Canon A1 questions.

Discussion in '35mm Cameras and Accessories' started by snegron, Nov 23, 2010.

  1. snegron

    snegron Member

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    Toady a co-worker brought in her Canon A1 with several lenses (50mm 1.8, 28mm 2.8 and 100-300mm 5.6), all with original boxes and papers. She and her husband purchased the camera and lenses new back in the mid 1980's. He passed away several years ago and she wants to sell the camera and lenses. She knows I collect old 35mm gear.

    I know absolutely nothing about Canon. I have been reading up on the A1, but I'm not sure about known problems with this model. I promised her I would research the current prices and make her an offer. I have an idea of the value of the equipment, but I know nothing about this camera model and these lenses.

    Would this be a decent user-camera? Are there any things I need to watch out for or take care of prior to using it? Are these lenses decent performers? I am going to purchase a battery for it tomorrow and shoot a few rolls with it. This is the first time in my life I will be shooting with a Canon SLR!

    Comments and suggestions would be greatly appreciated.
     
  2. Les Sarile

    Les Sarile Member

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  3. Brian Legge

    Brian Legge Member

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    My parents purchased a Canon A1 shortly before I was born. It eventually became my camera when my parents switched to automatic film point and shoot. I used the camera constantly for about 7 years, before moving to WA and putting photography on hold for 6 years. Very solid feeling camera.

    Over nearly 21 years of use, the camera had almost no problems. I think it was serviced once when winding began to have issues.

    As no digital bodies to the best of my knowledge use FD lenses. The line was also popular. As a result the lenses are cheap compared to other systems. The 55mm 1.2 for example sells for anywhere between $200 and $500. The 85mm 1.2 goes for closer to $600. 24mm/28mm 2.8s go from $50-150. Gear seems plentiful and the range of lenses: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Canon_FD_lens_mount

    I haven't used the camera recently enough to answer most of your questions, but I still have a big soft spot for it. When I came back to photography a few years ago, I picked up a Nikon digital body - and then Nikon film bodies to share the lenses. I can't justify picking up a Canon again but still miss that camera.
     
  4. hpulley

    hpulley Member

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    The A1 is a very good and capable camera body. To watch out for is the A-series shutter squeek which sounds like a sneeze.

    The 50 1.8 and 28 2.8 are nothing special I'm afraid. Both are nice lenses and will take decent pictures, the 50 1.8 is sharp and a bit cold in color while the 28 2.8 is a bit soft wide open but decent at 5.6/8. The 100-300 is a cheap zoom unless it is the L model. None of these lenses are worth much.
     
  5. Chan Tran

    Chan Tran Member

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    If the equipment were bought in 1984, the price at B&H are:
    1. Canon A1 with 50mm f/1.8 $263.90
    2. Canon FD 28mm f/2.8 $76.90
    3. Canon FD 100-300mm f/5.6 $165.00
    Total: $505.80

    If they are in excellent condition and I like them I could offer 50% or $252.90 and I think that's fair. I know people who got them for much less.
     
  6. Chan Tran

    Chan Tran Member

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    By the way price new in 1984.
    50mm f/1.2 L $299.00
    85mm f/1.2 L 425.00
    28mm f/2.8 $76.90
    24mm f/2.8 $126.90
     
  7. snegron

    snegron Member

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    Les; thanks for the links!

    Brian; You are right, this does feel like a solid camera! I don't know if this camera was ever serviced (co-worker doesn't remember as this was used mostly by her husband).

    Hpulley; Thanks for the feedback! I will be checking for the squeak sound tomorrow when I buy a battery for it. One thing I noticed was that it seems like the A1 has all the features on buttons or levers all over the body. It looks like it might take lots of practice to get to know where everything is on this camera. Thanks for the heads-up on the best aperture to use with these lenses. I don't see myself buying anymore FD lenses in the near future unless I stumble onto some great deal.

