Canon AE-1 Program and Nikon FA

Discussion in 'Canon FD' started by hjoseph7, Dec 2, 2020.

  1. I was just reading about these two cameras and I never realized that Nikon and Canon were viciously duking it out back in the early 1980's as they are today. Notice I used the 'and' instead of 'vs', because I don't want to start any Wars. Actually I would like to add both cameras to my collection someday being that you can purchase them so cheap. I could have thrown the Olympus OM-4 in there because it also came out around that time but I'll save that for another day...

    To tell you the truth, I never realized that the Canon AE-1 was such and advanced camera for it's time. A Fully Automatic(the camera chooses shutter speed and aperture) mostly mechanical all metal camera. That camera must have shook the photographic industry like it had never been shook in years maybe decades ! I was browsing through some YouTube videos today and decided to click on a video about the AE-1. No wonder it was so popular and still is ! The AE-1 also let you shoot in Shutter Priority mode and Manual. Absolutely amazing !

    Nikon came out with the FA a few years later, so I'm guessing that for a few years they must have lost a good percentage of the market, as well as more than a few hairs on the top of their heads !

    The FA not only let you shoot in Full Automatic mode, it also let you shoot in Shutter Priority, Aperture Priority and Manual in an all metal body( actually 90% all metal). Not only that, the Nikon FA also had Matrix Metering the first SLR to have that feature.

    Unfortunately, because of the complexity and all of the electronic and mechanical parts that had to mesh together, the FA was not as reliable as Nikon's bread and butter the FM2 and the FE2. There were all sorts of glitches such as when you turned the camera vertically, the matrix metering got fooled. Some lenses did not work on the FA. This is why to this day the AE-1 is still more popular(IMHO). So is the FE2 for that matter.

    Nikon tried desperately to fix all the glitches and were pretty successful at it for a few years, only to be over shadowed by a Minolta with their AF (Auto Focus) cameras and lenses !

    Around that time I was still trying to learn how to use my Minolta SRT-202 which was my first SLR camera. I had no idea that these things were going on, or that these cameras were on the market ? I had heard some rumors about the major players, which included Leica, Nikon, Canon, Minolta, Pentax, Olympus, but my pockets were not deep enough to go any further...
    Last edited: Dec 2, 2020
  2. SCL


    My father, who had used an Argus since he was a kid in the late 1930s, got an AE-1 when they first came out, and loved no longer having to pull out an exposure meter to take a few shots (he wasn't much into photography at that stage of his life). Looking back, I seem to remember a lot of my friends opted for the AE-1, which really was a revolutionary "people's camera" for the time.
  3. Which makes the Canon A-1 (released in 1978) the better option to compare to, not the AE-1 Program. The AE came first (1976), offering shutter priority and manual; the AE-1 Program was released in 1981. Nikon took a long time to come out with a camera that offered shutter priority (not counting the awkward attachment for the F2AS)
    The top panel is plastic on the AE-1, AT-1, A-1, AE-1 Program, and AL-1.
  4. Vincent Peri

    Vincent Peri Metairie, LA

    The photographer has to set the shutter speed on the AE-1. The camera then selects the aperture.
  5. You are right the AE-1 only had shutter priority. Pentax was in there too with their Pentax Super Program. I'm guessing they didn't believe in Patents in those days ?
  6. AE-1 is an exercise in cost cutting. It became one of the best selling SLR cameras because it was affordable, not because it was a great camera. Considering how many AE-1s Canon produced, there are strangely few on the market which may be an indicator of its long term durability.
    If you have held better cameras of that era in your hands, handling an AE-1 certainly does not inspirer confidence.
    It was groundbreaking in its use of plastic. For example the whole top plate, usually made from brass, was made entirely in plastic, chromed to have the appearance of metal.
    In short - Canon wanted to make a cheap SLR camera that was as easy to use (at the time) so that many people would buy it, and they succeeded.
    The whole industri had to follow to stay competitive in the lower segment of the market.
    Jochen likes this.
  7. That they did. However, with the AE-1 and AE-1 Program, the aperture-preferred shooter was left out in the cold. You could go manual-only with the Canon, but I've been an aperture-preferred shooter since I bought my first SLR, even though it was a manual process back then. The AE was a marketing/snap-shooter success, but it never swayed me from my preferred way of shooting. That stated, I've used shutter-priority in the past for action shooting, but I always revert back to my first preference.
  8. The FA was Nikon answer to the A-1 although it came out quite late. The price is also about the same as the A-1 and not the AE-1p. I didn't like any of them when they came out but in recent years I had them all. I found out that I really didn't like the FA so I sold it and although I don't like the Canon I think it's pretty nice. I sold the AE-1p too. I still have the AE-1 and the A-1 which I would keep but would never use.
  9. I have no idea why I chose the AE-1 Program back in 1983. The only friend that I had at the time who owned a camera had a Canon, and I do remember all the adds in National Geographic for Canon.

