In the upper right corner of these two negatice the date has been stamped by a Quartz Date Dateback. On a horizontal image the imprint would be in the lower right corner.
Canon Date/Data Backs
All of us who have boxes of old prints have the same problem: when was that picture of Mom and Dad taken? It is a common problem and one that has been with us since the birth of photography. The issue was permanently resolved with the advent of the digital camera and its image metadata. But before digital, when we were using film, how did we deal with this?
Some Canon models of film cameras had backs on them that could flash numbers onto the film, thus exposing it, which actually put a string of characters on the film itself. The negative was permanently marked. Theses characters could be programed to record time, or date, or an identifying string of characters and numerals.
On the left in these vertical images that are sideways on the film you will see in the upper right corner at date string, 12 October 1987. On horizontal images the string appears in the lower right corner.
The characters are illuminated through a hole in the camera’s pressure plate. Some backs use small light bulbs and others use LCD’s. The process is the same. The light is synchronized with the release of the shutter so that the imprint is done at the exact time the shutter is fired.
Now, personally, I don’t care for these devices. For me the imprint uses up too much film real estate. However, for families who take pictures for fun, for jounalists, for historians, for any researcher wanting to key images to written records, for technical and scientific applications, I can see the value.
Some cameras had detachable backs, such as the F-1 or the AE-1, which would accept a Databack, sometimes called a Date Back, which was offered as an accessory.
Databacks could be set to “Off” and the camera used without imprinting anything on the film. I don’t use these backs and I simply remove the batteries from them. They all have their own internal power to keep the clocks running whether the camera was on or off.
The first Databack I can find reference to is the Databack F
designed specifically for the original Canon F-1. I don’t have
one of these yet but it looks and operates very much like the
Databack A that was created for the AE-1. They are so much alike that
they share the same Instruction Manual.
This AE-1 has the Databack A attached and you can see the sync cable from the Back reaching around the front of the camera body to plug into the PC Socket.
The Databack F and A are identical except for the shape of the back. They are different shapes to fit two different cameras. But they are electronically the same which is why they share the same Instruction Manual. The Databack A is designed to fit the A-1, AE-1, AE-1 Program and the AT-1.
The back has a short sync cable that reaches around to the front of the camera to plug into the PC Socket. The back imprints on the film at the moment the shutter fires and the back uses the flash sync to do this.
The code stamped on the film is 6 characters in three groups of 2. This allows for the Date, the Time or a 6 digit code of the users choosing. The characters are set using three wheels on the back of the unit. By examining these wheels one can see the range of characters available.
This camera back has an On-Off switch. When turned off the battery power is preserved and the camera can be
used in the usual manner without the date imprinting. So, do not hesitate buying a camera simply because it has one of these backs on it. The camera will work fine. And a plain back for an AE-1 or an F-1 can be fitted at a later time. There are many available on E-bay or at any camera show.
The actual details of operation are in the Instruction Manual which is available below. Read the booklet and you will see how easy this device is to use.
The Databack A is powered by the same type of battery that powers the AE-1. The battery compartment is visible on the left edge. Above the battery door is a button to imprint on the film manually.
The hinge, shown on the left edge, has a small projection which allows the hinge pin to be retracted to remove or mount the back on the camera.
The Databack FN
is essentially a Databack A, so
much so that they shared the same Instruction Manual.
When Canon introduced the New F-1 in September of 1981 the removeable backs of the F-1 and New F1 were not interchangeable. As a result the Databack F would not fit correctly. A new Databack was required. That was the Databack FN.
It was again the same back as the Databack A with one significant change: sync contacts were added to the body interior and they made contact with connections in the Databack when the back was closed. There was no sync cable to plug into a PC Socket. From this point forward all Databacks connected internally in this fashion.
Once again, the similarity was such that the Databack A and the FN shared the same Instruction Manual.
I do not yet have this Databack, but, that is only a matter of time. One will come my way.
The Canon Data Back S1-0216 is a rare back that was not listed in Canon Camera Catlogues. It is a scientific or medical recording device.
Note the double holes in the pressure plate for imprinting of an expanded string of characters. It is also of note that back appears to have no battery compartment for internal power to maintain the electronic closck.
DATA BACK S1-0216
When searching on line for Canon Data Backs I came across a Data Back S1-0216 complete kit for sale by Pacific Rim Camera for $750.00 USD (too much for my restricted budget). This Back was designed for the Canon F-1 camera. As I have never seen one of these before and the only reference I have is this listing I must credit the photos here to Pacific Rim.
As photographers we tend to forget that by the time the F-1 came along Canon had become a diversified company offering a wide range of business and scientific products. And there were industrial and scientific customers who needed a greater capacity to save data about each picture frame.
