Canon A1


Canon A1 In the second half of the ’70s we saw expansion of the electronics integrated in the cameras, played with perhaps too early by some companies but not by Canon, which at the right time presents the new series camera “A” in which, in fact, the electronics, in the form of controls and exposure programs, is the key element. The Canon A1 represents the flagship model in terms of technical characteristics of this new series and was commercialized in 1978, two years after the release of the forerunner model of the As (Canon AE-1). Compared to this, the Canon A1 is positioned at a higher technological level, you could say almost professional, although some shortcomings and limitations make it more oriented to advanced amateur photographer. The main innovation was the introduction, for the first time on an SLR, of a programmed mode of exposure-control, coupled with a highly accurate metering system, the operator freed by the need to evaluate the best couple time-diaphragm, allowing him to focus solely on composition. Along with this ability, however, Canon equipped the A1 with a full set of advanced features and improvements over the previous AE1, while maintaining substantially the same aesthetics. The camera remained in production virtually without any changes or improvements until 1984, when it was introduced the new T-series and just before the advent of auto focus system of the EOS.


La guancetta-impugnatura protettiva
The handling support

The comprehensive approach does not differ from the typical SLR in general, and especially of those of the second half of the 70s; compared to the previous AE1, changes to the “body” are quite limited: significant is, above all, the presence of the grip plate screwed on the right side, which performs the double task of improving the handle and to protect the battery compartment cover, weak point of the whole A series; aesthetically, however, note especially the black finish, only available for the A1.

As mentioned, the real revolution is placed insider the body: the Canon A1 has, in fact, four exposure modes; the camera can be used in manual, shutter-priority or aperture-priority and the new mode “Program”, in which the camera circuit takes care of choosing the optimal combination of time and aperture. All things taken for granted today, but revolutionary at the time of commercialization.

Vista complessiva della calotta superiore
The top of the camera

First of all, the camera should be turned on, as being totally dependent on the battery and does not have mechanical times; switching is done by moving the lever on the right end of the top cap from position A to position L; the same lever is also used to activate the self-timer to 2 or 10 seconds. The selection of the mode of operation, however, is carried out using the controls located on the right side of the top cap. Coaxial to the shutter button (equipped with threaded socket for the insertion of a remote shutter release) there is the command for the selection of the time priority (TV) or the aperture priority (AV); together with the choice of modes, a movable bezel turns in the window to the left of the shutter button for the selection of the scale of shutter speeds or lens apertures. Both modes work after positioning on the green  A the aperture selection ring on the lens barrel and then by selectiong the proper value by the wheel located on the front of the camera; this wheel is equipped with a safe which goes down before using.

Il selettore delle priorità e la finestrella di selezione. Si notano anche il pulsante di scatto e il led dell'autoscatto.
The priority selector and the values windows, the self-timer LED and the shutter release button

If the lens does not lie on A, the Canon A1 works in manual mode in the case the mode switch is set to TV; inside the viewfinder, the LED indicators will provide, in addition to indicating the M of the manual, the proper aperture to be set in function of the chosen time. Unfortunately, the indicators do not give any confirmation of correct selection, which must then be carried out by detaching eyes from the viewfinder. Regarding the shutter speeds, is to emphasize the presence of the long ones, 2-4-8-15 and 30 seconds, which are very useful for long exposures without using the B mode.

The program mode is activated by keeping the aperture ring on A and placing the speed indicator  on the green P, that is reacheable on the wheel after the shorter speed of 1/1000 sec. In this way, you will see inside the viewfinder the indication of the selected pair from the metering circuit. The display can also be switched off using the lever on the left side of the prism housing, placing it on the white sticker, all in order to preserve as much as possible the precious battery. This lever is coaxial with the test button battery which, if positive, let the LED illuminate. The camera, finally, can also operate in automatic exposure mode with flash synchro selecting the 1/60 sec speed.

La ghiera delle sensibilità e gli altri comandi qui descritti
The other controls on the left side of top

Always on the left side of the top cap is located, coaxially to the pawl rewinding, the film sensibility dial which varies between 6 and 12800 ASA and is unlocked by a really hidden key, located on the outer ring of the dial. Acting instead on a second button release, this time clearly visible on the cover, you can intentional modify the exposure, with four different values (under or over).

The frame counter is finally placed in hidden position behind the window of time / aperture and at a lower level, enough to be hidden from the loading lever.

The rest of the camera body is quite simple: on the front you will find an outlet for Synchro flash, the aforementioned safe closure for the  selection wheel of speed / diaphragms and, on the side of the lens mount, buttons for exposure memory lock and activation of the exposure and the sled for previewing depth of field. On the back there is only one command that drives the closure of the viewfinder (useful in case of long exposures), on the left side of the eyepiece, and a pocket to insert the film memo set in the middle of the back.

On the bottom, finally, there are the threaded tripod mount, the release button for film rewinding and electrical contacts for the optional motor winder.

The Canon A1 offers all the functions evolved amateur photographer could need and is certainly a rugged and reliable camera, with the only flaw being totally dependent on batteries; those accustomed to more simple reflex can be initially bewildered in front of so many features and so many commands condensed into a camera body that ultimately is quite compact, but they need just to study a little or read the manual for further use in total confidence. Of course, thanks to the possibility to exploit the high general level of FD lenses (as well as the previous series), the price makes it the perfect centerpiece of a semi-professional outfit, given the wide selection of products and accessories yet widely available.

To mention a problem that often plagues these models, and more generally the whole A Series, the hardening of lubricants which causes a hissing sound from shutter which can in the long run  lead to mechanical damage; nothing, in any event, that can not be solved with a little DIY or thru professional CLA.


Model: 35mm SLR

Format: 24×36 on 135 film.

Lens mount : Canon FD

Shutter: on the focal plane, horizontal side-scrolling curtains, time from 30 sec to 1/1000 sec and B mode.

Exposure modes: Aperture-priority, Shutter-priority, Program, Manual, B mode.

Meter: from -2 to +18 EV (100 ASA)

Viewfinder: pentaprism, LED display time / aperture / mode.

Sensitivity: manually selectable from 6 to 12800 ASA / ISO

Self-timer: Yes, 2 or 10 seconds.

Flash: hot shoe outlet and Synchro.

Size: Length 141 mm; height 92 mm; depth of 48 mm.

Power : 1 stack 4LR44/4SR44

Weight: 623 gr.


Exposure modes.

Choice of shutter speeds.

Canon FD quality lenses.

Availability of accessories.

Exposure memory lock.



Dependence on batteries and no mechanical timing

Synchro time only 1/60 sec.

Crowded upper shell commands.


The Canon A1 is very popular due to its great commercial success, and is very easy to retrieve it worldwide within all the usual channels; cameras for sale are generally in good if not excellent condition but, its complexity makes it worthy of any check-up. In any case, if well kept, this camera is able to guarantee long years of service!

The prices are variable generally between 70 and 150 €  depending on the conditions, the nationality of the seller and any accessories or optical equipment; it is not unusual to find online well-maintained bodies at prices slightly higher than 50 €, which is close to a bargain!.

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