Canon A-1 - A-series "professional camera"

Discussion in 'Modern Film Cameras' started by jdm_von_weinberg, Dec 14, 2012.

  1. Canon A-1 - a "professional camera" in the A series.

    April 1978
    FD mount
    Kadlubek Nr.CAN0650

    w/ FD 28mm f/2.8

    The eBay ad was fairly explicit-

    Canon A-1 SLR Film Camera w/ Canon FD 28mm 1:2.8 Lens & Case Parts/Repair

    This Canon A-1 SLR film camera is in good, used cosmetic condition. It shows scuffs/scratches/dust/dirt due to normal use and storage. The lens is clear and free from scratches but does not zoom smoothly. The film chamber door is difficult to open. It is being sold as-is for parts/repair as we were unable to fully test it due to lack of batteries. Please not that the camera/lens may need additional repair that we are unaware of.
    Emboldened by a history of success in reanimating old East German cameras, especially Exaktas, I put in a low bid on this, and found out that the other 6 bidders were even more cheapskates that I was. I suspected that a prime lens would not, in any case. "zoom smoothly" but suspected rightly that the focus was scratchy.

    Well, I won for the price of around two pizzas ($27). I figured that even a non-functioning one that looked nice would be a good shelf queen and that if the lens was salvageable it lone would be a nice wide angle for my other FD-mount cameras (AE-1 Program, T70, T80, T90).

    When it came, the obvious first flaw was that the lens bezel was broken, but there was no other sign of any damage, except that turning the focus ring felt like there was a pint of sand in the lens grooves. I tried blowing out the lens with a 'rocket' blower from the back, shook it vigorously, blew in air from the front, worked it, and either got the grit out, or pulverized it into lubricant because the lens became smoother, the more I worked it.

  2. In cleaning up the body proper, I found out that the film speed dial would not turn, and was at a slight angle. I took it in to my local camera store maven since I didn't want to force anything that I wasn't doing right. He confirmed that the dial was non functional, but pointed out that the rewind spindle appeared to be bent.

  3. He said that once he had dropped an A-series camera and had the same thing happen. He had, he said, straightened it out with a pliers. Hmmm.
    I took it home, looked at it for a while, then took a pliers to the shaft and applied very moderate pressure against the direction of the bent. Immediately, the spindle loosened, dropped down smoothly into the camera, and the film speed dial now worked smoothly and was properly seated. I checked it out against my Gossen Luna-Pro meter and the TTL readings and the meter pretty much agreed. The test would be the actual shooting with it.

    After I had bought the A-1 and lens, I had downloaded every service manual I could find on the internet for this camera. But then I found a wonderful, but tragically flawed, website called Loos(e)Canons ( ). It has DIY Tutorials on many cameras (not all Canons, either).
    Canon T70 "Dead" motor Fix,
    Canon A Series "shutter Squeak: Repair
    and, yes,
    Canon A-1 top cover removal ( )

    I don't know how well Loos(e)Canons would work for those of you who have figuratively "staked yourself naked at the crossroads", but the way I have my computer set I had to manually click every little arrow to see the next image. Very patiently I clicked and clicked until I had viewed the entire tutorial for taking off the A-1 top. Let's just say that it's not nearly so easy as most cameras since a bunch of other parts have to be taken off first, long before you get to the actual top cover. I was very glad I had used the pliers on the shaft. :|

    So, after I cleaned off the dust, grime, and other camera smegma, here was what I got for myself

