Wednesday, June 12, 2013

The Canon A-1

Another post about the Canon A-1.  This time, since I have really gotten a chance to use the camera to its fullest, I can make a proper review into it.
It is a 35mm Full-Frame (24mm X 36mm) SLR with a Cloth Focal Plane shutter.  It has speeds of 30s to 1/1000s +B with full Manual Mode, Shutter Priority, Aperture Priority, and Program, modes.
Most that use this camera use it on Aperture Priority or Program, but I, like many others, use it on Manual mode more often than not.  Unless, of course, I'm feeling rather lazy, then I'll set it to Aperture Priority... and if I'm really lazy, Program mode.
The typical lens that is used with this camera, at least in my experience, is the Canon 50mm ƒ/1.8 FDn, but for me, it's the Canon 50mm ƒ/1.4 S.S.C. (as Michael Raso of the Film Photography Project will call it, the Super Sweet Coating) lens.  I do use other lenses, like a Osawa 24mm ƒ/2.8, or not so wide with the Vivitar 28mm ƒ/2.5.  It's light weight, considering the all metal body, well built, like a tank, and has a very bright and easy to see viewfinder.  Although it doesn't give 100% coverage, it's still in the 95%+ range, which is still decent.
Surprisingly, to me, one of the best features I find on this camera are actually something that a lot of cameras are lacking.  A Viewfinder blockout.  Sure, there's that little "CUP" that you get when you buy the camera for the first time (new) which you more often than not lose, which covered the viewfinder to help prevent light from sneaking in and giving false readings on the meter.  But this is a shutter that, with the flip of a switch, opens and closes.
Very good for long-exposures, and takes the trouble out of getting stray light slipping around the mirror and onto the film.  Yes, it does happen, and I have seen it happen.
The other thing is the Motordrive for this camera. 
Have you ever seen the Canon F-1 with Powerdrive?  It's just gorgeous!  The camera looks incredibly sexy with that Powerdrive on it.  But this is the A-1!  And believe me, the Motordrive MA makes the A-1 look incredibly powerful.  
The only downside is that it requires 12, yes 12, AA batteries.  I have cameras that require 2... my Canon EOS40D takes 6 in the battery pack, and it's quite heavy with 6.... but 12???  That's insanity!
But if you have ever heard a Canon A-1 with Motordrive, believe me, you will completely understand my desire to own one.

The Canon A-1 is known as being a camera that is (was) highly advanced for its time, and built incredibly well.   But, years later, an issue started to crop up.  The Infamous Canon SQUEAL.  This happened as the lubricant that was on the mirror brake would dry up, and the shutter would "squeal". 
Fortunately, this turned out to be an incredibly simple fix.  A long syringe, and some gun oil.  Suddenly this became an issue that was ignored by those that had no problem taking the bottom of the camera off and adding the tiniest bit of oil to the mirror brake.
In fact, I have done just that with this A-1.  It is freshly lubed, and works perfect!

The last thing I can think of, and probably the one thing on everyones' mind regarding this.  Would I recommend this camera?


Who should use this camera?

Anyone!  From a beginner, amateur, advanced amateur, semi-pro and professional photographer.  Anyone, literally, should and could use this camera!  If you can focus manually (which we all did for years) then you can use this camera.  Whether you shoot it on Manual or Program (Auto) you will enjoy this camera for many many many years.

Can you use this camera in the rain?

Why not?  I have!  I've used it in the snow, and I've used it in the heat.  I've even used it when the temperature was down around -20°C without the windchill!

Can you use this camera on horseback while being chased by angry natives?

Well, having not used it on horseback, or while being chased by angry natives, I don't see why not.
You shouldn't have a problem turning it behind you and shooting at 1/1000s to combat the bouncing of the horse.  Just remember to watch for low-hanging branches!

Can you use this camera in space?

Well, they used a Hasselblad in space, so why not the A-1?

So as you can see, anyone can use this camera! 

Fade To Black
"Fade to Black"

The Canon A-1 35mm SLR

Full-Frame 35mm 24mm x 36mm frame size
FD Breechlock Lensmount
DOF Preview
Backlighting Compensation
PC-Sync Port
Dedicated Flash Port
Viewfinder Blackout shutter
30s to 1/1000s +B Focal Plane Cloth Shutter
Fast Action Film Advance Winding Lever
Powered by a 6v PX28 battery (or Everyready #544)

Yes, the Canon A-1 is a versatile camera that has been used by beginners to pros, and is still used by both today.

Until next time fellow bloggers.  Keep those shutters firing!


  1. Nice review. I have that Canon f/1.4 around here somewhere. So far its the only piece of my film gear I haven't been able to find. I do remember it was a very good lens.

    1. Thanks Ted! I am in the process of taking photos of my collection for both personal reasons, reviews, and in case the unthinkable happens... After all, I need to document and valuate all my cameras for Insurance.
      Heaven forbid the unthinkable happens.. I'd have to be able to replace them somehow..

      Some I could care less about, like the Point and Shoots, but some are irreplaceable.. my Lynx-14.. was my grandfather's camera, and my AE-1 was my dad's....

  2. I bought Canon A1 this year together with original nFD Canon lenses: 50/1.4 (simply the best), 35-70/3.5 (average and disappointing), 50-135/3.5 (heavy, sturdy and quick), 70-150/4 (which is simply awesome sharp, lightweight and surprisingly useful for me), 80-200/4 (still lightweight and small) and Vivitar automatic converter 2x. I also have Vivitar 24/2.8 and Canon lens 50/1.8 which I bought with my older AE1 - and simply said I love this combo. The only disadvantage of A1 I bought is poor lightseal at the backdoor - I have to get it somewhere - and damaged black foam near matteglass visible from the front after removing the lens and I have no idea how to fix it. And do I need to fix it? Camera works perfectly even with this - I think it can affect quality of picture only with strong light coming from the viewfinder. And the sound of cloth shutter after simple fix of "canonsqueal" is nice and silent. I have to say - this is my most used 35mm camera I have. And comparing it to EOS cameras (I also own one) - these FD mount cameras are nicer and my experience is also: they are more sturdy. When you slip and fall down with it, it can make serious injury to you - when you fall with EOS camera you can make serious injury to your camera :-)