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Canon A-1 vs Canon AE-1 Program

paul wheatland , Feb 09, 2013; 11:23 a.m.

When perusing sales of the above two Canon A series cameras, I seem to note that the AE-1 Program model seems to outsell, and at higher prices than the A-1. For the life of me, I do not understand why. Having owned both, I still have the A-1 and find that is better featured than the AE-1 Program model. Any thoughts on this?


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Patrick S , Feb 09, 2013; 12:23 p.m.

I agree that the A-1 is the better camera from a capability standpoint, but perhaps reliability plays a role. I have seen many threads on dead A-1's (purely anecdotal I know) but few on dead AE-1's, program or otherwise. My gut feeling (I own both) is that the LED readout in the display and more complex electronics to support it are the slight Achilles heel of the A-1. No doubt a fully working A-1 is a more versatile camera than the AE-1 program. They are just a little more complex to understand too - what with the hideaway shutter/aperture switch and all.

I love them both. :)

JDM von Weinberg , Feb 09, 2013; 02:16 p.m.

I have them both, the A-1 a "Frankencamera" only in the sense that I "re-animated" it.
I actually bought my AE-1P partly to get the Spiratone winder that was on it (which I think will work on the A-1 too).

On the whole I think I agree that the A-1 is nicer, but both are very capable examples of the last days of the classic form SLR camera that started with the Contax S.

In the FD mount, however, I still prefer to shoot with my forward-looking T90 - but, alas, it has fallen prey to the magnet/shutter stick.

Stephen Lewis , Feb 09, 2013; 02:25 p.m.

Back in the day the AE-1 Program was like a Toyota Camry - everybody had one, and anybody who didn't - wanted one...it was a best seller with the consumer, because you needed to know absolutely nothing about cameras to get good pictures. The A-1, which was produced in much smaller quantities appealed to the pros and wannabes, was more complex, and cost a ton (I remember buying one new right after they came out). Now, of course they both basically worked the same way and had that "infallable" Program mode, but that didn't matter...it was just a detail! Demand was there for the AE-1 and anecdotally still is. The A-1 is still a bit of a mystery to people who instantly recognize the AE-1. Having used the A-1 for 10-12 years, I grew increasingly frustrated with its rather squinty viewfinder (compared to some others I used at the time), and sold it. About 15 years later came back to the Canon FD line with a T90, IMHO a much better camera.

David Ng , Feb 09, 2013; 02:48 p.m.

The assessment of Patrick is a correct one, in my opinion. I had the AE-1 Program first, and later acquired an A-1 (among other camera's), and I found the AE-1 Program more straightforward to use. I wonder whether the observed market difference between these two models is not just related to the sales difference, i.e. I assume that the A-1 was sold in higher numbers, and nowadays the market is now flooded with A-1's (sort of). The AE-1 Program is much less abundant, while an AL-1 is much harder to find. That's from a collecter's pint of view. As a simple and plain user, I'd prefer the AE-1 Program over the A-1. The latter is a wonderful but sometimes complicated camera.

JDM von Weinberg , Feb 09, 2013; 03:13 p.m.

I assume that the A-1 was sold in higher numbers

Actually, I think the Canon AE-1 Program was one of the largest production runs in SLR history, at least. At a lower list price, it far outstripped the A-1 in sales.
I am not sure what the prices really have been on recent sales, but the AE-1 Program is a later model and has a few "improvements" over the A-1, including a user-changeable focus screen.

Jim Momary , Feb 09, 2013; 07:34 p.m.

According to Wikipedia & Canon Camera Museum data ...

A-1 production ran from April 1978 - 1985 and

AE-1 production ran from - April 1976 - 1984.


Jim M.

Robb Flick , Feb 09, 2013; 08:49 p.m.

I think we're talking about three distinct cameras here ... the original Canon AE-1 from 1976, which was revolutionary in itself ... followed by the Canon A-1, digital with programs that included TV, AV, or Program, where the camera did all the work which was released in April of 1978. These two cameras were supplanted in 1981 with the Canon AE-1 PROGRAM... which seemed to combine the best of these two cameras and then also added some features. The A-1 was always all black. Kind of sexy to me. Don't dare get it wet however as I think this would just play havoc with the electronics inside. The Canon AE-1 program was also released in silver and black as per the original AE-1 but also in a hard to find all black version which does show up from time to time for auction at high prices or in very used condition at lower prices. This is the camera that is in higher demand and of course commands higher prices. It's been my experience the AE-1 program and the A-1 are still available in plentiful numbers and at good prices. I was able to find two AE-1 programs last year for about 60 USD dollars each and they came equipped with a standard prime FD 1.8 which I promptly sold to help recoop some of my cost (I prefer to use a Canon FD 60mm 1.4 breech mount). One camera needs servicing for the squeal, the other is fine. I love being able to change focus screens in this body. I believe the original AE still had a match needle of some sort inside the viewfinder (could be wrong) but the A-1 and AE-1 program have a totally digital read out. Nice in dark situations. I use them both for macro photos, as a good 50mm FD macro should only set you back about 75-100 dollars tops. While I have embraced the digital world I still get excited when I put the film in one of my AE-1 programs or my A-1s and go out for a shoot. FD glass is cheap, affordable, and still holds a wow factor for me. The AE-1 was produced from 1976 to 1984. Available pretty cheap, a good student "film" camera still. The Canon A-1 was produced from April of 1978 to 1985. The Canon AE-1 program was produced from 1981 to 1987. Canon always put the serial number on these bodies. Canon seemed to milk their "A" series gold mine to death and of course more A body variants but these three I mentioned seem to be the most readily available. I hope this helps.

Canon A-1

steve mareno , Feb 10, 2013; 07:29 a.m.

It may depend on what you want to do w/ the camera. I like to shoot manual focus lenses from other makers on different camera bodies. If you do that, or use stop down metering w/ Canon FL lenses, the AE1-P is a lot better. Brighter focus screen, and it has a real manual mode and AE lock. I find these features invaluable.

Jeff Adler , Feb 10, 2013; 04:21 p.m.

I prefer the Canon mechanical SLRs. I don't own any of the T series and my only A series camera is an A-1. I do have two F-1Ns. My complaint about them is that in Aperture Priority mode there is no exposure lock. Thie leads me to use plain F-1s more often. I do not enjoy using the A-1. The operation of the depth of field preview is enough to cause me to dislike it. The A-1 has "factory interchangeable" screens while the AE-1 program has "user interchangeable" screens. I have thought about getting an AE-1 Program for this reason. If you are looking to attach a motor or winder or databack then the A-1 has some advantages. Canon still did not have TTL flash until the T-90. My Minolta X-700s, first released n 1981, use the excellent 360PX and 280PX.

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