History of The Single-lens Reflex Camera - Chronology - 1980s


Nikon F3 (Japan): first SLR with viewfinder liquid crystal display digital data display. LCD showed shutter speeds; manual mode and under/overexposure indicators. As computerized SLR features multiplied, comprehensive viewfinder LCD panels became normal in virtually all 35 mm SLRs by late 1980s
Rolleiflex SL 2000 F (West Germany): first 35 mm SLR to not use the oblong body plus viewfinder head configuration and handling established by the Kine Exacta, 45 years before (see above). Had a cubic body, like a miniature 2¼ medium format SLR, with fixed dual telescopic eyelevel plus folding waist level finder. Also had interchangeable film backs, built-in motor drive, aperture priority AE and TTL autoflash. The 1980s saw varied attempts to stand out in a crowded marketplace by using unconventional 35 mm SLR body layouts. Besides the professional level Rolleiflex, they included the vertical Yashica Samurai series and the flat Ricoh Mirai (both 1988 and from Japan) point-and-shoot SLRs. They were all unsuccessful in establishing a new paradigm and the rectangular body plus pentaprism head layout reemerged universal again in the early 1990s, albeit usually with a large handgrip and rounded contours.
Pentax ME F (Japan): first built-in autofocus 35 mm SLR. Had passive contrast detection AF system. Autofocused poorly and was not commercially successful. Also had Pentax K-F mount, a unique bayonet lens mount with five electric contact pins to pass focus control information between the ME F and its unique autofocusing SMC Pentax AF 35mm-70mm f/2.8 Zoom Lens. Note that the Ricoh AF Rikenon 50mm f/2 (Japan) lens of 1980 had a self-contained passive electronic rangefinder AF system in a bulky top-mounted box and was the first interchangeable autofocus SLR lens (for any Pentax K mount 35 mm SLR).
Sigma 21-35mm f/3.5-4 (Japan): first super-wide angle zoom lens for SLRs. For decades, combining the complexities of rectilinear super-wide angle lenses, retrofocus lenses and zoom lenses seemed impossibly difficult. Sigma did the impossible and reached a 91° maximum field of view for 35 mm SLRs with an all-moving eleven element formula through the maturation of computer-aided design and multicoating. In 2004, the Sigma 12-24mm f/4.5-5.6 EX DG Aspherical HSM (Japan) zoom reached 122°, wider than any SLR prime lens ever made, by taking additional advantage of aspherics and low dispersion glasses.
Ricoh XR-S (Japan): first solar powered SLR. Was a Ricoh XR-7 (Japan) aperture priority AE 35 mm SLR of 1981 modified with two silicon photovoltaic cells in the sides of the pentaprism housing that charged a unique 3 volt 2G13R "5-year" rechargeable silver oxide battery. This battery could be replaced with two regular 1.5 volt S76 (SR44) silver oxide batteries. The XR-7 and XR-S also had unusual viewfinder LCD showing meter pseudo-needle pointing along an analogue shutter speed scale to indicate light meter recommended settings, mimicking a traditional galvanometer needle.
Polaroid SLR 680 (USA): first high-quality SLR with built-in electronic flash. Also had active sonar echo-location AF system. Took ten exposure, 3⅛×3⅛ inch frame Polaroid 600 instant film packs. Was improved Polaroid SX-70 Sonar (see above) AF SLR with almost-all plastic (acrylonitrile butadiene styrene ) body, built-in flash and faster film. The SLR 680 represents the zenith of instant photography and was the finest instant camera ever made. For a time in the 1960s and 70s, Polaroid instant cameras outsold all other high-end cameras combined, but the popularity of instant photography waned throughout the 1980s as auto-everything 35 mm point-and-shoot cameras and fast one-hour film developing became common. Polaroid went bankrupt in 2001.
Pentax Super A (Japan; called Super Program in USA): first SLR with external LCD data display. With push buttons for shutter speed selection instead of a shutter speed dial, the Super Program used an LCD to show set shutter speed. As computerized SLR features multiplied, large external LCD panels became normal on virtually all 35 mm SLRs by the late 1980s.
Nikon FA (Japan): first camera with multi-segmented (or matrix or evaluative; called Automatic Multi-Pattern) light meter. The FA had a built-in computer system programmed to analyze light levels in five different segments of the field of view for convenient exposure control in difficult lighting situations. After TTL SLR meters were introduced by the Topcon RE Super in 1963 (see above), the various SLR manufacturers tried many different sensitivity schemes (full area averaging, centerweighted, partial area and spot were the most common) in the 1960s before settling in the mid-1970s on centerweighted as the best (90% acceptable exposures) available system. AMP cut the error rate by half. Matrix meters became virtually standard in 35 mm SLRs by 1990 and modern ones are virtually 100% technically accurate. Note however, the technically correct "18% gray" exposure is not necessarily the artistically desirable exposure. In 1996, the number of computer analyzed segments reached a maximum of 1005 in the Nikon F5 (Japan).
