This camera had been on-deck and forgotten for probably a year when the photography bug bit me again. I just needed some new batteries for it, which I ordered from Amazon (not because they were hard-to-find, but for the sake of convenience). The day the batteries arrived, I loaded it up and started shooting.
My M.O. is to shoot wide-open — that is, at the largest aperture I can. That has the benefit both of throwing the background out of focus and of allowing faster shutter speeds (read: less motion blur and camera shake) in low-light situations. That’s just my style; I’d rather use what ambient light I have than throw a flash into the mix.
Anyway, I took a few indoor photos that night and a few more the next morning. Some came out better than others, but any photos in the discard pile were definitely user error (i.e. me getting used to a proper manual focus again). The Canon AE-1 feels great in my hands, has well-marked controls, focuses well, and has a satisfying shutter sound. That may seem weird, especially to those who aren’t into film cameras, but there’s just something about an SLR with some heft to it — but not too much — that gives that solid ker-CHUNK with every exposure.
I used a couple of different modes that the Canon AE-1 has to offer: aperture-priority (always my go-to) and Program. I used both during my test roll, and I surprisingly kind of liked Program Mode in some instances.
The majority of the photos on this roll were taken during a “date afternoon” with my husband. We left our son at home with a sitter and went to a comic show downtown, then got some coffee, went thrifting, and grabbed some dinner.
I started out the afternoon in aperture-priority mode, until I realized that a.) the camera was useless in the dim dealers’ room without a tripod, even at f/1.8, and b.) we’d be changing venues so often that I didn’t want to ruin a shot because I forgot to change aperture to suit the conditions. Which, yes, I have done before. (Haven’t we all…?)
Some compositions didn’t work out so well in Program mode, though, like this bright sky with dark buildings…
…or this mural, which was apparently exposed for the white SUV parked in front of the building.
Granted, I can tweak these as needed in Photoshop to make the contrast and colors pop as they did in my mind’s eye, but this is a test roll, after all. It would be disingenuous to post “doctored” photos. (Not to say I won’t fix them up and re-post them later.)
Here’s another example of Program Mode not being able to do it all. First, my photo of my husband at the coffee shop, which is actually a win for Program Mode. There’s a large window to the right of the frame, just behind him, and a wall in the background. This looks great. I saw the light on his face and had to take the shot.
Then Aaron asked for the camera, still in Program Mode, and took my photo. There’s a small wall to the left of the frame, and a large window backlighting me. Had I put the camera in aperture priority mode, I’m guessing it would have captured me properly with a blown-out background (which would have been preferable to this, which I’m not even sure is salvageable).
Damn shame, because I like it when Aaron asks for my film camera so he can take a picture — especially of me. 🙂
While we were leaving the coffee shop, I saw this shot and had to take it, very carefully aligning the sun just behind the edge of the roof. I honestly don’t recall if I took the camera out of Program Mode or not, but the picture came out as I expected.
Later that day, as I was leaving the restroom of a thrift store, I took an old-school mirror self-portrait that came out just about perfect:
After we were done thrifting, we went to our favorite Korean joint. I took a photo of the tea when Aaron slipped off to the bathroom. There was a pendant light over our table and a large window across the room to the right of the frame. Again, the light just struck me, and I had to take the picture — even if it was just tea, which I’ve certainly photographed many times before.
The next morning, I had a few exposures left, so I took the camera out into the back yard while my son was playing. I took a couple unremarkable photos of hyacinths and daffodils, but the clear winner was this portrait.
I love this picture. And it was the last exposure on the roll.
My overall impression of the Canon AE-1? It’s a solid camera. Reliable. I didn’t have one mechanical issue while I was testing it. I’m no expert, but there doesn’t seem to be much light falloff at the corners (aka vignetting) — which really says more about the lens (a Canon FD 50mm f/1.8) than the camera itself, but still, it’s worth noting. Program Mode, as with any camera, is only as good as it is. It can’t do everything, but it’s definitely a useful feature, especially when the photographer is actively aware of its limitations.
In the future, if I want to take a “real” film camera out with me, instead of one of my compact rangefinders or plastic toy cameras, the Canon AE-1 will be near the top of my list.