I suspect that these Backs were listed in Industrial and Scientific or Medical Equipment Catalogues. They may have been part of a larger piece of specialized equipment. Us photographers would not have been aware of them.
Looking at the two holes in the Data Back’s pressure plate and looking at the Keypad Unit and counting the
characters in the two strings on the display I assume that this Back would imprint two strings of 6 characters each centered along the bottom of the frame. A switch on the Keypad Unit seems to allow for the entry of the Left Hand string and the Right Hand String separately.
All of the above is conjecture as this Pacific Rim Camera listing is the only time I have seen or heard about these Data Backs.
The Data Back S1-0216 has a blue connector on the left end to which attaches a separate electronic key pad. There are two six character strings which can be input into the back and presumably printed on the film. I have never seen one of these and have no Instruction Manual so more comment than this is conjecture.
The Command Back is user changeable and can be attached to any T70 body. Below the small LCD screen is a small door held closed by a magnet. Behind the door are the control buttons for the Back.
Command Back 70/80
Canon made Data Backs specifically for the T series of cameras. These backs are a step up in complexity and include advanced timer functions.
Not only will the Back record data on the film but it will actually fire the camera. Communication with the camera body, reception of shutter release information and shutter release instruction, is via two electrical contacts and a ground contact on the back which make contact with the body when the Back is closed.
Date information can be set in any of three formats, day/mo/yr, yr/mo/da and mo/da/yr. A 6 character string of 3 sets of 2 characters can also be sett from 0 to 99 and characters A thru F.
The most interesting feature is new with this Back: three timer functions. The first is a simple self timer that will delay shutter release from one second to 24 hours (well, one second less than 24 hrs) and then fire the camera. The second is an Intervelometer that will fire the camera at user definable intervals at times up to 24 hours away. And finally, there is a long release time. The Back can be programmed to hold the shutter open for any length of time up to 24 hours beginning at a preset time.
This is a more complex Back than we have seen heretofore and the Instruction Manual will be essential to use all of the new features.
The backs on the T70 and T80 will not fit on each other and so the T80 required a different Command Back but the only difference was in the shape of the back so it would fit. The Backs are identical and therefore use the same Instruction Manual.
One final note: the T70 was introduced in April of 1984. Looking at the Date Code printed inside the back, it was manufactured in September of 1985.
The 6 buttons beneath the door at the bottom of the Back control the programming of the Back. The Date and Character String functions are reasonably straight forward but the Timer functions get a bit complex and time with the Instructions would be well spent.
When the T90 was introduced it had the same problem as the T80: the previous Command Backs would not fit on the new camera. The Command Back 90, which was essentialy a Command Back 80 with a door that fit the T90, was the answer.
Command Back 90
The Command Back 90 is the same back as the Command Back 80 and 70 with a door shape that fit the T90. Canon also took the opportunity to improve the electrical contacts between camera and Data Back. But compare the images of the Command Back T90 and the T80. Same device.
Unfortunately, although I have a very nice T90, it has the standard back. I don’t have this Command Back. I also have yet to acquire the Instruction Manual for the Command Back T90 so I am not in a position to give a more detailed description.
The Data Memory Back 90 is the most advanced Back we have looked at to this point. It will store data about each shot and play the data back on the LCD, or print it on the frame, or download it to a desk top computer.
Data Memory Back 90
The T90 was an advance in Canon’s camera technology and was the stepping stone to the first EOS cameras. In keeping with the advances in this camera Canon also released the Data Memory Back 90 for the T90 camera. This Back introduced a whole host of new features and abilities.
The Data Memory Back will record Date and Time as well as Shutter, Aperture, metering mode, shooting mode, flash use and several other parameters. Thirteen data points in all were recorded for each shot which can then be reviewed later.
The Data Memory Back, and thus the T90, can be connected to an MSX Home Computer and this data can be displayed or stored on the computer. MSX was a computer architecture introduced in Japan in 1983. It was initially conceived by Microsoft and became popular in Asia. The principal munufacturer was Sony but there were several others. Canon introduced twwo MSX Home Computer models in 1983, The V-10 and V-20. They were basic machines but were able to download T90 shooting data.
To connect the T90 to the computer one had to first connect the Data Memory Back to a Canon Interface Unit DMB which then connected to the computer. Data for up to 156 frames could be stored (4 rolls of 36 exposures) or 338 frames (9 rolls of 36 Exposures) depending on how many parameters were stored.
Today the Interface Unit DMB is seldom seen in collections as it is very rare. Unfortunately, I don’t have the Manual for the Back or the interface nor do I have the Back itself. So I cannot really say much more than this about it. And finding one would be nice but I doubt I could get it to work because I would then need a working MSX computer.
