Down the Road is on hiatus, returning Monday, 26 September. I’m rerunning old posts in the meantime. One more camera review for you, of a very well known rangefinder. A buddy of mine gave me a complete set of new light seals for this camera four years ago, to solve its light leak problem. I still haven’t gotten around to installing them. It’s a shame, because this camera is a peach.
Just after I bought my Canonet 28, I scored the Canonet QL17 G-III I wanted. Yee hah! I’d been looking for one for over a year. It’s not like I had any trouble finding one – Canon made 1.2 million QL17 G-IIIs between 1972 and 1982, and I swear half of them are available on eBay at any given time. But either the price was too high or the seller couldn’t represent the camera’s condition. I hate buying a camera and finding out it’s broken! A tip for all you eBay sellers: Know something about your camera before you list it. If you want me to bid, don’t write “I don’t know anything about cameras and so I don’t know if it works” in your description!
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 4omm 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.
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.
But for one flaw, this Canonet was a pleasure to use. It was fairly lightweight and fit into my jacket pocket. 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. But I was jarred back to reality every time I pressed the shutter button. It had more travel than I expected, and I was constantly pressing down to no result. I kept having to reposition my finger at a steeper angle and press again. I expect that if I run another couple rolls through, I’ll get the hang of it.
I also managed to screw up loading the film. 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. I turned on autoexposure and then fiddled with the shutter speed until I got a wide aperture. An f stop guide is inside the viewfinder; a needle points to the f stop the autoexposure system has chosen. I was deliberately trying to get some depth of field. I got it, but the subject could be more interesting.
I brought my dog outside (she’s a favorite subject) and kept experimenting with depth of field. Of all the shots of Gracie I made that afternoon, I like this one’s composition best, but it reveals that the camera has a light leak. A few other shots show it too. I knew this was a risk, as one of the camera’s light seals has disintegrated and the other is gooey. I wonder why light leaked on some shots but not on others.
When the camera didn’t leak light, however, I was very pleased with the colors, detail, and clarity. I took some fall shots in my neighborhood a week before with my Kodak EasyShare Z730 and I liked how they turned out, but I had to punch the shots up in Paint Shop Pro to get the depth of color I got straight out of the QL17 G-III. Also, it seems to me that the individual leaves in this photo have more definition than those on a similar shot from my Z730, and that it captured greater texture in the tree, created by the shadows the leaves cast on each other.
I visited South Bend while I still had a few shots left on the roll. I strolled through downtown in the late afternoon and shot these flags.
I just love the St. Joseph River bridge on old US 31 at Leeper Park. South Bend is fortunate to have several lovely bridges in the City Beautiful style in its downtown. By this time, I had gone beyond just trying out an old camera and had moved to just enjoying shooting with a nice piece of equipment.
I’ll load up the Canonet QL17 G-III again and again, there’s no doubt. After I replace the light seals, that is.
If you like classic cameras, check out my entire collection.