Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Spotlight: Canon AE-1

The Canon AE-1, first released in 1976, is one of the best selling cameras of all time (over one million units). The SLR's relative low cost compared to offerings from other manufacturers and simple operation made this camera a must-own for any 70's shutterbug. Some say the AE-1 is the camera that allowed Canon to finally overtake Nikon in popularity, after decades of sitting in their shadow. Even to this day, the AE-1 is a highly sought-after model among photography students and film enthusiasts around the world. I've sold over thirty of these cameras through my Etsy store over the years, mostly to people picking up film photography for the first time. They're a great model to buy and sell, as almost every household had one, and now every photo student wants to buy one!

The AE-1 has all the features you need to learn the art of photography. There's a full selection of manual shutter speeds ranging from 2 seconds to 1/1000th, plus bulb mode. Automatic mode (shutter priority) also exists, where you select the shutter speed and the camera picks the aperture for you at the moment of exposure. The shutter speed dial is conveniently located around the film advance lever, and is very easy to turn. The only downside to the shutter is that it requires a battery for operation. And watch out, there isn't even a mechanical back-up speed should your batteries fail. Once your batteries are done, so are you!

Other features include an electronic self-timer, depth of field preview switch, and shutter locking mechanism to prevent accidental exposures (always an appreciated feature). There is a cap on the bottom you can remove to attach a motor drive, if you like adding extra bulk and weight to your cameras. The split image/microprism focusing screen is pretty big and bright (and non-interchangeable). The metering system is very easy to use; a little needle on the right side of the focusing screen points to what aperture you need to select based on the amount of light entering the camera. In automatic mode the needle points toward the aperture the camera has selected for you.

Finally, the AE-1 accepts older Canon FD-Mount lenses, not newer EOS-Mount lenses. I'm not a big fan of FD lenses. The aperture blades always seems to be broken. There's also no easy way to test if the blades are working or not without attaching the lens to a camera. I borrowed this particular AE-1 from my school's stash of cameras, and unfortunately I discovered the aperture blades were not functioning in the 50mm f/1.4 lens that was mounted on it. I found out about this after I shot a whole roll of film. You'd think after buying and selling so many of these cameras and FD lenses, that I would have remembered to check the lens, but nope. Needless to say, results were less than ideal. Let this be a lesson to any would-be buyers of the AE-1: Always double-check the lens aperture.

Here are some photos I made using the AE-1 and broken 50mm f/1.4 lens. Since the aperture wasn't functioning, all of these shots were taken wide-open, hence the softness. I used Kodak Gold 200 color film, which I converted in photoshop to b&w because our Jobo processor is still giving our negatives a green tint :(.