    johnfantastic likes this.
  4. Here are the specs on this camera, as usual in these well-documented examples from Canon's own Camera Museum ( )
    Type 35mm focal-plane shutter SLR camera
    Picture Size 24 x 36 mm
    Normal Lens Canon FD 55mm f/1.2 SSC, FD 50mm f/1.4 SSC
    Lens Mount FD mount
    Shutter Four-axis, horizontal-travel focal-plane shutter with cloth curtains. X, B, 30, 15, 8, 4, 2, 1, 1/2, 1/4, 1/8, 1/15, 1/30, 1/60, 1/125, 1/250, 1/500, 1/1000 sec. All speeds controlled electronically. Built-in self-timer (with 2- and 10-sec. delay and blinking LED). Multiple exposures enabled with a lever. Electronic shutter release.
    Flash Sync X-sync automatic-switching sync contacts with German socket and hot shoe.
    Viewfinder Fixed eye-level pentaprism. 0.83x magnification, 93.4% vertical coverage, 95.3% horizontal coverage. Split-image rangefinder encircled by microprism rangefinder at center of fresnel matte screen. Eyepiece shutter provided. Six interchangeable focusing screens optional (installed by service personnel). The standard screen was later replaced by the brighter and sharper Laser Matte screen.
    Viewfinder Information Digital readout with 7-segment red LED for shutter speed, aperture, dedicated Speedlite flash-ready, manual settings, and warning displays.
    Metering & Exposure Control SPC for TTL full-aperture centerweighted averaging metering or TTL stopped-down metering. Exposure compensation range of 2 EV. AE lock provided. Five AE modes: Shutter speed-priority AE, aperture-priority AE, program AE, preset aperture-priority AE, and Speedlite AE (with dedicated Speedlite). The mode is set with a selector dial. Metering range at ISO 100 and f/1.4: EV -2 - 18. Film speed range from ISO 6 to 12800 in 1/3 steps.
    Power Source One 4G-13 6 V mercury oxide battery or 4LR44 alkaline battery. Battery check with button and blinking LED.
    Film Loading & Advance Slotted take-up spool. Advances with camera-top lever's 120 stroke (partial strokes enabled). Ready position at 30.
    Frame Counter Counts up. Resets automatically when camera back is opened. Counts down during rewind.
    Film Rewind Camera-top crank
    Dimensions & Wt 141 x 92 x 48 mm, 620 g
  5. Frankly, I think that this camera is one of the peaks of the Canon line for the traditional form camera. Together with the even more popular AE-1 Program, they provide a quality device for manual and automatic function, not including, of course, autofocus. Yet they are the end of the traditional camera too. After this, everything was plastic.

    When I got the film processed, it looked like I should have followed the Gossen meter - it was overexposed by a half stop or so. The meter setting dial (after 'restoration') may not be exactly where it is supposed to be.

    This morning was supposed to be the last sunshine for a few days, so after a doctor's appointment, I drove out into the country near my house., I'm on the edge of the town and the University Farms own everything to the south.

  6. Here is the Dairy Program's "barn/shelter" - remember that we are well to the south and in the Gulf Coastal Plain = mild winters even before the Warming.
    johnfantastic likes this.
  7. Here is a feed distribution facility. All of these pictures were taken with my Canon FD(n) 70-210mm f/4 lens.
    johnfantastic likes this.
  8. For a little color, a playground at one of the city's reservoirs - this was taken with the formerly gritty and still-cracked-bezel FD(n) 28mm lf/2.8 lens.

