Canon R "Flex" Series
Canon’s first SLR’s
Canon from its inception had been a rangefinder camera company but by the end of the 1950’s the advanced amateur and professional photographers were embracing the single lens reflex camera. The first Japanese SLR was the Asahiflex by Asahi Optical (later to be called Pentax). It was followed by the Miranda T in 1955, Minolta and Topcon in 1958. There were 8 SLR models available when Canon entered this market in May of 1959 with the introduction of the Canonflex 35mm single lens reflex. Unfortunately, they made some bad decisions in designing and marketing this camera which allowed Nikon to pull ahead of them and establish a leading position which it took Canon many years to overcome.
Because the camera had a mirror between the lens and the film which had to have room to swing up out of the light path, the film to lens distance (“flange distance”) was longer than that of the rangefinder cameras. Added to this, the focusing was done through the lens and more light made the task easier. So it was desirable that focusing be done at full aperture which required automatic irises that would remain open except for the moment of exposure. This required communication between camera and lens.
These two factors made necessary the introduction of a new lens mount for these new cameras. This was the “R” mount and so the Canonflex cameras are often referred to as the R Series. It was not really much of a series:
|Camera Name||Date of Introduction|
|Canonflex R2000||September 1960|
|Canonflex RP||September 1960|
|Canonflex RM||April 1962|
|B&H Canonflex RM||April 1962|
Canon learned quickly and these few cameras led to the much more sophisticated “F” Series and the development of the R lens mount into the FL mount.
The lenses for the Canonflex cameras were called the Super-Canomatic lenses and they had a breech-lock system that was basically not changed until the introduction of the EOS lenses decades later. They were not interchangeable with FL, FD and FDn lenses because of the linkages on the back of the lens however the lugs on the breech-lock ring are compatible. One should not be used on the other.
These cameras were completely manual and contained no battery. The only real automatic feature was the lens that stopped down to the preset aperture for the moment of exposure and then opened to full aperture again. This, however, was a completely mechanical function. There were even one or two “R “Series lenses that did not have that automatic feature.
Unfortunately for Canon, in the same month they introduced their Canonflex, Nikon introduced its F model camera which was a sophisticated innovative design that became the “goto” professional camera of the 1960’s, 70’s and 80’s. Canon and, indeed, the other companies, were left in Nikon’s dust. The whole story is in the numbers: Canon manufactured about 17,000 “Flexes” while Nikon made 852,000 F’s.
The Canonflex Series Cameras in the Collection