data center”, indicates the aperture at which the selenium light meter decides the photo will be taken.
CANONET GIII QL17 (1972)
This is a fairly popular rangefinder – similar to the Canonet, a black needle moves to indicate the aperture at which the photo will be taken.
CANON EF (1973)
The EF featured a shutter priority mode which made it a nice feature that the viewfinder displayed both aperture and shutter settings.
The aperture that the user set is visible at the top part of the viewfinder; if the exposure is set correctly, the needle sits in the middle of the red setting triangle.
CANON A-1 (1978)
The Canon A-1 has both aperture and shutter priority mode, so the viewfinder displays both information. An additional consideration that Canon engineers put into the A-1 was the ability to turn off the display as well.
CANON AV-1 (1979)
The AV-1 is one of the few cameras to feature aperture-priority only. My hypothesis is that most photographers were more keen to ensure photos were not blurry, and camera companies were therefore incentivized to develop shutter-priority cameras first.
CANON AE-1 PROGRAM (1981)
The AE-1 had a fully automatic (program) mode, which lit up the “P” LED. Otherwise it also had a shutter-priority mode which would light up the aperture selected.
CANON NEW F-1 (1981)
With the Eyefinder FN viewfinder on the Canon New F-1 you were given a view of the shutter-priority viewfinder, which indicated the automatically selected aperture.