What’s in a Viewfinder?

Canon A-1

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.




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.




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.



  • viggen
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    I have a couple of old cameras – Yashica Electro 35 GTN and an Asahi Pentax Auto-110. Yashika is a rangefinder. The out of focus viewfinder shows two images of the subject, and as the lens is focusted, the two images merge into a sharp single image. Asahi Pentax has the split circle focusing in the viewfinder. As you turn the lens to focus, the two halves of the circle start aligning. When the subject is in focus, the two halves are perfectly aligned.

  • bobw-66554432
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    There are times I wish my 70D had the split focusing center in the viewfinder. My old style (1974) F1 had it and I found it a breeze to snap on a dead on focus with it. Spot a vertical line near your target, make it continuous, and that was it.

    Now my eyes are half shot and even a 10x focusing zoom results in a slow target focus. Yes, autofocus is nice, but not when you are trying to pick a specific focal point and the camera fights you.

    Maybe cataract surgery would help… %)

  • Unknown Unknown Unknown Unknown


  • dude II
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    How about the Fujica ST-801 which replaced the match needle (fragile) with LED’s. A small disk displayed the selected shutter speed. (Five LED’s so it would display +- 2 stops and the LED’s would light up to show 1/2 stops.) This was in 1971, years before Canon/Nikon/anyone else in replacing D’Arsonval meter systems in the viewfinder.

    Also how about the Fujica ST-901, a aperture priority camera the displayed DIGITAL shutter speeds in the viewfinder in the mid 70’s. Again, years before Canon/Nikon/anyone else had it.

    Add into the mix that the Fujica ST series lenses, extended into the DX mount, were using EBC (Electron Beam Coating) since the late 60’s. Beautiful lenses even to this day as shown by the Fuji lenses for their current lenses today.

    You really need to get a grip on the technology of photography and lenses. This article is not about innovation it is about how Canon’s followed other companies into viewfinder displays, not how it lead the industry

  • Vladimir Khudyakov
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    Nikon? 🙂