I’ve owned two Canon AE-1 Programs over the years, one I bought for just $30 and another that was given to me. I’d been on the hunt for its predecessor, the Canon AE-1, but never found one at a price I was willing to pay.

Canon AE-1 Program

The 1976 AE-1 was the first SLR to be controlled by a microprocessor. It was also among the first SLRs to rely heavily on plastics in its manufacture, all the way down to the tiny mechanical bits inside. In comparison, Pentax’s seminal K1000 SLR, also introduced in 1976, is all mechanical and all metal.

Canon AE-1 Program

Canon introduced the AE-1 Program in 1981. It adds programmed autoexposure to the AE-1. It features a cloth-curtain shutter with speeds up to 1/1000 sec, flash synchronization at 1/60 sec, a big, bright viewfinder with an interchangeable split/microprism focusing screen, and compatibility with the entire range of good Canon FD-mount lenses, all in a body more compact than other contemporary SLRs. It’s not as small as my Pentax ME or my Olympus OM-1, but it feels right-sized in my hands.

The AE-1 Program won’t run without a battery. Mine came with a functioning 6V 4LR44, which goes behind the grip on the front. I’ve read elsewhere that you can use four 1.5V LR44 batteries, instead; those button batteries are easier to find than the 4LR44. Makes sense that four LR44 batteries make one 4LR44. Take care accessing the battery compartment, which is behind the grip on the camera’s front. The grip and battery door are well known to break easily. The battery door on my first AE-1 was broken, but the grip held it down all right.

If you like SLRs of this ilk you might also enjoy my reviews of the Canon AL-1 (here), the Nikon N2000 (here), the Minolta Maxxum 7000 (here), the Canon T70 (here), and the Nikon FA (here). Or check out all of my camera reviews here.

The AE-1 Program was most often sold with the FD 50mm f/1.8 lens; one was attached the first AE-1 Program I owned. I had reason to be Downtown, so I took the AE-1 Program along with Arista Premium 400 inside. I’ve never taken a carriage ride around downtown. The jehus wait for passengers on the circle, which is the heart of Indianapolis.

Horses and buggies

Circle Tower is my favorite building on the circle. Anything built on the circle has to have a curved front; only Christ Church Cathedral is exempted (or rather grandfathered, as this 1857 church predates this requirement). Built in 1930 and faced in Indiana limestone, Circle Tower is an art-deco wonder. Years ago there was an elegant restaurant on one of the upper floors. I miss it, in no small part because it was my excuse to go inside this building.

Circle Tower

The glass Artsgarden hovers over the intersection of Washington St. (the National and Michigan Roads) and Illinois St. The AE-1’s center-weighted through-the-lens light meter struggled with the sun bouncing off the Artsgarden, but a little Photoshopping brought it back from being blown out.


I brought the AE-1 Program along one Good Friday when my church carried the cross through the neighborhood. I owned a 35-105mm f/3.2-4.0 Vivitar SMS zoom lens, which I attached for the day. Trusty Fujicolor 200 was inside the camera.

Carrying the cross

In the church’s neighborhood is a pocket park with an honest-to-goodness automobile planted butt-end into the ground. I leave my AE-1 Program in Program mode all the time, because try as I might I can’t get used to shutter-priority shooting. I took to aperture priority like a duck takes to water.

Carrying the cross

Finally, I brought the AE-1 to a car show, with that 50/1.8 mounted and Agfa Vista 200 inside. By this time, my AE-1 had developed that shutter squeal that is so common to these. It didn’t affect its operation, it was just noisy.

Orange Lambo 2

I’m more a Pentax fan than anything else, and I love my Nikons. Canon SLRs have never grabbed me in the same way. But I like the AE-1 Program best of all of the ones I’ve tried. It is light and easy to carry, the controls are all smooth and where you expect them to be, and it delivers the goods roll after roll.

Cad fin

But oh, that shutter squeal. So annoying. On this car-show trip, however, it did attract another film shooter to me. He recognized that squeal straightaway. He proudly showed me the Canon film SLR he was shooting that day.


If you’d like to see more, check out my Canon AE-1 Program gallery.

My AE-1 Program is a winner – easy and fun to shoot, yielding pleasing results. The center-weighted meter isn’t perfect but if you learn its ways you’ll get good exposures. Both the AE-1 and AE-1 Program are also known for electronics gremlins that can be expensive to repair. Here’s hoping mine keeps working for a long time.

