Canon Pellix / Pellix QL
Since the great war, Canon made a name for themselves by making rangefinders and Leica-style cameras. However, the trendsetters of the time, the German camera makers of both sides of the partition lines, moved into the next step in photography, the compact 35mm single-lens reflex cameras.
Canon’s first offering of this style, the Canonflex, reached the market in 1959. Incidentally, the same year that Nikon presented the F model. Both models shared many features and were made to similar quality standards, only to differ by an external influence. Being the most significant target market, the US was wide open for imports. Here, Canon and Nikon relied on local distributors rather than building their distribution network. As it happened, Nikon distributors were aggressive, while Canon’s were sleeping on the job.
The four Canonflex versions did not make a splash. The small sales figures of the Canonflex models made them highly collectible today.
At the same time, Nikon made and sold mounds of the F model under several variants till the F2 came out in 1971.
At about the same time, Canon also had a short trial with a leaf shutter model developed with Mamiya, the Canonex. As a side note, the two almost identical cameras, the Canonex and the Mamiya Auto Lux 35 are sold today at a huge gap; the Canonex is worth six times the Auto Lux.
With other Japanese camera makers fast closing behind, Canon introduced the first of the modern style F body, the FP, not to be confused with the Nikon F bodies. At the same time, they appointed Bell and Howell, a well-established name in the US, as their distributor. Under B&H, the same model was renamed FX.
The timing was poor. Nikon SLRs became users’ choice, amateurs and professionals alike, so The FP / FX sales still lagged behind the Nikon F. Canon desperately needed to sway the market, so they came up with a revolutionary idea, a mirrorless camera. Indeed designed by a committee as the Japanese are wont to do. It is a great irony that today the mirrorless term is associated with most digital cameras sold.
The newly conceived camera, the Pellix, was based on the FX/ FP, with one significant difference – a fixed, semi-translucent mirror. It did not save Canon; I would suggest the opposite.
Any mention of the Pellix begins with specifying a mirror made of pellicle.
What is pellicle?
It is a pellicle. It is just another term for membrane, used with organic material. For example, a pellicle is the pesky thin layer between a hard-boiled egg and the shell. It is a marketing stroke of genius. Imagine if Canon had used the term ‘membrane’ instead and called the camera Memphis.
Here, the pellicle is a polymer membrane, about .002mm / .0008” thick. Mounted in the place a mirror is in a conventional SLR, it splits the light through, a third towards the viewer and two-thirds to the film plane. I am not aware of another camera using this system other than a few cases as a beam splitter in a viewer. It means that while being a revolutionary idea, it did not mature well:
- Touching the amalgamed surface on an SLR mirror is a bad practice; here, it is disastrous. The slightest touch distorts the light transmission to the film, and fingerprints are there to stay. I have gone through many Pellixes (Pellixi?) and seen only two with a decent condition membrane. None in pristine state.
- One of the reasons to avoid the mirror was to reduce the clacking. The Pellix is as noisy as any other SLR of its age.
- Other manufacturers offered a mirror-up option to block the viewer while using the self-timer. Here there is no mirror, so Canon added a curtain for that purpose.
- The light split allows less to reach the film plane, so Canon offered the camera with a faster lens, a 50 / 1.4, developed for the Pellix. Here is a catch. Either it drives the camera cost up, or they cheaply made the lens.
- Further, the viewer is darker than at compatible cameras.
- The Pellix is a TTL measuring system. However, there is no place to mount the cell. Canon mounted the cell on an arm that swings up in front of the shutter, like a railway crossing signal.
- No mirror means that the shutter curtain is constantly exposed to light, with direct sunlight potentially damaging the curtain. As a remedy, Canon made the curtain of a waved metal that looks like an ordinary cloth rather than the modern metal shutter made of segments.
The Pellix had two generations and slight cosmetics (I think) variations within the models. The first was named just Pellix, sold for a short year. The second model came with the QL tag and was aptly named Pellix QL. The QL, which stands for Quick Load, was a significant feat at the time but became a standard feature for late 35mm film cameras. Unlike the delicate autoloading offered in the late 1990s cameras, this option relied on a complex contraption; see image below.
The camera is mighty. Large and heavy, at 700gr for the body and 1kg for the kit. Nevertheless, it is well balanced in hand. Using it is almost straightforward, save for some quirks. As it was said: if anything else fails, see the manual.
- A lever set in a ring around the trigger is marked ‘A’ and ‘L’. The ‘L’ locks the trigger, so I assume the ‘A’ stands for Aopen. Or not.
- To convert ‘B’ into ‘T’, press the trigger and turn the said lever to ‘L’. It locks the shutter in the open position till the lever is set back to ‘A’.
- The shutter speed dial doubles as ASA/DIN setting. Good luck to anyone over 40 who needs to read the values.
- A dial surrounding the rewind crank activates the viewer curtain, this time marked as close – open. Turning this dial clockwise is supposed to check the battery level. I tried to check using a modern 1.5v battery through a sequence described in the manual, which I tried with no response. Manual refers to a mercury battery, so either the check method did not like the higher voltage or my camera has a fault.
- To open the back, pull out and turn the turnbuckle at the bottom anti-clockwise. It takes a slight push against a spring for the back to open.
- The matching lens has a slider marked ‘A’ and ‘M’. At ‘A’ the aperture is widest open for composition/focusing and closes to the desired F stop once the shutter opens. At ‘M’, the aperture closes to the set F stop. This slider is squeezed in between the aperture and the focusing dials; challenging to move it without pulling la others.
- To get recommended setting, push the timer lever towards the lens. The needle in the viewer swings up/down to indicate light reading.
|Mode||Manual, meter supported|
|Weight||700 gr, Body only|
|Class average weight||610 gr, Body only|
|Mount size||FL Mount|
|Light meter||TTL, lever activated CdS|