    It seems like it could be a fun camera to use. :smile:
     
  8. snegron

    snegron Member

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    Chan Tran; thanks for the numbers! I think that seems like a fair enough amount to offer her. I don't wish to take advantage of her in any way, but I don't want to be stuck with a system I paid too much for. Thanks!
     
  9. Chan Tran

    Chan Tran Member

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    You're welcome Snegron! The reason I posted the number because I have known someone like my very own brother could get such an outfit for like $50 and turn around selling them for more than what they're worth when new. My brother would say, it's worth what someone is willing to pay for but I don't think it's fair.
     
  10. Jeff Kubach

    Jeff Kubach Member

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    I also have a A-1 that has been around for a while. Great camera and durable.

    Jeff
     
  11. dances_w_clouds

    dances_w_clouds Subscriber

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    I bought a A1 a few years ago for very cheap. I had a CLA done on it with a new shutter put in and cost me about $200. I still think it was money well spent. It should last another 20 yrs. I probably will not out live my A1. The prices of the lenses are what you are really willing to pay. That is why you should shop around when to want to add on to your collection
    You've heard about the Canon squeal which is not hard to fix but it will take a professional an hour or so to fix and they can be very pricey.
    Another thing is you have to remember the camera is 30 yrs old and there are NO new parts being made eg. circuit boards. but usually any repair man worth his salt can combine 2 or 3 to make 1 good one.
    For me all my A body Canons sit in my china cabinet looking pretty while I am out shooting film in one of my semi-disposable EOS models. Cannot beat auto focus, auto film rewind etc. for shooting film comfortably. Just like an old antique car would you drive it to work every day ?
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Nov 24, 2010
  12. benjiboy

    benjiboy Subscriber

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    The dreaded Canon A series cough, isn't anything to do with the shutter it's a popular misconception, it's a dry bearing in the mirror breaking mechanism that causes the sound.
    I've had an A1 I bought second hand for nearly a quarter of a century, and have found it to be a very light weight and pleasant camera to use,, I recently got it back from it's first ever CLA it now looks and operates like a new one and I hope to enjoy it for many more years.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Nov 24, 2010
  13. hpulley

    hpulley Member

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    Sorry, you're right, it's the "mirror squeak" not the shutter squeak, my bad...

    The A1 is very simple to use in Program mode, just put the lens aperture on 'A' and shoot and the camera will figure out shutter speed and aperture for you. Or use Av or Tv modes to choose aperture or shutter speed. Other buttons and levers do things like DOF preview stop down, backlighting exposure compensation, battery check, etc. but you don't generally need them.
     
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  15. Paul Jenkin

    Paul Jenkin Member

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    I have an A1 (as well as Pellix, EF and F1-N) + around 15 FL and FD lenses.

    I've used my current A1 (which I bought 2nd hand) regularly and it's a lovely, compact and very well featured body. It was, as far as I can remember, the first proper multi-mode camera with P, Av, Tv and manual controls and has been extremely popular ever since.

    There's always a possibility that old cameras can let you down but, aside from the aforementioned "squeak", I'm not familiar with any other known issues.
     
  16. parkpy

    parkpy Member

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    I also acquired my A-1 through my parents. They also moved on to point and shoots. I had my A-1 CLA'd recently, but don't use it very often. As far as ease of use, the A-1 is terrific. Set the film speed, set aperture ring to A, and set mode to P, focus and fire!