  9. I had been shooting the old early AF cameras for so long, that I had to remember to focus and advance the film manually. I do have a motor advance that will work on this, but thought I'd shoot it to start with as it came.
    It's not only an attractive camera in the traditional form (pretty well set by the SLR Contaxes), but it is very pleasant to shoot with. I do have a touch of the "squeak", but that worked itself out of my AE-1 Program with some use, so I don't think I'll brave removing the top on this camera.
    It was fun to get back to the basics. Not sure where I'll be going next as I have now finished up several series on various kinds of old cameras.
    By the bye, the film was Kodak Ultramax 400.
    Finally, for the Happy Holidays (I say keep the "X" in Xmas!), here is a grain bin and a holley tree.
    johnfantastic likes this.
  10. Nice rescue, JDM. When my family owned a camera shop the A-1 was a bit too pricey for most customers but we did sell a couple anyway. Thanks for sharing.
    johnfantastic likes this.
  11. And nice photos, too.
  12. When I was saving up for my first SLR in 1978/1979, the Canon A-1 made it to the top of the list. I even purchased a book to become familiar with it before I had enough money to buy the camera. As it turned out, a steep price increase prevented me from becoming a Canon owner (and from suffering through the FD to EOS mount transition); I purchased a Nikon FM and 105/2.5 instead.
  13. I was in the same bracket as the most customers Mike's family camera shop. I would have liked one but could not afford it. It still looks a handsome piece of kit.
  14. I think you have done a lot of work to revive this camera and it deserves a few more films to be put through it! I have never owned one but a particularly nice example sits in the window of the local secondhand camera store!
    johnfantastic likes this.
  15. Several have mentioned the original cost. With the FD 50mm f/1.8 lens it was $630 in 1980 dollars. The very popular Canon AE-1 with the same lens was 'only' $451. Depending on which index is used, the 1980 dollar would be between $2.50 and $5.00 in 2012 dollars. Using my very own "how much does a 1st class letter cost to mail" index, that Canon A-1 new today would be roughly $1800.
    Here is the page on the A-1 from the December 1980 Modern Photography.
    stephen_morris|3 likes this.
  16. Here's the original Canon A-1 factory brochure to add to your thread. This camera and I are old friends.
  17. JDM, you can take care of the squeal without removing the top cover. I had a kit, once upon a time, it included camera oil in a syringe and simple instructions for reaching it from the lens mount without removing screws.
  18. thanks for the website address. A lot of manuals for things other than Canon there. It's worth a browse.
  19. Nice work and write-up as always, JDM!
    I was given an A-1 with FD 50mm f/1.4 SSC lens a while back. It was in good working order except for the infamous Canon A-series mirror box squeak, so I had it overhauled and now it performs like a champ. I've used it on a number of occasions with consistently good results. As I mentioned in another thread recently, it's my favorite film camera for hand-held indoor theater shooting because it meters well in low light, it has an ISO 6400 setting (unlike, say, the Olympus OM-2N, which only goes to 1600), and my fastest long lens is the FD 200mm f/2.8 SSC.
    Louis, thanks for the brochure!
  20. Very nice JDM, and thank you for rescuing an A-1 from the trash heap. My father still has an A1, despite having graduated since then to a T90, a Nikon F801, a Nikon F65, and more recently a D60. I begged him to give me his A1 along with its bag of FD lenses but he refused. I ascribe that to my father's love for the camera and not his lack of love for his son...grumble...
    Much to my delight an uncle of mine sold me his A1 with a 50mm 1.8. I've since added a 70-210 F4 like you (a vastly underrated lens IMHO), 35-105 3.5 (superb little lens), 80-200 F4, 35 F2, Kiron FD mount 24 2.8, Kiron 105...sigh the addiction....I blame Louis Meluso for his several wonderful posts in the FD forum. I was much saddened to read that Louis was putting his FD gear away. I'm hoping it's only temporary.
    Anyways, have fun with the A1, JDM. Its a wonderful beast. You might consider getting the Motor Drive MA, if only because it adds some balance and heft to the camera when using the bigger zoom lenses. And watch out for the battery door cracking.
  21. I said
    Yet they are the end of the traditional camera too. After this, everything was plastic.​
    That's true enough, but perhaps unclear.
    For the record, the huge exception that everyone at the time of its release took to the A-series was that many parts were, horrors!, plastic.
    I think, time has shown that these cameras do as well as their all-metal contemporaries.
