Ah yes — Canon Canonet QL17 GIII. The poor man’s Leica. You know what? I really would like to have a Leica. While waiting to get my hands on one of those some day, I decided to try out this entire rangefinder thing with something a bit cheaper.
There are many reviews of this camera. Most of them go through pretty much the same specs, so I’m going to focus on some of the rarely mentioned aspects and the things I’ve personally found noteworthy.
I wouldn’t characterise this camera as a poor man’s Leica. It is a rangefinder, just like an M-series Leica and maybe the QL17 is a semi-well built camera, but it is a way crappier camera. Sorry to say. I somewhat like it though, and I think the Leica comparison comes pretty much just from the sharp optics, but otherwise it isn’t a fair comparison at all.
The nicest thing about QL17 GIII is that it’s a very cool camera. It has a certain charm and character. I don’t know why, but it just looks cool. It is just a metal box with a lens, but every time someone always asks about it and complements on it. It is cute and non-threatening as opposed to a big SLR or DSLR. It doesn’t try to look so damn important or pro. It is nice to carry around because it looks neat and almost acts as a clothing accessory. I wouldn’t care to throw a Canon DSRL around my neck just for the looks. It’s also compact, so it is just awesomely nice thing to carry around and to have with you when you need it. I simply always WANT to take it with me.
The lens and image quality are really good, which is worth mentioning. But I think that sharpness in itself is overrated so I don’t want to get into that any more than that.
There are few things that drive me nuts. First of all, the whole rangefinder thing isn’t very intuitive for me, and after a few months of shooting with this thing, I still have to check every time that I remember to focus. As an SLR guy, I’m used to a through-the-lens focusing. Half of my pics are out of focus because my brain simply assumes the picture is going to be sharp after seeing a clear image from the viewfinder (which is a separate image from what the lens sees).
And speaking about focusing. The focusing patch inside the viewfinder is tiny. If you’re not aware how the focusing works, there’s basically two images that you have to align using the focusing ring. The problem is that the ghost image patch is just too small and sometimes hard to even see. But that probably isn’t even how you’re supposed to focus primarily. I’m assuming that you’re required to have mad zone-focusing skills, which I definitely just yet don’t have. So focusing is definitely a fiddly job with this thing.
The shutter speed dial and aperture are all around the lens and they are hard to use. The entire build quality of the lens area doesn’t feel as solid as the rest of the camera.
The shutter sound is a very unsatisfying little “click”. I’m a sucker for smooth and mechanical shutter sounds, which QL17 definitely doesn’t provide. Well at least it’s quiet, so you can sneak in pretty close to the subject and the shutter noise won’t give you away.
All in all, I’d say that the biggest problem is that the actual shooting experience isn’t the most satisfying, but other than that, it is a sweet and charismatic little camera. I paid 50€ for mine and that’s about 1000€ less than getting a Leica. Or even just a Leica body.
There are many more less annoying quirks as well… but hey, I think most old cameras have their own quirks as well. Sometimes I cannot say whether I don’t like some feature or is that feature just one of things that give it’s charm. QL17 GIII is a very popular item and it has a somewhat of a cult following, which is something that appealed to me too. Behind all the hype though, lied many less appealing features, that often are not mentioned in the reviews. Definitely don’t expect to get a Leica if you’re thinking about buying one.
As you can probably detect, I have pretty mixed feelings about QL17 GIII. It has many awesome aspects and some annoying features. I don’t use it as my main film camera for that reason. I think it is a good second camera or a backup. Or just something fun that you can grab with you when you run out of the door. If you can find one, definitely get one and try it out!