Canon AL-1

Canon’s AL-1 focus assist film SLR camera from 1982.

At first glance, this is a normal 1960s SLR camera from Japan and there is little to distinguish it from most of the other SLR cameras in my collection. Once the basic functionality and ergonomics of a SLR camera were worked out there was not much point in changing things. Electronics in the late 1980s did change things quite a bit, of course, but this camera was right at the start of the electronics revolution.

Canon’s AL-1 dates from 1982 and is a part of Canon’s A series of cameras: A-1, AE-1, AE-1 program, AT-1, AV-1, AL-1. I have another A series Canon — the AT-1. Later T series cameras formed a half-way house between 1960s style and the modern style which Canon introduced in 1986 with their EOS cameras.

This is an A series camera – A standing for Automatic. The camera provides fully automatic exposure (aperture priority only) with manual override if required.

The biggest breakthrough with this camera is the focus system. Gone are the usual helpmeets such as micro prisms and split-image rangefinder. The focus screen is plain ground glass with a circle in the centre containing two square brackets which indicate the area that the exposure system works on (the circle) and the smaller area that the focus system works on (the square brackets). This is still a manual focus camera but with focus confirmation to aid those with poor focusing skills. I learnt my photography using a Zenit E which also had no focus aids so I don’t think this system will be of much use to me – but we shall see.

Time for my description. This camera body measures 142 by 87 by 48 mm and weighs 490g. The camera chassis is made from die-cast aluminium alloy. The camera appears to have chromed metal top and base plates but these are painted polycarbonate plastic which looks much like chrome plated brass. The main part of the body is covered with black leatherette. The battery compartment is black plastic and doubles as a small grip for the user’s right hand. Eyelets on the front corners allow a neck strap to be attached.

The top plate is ‘standard’. The film advance lever is on the right. When the camera is not in use, the lever sits flush with the top plate. In use, the lever sits proud at an angle of 30˚. The lever moves through 120º to advance the film one frame. This lever is on a ratchet so a number of short movements will work as well as one long movement. The lever is made from one piece of flat metal with a soft plastic thumb guard at the tip.

Just in front of this lever is the window to the frame counter. This counts up to 38 but 36 is the highest number displayed – 37 and 38 are just dots. Numbers 1, 12, 20, 24, and 36 are in orange as these were the standard film lengths back in the day. Even numbers are numbers, odd numbers are dots. The counter is reset to ‘S’ by opening the camera back. ‘S’ is actually minus 2.

Left of the film advance lever and at the front of the top plate is the shutter release button. This is black  metal and is threaded for a standard Gauthier cable release. Around this button is a three position switch. ‘L’ locks the shutter release button to prevent accidental firing of the shutter but the shutter can still be fired using a cable release. ‘A’ is the usual working position and ‘S’ is the delay action setting. If you use the ‘S’ setting, you get a ten second delay between pressing the shutter release button and the shutter firing — and a flashing red LED which is visible from both infant and above the camera. The last two seconds, the LED flashes much faster. This LED is just to the left of the shutter release button.

Next along the top plate is the shutter speed selector dial. This offers 1/15 to 1/1000 seconds plus B. The shutter is electronically controlled and will not work without good batteries. There is also an ‘A’ setting which is for automatic exposure. The speed selector dial moves freely between speeds including ‘A’ but to move out of ‘A’ necessitates pressing a button in the centre of the dial. This camera is intended to be used in ‘A’ where many more shutter speeds are available: from 2 seconds to 1/1000 second. 1/60 second is graced with a lightning flash as this is the flash synchronised speed. If using the camera in ‘A’ with a Canon flash, the shutter speed is automatically set to 1/60. The manually set speeds are exactly the set speed, but when in ‘A’ the camera can select the exact speed required, not just the marked speeds.

In the middle of the top plate, as usual, is the pentaprism hump. On the back of this is the viewfinder eyepiece. This measures 10 by 16 mm. Inside the viewfinder is the focus screen. As already mentioned, this screen is plain ground glass. As it is intended for the user to use the focus confirmation system, the established focus aids such as micro-prisms and split-image rangefinder are missing. In their place in the centre of the screen is a pair of square brackets to indicate the area that the focus confirmation system works on. As you manual focus the lens and approach good focus, one of the two red arrow LEDs at the bottom of the screen will light up. The arrows tell you which way to turn the lens in order to achieve good focus. Once good focus has been achieved, a circular green LED will light. This system works well but I, personally, would prefer either the micro-prisms or a split-image rangefinder.

