Canon AE-1 — an honest review

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.

The cons

  1. 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.
  2. Shutter priority — phf, what’s that all about?
  3. 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.)
  4. 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.
  5. I often end up making accidental exposures while trying to half-press the shutter for light metering.
  6. The separate light meter button is in awkward place and hard to use.
  7. The depth of field preview button is also very badly designed and hard to use.
  8. Shutter sounds is a rather crude clanking sound.
  9. Somewhat dim and small viewfinder window.

AE-1 has of course plenty of awesome features as well

  1. 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.
  2. Film advance lever mechanics are very good and it is a very short throw to advance the film.
  3. 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.