Canon VT de luxe Rangefinder breaks the mold

The Canon VT de luxe is a 35mm rangefinder was introduced in May of 1957 as an update to the VT which was released the previous year. The VT de luxe was produced in chrome and black, but the black ones are few and far between these days, and command a hefty price (comparatively). Lately there’s been a trend of repainting cameras and there are quite a few Olive Green VTs and VT de luxe bodies out there, if that’s your thing.

rangefinder dial
rangefinder dial

The Canon VT de luxe is most commonly thought of as a camera, or a single “model”, but it is actually a series of cameras that varied slightly in construction and features. To identify the model, listed below are some of the variations made in each model:

  • Version 1 was released in February 1957 and enjoyed a relatively short run as only 3,475 were made between February and September. There is no known percentage of those being black. This model had the name engraved on the front of the camera in black lettering and had a new rewind crank and the base plate was the same as the Canon VT.
  • Version 2 was very similar and produced from April 1957 through June 1958 with a total of 4,875 units produced. It is identified by the VT de luxe engraved on the front with red paint instead of black. This second version also featured a magazine opening key to work directly with Canon’s film canisters.
  • Version 3 was produced only in 1958 and comprised of 2,550 units. The final version features metal shutter curtains instead of cloth and the viewfinder has a warmer, gold tone to it.

The camera was in production for just under 2 years before it would be succeed by the Canon VL and VL2 in 1958.

First impressions of the VT de luxe

CAnon VT de luxe
Holding a Canon VT de luxe

The Canon VT de luxe is a unique camera. It was the first time that Canon had ventured away from producing rangefinders that were more or less Leica copies. It was the first rangefinder to have a swing door which made loading film far easier, well, at least less fussy. The most unique design feature is the trigger-like winding and cocking mechanism (very similar to the Leicavit). A lever that is recessed into the base flips down to create a trigger operated with the left hand to advance the film and cock the shutter. This resulted in a very fast camera. A photographer could crank off shots twice, maybe 3 times faster than one could with a Leica or Nikon rangefinder.

The Canon VT de luxe is a tank of a camera. It weighs in at 2.2 pounds with a Canon 50mm f/1.8 attached. I don’t think it’s my heaviest 35mm camera, but it’s pretty darn close. That’s okay though – I like heavy cameras. I liken it to my toy collection in a way. You know the feeling of a solid die-cast car or aircraft – it has “that” weight to it and it feels like something that’s well made. I felt this way my entire life about things. The heft of an object can tell you a lot about it, and in this case it’s informing me I have a solid camera.

The Devil’s in the details

Finder dial

There are a lot of subtle details to the VT de luxe. The 3 prism view finder is the first. There is a small dial that rotates between RF, 35, and 50 which correspond to lens focal length and “Rangefinder” for a magnified view. A gauge-like indicator sitting on top displays which setting the finder is set to. The recessed film rewind crank is spring loaded both open and closed to make sure it stays in which ever position you have it. The accessory shoe is placed nearly dead center on the top plate. A lot of these early rangefinders all used the same size accessory shoe so an accessory that fit on a Leica also fits on a Nikon, Canon, Nicca and others.

The film speed dial is next and on the chrome bodies the dial is black with white lettering so it’s super easy to read and is also spring loaded to avoid accidental alterations. Here you’ll notice there is a gap in the shutter speeds on the dial. The V T de luxe has a slow shutter speed dial on the front that covers all of the speeds from T to 1/30s while the top dial covers speeds from B and 1/30s to 1/1000s. The shutter release has a built-in mechanical remote port and the lever at the base is the film rewind lever. Rotate it to the ^ icon when you’re ready to rewind the film. The frame counter is automatic, but has an adjustment dial to manually reset it when you put in a fresh roll of film. The film speed (ISO/ASA) is set on the dial to the right and ranges from 8 to 400. The red and blue dots indicate the use of color film; blue for daylight film and red for tungsten film.

rewind mechanism releaes button
release button

Canon thought ahead with the film advance mechanism to allow for bottom mounted accessories so you can also advance the film without using the action lever on the bottom. On the upper right back of the camera is a small button that releases the top mounted film advance knob. While pressing this button, pulling up on the film speed dial engages the manual advance system and allows you to advance the film by turning the knob. Press the button again while pushing the knob back down to go back to normal operation. You also have two options for flash photography and when to sync the correct flash type being used.

