Canon AE-1 Program 35mm SLR Camera

Canon AE-1 Program 35mm SLR Camera

Introduction and Overview

Canon introduced a new line amateur level microprocessor-equipped SLR film cameras with the launch of the Canon AE-1 in 1976. This was followed by an advanced level all-black model in 1978, the Canon A-1, the first camera Programmed AE (Automatic Exposure), an electronically controlled autoexposure program that sets both the shutter speed of the camera and the aperture opening of the camera's lens automatically.

Canon AE-1 Program, Right Front View
The A-1 was followed by the AE-1 Program in 1981, which carried over the Program AE mode from the A-1, the shutter priority auto-exposure mode and full manual exposure as seen on the AE-1, while sporting a new and brighter split/microprism interchangeable finder screens. The AE-1 Program also sports an action grip, supports the A-1's Motor Drive MA, Power Winder A, and the new and faster Power Winder A2.

In retrospect, the AE-1 Program is much easier to use, the features and functions that were improvements over what the A-1 were more simplified. These automated features and simple controls helped introduce many new consumers to the SLR camera, making the AE-1 Program as a favorite, and recognized as 'one of the most popular cameras of all time'.

The success of the A-series was supported by an equally strong suite of Canon FD lenses, one of the most extensive manual focus lens lines ever produced. The range totals 134 in all, covering from 7.5mm to 1,200mm, through a series of seventeen fixed focal length and nineteen zoom range lenses.

The A-series cameras and Canon FD lenses stayed in production until 1987.

AnalogRev: Canon AE-1 Program

The Canon AE-1 Program

The Canon AE-1 Program is a Programmed AE and Shutter-Priority AE 35mm film camera with a horizontal travel cloth-curtain focal plane shutter capable of providing an electronically controlled shutter speed range from 2 to 1/1000 second, and B. Flash synchronization is at 1/60 second.

Camera operation is switch controlled, the shutter release is two-step electromagnetic, metering is TTL (Through the Lens) center-weighted average, and film ISO speed range is 12 to 3200. The camera is also equipped with a switch selectable 10-second delay self-timer and DOF (Depth-of-Field) preview facilities.
Canon AE-1 Program, Left Front View

Exposure modes executable are Programmed AE, Shutter-Priority AE, Manual Exposure Override, and AE flash photography with specific Canon flash units. The camera accepts Canon FD breech-lock mount lenses with full-aperture metering, and FL and non-FD lenses with stopped down metering.

The focusing screen is standard split-image/microprism rangefinder with 94% coverage of actual picture area and is interchangeable with seven other screen types. The Canon AE-1 Program body weight is 575 grams body only, 810 grams when fitted with a Canon FD 50mm f/1.4 lens.


Basic Camera Features

The elegant Canon AE-1 Program is available in both chrome and black.

Canon AE-1 Program, Front

The lens mount housing is central on the front of the camera, and to it's right on the front panel is the Stop-Down Lever located on the lower part of the front panel, a PC socket on the front of the top plate, and on the vertical of the lens mount housing, the Exposure Review Switch, and the AE Lock Switch.

The left front of the camera is occupied by the Battery Chamber, with its cover flap, and the Action Grip, which you have to remove (unscrew) to access the Battery Chamber Cover when replacing the battery.

Canon AE-1 Program, Top

On the left of the top plate is the Film Rewind Crank, which is also the Pull-up Film Back Release, integrated with the Film ISO selector dial, Battery Check/Self-Timer Cancel Button, and the Lock Release Button.

An accessory shoe is fitted to the top of the pentaprism, and on the right of the top plane, the Shutter Speed and Program Mode dial, Film Frame Window, Shutter Release Button (with Cable Release Socket), Film Advance Lever and the three-position camera Main Switch.

Canon AE-1 Program, Back

The back of the AE-1 Program is plain except for the Viewfinder Eyepiece, and the interchangeable hinge-type Film Back that is fitted with a Film Tab (Memo) Holder.

Canon AE-1 Program, Bottom

On the bottom plate, the Motor Drive Coupling Cover, Rewind Release Button, Tripod Socket, Winder Contact Terminals, and Winder Pin Guide.

Canon AE-1 Program, Film box

The film box is standard easy-load Film Chamber, Shutter Curtain Window, Film Advance Sprocket, and Multi-Slot Take Up Spool configuration. Film advance is also the standard two-blank shots for the film lead to be advanced to frame 1.


Viewfinder Readout

The AE-1 program comes with a huge and bright viewfinder, and a focusing screen, the same as in the New F-1, that is brighter than any previous focusing screen on any Canon manual focus cameras.

