Camera Review: Canonet QL17 Giii

The Diminutive, Inexpensive and Beautiful Wonder Camera

Camera reviews seem like a dime a thousand these days on the web. So after this post I guess we could make it a thousand and one. The difference here though is that I’m going to shy away from too many technical specifics, since there are already so many that already cover them, and get to point of why this is a great camera; it’s actually an amazing camera. Let’s begin.

My journey with this small block of light-gathering magic began when I came across a classified ad for some film cameras and developing equipment in a small burg about 35 minutes away. With $30-40 in pocket I made the trip, thinking about what images I’d capture with my hopefully, soon-to-be-mine gear. The address lead me to a trailer with a tidy appearance. I met the seller, who was selling it for a friend, and he brought me a box of the advertised photo gear.

There were tanks and rolls for developing as well as small leather pouches for filters and lens cleaning cloths. Everything was aged and hadn’t been used recently judging by the dust and old-camera grime that some of us have seen. My eye caught a small silver camera and as soon as I picked it up my interest was piqued; it was the Canonet Ql17 Giii rangefinder. While looking through the viewfinder, I was immediately smitten. There was a warm, nostalgic glow as I focused the tab back and forth, matching the small image patch in the viewfinder’s center. The aperture and shutter speed are on the lens, making it quick and efficient. The camera would be my passenger on the way home.

After arriving home and playing with the camera a bit more, the shutter stuck. Upon further inspection, there were some light seals in poor condition as well. After maybe a couple years—yeah, it’s sad that it was that long—on my shelf, I sent it in for repair. Some weeks went by and it was finally returned after the $100 repair and the shutter clicked beautifully now, almost silently. The light seals were replaced and the shutter speeds and aperture were smooth. As if I wasn’t excited enough to start using it, the camera has a Quick Load system which simply makes loading the film super fast and easy. Needless to say, I was out the door in minutes.

There’s a fixed 40mm f/1.7 lens to let the light in and it’s sharp. You’re using 35mm film so it’s not like you’re going to be blowing images up to 24×36 with Deardorff-like sharpness but forget Deardorff-like sharpness! Appreciate the 35mm format, appreciate what it does well and leave it at that. Make pictures. The shutter speeds go to 1/500 of a second and one my favorite characteristics about this camera, especially in Michigan where the weather delivers extreme unpredictability, is that it can operate without a battery.

It’s been a few years now with the Canonet and as much as I’d like to keep it a secret, I’m ready to share with others about what a pleasure this camera is to use. It’s small, light, fast and the optics have been incredible in my experience. The lens is scratched and there are some dents on the side but this fine piece of photographic equipment delivers without being flashy—which, in street photography especially, can make all the difference. One of, if not THE best feature of this camera, is that it is pure fun to use. It’s small and quiet and doesn’t impede on the photographic process.

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