The Canon VT de luxe also covers the use of flashes quite well and has a decent amount of variation in shutter speeds available to use with flashes. The FPM setting is for focal plane bulbs at all speeds from 1s – 1/1000s. Or M bulbs for speeds 1/125s to 1s. The FX covers M-2 bulbs (F) from 1/30s – 1s and X for electronic flash at 1/50s. For electronic flash the high speed shutter dial needs to be set to X and the slow speed dial to 1/30s and when using “F” type bulbs set the high speed dial to 1/30s.

Glass, glass and even more glass

Canon 50mm f/1.8

When Canon first started producing the VT de lux the biggest names in M39 lenses were Leica, Zeiss and Voigtlander. There were others to be sure but in the 50s in America I doubt that anyone was actively importing FED and Zorki cameras from the Soviet Union. Today, however it is an entirely different landscape. We have Canon, Nikon, Leica, Voigtlander, Zeiss, FED, Industar and probably a few that I’ve missed.

Early on (1931) Leica adapted the 39mm thread mount in use on their microscopes to use on their cameras and it became known as Leica Thread Mount (LTM). The thread pitch was precisely 26 threads per inch. While the majority of Canon lenses adhered to this standard, there are some early lenses that have a proprietary pitch of 24 threads per inch. There is a reasonable range of Canon lenses for their line of M39 rangefinders starting with a 19mm f/3.5 and up to 800mm f/8. The 19mm lens is not rangefinder coupled so it came with a special finder which mounts to the accessory shoe. There are also finders designed for specific wide angle and telephoto lenses; the Universal Zoom Finder “S” and “L”.

A rangefinder coupled lens is designed and built to interface directly with the focus mechanism of a camera, allowing you to focus using the lenses focus ring. Otherwise you have to focus using the distance scale by measuring your distance to the subject.

There are large numbers of lens variations at some of the common focal lengths too. For instance, the 50mm lens has about 20 variations ranging from an f/1.2 to an f/3.5. So there is likely a Canon lens that fits your style and budget without having to scour the internet for that specific Unicorn. The 50mm f/1.8 I have attached to the VT de luxe is a beauty and I paid less than $150 for it, but if you’re after the f/1.2 prepare to pay up.

Note: Not all M39 lenses are rangefinder coupled and some Soviet lenses require shims to set the distance of the rear element to the film plane. There are lenses that will not focus to infinity without some finesse. The Industar 69 is one such lens, and it needs to be closer to the film plane than many others.

Canon lenses are fantastic. They have a well deserved reputation of creating excellent optics. Their older lenses have a different feel than the newer ones and they tend to be a little warmer (more yellow shift) with color film than, say, Nikon which is cooler (more blue shift). But you won’t be wasting your money getting Canon lenses.

So, what’s the verdict?

Since Leica is the only company making new film cameras (Nikon just discontinued the F6 late last year) you have to get an old camera to scratch this particular itch. There are a lot of options, and the Voightlander Bessa L is the youngest option. The Bessa is a great camera, lightweight, simple light meter, uses any LTM lens. Even if you stay in the Canon line, the Canon P probably sells 10 times faster than the VT de luxe because it’s newer, and one of the last rangefinders produced, and well, you know, it’s a great camera. The VT de luxe is a wonderful camera as well, and it’s unique. No one else (save Leica) has a film advance mechanism like the Canon VT de luxe and the number of excellent features make the camera extremely usable. It’s not as inexpensive as the Bessa L (I bought mine for $100) but the Bessa doesn’t have a finder.

