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Film Camera Review, Canon AT-1 35mm MF SLR Film Camera

Canon AT-1 35mm Manual Exposure SLR Film Camera

The most unassuming model of the Canon A-series is the fully manual Canon AT-1 35mm SLR Film Camera.

The Canon AT-1, a pure match-needle manual-exposure-only 35mm SLR film camera, is an export-only model of the Canon A-series. The camera was introduced by Canon in late 1976 as an alternative to the much higher-priced AE-1 and came without the shutter-speed priority auto-exposure mode around on the AE-1. The camera is fitted with a CdS photocell light meter for TTL center-weighted average metering and is adaptable to all accessories as used on the AE-1.

With its functionalities based on the electronics of the AE-1, the AT-1 is far from being a full-blown retro mechanical SLR. The shutter, for example, is electronically timed and is controlled entirely by battery power, while its 10-second self-timer is not canceled when its setting tab is returned to its original position, instead, it fires the shutter immediately.

Physically, the camera shares the same body shell and clean lines as the AE-1, they are quite similar in size and shape to the Asahi Pentax Spotmatic series and are only slightly bigger than the Pentax ME Super or Olympus OM-1n. It is compatible with all FD-mount lenses, and accessories produced for the AE-1, including motor drives.

Canon AT-1, Canon FD 50mm 1:1.4

As far as the film photo enthusiast is concerned, the attractiveness of the AT-1 in its pure form is as a fully manual camera with a match needle TTL metering system. Without the bells, whistles, and other functionalities found on other AE cameras, the AT-1 is classified into a genre that is limited in availability and does come with a price to match...

    Canon AT-1

    A quick look overview of the manual focus Canon AT-1

Basic Camera Features

Technically, the Canon AT-1 is a fully manual 35mm SLR film camera with a horizontal travel cloth-curtain focal plane shutter with an electronically controlled shutter speed range from 2 seconds to 1/1000 second, and B, with Flash synchronization at 1/60 and 1/30 second. Film ISO speed range is from 25 to 3200. The camera is also fitted with a 10-second delay self-timer.

Canon AT-1, Front

Just like the AE-1, the AT-1 does not sport a finger action grip as seen on the A-1 and AE-1 Program, so what you see on the left side of the front panel is only the battery chamber cover. To the right, on the front of the top plane, is the PC socket, and on the lower right of the lens mount housing, is the stop-down slide switch.

The self-timer switch of the AT-1 is a pull-out lever integrated with the Shutter Open/Lock switch and the shutter release button cluster located on the top plane of the camera. From the front, the location of the lever is indicated by the alphabet 'S'.

Canon AT-1, Top

On the left of the top plate is the Film Rewind Crank, which is also the pull-up film back release, and a rotary dial for Power 'ON', 'OFF', and Battery Check functions. A hot shoe sits on top of the pentaprism. To the right of the pentaprism is the shutter release button cluster, integrated with shutter-lock and self-timer lever.

The film advance crank, located towards the right end of the top plate, shares the same axis as the shutter speed and pull-up and turn ISO speed selector. The film frame counter window is located just below the shutter button cluster.

Canon AT-1, Back

The back of the AT-1 is a plain affair, with only the viewfinder eyepiece occupying the back of the top plate, while the rest of the back is the hinged interchangeable film back, that has a film tab holder fitted.

Accessories that can be attached to the viewfinder eyepiece include an eyecup, dioptric adjustment lenses, angle finders, and magnifiers, which are inter-usable on all A-series models.

Canon AT-1, Bottom

On the bottom plate, the winder coupler cover, tripod socket, film rewind release, winder contact terminals, and a couple of winder guide slots.

Canon AT-1, Film box

The film box is an easy load system with, from left to right, the film chamber, film guide rails, shutter window opening, film forward sprocket, and the multi-slot take-up spool.

Film Loading and Rewind

The film roll is loaded into the camera by first inserting the canister into the leftmost chamber, pulling the film tab end right across the back, and inserting the tab end into one of the inner slots of the take-up spool. The film is wound in the opposite direction of the film crank swing, with the emulsion side up.

Before closing the film back, make sure that the film is properly tensioned across the opening, and that the perforations on the film edge are properly aligned with sprocket gear. Do the standard 2-blank shots after closing the film back to forward the film to frame 1, and you are ready to go.

To rewind and unload, press the rewind release button on the camera baseplate, and crank the film rewind lever clockwise until the film roll is fully rewound into the film canister. Release the film back and remove the film roll for processing.

Viewfinder Readout

Canon AT-1, Viewfinder readout
The AT-1 is fitted with a split image/microprism rangefinder surrounded by a matt screen focusing screen with 93.5% vertical and 96.3% picture area coverage. Metering is center-weighted TTL.

On the right vertical of the viewfinder screen is a pair of permanent markers, the upper for overexposure and battery check indication, while the lower is for underexposure indication, and a pair of pointer needles, namely the meter, and aperture needles.

The two needles, when aligned, indicate the correct exposure for the framed image. Aside from the split image/microprism rangefinder, and the displays on the right vertical, the viewfinder display area is otherwise plain.

Shooting Mode

In a fully manual shooting mode, you can opt for either the aperture priority option by first setting the lens aperture opening before adjusting the shutter speed setting to align both the meter needle and the aperture in the viewfinder together. Alternatively, use the shutter priority option where you first set the shutter speed before varying the lens aperture opening to get the needle alignment.

Canon AT-1


The AT-1 is fitted with an electromagnetic release 10-second delay self-timer, activated by pulling out the self-timer lever and releasing the shutter button. The operation can also be done with an attached shutter release cable.

The delay can be terminated by pushing back the lever to its original position, at which the shutter will still be released.

Camera Body Weight

The Canon AT-1's camera body weight is 590 grams and requires a 4LR44 battery to power its functions.

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1 comment:

  1. I had this camera, and I liked it a lot. You have more control then with the AE1.


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