Canon AE-1 Program, Viewfinder Readout
Viewfinder readout is an exposure indicator displayed on a vertical bar on the right side of the screen. This includes a 'P' and a  'M' LED to indicate Programmed or Manual Mode, a camera shake warning indicator, aperture display in full f/stops (f/1 - f/32), warning LED for under- and over-exposure, stopped-down metering index, flash ready light when the camera is used with Speedlites 133A, 155A, 177A, 188A, 199A, 533G, and 577G, and flash confirmation signal when the camera is used with Speedlite 188A.


Main Switch Control

The main switch control is a small 3-position lever on the right shoulder of the top plate. The three positions are:
  • A - Switches the camera on in AE mode.
  • L - Locks the shutter and switches the camera off.
  • T - Setting for the cameras 10-second Self-Timer, actuated by the Shutter Release Button. Self-Timer actuation can be canceled by pressing the Battery Check button.


Activating The Exposure Meter

The exposure meter of the Canon AE-1 Program can be activated both by half-pressing the Shutter Release Button or by pressing the Exposure Preview Switch which is located on the right vertical of the lens housing mount, just above the Stop-Down Lever.


Programmed AE Mode

Canon AE-1 Program, Programmed AE
In Programmed AE mode, with the shutter speed dial set to 'Program', and the lens aperture setting set to 'A', the camera will calibrate and set the shutter speed and lens aperture automatically to give you the correct exposure for the image.

For the normal user, all you have to do now to advance the film, frame the image, focus, and release the shutter. That is pretty much all that you have to do.

Shutter-Priority AE

In Shutter-Priority AE mode, turn the Shutter Speed Dial away from the 'Program' location and set the camera to any of the manual shutter speeds as available on the dial. Next activate the exposure meter to read the lens aperture reading, adjust the lens aperture accordingly to take the shot.

For that good 'bokeh' shot, try going for a higher shutter speed so as to let you use a wider lens opening. This will shorten the in-focus distance of the image and renders area outside (both front and back) the distance with a gradual blurry effect.


AE Lock

To activate the AE Lock press the AE Lock Switch (located on the right vertical of the lens housing mount) once while the exposure meter is activated. The value will be retained by the camera until you take the shot.


Manual Exposure Mode

Canon AE-1 Program, Manual Exposure Mode
Manual exposure mode means that you in charge of both the shutter-speed of the camera and the aperture opening of the lens. To activate, rotate the shutter-speed dial away from 'Program' location to the speed you want to shoot at, release the lens aperture ring from its 'A' position.

Activate the exposure meter, the viewfinder readout will show the 'M' icon to show that you are in manual exposure mode and the lens aperture value which is calculated against the shutter speed you use.


DoF (Depth-of-Field) Preview

Canon AE-1 Program, Stop-Down Lever
To activate the DoF preview you first have to half press the shutter to check the aperture reading as measured by the camera. Next release the 'A' lock of the lens aperture setting and turn the aperture ring to the setting you just read. Then push and lock in the Stop-Down Lever located on the front of the body.

Reverse the process, i.e. release the Stop-Down Lever back to its original position, reset the lens aperture setting back to the 'A' mark, to take the shot.


Battery And Battery Life

Canon AE-1 Program, Installing the battery

The camera requires a 6V 4SR44, PX28A, A544, K28A, V34PX, 4LR44, or L544 alkaline battery to power its operation. Often 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 replace the one you are currently using.

The battery is still strong when the battery check gives you about six 'beeps' per second, and the battery should be replaced as the 'beeps' get slower to three or less per second.


Using the Camera

Canon AE-1 Program, Using the camera

Using the camera in its Programmed AE mode is really what the camera is all about. All you have to do is to set the shutter speed dial to 'Program', the lens aperture setting to 'A', frame, focus, and fire away. A steady green 'P' and a red lens aperture readout in the viewfinder indicates that the exposure will be spot on. A flickering 'P' means that the shutter speed is within the camera shake zone and that you should place the camera on a tripod or hard surface to take the shot.

The Canon AE-1 Program is a well-built camera with robust design features, it comes with a finder that is one of the largest, clearest and brightest ever made. With the no-hassle setting for exposure control, the AE-1 Program is almost the perfect focus-and-shoot camera (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.

Canon AE-1 Program, Canon FD 50mm f/1.4 SSC

With features and functions that let you grow as a photographer, you are never short of another great reason for a great camera, a great range of breech-lock mount Canon FD lenses, both in prime and zoom format, that are easily available for a fraction of the cost when compared to current DSLR lenses. And the best option, when going digital, is to get an equivalent lens mount adapter for your new camera and these lenses will go with you as well.

Looks aside, the features and functions available on the AE-1 Program, should already be perfect for you. Either way with the chrome and black body option and you have a head-turner in your hands. The cameras bodyweight with an FD 50mm f/1.4 is 810 grams (body 575 grams, lens 235 grams). If you find that this slightly heavy, you may want to opt for the new FD 50mm f/1.8 which is featherweight at 170 grams. This should not be any strain in your hands or on your neck.


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

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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