Photography / Hands-on Review

Classic Cameras: the Canon AE-1 35mm SLR Film Camera


Believe it or not, numerous technological and cultural events occurred in 1976 that continue to shape our world today. The USA celebrated its Bicentennial, Apple Computer was founded, the first commercial flight of the Concorde took off, the Ramones released their first album, and Canon introduced one of its most successful cameras of all time. Developed nearly 30 years before the 5D, this camera is not even part of the now-prevalent EOS system. It does not take EF lenses, it does not have autofocus and, of course, it is not digital. It was, however, a forward-thinking SLR that became the first camera to feature an internal microcomputer, as well as rare-for-its-time shutter-speed priority TTL metering.

If you haven’t guessed yet, the camera is the Canon AE-1, which stands for Auto Exposure One, and is now one of the most popular cameras with which many have learned the basics of photography. It was my first real camera, and was the only camera I used for the first five years of my photographic education. As my skill set improved and my curiosity was piqued, I gradually moved away from the AE-1 in favor of other, more esoteric cameras—medium format and large format—and eventually digital. And even though I had hardly looked at an AE-1 in more than a decade, having the opportunity to work with one again felt akin to returning to your childhood hometown and still knowing your way around the block.

The beauty of the AE-1 is the simplicity that eloquently disguises the truly innovative inner workings of its design. On the outside, it sports the classic silver and black finish, or if you are lucky to find one, an all-black finish, along with a lightweight, compact profile. Each of the few controls on the top panel is easily accessible, including the shutter-speed dial, which provides speeds from 2 to 1/1000 second, as well as Bulb; the simple ASA selection dial that is adjustable by pulling up on the shutter speed dial, and permits metering for film speeds between 25 and 3200; the film advance lever, which is fitted with the customary rubberized tip; the shutter-release button along with the swinging self-timer lever; and the battery indicator button, which I’ve yet to figure out. The front of the camera body has a similarly Spartan design, which includes a depth-of-field preview switch, a backlight control switch that lets you override the meter’s reading and overexpose the scene by 1.5 stops, a flash sync terminal, and the battery compartment, which doubles as a finger grip.

As insignificant as it might seem now, this battery compartment is the gateway to one of the defining components of the AE-1, and what essentially differentiates the AE-1 from the mostly mechanical cameras of the era. Since the AE-1 is an electronically controlled camera, it will not perform without battery power. While this may seem like a nuisance, or very normal by today’s standards, it afforded more precise, repeatable results, and reduced the overall cost of the AE-1 when it was introduced. By replacing the multitude of mechanical, metal, and machined components with relatively few electronic components, manufacturing costs could be reduced and the process of building each camera could be further automated. For the user, this meant a camera with high-end-for-the-time functionality and versatility along with an affordable price tag. For Canon it meant millions of sales over the course of the camera's eight-year production run, and its subsequently legendary status. The AE-1 paved the way for future electronic cameras and signaled the transition from all-mechanical to electronically controlled operations.

The electronic infrastructure of the AE-1 also brought with it a range of accessories that were unusual  for their time in 1976, including an accessory motorized film winder, the Power Winder A, that replaced the need to physically wind between shots and offered up to a blazing-fast 2 fps continuous shooting rate. The Data Back A was also available, which can be seen as the precursor to EXIF metadata, and could be used to imprint configurable sets or types of data, such as the date, onto your negatives as you shot. Finally, the AE-1 also debuted alongside a dedicated flash, the Speedlite 155A, which could be set to configure the camera’s f/stop and shutter-speed settings automatically, based on metered reflective light from the subject that differs from TTL metering and, rather, relies on a front-facing photo sensor on the flash body itself.

With this bit of history in mind, when I finally got to shooting with this camera again, it truly brought me back to the same feeling I had when I took a Photo 101 course in high school. “You need to have a 35mm camera that can shoot manually,” said Professor Berkun on my first day of photo class. “Try to see if your parents have an old camera in the closet” and I remember going home and asking my mom if we even had a manual camera, since I could only recollect smaller point-and-shoots and disposable cameras being used throughout my childhood. Sure enough, she had her AE-1 packed away, but not forgotten. I remember bringing the camera to school the following day and getting the nod of approval from my teacher, along with a brief speech on how an AE-1 was the learning tool. Its manual capabilities let you refine your skill set and help you to understand the basics of exposure, yet its non-intimidating stature meant it was no big deal to carry around with me everywhere I went.

