Alrighty then… it seem’s like the hype around the Canon AE-1 has gone mental these days, so I thought I’d drop an honest review about it. You may also want to read my old AE-1 review (includes sample photos), which has a bit more positive tone to it.
Sometimes I have mixed feelings about the camera. I have a strong personal connection to it, because we used to have one at home when I was a kid. It was also my dream camera as a teenager, when I was drooling over vintage cameras. AE-1 was the vintagest camera I knew back then. I managed to borrow one from a friend (in 2001/2002) and eventually we bought one (mega good condition) together with my girlfriend back in 2006. (We paid 50€ as far as I can remember.) It was also the camera that got me back into film photography couple of years ago.
So even though I like the camera a lot, and I wouldn’t probably never sell mine, there are few lesser known cripes that you perhaps should know, before buying one, or at least paying too much for one. AE-1 has such a overrated reputation nowadays, that the prices are getting a bit high. For that kind of money, you’d think you’re getting a high quality camera, but in fact AE-1 is very plasticy and there are few usability issues that turns me somewhat off. If the prices of AE-1’s are climbing much higher, I think it’s fair to point out few annoyances as well.
- First of all, as mentioned, AE-1 is made out of plastic and it feels like it. The built quality is far from premium or even earlier Canons. It looks very metallic though.
- Shutter priority — phf, what’s that all about?
- The light meter view in the viewfinder is not very intuitive for manual exposures. (Not a huge fan of the metering system in general, but that’s most likely just a user’s error.)
- Shutter button doesn’t have the best response in the world. Compared to some of the purely mechanical cameras, the shutter feel is much worse than for example Olympus OM-1. AE-1 has electronically controlled shutter and the button feels somehow lifeless and numb. Almost like pressing your finger tip against cookie dough.
- I often end up making accidental exposures while trying to half-press the shutter for light metering.
- The separate light meter button is in awkward place and hard to use.
- The depth of field preview button is also very badly designed and hard to use.
- Shutter sounds is a rather crude clanking sound.
- Somewhat dim and small viewfinder window.
AE-1 has of course plenty of awesome features as well
- Shutter speed dial may not look very sexy, but it is very ergonomic and settles very nicely under the index finger. It has a good grip to it and it’s a joy to use.
- Film advance lever mechanics are very good and it is a very short throw to advance the film.
- Other than few annoyingly placed and designed buttons (d.o.f preview and dedicated light meter button) the ergonomics are very nice.
As a bottom line, I would advice to consider twice before spending too much money on an AE-1. In my humble opinion, something like 50€ is a fair price for a working AE-1 body, but definitely not worth of something like 100—200€, unless you really, really want one.