I got a familiar type message on my phone, “Hey Kev, we’re moving to Boston, have an old camera that we found when packing, want it?” This time it was a Canon A-1, a somewhat better quality cousin to the AE-1, that was sold around the same time. I’ve had two AE-1’s but never an A-1. Now I have an A-1, a couple more FD lenses to add to the collection, and a Vivitar flash to add to my kitchen trash.
Took it home and the first thing I did was to install a battery, next was to cut off and throw out the kit strap that it sold with and replacing it with Peak Design strap connectors, and third was to check YouTube for a way to address the shutter squeak it came with.
Sure enough, like several AE-1s I tested out, this A-1 has a shutter squeal. Not as bad as it could be, certainly, but enough to figure out how to fix it myself. It seems that problem can be solved with a small screwdriver, a syringe and a tiny drop of gun oil. There are two methods for getting at that gear that needs lubricating, either through the bottom or through the front. I opted to go through the bottom as it somehow seemed to be the easiest and more approachable option for someone who has never opened up a camera to fix it before.
That little problem fixed, I could now load up and take this instrument for a walk. The A-1 is a fairly sturdy camera. It feels more metal and less plastic than the AE-1, and for all practical purposes seems to be the better model of the two. Yet, it sells for much cheaper than the AE-1 online and in shops. Why is this? Simple – everyone blogs about the AE-1. “Top Five Film Cameras,” “List Of Best Film Cameras For Beginners,” bloggy lists all over the internet sing its praises, which creates more of a demand. Much like the Pentax K-1000. Other contenders on every list are the Nikon FM2, Olympus OM1 and the Minolta X700, however the first two listed are usually the AE-1 and the K1000, with the AE-1 right at the top. It’s a good camera, but the internet hype machine pushed it to be the world champion of numbered lists in the blogosphere. Probably due to those also being the loaner cameras most readily available when said bloggers took photography in college? I dunno, but regardless, the A-1 is less popular but equally qualified.
Someone once told me the A-1 costs a bit less than the AE-1 because of supply and demand… more people demand the AE-1 because of college nostalgia, but the supply gets lesser every year because they break faster than the A-1. I don’t know how true this is, it’s probably just photog-snark… we’re smart-asses.
I personally prefer this model over the AE-1 and AE-1P, I’ve only used it a couple of times but it feels more solid with more metal and less plastic. Or perhaps I like it more because I’ve had my AE-1P for close to ten years and the A-1 came to me only a year or so ago. The two are almost identical, really, but the A-1 has a bit more going for it, such as a more solid body, more sophisticated electronics, and longer shutter speed settings. It’s the more professional offering of the time, while the AE-1 is more of a consumer model. Less sophisticated but perfectly capable for a hobby photographer.