Gracie

Gracie
Canon Canonet QL 17 G-III
Fujifilm Fujicolor 200
2009

It was on Thanksgiving three years ago that I lost Gracie. She was very old, at least 17, and had been in declining health for a few years. She was a difficult dog, but we were deeply bonded. I grieved her passing for a long time.

I took this photograph in 2009 while testing a Canonet QL17 G-III I had just gotten. I didn’t know it leaked light. I was disappointed at the time that the leak marred this photo, because I like this composition. Today, it feels like looking through the mists of time upon my old friend.

Film Photography
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Camera Reviews

A second look at the Canon Canonet QL17 G-III

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.

Canonet QL 17 GIII

Every part of this camera’s long name means something:

  • QuickLoadingQL 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.

Canonet QL 17 GIII

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.

Hoch lebe Deutschland!

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.

Gracie

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.

Fall color in my neighborhood

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.

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.

St. Joseph River bridge, South Bend

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.

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Film Photography

Captured: Flags flying furiously

Flags Flying Furiously

I was in South Bend a few summers ago with my Canonet QL17 G-III, wandering around downtown looking for things to photograph. You can’t get any more downtown in South Bend than the intersection of Michigan and Washington Streets, where I took this photo; that’s geographic zero in my hometown. All building and house numbers start here, counting up from 100 to the north, south, east, and west.

This is the American Trust Company building. Despite its classic style, the building dates to 1970. American Trust has been bought and sold many times, but whoever owns the building today still flies American flags along the Washington Street side – 14 in all, plus one atop the building. See it on Google Maps Street View here. These flags are my Independence Day greeting to you. Enjoy your celebration tomorrow!

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In Loving Memory

Photographer Dorothea Lange once said that a camera is a tool for learning how to see without a camera. I’ve found that to be true. Since I started shooting several years ago, I’ve come to notice things I never would have seen before. But I’ve also found that getting the settings right on one of my vintage cameras can considerably distract me from what I’m trying to see. That’s why my favorite vintage camera is my Canonet QL17 G-III. When it’s in my hands I almost forget its there. I put it in automatic mode, choose a shutter speed, and get shooting. I frame and then I focus, which takes a deft motion of a single finger.

I was to meet my brother for dinner in Broad Ripple. I had loaded some black-and-white film into my Canonet and it was a clear day, so I drove over a little early. I shot along the canal for a while, capturing a couple bridges and the canal itself. Then I strolled down a side street, where I came upon a mural painted on the back of a building. I didn’t think much of the mural, but I liked this detail.

Film Photography

Captured: In Loving Memory

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Camera Reviews

Canon Canonet QL17 G-III

It’s not hard to find a Canon Canonet QL17 G-III – Canon made 1.2 million of them between 1972 and 1982, and I swear half of them are available on eBay at any given time. But try finding a working one for under $100! I was incredibly fortunate to stumble upon one for just $30. It wasn’t flawless but it worked well enough.

Canonet QL 17 GIII

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.

Canonet QL 17 GIII

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 40 mm 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.

By the way, if you like 35mm rangefinder cameras also see my review of the Canonet 28 (here), the Yashica Electro 35 GSN (here), the Minolta Hi-Matic 7 (here), the Olympus XA (here), and the Konica Auto S2 (here). Or just check out all of my camera reviews here.

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.

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.

Hoch lebe Deutschland!

The rumors are true: this is a nice little camera. 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.

Gracie

Sadly, the light seals had deteriorated and were leaking light. It’s a common affliction with any old camera that uses foam seals, so I shouldn’t have been surprised. I love this portrait of my dog, Gracie, and am sad that the red streaks mar it.

St. Joseph River bridge, South Bend

My only quibble with the Canonet is its shutter button, which has more travel than I expect. On my first roll I was constantly pressing down to no result. I kept having to reposition my finger at a steeper angle and press again.

James Monroe School

I loaded some Fujifilm Neopan 100 Acros on a trip to my hometown of South Bend, where I photographed my old elementary school. By this time I was getting the hang of the shutter button.

Monon Bridge

The Monon bridge in Broad Ripple, Indianapolis, is a frequent subject. The lens and Acros liked this bridge fine.

Untitled

The Canonet did a nice job capturing the details on T-Max 100 of this scene in a little West Virginia town.

Griffith

I finished the T-Max near home, where it kept on delivering the detail and sharpness. The Canonet’s lens really is a peach.

Lilly Lake, Eagle Creek Park *EXPLORED*

I finally sent the Canonet off for an overhaul and to have its light seals replaced. It came back working very well. I pushed a couple rolls of Agfa Vista 200 through it and got some real gems, like this lakeside scene.

At Coxhall Gardens

By this time, however, I’d owned the Canonet for many years and had shifted my collection toward 35mm SLRs. The Canonet was still a lovely little camera, but I could see that it was never going to be in the rotation among my regular shooters.

Lit balls

So I took it on one last photowalk in Downtown Indianapolis, and then sold it on.

The Claddagh

If you’d like to see more from this camera, check out my Canonet QL17 G-III gallery.

It’s crazy that I own so many great cameras that the QL17 G-III didn’t make the cut. Please don’t take this as a negative review. If this Canonet could be my only camera, I’d get on with making beautiful images with it forever. It’s just lovely, and if you ever find one at a good price you should snap it up.

If you like old film cameras, check out all of my reviews here!
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