Although now well versed in the technical side of photography, I immediately snapped into a bit of wonderment when handling the camera for the first time in years. I felt like checking to make sure everything worked properly and I was simply intrigued by just releasing the shutter even prior to putting in my first roll of film.

After finishing that first roll, the AE-1 itself seemed to sort of fall into the background as it became more natural to work with all of the minor quirks of the particular model I was using. The viewfinder is bright and large, but had a yellowish cast and some dust had collected inside it during its four-decade lifespan. The shutter made a high-pitched whirring noise, the aperture ring of the FD 50mm f/1.8 lens seemed to stick a bit between f/4 and f/2.8, and the film rewind button on the bottom plate never seemed to stay locked when I was rewinding a roll of film. Nowadays, if any these problems were to occur with a new EOS DSLR, the camera would be deemed a failure. For the AE-1, though, at least in my now historical perspective, these flaws added some character to the experience. None of the issues I ran into were particularly bothersome, and none of them affected the picture-taking experience. It must be said that for a camera approaching its 40th birthday, it is holding up quite well.

When it came time to go out and shoot, I felt like exploring my home borough of Brooklyn, where I had shot many past school photo assignments. Albeit a very large area to call home, I stuck with familiar locations to focus my attention on just taking photographs and to reacquaint myself with this camera. It seemed fitting to keep with my academic introduction to the AE-1 and search for elements of composition, formal designs, and take the opportunity to reëxamine my borough as if I were instructed to seek new perspectives of a familiar place.

The AE-1’s simplicity was beneficial for this exercise: smooth manual focus, an intuitive single match- needle in the viewfinder for metering—the sensuousness experience of sound and view—brought more fun to the process of making pictures than I had experienced in a while. As novel as it seems too, the AE-1 held its own throughout the day of photographing in a variety of situations. Even when photographing in bright sunlight or near-dusk conditions, the meter still seemed to provide consistent results and the shutter speeds were accurate.

Working in shutter-speed priority mode was a unique experience, mainly due to the fact that it’s my least-used mode nowadays, with a DSLR. It felt a bit quirky, though, to be working with such a machine in a nearly completely automated manner. I can only imagine how this must have felt during its initial release when the experience was likely to be completely foreign to many budding photographers. It should also be pointed out that the introduction of a shutter-speed priority mode can be closely approximated to contemporary cameras featuring in-body image stabilization. While radically different in literal terms, the newly developed shutter-speed priority mode was introduced as a means to reduce the likelihood of having blurry photos by helping to ensure you are always working at hand-holdable shutter speeds. Of course, this doesn’t always take into account that at some point, your lens or film will not be fast enough to keep up with darker conditions; but still, having a technology that is there to assist in preventing unwanted errors must have been new and exciting.

At the end of the day I could see myself continuing to work with this camera just for the sake of the shooting experience. The process of working with a camera of such a legendary status seemed to outweigh the actual results I might be getting with such a tool. By today's standards, it is a humble camera that teaches you, and compels you, to reconsider how to approach photography from the ground level and, of course, brings with it a healthy dose of nostalgic appeal. The Canon AE-1 can be seen as a milestone that helped to steer camera design and culture to where it is now. It introduced millions of people to photography in the 1970s and it continues to be a gateway camera for students today.


I have an AE1 in great used condition for sale. I will sell on ebay. Has 3 lenses and many accessories as well as original cannon bag, and manuals.

I live in New York and was wondering if BHphotovideo sell the Canon AE-1?

I have an ae1  will sell

Still available??

Anyone selling their Canon AE-1 camera? And at what price??

Emily, I have an AE-1 I'm willing to sell. It was given to me by my father so I'm not certain of the working condition.

I also have a kodak vintage camera in brown leather case says Retina on it with flash and some kind of meter. Great condition

I also have a kodak vintage camera in brown leather case says Retina on it with flash and some kind of meter. Great condition

I am interested in selling my camera w/35mm lens and flash attachment and much bigger lens also with bag. Make me a offer in central cali. Text me 559-309-0460

I would like to sell an all black AE-1 that I purchased in Tokyo in 1976.  Near perfect condition.