On the right of the focus screen is a list of shutter speeds — 2 s at the bottom and 1/1000 s at the top. With the shutter speed dial set to ‘A’, a needle will point to the automatically selected speed – you need to press the shutter release button half-way to activate this. If you have the shutter speed dial set to anything but ‘A’, the needle will point to the camera’s preferred speed but you are free to ignore this if you want to. Along the left hand edge of the speed list is a red line from 2 s to 1/30 s which is there to alert you to the fact that camera shake is likely and you should consider using a tripod. This red line also double as a battery check scale. Pressing the battery check button, the needle should rise to a position above this line.

On top of the pentaprism hump is the accessory shoe. This is an ISO hotshot with a central electrical contact. There is also a single Canon-specific contact for when using Canon’s own flash guns.

Left of the pentaprism hump is the rewind crank. This is the usual small folding crank. This also doubles as the catch for the camera back — pulling up on the crank releases the back. Around the rewind crank is a selector wheel for setting the film speed. This is in ASA only (ASA is essentially ISO) and ranges from 25 ASA to 1600 ASA. 25 ASA might seem a bit slow in this Digital age but Kodachrome was always a slow film and was made at 25 ASA. In order to move this selector wheel you first need to press a small chrome button by the wheel at the rear of the top plate. Also by this wheel/crank is a small black button at the front of the top plate. This is the battery test button mention a bit earlier. When you press this, the pointer for the shutter speeds in the viewfinder should point to above 1/60 s if the batteries are good.

Moving to the front of the camera. As always with an SLR camera, this is dominated by the lens mount. This is Canon’s FD mount which is a breech-lock bayonet mount. There are three bayonet lugs which are on the outside of the mount with a locating notch on the top lug. The breech-lock part refers to a locking ring on the lens which is turned to lock the lens in place rather than turning the whole lens. This lens mount is partially compatible with Canon’s earlier R and FL mounts.

Inside the mount are the usual three components that connect to the lens. On the right hand side is a lever that communicates the set aperture value to the exposure metering system. At the bottom of the mount is a lever that moves sideways when the shutter release button is pressed — this closes the iris diaphragm to its set value. In the bottom right hand corner (at about 5 o’clock) is a sprung pin. This pin transmits the maximum aperture of the lens to the metering system so that full aperture metering can work.

Also on the mount, at about 8 o’clock, is a small hole. This is to accommodate a pin on the lens which protrudes when the lens aperture ring is moved to either ‘o’ or ‘A’ (those two are the same – some lenses have ‘o’ and some ‘A’). This is the automatic aperture setting which is not supported on this AL-1 camera but the pin needs to be accommodated in case someone sets the lens aperture to ‘o’ or ‘A’. The camera’s manual warns you against trying to use the camera with the aperture set to either ‘o’ or ‘A’. My test film will show me why, perhaps.

Of more interest with this camera is the reflex mirror. At a quick glance, it looks as though the silvering on the mirror has become damaged. There is a network of fine lines all over the mirror. The lines are actually a closely calculated design — the lines are only partially silvered and allow a part of the light striking the mirror to pass through the mirror to a sensor beneath. This sensor is the focus sensor. This uses phase detection technology ( or so I am told) — if you want to know more about this, Google is your friend.

This focus assist system works well so long as there is sufficient detail contrast in the centre of the image. If the image under the two square brackets has low contrast, the focus assist system does not work at all. While the image is very unfocussed the focus assist system also does not work. As you turn the focus ring on the lens and approach good focus, one of the two red arrow LEDs at the bottom of the viewfinder will light — the arrow points in the direction that the focus ring needs to be turned to improve focus. When accurate focus is achieved the red LEDs go out and a central circular green LED lights. For me, the biggest drawback of this system is that you need to partially depress the shutter release button — and keep it partially depressed — while focusing. This isn’t really difficult, I just find it annoying and my finger on the shutter release button keeps relaxing and stopping the focus assist system from working.