    Interestingly, I have been told that some exterior plastic parts were given "brass" undercoatings beneath the black or chrome final finish so that wear would seem to show "brassing" of the traditional kind. I don't know if this is folklore or truth, however, and I'm not going to scratch up my A-series cameras to confirm it. :|
  22. Hi, JDM. Yep, it's me again. I bought my A-1 body in July 1977 locally for $330 plus tax. The following year, I bought a Motor Drive MA. While I lusted for an F-1 with a motor drive, the A-1 made more sense economically and it had the added bonus of the various AE modes. The learning curve was steep, having only used a Canon FTb to that point, but my A-1 became my primary camera.
    Of course, I felt the need to set the record straight on the "plastic" body panels used on the A series cameras. Here are quotes from Popular Photography's stripdown report on the Canon AE-1 published in May 1977:
    "[T]he top and front outer panels are molded plastic measuring 0.8mm thick with an electroplated overcoating of copper, nickel, and chrome whose combined thickness measures 0.2mm on each side of the plastic. Thus the plastic cover panels have a metal skin on both sides that represents one-third of the total thickness of the panel.
    The result is a substantial savings in the cost of making these parts, along with a reduction in weight. At the same time, the precision and function of the parts leave nothing to be desired. In fact, where a sharp blow with a sharp object would noticeably dent a metal cover panel, it would simply leave a bright mark on the plated-plastic one. I tried throwing (not just dropping) the plated-plastic top-cover panel from an AE-1 on a concrete floor. It simply bounced, without a dent left in it. Next I tried to dent it by striking it with a sharp hammer. Still no dents, just bright marks from the burnishing of impact."
    Here are extracts from their stripdown report on the Canon A-1 from their April 1979 issue:
    "In the AE-1's Stripdown Report, I said it was one of the most elaborate mechanical cameras being made. The A-1 is even more elaborate mechanically."
    "The ... top and mirror-box front panel are made of the same well-proven plastic used on the AE-1. This is a plastic that's metal-plated, then painted (in the case of the black-finished models). The bottom cover is a substantial brass stamping"
    So, the plastic body panels on the A-1 are plastic with three layers of metal plating under the black paint.
    stephen_morris|3 likes this.
  23. My A-1 came with a 28mm f2.8 FD with breech ring and the book along with a battery door that works but is askew when open. The camera does not "speak" the squeak to me when I fire the shutter. I've been told if you can stand the squeak it has no effect on the longevity of the A-series Canons. I've added the camera to my FD Collection consisting of F-1 ca 1977(second incarnation) with rare Motor Drive Unit the one with over the shoulder battery box corded to the motor with the ungainly/ insanely under the camera grab handle but it has a built in intervalometer!! My lenses consist of 24mm f2.8, 35mm f2, 50mm f1.4, 135mm f3.5 all with silver breeching ring my preference as I use these same lenses and get infinity using Canon converter B ring to my Leica II and M-3.
  24. Gordon, that indeed makes more sense than the idea that the 'brass' was put there to deceive. ;)
    I had read that without connecting it to what I was told about the finish... DUH
    I could see from "brassing" that the bottom plate seemed to really be brass.
  25. I used the same "Squeak-repair Kit" that Fred used and it worked beautifully on an AE-1P and an A-1. I was never a fan of the A-1 at all until I used the last one I had for some time, and then I grew to really like it. Ultimately I sold it to fund an F-1, but I think I'll find another one. Nice post, JDM; thanks!
    Kayam-I agree that the 70-210 is an underrated lens. I had one that produced wonderful results!
  26. I recall being surprised several years ago the first time I saw a chunk broken off an AE-1. Before then I hadn't realized it was plastic under the skin. Still a pretty tough camera.
    Among photojournalists, especially in college during the 1980s, the A-1 was fairly popular as an affordable alternative to the Nikon pro F series. If I'm recalling correctly the A-1 was heavily discounted to tempt photographers to invest in the FD system.
  27. I can vouch for the toughness of A-1 tops. I was once taking mine down from the top of a closet when it slipped and fell about eight feet, right on it's prism to a hardwood floor. After it got through bouncing around I picked it up figuring it was toast but couldn't see a mark on it. It worked perfectly. The electronics in these cameras are very well made, but as JDM stated, you're better off not having to take the top off if you can avoid it. It's stuffed w/ wires and all manner of electronic bits and pieces. I always thought the A-1/ w/ action grip and FD 50 1.4 were beautiful together.
  28. As I recall, the actual lowest selling price (New York mail order, or matched elsewhere) for most equipment back in the 70's was about 50% of list.
