Canon AE-1 Test Roll

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.

[Taken 27 March 2015]

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.

[Taken 28 March 2015]

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.

Mei Kitty
[Taken 29 March 2015 | f/1.8, aperture priority]

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…?)

Browsing Comics
[Taken 11 April 2015 | f/1.8, aperture priority]

Some compositions didn’t work out so well in Program mode, though, like this bright sky with dark buildings…

Downtown Toledo
[Taken 11 April 2015 | Program Mode]

…or this mural, which was apparently exposed for the white SUV parked in front of the building.

[Taken 11 April 2015 | Program Mode]

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.

Coffeeshop Portrait
[Taken 11 April 2015 | Program Mode]

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).

Dark Portrait
[Taken 11 April 2015 by Aaron | Program Mode]

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.

Sun and Rooftop
[Taken 11 April 2015]

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:

Bathroom Mirror Self-Portrait
[Taken 11 April 2015]

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.

Barley Tea
[Taken 11 April 2015]

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.

[Taken 12 April 2015]

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.

Canon AE-1

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *