With a relatively short production life (1983-87) the FT-1 is not that well
known. Here's a workaday camera that has slipped through the
cult-camera drag net. I've searched the web and can you can find more owners
raving (or raving owners) about their Lomos than you can find even references
to the FT-1.
The FT-1 was actually a slightly improved version of the
FS-1, which is a landmark camera as it was the first commercially available
SLR with a built-in motor wind. This might not seem like a big deal but in
an era when add-on winders were large, loud and heavy it was a quiet revolution
... literally. The
FS-1 did have a bit of a reputation for unreliable electronics. This issue was
addressed by the FT-1 as well as a couple of small improvements which made
FT-1 a better machine.
20 years later you're likely to find an FT-1 for very little money, functioning
as well as the day it left the factory. Here's a camera from that strange
cross-over period in the 80's when the old manual, metal and mechanical cameras
were having more sophisticated electronics added to them. Auto-exposure settings
became common-place as manufacturers attempted to make their cameras easier
to use. Shutters were now governed by electronics and would not function without
batteries. Auto-focus and even film DX-coding were still a couple of years
away but the motor wind had been miniaturized enough to fit inside the camera's
The camera's body is still metal (plastic bodies were just around the corner)
so the FT-1 has a nice heft an feels solid in your hands. Perhaps it is because
of this solid construction that the motor wind is remarkably quiet. Plastic
bodies tend to act like hollow, sounding boards to what is going on inside
them but the FT-1 is pretty discrete for a camera with a motor film advance.
It does feel strange, however, to hold a metal camera that feels like a typical
80's metal SLR but doesn't have a manual film advance; after taking a shot
my right thumb instinctive reaches for a film advance that isn't there.
One of the nicest features of the FT-1, to my mind at least, is its feather
light shutter. It is utterly predictable, has the perfect amount of travel
and yet requires the minimum of effort to trip. One unusual feature of the
FT-1 is that you could buy an accessory shutter release that plugs into the
left hand side of the body; with it's motor wind and available left-hand shutter
it must have been the most ambidextrous camera of its day. A disadvantage of
the electronic shutter release design of the FT-1 is that it
does not take a standard cable release but uses a proprietary electronic switch
release that you had to buy separately; definitely, a precursor of things to
come. These days that release can be hard to locate and I've seen them go for
more than a decent FT-1 camera body on eBay.
Luckily, the FT-1 I picked up from CraigsList in April of 2005 came complete
with its remote shutter release. It also came with the relatively rare 35-70mm
f3.5 Konica Hexanon standard zoom, the 'dedicated' flash and a decent tripod,
for $40. Everything worked fine without any intervention on my part although
there was a little cosmetic damage to the battery case. The FT-1 came in both
chrome and black finishes; my example is in the slightly more desirable 'pro'
black finish. Still, you could pick up a working example from eBay with a lens
or two for less than a hundred dollars without trying.
In use the FT-1 is competent, if a little uninspiring. I have read elsewhere
that this was the last model Konica aimed at the professional market; although
I can't back this up with any real world statistics, I didn't see any pros
carrying the FT-1 in its day and nowadays I haven't seen anyone carrying one
at all in years. Not that this is a camera that you should be embarrassed to
be seen with. Hexanon glass seems on a par with equivalent Pentax SMC lenses.
The subtle sound of the motor wind that drew ew's and ah's
from gadget, photo-junkies at it's launch is now the standard sound of a 35mm
SLR and attracts little attention on the street. Still, the sound would make
this camera a liability at a venue where discretion and silence are required
(theatre and film still work, wedding ceremonies etc.). The viewfinder is bright
and clear although lacking shutter speed information. The controls are simple
enough to use after you have spent a short amount of time getting aquatinted
with the user manual.
In short, this is not a camera I would go out of my way to hunt out, however,
it is the kind of gem a friend or relative may find discarded in the back of
a closet or you may find disgustingly cheap at a camera fair. If a FT-1 does
fall into you lap it don't look a gift horse in the mouth. The FT-1 makes a
decent second or third camera to leave in your car or at the office in case
the desire to shoot off some film hits you when your beloved, primary system
is not close at hand. Because the FT-1 takes ubiquitous AAA or AA batteries
rather than any mercury and/or outlawed button cells, if you come back to this
camera even after a year or more or storage the FT-1 is likely to fire up and
get to work without any complaints.