Camera Reviews

Canon leapfrogged the competition with its electronically controlled AE-1 in 1976 — and again in 1981 with the AE-1 Program, which added programmed autoexposure. See my updated review here.

Canon AE-1 Program

Updated review: Canon AE-1 Program

Aside

Porsche

Porsche in partial focus
Canon AE-1 Program, 50mm f/1.8 Canon FD
Agfa Vista 200 at EI 100
2018

I’m a reverse snob. There, I admitted it.

My favorite car at the show I recently attended was an old Pontiac Firebird with rust in the corners and Bondo in the fenders. The fellow who brought it spoke with me briefly. He was an everyday fellow of average means who, despite being embarrassed with its condition, was obviously happy to own it.

Also present at the show: young men in expensive clothes and precise haircuts basking in the wealth that allowed them to bring exotic cars. They hung out in a small pack, an exclusive club.

My longtime friend Steve had a Porsche for a few years. He invited me into the shotgun seat a time or two and those rides were just lovely. But there’s a humility about Steve, a lack of signaling status or virtue through his car. He is just a man who had always wanted a Porsche and had, in middle age, earned the means to buy one.

Bah, my blue-collar roots are showing.

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Film Photography

single frame: Porsche in partial focus

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Patina

Rusty Firebird
Canon AE-1 Program, 50mm f/1.8 Canon FD
Agfa Vista 200 (at EI 100)
2018

I’m still grooving on this Pontiac Firebird I saw at that recent car show. The owner came up while I was photographing his car and expressed some embarrassment over his car’s condition. I assured him that this was my favorite car of the show, and I liked it precisely because it isn’t a pampered trailer queen.

The fellow drives his Firebird daily to a construction job he holds.

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Film Photography, Old Cars

single frame: Rusty Firebird

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Camera Reviews, Old Cars

Operation Thin the Herd: Canon AE-1 Program

Chevelle nacelles

Who doesn’t like the Canon AE-1 Program? It’s universally praised, and with good reason. It’s a capable tool with good features. A photographer could make great images with it indefinitely.

Canon AE-1 Program

I mounted my 50mm f/1.8 Canon FD lens and loaded up some Agfa Vista 200, which I shot at EI 100. This is the lens I commonly use on this camera, as I did a few years ago on a photo walk Downtown when I had some Arista Premium 400 inside. That’s Circle Tower, a gorgeous building in the Art Deco style.

Circle Tower

Old buildings, old cars, and old roads — these are the things I photograph most. No old roads in this post, however, as I took the AE-1 Program to a “cars and coffee” gathering and shot two rolls there. It’s all old cars up in this joint for the rest of this post. I think my favorite car of the day was this late-70s Firebird because it was in rough, original condition. This is what all ’70s Firebirds looked like in the mid ’80s when I was in high school: rusty and rough. The school parking lot was full of them. This parking lot had just this one.

They're only original once

The AE-1 handled perfectly, as expected. Mine has developed that annoying squealing shutter that is common to this camera. But it doesn’t affect function, and it got quieter and quieter as I kept shooting. This Cadillac’s delightful tail was the first photo I made at the event. The shutter howled.

Cad fin

Color and light play make car shows a wonderful place to test gear, especially on color film.

Speedster

This Porsche Speedster was mobile during the event. I saw it in two or three different places, including coming out of the host’s garage.

Speedster on the move

People from all walks of life came to show and see the cars. Our shared interest created opportunity to talk to people we might not normally interact with. I bumped into one other fellow shooting film, someone whose clothes marked him as being in a much higher economic class than me. When he heard my AE-1 squeal, he whirled around and said, “I know that sound!” He then showed me the Canon T60 SLR he had picked up in the used section at our local camera store. We chatted for several minutes about the relative merits of Canon film gear.

Cop and camaro

What I concluded with that fellow is this: every Canon SLR I’ve ever shot has been competent enough, and the lenses are technically excellent. But the cameras never spark joy when they’re in my hands, and the images I get never give me “wow!” moments. In contrast I’ve swooned, and hard, over Nikon and Pentax SLRs and the images I’ve received from them.

Stang

I enjoyed my car-show morning with the AE-1. I got good results. But as I reviewed the photos, I felt certain that I would have gotten better color from the delightful 50mm f/2 lens I keep for my Pentax bodies. I know that my little Pentax ME would have felt better in my hands.

Celica GT

This, really, is what Operation Thin the Herd is all about. Now that I have built skill as a photographer and have experienced so much gear as a collector, which gear hits that sweet spot of feeling great in my hands and returning images that delight me? That’s the gear I want to keep.