    I do remember thinking that I would be more concerned about choosing the shutter speed and letting the camera choose the aperture. As it turned out I would have much preferred, for action shots for example, to set the aperture wide open and let the camera set the fastest shutter speed possible. I had regretted not going with Nikon at the time. It was then that I started recommending the FM2 to friends.

    However, in the spring of 1986 I bought the ground breaking, and best SLR of it's time, Canon T-90. It could shoot in either priority, plus many programs, plus safety shift.

    The tech in the T-90 was all for not because by 1988, I shot only in manual mode as I do to this day. Loved that camera for 20 years, and it got me through the autofocus fad until I went digital in 2006.

    The cameras I have considered for nostalgic historical reasons that fit the way I photograph are the Canon EF and Nikon F. The F because a family member had one that he had bought new, and just because the Photomic finder looks amazing. The FE-2 is more practical, and again the F3HP is just an awesome beast. I remember being amazed by the view through the viewfinder.

    Maybe one of these days. Fun looking back.
  10. Correct, it was "the peoples" camera. Around that time Canon became the camera manufacturer of the masses, while Nikon catered to the Professionals. But it wasn't all black and white, there were some grey areas too. Nikon tried their best to corner the consumer market with some cheap offerings of their own.

    The Korean war was a big boost for Nikon, because you had a lot of Journalist going through Japan on their way to cover the war in Korea. They all wanted Nikon cameras. Preferably Black SLR's to remain inconspicuous as possible. This mentality of Nikon being the 'PRO' camera and Canon the consumer camera lasted for a long time, up until Canon developed the EOS system.

    At first everybody thought that Canon was doomed, that it was a big mistake, because a lot of photographers would balk at selling their entire system of FD lenses. However, what really happened is that many Professional photographers, especially sports photographers switched to Canon because of their superior Auto Focus cameras and lenses.
  11. The Korean War started in 1950 and the armistice was in 1953. The Nikon F, Nikon's first SLR, was introduced in 1959. I think what you are referring to may be David Douglas Duncan's use of Nikon lenses on his rangefinder camera. I can't remember if it was a Leica or a Contax. He said he thought the Nikon lenses were better than the lenses he had been using.
  12. If you're going for the "antique" FD-mount in the Canon, Why not go for a nice F-mount Nikon like the Nikkormat EL, ELM, or the lovely Nikon F2?
  13. Thanks for the correction...
  14. A few other things:

    Both companies came to the market with an AE camera around the same time. From early on, Nikon preferred aperture priority-in fact I'd go so far as to say that before 1981 Nikon lenses did not work in a way that was adaptable to shutter priority. The only "shutter priority" option from Nikon prior to the FA was the the bulky servo systems for the F2s, which would move the aperture ring back and forth until the meter prism indicated correct exposure-this was slow and bulky enough that it was meant more for unattended stationary operation than on-the-go photography. In any case, Canon had an easier time implementing shutter priority. The FD mount from the beginning had a linear aperture actuator, which works equally well for both shutter priority and aperture priority.

    Nikon released the Nikkormat EL, wihch is aperture priority, in 1972, and Canon followed with the shutter priority EF in 1973. Both are absolute tanks of cameras. The EF is based on the basic FTb body, while the EL is on the same basic Nikkormat body that had been in production. Nikon updated the EL to the EL2 to work with AI lenses.

    The AE-1 and FE really are kind of the better pairing, although I think that in every way other than cost it's hard not to say that the FE is the better camera. The FE body was smaller and lighter than the EL/EL2, but was still built to "semi-pro" standards(as such a category can exist) and not the thoroughly consumer grade AE-1. The AE-1 has a horizontal silk shutter with a 1/60 flash sync speed, while the FE has a vertical Copal Square type shutter with a 1/125 second sync speed. It's worth noting that the basic body design used for the FE(and its manual exposure cousin the FM) carried on in derivatives quite a long time. The FM2n stuck around until 2000, and then the FM3a which combines a lot of the features of both the FM2n and FE2, was introduced then and produced until 2006.

    The parallels do sort of fall apart from here. Canon made a bunch of iterations of the A series body, including adding full program mode(AE-1P) the multi-mode A-1, and several lower end versions including an aperture priority version(AV-1), a full manual one(AT-1), and even a "focus assist" version, the AL-1. Nikon, meanwhile, updated to the FE2, with a 1/4000 max shutter speed and 1/200 sync speed.

    Nikon didn't have a direct competitor to the A-series until the EM series came out. The EM was kind of underwhelming, as it was ore or less an AE-only camera. The FG was essentially a direct competitor to the AE-1P with a lot of feature parity including full program. Still, though, both of these cameras had a Copal shutter with a higher sync speed than the A-series cameras.

    The A-1/FA comparison, to me, is always interesting. The A-1 was my first "good" camera, so I've always had a soft spot for it. For its time, it was very advanced, but still underpinned with the A-series mechanics including the sqeeky mirror. The multi-segment viewfinder read-out was groundbreaking for its time, and IMO it's better than the wimpy LCD that the F3 and FA used.

