Konica FT-1 Motor (1983-1987)

The FT-1 Motor was the last SLR manufactured by Konica and was in production until 1987. It is also the most advanced and dependable of Konica’s electronic cameras – the company’s ‘crowning achievement’ in SLR technology, so to speak, equipped with a film loading and advance system that had no equal at the time. It is often said that the FT-1 is a much improved version of the FS-1; that it reflects the painful lessons learned during the setback Konica incurred as it struggled to overcome the PR nightmare caused by the FS-1’s fragile electronic circuitry. Indeed, the FT-1’s electronics are much more robust than those of its predecessor, particularly those of the FS-1’s first production run. 

But the FT-1 is a more able and flexible tool than the FS-1 – it has a number of features that make it a much superior camera: It is the only Konica electronic SLR with exposure memory lock; the only Konica SLR with exposure compensation (with a scale of ± 2 EV); and the only Konica SLR equipped with an advanced metering system based on SPD cells. Moreover, the motor of the FT-1 is quicker than that of the FS-1 and advances the film at a rate of 2½ images per second. The FT-1 also has a few conveniences its electronic predecessors do not. It has a switch allowing the user to choose between single or continuous shooting; it uses two different types of battery housings – the most common one using ‘AAA’ batteries, and the uncommon one for ‘AA’ batteries; and it comes in chrome of black versions.

The FT-1 nevertheless shares many design features with the FS-1: The two cameras have the same ingenious auto film loading and advance system and the same viewfinder. They have a very similar battery housing and grip, which give the FT-1 similar ergonomics, looks, and handling as the FS-1. They also have a very similar layout of controls on the top deck: The shutter speed dial is in the same place, but the film speed adjustment has been relocated to the base of the film rewind crank, where the exposure compensation dial is also to be found. At the base of the shutter speed dial is a toggle with three positions: On, off and exposure memory lock. To the right of the shutter speed dial is the shutter release button and the single vs continuous shooting switch.

The FT-1 has the exact same viewfinder as the FS-1 and the FC-1. It’s a viewfinder with a split-image focusing aid within a ring of microprisms. Aperture values, as well as all other indicators, such as over or under exposure, manual operation and battery condition, are indicated by means of LEDs. Unfortunately, a number of features present on Konica’s older mechanical models are also missing on the FT-1. These include DOF preview, shutter speed display in the viewfinder, and mirror pre-fire.

The FT-1 was designed to work with one of two dedicated flashes – the X-24 or the X-36, a feature it also shares with Konica’s other electronic SLRs. Placing the flash on the hot-shoe automatically sets the camera’s shutter speed to 1/100s. At this point, the user has to choose the desired aperture setting on the flash - either f5.6 or f11. During exposure, the thyristor on the flash unit will adjust the intensity of the light burst in keeping with lighting conditions. This ‘semi-automatic’ mode is present on all Konica electronic SLRs. Although it is satisfactory enough for casual flash use, it is not up to demanding flash photography. For the latter, manual flash operation gives more control and predictability over the results obtained.

The FT-1 can be used with a number of other accessories besides the above-mentioned flashes. In addition to the usual macro accessories, it has a little electronic port on the front of the housing into which one can connect things like a shutter release cable, a shutter release button for left-handed users, an interval timer or a radio remote control. Konica's motorized cameras (FS-1 and TF-1) might just be the cheapest way to get a remote control camera system.

There is also an extremely rare version of this camera, the FT-1 Pro-Half, which is, in fact, a half frame (24mm x 18mm) camera, just as its distant predecessor, the Auto-Reflex, with one difference: the FT-1 Pro-Half operates only in half-frame mode. Not available in trade, this model was given to selected Konica clients and agents.

The FT-1 was often referred to as an ‘improved version of the FS-1’, a formulation which inexorably linked it in the minds of potential buyers to its famous predecessor’s less than stellar reputation. This situation is a good illustration of how the fallout from any faux pas on the part of a manufacturer lingers on in the consumer’s mind. This association is an undeserved one, however, as Konica’s second attempt to make a motorized auto-load and auto-wind camera was highly successful. The FT-1 is an excellent and dependable camera which, moreover, has many additional features in comparison to the FS-1, even if both cameras are built around the same basic concept. The FT-1 is quite solidly built and is a joy to handle. A Konica SLR collector referred to it affectionately as ‘the end of evolution’.

Just why Konica waited two years to introduce the FT-1 after the discontinuation of the FS-1 in 1981 (almost four years if you consider the time when the problems with the FS-1’s initial production run became known), never ceases to puzzle me. Was development work on the FT-1 such a lengthy affair? The company had already taken the most important innovative steps with the FS-1 and the FT-1 did not usher in any new technology or solutions, merely improvements on what had already been available in the FS-1, as well as exposure-compensation or exposure memory lock, features that were hardly new in 1983. Had the company acted more swiftly to repair the damage to its reputation caused by the shortcomings of the FS-1, perhaps its fortunes in the first half of the 1980s would not have dipped as abruptly as they did and just maybe Konica would have survived as a SLR maker into the 1990s.

Characteristic features:

The camera on/off switch is located at the base of a large continuous movement shutter speed dial. The shutter release button and continuous shooting mode switch is located to the right of the shutter speed dial. The film speed selector and the exposure compensation dial are located on the same axis as the film rewind crank.