Camera Reviews

Canon Canonet QL17 G-III

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.

Canonet QL 17 GIII

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.

Canonet QL 17 GIII

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.

Hoch lebe Deutschland!

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.

St. Joseph River bridge, South Bend

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.

James Monroe School

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.

Monon Bridge

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.

Lilly Lake, Eagle Creek Park *EXPLORED*

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.

At Coxhall Gardens

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.

Lit balls

So I took it on one last photowalk in Downtown Indianapolis, and then sold it on.

The Claddagh

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!
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26 thoughts on “Canon Canonet QL17 G-III

    • Yes, light seal kits should be available on eBay. And I’ll buy a set and get this camera back into fighting shape, because I’d like to take it along this summer as I make some road trips.

  1. Harvey says:

    +Started collecting a few years ago, Based on what I had read about the Canon QL 17 I picked one up on ebay. It isnow a great paper weight because for two years I have been unable to find a battery to replace the orig mercury.

  2. Jim, I own 3 of these cameras.

    1) Purchased a re-furbished one for $120 two summers ago.
    2) Purchased one at a garage sale for $10 one summer ago. Light meter works, just needs new light seals.
    3) Purchased one on eBay for 42 cents (honest to goodness).

    My write-up on my Canon QL 17 is at . Hope it’s OK to link to it on your website.

    These cameras have a dazzling lens.


  3. Brandon Campbell says:

    I briefly had one of these, but didn’t use it much because it wasn’t as pocketable as my Olympus XA or as versatile as my Minolta X-700.

    • Yeah, the XA is hard to beat because you can carry it anywhere. I love my QL17 but I’m more likely to get out my XA.

  4. Bill says:

    Just found a GIII QL17 in excellent shape except the light seals for $30 at a swap meet. Got a light seal kit from Jon Goodman (found on the internet) and this camera works wonderfully. A fun camera to use. I did buy some black felt at Michaels’ but I decided to use Jon’s kit for this camera. Jon has kits for many cameras. Jon Goodman

    • A buddy of mine who has one of these QL17s gave me new seals to install in mine. I’ve had them for eight months, but haven’t gotten around to doing the job yet. I really need to!

  5. Scott says:

    My first serious camera in Junior High was the QL19, Same as this one, but with a 45mm F1.9 lens. This brings back memories.

    • No wonder: these are really good cameras. I’ve always wondered what the point was with the QL19 — not that different from the QL17, really.

  6. I have put three rolls of film through this camera since I got it from you. Still a departure from the SLRs that I normally shoot. The quiet shutter really throws me off. I am never quite sure if it actually took the photo. I have finally figured out the focus patch and the frame lines. My last roll, I am happy to say, was all in focus! Thanks for the camera Jim.

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