Olympus OM-4 (Japan): first camera with built-in multiple spot-meter (2% of view; 3.3° with 50mm lens). Meter could measure eight individual spots and average them for precise exposure control in difficult lighting situations. Spotmeters versus matrix meters represent the opposite ends of the light meter spectrum: fully manual contemplative metering versus completely computerized instantaneous metering.
Minolta Alpha 7000 (Japan; called Maxxum 7000 in USA, 7000 AF in Europe): first commercially successful autofocus 35 mm SLR, first passive phase comparison AF SLR, first system AF SLR, first SLR with completely automated film handling (auto-load/wind/rewind/speed setting). Well-integrated PASM autoexposure and built-in motor winder design with very good interchangeable lenses and large accessory system. Ever since the first autofocus camera, the non-SLR Konica C35 AF 35 mm P/S of 1977 (with its built-in passive electronic rangefinder system), AF had been common in 35 mm point-and-shoot cameras. The phenomenal success of the Maxxum temporarily made Minolta the world's number one SLR brand and permanently made the AF SLR the dominant 35 mm SLR type. Minolta suffered major reverses in the 1990s and was forced to merge with Konica in 2003, and then to transfer its technology to Sony and quit the camera business in 2006, after selling 13.5 million Maxxums.
Kiron 28-210mm f/4-5.6 (Japan): first very large ratio focal length "superzoom" lens for still cameras. Was first 135 film zoom lens to range from standard wide angle to long telephoto; albeit with a small variable maximum aperture to keep size, weight and cost within reason. Although the 10 to 1 ratio Angénieux 12-120mm f/2.2 (France) zoom had been introduced for 16 mm movie cameras in 1961, and consumer Super-8 movie and Betamax/VHS video cameras long had superzooms, early 35 mm SLR zoom focal length ratios rarely exceeded 3 to 1, because of 135 film's much higher acceptable image standards. Despite their many image quality compromises, convenient superzooms (sometimes with ratios over 10 to 1) became common on amateur level 35 mm SLRs by the late 1990s. They remain a standard lens on today's amateur digital SLRs, with the Tamron AF18-270mm f/3.5-6.3 Di II VC LD Aspherical (IF) MACRO attaining 15× in 2008. Note, the Canon DIGISUPER 100 xs, a 100× (9.3-930mm f/1.7-4.7; Japan) broadcast television zoom lens, was introduced in 2002.
Pentax SFX (Japan; called SF1 in USA): first interchangeable lens SLR with built-in electronic flash (first built-in flash with TTL autoexposure in any camera). Built-in electronic flashes for convenient auxiliary light in dim situations or for fill-light in high contrast situations first appeared on the non-SLR Voigtländer Vitrona (West Germany) of 1964 and had been common on point-and-shoot cameras since the mid 1970s. Built-in TTL autoflashes became standard on all but the most expensive 35 mm SLRs cameras by the early 1990s.
Canon EF mount (Japan): first all-electronic contact camera lens mount for interchangeable lens cameras. Introduced by Canon EOS 650 and EOS 620 35 mm SLR bodies and Canon EF lenses, this lens mount is essentially a computer data port. Mechanical camera-to-lens linkages can link auto-diaphragm lenses and instant return mirror, focal-plane shutter SLRs, but electronic autofocus required additional electronic data exchange between camera and lens. Canon decided to place everything under electronic control, even though it meant that earlier Canon lenses would not be usable with the new bodies.
Minolta Maxxum 7000i (Japan; called Dynax 7000i in Europe, Alpha 7700i in Japan): first multi-sensor (three, in an "H" pattern) passive autofocus SLR. First generation AF SLRs had a single central AF sensor. However, composition rules generally say it is wrong to have dead center subjects and most compositions have off-center subjects. Multiple AF sensor arrays covering a wide area can more easily focus on these compositions. In 2007, the number of AF sensors reached 51 in the Nikon D3 and D300 (Japan) digital SLRs. In 1990, the 7000i and a sister camera, the Minolta Maxxum 8000i (Japan, 1990), were also the first 35 mm SLRs with available "panoramic" format film gate mask and focusing screen accessory. Introduced in 1989 by the Kodak Stretch 35 (USA) single-use camera, this 13×36 mm frame on 135 film with 3½×10 inch prints was a faddish snapshot format during the 1990s.
Yashica Samurai Z-L (Japan): first SLR intentionally designed for left-handed operation. Took up to 72 exposures of horizontal 18×24 mm single frames (also called half frames) on 135 film. Had flat-topped non-pentaprism mirror reflex and optical relay viewfinder. Also had unique-to-Samurai-series vertical body design with fixed autofocus 25–75mm f/4–5.6 zoom lens, interlens leaf shutter, programmed autoexposure, built-in motor drive and electronic flash. Was mirror copy of auto-everything, point-and-shoot Samurai Z camera.

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