Canon AE-1 Program 35mm SLR Camera

Canon AE-1 Program, Front

Canon AE-1 Program 35mm SLR

Canon AE-1 Program, Top Front
The Canon AE-1 Program 35mm film SLR, acknowledged as one of the most popular cameras of all time, is a 35 mm single-lens reflex camera introduced in 1981. This model was the successor to the Canon AE-1, which was first introduced in 1976.

The AE-1 Program saw the introduction of the Program AE mode, which enables both the shutter speed and aperture automatically by the camera (with a slight bias towards the shutter speed setting).

AnalogRev: Canon AE-1 Program

The Program Mode

Canon AE-1 Program, Pre-shoot checklist

For the normal user, you have a shutter speed dial, a film advance lever, and the shutter release button which pretty much all you need. Set the shutter to 'Program', the lens aperture to 'A', focus, confirm that the exposure is correct with the viewfinder’s built-in display, and fire away. A three position level located on the top right corner of the top plate operates as the main switch of the camera - 'A' sets the camera operation on, 'L' locks up all active circuits, and 'S' is for self-timer photography.

Canon AE-1 Program, Film Back
Besides the Program mode which was arguably the biggest selling point of the AE-1 Program, the camera offers just the right amount of options which makes it more interesting for the advanced user as well, including full manual control and depth of field preview.

With an exceptionally well-designed control layout, this camera puts you in the driver’s seat and allows you to customize every aspect of your exposures quickly and efficiently as you go along.


Canon AE-1 Program, Installing the battery

The camera's electronics and electromagnets are powered by one 4SR44, PX28A, A544, K28A, V34PX, 4LR44, or L544 alkaline batteries. The focusing screen on the AE-1 Program is brighter than any previous focusing screen on any Canon manual focus camera, allowing the user to focus with greater ease with slower lenses (up to f/5.6). It is the same focusing screen design that is used in the newest model of the top-of-the-line Canon F-1 (known as the New F-1).
Canon AE-1 Program, Film Box

Shutter Mechanism

Rather unfortunate is the fact that the AE-1 Program retains the older A-series type electromagnet-controlled cloth-curtain shutter that limits top shutter speed to 1/1000 of a second, together with a rather slow flash sync speed of 1/60 second. This shutter design has also proven to be more maintenance-intensive than modern vertical-travel metal blade shutters. The shutter release is by a two-step electromagnetic shutter which also functions as an exposure preview switch.

Canon AE-1 Program, Top View

Body Kit

Accessories wise, the AE-1 Program comes with a right-hand action grip on the front of the camera, just like its predecessor the AE-1. It also supports the A-1's Motor Drive MA, Power Winder A, and the Power Winder A2.

Just like the A-1, the AE-1 Program supports interchangeable focusing screens which, however, should only be changed by the factory or by experienced service technicians. The camera came standard with the new split/microprism screen, but seven others were available.

It was also said that the program features of the AE-1P have resulted in the camera having more electronic gremlins and is considered more difficult to repair than earlier model A-series cameras.

Viewfinder Info

Canon AE-1 Program, Viewfinder Info
The AE-1 program comes with a huge and bright viewfinder, making it easy to compose shots with the FD lens attached, even in poor lighting conditions. Although several LEDs are vertically aligned to the right of the viewfinder, display in shooting modes is rather sparse.

In Program AE mode, the display will display the green 'P' mode and the selected aperture setting for the shot, while in Manual mode, the display will show a red 'M' and the shutter speed for the shot. You’ll still need to take a look at the lens to make sure that you have selected the right aperture setting.

Canon AE-1 Program, Shooting in Program Mode
Using the Camera
Using the camera in its AE Program mode is really a breeze. All you have to do is to set the shutter speed dial to 'Program', the lens aperture setting to 'A', focus, confirm that the exposure is correct with the viewfinder’s built-in display, and fire away.

It is almost the perfect point-and-shoot as long as you remember that this is not an autofocus camera, you still have to use the focus ring to get the right distance for the image to be in focus.

In shutter priority mode all you had to do is to change the shutter speed setting and the camera will set the aperture automatically, which will be indicated on a LED scale display on the right of viewfinder screen.

For aperture priority mode, that is shooting with a fixed aperture setting, you first turn the aperture ring to the desired f-stop, focus, half press the shutter to view the aperture indication for a correct exposure, adjust the shutter speed dial up or down so that the aperture reading matches the one you set on the lens, and take the shot. A bit cumbersome here.

Canon AE-1 Program, View

Early Images

These images were shot on Fujifilm Superia 200, and post-processed on Olympus Viewer 3 (OV3) with edits for Brightness & Contrast, Gamma, Hue & Saturation, Sharpness & Blur, Noise Reduction, and Crop for selected images.

Canon AE-1 Program Sample Image 02
Canon AE-1 Program Sample Image 03
Canon AE-1 Program Sample Image 04
Canon AE-1 Program Sample Image 05
Canon AE-1 Program Sample Image 06
Canon AE-1 Program Sample Image 07

Battery Life

Another thing which has been mentioned on the net is the incredible battery life of the single battery that the camera uses - one that is still operable after the camera has been in storage for about 20 years.

The camera won’t work without a battery though, as it needs the power to release the shutter and for the metering system to work. I suppose it doesn’t hurt to keep a spare battery handy, even if it’ll be years before you actually need to use it.

Canon AE-1 Program Instructions: Click here to download.

Resource Links:
Adventures in Film Photography: The Canon AE-1 Program
Canon AE-1 Program

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