On the top left of the lens mount (left as in when using the camera) is a chrome button on a black plastic base. This button is an exposure compensation button — Canon call it back light compensation. Pressing this increases the exposure by, it would appear, 1.5 stops. This adjusts for very bright backgrounds which will usually confuse the metering system and cause under exposure. On the front, near this button, is a small plaque with the letters ‘qF’ —quick focus.

On the other side of the lens mount is the battery compartment. This takes two AAA batteries which are both readily available and cheap. This battery compartment protrudes slightly from the front of the camera ( by about 10 mm) providing a grip for the photographer’s right hand.

The base of the camera has connections for a power winder. These consist of two electrical contacts at one end and a mechanical connector to the film advance system at the other end. There is also a small locating hole at this end. The underneath of the battery compartment has the door which is poorly designed. The catch on my camera does not work at all and the door needs to be held shut with sticky tape. Looking at the Interweb, this would seem to be the usual case. Also on the base is a tripod socket — at this age it will be an ISO socket: 1/4 inch UNC thread. This is behind the lens mount — central on the base rather than in line with the centre of the lens. There is also a button in line with the internal sprocket shaft. This needs to be depressed to allow the film to be rewound into the film cassette. There is a white dot on this button which visibly moves so you can see the film being rewound — this is useful as you can stop rewinding as soon as the film leader has become detached from the take-up spool, leaving the leader outside the cassette. The downside to this is you need to keep your finger on the button while rewinding which makes seeing the dot difficult.

Opening the camera back is done by pulling up on the rewind crank. Inside, there are no surprises. The cassette chamber is on the left. There are no DX contacts here as Kodak did not introduce the DX system until the year after this AL-1 was introduced. The film gate is nice and large, helping to keep the film flat. Next along is the sprocket shaft which counts the sprocket holes in the film as the film is being advanced — eight holes equals one frame. At the right hand end is the take-up spool. This last has six slots for the film leader. The back has a good sized pressure plate to keep the film flat against the film gate. There is also a chrome roller to keep the film snug on the sprocket shaft.

Where the back fits the body, the join needs to be light tight. As this is a Japanese camera, the light tightness is achieved by having a flange on the back which fits into a groove on the body, with a black foam light seal in the groove. With time, these foam light seals degrade to a sticky goo. This has happened to my camera — these seals need to be replaced before I can use the camera. This is a fairly simple job to do and the foam can be bought cheaply on the Interweb. Also in this groove, at the top and between the sprocket shaft and take-up spool, is a very small button. When the back is closed, a small prong on the top flange of the back presses on this button and allow the frame counter to work. When the back is opened, this button is released and the frame counter resets to ‘S’.

The Lens

This camera came to me with a lens attached (not something that usually happens nowadays). It is not the kit lens that Canon supplied the camera with. It is a cheaper after-market lens from Sunagor. The focal length of the lens is 135 mm which is significantly longer than is usual for a walk-0about lens. I rather think that the person who sold me this camera sold the kit lens separately — a 50 mm ƒ/1.4 lens so would attract a good price — and attached a virtually worthless lens to sell the camera.

This lens looks to be well made — it is entirely made from aluminium alloy. When focusing, the entire lens more — no front cell focusing or internal focusing. The lens barrel does not turn when focusing so if you are using a graduated ND filter or a polarising filter, the filter does not need adjusting as you change focus —something many lenses fail at. I am aware that I just said that this is a worthless lens and then said how good the mechanics are. Unfortunately, the value of old lenses is mostly down to perceptions and Sunagor is not a well known or well respected maker of lenses – I could find nothing about their camera lenses on the Interweb — so they will not attract much attention from potential buyers. Actually, Sunagor do still exist and sell fairly cheap binoculars

Minimum focus is 1.5 m (or five feet) which is not too bad for a 135 mm lens and is close enough for nearly all amateur photography. The throw of the focus ring (the distance between 1.5 m and infinity) is around 220º which makes critical focus easy to achieve. This is why manually focusing a modern auto-focus lens is so hard — the focus throw on these modern lenses is about 30º making fine adjustments difficult.

