Falling in love with old Canons again

I never thought I’d get excited about another old Canon, but last weekend I found a really neat Canon AV-1 from the flea market. 12€ was a reasonable asking price, so I took it home with me. It came with a 35—70mm f3.5—4.5 kit lens, which was nice, since I don’t have any of my old FD lenses any more. Not my go-to lens choice, but sounds fun.

I got rid of my old Canon AE-1 (a similar but more popular model) last year and even though I used for many years, I didn’t enjoy using it anymore. I was under the impression that AV-1 was AE-1’s cheaper little brother, but I was surprised to notice, that the build quality actually seemed much nicer. They’ll provide a different kind of shooting experience compared to each other, and AV-1 lacks some features that the AE-1 has, but I think it’s not any way a lesser camera. It is also much nicer looking, even though that might be hard to detect from googled images. AV-1 is smaller, cuter and less bulky. I have to admit that this camera, to my own surprise, drew me back to the Canon crew.

Definitely not a bad looking camera.

Flea markets are full of bargain cameras

I still get a kick out of finding a bargain camera from a flea market and I still think it is one of the nicest things about film photography. With a bit of luck, you can start it out with very little investment. My new AV-1 needed a very basic clean-up and a new battery, that costed 2,90€. It turned out it is working perfectly and after wiping off the gunk, it is rather minty, with very little to complaints about cosmetics or mechanics.  

One of the most delightful things is the fact that you can do so much by spending so little. Based on my personal experience, about 85% of flea market cameras work or require very little work to get up and running. A very basic inspection will usually give a pretty good indication whether it’s a safe purchase or not. To my eye, this camera was just dirty. Everything looked intact. The battery was dead, and this camera requires power to operate. I wasn’t able to fire it before spending the money, but 12€ wasn’t a high risk to take. Back at home, I was delighted to learn that the shutter was also working perfectly with a fresh battery.

This isn’t a pro-level camera, but if you really think about it, it’s a really advanced and sophisticated tool. The kit lens isn’t perhaps the fastest or sharpest, but I remember buying an FD 50mm f1.8 for 20€ just few years ago. Something like that would make a heck of a combination for a very small amount of money. Cameras like these aren’t junk and we really should appreciate them more.

Few words about Canon AV-1’s functions

Canon AV-1 is an aperture priority camera, meaning that there is absolutely no chance of shooting manually. You’ll adjust the f-stop to your liking and the camera will pick a shutter speed for you. I already have an all manual camera though and what’s the point of having multiple similar cameras anyways? It is fun to try different things. At least it is not a shutter priority camera like Canon AE-1, which’ll allow you to select the shutter speed, leaving the f-stop for the camera to decide. I never liked it and having it the other way around, much like in Olympus OM-2, makes much more sense.

Exposure lock would be great, but this model doesn’t feature such a thing. I was turned off by that at first, but then I realised that the camera features a handy backlight control button, that will give a stop and a half more exposure (via slower shutter speeds) while pressing it. (This is to prevent underexposed and/or silhouetted subjects when there’s bright light on the background to fool the light meter.) That’s basically what I use an AE-lock for to begin with, so problem pretty much solved. If you really want to play it safe with a camera like this, remember to keep the sun behind your back or avoid contrasty scenes all together. On a flat light, for example an overcast day, you’ll do just fine with a metering system and an auto-exposure mode like this. Just have you basic knowledge of exposure covered and you’ll be fine!

Is that a lens flare or are you just happy to see me?

Point-and-shoot camera in an SLR body

Canon AV-1 is as close to a combination of a point-and-shoot and an SLR as you can get. I’ve always wanted a camera like that! Not perhaps as my main shooter, but whenever I’m too busy being an all-manual snob, I really like to grab something like this with me. It doesn’t feel like a tank, but neither like a toy. I honestly like it a lot! 

Canon AV-1 is very light weight (especially with the plasticy kit lens) without feeling cheap at all. Like I mentioned, it feels higher quality than AE-1 even though it’s supposed to be a cheaper model. It’s a really nice every day carry that travels on your person nicely. This is the kind of camera that you can throw around your neck and just forget about it. A feature that I value a lot! As a comparison, I experimented with a Nikon FE last spring, and even though it made simply amazing images, one of the reasons I couldn’t use it, was the size and weight. Pro(ish) level cameras are great, but one should bear in mind that a big and heavy camera truly is a pain in the butt to carry around. Hooray for plastic!

With a cool neck strap, Canon AV-1 even looks rather nice! I wouldn’t mind carrying a camera this nice on my neck all day. It makes a great accessory!

If I was a beginner, I’d be thrilled to start shooting film with a camera and price tag like this. I really wanted to make a shout-out for this camera, because it has been clearly overshadowed by the likes of Canon AE-1. There are so many lesser known awesome models out there, that deserve to get loved as well. As discussed many times in the so called film community, many cameras gain something called a cult status, which basically means overrated. Ridiculous prices usually follow quite closely even though there are plenty of just as good choices out there, with a fraction of the price.

Sample images

Photos shot on a fresh roll of Ilford HP5+, pushed to ISO 1600 and developed in Kodak D-76 at 1:1 dilution. Scanned with Epson V330.

Ilford HP5+ pushed two stops to ISO 1600
Ilford HP5+ pushed two stops to ISO 1600
Ilford HP5+ pushed two stops to ISO 1600
Backlit subject perfectly exposed with the help of the back light control feature. Shot wide open at f3.5. Not too shabby for an old kit lens! HP5 +2 stops.