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Saturday, September 30, 2006

Modern Canon Classic

Adam Richardson has just posted a nice paean to the Canon T90 on his blog.


Featured Comment by Morven: Like it or hate it, it's definitely the case that every Canon high-end SLR from then on is just a revision of the T90 design, in terms of appearance and interface. And, for that matter, many other companies' designs owe it a lot.

As well as the things mentioned, it also had the top-plate status LCD, now ubiquitous (though this was in simpler form on the earlier T70), the full-size handgrip with shutter button on the grip rather than on the camera top, and a bunch of other things. It also introduced the TTL flash system used on early EOS cameras.

Internally, it was the first camera to use multiple micromotors rather than one big motor to drive everything; its power-conservation is quite amazing. I can't think of many earlier cameras that incorporated an integral high-speed motor drive, for that matter.

The genius of the T90 was that it was the first electronic, power-driven SLR that wasn't interested in pretending to be mechanical or mindlessly repeating the control layout and appearance of the manual SLR.

If one had to pick the breaking point between the classic SLR and the modern, the T90 was the place. That it wasn't autofocus was about the only part of the revolution it did not have. Well, that and matrix metering, although it made up for it by having pretty much everything else; center-weighted, partial area, spot, multi-spot with shadow and highlight spots, and TTL flash.

I largely wrote the Wikipedia article on the T90, which I'm fairly proud of:—an attempt to distil all the sources I could find into a short article on it.

Ken Tanaka: the T70 was a nice camera, very overlooked because it's boxy, plastic and motor-driven. I have one and it's a very serviceable camera indeed, and a steal for about $30 on eBay including lens. Meanwhile, less capable (but equally battery-dependent) AE-1s go for over a hundred.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I really suppose it's all a matter of personal prefrences and I think the time period you were introduced to photography. Personally I've never liked the sloped and rounded style of SLR's like the T90. Now the classic Nikon F with the plain eyelevel prism, that is, to my eyes...perfect. But then, it was 1969 I became intrested in photography, and I think the best looking cameras come from that era. A Spotmatic, Minolta SRT, Canon FTb, Konica AR T, Topcon D, Olympus OM, etc. I still love to pick them up and feel their very mechanical nature.

12:12 PM  
Blogger Ken Tanaka said...

I owned (still do, somewhere) two T70's, the short-lived predecessors to the equally short-lived T90. They featured a boxier line at the top but were very sturdy, reliable cameras. But I never really fell in love with them the way this fellow has.

Now what do I do with those cameras...?

12:25 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm from a later generation than John, but very much agree with him. Nothing like a classic SLR. I'm still waiting for the Pentax ME-Super of DSLRs. Canon cameras, BTW, have always seemed pretty ugly to me (and the lower end models at least, especially bad in their ergonomics.)

1:06 PM  
Blogger Just Plain Hugh said...

I always wondered who to blame for cameras where one control does hundreds of things depending on what two other buttons you push at the same time. How anyone could make an automatic camera so much harder to use than a completely manual one is hard to understand.
"On the T90 the concept of the thumbwheel combined with mode controls was introduced. It was an early example of modal interface, and in some respects they went a bit too far - some fairly frequently used actions were a bit awkward to do as they required two hands. But the thumbwheel was a revelation, located behind the shutter button it allowed rapid control of many different functions in a way that was highly intuitive. "

Sometimes this knob changes the f/stop, sometimes it changes the shutter speed, sometimes both, and other times it scrolls through the stored photos except for when it changes the enlargement, except for when it does something else.

Modal interfaces are an abomination in my opinion. They are bad enough on computers where they are sometimes necessary but are usually gratuitous. Canon for example stuffs multiple functions into the a limited set of controls, like press two buttons, turn a wheel, change which display you are looking at while the while the you loose the shutter speed and f/stop display. These are the same people who put a dedicated single function "Print" button on the 5D, deemed too "professional" for a pop up flash.

I also blame the T90 for the "ergonomic if you have exactly the same size hands, and hold the camera exactly the same way as the designer" school of design. I developed a chronic pain in my right hand from using the 10d

On the other hand I always liked the older Hasselblad lenses where you first set the EV then picked out which shutter speed F/stop combination you wanted. Super fast and easy as long as you had a light meter that read out in Exposure Values like a Gossen meter for instance. That was modal in a way. A lot of the digital cameras I have used have automatic modes where one wheel sets the exposure compensation and the other picks the shutter speed F/stop combination but what I would really like is a manual exposure mode like that.

1:35 PM  
Blogger fizzy said...

Great camera except for the flaw that if your stored it with the batteries in, it ruined the shutter. Anyone want a T90 "display model"?

12:31 AM  
Blogger CKWork said...

I started with the AT1, and owned many Canon cameras since. For me the T90 is special. Prior to it I owned an A1 - a supposed technological marvel for the time, I found it almost unusable - too many buttons and dials, too much to get wrong and too much to think about.

With the T90, I think Canon were the first to successfully tame the technology to a degree where photographers (as opposed to camera enthusiasts) could really benefit.

But talk about bad timing on Canon's part! To release such a gem only to have it so quickly superceded by AF systems. Still, for me the T90 is a fitting climax to the FD mount series of cameras.

8:58 AM  

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