There’s a lot to like about this camera. It’s well built. Canon put a lot of thought into the design and it shows. It has a fast shutter with a max speed of 1/1000s as well as a solid selection of slow speeds down to 1s. The adjustable focal length of the finder is innovative as well as intuitive. Literally every other camera has to have an external finder to have the same flexibility. You have a mind-numbing array of lenses that are compatible with the VT de luxe.

While I feel like the best feature is the film advance mechanism, others might not see it that way. It’s cool and odd at the same time, so if you can play with it a little before you buy it, that is recommended since it forces you to operate the camera a very specific way. Yeah, you can switch it off, but if you’re not going to use it the get a different camera; like the Canon P.

The Canon VT de luxe is a solid offering, even 64 years after it was released. It’s a sturdy well featured camera that is easy to operate and has a huge array of lenses it can use. So if you’re into rangefinders like me, I say go for it. Live a little. Besides, it’s not like you can have too many cameras.



General

Canon VT de luxe
Type : Rangefinder
Lens Mount : LTM/M39 thread
Operation :
Mechanical
Format :
35mm
Shutter :
Cloth/metal curtain shutter
Shutter Speeds :
B, T, 1s – 1/1000s
Shutter Remote : Mechanical
ISO Range : 25 – 3200
Shutter Lock : No
Self Timer : 10 seconds
Mirror Lock-up : No
DoF preview : No
Flash :
M, X, 1/30s
Flash Mount :
Cold shoe/sync port
Flash Sync : x/f – 1/30s, FP – 1s – 1/1000s
Multiple Exposure : Yes
Strap Lugs :
Yes
Battery : none
Production :
1957 – 1958
Weight :
798g (with 50mm f/1.8)

Download the Canon VT de luxe manual

Accessories

Universal Zoom Finder “S” for wide angle
Universal Zoom Finder”L” for telephoto
Lumi-field Finders (50mm, 85mm, 100mm & 125mm)
Grip : threads into base plate
Case : Leather clam shell w/strap
Flash Unit Model V
Light meter : RF light meter (released in 1959)
Lens hoods in various sizes



Canon M39/LTM Lens Specifications

19mm f/3.5L
Angle of view : 94 °
Elements : 11 in 11 groups
Aperture range : f/3.5 – f/22
Filter size : 72mm
* Aug. 1964 Supplied by case & finder

25mm f/3.5 Canon
Angle of view : 84 °
Elements : 5 in 3 groups
Aperture range : f/3.5- f/22
Filter size : 40mm
* Dec. 1956 Supplied with case & finder

28mm f/3.5 Serenar
Angle of view : 75 °
Elements : 6 in 4 groups
Aperture range : f/3.5 – f/22
Filter size : 34mm
* 1955

28mm f/3.5 Canon
Angle of view : 75 °
Elements : 6 in 4 groups
Aperture range : f/3.5 – f/22
Filter size : 34mm
* Jan. 1957

28mm f/2.8 Canon
Angle of view : 75 °
Elements : 6 in 4 groups
Aperture range : f/2.8 – f/22
Filter size : 34mm
* 1956

35mm f/3.5 Serenar
Angle of view : 63 °
Elements : 4 in 3 groups
Aperture range : f/3.5 – f/22
Filter size : 49mm
* Mar. 1950 Supplied with case & finder

35mm f/3.5 Canon
Angle of view : 63 °
Elements : 6 in 4 groups
Aperture range : f/3.5 – f/22
Filter size : 49mm
* Mar. 1957 Supplied with case

35mm f/3.2 Serenar
Angle of view : 63 °
Elements : 6 in 4 groups
Aperture range : f/3.2 – f/22
Filter size : 49mm
* Jun. 1951 Supplied with case & finder

35mm f/2.8 Serenar
Angle of view : 63 °
Elements : 6 in 4 groups
Aperture range : f/2.8 – f/22
Filter size : 49mm
* Oct. 1951