    On the other hand, at least on the surface, the FA is just a better built camera. Once again, it's on the more stout FM/FE type body with a 1/250 sync Copal shutter and a 1/4000 maximum shutter speed. The Nikon also steps things up a notch with the "AMP"(Matrix) meter. Of course, the FA was probably a bit too complicated for its own good, and reliability now can be spotty.
  15. What is the difference between the EL/ELM and the 'F' series ? I already have the FM2 and FE2, but I'm seriously thinking about getting a Pentax Spotmatic F (about $120) as a Christmas gift to myself. I would like to use it with some M42 Takumar lenses I acquired in recent years.
  16. The Nikon F2 and the other F series in the original F mount have more "professional" features, and a removable prism. See Nikon's history at the MIR site
    Nikon F2 Professional Series SLR camera - Index Page will get you started and poke around from there. Nikkormat EL at Nikkormat EL - The First Electronic Nikon Camera

    The story of the FA starts at Nikon FA - Preface

    I looked up the FA on eBay, and I admit some of the prices and specs look pretty good. but many of my own lenses are pre-AI so...
    Last edited: Dec 4, 2020
  17. As good as the FA sounds, I'm a little wary of buying it Used, same thing goes for the Olympus OM4. I just don't want to get stuck with a brick and trying to find parts for those cameras is virtually impossible. I think I got the AE-1 and the AE-1 Program (fully automatic) confused. The "AE-1 program" came out in 1981, 2 years ahead of the Nikon FA, but don't quote me on that. I would not mind having the AE-1 Program though, but I only have one FD lens to my name which I bough by mistake !
    Last edited: Dec 5, 2020
  18. You were right !

    From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

    Jump to navigationJump to search
    Canon A-1
    A-1 top
    Canon Camera K. K.
    Type 35 mm SLR
    Lens mount
    Canon FD
    Exposure metering
    Centerweighted average metering
    Frame rate
    Manual lever winding, unmodified.
    92 x 141 x 48 mm
    Weight 620 g
    Canon A1 detail
    Canon A-1
    The Canon A-1 is an advanced level single-lens reflex (SLR) 35 mm film camera for use with interchangeable lenses. It was manufactured by Canon Camera K. K. (today Canon Incorporated) in Japan from April 1978 to 1985. It employs a horizontal cloth-curtain focal-plane shutter with a speed range of 30 to 1/1000 second plus bulb and flash synchronization speed of 1/60 second. It has dimensions of 92 millimetres (3.6 in) height, 141 millimetres (5.6 in) width, 48 millimetres (1.9 in) depth and 620 grams (22 oz) weight. Unlike most SLRs of the time, it was available in only one color; all black. The introductory US list price for the body plus Canon FD 50 mm f/1.4 SSC lens was $625, the camera was generally sold with a 30–40% discount (roughly $375 to $435).

    The A-1 is a historically significant camera. It was the first SLR to offer an electronically controlled programmed autoexposure mode. Instead of the photographer picking a shutter speed to freeze or blur motion and choosing a lens aperture f-stop to control depth of field (focus), the A-1 has a microprocessor programmed to automatically select a compromise exposure based on light meter input. Virtually all cameras today have at least one program mode.

    Last edited: Dec 5, 2020
  19. I have two FAs.

    The first I bought on Ebay, and I'm a bit wary of it. The first roll I shot in it was a roll of Provia, and it randomly blacked out about 5 frames. There was no rhyme or reason to it-some of them were two in a row in the middle of a sequence, while there'd be a 15 frame stretch where it was fine. Less #1 that I learned a long time ago but was anxious to play with the meter-test new cameras with expired B&W... I've since shot a few rolls of Tri-X in it and even braved a roll of Velvia, and it was fine but I'm still a bit gun shy around it.

    The second was bought from a trusted member here with a guarantee. The roll he loaded before shipping came out fine, as did the one I shot after it. I'm going to try this one with slide film since it's marked itself as trustworthy.

    At the end of the day, though, I like the FM2n and F2SB/F2AS better, and with a bit of thought I can expose as well the meter can. Truth be told, I probably get better exposure by thinking rather than blindly trusting the Matrix. Even the billion and a half segment matrix meters on my DSLRs still get fooled by the same sorts of things that trip up averaging meters-bright backlighting and the like-they just get fooled less. Truth be told, I doubt that having that many segments(I think 1005 is where current Nikon meters are) makes a huge difference vs. the 5 segments of the FA, aside from possibly some better logic backing them up.
  20. This is a good camera, and when I've bought them (it's a long story, but not because of failures), they've always worked right out of the package.

    It was a landmark camera, and the relationship to the AE-1 proper is not so close as the name and appearance suggest.

    On the other hand, the A-1 is super too :)

Share This Page