Canik TP9 SF from Century Arms: Gun Review
This bargain pistol has an impressive package of features and components.
Occasionally I get to review a pistol that lives in the home stable, one that’s cycled more than a few boxes of factory-sample ammo, one that’s served as pinch-hitter for students who show up with a broken or ill-suited sidearm. Such is the case with the Canik TP9 SF. The SF was the second striker-fired pistol in what has grown into a 10-gun lineup from well-established Turkish manufacturer Canik. In the United States, the Canik brand is imported by and stamped with the name of Century Arms. The SF model remains a standout in the TP9 series that more than stacks up against peers like the Glock 17. As a longtime user of an original TP9 SA as well as the current SF model, I’ve watched these pistols evolve from great to excellent.
Perhaps in response to consumer demand, the SF is very similar to its SA (single action) predecessor, but made without the SA’s striker decocker, a quite useless feature of the SA. The stated reason for that device was the ability to activate the striker for disassembly without having to pull the trigger. On a duty gun, that presents a remote but plausible risk of drawing in an emergency only to find the trigger dead.
Doing away with a device that’s only made to accommodate handlers with already-unsafe practices like disassembling the gun without checking load condition was, in my opinion, a good move.
It’s not often I talk about magazines early on, but I’m doing so here because the mags for the TP9 SF are worth celebrating. Capacity is a great thing to have. This full-size pistol has more capacity at 18+1 than the vast majority of 9mm handguns—I expect other companies will catch up, but Canik is a pioneer here.
The metal mags have been updated since the early days of Canik’s TP9 series. They’ve always been reliable feeders; always dropped free without assistance. Now, they sport an anti-friction coating that’s much nicer than it needs to be. This matte black, satiny finish is not only abrasion-resistant, it’s handsome and less likely to draw attention during duty or defense use. Best of all, the price of these magazines hasn’t changed in years. At $29.95, they’re a bargain. Two are included with every new pistol in the series.
Specs and Feel
This lightweight (28.4 oz. unloaded) shooter sports a low bore axis and deep-throated backstrap. With consideration to the choice of two backstraps that change out with a single pin, this is one of the simplest, yet easy-to-fit pistols I’ve encountered.
The roomy trigger guard leaves room for gloved or chunky fingers, but the profile also accommodates most short-fingered folks too.
Speaking of mags and ergonomics, the square, checkered, fairly prominent magazine release is in easy reach compared to most full-size pistols. Likewise, an extended slide lock makes it easy for even my short thumb to do a lightning-fast reload by simply releasing it with my shooting hand. It’s never failed to go into battery with this method.
Light pebbling on each side of the grip and on the backstrap offer traction, but probably less than some would prefer. Thanks to the intelligent shape of the grip, I’ve never experienced slippage, even on the sweatiest of days.
One aspect of speciation from the SA platform is the slide profile of the SF. Along its length, the top corners are beveled at about 45 degrees. The folks at Century Arms say this provides maximum visibility of the downrange area while on target. While I love this firearm, some days it’s hard not to chuckle at such contrived “special forces” details.
The dovetailed Warren target sights are interchangeable with a growing number of aftermarket choices for the SF series. Also keeping with current design is a rail up front for accessories.
It’s what’s inside that makes the SF a standout. Today’s Canik fans won’t hesitate to share that their pistol boasts what is often called the best trigger in the striker-fired market.
Smooth travel, a thin but consistent wall and short, perceptible reset make this relatively inexpensive pistol feel luxurious, and perform with easy speed. The test model’s pull weight averages 3 lbs., 10 oz.—more than a pound less than the HK VP9 I own.
A trusted gunsmith tells me Canik learned a lesson from the first generation of TP9 pistols and has improved some internal aspects of the trigger.
Since the inception of the TP9s, Canik has claimed every model in the series has held up to a 65,000 round torture test. The trigger is fantastic; whether it will hold up to that kind of ballistic traffic remains to be seen. Original models were known for requiring repair somewhere slightly north of the 5,000-round mark.
In addition to an outstanding trigger, Canik provides a match grade barrel with a polished feed ramp out of the box. The SF’s barrel is outstanding. Accuracy is easy with this handgun. Case in point: a colleague who’s an expert shooter fired a personal best on the 60-round Humbler drill with this pistol. For those unfamiliar, the drill is conducted entirely from 25 yards on an NRA “B” handgun target.
The drill was done with Remington 147 grain FMJ. Comparative tests by the same shooter with an aged Kimber 1911 and a Glock 19 outfitted with a match grade barrel produced scores averaging 8 percent lower than with the TP9 SF.
Long Term Testing
Speaking of ammunition, the SF has been entirely reliable and has yet to malfunction in three years of use. It’s cycled numerous brands of 115-, 124-, and 147-grain FMJ and HP ammp, proving most accurate with the aforementioned 147 grain.
Those who like a loaded chamber indicator will find a wedge-shaped one on top, not palpable when the gun is in the supplied holster. At the rear of the slide is a red striker indicator.
Field stripping is among the easiest, even compared to other striker-fired pistols. Large, grippy takedown buttons make the job easy.
This handgun is available in black and desert tan. The finish is where the company could do better. The spectrum of what’s called Desert Tan from one SF to another is strangely broad. Some models appear in a true tan, lighter than most tactical gear that goes by “desert tan” but still on the tactical palette.
Others, like the one in my safe, have a yellowish cast. Others look like someone dropped a barrel of Orange Crush into the paint vat. If you’re picky about color, stick with black or customize.
Likewise, the wear on the finish of my now-legacy model TP9 SA, also tan, is simply gone anywhere the gun touches the holster. It’s been exposed to grit and sand weekly, so some wear is expected. Other TP9s I’ve encountered haven’t had comparable wear to determine if the company has improved the durability of its color treatments.
Adding to the economy of owning any TP9 series pistol is the inclusion of a holster with purchase. The current rendition of the Canik holster combines a paddle and belt loop system so no changes are needed to switch from one mode to the other.
The slim, Kydex holster is a knockoff of the embattled Serpa design, a Level 2 holster with a trigger-finger pushbutton that releases retention on the draw. It’s a design that works well, assuming the wearer has excellent finger discipline.
Many ranges and well-known instructors disallow this design because of recorded incidents of unintended discharges with this type of holster design, so be aware of that.
Make no mistake, the holster works, and works well assuming the user is safe. Its minimal slide coverage leaves room for a red dot sight, a feature available on other variants of the TP9 line.
The Canik TP9 SF is the sweet spot in the TP9 series. It has superb accuracy, a stock match-grade barrel and trigger, and outstanding reliability with a variety of loads. What it doesn’t have are features you don’t need and that get in the way.
Despite the relatively low price, this is perhaps not an entry-level pistol. The Ferrari-grade trigger can be a bit punishing to new shooters who haven’t yet developed a feel for trigger operation. I’ve seen some beginners succeed with this and its similar-handling ancestor the SA, but some have struggled to understand trigger operation with a “wall” that’s paper-thin, coupled with a short reset. And while it’s nice to get a holster with purchase, the Serpa design is not for people without finger discipline and is disallowed by many shooting schools and respected instructors.
Canik pistols have been famously economical for their quality, but the difference is less stark in the overall downward trend for pistol prices of the past year. As of this writing, retail prices for the TP9 SF are at an average of $365 USD.
Still, a real bargain considering its performance is on par with some that cost nearly twice as much.
Canik VP9 SF: The Stats
|Weight||1.78 pounds, unloaded|