Triumph tail

Yet the AE-1 Program handled everything I threw at it this sunny Saturday morning. I can’t really complain.

Lotus tail

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

My heart beats for Pentax and my mind pines for Nikon. I own plenty of their gear, enough to keep me busy and happy for the rest of my life. Because my Canon gear just doesn’t grab me in the same way, because I’m unlikely to use it very often, I should probably let it go. Perhaps I’ll keep one body, maybe my mechanical TLb, and a couple of my older lenses. Perhaps not; this isn’t the day to decide. But this is the day to decide about the AE-1 Program, and I know it’s time to let it go.

Verdict: Goodbye

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RH Lambo

Rose-Hulman Lamborghini
Canon AE-1 Program, 50mm f/1.8 Canon FD
Agfa Vista 200 (at EI 100)

I’m a 1989 graduate of Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology. My time there prepared me well for my career in the software industry. I’ve had a pretty good career.

But not “I own a Lamborghini and show it at car shows” good. And especially not “I commute to work in my Lamborghini” good — I’ve actually fallen behind this car a time or two in Fishers as I neared the end of my morning drive.

This is a double sneak preview: I’ve given my Canon AE-1 Program the Operation Thin the Herd treatment, where I shot two whole rolls of film at a car show. Come back tomorrow for more!

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Film Photography

single frame: Rose-Hulman Lamborghini

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Faith, Photography

Carrying the cross

It’s a Good Friday tradition at West Park Christian Church, on Indianapolis’s Near Westside, to carry the cross through the neighborhood.

West Park Christian Church

A hundred years ago, our brand-new neighborhood was a cheerful middle-class enclave. West Park Christian Church was new, too — and had hundreds of members. We have several panoramic photographs of our congregation through the 1910s and 1920s on our walls; see one of them here. But the neighborhood, and the church, began to decline in the 1950s. Today, the neighborhood knows too well the problems of poverty.

Carrying the cross

By the 1990s, most members had long since fled to the suburbs and drove back here for worship. When someone from the neighborhood visited, they found a congregation that didn’t look like them and they didn’t come back. By the early 2000s, attrition (mostly through death) brought us to fewer than 10 members and within inches of having to shut down permanently. But a new pastor in 2004 refocused the church on the neighborhood, and we began to grow again.

Carrying the cross

We do many things for the neighborhood: a food pantry, a clothing pantry, a well-attended Wednesday-night youth program, referrals to social services. We’re even trying to get a infant-and-toddler daycare off the ground. But on Good Friday, we still carry the cross.

Carrying the cross

This year it was largely a youth effort. That’s Billy, carrying our large cross through the alley that runs by our building. He carried it for more than half the walk.

Carrying the cross

We walked down the sidewalks in our neighborhood

Carrying the cross

The first place we stopped to pray was this pocket park in a formerly vacant lot. A neighborhood resident spearheaded the work to make it happen, including planting this old car into the ground.

Carrying the cross

Billy was very pleased to carry the cross on this first leg of our walk.

Carrying the cross

Rob, one of our youth pastors, carried the cross briefly after we left the pocket park. This was our crew, small but determined.

Hawthorne Center

We also stopped to pray at Hawthorne Center, the neighborhood’s community center. It’s another place of safety and stability in our turbulent neighborhood. The building is a Carnegie library.

Carrying the cross

Several of the younger children took turns carrying the cross. This is one of Rob’s sons. He’s far smaller than the cross, but he handled it well.

Carrying the cross

Our last stop before returning to the church was at the home of two of our most elderly members, Leo and Marie, both in their 90s. Marie was the director of Hawthorne Center for many years, and now her daughter holds that role. Leo was in poor health this day and couldn’t come to the door. Marie didn’t feel great either, but did come to greet us. Sadly, Leo passed away a few days after we stopped by.

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Canon AE-1 ProgramI shot this with a Canon AE-1 Program that was recently donated to my film-camera collection. I already had one, but this one was in better condition. So I sold the other one and loaded some Fujicolor 200 into this one to test it. I planned to write a new review of this camera from that test roll. But when Good Friday came around, I’d only taken a couple photos on that roll. I decided to take a chance and use it to document our walk. Heightening the risk, I tried a lens I’d not used before: a 35-105mm f/3.2-4.0 Vivitar SMS zoom. I’ve owned it for so long I forget where it came from. I have had such mixed results with off-brand lenses, but this one handled very well. I figured I’d be fine when, on more than one occasion as I brought a subject into focus, I had that “ohhhhhh yes” feeling knowing I’d nailed it. A lens hood would probably have eliminated the flare I got when shooting into the low sun, but the effect is at least not displeasing.

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