  29. "The ... top and mirror-box front panel are made of the same well-proven plastic used on the AE-1. This is a plastic that's metal-plated, then painted (in the case of the black-finished models). The bottom cover is a substantial brass stamping"​, the only plastic exterior body panels on the A-1 that, at the time, were normally made of metal are the top and the bezel surrounding the lens mount, which is why it bugs me when the A-1 is described as being "too plasticky" and why I belabor the point. [End of rant, sorry.]
  30. The 28/2.8 New FD does not seem as good to me as the earlier FD SC model but I have three of them (New FD) anyway. They're not half bad when closed down. The A-1 is a camera I don't think I will ever like. Mine has the squeak but otherwise works fine. Using it in a manual mode or using the depth of field preview are just not worth the trouble. I prefer a mechanical Canon. I can live without all of the A-1 exposure modes and be happy with an EF. The EF is much more solidly made, has a fast and sensitive meter and also has a higher flash synch speed. An FTbN has the 12 degree metering, the QL loading and operates smoothly. The Minolta X-700 gives me user interchangeable (with diffuculty) focusing screens and adds TTL flash metering. Finally, I will mention the Nikon N90S/F90X. It has far more features than the A-1 and sells for very little. I have two of these in mint condition. One was $27 and the other about $35.
    My A-1 goal is to transplant a grid type screen from a non-working A-1 and put in into the working one. At the same time I will have the squeak problem addressed and have a general overhaul. I still won't really like the A-1 but I will at least have one fully working and with a screen I like. If I know I will be changing screens "in the field" I will just use an F-1.
  31. The shutter squeal is worth fixing. I sent my camera to eBay seller John Titterington for the squeal and he charged $45 which also included replacing the foam, cleaning the focusing screen and lubriating the body and mechanical parts. Well worth it IMO. I use my A-1 with A2 winder or MA and lenses from 24 - 500 f8.
  32. Yes, too good to be true, if hunting down John I have to disclose to forum goers,,,I have e mailed John without response.
    OTOH,Steve at Camera Clinic will talk to you on the phone and discuss the squeal. He said that there is a cheap way to fix the squeal and what he a Canon specialist calls a right way. And that the right way is to remove the mirror box assembly and lube the shutter and the parts of the mirror that squeal. That plus some other stuff he will do for 125 bucks plus shipping of 12.00. Flat rate. Given that my A-1 was my workhorse, before my T90 took over, I plan to send the A-1 and the A 2 winder to Steve in Reno. He repaired the shutter magnets and the T90s work great. I look at 150 bucks for upkeep of a really good film camera, one of Canon's finest, as worth it. Like every 30 years or so...I mean rationalize it thus" Only the price of 10 medium size pizzas with one topping each:).
    I may have only paid, I recollect 250.00 -300.00 for my A-1 w 1.4 lens new in box at the Guam PX, that was in 1980 something PX price dollars. Very sturdy easy to use camera. The camera is still cosmetically mint has cover to 6 volt battery, meter meters correctly and all. And A2 finder w four AA cells was just about the right size to do the job so I didnt seek the other winder.
    I took that combo to Australia and New Zealand in 1984, pounded it like mad on planes and river boats and it has never had service since and still works OK for now. A-1 though starts to make a case, "m Psst. About time for my lube and oil change., Gerry."
  33. Still have my Canon A1 .. and reading JDM's article above brought back all the memories of using such a fine camera .. my A1 was my slide film camera camera at the time and co-exited with other more heavily used print film cameras .. so didn't get as much use as my F1N, F1, or AE1 Program; believe the last time I used it was at the St. Louis Energizer balloon race with the film winder attachment .. with the 35-105mm lens I got some really well exposed and rich colors .. as those baloons sailed from ground to treetop levels and beyond, the only thing slowing me down was how fast I could frame and focus.
    The A1 was such a feature rich camera that I doubt that I ever needed whatever it was that this camera offered. And I really thought the 28mm lens was my most useful at the time. It gave me many years of pure joy and some nice pictures.
    JDM, you're a brave man to try to get that top plate off .. I read about it a number of times and though I was sure to lose all those little parts.
    I may have to dust her off and run some film again after reading this.
