Perhaps the second most popular student camera after the Pentax K1000, the AE-1 was introduced in the same year and enjoyed a production run of a decade – not too shabby really. While it is not as simply and elegantly designed as the K1000, the AE-1 is still an easy camera to pick up and learn. and has become justifiably popular with photography students over the decades. The AE-1 incorporates additional features not present on some other student-level cameras, such as a self-timer and depth of field preview. In addition, the AE-1 can also accept other accessories such as a power winder for more rapid film advance and a databack in case you insist on imprinting an LED date across all your photos. In other words, the camera has a simple and direct approach well suited to beginning photographers, but with room to grow.
The metering system on the AE-1 is a bit different than on similar student-level cameras. Instead of the usual match needle metering, the AE-1 displayed a range of apertures inside the viewfinder, lighting up the appropriate value needing to be set by the user, as based on lighting conditions, ISO and shutter speed. This sounds a bit more complicated because it is.
Canon is one of three brands (along with Minolta and Olympus) that changed their lens mount between manual focus and auto focus. The earlier style mount is referred to as FD, or FL if you go even earlier, both of which fit on the AE-1. Canon’s auto-focus lens mount is labeled EF and is still used today on all their modern DSLRs. The AE-1 cannot accept EF lenses, and modern cameras cannot accept FD lenses (without the use of special adapters). This is a double edged sword; you will be limited to just the Canon manual focus lenses when shopping for a new lens but will have less competition from digital users for those same lenses, making them easier to find and much less expensive. Additionally, Canon produced a huge library of lenses, second only to Nikon, during this era. Even though you will be limited to just the FD lenses, you really will have an enormous catalog of lenses to choose from.
- Easy to use and learn. A very good student camera.
- Common and easy to find.
- Lighter than many other similar student-level cameras.
- Additional features not found on some other student cameras such as self-timer and depth of field preview.
- Very large selection of lenses available.
- Camera is battery dependent. No battery = no shutter. Carry a spare.
- Metering is not a simple as match-needle systems found in the Pentax K1000 or Minolta SRT 101.
- Canon FD mount is not compatible with later EF (auto focus mount).
- Be wary of AE-1s that have sat for a period of several years without being used, they tend to develop a nasty squeal. It is easy to fix, but annoying.
- The greater use of plastic parts, such as the battery door, led to slight reduction in durability.
Also consider: Canon AE-1 Program, Canon A-1, Canon FTb
Images from the Canon AE-1: www.flickr.com/groups/canonae1