Why the Canon AE-1 Makes a Great Film Camera
Choosing the right film camera can be incredibly overwhelming. There are seemingly endless options out there for you to use. But, worry not. If you’re looking for a simple camera that can be found for a reasonable price, the Canon AE-1 gets the job done, and done well.
Film photography has been experiencing a resurgence since its bleaker days. Cameras that used to cost very little have become more and more expensive.
When film had become unpopular with the rise of digital cameras, I grabbed some discount deals on a number of excellent film cameras—Leica M6, Mamiya 7 and a Canon F-1. Yes, there was a time when these cameras were more than half of the price they are now.
It didn’t take long for the word to spread that I was an avid film photographer. Before long, thankfully, family and friends would send me old film cameras. It was extremely humbling and I’m forever thankful.
One camera that was given to me by gracious friends—it previously belonged to their father—was a Canon AE-1. I’d heard that the camera was a solid workhorse, and it is. The only reason I didn’t purchase one earlier was because I’d already had a Canon F-1 in my stable, and an older Canon TX.
As usual, I won’t get into too many technical descriptions in this post; those can be found here.
What I will talk about is how usable and fun the Canon AE-1 is.
Old cameras can be fussy. So, it took a bit for this camera to be fun.
When I first pressed the shutter of the camera, an audible wheezing sound was emitted instead of the ka-thwack of a properly working shutter mirror.
Almost every one of my film cameras are sent off for a CLA (clean, lube, adjust) service. That way, I know I won’t be guessing if everything is working, and I’ll know when it’s been serviced. It’s just easier, and I’m sure I waste heaps less film by putting my rolls through faulty cameras.
A quick Google search lead me to camera repair technician extraordinaire, Joe Careta. He sent it back to me quickly after doing his magic to the camera. The camera looked, felt and sounded like it was new.
Freshly-serviced Canon AE-1 in hand, I couldn’t wait to hit the field with it. My lens of choice was the Canon 50mm FD f/1.4 S.S.C. This is a lens that produces stunning results, outside of what, and how, the photographer chooses to photograph.
In the Field with the Canon AE-1
Loaded with some Kodak Portra ISO 400 35mm film, I carried the camera with me until every one of the 36 exposures on the roll were exposed.
Let me tell you, this camera is fantastic and a pleasure to use.
The Canon AE-1 doesn’t hold you, or itself, back. It isn’t too heavy or too light; the shutter sound isn’t too quiet or too loud; and the viewfinder isn’t too dark or too bright—as if there is such a thing as a viewfinder that’s too bright.
And, one of the most important considerations, it’s priced extremely reasonably. A quick search on eBay resulted in me finding some nice examples of the camera for between $100-$200. Actually, for the price, this is probably one of the best values around.
The one aspect of this camera I didn’t test was the light meter. I’ve become accustomed to using my handheld light meter, so I didn’t test the camera’s built-in one. The needle was bobbing up and down, though, responsively with exposure suggestions.
There’s a lot to be said for a camera that is easy to use. One of my favorite photographic experiences is when a camera setup doesn’t get in the way of a photograph. The AE-1 allows the user to quickly control the shutter speed and aperture, which allows complete creative control to the user.
With the AE-1, as soon as I wanted to take a picture, I lifted the camera to my eye and snapped the shutter button. The shutter sound was pleasant and the size of the camera was perfect.
Since the Canon AE-1 is older, it has that vintage component to it that also enhances the photographic experience.
If you’re looking for your first film camera, or you’d like to have a general purpose camera that will work and won’t break the bank if something happens to it, or would simply like to have an enjoyable film-shooting experience, I can’t recommend the Canon AE-1 enough.