  34. An update on John Titterington: Recently at a farmers market / rummage / garage / yard sale I found and purchased an A-1 body and AE-1 Program, both very clean but both have moderately loud squeals, enough to make me think these cameras once spent considerable time on a farm. I contacted John Titterington recently by e mail and his current rate is now 75 dollars. He was very responsive I have to report. LoosECannons, in Mechanicsburg PA, approximately 2 hours from my home is at 60 for the AE-1 and 65 for the A-1. I suspect the original owner was a "buy the accessories" person instead of a user -- there was also a Canon A2 rewinder, boxed and a Canon Angle Finder B. The noise is a typical A body age thing, so it will be worth the $. I haggled with Mr. Seller for a final price of 20 for the A-1 and 30 for the AE-1 Program and 15 for both accessories. Next month I'll probably send the cameras off to John -- his reputation precedes him.
  35. Nice to read these replies. I took many, many pics with my A-1. It's not the perfect camera for manual shooting, but for AE shooting it is tops.
    As for the Canon FD lenses, they are at the top of 70s and 80s optical design.
  36. Canon themselves simply say about the A-1 (link):
    The A-1 was the top-of-the-line A-series camera. (The AE-1 was the first in this series.) It was a sophisticated electronic camera with all-digital control.​
    You will also note that the word professional is in quotation marks, although plenty of honest-to-god pros did use this camera and others in what is sometimes called the "Pro-Am" category.
  37. yes, the A-1 definitely fits the "Pro-Am" category as it gave a lot of wanna be shooters some much needed confidence in the SLR field.
  38. What's not to love about this camera? It's sturdy and easy to use. I still have mine that I picked up used in the late 1980s. Had the squeal fixed back when there were camera repair places all over the place. Hasn't squeaked since. FD glass is the best bargain out there although prices are creeping up because the M4/3 crowd is slapping them on their cameras now. I shoot mostly BW with mine these days when I want to slow down. I wish I could find diopters for mine because I hate shooting with glasses on. I actually picked up a Canon Elan 7e like new for $30 and use that when I need to focus more quickly without glasses. To me the A-1 was the pinnacle of prosumer cameras in the 80s and are selling for peanuts now...
  39. Question #2: was my suggestion of SIU close to the mark? I was a full professor and department chairman at the
    University of Washington in Seattle over 30 years ago.
  40. I owned a Canon A1 for more than 25 years and never really liked it, because although it was much lighter in weight and was reliable it always felt cheap and nasty compared with my New F1's, and I gave it my niece a few months ago and don't regret it.
  41. Ben: tell us how you really feel. Well, never mind. Nope I agree the New F-1 is a rock of a camera, and it was supposed to be just that as the A-1 was never designed to be a pro camera although a lot of pros did use this body and liked it ( worked for the Philly Inquirer for while ). I too lusted after the New F-1 when it was released (this is the final body you're referring to right ? From 1981 to 1996 - correct me if I'm wrong as I know there was the F-1, the F-1 update from 1976 and then the totally new "New F-1" in 1981 ) but when this final F was released I was well into "life" starting out my career, and knew the A-1s would have to suffice. I am always checking out "new" F-1s where I find them but then I ask myself how many cameras do I need (vs lusting after). Most cameras have an Achilles Heel, and one thing I learned sorry to say from experience is the A-1 is not an all weather camera. I'm sure the New F-1 and all of the previous iterations were probably more water resistant.
  42. Yes the F1's have a very comprehensive weather sealing system.
  43. This was my first really good camera, bought from one of the NY mail-order places based on the ad in the back of ______ Photography magazine. Unfortunately, with the $450 or so I'd saved up and decided I'd get the A1 and a 50/1.4, the fast-talking salesman convinced me I ought to get instead a 1.8 and a flash... %$#@! flash only lasted a year or so.

    That camera began its end in the famous (to me) "Leningrad mayonnaise incident" (though hung on for another 8 or 9 months after being coated in fresh mayonnaise in my rucksack) and was replaced by another, used one. Sadly, that one's been in storage on the other side of the continent since 2002.

    I always liked the camera's ergonomics, the FD bayonet mount, the battery cover-grip, the nice LED indicators, etc. Only thing weird was the stop-down lever/button... I had a couple AE1s, but never found them as outstanding as the A1.

    I can never remember if these get a dash between the A and the 1.

    Oddly the A1 isn't a camera I've run across cheap and used and local - yet. When I do it'll be like old times! (except that Yeltsin won't be in power and I won't be shooting ____chrome and I won't be able to get freshly baked bread and a thing of mayonnaise for SUR5000).

    By the way, mine did get some nice 'brassing'!

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