35mm f/2.8 Canon
Angle of view : 63 °
Elements : 6 in 4 groups
Aperture range : f/2.8 – f/22
Filter size : 49mm
* Mar. 1957

35mm f/2 Canon
Angle of view : 63 °
Elements : 7 in 4 groups
Aperture range : f/2 – f/22
Filter size : 40mm
* Apr. 1962

35mm f/2 Canon
Angle of view : 63 °
Elements : 7 in 4 groups
Aperture range : f/2 – f/22
Filter size : 40mm
* July 1963

35mm f/1.8 Canon
Angle of view : 63 °
Elements : 7 in 4 groups
Aperture range : f/1.8 – f/22
Filter size : 40mm
* April 1956

35mm f/1.5 Canon
Angle of view : 63 °
Elements : 8 in 4 groups
Aperture range : f/1.5 – f/22
Filter size : 40mm
* Aug. 1959

50mm f/4 Serenar (not rangefinder coupled)
Angle of view : 46 °
Elements : 4 in 3 groups
Aperture range : f/4 – f/22
Filter size : 43mm
* March 1947

50mm f/3.5 Serenar
Angle of view : 46 °
Elements : 4 in 3 groups
Aperture range : f/3.5 – f/22
Filter size : 43mm
* Oct. 1946

50mm f/3.5 Serenar
Angle of view : 46 °
Elements : 4 in 3 groups
Aperture range : f/3.5 – f/22
Filter size : 43mm
* Feb. 1952

50mm f/2.8 Canon
Angle of view : 46 °
Elements : 4 in 3 groups
Aperture range : f/2.8 – f/22
Filter size : 43mm
* Jan. 1955

50mm f/2.8 Canon
Angle of view : 46 °
Elements : 4 in 3 groups
Aperture range : f/2.8 – f/22
Filter size : 43mm
* Nov. 1957

50mm f/2.8 Canon
Angle of view : 46 °
Elements : 4 in 3 groups
Aperture range : f/2.8 – f/22
Filter size : 43mm
* Feb. 1959

50mm f/2.2 Canon
Angle of view : 46 °
Elements : 4 in 3 groups
Aperture range : f/2.2 – f/22
Filter size : 43mm
* Jan. 1961

50mm f/2 Serenar
Angle of view : 46 °
Elements : 4 in 3 groups
Aperture range : f/2 – f/22
Filter size : 43mm
* Feb. 1947

50mm f/1.9 Serenar
Angle of view : 46 °
Elements : 4 in 3 groups
Aperture range : f/1.9 – f/22
Filter size : 43mm
* April 1949

50mm f/1.8 Serenar
Angle of view : 46 °
Elements : 4 in 3 groups
Aperture range : f/1.8 – f/22
Filter size : 43mm
* Nov. 1951

50mm f/1.8 Canon
Angle of view : 46 °
Elements : 4 in 3 groups
Aperture range : f/1.8 – f/22
Filter size : 43mm
* Aug. 1956

50mm f/1.8 Canon
Angle of view : 46 °
Elements : 6 in 4 groups
Aperture range : f/1.8 – f/22
Filter size : 43mm
* Dec. 1958

50mm f/1.5 Serenar (later Canon)
Angle of view : 46 °
Elements : 7 in 3 groups
Aperture range : f/1.5 – f/22
Filter size : 43mm
* Nov. 1952

50mm f/1.4 Canon
Angle of view : 46 °
Elements : 6 in 4 groups
Aperture range : f/1.4 – f/22
Filter size : 43mm
* Aug. 1959

50mm f/1.4 Canon
Angle of view : 46 °
Elements : 6 in 4 groups
Aperture range : f/1.4 – f/22
Filter size : 43mm

50mm f/1.2 Canon
Angle of view : 46 °
Elements : 7 in 5 groups
Aperture range : f/1.2 – f/22
Filter size : 43mm
* April 1956.

