Canon FTb, a workhorse loved by die-hard Canon FD mount fans, is one camera that gets overshadowed by the A-1 and AE-1 with photography enthusiasts. Introduced in 1971 along with the F-1 and Canonet QL 28, the FTb was positioned as the camera for advanced amateurs, while the F-1 was for working photojournalists, filling the role as Canon’s answer to the Nikkormat.
Back when cameras were built like tanks, if you ran out of film, you could inflict serious damage with a FTb as a handheld weapon. You can’t do that with an A-series SLR. This camera was like a lot of others on the market, horizontal cloth shutter that goes up to 1/1000 of a second, and a single silicon cell meter powered by the 1.3v mercury 625 battery. If weight is going to be an issue, I would use the late FDn lenses as they are lighter and, as mentioned earlier, these cameras were built like tanks.
The QL on the camera body stands for “Quick Load” just like the Canonets, loading FTb’s is a breeze, the opposite of say, a Leica IIIF. The camera line was refreshed in 1973 with a plastic piece on the film advance lever, the ability to see the aperture in the viewfinder, and a spring loaded PC socket cover. Production stopped sometime in the mid to late 1970s when the A-series SLRs gained popularity.
FTb ergonomics are very straightforward for manual focus SLR fans. The meter has an on/off and battery check switch to the left of the prism (don’t forget to turn it off when you’re finished with the photo-shoot). You also have a shutter lock, so you don’t have an accidental exposure while traveling. If you shoot a lot of with early 1970s SLRs you will be oriented quickly.
Canon FTb’s can be easily had under $100 most cases, sometimes even under $50, depending on the condition. One weak spot for this and a lot of other cameras is shutter bounce, something I would not try to fix at home if you don’t have the mechanical aptitude. The other concern is of course the 1.3v 625 battery; if you go the CLA route you can instruct a tech to recalibrate to 1.5 volts, alternately use a MR9 battery converter or a 625 Wein cell.
I like FTb’s because they are simple mechanical cameras you can use if the battery dies. I learned on the AE-1 and eventually sold it. Years later, I bought another AE-1 out of nostalgia but I never really bonded with it. My first FTb was given to me along with some Canon FD lenses, and that’s what got me back into shooting Canon. I purchased a black 1974 vintage FTBn off EBay, where I paid more for the shipping to Canada than what I paid for the actual camera. The camera itself is a “Panda” as someone cannibalized the shutter and rewind dials from a chrome body.
Some Light Reading on the Canon FTb, the owners manual - http://www.butkus.org/chinon/canon/canon_ftb/canon_ftb.htm