This is the Quartz Date Back E on my EOS 650 camera. Underneath the small LCD screen are the four data input buttons for entering Date, Time, Characters and otherwise controlling the Back.
The details of entering data and using the Back are here in the Instruction Manual. Once you spend a hour here the Back will appear simple to operate.
Quartz Date Back E
When Canon first introduced the new EF lens mount in 1987 it was on the EOS 650 camera. This was a new camera with a new shape and, once again, previous Data Backs would not fit. Canon created a new back, the Quartz Date Back E, which fit the EOS 650, 620 and 630 cameras.
The E Back is basically the same as the Data Back A with a different input method. The Back has 4 Modes: Date Mode, Time Mode, Record Number Mode and Frame Number Mode. There is also an Off Mode and if the Back is set to Off nothing will print on the film. However, the internal clock and other memory functions will continue, the clock keeping time and the other functions maintaining their values, even if the camera is turned off. The Back data input is via the four buttons on the back under the LCD screen.
In Record Number Mode the camera will imprint a 6 character string divided into 3 two character segments that can each store a blank or a number from 0 to 99. This allows the user to imprint a custom number on the film according to his needs.
In Frame Number Mode a four digit number of 2 two character groups can be set to any value between 00 00 and 99 99. Then every time the shutter is fired the set number will increase by one. When the film is changed the number is not disturbed and simply carries on increasing by one with every frame. In this way frames can be sequentially numbered across multiple rolls of film.
The Technical Back E on an EOS 630. The back has a door which is open here revealing 9 buttons to control the Back and input data.
The Technical Back E detaches from the camera but it still maintains any data in storage. Here the back is shown with the door over the input buttons closed.
Technical Back E
And now for something completely different: a data back that the average photographer would never come across because it was a scientific or industrial back. Canon wanted to establish the new EOS cameras as a versatile tool for professional as well as scientific and industrial use. With that in mind, in 1987 they introduced the Technical Back E for the EOS 6×0 cameras. This was in addition to the Quartz Date Back E we have already discussed and which was intended for the photographic community.
The Technical Back E has its own keyboard for data input, the Keyboard Unit E. This back has 8 main functions, one of which is the On / Off function. We will take a quick moment to discuss the Back but the actual operation is complicated. If you want to go further, the Instruction Manual is here for you to examine.
The first Function is Data Imprint which allows data to be imprinted on the film. The data for the roll of film is stored in the Data Back but not entered. Then when the film is finished it is imprinted during the film rewind. There are various options for what is printed and how it is formated.
There are two Data Storage Modes. The Normal Mode stores 13 items for a maximum of 361 frames. Items are 4 digit serial number, frame number, shooting mode, metering mode, flash used or not, shutter speed, aperture setting, focal length, exposure compensation, ISO, Date, Time and Note. The second storage mode stores 7 of these items for up to 824 frames
The 3rd Mode is called the Program Setting Function. I read about it in the Manual and I don’t have any idea what it is about!
Moving on, Auto Exposure Bracketing is something that the back will do and that we are familiar with. However, in 1987 this was a neat feature.
The 5th Function is Timer Control. This is a useful feature that is common now but very advanced in this Back’s day. An exposure can be delayed by up to 100 hours. Or, multiple exposure can be set up for any time intervals up to a total of 100 hours. A very long exposure can also be arranged for a pre set time.
Because the Back stores the data and does not imprint the film until the film rewinds, the data can be changed or corrected before it is imprinted. This is Funtion 6 called Data Correction.
Finally, Function 7 is Note Setting which allows the user to enter a 30 character string of numbers, letters or symbols.
The door on the back of the Technical Back E, held closed by a small magnet, covers 9 buttons for data input and controlling the Back functions. The large LCD displays data and the state the back is in.
Keyboard Unit E
The Technical Back E came with the Keyboard Unit E which is a small keyboard that plugs into the left end of the Data Back. It provides a convenient way for entering or manipulating the data in the Data Back.
It has four Functions which are described in the Manual. The Keyboard can store 4 Notes for loading into the back as required and this saves entering the same data strings over and over.
Another Function is the ability to store a Data Dump from the Back if the memory in the Back fills up. That data can be off-loaded to the Keyboard leaving an empty memory in the Back for more data.
Like the Data Back itself, the operation is complex and reference should be made to the Manual for details on how to use this device.
Canon Interface Unit TB
If all of that is not enough, the Technical Back E can be connected to a desktop computer where data can be downloaded and printed. The connection is done through the Interface Unit TB which comes in 2 versions, one you can connect it to an MSX computer and another for the IBM PC.
