The Canon A family

I didn’t mean to be a collector – I really didn’t. I was given a Canon AE-1 Program by my uncle in 2009 and I started using it. I loved it and I fell firmly into film photography with both feet. I’ve bought various cameras since but I have always had a rule that I would only buy a camera if it did something that a previous camera couldn’t.

Canon AE-1 Program
Canon AE-1 Program

So here’s the story of my descent, starting with a couple of FD-mount SLRs that do not belong to the A-series.

After I’d built up a collection of FD lenses for my AE-1 Program I decided to buy a Canon FTb in 2011, because it was fully mechanical and requires no batteries to work. Mirror lock-up doesn’t require any power at all, so it is ideal for long exposures in astronomy.

Canon FTb
Canon FTb

In 2012 I bought a Canon T90 to make use of its more advanced metering possibilities and high speed motor drive, while retaining compatibility with FD lenses (unlike the newer EOS system which uses incompatible EF lenses).

Canon T90
Canon T90

In 2013 I bought a Canon A-1 because it is a highly regarded camera, and unlike most of Canon’s A-series SLRs, it could do aperture priority as well as shutter priority. It’s regarded as the best of the A-series, so why wouldn’t I want one?

Canon A-1
Canon A-1

By now, I was well-invested in the FD system and had a soft spot for the A-series. I wasn’t going to buy any more, because none of them offered any extra features that I didn’t already have. (Although I did pick up a Pellix QL for its stationary mirror and an EXEE because it has a bizarre lens system).

Then in 2014 I was offered an AE-1 and a AV-1 for the cost of the postage. It broke my rule about adding new functionality, but I couldn’t refuse. Somehow, I’d ended up with 4 out of the 6 A-series cameras. Now I wanted to complete my collection.

The AT-1 seems to be a fairly uninteresting camera – basically a budget AE-1 with half the features taken out. I wasn’t especially fussed by it, but I managed to find one for £6. Just one camera left.

The AL-1 however is Canon’s first dip of the toe into the autofocus world. It featured focus confirmation rather than autofocus, but the same technology later found its way into the T80, which was Canon’s first autofocus SLR. For that reason it’s an interesting camera – and it has a pretty mirror. Unlike the rest of the A-series, the AL-1 runs from AAA batteries but the battery door is notoriously unreliable. Like many examples, my AL-1 is broken and has to be used with an autowinder to keep the batteries in place.

Let’s have a quick look at the A-series and compare the specs.

AE-1 AT-1 A-1 AV-1 AE-1 P AL-1
Release year 1976 1976 1978 1979 1981 1982
Manual exposure
Auto exposure  ✓  ✓
Aperture priority
Shutter priority  ✓  ✓
Program exposure
Focus confirmation

And finally, here’s a portrait of the whole family.

Canon A-series
Canon A-series

From left to right, back row first:

  • Canon AL-1 with New FD 35-70mm f/3.5-4.5 and autowinder
  • Canon A-1 with New FD 50mm f/1.4 and autowinder
  • Canon AE-1 Program with New FD 50mm f/1.8 and autowinder
  • Canon AT-1 with New FD 135mm f/3.5
  • Canon AE-1 with New FD 24mm f/2.8
  • Canon AV-1 with New FD 35mm f/2.8

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