    I wanted more control, and after a stint with some Olympus OM gear, I'm also shooting Nikon (a nice FM-2n). I don't really feel attached to my Nikon, and I absolutely abhor its viewfinder, but it's a good, reliable camera. I'd rather have an OM-4T, but my OM-4T had a tendency to lock-up on me from time to time (requiring me to set the shutter speed ring to Bulb, and fire the shutter). I guess I'd rather have a camera that works when I want it to work:smile:
     
  17. Wolfeye

    Wolfeye Subscriber

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    I got my A-1 from a reputable camera repair guy a couple years ago. It's been pretty much error free, but I have noticed one weirdness. I have a dedicated-for-Canon-FD Sunpak flash. When I put it on my AE-1 Program and set the aperture on the flash, the aperture in the camera's viewfinder changes to the same f-stop. On my A-1 it's always a half-stop-ish wider open, so if the flash is set to f4 the camera sets itself to f3.5. So some calibration isn't in sync there, but as I almost always bounce the flash, that extra 1/2 stop helps make the exposures dead-on perfect. So I haven't bothered to have it looked into. I'd love to know if other A-1 owners have the same "fault" (meaning that's just how the camera interprets communication signals from Sunpak's dedicated flashes) or if other A-1's are like the AE-1.
     
  18. hpulley

    hpulley Member

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    I just use Canon Speedlites (199A and 177A, used to have 155A but sold it) and they work perfectly for me with A-series cameras. They even work on EOS cameras in manual mode which is what I generally use anyhow.

    Other things to watch for on an A-1 or any camera of this vintage are deterioration of the mirror shock foam and light seals in the mirror box and the film chamber and back. If they're gone you may get fogged film, I was blaming processing problems on some fogged Velvia but I think it was actually light seal issues. If the mirror shock foam is falling apart, the bits can fall into the mechanics and jam things up which is not good.
     
  19. benjiboy

    benjiboy Subscriber

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    The A series of Canon cameras are interesting because they were the first to use hi-tech automated mass production techniques in the production of the components, electronics and the assembly of them that enabled them to manufacture and offer cameras to the public at a reasonabley low price at a level of a a sophistication that was previously unknown, for example in that era when SLR s were all metal the A series of cameras top and bottom plate was pressed out of laminated plastic that's not only very strong and doesn't dent but is also light and durable. I'm not sure when they stopped producing the A series, probably about twenty three years ago, and although I should think a very small proportion of the ones still around have ever been serviced there are still millions of them around in working order
     
  20. hpulley

    hpulley Member

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    The microprocessor in the AE-1 was I think the first AE camera to use such technology and reduced the parts list by more than 300 discrete components. The predecessor EF and F1 AE finders were much more complicated and expensive to build.
     
  21. Diapositivo

    Diapositivo Subscriber

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    I think the basic choice you are confronted with is if you want to develop a system with a mount that is not any more in production. You will find plenty of second-hand lenses, but if you miss autofocus, you will miss it forever. I would consider a good servicing (gasket substitution, lubrication, shutter time check etc) for any camera which is not in use since decades anyway. After this, you can enjoy thousands of rolls and you can build a cheap and effective second-hand park of optics.

    FD mount has a very short focal-plane-flange distance so you can use adapters to mount other lenses (maybe Leica, Zeiss etc.) and not loose the possibility to focus at infinity. You would lose all automatisms though, including automatic diaphragm. If I remember well the FD mount at the time had the shortest such distance immediately after Alpa.

    The first camera to have a "program" mode, an aperture-priority mode and a shutter-priority mode was the Minolta XD if memory serves, which is the camera which was the basis for the Leica R4. The Canon A1 came just after the Minolta. The A-series of Canon was a revolution as it was to first to employ digital logic instead of complex mechanics or electric circuits.

    The biggest shortcomings that can be moved to the A-1 (which my brother has) are probably:

    - Indication in the viewfinder using LEDs instead of LCDs. That makes your battery last less than they could. A-1 uses 6V silver batteries, not very cheap.

    - No mirror lock-up. That is a problem if you like using a tripod and slow shutter speeds around (1/4th to 1/30th) or with tele lenses.

    - The shutter is a traditional and robust horizontal-movement tissue one. Synchro-flash is limited to 1/60 and maximum shutter speed is if I remember well 1/1000th. This is all you need for most situations anyway. This kind of shutters also tends to produce less vibrations.

    Otherwise, the camera is a milestone in photography. The fact that the indication in the viewfinder are "solid state" make it also robust as the needle would be one of the most easily broken things in a camera.

