Canon AE-1: The Workhorse


Over this past summer, I took a Black and White photo class at my college. A week before the class I was panicking because I didn’t have a 35mm SLR to use in the class. I work at Starbucks and one of my regular customers, Mike, happened to come in one day and I told him my problem. “I have this old Canon I don’t use any more and I’ve been wanting to sell it. How about I let you borrow it and if you like it, you can buy it?” That sounded awesome to me. So long story short, Mike ended up just giving me the camera and 3 lenses for nothing(50mm f/1.8, 80-200mm Zoom f/4.5, and a 28mm f/2.8). This camera soon became my workhorse, and it never leaves my bag.

image from Canon Camera Museum

The Canon AE-1 is an amateur level 35mm SLR with a TTL (through the lens) light meter and can take any lens in the FD series made by Canon in Japan from 1976 to 1984. Its shutter speeds are 1/1000, 1/500, 1/250, 1/125, 1/60 (flash sync), 1/30, 1/15, 1/8, 1/4, 1/2, 1 second, 2 seconds and bulb. The camera has a shutter speed priority which means you set the shutter speed you want to use, and the light meter in the viewfinder will tell you what aperture to use. The camera also features an Auto Exposure setting, which basically means when you switch the lens to AE, the lens will automatically open to the aperture setting that your light meter is reading. That function is pretty handy if you’re trying to take some fast photos or in low light situations. The AE-1 was somewhat historically significant because it was the first camera to have an internal CPU to control mechanisms. The camera is made mostly of metal, with a few plastic pieces. It’s not too heavy, but yet has a nice heft in your hands. Several times I’ve dropped it and worried more about the ground then the camera. It’s built like a tank.

This is a great camera for someone just starting out in photography to learn the basics on, like I did. It lets you learn the basics of shutter speeds and aperture while also helping you to understand how to use light and light meters to your advantage.

I use this camera for everything; like I’ve said, it’s my workhorse. I take it everywhere and anywhere. This was the camera I learned everything I know on and it still surprises me for a film camera. One thing I should mention also is the ease of use of the FD lenses. They are bayonet style, so they come off and go on quick, which is good if you need to change lenses in a hurry to catch something. It also has a self timer which is nice to take self portraits with or, a trick I learned, to use it when you are using a lower shutter speed. Say you want to shoot something in 1/8 and you’re using a tripod. Instead of you pressing the shutter release and having potential camera shake, set the self timer.

This camera is just solid and I can’t say enough about it. Again anyone wishing to learn photography and use an SLR camera should consider this one. They are going for pretty cheap these days on Ebay.

written by fuzztone04 on 2008-11-17 #gear #35mm #review #slr #canon-ae-1


  1. felice62
    felice62 ·

    Dig it! I owned an AE-1 till 2001. Then my ex-wife just hammered it!
    Too bad :)
    Very handy camera. Lightweighted and always ready to go. Lenses wise, Canon has a huge list of good lenses to go with it and after market is still very good and somewhat cheap.
    Great buy, nowadays...

  2. graefin
    graefin ·

    I have an AV-1 which is the follower of the AE and this is also a great camera! My dad had one and lots of equipment for it. But the body broke and all the stuff was just lying around for years. So when I started lomo-ing I decided to buy a new body - lenses, tripod, filters, we had everything else at home!

  3. superlighter
    superlighter ·

    stunning firemen picts!

  4. gemma81de
    gemma81de ·

    My uncle gave me his AE-1 yesterday. Can't wait to take it for a walk. :)

  5. aneoooow
    aneoooow ·

    i own a AE-1 and A-1(program black) and i love this 2 cameras :D

  6. systemchalk
    systemchalk ·

    Canon AE-1 was the very first SLR I ever used and remains my own 'workhorse.'

    One clarification I might make on the review is that the ISOs _can_ be entered by lifting the ring under the shutter and twisting to the desired setting. I could be misreading the intent behind the listing as the review made mention of the light meter which adjusts itself accordingly.

    One of the best things about the AE-1 is that the FD lenses are largely undervalued nowadays, so it is reasonably easy to find some solid gear for an amazing price. Astia looks just as good in an AE-1 as it does in an F6, so why pay more?

    I've only two complaints for the camera. First, as with any old camera, I've been burned more than once by not loading the film all the way in and snapping away for 40 frames until realizing my mistake. Second, when 'in the moment' I've knocked the shutter one or two stops, again, realizing much later while advancing the film. Not the end of the world with slide, but it's pushed a couple of my negative shots past the point of salvageability.

    All in all though I wouldn't trade this camera for anything and find this to be the most effective, affordable and readily available camera for those looking to do things the old fashioned way. The fact the battery seems to last an eternity helps too.

  7. syroneb
    syroneb ·

    I just bought an AE 1 off ebay. came with some goodies too! Telephoto lens... flash... and a camera case (oh, lala!) It hasn't arrived yet, but I can't wait for it. I'll be taking lessons with it, so I'm glad to hear such rave reviews!

  8. deff1
    deff1 ·

    I really like your shots! Great review

  9. misterfolkertsma
    misterfolkertsma ·

    It's a wonderful camera! My own workhorse is quite simular: T70.

  10. vansen
    vansen ·

    its my first camera.. I got it from my dad when I was around 16 yrs old..
    it was his prized possession .. and I have been using it until now

    its the camera that started it all for me

  11. esmee
    esmee ·

    I love this camera. Really helpful review, thank you!

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