The Canon AE-1 Review

Canon AE-1 with FD 50mm lens. Photo by Derrick Story.

The Canon AE-1 was introduced in 1976, and it was a landmark 35mm SLR thanks to being  the first microprocessor-equipped SLR, and because of new manufacturing techniques and materials. Even though it looks like a typical all-metal camera of its era, Canon actually used the injection-molded ABS for much of its exterior, then finished it to look like chrome or black aluminum. The result was a lighter camera that was cheaper to make.

Removing and mounting lenses for it can be an adventure if you're not familiar the FD breech-mount. Instead of pushing a release button and rotating the entire optic, you instead rotate the breech ring at the base of the lens to remove it from the body. It takes some getting used to, but once mastered, it's a fast operation.

The AE-1 uses a readily available 6V photo battery (alkaline manganese battery Eveready No. 537) that's located on the face of the body behind the finger grip bar. The door is easy to open and you don't need a coin to access the cell.

Looking inside the optical viewfinder (93.5% vertical and 96% horizontal), you'll see an aperture scale on the right side with a match needle indicator. You set the ISO and shutter speed, and the recommended aperture is indicated. This made the AE-1 great for sports photography where shutter speed is the priority over depth of field.

Light is measured through the lens using a single Silicon Photocell that uses a center-weighted pattern. Sensitivity ranges from EV 1 to EV 16 at ISO 100. Speaking of ISO, settings are available between 25 and 3200.

The cloth focal plane shutter curtain is electronically controlled and has speeds from 2 seconds to 1/1000th plus B. Flash sync is at 1/60th.

Camera Highlights: Locking shutter device to prevent accidental battery drain, fast meter reading, shutter priority great for action photography, electronic self-timer, electromagnetic shutter release, backlight compensation button, excellent ergonomics.

Nits: Breech lock takes some getting used to, and shutter priority approach not perfect for landscape and other non-action photographers.

Typical pricing these days is between $75 and $125 for a fully functioning body with Canon 50mm lens. Since the battery type is readily available, and the electronics are fairly reliable, this is a fun SLR for those who enjoy action photography with quality optics.

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