Cameras Canon History

Canon VT: 65 Years Ago This August

The Canon VT was a 35mm film camera released in 1956 that accepted interchangeable lenses with a screw lens mount. It used a Rangefinder for manual focusing and a cloth Focal-Plane Shutter with shutter speeds from 1 sec. to 1/1000th sec., plus T and B. It was Canon’s first camera to have a camera back which swung open for film loading. Before that, film-loading was through the camera bottom like in the old Leicas. That little change, however, signaled a newfound confidence in Canon as they took the tentative first step to innovate and differentiate itself from Leica, which was at that time by far the leading camera manufacturer.

Other new features in the VT included a built-in self-timer and a different three-mode viewfinder with a magnification that could be set to suit a wide-angle 35mm lens. The half-mirror prism had a highly-reflective gold finish, making the viewfinder 2.5 times brighter than before.

Why was it called the “VT”? In 1949, Canon introduced the IIB; the IIC in 1950; the III and IV in 1951. The VT was the successor of the IV-series and so used the Roman Numeral “V” in its designation. The “T” indicated that it used a new fast-winding trigger at the bottom of the camera (instead of a knob on top as on other cameras) for film advance. That odd-looking trigger stayed on this model and the subsequent VI T, but was replaced by a film advance lever in the L1, L2, L3 in 1957 and the VI L in 1958.

Meanwhile the Leica M3 (1954) featured an incredibly bright viewfinder with auto parallax compensation, fast bayonet lens mount and a rapid film advance lever on top. Every camera manufacturer, including Canon, was desperately trying to copy and catch up to Leica back then. How things have changed today!