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

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

  1. This is my latest Canon A-1. I have been recapitulating my photographic journey from childhood to 1979 when I switched from SLRs to pocket film cameras, then to compact digital and then to smartphones with great cameras (Lumia). My fifth cameras was a new Canon AE-1 bought in Japan in 1976 through a friend with contacts at Canon's factory. No tours were allowed then because their A project was so cutting edge. A lot more factory automation, not much to look at anyway. I replaced it with the A-1 in 1978. Now that these wonderful instruments can be had for pizza $$, how can I resist trying ALL the great cameras from those great days?

    For general use, I prefer the shutter priority automation of the AE-1 and A-1. For ISO 100 and for daylight, I can set the shutter to 1/125 and I'll have a much wider auto exposure range without having to change any settings. Just focus and shoot. I found that I didn't use the Program mode very much on the A-1; it would too often select a shutter speed too slow for hand-holding. I usually just stuck to shutter-preferred. I really appreciated the bright, clear and complete LED viewfinder display. Also like the flash automation though not TTL.

    I think I've finally settled on the Canon EF simply because it does everything I want but in a body/chassis much akin to the F-1 (I know, the shutter and much else is totally different). It's heavier, all-metal and precision butter-smooth and works fine without batteries. Probably a lot of nostalgia for things more "handcrafted" involved. Still split sometimes between the A-1 and EF. Didn't care for the New F-1, although it is probably the most durable SLR ever made.

    Which brings me to my last point: I can imagine that a lot of pros in the 1970s went from the durable, proud-to-be-abused, system cameras like Nikon Fs and Canon F-1s to the prosumer cameras like the A-1 and Nikon FE/FE2 because they appreciated (like me) reliable and accurate auto exposure and exposure lock capabilities. Both Nikon and Canon put exposure automation into their "true" pro cameras by the 2nd or 3rd generation. So, exposure automation does not an amateur camera make.

    This A-1 sure feels good in my hands... DSC03513 (1).JPG
  2. A strange revival of an old thread here, but I'll add my little bit. Last year I found an A1 at a local thrift shop for $12.00 with the lens, so of course I bought it. it was very nice looking, and seemed mint except for a slight shutter squeak. I looked that up and determined that it can basically be ignored, so I threw some film in it and shot a roll. It worked very well, and made nice pictures. It is, to my way of looking, one of the best looking cameras ever made, not far behind the Nikon F3. But for all that and for all its great capabilities, I found myself, accustomed to other makes, constantly inconvenienced by the peculiar ergonomics, and since I had only the one lens, and hardly needed any more cameras, I gave it to one of my kids, who has had an A1 for a zillion years, and is much more of a Canon lover than I am. It did work nicely, though, and I certainly could not complain about the metering.

    mill children.jpg
    stephen_morris|3 likes this.
  3. Just curious, what is strange about a new member commenting on an old post?
  4. I suppose it's not so strange except that I'd expect it to be hard to find unless you got it on a google search and then joined, but how one gets here hardly matters in any case, because here we are. The A1 is a lovely camera, and one of the things I've noticed recently is that older Canon lenses are pretty easy to come by cheaply. Maybe not quite as cheap as old Minolta mounts, but good.
    stephen_morris|3 likes this.
  5. What is happening is that the defaults for displaying threads have been slightly altered so that, if the settings are made so, then age-old posts can be brought to the top of the line.
    stephen_morris|3 likes this.
  6. The A-1 was my second 35mm SLR. I bought it in Osaka, Japan while on vacation there. That was back in 1984 and at that time, my attitude was, the more automation, the better. To be honest, though, I actually grew tired of the automation because I felt that it was masking the art and craft of photography from me. And when I did try to use it in manual mode, I became somewhat frustrated that rotating the aperture ring had no effect on the meter readout. The meter indicates the aperture it recommends, so the user must set the ring to that value, if that's the one desired. Another annoyance that developed with me -- and this was the case with both of my SLRs, the first being an AE-1 -- was the center-weighted metering pattern. To me, it wasn't center-weighted enough. I was shooting slides exclusively, which require accurate exposure for best results. And what I found on a number of occasions were slides that were ruined because of extraneous light sources that peeked their way into the frames, resulting in severe underexposures. After a while, I learned to look out for these situations, but sometimes they were unavoidable, which required that I shoot in manual mode with a substantially different exposure value than what the camera was recommending. For me, the solution to these annoyances was to take a step backwards, technologically speaking. I bought an FTb, a mechanical, manual exposure camera with a 12% partial area metering pattern and match-needle metering. Problems solved. About a year after that, I bought an old F-1, which also has the 12% partial area metering pattern and match-needle metering, and then I bought another. I had become a convert to the old stuff.

    I kept my A-1, though, and still used it as a back-up camera. Mostly because I had the Motor Drive MA for mine -- probably one of the two best motorized accessories that Canon ever produced. I was freelancing as a motorsports photographer by then, and having the motor drive on the A-1 was very handy. And since I was shooting outdoors at the races, the A-1's meter usually worked very well, so I was able to use Tv (Shutter Priority) auto for the races. I used Tv so I could control the shutter speed to blur the cars wheels, which was important in giving the appearance that a car was moving. So, yeah, since I was freelancing, I was a pro who was using an A-1, and putting it to good use, too. But by then it was my second camera. The old F-1, with it's giant but rather leisurely 3.5 fps motor drive, was my principle rig.

