My Canon A1

My Canon A1 was the first high spec camera I ever owned and my whole understanding of what being a photographer is about stems from this camera. It taught me to the fundamentals of exposure, focal lengths, metering and subsequently making prints. I developed a my own vision and style from my adventures with this camera.

It is awesome.

So i thought i would write about it.

The Canon A1 is a multi-mode SLR camera that uses the manual focus FD range of Canon lenses. Second only to the top end Canon F1 it incorporated pretty much every possible camera feature of the era inside a compact little brass and plastic body.

You can set it to aperture or shutter priority and full program mode (!) using a clever top plate dial that switched between showing aperture values and shutter speeds, with the Exposure information displayed on a red LED readout in the viewfinder.

The top plate is a little crowded, but going from left to right you have film speed setting, rewind crank, exposure compensation, viewfinder display on/off, battery test, hotshoe, exposure counter, aperture/shutter speed dial, film advance, on/off switch, self timer switch and multiple exposure lever. On the front it has additional meter on button, AE lock and depth of field preview. And it has a viewfinder blind switch by the eyepiece. And a slot for the flap of the film box.

Quite a lot for such a small body. I have shot many, many rolls of film with this thing and i can operate it blind folded. Indeed, I set the dials on my D300 DSLR to go in the same direction as my fingers are so used to which way to turn from f1.4 to f2.8 on this camera.

The viewfinder is big, bright and clear and slightly easier to see all of than my Nikon FE. It has the usual split image focus aid and the red LED display is just the right brightness.

Like i said, awesome.

I have a stack of lenses that I collected while shooting with this at univeristy including a gorgeous Canon 300mm f4 monster. But I tended towards a standard approach of a 35mm f2.8, a B+W deep red filter and Ilford delta 400 film.


Most of my early work was high contrast with obvious grain, printed at grade 4 or 5 on Ilford paper to give it a further kick. Black skies and white clouds were a common occurrence, I wasn’t much of a fan of grey.


It was telling that even after I had bought the mighty canon T90 (basically a manual focus EOS-1) I still kept going back to the A1. Even when I bought my Bronica medium format camera to shoot ‘serious’ landscapes, the A1 went along.


This camera is my frame of reference for photography. It taught me that photography was something I could experiment with to find my own way rather than just pressing the button. Even now i use my DSLR in a similar way, shooting aperture priority with fast prime lenses and centre-weighted metering because my Canon A1 taught me how to see in that way.

Like i said. It’s awesome.


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