Camera Reviews, Film Photography

Operation Thin the Herd: Canon Canonet QL17 G-III

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When I started collecting cameras again in 2006 I decided to specialize in fixed-lens rangefinders. I expected that in time I’d own one example of each of Canon’s extensive Canonet line, with the Canonet QL17 G-III as their centerpiece. I soon found a good deal on this one.

Canonet QL 17 GIII

My Canonet had its faults. Leading the way was a wicked light leak from degraded seals, an common affliction with this camera. The shot below of my departed friend Gracie (on Fujicolor 200) shows my Canonet’s light leak in full bloom. After this I sealed the camera’s seams with electrical tape after loading film. Also, lower shutter speeds were suspect, the meter was probably a little off, and the ISO selector was stiff. Yet my Canonet always returned good images.

Gracie

I adored this camera for several years. It easy to carry compared to the much larger and heavier fixed-lens rangefinders I had been buying and the controls all fell right to hand. I loved the sharp, detailed images the lens projected onto any film I threw at it. Here I used Fujifilm Neopan 100 Acros.

Indianapolis Fire Dept., Broad Ripple

I suspected I was going to want to keep this camera as part of Operation Thin the Herd, but not in its sickly condition. So I sent it out for CLA, and then put two rolls of Agfa Vista 200 through it. Wow, what a CLA will do for how a camera feels in your hands. Every control worked as smoothly as the factory originally intended.

Open for Men and Women

The fellow who did the CLA sent it back to me with a zinc-air 675 battery inside. It powered the meter accurately. But this Canonet was designed for 625 mercury batteries, which have a different form factor. Alkaline 625 cells share that form factor, but because they don’t deliver a consistent voltage across their lives they can lead to misexposure. The films I typically shoot have enough latitude that it doesn’t matter, and the alkaline 625s last a long time. The zinc-air 675s die after a few months. 

Lilly Lake, Eagle Creek Park

I pulled the 675 out and inserted a fresh alkaline 625 cell — and it didn’t work. I tried another, and it didn’t work either. Puzzled, I contacted the CLA guy, who apologized and said he’d fix the issue if I shipped it to him, but suggested I just use the 675 cells for their always-accurate voltage. I decided it wasn’t worth the cost and hassle to mail the camera back for adjustment. So I just got to shooting.

Lilly Lake, Eagle Creek Park

I didn’t stick with rangefinders. One person gifted me a Minolta X-700 and someone else an Olympus OM-1, and I fell in love with the 35mm SLR. That’s where my collection has gone, and as a result I haven’t shot this Canonet in six years.

At Coxhall Gardens

It’s a shame, really. There’s still a place in my shrinking collection for a couple good rangefinder cameras. I love my Yashica Lynx 14e for its sublime lens, and my Konica Auto S2 just feels great in my hands. But this Canonet is smaller and lighter than both of them and delivers quality results through its 40mm f/1.7 lens.

At Coxhall Gardens

Many other fixed-lens rangefinder cameras have passed through my hands, and this little Canonet is the best user of them all. It’s a good size even for my largish hands. The little lever on the focusing ring is right where my finger expects it to be, and it glides precisely. Slung over my shoulder I hardly notice it’s there. I’m more likely to grab it for an impromptu photo walk than any other rangefinder I’ve ever owned.

At Coxhall Gardens

For this camera’s turn in Operation Thin the Herd I took it on several impromptu photo walks: downtown Zionsville, Lilly Lake at Indianapolis’s Eagle Creek Park, Coxhall Gardens in Carmel, and on a rainy day to the hip intersection of 49th St. and Pennsylvania Ave. in Indianapolis. It was a fine companion on them all. I only wish that the rangefinder patch were brighter. In dimmer light I struggled to see the split image within it. Maybe that’s just middle-aged eyes.

At Coxhall Gardens

In the decade since I bought this Canonet I’ve been blessed to use some truly outstanding gear. I have a lot more experience now against which to compare this camera. It’s a nice camera. It feels good to use. It gives fine images. But I don’t experience it as great in any of these measures. For most everyday photography I’m going to reach for something like my Pentax ME anyway, mount one of the many excellent lenses I have for it, and get results no less than equal to these.

49th & Penn

There’s nothing about this Canonet that makes it my best choice for a particular situation. In contrast, my cumbersome Yashica Lynx 14e has a killer use: its giant f/1.4 lens returns brilliant photographs indoors on black-and-white film. I can imagine future scenarios where I’ll be glad to have that camera in my arsenal. Not so this Canonet.

Bathroom selfie

To see more photos from this camera, check out my Canon Canonet QL17 G-III gallery.

Given this Canonet’s cult status, I feel like I should keep it in my collection. When I put film into it I really thought I’d fall in love all over again. I managed, disappointingly, to fall only in like.

I’ve waffled for weeks about this camera’s fate. I’ve rewritten the end of this post four times, flip-flopping between Keep and Goodbye all the way. What I finally decided is that because I’ve become an SLR guy, any non-SLR has to blow my socks off in some way to stay in the collection. This Canonet just didn’t do that.

