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Canon P Rangefinder


Produced from 1958 to 1961, the P  was among Canon's last screw mount rangefinders, a modification of the VI-L.    Incorporating  many features into an attractively priced package, the  P  was Canon's best selling screw mount rangefinder until the Canon 7.   About 100,000  were produced.  Like all but the earliest Canon Rangefinders, it uses the Leica Screw Mount, falling  into a larger class of "Leica Copies."   Leica screw mount lenses or Canon screw mount lenses (and indeed ANY Leica Screw mount lens made by any maker) can be used.  Black paint Leica mount Canon Rangefinders like this beautiful P are very rare.  Very few were made to begin with, fewer survived in this condition.   Probably only a few hundred black P's were produced.


The P stood for "Populaire" and was blessed with beautiful clean  aesthetic lines.    If there is ever a "Prettiest" interchangeable rangefinder Beauty Contest,  the Canon P is sure to be one of the finalists.   It is also one of the few Canon rangefinders  labeled on the  top plate.   Specs include a shutter speed range of 1 to 1/1000, B, and  X flash sync at 1/55th. 

The top deck is blessed with a large comfortable advance lever, a very large clearly marked shutter speed dial that even today M6 should envy, and a self setting exposure counter.  Turning the shutter release collar allows the film to be rewound.          

The finder is 1:1  life size and parallax corrected, with always visible built in frames for the 35/50/100 lenses.  Compared to the previous VI-L on which it was based,  the VI-L's rotating 3 position prism finder was substituted for a fixed finder with all 3  framelines visible at all time.    Unfortunately age has visited most P finders with more than their share of flare, a problem that cleaning may help but seldom cures.   Also a victim of the lower selling price, the VI-L's excellent  finder shoe self parallax correcting   accessory finder pin did not find its way to the P.  

Note the very large and elegant rewind knob.  If they gave out  Oscars for rewind knobs, this one would be in the running.  It folded back into the body in a rather nice and unusual way.   Also notice the large bayonet mount around the PC terminal to attach flash units---a rather nice touch also used on Canon's previous V/VI lineup.  The X flash setting is 1/55th second.  Etched framelines are visible at the rear of the viewfinder.

Above is a rare shot of a  18/1000 mm thick plastic coated stainless steel shutter curtain WHICH HAS NOT BEEN CRINKLED.  Nikon decided to go with Titanium shutter curtains in the SP and Nikon F, and they proved unbelievably durable.  In contrast, the stainless steel curtains in the later Canon RF's are EASILY crinkled.   It is very unusual to find unwrinkled Canon steel curtains today. 


The back has an unusually secure double lock system.  First rotate the bottom  key, which moves the safety latch out of the way, then pull down the conventional side opening pin.  It seems the designers were paranoid about someone stealing the film.

With it's comfortable lever advance, lever rewind, easy film loading, metal shutter curtains, and parallax corrected finder for 35, 50 and 100 lenses,

the Canon P is quite easily a superior shooter to any Leica screw mount camera.

Still, there are better Canon rangefinder choices.

Some claim the Canon P is the best of the Canon Rangefinder bodies - mostly by people who have not tried all of them.

While the P certainly is not a bad camera, I much prefer the L1, VL, VTDM and 7sZ overall as more useful and more pleasurable shooters. 

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Side by side,  The Canon P is about the same size and weight as its toughest competition, the Leica M2.

Ironically made as an economy model, the P was the LAST "bullet proof" Canon Rangefinder.  The P and its near siblings, the V, L, and VI series, are the high points of Canon Rangefinder construction.    No Canon since has had their combination of fine workmanship, very heavy chrome plating,  and thick top plates that could take an impact capable of destroying   many lesser cameras.  

These are heavy duty cameras, examples of a standard of workmanship and construction long gone past.  You might not be able to appreciate what I am talking about just by the pictures, but if you put these cameras  side by side  the later 7 / 7s/ 7sZ,  the difference in construction quality quickly becomes obvious.  The later Canons have much better finders, but the V, L, VI, and P series are works of mechanical art.


Want more info on Canon Rangefinders?  Buy Peter Dechert's book Canon Rangefinder Cameras 1933-1968 and Peter Kitchingman's book Canon M39 Rangefinder Lenses 1939-1971.

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Revised: May 21, 2021 Copyright  1998-2020  Stephen Gandy. All rights reserved.    This means you may NOT copy and re-use the text or the pictures in ANY other internet or printed publication of ANY kind.  Information in this document is subject to change without notice.  Other products and companies referred to herein are trademarks or registered trademarks of their respective companies or mark holders.