This came from a local sale. The owner wanted to offload a bunch of 4 or 5 older cameras, all original purchases from his family. It was a simple “lets meet and haggle” type arrangement. His post didn’t even list this camera, and had a slightly blurry photo which included a nice Argus Astigamatic and a Canon FTb (which he later lost – and wasn’t actually part of the sale). I ended up buying four cameras for $3, including this absolutely stunning A1. Absolutely one of my best finds. Although the camera was somewhat dirty when I brought it home, it cleaned up beautifully and has found its way to the permanent collection. I had no idea it would be so complete – along with the base Canon A-1, it includes the Databack, a fully intact eyecup, the hot shoe protector (which at least once was called a “shock preventer” in Canon literature) and the extended sports grip. I didn’t have my battery collection with me, so I took a gamble. Luckily when I tested it later everything appears to work beautifully.
The databack uses a second of the same type of 6v battery used in the camera, and is of the type which will expose additional information in the corner of exposed images. While the year part only has up to 1993, it contains generic information which would allow for continued symbols. The databack does not have a way to directly communicate with the camera body. Instead it uses a captive flash sync cable to connect to the flash sync socket on the front of the camera. The side of the databack has a secondary socket; I assume this is in the event you actually need the socket for using an external flash! This arrangement was probably the best way to make this databack function, however it does mean that to access the film compartment, that little cable must be unplugged from the front of the camera. Later databacks, like for the Canon T90, use internal contacts near the hinge to communicate with the camera body.
I’m not a big fan of databacks in practice – no matter how cool they look, I prefer my images unmarked, and don’t personally have value of knowing the precise date an image was exposed. Luckily, the back door is easily swapped out with a simple spring release pin. A basic rear door for a Canon A1 is pretty inexpensive, so when I get around to film testing this I’ll probably temporarily switch it out. This has come somewhat to the top of the stack once I get back to shooting 35mm film (I’m currently on a 120mm kick).
What’s So Special?
The Canon A-1 is an update of the popular AE-1. Well, its a HUGE update.
The Canon A-1 became the reference camera for the next 10 to 20 years, and still shows up on the list of approved cameras for various film schools, 30 years after production ceased. An extremely durable and solid camera at home in the A series of Canon bodies, it exudes a quality missing from the later T series of cameras. The dial arrangement is quite different from other A series cameras, with ISO settings on the left, as well as built in exposure compensation – with a simple lock out button. An Aperture/Shutter priority switch sits to the left of the shutter release. This switch moves a baffle over the dial seen through the display window, showing only the numbers appropriate for the priority mode. Of course this all assumes your lens is property set to “A” so that the camera can control aperture from the top dial. This is the oldest Canon camera I’m aware of with a recessed control wheel. Although it can only shift between A and S priority, and in reality only moves a single dial, this can easily be seen as heralding design decisions later showcased in the landmark T90 a decade later.
Only available in black.
It looks like it is all metal, but it is not. The top and bottom covers are painted metallized ABS plastic.
- Completely computer controlled, which means extremely reliable shutter timings
- A Canon original design, this camera exudes quality and durability.
- Among the first cameras which could be reliably switched between Aperture and Shutter priority.
- Program mode SLR – ahead of most of its contemporaries
- Does not work without a battery
- Oh my goodness this camera is heavy
- Manufacturer: Canon
- Country of Origin: Japan
- Made in: Japan
- Introduced: 1978-1985
- Camera Type: SLR
- Lens Mount: FD/FDn
- Format: 35mm
- Battery: 6v PX28
- Dimensions (cm):
- Serial: 2056984
- Eyecup: standard Canon
- Strap: standard Canon
- Motor drive: A series drives
- Suggested Flashes:
- Canon A1 manual on Butkus
- Canon Camera Museum
- Lewis Collard review
- A fascinating comparison review of the F1 and A1