    Fabrizio
     
  22. Diapositivo

    Diapositivo Subscriber

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    I would like to add that the 100-300 f/5.6 is a very peculiar zoom which is made with an optic scheme which moves two groups solidly between them. As far as I know at the time the only zooms with such an optic scheme were the Minolta MD 100-200 f/5.6 (which I own and use), the Canon FD 100-200 f/5.6 and probably also the Canon FD 100-300 f/5.6 and the Minolta MD 100-500 f/8.

    Those zooms have IIRC only 5 or 6 groups and can be very sharp (at least my Minolta is) and are certainly less prone to flare in respect to the typical 80-200 or 70-210 of the time, but have two defects: considerable distortion and considerable size, when you extend the zoom to its maximum focal lenght your probabilities to be exchanged for a terrorist rise a lot.

    Fabrizio
     
  23. hpulley

    hpulley Member

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    LCD viewfinders were still a few years away. I have yet to lose a needle from any of my match meter cameras. At least you can still buy 6V silver batteries today, easier than Mercury at least.

    Sadly Canon has not seen MLU as very important for some time. The last mechanically locked up mirror available was on the F series. No A series, T series or EOS camera has a physical lockup switch if they have one at all since the mirror control has been electronic since the AE-1.
     
  24. snegron

    snegron Member

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    Update:

    I purchased a battery for the A1 this morning ($10.00 for one battery at the local corner drug store = ouch). I grabbed a few rolls of color film and my Nikon F100 to compare accuracy of metering, and I went to the local park.

    I later picked up the developed rolls of film at the local lab ($12.50 per 24 exposures, was told that each print was $.40 = double ouch).

    The results were better than I expected. I shot everything in aperture priority with a 50mm 1.8 lens on both the A1 and the F100. The images from the A1 were identical to those shot with my F100! Metering was accurate, no light leakage, all images were crisp and with perfect color. Side by side it is impossible to tell which images were shot with the A1 and which ones were shot with the F100.

    I did notice a bit of a strange noise with the A1 whenever I snapped a picture. For a fraction of a second each actuation sounded like one of those small plastic wind up toys. I'm not sure if it was the shutter, the mirror, or if this is the way this camera is supposed to sound. It didn't affect the images at all though.

    I plan to shoot a few more rolls with the A1 over the weekend to try out the other lenses. On a side note, I will only have the lab develop the rolls without printing; I'll scan the negatives myself. I think that $12.50 for developing a 24 exposure roll of film is ridiculously expensive.

    After seeing the results today, I am leaning towards making my co-worker an offer on this camera. While it feels much more complicated to use than my old Nikon, Pentax and Minolta 35mm cameras, I think it will be fun learning how to use it! :smile:


    p.s. I replaced the databack with the standard back because it was a bit too heavy, also I would have had to spend $10.00 on another 6v battery for it in addition to the one I purchased for the camera. I didn't try the A2 motor winder; I'll probably load it with batteries and try it over the next few days. I kind of like the idea of keeping the A1 as small and lightweight as possible.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Nov 24, 2010
  25. hpulley

    hpulley Member

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    $12.50 for C41 developing only??? That's steep. My local shop develops 24 exposures including Fuji Crystal Archive 4x6" prints for $8.99. Another shop does the same for $10.

    That noise doesn't sound good though it doesn't sound quite like the notorious squeak either.
     
  26. snegron

    snegron Member

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    Tell me about it! When the girl at the lab told me that each 4"x6" was 40 cents, I asked her if she was sure about this. Turns out she is the manager, so I politely told her that the prices were way too high and that I will stick to scanning my own work from now on. I don't think she cared much. Have chemicals and paper really gone up that much? Granted, they did do a good job compared to the local one hour labs at corner drug stores, but I still think it was too pricey.

    p.s. Here is a shot of the A1 with the lenses and boxes.
     

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