It’s not hard to find a Canon Canonet QL17 G-III – Canon made 1.2 million of them between 1972 and 1982, and I swear half of them are available on eBay at any given time. But try finding a working one for under $100! I was incredibly fortunate to stumble upon one for just $30. It wasn’t flawless but it worked well enough.
According to the code stamped inside, my QL17 G-III was made in 1977. It’s dented in one corner and the rangefinder glass has a small crack in it, so this one’s clearly seen a bit of rough usage.
Every part of this camera’s long name means something:
- QL stands for Quick Loading, a clever system that made loading film fast and foolproof (though I must be a sufficiently talented fool, because I managed to goober it up; more on that later)
- 17 refers to the six-element 40 mm f/1.7 lens, highly praised for its “Leica-like” sharpness and ability to focus as close as 2.6 feet
- G means “grade up” and recognizes quality improvements over an earlier Canonet QL17
- III represents the third (and final) generation of Canonets; see them all at Canon’s online museum
The QL17 G-III overflows with goodies. Its very quiet leaf shutter fires from 1/4 to 1/500 second (though mine seems to stick at the slowest speeds). If you plug Canon’s Canolite D flash into its hot shoe, it syncs at all shutter speeds. Its viewfinder compensates for parallax. It has a self timer. And, most enjoyably, when you set the aperture dial to A and choose a shutter speed, it selects the aperture for you – shutter-priority autoexposure. Its CdS light meter is designed to use the banned PX625 mercury battery, but a size 625 Wein cell zinc-air battery will do, despite the slight voltage difference. To see if the battery has any juice left, press the red button next to the viewfinder. If the blue dot lights, the battery’s good to go.
By the way, if you like 35mm rangefinder cameras also see my review of the Canonet 28 (here), the Yashica Electro 35 GSN (here), the Minolta Hi-Matic 7 (here), the Olympus XA (here), and the Konica Auto S2 (here). Or just check out all of my camera reviews here.
I itched mightily to shoot a roll of film with my Canonet and see what kind of results I could get from the highly regarded lens. So I stopped at a nearby camera store for a size 625 Wein cell (for $8, gack), dropped in a roll of Fujicolor 200, and went shooting.
I was shooting happily away when I noticed that the counter said 29 – on a 24-exposure roll. I hadn’t stuck the film’s leader into the quick-loading mechanism far enough, the film failed to wind, and I had exposed the leader 29 times. After I reloaded, I snapped this shot.
The rumors are true: this is a nice little camera. The winding lever worked easily and quickly. Inside the viewfinder, the yellow rangefinder spot was bright and easy to see. To focus, you move the focus ring until the yellow rangefinder image lines up with the viewfinder image. I especially liked how the focus ring has a little tab that falls right between your left index and middle finger as you shoot; it made focusing almost effortless. I found myself focusing without even realizing I was doing it, as if the camera was part of me.
Sadly, the light seals had deteriorated and were leaking light. It’s a common affliction with any old camera that uses foam seals, so I shouldn’t have been surprised. I love this portrait of my dog, Gracie, and am sad that the red streaks mar it.
My only quibble with the Canonet is its shutter button, which has more travel than I expect. On my first roll I was constantly pressing down to no result. I kept having to reposition my finger at a steeper angle and press again.
I loaded some Fujifilm Neopan 100 Acros on a trip to my hometown of South Bend, where I photographed my old elementary school. By this time I was getting the hang of the shutter button.
The Monon bridge in Broad Ripple, Indianapolis, is a frequent subject. The lens and Acros liked this bridge fine.
The Canonet did a nice job capturing the details on T-Max 100 of this scene in a little West Virginia town.
I finished the T-Max near home, where it kept on delivering the detail and sharpness. The Canonet’s lens really is a peach.
I finally sent the Canonet off for an overhaul and to have its light seals replaced. It came back working very well. I pushed a couple rolls of Agfa Vista 200 through it and got some real gems, like this lakeside scene.
By this time, however, I’d owned the Canonet for many years and had shifted my collection toward 35mm SLRs. The Canonet was still a lovely little camera, but I could see that it was never going to be in the rotation among my regular shooters.
So I took it on one last photowalk in Downtown Indianapolis, and then sold it on.
If you’d like to see more from this camera, check out my Canonet QL17 G-III gallery.
It’s crazy that I own so many great cameras that the QL17 G-III didn’t make the cut. Please don’t take this as a negative review. If this Canonet could be my only camera, I’d get on with making beautiful images with it forever. It’s just lovely, and if you ever find one at a good price you should snap it up.
If you like old film cameras, check out all of my reviews here!
To get Down the Road in your inbox or feed reader, subscribe here.