The unit has its own memory storage to download shooting data. Unfortunately I do not have the Manual for this Unit to share with you.
The Interface has ROM that displays Menus on the connected computer that offer 6 options for dealing with stored data, displaying data and saving data. It was also possible to print the stored data.
The Command Back E-1 on an EOS 1N. It also fits the original EOS 1. The resemblance to the backs for the T70, T80 and T90 is obvious.
Command Back E-1
Canon’s first EOS flagship camera was the EOS 1 introduced in September of 1989. To create a Data Back for it Canon went back to the Comand Backs of the T70, T80 and T90 and created the Command Back E-1. This Back is essentially the same as the other Command Backs: so similar that they can share an Instruction Manual.
The replacement for the EOS 1 was the EOS 1N introduced in November of 1994. It too accepted the E-1.
Both cameras had a “Quick Control Dial” on the back which the user used to set aperture. This was missing on the Command Back. So Canon designed the camera to allow the user to also set aperture by pressing the Exposure Compensation Button and turning the Main Dial.
Unfortunately, this is another Back I do not have yet. But I am an optimistic person.
This Manual is a combined Manual for all of the Command Backs including the E-1. It is the best place to learn how to operate this Data Back.
This is my EOS 3 (Ser. No. 2736123) with the Power Drive Booster E1 (Ser. No. 558164) attached. The camera back is the standanrd EOS 3 back that comes with the camera.
This is the Date Back removed from the camera. Notice that the time and date are still displayed. The Back has its own internal power supplied by a CR2025 coin type battery built in. The clock keeps time regardless of where the back is, on or off the camera. It can be mounted on or removed from the camera in seconds. Because you can set it to print nothing on the film there is no need to ever remove it from the camera.
Canon introduced the EOS 3 in November of 1998 as a semi-pro camera. Handling this camera leaves no doubt in your mind about its build or abilities. Then, a few months later, in March of 2000 they introduced their latest professional camera, the EOS 1V. These are two magnificent film cameras! At the time they were introduced the Databack DB-E2 was offered as an accessory. The same Data Back fit both cameras.
Compared to other Backs it is a simple affair that will imprint the Date (in 5 formats) or the Time. Years only go up to 2019. I deal with this by using 2011 for 2021. There is really no other choice.
This is the same camera with the DB-E2 Date Back installed. Mounting and unmounting the back takes just a few seconds, literally! The Quick Control Dial works on this back exactly like the one on the standard back. The only difference is the presence of the Date/Time function.
On the left is the standard EOS 3 back and on the right is the DB-E2 back. The similarity os obvious. The top left corner of each image shows the hinge pin retraction tab. Pull it down and the back can be removed or mounted on the camera. The DB-E2 back has more contact pins. Three are required on both backs to operate the Quick Control Dial but an additional two are required to synch the back to the shutter so that the data is imprinted at the exact time of shutter release.
On the open Date Back you can see the battery compartment for the CR2025 with its lighter colored cover held by a single screw. The cut out for the light to imprint the film is visible on the upper right portion of the pressure plate. Remember that the image falls on the film upside down and reversed left to right. So in fact the imprint will appear on the lower right part of the negative.
Some Final Thoughts
Data Backs were originally accessories that the user could buy and install on his camera himself. The regular back came off easily and the new one slipped into place without a problem. The cameras that accepted these backs obviously bore no label such as “Quartz Date”, or “QD”, or simply “Date” as later cameras did.
After 2000 Canon stopped offering data backs as accessories. They began offering two models of a camera, one with a data back and one without. The one ‘with’ was designated as “Date”, “Quartz Date”, “QD” on the body.
When film cameras finally faded from the market the whole distinction faded because all of the data that these backs recorded, and more, was now recorded in the header to the image file as the image’s “metadata”. There was no longer any need for the Data Back.
I leave you with the image below. It demonstrates why these backs have never appealed to me. If I was using my camera for research or simple family snapshots I might like them but I don’t. I am trying to take photographs that are beautiful and that convey meaning.
Look at the position of the date imprint on the image. It is well away from the edge of the frame and into the image area. Too distracting for me. Having scanned my negatives and working in the digital world I can, of course, paint out the date but that is time consuming and original pixels are better, always. So, although I collect them, I do not use Data Backs. I use a notebook and the exposure counter to keep track of my negatives.
This image of ferns in our local park was taken on Ilford Delta 400 Professional film using an EOS 630 camera with an EF 35-105mm f/3.5-4.5 zoom lens (an excellent lens as you can see). The Date Imprint was made by a Quartz Data Back E. It was taken on this New Years Eve past, as you can see from the date stamp. Look how far into the frame the date stamp is. For me, it is too intrusive.
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