Maximum aperture is ƒ/2.8 which is not extremely fast but certainly useable. I rarely go faster than ƒ/5.6 regardless of the maximum aperture available so a maximum aperture of ƒ/2.8 is not going to limit me at all. Minimum aperture is ƒ/16 which is more limiting but not very much so. If using the usual film speeds around in 1982 then the range of apertures and shutter speeds is fine for general use. There is an aperture setting on the aperture ring of ‘o’ which is for automatic exposure cameras which allows the camera to set the aperture. This ‘o’ setting will not work on this AL-1 camera and the manual warns you not to try to use it.

As camera lenses did at the time, there is a depth of field scale on the lens. As the camera has no depth of field preview facility, these scales are very useful. A nice feature is a built-in lens hood which can be pulled forward about 10 mm if required. Another feature that I have never noticed before is the angle of view of this lens is printed on the lens bezel: 18º diagonal field of view.


Canon FX

Canon FX film SLR camera from Japan.

For the last 18 months, I have been concentrating my collecting on Nikon and Canon SLR cameras. My latest acquisition is this Canon FX. It is not a professional camera but it is well designed and well made. It dates from 1964.

  • lens: n/a
  • focal length: n/a
  • apertures: n/a
  • focus range: n/a
  • lens fitting: Canon FL mount
  • shutter: Cloth focal plane
  • speeds: 1 second to 1/1000 second
  • flash: 1 x PC connector
  • film size: 35mm

The body is made from cast aluminium alloy with pressed brass top and base plates – these are satin chrome plated on my camera but a few were made with black enamelled top and base plates. The body is covered with black textured leatherette. This camera has been stored in very damp conditions – I suspect a garage – and the aluminium body has significant corrosion and there is quite a bit of mildew on the shutter curtains. Some collectors would reject this camera based solely on condition, but I like my cameras to be in used condition and this is all a part of the camera’s story.

The size of the camera is pretty normal for a 35mm SLR. It measures 142 by 91 by 86 mm and the body with no lens attached weighs 670g. While 670g is not light – it is heavier than any of my Japanese rangefinders – it is not as heavy as many SLR cameras: Nikon F2, 840g; Nikkormat FT, 754g; Canon FTb, 750g; Ricoh 500, 800g.

So, now for a description of the camera starting with the top plate. The right hand side of the top plate is pretty much standard. Far right is the film advance lever. This is cut metal and plated (or anodised) to match the top plate. This has two rest positions – flush with the edge of the top plate or sticking out about 10 mm. The lever moves through 160º to advance one frame. The lever is on a ratchet so the film can be advanced with several short motions if required.

In front of the film advance lever is the window for the frame counter. This is reset by opening the camera back – it resets to S which is -2. Zero is in orange. Even numbered frames have numbers and odd numbered frames are just dots. Frames 20 and 36 are also in orange as these were the standard film lengths in 1964.

To the left of this frame counter window and still at the front of the top plate is the shutter release button. This is chrome plated metal and is threaded for a standard Gauthier cable release. Around the shutter release button is a rotating collar. This will rotate to one of two positions marked ‘A’ and ‘L’. ‘A’ is the working position and in this position the shutter can be fired. ‘L’ is the lock position and in this position the shutter release button cannot be depressed to fire the shutter but the shutter can still be fired by using a cable release. As well as functioning as a safety device to prevent accidental exposures, the ‘L’ position can be used with the B shutter speed setting to lock the shutter open for long exposures.

Left again is the combined shutter speed and film speed selector dial. Film speeds are selected by slightly lifting the selector dial and turning. There are two windows in the top of the dial to show the selected film speed – one for DIN and one for ASA. The film speeds available to be set range from 11 DIN/10 ASA to 30 DIN/800 ASA. The film speed numbers are in one stop increments but there are 1/3 stop increments available denoted by dots between the numbers. The numbers were originally painted in orange but the conditions that the camera has been stored in means that nearly all the orange paint has corroded away, making the setting hard to impossible to read.

