Why is the Canon AE-1 Program one of the best film cameras and why you should get one today

Jan 8, 2017

Udi Tirosh

Udi Tirosh is an entrepreneur, photography inventor, journalist, educator, and writer based in Israel. With over 25 years of experience in the photo-video industry, Udi has built and sold several photography-related brands. Udi has a double degree in mass media communications and computer science.

Why is the Canon AE-1 Program one of the best film cameras and why you should get one today

Jan 8, 2017

Udi Tirosh

Udi Tirosh is an entrepreneur, photography inventor, journalist, educator, and writer based in Israel. With over 25 years of experience in the photo-video industry, Udi has built and sold several photography-related brands. Udi has a double degree in mass media communications and computer science.

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The Canon AE-1 was a landmark in the SLR history (this is right, no ‘D’ there). It was introduced back in 1976 and if you are holding any SLR/DSLR from Canon, there are probably traces of the AE-1 design in it. Why is it so good? And why you should get one today? hit the jump to find out.

The camera starts selling at around $50 on ebay, so its easy to get one, and lenses are just as cheap, especially if you get a 1.8/50mm lens.

One of the prime reasons that the AE-1 is so much fun is its viewfinder. It is very similar to the Canon F1 flagship. (or flagship of at the time). It has a Matte focusing screen with a built in split screen and a microprism band. It the kind of focusing screen that you would see in spy movies when the camera “looks” inside the viewfinder. Remember, there was no auto focus back then, so you had to nail focus perfectly.

The other fun of the camera is that it is very simple, yet has some metering. There is no spot/center metering, no scene selection, no focus modes to select from and definitely no colorspace to set. It really goes back to the basics. .

I already have one of those, do you?

P.S. missed the first three seconds of the video, its worth going back and looking at them again.

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Udi Tirosh

Udi Tirosh

Udi Tirosh is an entrepreneur, photography inventor, journalist, educator, and writer based in Israel. With over 25 years of experience in the photo-video industry, Udi has built and sold several photography-related brands. Udi has a double degree in mass media communications and computer science.

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24 responses to “Why is the Canon AE-1 Program one of the best film cameras and why you should get one today”

  1. Mike Aubrey Avatar
    Mike Aubrey

    Nope. OM all the way.

    1. Markus Allgaier Avatar
      Markus Allgaier

      An AE-1 went through my collection a few years back, I think to remember it used shutter priority, the OM-4 I got from my Grandpa is aperture priority. I found it always odd using S for most shots… I shot two roles of film with the AE-1 and moved back to the OM

    2. attheswapmeet Avatar
      attheswapmeet

      Absolutely. I’ve had (and still have) almost every classic film SLR camera made, and a kit of lenses to go along with them. The AE-1 is fine but suffers from a problem where the electronic shutter fails quite frequently. I find more dead ones than working ones these days. And I far prefer aperture priority. The OM system is what I would always reccomend to anyone getting back into film SLRs and the OM1 (mechanical shutter) or OM2 (electronic shutter) in particular.

  2. Christian Chaney Avatar
    Christian Chaney

    Got one but i prefer my A-1 !

  3. Mike Downey Avatar
    Mike Downey

    The AT-1 is just as good. Bought one in ’76, sold it a couple of years ago for $100, then found another at a thrift shop for $10. So I’m still stuck with one though I never use it.

  4. Michael Johnson Avatar
    Michael Johnson

    AE-1 was my first camera in the early 70’s.

  5. Michele M. Ferrario Avatar
    Michele M. Ferrario

    No

  6. Rory James Avatar
    Rory James

    Got mine! And such a beast they are.

  7. Garrett Jimenez Avatar
    Garrett Jimenez

    I started shooting on the Ae-1 program, I borrowed my dads.

  8. Arcmor Avatar
    Arcmor

    Another really great camera was the FTb-N. It had a semi-spot meter (a rectangle in the center.)

  9. Zak Neumann Avatar
    Zak Neumann

    I’ve got one. I started on a AE-1.

  10. Jon Avatar
    Jon

    Sorry, but back when this was originally being sold, the Nikon FM / FE were, are and will always be the tools every pro level tog reached for….

  11. Michael Goolsby Avatar
    Michael Goolsby

    The AE-1 was a beautifully simple but effective camera. I actually had the “Program” version, and later shot weddings with a pair of wonderful, original F1 bodies.

    Having said that, I’m done with film. Retired the two Canons in 2000 with a Nikon D1 (later, upon its release, a Canon 1D, and all Canon after that), and retired medium format (in my business) a year later. Film might be nice for a hobby, but it’s not for me.

  12. Taryn Ferguson Avatar
    Taryn Ferguson

    Same guys! I started with this camera and I still am in love with it. The results are very beautiful.

  13. lewisfrancis Avatar
    lewisfrancis

    Nice video, some great shots in there, too!.

    An AE-1 was my first camera and I really liked it. It was run over by several cars with a Canon 200mm ƒ4 and motor-drive mounted, long story short, insurance paid out not enough for a replacement, but enough for an OM-1, the ergonomics of which I ended up much preferring, but was stolen after being lent to a friend. I’ve since added both of those to my growing thrift shop buys collection and am enjoying them anew.

  14. Shachar Weis Avatar
    Shachar Weis

    Do you all develop your own film?

  15. Casey Braunger Avatar
    Casey Braunger

    The Holy trinity.

  16. Riko'sEyes Avatar
    Riko’sEyes

    I worked in camera sales when the AE-1 was popular. Sold plenty of them. But they were the number one returned with defects camera by far. If you held the Canon in your hands and just felt the action when you hit the shutter release and wind the advance, and did the same with a Nikon, there was no contest. The Canon felt like winding a cymbal playing monkey toy compared to the Nikon’s fine time piece feel. Any used AE-1, and FM, FE-1 comparison will still yeld the same today.

    1. Jack Hawkins Avatar
      Jack Hawkins

      I can confirm that. An AE-1 came through my camera store for repair on a monthly basis in the 90’s. I personally couldn’t afford a Nikon, and didn’t want the same Pentax K-100 I used in high school, so I went with a Minolta X-700… LOVED that camera! Really wish I still had that one AND my original SX70.

  17. Rick Avatar
    Rick

    Sold mainly due to marketing hype (something Canon still relies heavily on today). The Pentax models of those days were much better cameras.

  18. Ralph Hightower Avatar
    Ralph Hightower

    I started with the A-1, which adds aperture priority; I sill shoot with that camera.

  19. john Avatar
    john

    it’s just a camera. There are many cameras of it’s vintage as good if not much better, smoother to operate, more rugged, more and better lenses available, the lists go on. What is the big deal?
    You could have written this same article about many cameras

    1. cnnspy Avatar
      cnnspy

      Personally, i think its junk based on the one i had the displeasure of holding. It seemed like holding a walgreens disposable. Like cheap-ass plastic. The lens must have not been for the camera as it was hard to line up the keys to get it to come off and put back on. I put it back on the shelf. Not worth 14.99 asking price. It had been to war and clearly did not belong to the winning side.

  20. Nigel Vernon Avatar
    Nigel Vernon

    Interesting video. I bought my AE-1 in 1977 for college. Cost £199.77 Loved it. Recently scanned a load of my slides. And still have it and will be taking to America this year for a trip to California. Yes I could take a Canon 5d MK 3, but where is the fun it that.
    Aside from that I lived in HK in the early 60’s at Imperial Gardens… is it still there?