Bye bye Canon A-1

I have finished the last roll of film in my Canon A-1 which is really one of the most good looking cameras I’ve ever owned. IMG_0631

Not only is it pleasing to the eye but it’s also a real joy to shoot. And as a matter of fact it produces some extraordinarily well exposed photos.

In fact, by the time this camera came out, Canon had their exposure system well tuned. The old fashioned (even for the time) horizontal cloth shutter was terribly reliable, the computerised exposure system was spot on and can handle the trickiest situations. And it even can do so now, after nearly 40 years.160331 - Ilford HP5+ - Canon A-1 - 24

This camera can do it all. At the flick of a switch you have shutter priority, aperture priority, program automation, manual operation and even automatic flash exposure with he dedicated Canon series of flashes.

What’s more, these cameras are really inexpensive and normally work OK even when you buy them on eBay which is not always so. What can go  wrong? Well there’s the light seals that are probably dead unless they have already been changed. But that’s an easy job I do for every camera I buy. The light-seal-stuff can be had on eBay for about 10€ and with he help of some isopropyl alcohol, some earbuds, a wad of cleenex and a lot of patient scrubbing the job is done in half an hour.

Shutter priority mode (sorry for the dust…)
Aperture priority mode, just flick a switch

What else… ah yes, the infamous Canon-Cough! You see, the lubricants in the Canon A series cameras dries out over the decades, but unless with other cameras where this messes up the shutter speeds, the Canons just catch a cold. They produce a coughing, wheezing sound when you release the shutter. Again an easy fix with just a drop of light machine oil, a syringe and some precision delivers to the right area vie the bottom plate.

Other than that, those cameras hardly ever go wrong…. but something is nagging me. Well in fact there are several things:

The Canon engineers did not believe in the half-press-saves-exposure system. Most cameras, when you half press the shutter, they measure AND save the exposure data. What’s more, their light meter stays on for a bunch of seconds so you can meter, reframe and shoot. That’s quick and easy.

Not so with a Canon. You can measure but as soon as you reframe, your measuring changes as the meter works in real-time as long as you have your finger on the shutter.

In order to memorise the exposure you need to press a very tiny, hard to reach button on the lens mount, on the left front of the camera (as seen from behind).

The culprits: DOF preview thingy on the left and the teeny tiny exposure memory button on the far right (no, not even the one with the chrome surround, the recessed, small one!

Of course you’ll have to use your left thumb to do that and whoops, now it’s no longer available for refocusing…. quite a stupid system in my opinion.

Then again there’s the depth of field preview. Here the Canon engineers outdid themselves again! Of course, Canon has relied on shutter priority instead of aperture priority like all the others did. So you have to switch your FD lenses to A. And as soon as you do that, your depth of field button is locked. Bummer.

So no quick checking of DOF with a Canon. What you have to do is:

  1. Switch the lens from A to manual aperture and set the opening to the value you metered (you HAVE metered before, yes?)
  2. Then you press in the locking DOF-preview button / slider / thing / waddayacallit and admire your depth of field.
  3. Then you DON’T release the shutter, no, you’ll have to unlock the DOF thing, return your lens to A and then… if there’s still some light left, you make your photo.

And be sure to follow this  to the letter if you want your A-1 to stay happy. If you don’t it will greet you with a nice EEEE EError in the viewfinder. To make the camera happy again you’ll have to press the double exposure lever, arm the shutter and release it while covering the lens up so as you don’t waste a shot.

Don’t get me wrong now! The A-1 is a fabulous camera! Really, but it has these quirks that are annoying to say the least. OK, I don’t check DOF that often, so it can get away with it, but the metering memorisation button is a terrible solution.170108 - Canon A-1-Ilford HP5014

I decided to make a cut! I decided to let go my Canon gear – not that this represents such an enormous investment. I decided to go over to the dark side… to Nikon.

I’ve been eyeing the Nikon FM2 for a long time and I think I’ll give it a try.

So it’s once again down to the nasty gear decision! I always preach the gear does not count, that the best and only camera you need is the one you have with you…. but no, gear DOES count to a certain level. When your gear is not transparent, when it is too obvious between you and your subject, it does get important.

So I think I’ll give the camera a nice cleanup (just some dust on it) and have it make a tour on eBay. Unless someone is interested…. I can send detailed pics when it’s spanking clean So here’s what I got: The Canon A-1, a 50mm f:1.8, the glorious 135mm f:3.5 and a winder. Perhaps I’ll throw in the flash too…

To be sure, everything works as expected on this camera, nothing wrong that the engineers didn’t build in!160520 - Kodak Tri-X - Canon A-1 - 010

Thanks for reading once again!

16 thoughts on “Bye bye Canon A-1

Add yours

    1. Yes, the FD mount i quite fiddly…. even more with the old FD lenses with chrome ring. The lenses are mostly very good though.

      Agreed, the F3 is better…. but more expensive in a nice condition.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Great shots, excellent post! I love my A-1 as well, but funny thing is that here in the USA, it seems the A-1 in average condition commands lower prices than the AE-1 in similar condition, despite the A-1 being a higher and better model. Not sure why, but it doesn’t take anything away from the fact that the A-1 is a great, great camera.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I still miss film. I used to have a Canon A-1, together with a T-70, and a T-90 too. That T-90 was still the best camera I ever owned. When my eyes started to get worse, I cashed them all in against a Minolta Dynax 7 autofocus camera, with the wonderful 24-105 lens. That was a joy to use, for sure. When film processing got too expensive, I changed to a Fuji S5 digital camera. But I couldn’t bear to part with the film camera, which is still in the loft.
    More recently, I got the Fuji X-30, a compact digital camera, fully-featured, that takes pretty good j-pegs. That is what I use for my blog photos now, as it is small enough to actually carry around.
    One day, I will buy a used Sony body that I can use the Minolta lens on…
    Thanks for following my blog, which is much appreciated.
    Best wishes, Pete.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. No Problem, Pete, always happy to read good stuff.

      I have a T70 that I’m selling currently and I had a T90 too – bloody good camera but way too big for my needs. So I sold all my Canon film gear but I’m staying with film.I prefer compact cameras, pocketable and always there.

      Had an X30 too a while back when I still thought digital was for me. That was a very nice camera, perfect results and a master of all trades, from Macro to Street… Those Fuji jpegs are something, really, but it does not replace film. Using Black and White and developing, scanning and printing at home keeps the costs down

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I have the Canon A-1 here in my dry box and a Nikon FM3A. There’s a constant battle between the dark side and the not-so-dark-side 🙂 I really enjoy using the Canon A-1. I know it sounds corny, but I call it “The Black Mamba”. Sorry you had to let it go, but then again, you’ve got to use what works best for you 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Don’t chose. Canon FD lenses are fantastic, cheap and plentyful. Nikon tend to be a tad better in general but are also far more expensive for the same spec. But then they are also backwards compatible to the fifties.
    I run three systems with the bodies being a very small part of the expense. M42, Canon FD and Nikon F mount.
    The first for very characterful lenses, often at giveaway prices (Helios and Tessar derivatives), but also very, very good lenses among them. Canon for the aforementioned reasons. And Nikon for my F3 and DSLR.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Hello Frank,
    great Camera…but at that time i decided to buy a Olympus Om 2n, later than a OM 3TI …they are still around me…but today i work with the Canon 5Dsr…still dreaming from older times…
    Kind regards, Jürgen

    Liked by 1 person

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