Shutter speeds are selected by just turning the selector dial. Shutter speeds range from one second to 1/1000 second plus B and X. The index mark for the shutter speeds is to the left of the dial. The dial moves freely between speeds but not directly between B and X. B is ‘bulb’ and with this setting the shutter will remain open while the shutter release button is depressed. X is the electronic flash sync setting. The manual tells me that this is 1/60 seconds and I am not entirely sure why the user cannot just set the shutter speed to 1/60 as on all the other cameras I have seen but the manual is clear that the X setting should be used. It might be because the 1/60 sync speed is nominal and is actually slightly slower. 1/30 and slower can be used with electronic flash as well as X.

Towards the rear of the top plate, behind the shutter speed dial, is an engraved circle with a line through it. The line represents the position of the film plane inside the camera. This is intended for when the user is relying on measuring the focus distance rather than focusing by eye on the focus screen.

In the middle of the top plate is the pentaprism hump. Inside the hump is the focus screen. This is mostly a Fresnel screen with a central circle of ground glass for focusing. In the middle of this central circle is a split-image rangefinder. As there is no TTL meter, there is no information provided on the screen. My camera has been stored for a long time in damp conditions and this has had a deleterious effect on the silvering on the pentaprism. This silvering has peeled away from the edges. This makes the image on the focus screen less clear but will make no difference to the photographic image.

On the top of the pentaprism hump is the accessory shoe. This is a standard Barnack shoe – no electrical contacts so this is a cold shoe. The front of the pentaprism hump has the Canon logo engraved on it.

Left of the pentaprism hump, towards the front of the top plate, is the camera serial number. Behind this, by the back of the top plate, is the light meter readout. This works in a way that I have never seen before. First, you set your required shutter speed. As you rotate the shutter speed dial, the aperture scale in the readout moves – in fact, there are two aperture scales, both of which move. One scale is orange (for use in low light) and one scale is white (for use in bright light). Second, you set the meter sensitivity by a lever around the rewind crank. This lever has two settings: ‘L’ for low sensitivity (or bright light) and ‘H’ for high sensitivity (or low light). The meter needle should now point to the aperture value which you set on the lens aperture ring. this is an entirely manual camera even though it has a light meter and you can ignore the light meter altogether if you wish to.

On the left hand end of the top plate is the rewind crank. This is the usual small folding crank. Unusually, the crank has no other function – it does not unlock the camera back. Around the rewind crank is the meter sensitivity switch already mentioned.

On the rear of the top plate, behind the meter readout, is a dial to switch the light meter on or to check the battery condition. On the front of the top plate, in front of the rewind crank, ids a circular meter sensor. The remaining component of the meter is the battery chamber. This is on the left hand end of the camera. It is intended to take a type 625 mercury 1.3 volt battery which is no longer available. However, you can get 1.5 volt alkaline 625 batteries which will work but not accurately. On my camera, the meter does not work at all.

So, moving to the front of the camera. In line with the pentaprism hump is a raised portion containing the lens mount. This is a three pronged bayonet mount. Canon’s SLR cameras (before the modern EF mount) used three different bayonet mounts. The first was the R mount. Canon upgraded this to the FL mount – R mount lenses would fit. Later, the FL mount was upgraded to the FD mount – again, both R mount and FL mount lenses would fit. The reverse is also true – FD lenses will fit R mount and FL mount cameras and FL lenses will fit R mount cameras. These three, R, Fl and FD mounts were all breech lock mounts where there is a locking ring to fix the lens in place rather than having to turn the whole lens to lock them.

This camera uses the FL mount and this FX model was the first model to use the FL mount. The FL mount offers little apart from attaching the lens. There is a lever to close the aperture on the lens just prior to the shutter firing and that is it.

To the right of the lens mount, towards the top of the body, is a small rotating lever. Turning this anticlockwise 1/4 turn will raise the mirror. This is for use in critical photography as it removes the vibration caused when the mirror flips out of the way.

Below this is a PC connector for attaching a flash gun. On the left of the lens mount is another rotating lever. This one is the self-timer mechanism. Turning this a half turn anticlockwise gives a delay of ten seconds between pressing the shutter release button and the shutter firing. I timed this with my phone’s stop watch and it was just about exactly ten seconds as close as I could time it – not bad for a 57 year old mechanism. Turning this lever just over a quarter turn will give a delay of six seconds – this is as short as I could make it work.