85mm f/2 Serenar
Angle of view : 28 °
Elements : 6 in 4 groups
Aperture range : f/2 – f/22
Filter size : 43mm

85mm f/2 Serenar
Angle of view : 28 °
Elements : 6 in 4 groups
Aperture range : f/2 – f/22
Filter size : 43mm
* Sept. 1951.

85mm f/1.9 Serenar (later Canon)
Angle of view : 28 °
Elements : 6 in 4 groups
Aperture range : f/1.9 – f/22
Filter size : 43mm
* April 1949.

85mm f/1.9 Canon
Angle of view : 28 °
Elements : 6 in 4 groups
Aperture range : f/1.9 – f/22
Filter size : 43mm
* August 1958. Supplied with case.

85mm f/1.8 Canon
Angle of view : 28 °
Elements : 5 in 4 groups
Aperture range : f/2 – f/22
Filter size : 43mm
* March 1961. Supplied with case & hood.

85mm f/1.5 Serenar
Angle of view : 28 °
Elements : 7 in 4 groups
Aperture range : f/2 – f/22
Filter size : 43mm
* July 1952.

85mm f/1.5 Serenar
Angle of view : 28 °
Elements : 7 in 4 groups
Aperture range : f/1.5 – f/22
Filter size : 43mm
* Jan. 1953.

85mm f/1.5 Canon
Angle of view : 28 °
Elements : 7 in 4 groups
Aperture range : f/1.5 – f/22
Filter size : 43mm
* March 1960

100mm f/4 Serenar
Angle of view : 24°
Elements : 3 in 3 groups
Aperture range : f/4 – f/22
Filter size : 43mm
* Jan. 1948. Supplied with case & finder.

100mm f/4 Serenar
Angle of view : 24°
Elements : 3 in 3 groups
Aperture range : f/4 – f/22
Filter size : 43mm
* April 1950. Supplied with case & finder.

100mm f/3.5 Serenar (later Canon)
Angle of view : 24°
Elements : 5 in 4 groups
Aperture range : f/3.5 – f/22
Filter size : 43mm
* Feb. 1953. Supplied with case, finder & hood.

100mm f/3.5 Canon
Angle of view : 24°
Elements : 5 in 4 groups
Aperture range : f/3.5 – f/22
Filter size : 43mm
* April 1958. Supplied with case & hood.

100mm f/2 Canon
Angle of view : 24°
Elements : 6 in 4 groups
Aperture range : f/2 – f/22
Filter size : 43mm
* Jan. 1959. Supplied with case & hood.

135mm f/4 Serenar
Angle of view : 18 °
Elements : 4 in 3 groups
Aperture range : f/4 – f/22
Filter size : 43mm
* March 1947

135mm f/4 Serenar
Angle of view : 18 °
Elements : 4 in 3 groups
Aperture range : f/4 – f/22
Filter size : 43mm
* Feb. 1948. Supplied with case & finder.

135mm f/4 Serenar
Angle of view : 18 °
Elements : 4 in 3 groups
Aperture range : f/4 – f/22
Filter size : 43mm
* June 1948. Supplied with case & finder.

135mm f/3.5 Serenar
Angle of view : 18 °
Elements : 4 in 3 groups
Aperture range : f/3.5 – f/22
Filter size : 43mm
* Jan. 1953. Supplied with case, finder & hood.

135mm f/3.5 Canon
Angle of view : 18 °
Elements : 4 in 3 groups
Aperture range : f/3.5 – f/22
Filter size : 43mm
* Apr. 1958. Supplied with case & hood

135mm f/3.5 Canon
Angle of view : 18 °
Elements : 4 in 3 groups
Aperture range : f/3.5 – f/22
Filter size : 43mm
* Jan. 1964. Supplied with a case & hood

400mm f/4.5 Canon
Angle of view : 6 °
Elements :
Aperture range : f/4.5 – f/22
Filter size :

800mm f/8 Canon
Angle of view : 3 °
Elements :
Aperture range : f/8
Filter size :

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