Has a Canon 35-70 zoom and Canon 70-150 zoom lenses; ProMaster flash;  leather camera case.

Any interest?

At what price?

Open to an offer.  Prices seem to be all over the place from 5 bucks to 200.

Rich, I was wondering if you still had your AE-1 and were still accepting offers.

Trevor:  Yes still available.

Hello, is this still available?? 

Emily S. wrote:

Hello, is this still available?? 

Emily:  Yes it is.  Please contact me at ehlyr(at)att(dot)net

I am currently on the hunt for a Canon AE-1. Does anyone have one for sale?

I have a Cannon AE1 camera in perfect condition with case,auto winder, flash ,and 200mm tamaron lens

if your interested give me a call 619-261-2034 mark

Hi I am interested in your camera. Please write me an email with all the information abour your camera ae1.

Hey Mariah, I have one.

Mariah.  If still looking, see above.

I have an AE-1 with interchangeable various lens, filters, and flash in Excellent condition

Hey Sharon! Is your AE-1 still working and for sale? please email me at thank you!

I recently got into 35mm film, I have a digital camer but hate going through menus. I read up on older cameras and decided on the AE-1. Luckily here in Indianapolis there is a used camera store, Roberts Camera, so I headed there. Told them all I wanted was a student camera, preferably a Canon AE-1. The young man came back with a Canon AE-1P, said he could sell the body for 5 bucks and a 50mm lens for 15.  I told him that I'm sold and bought a roll of color and a roll of black and white film. I tell ya, the pictures that came from this thing, especially in black and white blew me away.  I'm using this thing for as long as I can and will stay with black and white due to the look of the pictures.  Next stop is downtown Indy for some more pictures. Loved the article, and always nice to hear how many people like this camera!

I had traded my 35mm SLR Camera called the Pentax K1000 in for a Canon AE-1 at Moler's Camera in Mid-March of 2017. I concentrated of carefully using that camera  in where I have loaded and then rewinding the Roll of a Negative Film in Color; unfortunately indeed, not even in Black and White yet in which I will do my own and only best as I could. I love that Canon!!! ;-))

I am willing to part with my Canon AE-1 if anyone is interested. It is in very good condition and comes with the stock 50mm lens, as well as an Albinar 75-300 telephoto lens, Vivitar Auto Thyristor 2800-D Flash, a Vivitar Zoom Thyristor 3500 Flash, UV filter, manuals for everything, and a carry bag. Let me know if you are interested. nocab.d at 

Hello, I am interested to buy it off you! Can you email me at Thanks!

I'm looking to part with my Cannon AE-1 and all of the accessories that I have for it.

In total I have:

Cannon AE-1 camera frame

50mm lens

Original instruction manual

Auto power winder with extra battery pack, case & user manual

Flash with case

Duo-Sync Cord for off camera lighting with original packaging

Tiffen polarizer filter with box, instructions and filter case with original packaging

Cam-Pro 55mm 80A Filter with case and original packaging

Vivitar 55mm #2 Close-Up Lens

Vivitar 55mm #4 Close-Up Lens

Canon 55mm Skylight 1x Lens

Canon Filter/Lens User Chart

Camera cleaning kit

1 Roll Fujicolor Superia X-TRA 400

Hey there! I'm pretty interested in purchasing one! What you're price range! 

I have an AE-1 with some lenses, 2x converter, filters, manuals, flash attachment, and others stuff. I would like to sell the whole works with a new bag also. 

Hi David!

I'd be interrested in the camera, please contact me at david.lacfi(at)gmail(dot)com!

Thank you, 



I recently purchased the AE-1 which I am very excited about. I have been facinated with my dad's Minolta 35mm camera for years. The camera I bought came with all sorts of accessories. Two of the accessoroies are scopes. Please tell how and where to I use these. I've tried researching these online but can not seem to find anything about them. (Probably due to my research skills) but I have landed on your site and hope you can assist me. Love the photos by the way, very inspiring. 

Hi Faren,

Happy to hear you're excited about your AE-1! Regarding the accessories you got with your camera (the scopes), can you tell me what the model number is of them? I'm not totally clear on what they could be, but if you have the name of them I might be able to help you out a bit more.

