Any photographers looking to dive into the world of film, but just don’t know where to start? Choosing a camera can be overwhelming, especially when there are seemingly endless options. Even after doing some research online and narrowing it down, it can still be difficult to be decisive. I’m going to offer some assistance for aspiring film shooters, and give my review and recommendation for one of my favorite user-friendly 35mm film cameras – the Canon AE-1 Program.
While there are great cameras with huge advantages made more recently, there’s something to be said for the image quality produced with the more “vintage” ones. Production of the AE-1 Program began in 1981, so this guy is a little dated. Film photography has been around for a very long time, and the capability to build a fantastic camera was at a peak during this time, which is why you’ll see a lot of photographers carrying around these vintage cameras.
One of the big draws to the AE-1 is the program mode – which automatically chooses the shutter speed and aperture for you – which was not available in the previous model, the A-1. For beginners unsure of how to shoot in manual mode, this is definitely useful in getting images that are exposed correctly. However, this can be a crutch – I would recommend everyone, even people just into photography as a hobby, to learn to shoot manual. Once it’s understood, and it’s not terribly complicated to learn, you’ll have much greater control over your images. It’s also an incredibly simple camera to use, with all the features you need to create beautiful photos and nothing more.
Set your mode to A and you’ll be ready to get started! The camera has a built in light meter, so when you press the shutter halfway down, it’ll give you an aperture reading based on the ISO of your film and what your shutter is set to. While this metering isn’t the most accurate, it’s enough to help beginners get properly exposed photos. Once you’re really familiar with shooting manual, your instincts will kick in and you’ll be able to meter on your own.
Another huge upside to shooting with the AE-1 is the lens compatibility. It is compatible with Canon’s FD lenses – there are a lot to choose from and it won’t necessarily break the bank. The camera itself is also inexpensive, you can find it online for around 100 bucks – which in the world of photography, is a fantastic deal. The camera is also a bulky, durable hunk of metal and magic – it will likely last you a long time and be your reliable companion on many photo journeys.
I still use this camera constantly, because of it’s reliability, ease to use, and breath-taking images it creates. For more advanced photographers, you’ll want to upgrade at some point certainly. While it would be ideal to go and get a Leica, in all of it’s wonder, not everyone can drop a few thousand at the drop of a hat. If you want a camera with more features, this one isn’t it. I shoot a lot of double exposures – and while there is a way to “hack” the camera and do it, it would be much more ideal to use one with that mode built right in. But that being said, for beginners, this camera is most definitely the first one I would run to get.