Verdict: Goodbye

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21 thoughts on “Operation Thin the Herd: Canon Canonet QL17 G-III

  1. I thought it was a “goodbye” then as I read more it sounded like a “keep” but ultimately your conclusion with it ended like mine! It’s a great camera, cheap enough, good lens yet in the time I had it I wasn’t inspire enough to pick it up in years so it went. Still your post shows it’s capable of great pics in the right hands!

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  2. jon campo says:

    I like the Canonet selfie! I bought one of these in inoperative condition and spent a small fortune to get up to snuff. Of the several rolls I put through it, not one decent picture, and I found it unpleasant in use. Use of a lens hood or filter throws the meter way off. Mine feels fragile, and cheap. How these ever got so popular is beyond me….

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  3. Wayne says:

    Hi Jim,
    Good review-im with you 100% on this one.
    I too enjoy my Yashica Lynx 14 and 14E CLAd by Mark Hama and
    All my Konicas-Auto S,Auto S2 and Auto S 1.6 CLAd by Gregg Webber.
    Once these cameras are cleaned and back to spec I dont think I’d be reaching for The Canon Glll too often.It (Glll) is a fine camera and takes beautiful images but the 14 and the 1.6 images are brilliant and these cameres just feel better in this old guys hands!
    Thanks,
    Wayne

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    • I have GOT to send my Lynx 14e to Mark Hama! It’s already lovely to use but I’ll bet it will be amazing after he’s done his thing to it.

      I have film in my Auto S2 right now!

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  4. Jim, I thought you were going to keep it for most of this post! Kept us guessing, and some great images along the way.

    But I think so many cameras fall into a similar category. They work very well, they’re enjoyable enough to use, deliver good results, and if they were the only camera we had for the rest of our lives we’d get many a pleasing experience and photograph. But… There just not special somehow in any way.

    It’s an absolutely golden age for the used camera buyer, with so much out there easily available via eBay etc. This is perhaps just the problem though, because we can have virtually anything, we don’t know what to settle with, in case there’s something a little bit better out there.

    I wonder too if with your Canonet it’s partly what I have experienced with I think every Canon (film and digital) I have ever used. Perfectly competent and reliable, but just bland and functional. Nothing exciting or quirky or charming. Very greige, no personality. I’ve loved Pentax, Contax and Ricoh cameras. Never had the same with a Canon. Yeh, maybe the Canonet is just another slightly dull Canon it’s easy to like but difficult to love.

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      • Ha ha, yes I’ve had cameras like that. What is it that everyone else raves about that I’m not getting??

        I think a big part of this though Jim is that generally things are ridiculously over hyped these days in all parts of life. So nothing really lives up to the expectation that this hype has created.

        Just look at the prices of cameras like the Mju II on eBay these days…

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        • I think there’s a lot of cool-kid-ism in film photography. The cool kids are shooting Mju IIs so I’d better buy one. And then the prices shoot into the sky.

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        • I just looked on eBay UK. In the last couple of months, 16 Mju IIs have sold at over £200, the highest being £378 inc P+P. Who is buying them?? Even the zoom ones are going for £100-150. Insanity…

          Liked by 1 person

  5. I have been looking to add a GIiI to my collection. I would be very much interested in yours. Plus, I think it would be cool to own one of your cameras.

    Please let me know if it’s still available and how to go about making the purchase.

    Thanks!

    Mike Giles

    Get Outlook for iOS

    ________________________________

    Like

  6. TBM3FAN says:

    You need to learn how to do basic things on a camera like reseal them. I just dove in and probably have resealed just over 100 cameras. I know busy.

    I, too, have the same strong SLR bent but then know my rangefinders have their place. Like you I have the Lynx 14E along with the Electro 35, an Olympus 35RC, Konica Auto S2 and assorted Minoltas but no Canons. Could never justify the over the top price for such a camera and for what.

    When I travel to the Philippines, wife Filipina, a rangefinder is so much easier to take along, be less obtrusive to theft, easier and quicker to handle. When In grad school from 77-81 I carried a rangefinder around all the time shooting pictures. When a classmate and I decided we need to do a graduating yearbook, very rarely done, I had all the pictures. That rangefinder was and is a great camera for such a task making it one of my all time favorites… a Minolta Hi-Matic E with the auto flash. On the go it is phenomenal. I can say that as I already have my original.

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    • Eh, I just don’t enjoy camera repair. I wish I did.

      Rangefinders definitely have their charms. But a small SLR with a prime lens isn’t really that much larger or more obtrusive.

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      • TBM3FAN says:

        Well not if you want to put the camera in the front pocket of your shorts like I do overseas. Hanging around your neck is an invitation to trouble.

        So you are not mechanical oriented. Well I may like to repair ships, planes, cars, and cameras but they are very far removed from what I do as a living.

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        • That’s true. There’s no substitute for my Olympus XA when I want to have high quality and pocketability.

          I suppose I wouldn’t mind learning camera repair, really, but after I’m retired. I have too many things I’d rather do with my spare time while I’m still in my career.

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  7. windswept007 says:

    I was surprised by the outcome. I like mine, though it is stuck in a drawer. I have a few cameras I am keeping just because, I think this is one of them.

    Like

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