Moving to the base of the camera, this is fairly sparse. There are no facilities for connecting a power winder and no battery compartment. Towards the front of the base plate, in line with the centre of the lens, is a tripod socket. This is a 1/4 inch Whitworth thread. Also on the base plate is the rewind button. This does not need to be held in once you start rewinding the film which makes life easier. There is a small dot on the rewind button. As you rewind the film, the rewind button rotates and this dot makes it easier to see the rotations. Once the rewind button stops rotating, you know that the film leader is clear of the take-up spool and you can stop rewinding. Stopping at this point means that the film leader is still protruding from the cassette. Not only does this make it easier to extract the film for developing, it also means that the film is blocking the felt light trap on the lips of the cassette, reducing the risk of light entering and fogging the film.

At the other end of the base plate is a folding recessed key. Lifting this and rotating it 1/4 turn anti-clockwise releases the camera back. Opening the back, there is a relatively small pressure plate. To the left of this is a chrome bar across the height of the back. This keeps the film snug against the sprocket shaft. On the right-hand end of the back is a slightly sprung plate which keeps the film cassette snug in its chamber.

The edges of the back form a flange that fits into a groove on the camera body. this flange is not big enough to fully render the joint between the back and body light tight so the groove on the body contains a foam light seal that the flange presses against. This camera is 57 years old and the foam light seal has degraded to a granular mess. I shall have to replace it before I can use this camera which is a simple enough job.

The inside of the body has the chamber for the film cassette on the left. Protruding into this is the fork for the rewind crank.This can be raised out of the way by raising the rewind crank. The film gate is central and gives on to the shutter curtains. This shutter has two horizontally travelling cloth curtains. With these focal plane shutters, the shutter always travels at the same speed – shutter speed is changed by altering the width of the gap between the two curtains. The narrower the gap, the fast the effective shutter speed. As mentioned earlier, my camera has been stored in very damp conditions and there is significant mildew on the shutter cloth.

To the right of the film gate is the sprocket shaft. This has teeth that engage in the holes on the edges of the film. When advancing the film, this sprocket shaft will stop once eight holes have moved passed the shaft – eight holes equals one frame. To the right of the sprocket shaft is the take-up spool. This has a single slot for attaching the film leader. The take-up spool turns clockwise. This means that is stores the film emulsion side outermost – doing this reduces the amount of curl in the film once it has been developed and aids the film lying flat when being printed from (or when being scanned in our digital world).

Canon AT-1

I have a current Canon EOS Digital camera and a few Canon EOS film cameras (EOS 5,  EOS 50, EOS 650) but they are all a bit too modern and plasticky for my taste. I have been on the look-out for one of the Canon FD mount cameras for a few years but they are either too expensive or have not aged well. When this camera came along, I was not sure what it was – I had never heard of the AT-1. It turns out that it is a Canon AE-1 without the automatic exposure system. As I do not like automatic exposure, this made the camera ideal for me.

  • lens: Tefnon by Kobori
  • focal length: 35-200 mm
  • apertures: ƒ/3.5 to ƒ/22
  • focus range: 1.7 m to infinity
  • lens fitting: Canon FD breech-lock bayonet mount
  • shutter: cloth focal plane
  • speeds: 2 seconds to 1/1000
  • flash: hot shoe plus PC socket
  • film size: 35 mm

 This camera was advertised on that auction site for parts or spares. The seller stated that the camera was completely untested. The camera also came with a lens so if the camera was completely U/S I would still have a FD mount lens and could then take a punt on one of the many FD mount cameras around with no lens. Well, the camera is in excellent condition and works just fine. The only fault is that the foam light seals have expired and need replacing. As the camera is forty three years old, I had taken this as read! I also have the original manual which is a rare bonus.

P1010783At first glance, this is a very standard Japanese SLR. It is a similar size and shape to the Asahi Pentax Spotmatic series and slightly bigger than the (then) current Pentax ME Super or Olympus OM1n. The general lines of the camera are significantly cleaner than either the Spotmatic, ME Super or OM1 models. I like uncluttered so this appeals to me.


