Camera Reviews

Canon AE-1 Program

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When I bought this Canon AE-1 Program, I really wanted its predecessor, the Canon AE-1. After all, the AE-1 Program offers full autoexposure – set the shutter-speed dial to Program and the aperture ring to A, and the camera chooses both aperture and shutter speed for you. I don’t normally go in for quite that much automation. The older AE-1 was more my speed as a shutter-priority camera – you set the shutter speed, the camera chooses the aperture. I have to do at least some of the thinking that way! But I came upon this AE-1 Program for $30 shipped, which is at least $20 less than AE-1s of any stripe normally go for. Tada! I own an AE-1 Program.

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 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.

The AE-1 Program was most often sold with the FD 50mm f/1.8 lens; one was attached to mine when I bought it. I also got a Vivitar SMS 35-105mm f/3.2-4.0 zoom lens with this camera, which I tried first. I loaded up some Arista Premium 400 and shot this photo of my tulips, with my blurry dog in the background. The Vivitar lens has a harshness I’m not crazy about.


I shot the rest of the roll with the Canon f/1.8 lens. I had reason to be downtown, so I took the AE-1 Program along. 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.


This soccer ball appeared in my back yard a couple weeks ago. None of my neighbors have children, and my house backs up to a golf course, so I’m scratching my head over where it came from. I keep hoping whoever owns it comes by to claim it. Anyway, the evening light was pleasing, so I went out to shoot it. Photoshop couldn’t help the blown-out soccer ball. But of all the photos I took, I think this one shows off this lens’s capabilities around tonality and contrast best.

Soccer ball

My neighbor is a master hosta grower and past president of the local hosta society. His plants are a frequent photographic subject.


I finished off the roll by shooting my lawn tractor, a 1997 Craftsman. I’d just cleaned it up after cutting my grass. I have about a third of an acre here, which isn’t so much land that I couldn’t use a push mower. But when the leaves fall off the many mature trees in my yard, I’m always glad I have this tractor. I just mow them into mulch and leave them on the yard. The tractor is dark green and black; see it here in color.


For all my kvetching earlier about preferring to do some of the work setting exposure, I took every shot with my AE-1 Program in program mode. It made acceptable exposure choices on my test roll. 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 I don’t care. I also don’t care that the shutter makes a slight squealing noise, which I gather is a common AE-1 problem. 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.

Do you like old camerasThen check out my entire collection!


10 thoughts on “Canon AE-1 Program

  1. 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. :)


    • Yeah, Goodwill can surely be a good way to get bargains like that! I actually bought my AE-1 from — 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. :-(


      • 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.


  2. 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…


  3. 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.


    • 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 says:

    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.


    • 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.


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