I hate to admit it but when I was reviewing a majority of the cameras for my Youtube channel I rarely shot with them. Most of the cameras were purchased rather cheaply and didn't work, or had enough issues it wouldn't be fun to shoot with. Now that I'm not in a position to turn out a camera review weekly I can rent cameras and shoot them at my own pace.
The Canon AE-1 was always a camera I steered people against. It had issues with an electronic shutter and was usually more expensive than the Pentax K1000, which I loved. What if I was wrong? I wanted to shoot with it at least once before I steered more people against the AE-1. When Austin Camera had a copy of the A-1, a slightly upgraded AE-1, in store I jumped at the chance to be able to see how it performs.
The A-1 is feature rich. It can shoot in full auto, exposure priority and shutter priority mode. I never understood why the AE-1 chose shutter priority over aperture but it wasn't an issue here.
The layout of the camera is extremely clean and intuitive with the program modes being easily accessible and labeled. The exposure compensation on the left side of the camera is easily readable and adjustable as well. In terms of camera design and functionality it was a real joy to use and shoot with.
Beyond design build quality here is great as well. Where the AE-1 had always felt a bit light and fragile everything with the A-1 is solid and tight. Film advancing, removing lenses, changing shutter speeds and rewinding all felt accurate and smooth. It feels like a camera that was designed to last a long time and many copies have survived due to this great engineering.
One feature really surprised me, the double exposure lever. When this camera was originally released in 1978 was double exposure so prominent that they needed to add dedicated lever for it? Were photographers clamoring over this and willing to pay for it? Even today I would find it hard to see any manufacturer adding a double exposure button to a digital camera.
I ended up shooting a few rolls with the double exposure lever. It works like this, you take an image and then activate double exposure lever. When you advance the film advance handle it will now only cock the shutter and not advance the film, allowing you to get a double exposure. While I appreciate the feature, it wasn't always a smooth process and I had few double exposures end up being weird singles because the latch didn't catch. Not a big deal if you're not shooting a lot of double exposures but something to be aware of.
The images that came back were fine. The Canon FD lens is one of the most widely produced lenses of all time and performs well here. I did get a higher volume of shots out of focus but that has more to do with me getting used to zone focusing on a SLR and not being familiar with a camera.
Shooting with the A-1 was a fun experience. I can also see why people gravitate toward cameras like the AE-1 and A-1. They allow you to take a step back and just shoot. They are good enough to get out of the way and the controls are straightforward enough to allow you shoot without fussing around too much. When a camera can get out of the way, be reliable and produce results its a great camera and the A-1 falls here too. I'm glad I finally gave it a chance and would be happy to recommend it as well.