The top plate feels like metalised plastic. On the far right of the top plate is the film advance lever. This is anodised metal with a black plastic end. The lever is on a ratchet so the film can be advanced by a series of short movements. When not in use, the film advance lever sits over the top plate out of the way but when using the camera, the lever sits proud by 30º. The lever moves through 120º to advance the film one frame. This is both easy and fast.

Under the film advance lever is the shutter speed dial. This runs from two seconds to 1/1000 seconds plus B. 1/60 seconds is marked with a lightning flash to indicate that it is the flash synchronising speed. Beneath the shutter speed dial is the film speed dial. The is accessed by slightly lifting the shutter speed dial and turning. This is a bit awkward but doable with my large fingers. Film speeds are in ASA (which is effectively the same as ISO speeds)  and run from 25 ASA to 3200 ASA. This was a normal speed range in the mid 1970s and reflected the speeds of films in normal use. It is also a very usable range today.

To the left of the film advance lever is the shutter release button. According to the manual, this is a magnetic release so there is no mechanical link to the shutter mechanism (which is entirely electronic) so there should be less camera shake compared to those cameras with mechanically linked buttons. This button is a fairly large, black, metal button which is threaded for a standard cable release. This is showing some signs of wear as at times it does not work and sometimes it needs a very definite press. It has slightly improved with me dry-firing the shutter over the last few days.

P1010768Around the shutter release button is a three-position switch. In the A position, the camera is in its standard mode. In the L position, the shutter release button is locked so you cannot accidentally trip the shutter (this is more useful than you might think). There is also an S position. In the S position, the delay timer is activated. A red LED is exposed. When the shutter release button is pressed while in the S position, the red LED flashes for ten seconds before the shutter fires.

Behind this switch is the window for the frame counter. This counter resets to zero when the camera back is opened. It starts as S and when you have wound on the fogged part of the new film it will be at zero which is in red – all other numbers (just even numbers are displayed) are white apart from 20 and 36 which are also red. These (20 and 36) were the most common film sizes in the 1970s.

As is usual, the centre of the top plate is dominated by the pentaprism hump. On top of this is the accessory shoe. This is a hot shoe with an ISO standard central contact plus a single auxiliary contract specific to Canon’s range of speed light flashguns.

On the back of the pentaprism hump is the viewfinder eyepiece. This is rectangular, 16 by 10 mm, and has a grove on the outside which can accept an eyecup or auxiliary lenses for glasses wearers. Inside the viewfinder is the matt focus screen. In the centre is a ring of micro-prisms to aid focusing. In the middle of the micro-prisms is a split-image spot. These work by splitting vertical lines in the image. The more out of focus the image, the further apart the parts of the split image. As you focus, the parts come together and when the two parts are fully aligned the image is in focus. If there are no strong vertical lines in the image, that is when you use the micro-prisms.

On the right hand edge of the focus screen is the light meter readout. This is coupled to both shutter speed and aperture. The meter needle is a straight line and there is also  another needle which has a ring on top. To use the meter, you adjust the shutter speed and/or aperture until the meter needle is in the centre of the ring. There is no indication in the viewfinder of either shutter speed nor aperture.

Left of the pentaprism hump is the film rewind crank. This is a standard small folding crank. Around the rewind crank is the on/off switch. This has three positions – on, off and C. The first two are self-explanatory  – C is the battery check position. In this position, the meter needle in the viewfinder should be right at the top of its travel. If it is not, you need to replace the battery. The shutter is electronic so will not work without battery power.

mouthIn the middle of the front of the camera is the lens mount. This lens mount is the Canon FD mount. This is a three flange bayonet mount. It is unusual in that the flanges are outside the mount throat. The only other mount that I have seen like this is the Ihagee Exakta mount which has both internal and external flanges. The big advantage of external flanges is that it allows larger apertures for a given throat diameter. At the time that this camera was made, the FD mount was a breech-lock mount. What this means is that you place the lens in the mount and turn a locking ring to fix the lens in place. With most lens mounts, you turn the lens to lock it, rather than just a locking ring. Not turning the lens means that there is less (or no) wear on the linkages. Later on, Canon changed the mount so that there was no longer a locking ring and the lens turned instead as on other cameras.

P1010789The lens mount has to transmit information from the lens to the camera – and actions from the camera to the lens. At this age, the information is transmitted by levers and pins. What follows here comes from the AT-1 manual.