    A few years later, I decided to switch systems to Nikon, so I sold off all my Canon gear and became a Nikon user. I enjoyed Nikon well enough -- especially the phenomenal F2. But you know, I never got over Canon FD and finally, several years ago, I started collecting Canon FD again. I now have a pristine A-1, with Motor Drive MA, as part of my permanent collection.

    I frequent a number of photo forums that specialize in older gear and one of the things I've noticed is, when it comes to Canon FD cameras, invariably the A-1 is the camera that is most often discussed. More so than the F-1, whether new or old, or the T-90, or even the EF. And I think this is at least partially because it was the first Canon to do it all -- all four exposure mode possibilities (P, Tv, Av, and M), plus stopped down AE and a limited flash AE. But also the A-1 has proved to be a very robust and resilient photographic tool. Back in the early 80s, I certainly would have never envisioned that, almost 35 years later, A-1s would still be going as strong as the day they left the showroom. I think it's a bit ironic that much of the reason why the A-1 is as durable as it has been is because of its automation. I've had A-1s apart and one thing you can't help but notice is that big flex circuit that lays on top of the inside of the camera. That big flex circuit contains all the "stuff" that makes the camera work, and since everything has been miniaturized and modularized, this actually makes for a more reliable and more rugged tool. But even given this, if it weren't for the top quality design and construction that Canon included in the rest of the camera, like its rugged switch gear, durable metal chassis, and a top cover that is brass-clad polycarbonate, which makes for a more bump-resistant material, the camera wouldn't be as reliable as it has demonstrated itself to be.

    Yes, despite its quirks and deficiencies, the A-1 has weathered the test of time and has proven itself to be a photographic tool equally at home in the hands of a talented amateur or a pro -- or even a total neophyte. And so it goes . . .

    Just what is up with paragraph breaks in the new forums? What does it take to do paragraph breaks? At last! I think.
    stephen_morris|3 likes this.
  7. "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."

    That's incredible (in the sense of "hard to believe"), JDM, given that you can pick up a pristine F-1, F-1n or F-1N today for around $200. And it makes me curious about what a new F-1 would cost in today's currency.
    Last edited: Mar 2, 2017
  8. "Just what is up with paragraph breaks in the new forums? What does it take to do paragraph breaks?"

    Michael, for paragraph breaks, try pushing your "Enter" key twice (or thrice). And if you go into the "More Options" area, you have just that - more options.
    Last edited: Mar 2, 2017
  9. Redundant post. Please delete.​
    Last edited: Mar 2, 2017
  10. The A1 was not considered a professional camera, the F1 was Canon's pro body.
  11. Although this was already addressed in the original discussion (above), I'll simply repeat that
    1. the word professional was in quotation marks
    2. The camera was widely used by real, 100% professional photographers
    3. it was one of the earlier "Pro-Am" cameras bridging from one level to another
    stephen_morris|3 likes this.
  12. Thanks Mark. I found the BB Code Editor icon. Finally.

    So I guess this is recognizing the Enter key now?

    Okay, looks like it is. But why is this feature defaulted to 'off'? It should always be 'on.'

    Funny that the preview shows correct formatting. I don't like that the BB Code Editor has no controls at all -- visible, at least.. So I clicked on the link to the full text editor, which brought me out of the bb code editor, and back to this pile of crap.

    And btw, it looks like it's supposed to in the editor and when I do a preview. They need to clean this up. This post is supposed to have four paragraph breaks.
  13. The A-1 was a fine camera, though it was never up to "professional standards" of that time in the vein of the F-1 or Nikon F2/F3. Nor was it really intended to be. No interchangeable finders or easily changes screens. It did have a "motor drive", the MA, but if memory serves me correctly, it was a 3 or 3.5 fps glorified winder. It was not targeted for professionals but rather advanced amateurs.
  14. This thread was an enjoyable read.
    An A-1 was my first "serious" camera. I bought it in 2005 for an upcoming trip to France, but used it a lot before then until I felt competent with it.
    Although I carted a bag full of lenses with it(the one I bought came with four) I ended up leaving most in the hotel room and spent most of the trip with the body and a breech lock 50mm 1.8 hanging from my neck. I think I shot about 600 frames on that trip(who knows how many since then), mirror squeak and all. The vast majority were shutter priority, which remains my preferred shooting mode to this day.
    I moved on to the F-1, new F-1, and T90 along with most every other FD mount body along the way, but still have my first A-1 and give it some exercise every once in a while.
    BTW, I did finally fix the squeak with a drop of watch oil on an on an oiler through the hole in the mirror box. I know that's frowned on, but it worked. I also resealed mine even though it didn't leak-just putting new mirror foam in it made the camera a fair bit quieter.
  15. The FM is a much better camera than the A1 now that I own both of them.

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