Canon wasn't always the dominating (D)SLR producer as we know them today. They have been focusing on their very nice rangefinder cameras in the beginning, and entered the SLR market in 1959 at about the same time as Nikon did with the F. During the 60ies and early 70ies they were just one of many SLR producers. Their breakthrough came 1976 with the Canon AE-1, a tremendous success. After 1985 during the early AF area they had a serious battle with Minolta about the leading SLR producer position. Later they were mostly competing with Nikon to finally succeed with the dawn of the DSLR cameras. As I'm only counting "traditional" SLR cameras (no AF, no build-in motor drives), Canon came out with "just" a total of 15.8 million units, a little less then the early market leader Pentax, but more then Minolta and Nikon.
Launched at about the same time as the Nikon F, Canon's first SLR called Canonflex wasn't as successful. That might have be attributed to a weird design concept putting the advance lever at the bottom of the camera. Canon experimented a lot and brought new models almost every year, with small improvements, though. However, it looks like they always were technically behind the competition for a couple of years.
With the F-series launched in 1964 they came closer to the main stream design concepts, but none of these cameras had outstanding features, which kind of explains, why Canon's SLR market share remained comparatively small. They tried to be innovative: The Pellix camera with the semi-transparent but stationary mirror was their first TTL metering camera. However, it was quite a flop. The other innovation they tried to use for marketing was the QL (quick-loading) system, which silently disappeared just a couple of years later.
The first SLR they were able to sell over a million times was the FTb, a mainstream model at the time giving Canon the confidence that they can compete on the market and take the next step. The introduction of the AE-1 as the first camera of the A-series pushed Canon at the top of the market. With the AE-1 they sold high-end automatic features at average market pricing. With the AE-1 the SLR arrived at the average consumer and opened up a much bigger market than before.
Some of the success Canon had with the FTb and the A-series can also be attributed to the flagship F-1 they launched in 1971. The technical efforts they invested to make this camera gave them the experience and technology to succeed with the mass market models. The F-1 was Canon's attempt to compete with Nikon's professional F series. Without really beating Nikon, Canon definitely was their most serious and successful competitor.
In March 1983 Canon introduced the T-50, a camera with a build-in motor drive and the first of the T-Series. This series probably sold as good as the A-series did. However, it was just the transition to the modern EOS series of fully automated AF-SLR's, where Canon eventually took over the lead in the SLR market. This all is a complete different story and might be assessed later.
|R Mount (1959-1963)|
|Canonflex||instant return mirror||03/1959||1959||17,000|
|Canonflex R2000||1/2000 sec||1960||1960||8,800|
|Canonflex RM (1962)||build-in selen meter||1962||1964||72,000|
|FL Mount (1964-1969)|
|Canon FX||Build-in CdS light meter||04/1964||1966||270,000|
|Canon FP||Same as FX w/o metering||10/1964||1966||50,000|
|Canon Pellix||stationary mirror, TTL||03/1965||03/1966||35,000|
|Canon Pellix QL||QL: quick load||03/1966||1970||76,000|
|Canon FT QL||TTL stop down||03/1966||1971||550,000|
|Canon TL QL||max 1/500 s||1966||1971||55,000|
|FD Mount (1970-1990)|
|Canon EF||Auto exposure (S)||11/1973||1977?||320,000|
|Canon New F-1||professional||1981||1991||205,000|
|Canon FTb (QL)||open aperture TTL||03/1971||1976||1,800,000|
|Canon TX||stripped down FTb||03/1975||1976||180,000|
|Canon TLb||stripped down FTb||09/1974||03/1975||120,000|
|A series (1976-1985)|
|Canon A-1||full Auto (P,S,A) mode||1978||1985||2,430,000|
|Canon AE-1||Auto exposure (S)||1976||1984||5,730,000|
|Canon AE-1 Program||Auto exposure (S, P)||1981||1984||4,000,000|
|Canon AL-1||focussing aid||03/1982||1985||200,000|
|Canon AT-1||manual match needle||12/1976||1985||520,000|
|Canon AV-1||Auto exposure (A)||1979||1984||200,000|
For this assessment I again used multiple sources from the internet, but did most of the counting by myself using this method. Canon is kind of unique as they use a date stamp inside the film chamber and in a few cases I was able to get both, date and serial number of a certain camera. With this the distribution of the produced cameras over the years was a little easier than with the other producers. For the Canonflex series I totally relied on the info I found on cameraquest.com.