Also curious for response 0_0

I was fortunate to inherit an AE1.
Whenever a knowledgeable shutter bug learns that I have one the first comment said with inquisitive delight is "Do you wanna sell it".
If I do it will not be for cheap.
I use it little, but I am a Romantic and the camera is such a delight to use.
I learned so much from it and loved to Auto but also ran it more manual.

Can anyone tell me what this camera is worth at today's market. I purchased the AE-1 during my first year in college and it was my prize during the photograpy courses I took during the course of my studies. I loved this camera, but since have succombed to digital SLRs.

I'm not really sure what the market price is but I'd love to buy it from you !

We have one if you're interested. My husband said the last time he used it (many years ago) there seemed to be a lighting problem when the film was developed. It's yours if you pay for shipping.

Hi Karen, if Hannah isn't still interested, I'd love to take you up on your offer as I've been looking for an AE-1 for my wife! Please feel free to contact me at mattsackett(at) and I'll reply with my address and we can arrange payment! :)

I sent you an email.


about 130 usd most places 

I had an A1, not AE-1.  I always thought the A1 was the superior of the two.  Am I wrong?

I had the AE-1 as a freshman in high school, then I moved UP to A-1 around my junior year, and then the new F-1 when I was 20.  I loved them all, and still have them in the collection

The Canon AE-1 was my first 'reflex', before I was using a Yashica 4x4. Still remember a trip in the Akagera park (Rwanda). Great souvenirs :-)
I still have two of them mine and my father's one !!!

I have an AE-1 Program that I recently inherited (my mother-in-law got a new digital Canon Rebel) -- I had never played with it before, but I found myself really happy that it still worked and bought a few rolls of film.  I've yet to finish that first roll, but I've had loads of fun relearning how to use a manual camera.  It's actually made me think about picture taking for the first time in years.  Love this camera.

"the Canon AE-1, which stands for Auto Exposure One"

Absolutely incorrect. It stands for "Automated Electronic." From the AE-1 User Manual:

"The AE-1 is the first camera to offer a totally automated electronic photographc system. It takes its name, AE-1, from this concept."

I have a AE-1, My father-in-law went digital when digital in the late 80's. I was in college, as a young married to his youngest daughter and I took an elective called I think, if I remember "Photography in our world" In the class we were to explore our world through photography, using slides. I learned alot. The loan of the camera became a gift, and I recieved all of his lenses and other stuff. My father-in-law(still married to his youngest daughter going on 29 years) passed away a couple of months ago, and I dug the camera out yesterday. I think I will have to dust everything off and explore my world again. Thanks for this site.

In this day of iPhones and digital photography I've succumbed to the trend. All my photos are on a hard drive now and I miss pulling out the photo box and also the excitement of developing the film to see how your shots turned out. Being part of the Instagram community has brought a love of photography to me and although I am by no means a professional photographer I have taken,(in my book) some really cool shots. I decided to look up 35 mm cameras and ran across this one and for a price of 170.00 I thought that was ok and put it in my head that was my next purchase. A few hours later I stopped by a "thrift" store and asked if they had any 35 mm, she went upstairs and came back with a box of 6 or 7. To my delight there it was, the same canon ae-1 I was going to order. Asking the price I was prepared to say I'll have to wait a couple weeks being short this week on cash and then she replied 25.00 for the camera and 50mm lense. So with that being said, I am now a happy owner of an all black one, also had the date cover as well as the auto rewinder on the bottom(which I took off because of the weight). Bought a new battery and film and seems to work fine! Now to finish the roll and see how well I did! Thank you for the article, gives me hope to learn more about photography and possibly share some photos!

Purchased an AE1 in 1978 while in the military. Used it readily back then. In "cleaning" some of the closet shelves I came across it in the camera bag I kept it in. It appears the shudder is stuck or in some way inoperative. I am having a great deal of difficulty finding a credible shop that will work on it. I am relatively confident a thorough cleaning and fresh batteries would put it in nearly new condition. Is there a database or listing where I might find a credible camera shop that could help me??

Mine was with the same problem and I just change the battery and it's working fine now.

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