A couple of weeks ago I shared an opinion piece on my Olympus OM-1, find that here, with an aim to do more of these short opinion pieces. This is exactly what this is going to be and this time around we have a very special camera, the Canon AE-1 Program. As in the previous post this is not going to be a technical low-down, for that have a nose at the Wikipedia page, nor is it going to be an in depth review of the camera, there’s plenty of that online already. No what this is going to be is me, just me talking about what I like about this piece of kit and what it means to me.
Of course just because this isn’t a technical article doesn’t mean we can’t discuss a little bit about it, I mean who doesn’t like titbits of information? So the Canon AE-1 Program was introduced in 1981, just 5 short years before I was born so it holds the title of being my newest film camera, as the successor to the hugely successful and pretty legendary AE-1. The main new feature of the camera being, surprise surprise, an automatic or program mode which will set both the shutter speed and aperture setting and allow the user to just point and shoot. It also featured a shutter priority mode and could also be shot fully manual also. Annoyingly however it cannot be shot, even on manual, without a battery, and we all know that the old lead batteries that worked so much better in old light meters and old camera’s don’t exist anymore so read into that what you will about how this camera operates in a modern setting. As you’ll see in the image below the top plate is set up in the familiar format you’d expect for an SLR, shutter sped dial, shutter button, film advance on the right of the prism, film rewind lever to the left, with a hot shoe on the top. To the right of the shutter advance you’ll see an A, L and S, this is for operating the camera in it’s various modes, with L standing for “Lock”, a lesson I learnt the hard way by fully draining a battery when leaving the camera accidentally on the A mode for two whole days.
So what’s it like to shoot with? Well a pleasure would go well to describing it, thoroughly satisfying would be another. I often use this on aperture priority mode, I can’t bring myself to give full control of my images to 1980’s circuitry but will give some away, and it’s good. Images come out nicely, the camera meters well, despite the lack of a “proper” old battery, and the sound of the shutter as it fires along with the classic Canon shutter advance lever noise (if you know what I’m talking about then you’ll definitely agree with me) is very satisfying. My version of the camera came with a 50mm Canon FD 1:1.8 lens which can shoot in auto aperture or have aperture manually set by squeezing a button and clicking the aperture wheel from A to the desired number. This is the standard kit combo I use, the 50mm as we all know is the classic focal length for the vast majority of images, and this one is clean and crisp producing pleasing results. It also came with a ludicrously sized 70-210mm lens, so large in fact that a friend of mine asked me if the person I’d got this from had been a voyeur…..
And that’s where I lead into one of the main reasons I love to shoot with this camera, it’s not mine and the person I got it from was not a voyeur, it was given to me by my Grandfather and I would consider it to be still his, I’m merely borrowing it. Every time I use it it feels like I’m connecting with my Granddad, he bought this in the early 80’s and although I don’t remember seeing him use it, as I said earlier I’m just a bit too young for that, I have seen images of him with it around his neck at family gatherings in the past. Earlier this year at my Aunt and Uncle’s wedding anniversary party there was a photo of them on their wedding day with my Granddad int he background, Canon AE-1 Program slung around his neck. isn’t that one of the great things about shooting with old film camera equipment? The connection with the past. I’ve often spoken about my main love for using older photographic equipment as this, why would you deny yourself a chance to use such wonderful pieces of history, and when they have a personal story attached that’s even more reason to.
So do you have a Canon AE-1 Program or it’s older sibling the AE-1? What do you think about it? Agree with me that’s it’s a lovely piece of kit? I’d love to hear your comments.