  1. there is a screw which does nothing but is reserved for use in future developments.
  2. a lever on the lens which transmits the set aperture to the light meter – this is mechanically connected to the lens aperture ring.
  3. a pin on the lens which transmits the lens’ maximum aperture to the light meter.
  4. a lever on the lens that closes the aperture when the shutter is fired. This is matched by a lever on the camera side of the mount which doubles as a depth of field preview.

The camera lever in 4 above can also be used with older lenses (FL series lenses which also fit this camera) or with close-up bellows or lens reversal rings. For these the meter cannot be used as intended  and using this sliding lever enables you to use stop-down metering.

Also on the right of the lens mount is a PC socket for flash. This enables you to use off-camera flash if you want to. On the left of the lens mount is the battery compartment. Opening this requires you to press a very small button recessed on the left of the battery compartment cover. This is quite awkward to do which is a fault on the good side. On either side of the camera, on the top plate, are strap lugs.

P1010771The rear of the camera has the opening back. The catch for this is released by pulling up the rewind crank. In the centre of the back, on the outside, is a holder for the end of the film carton so you can remember which type of film is in the camera. I do not understand why all film cameras did not do this. Also on the base is the button to allow the film to be rewound. This only needs to be pressed in as you start to rewind – there is no need to keep pressing it in. Also here is the tripod socket – 1/4 inch – either Whitworth or UNC, I am not sure of which was current in 1977.


The lens.

This camera did not came with the original Canon kit lens. Instead, the previous owner had replaced the kit lens with a zoom lens. This lens is marked as being a Tefnon lens. This is one of the brand names used by the lens maker Kobori. They are a mature Japanese company, founded in 1923 and still going in 2020. They have made lenses for Minolta, Sanyo, Nikon and Vivitar – that is, made the lenses for those companies, not lenses to fit their cameras. If the likes of Nikon are happy for Kobori to make Nikon brand lenses, they must be a good manufacturer.

The use of Tefnon as a lens brand dates from 1982 and, although Kobori are still making SLR camera lenses, the name Tefnon is now redundant. The serial number of my lens is 100785.

P1010784This lens is 35 to 200 mm zoom. with a maximum aperture at 35 mm of ƒ/3.5 and at 200 mm of ƒ/4.8. The minimum aperture if ƒ/22. The iris diaphragm has six blades giving a hexagonal aperture. The is a small button at the end of the aperture scale – pressing this allows you to turn the aperture ring a bit further to engage the auto-exposure setting. On a Canon AE-1 camera, this setting will allow the camera to select the aperture rather than just stop down to the user set aperture. As the AT-1 does not have any auto-exposure ability, it is not possible to set this lens to the automatic aperture setting.

P1010789The lens is multicoated and has a ‘macro’ ability. This ‘macro’ ability offers a 1:5 reproduction ratio so an object that is 25 mm across will for an image that is 5 mm across. This is far from real macro – purists would expect a 1:1 reproduction ratio – but the lens does focus down to around 600 mm.

P1010785At the moment, the camera is not useable as I need to replace the foam light seals (not a hard job) but when I have have done so, I shall be testing this camera and lens and reporting the results here.

First Film Test.

Above, I stated that the foam light seals need replacing. In an ideal world, I would have replaced these before testing the camera with film. I got impatient and tried the camera with the old, sticky, foam seals in place. On some cameras this does work well, but not on this one. There are rampant light leaks and on a roll of 24 exposures, only three were any good. I am displaying a selection of these below. It would seem that the main light leak comes from the hinge of the back – the foam here has degenerated to virtually nothing. The evidence for this is that the light flare on the film extends vertically from one edge of the film to the other. If the light was leaking from the top or bottom edges of the back, the light flare would be horizontal.

What I can say at this point is that the lens works well, the light meter is at least reasonably accurate, the shutter moves smoothly with no sticking or juddering and, in general, all seems to be well apart from the light seals. My next job is to actually replace the seals with the foam I have on hand (it is readily available on the auction site and probably elsewhere) and test the camera again.

I have now replaced the light seals and run a second film through the camera. Everything is now working well. Here are a few of the test pictures with good light seals.

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