If you like old film cameras, check out all of my reviews here!
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19 responses to “Canon AE-1 Program”

  1. xanthuskidd Avatar

    I just shot through a roll on my X-700, and I have film in my AE-1 program to finish up. That’s a pretty pleasant camera to use. Mine makes the same squeaking noise when the shutter fires. I think I picked my copy up with a 28mm 2.8 for $6 at Goodwill. :)

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Yeah, Goodwill can surely be a good way to get bargains like that! I actually bought my AE-1 from shopgoodwill.com — more and more, Goodwill stores are recognizing the items that have greater value and are auctioning them at that site.

      I have two X-700s and both have that common locked-winder problem. :-(

      1. xanthuskidd Avatar

        I’m actually getting a fair amount of deals at shopgoodwill. I picked up a 70-210 f/4 in the box for about $75, and I just got a 50 2.8 macro (with a maxxum 9000, autowinder, battery grip, Tamrac bag, and a 100-200mm) for $140. I want the lens, but if I wanted to, I could turn around and sell it on ebay for at least $200.

        1. Jim Grey Avatar

          I find that photo items go for 1/3 less on average at shopgoodwill than they do on eBay.

  2. RRAlexander Avatar

    I have a mild case of lust for a Canon A-1 that is for sale locally for $125, and supposedly in good working condition. I don’t need the camera, so I keep restraining myself by thinking about how many rolls of film I can buy with $125…

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Good heavens, don’t bite for $125. Just keep looking, and don’t pay more than $75! I held out until I found one for under $50.

  3. pesoto74 Avatar

    I remember when these first came out that there were many photographers that wouldn’t have anything to do with them. Some people didn’t like the idea of a camera doing the thinking for them. I guess that judging from the way this series sold that such thinking was in the minority. The 50mm f/1.8 may be the best lens you can get for the money. You can still buy basically the same design in the EOS series. I don’t have one of the AE-1 so far. Maybe I will see one with my name on it this summer. I would recommend one of the Canons from the next series, the T70. They practically give them away and it is kinda an ugly camera, however it has a large bright viewfinder and a great exposure system. It also runs on 2AAs.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Well, the AE-1 wasn’t aimed at photographers. It was aimed at helping amateurs and even casual picture takers get into the SLR game. It worked, very well!

      I’ll find out about the 50mm f/1.8, but honestly, I’m so smitten with the K-mount 50mm f/2 on my Pentaxes that I find it hard to believe I’ll like anything better!

      Thanks for the tip on the T70. It is an ugly duckling, isn’t it? I keep looking at them and shying away because they’re too automated, but perhaps one day I’ll find a real bargain on one and bite.

  4. Bill Barry Avatar
    Bill Barry

    I picked up my AE1 Program for $60 on E bay. It came with original box, case and LA Olympics Lens Cap. Only downside was that the original owner engraved his Social Security Number on the bottom plate. How times have changed! It is a wonderful tool for “no brainier” or action shooting.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I own two or three old cameras with someone’s SSN scratched in the body somewhere. Do you remember when we used to put our SSN on our checks? Man, how times have changed.

      I haven’t shot my AE-1 in ages. It’s time to get it out again.

  5. Rick Avatar

    Love my AE-1 Program!

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      It’s a nice camera even today!

  6. Peggy Avatar

    I do regret selling mine, but I have so many others that it wasn’t getting used. Still, reading your review makes me want another. Stop that.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Oooh sorry, I’m only about two-thirds of the way through updating my reviews. The updates go live Tuesdays and Thursdays at 7 am Eastern time (US) so maybe just delete those as they come in. :-)

      1. Richard Costello Avatar
        Richard Costello

        JIm, just read your review on the AE-1Program. You mentioned the ‘shutter squeal’…I’m on my second AE-1P that had that problem. FYI, there’s a guy in Florida named Joe Careta…his website is SLR35.com. He was a Canon tech for years, is retired now but does repairs on the AE-1P…did wonders for my second one…just checked his site, he’s still in business, might be worth a check.

        1. Jim Grey Avatar

          Good to know hes out there keeping these terrific cameras going!

    2. Mary winter Avatar
      Mary winter

      I have a vintage cannon camera with several of different size lens for it would like to sell was left to me me by my grandmother

      1. Jim Grey Avatar

        Your best options are to list it on eBay or sell it to KEH Camera (www.keh.com). You’ll make more money on eBay but it will be more hassle. KEH won’t pay as much but it will go smooth as butter.

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