Canon AE-1 Program (1981)

Canon AE-1 Program (1981)

Shutter Four-axis, horizontal-travel focal-plane shutter with cloth curtains. B, 2, 1, 1/2, 1/4, 1/8, 1/15, 1/30, 1/60, 1/125, 1/250, 1/500, 1/1000 sec. All speeds controlled electronically. Built-in self-timer (with beeper).
Viewfinder Fixed eye-level pentaprism. Microprism rangefinder-encircled new split prism rangefinder with double diffraction prism at the center of Laser Matte screen. Eight focusing screens interchangeable through the mirror box.
- Magnification 0.83x
- Coverage 94%
Power One 4LR44 alkaline battery. Battery check with button and beeper.
Size 141 x 88 x 48 mm
Weight 565 gr


Easy to use for beginners yet many features for more advanced photographers
Slow maximum shutter speed (1/1000), no exposure compensation dial

This was the first camera that I bought and owned. Purchased around 1985 with the kit lens (35-70 mm f3.5-4.5). This camera has traveled with me throughout the US, UK, Africa and a little bit of Asia. Shot mostly color position film (slide film) for class use (history professor). Usually shot aperture priority, although I'm sure there were some "program" shots along the way. Captures great images in all kinds of light using unforgiving film and a pretty cheap and slow lens. Amazing camera for a photography student, too. I wish it had a easy way to do exposure compensation (such as the A-1 dial). You cannot go wrong with this camera. Mine has taken a little abuse as a few dents show, although I am generally very careful with my gear. I have to own one in all black at some point in my life, just because it looks cooler in my opinion. I've been adding lenses over the past 15 years, but all of my early work was with the one kit lens. Sometimes less is more!



Very versatile, advanced for time period. Helpful automatic settings for beginners
Controls somewhat confusing

Very nice 35mm SLR Camera. Great for someone who wishes to begin using film. Easy to use, very cooperative. Sports a sleek and elegant design. Comfortable to hold with the palm grip. Accesories are easy to attach, as well as the battery being simple to change, although it is somewhat expensive. Overall a great camera.



Like the A-1 but still has the AE-1 Feel
Not like the A-1 - finicky to fix in 1980's, and somewhat fragile .

The Canon AE-1 Program was a 135 film single-lens reflex camera that used Canon's FD mount lenses. It was introduced in 1981 as the successor to the Canon AE-1, five years after that camera's introduction. The major difference was the addition of the Program AE mode first seen in the A-1. This mode sets both the shutter speed and aperture automatically—albeit with a slight bias towards the shutter speed setting. The user simply had to focus the camera and then press the shutter button. For those desiring more control, the AE-1's shutter priority auto-exposure and full manual modes were still available.

Like the A-1, the AE-1 Program sported a right-hand "Action Grip" on the front of the camera. It also supported the A-1's Motor Drive MA; this required another electrical contact on the base plate. The AE-1's Power Winder A, and a new, faster Power Winder A2, were also supported. The viewfinder used LEDs to show information to the user.

Also like the A-1, the AE-1 Program supported interchangeable focusing screens. Unlike the A-1, though, which specified that screens only be changed by the factory or experienced service technicians, those on the AE-1 Program could be user changed. The camera came standard with the new split/microprism, but seven others were available. Unfortunately, the AE-1 Program retained the dated A-series electromagnet-controlled cloth-curtain shutter, with its slow top shutter speed and flash sync. This shutter design has also proven to be more maintenance-intensive than modern vertical-travel metal blade designs. The electronics and electromagnets were powered by one 4LR44 or PX-28 6V battery.

The focusing screen on the AE-1 Program is brighter than any previous focusing screen on any Canon manual focus camera, allowing the user to focus with greater ease with "slow" lenses (up to f/5.6). It is the same focusing screen that was used in the newest model of the top-of-the-line Canon F-1 (known as the F-1New).

The additional electronics used for the program features of the AE-1P have resulted in more electronic gremlins over the years, and the model is considered by some more difficult to repair than earlier and simpler A-series cameras.


Type: 35mm single-lens reflex (SLR) camera with electronically-controlled automatic exposure (AE) and focal-plane shutter.

Exposure Modes: Programmed AE, shutterspeed priority AE, AE flash photography with specified Canon electronic flash units, and manual override.

Format: 24 x 36mm.

Usable Lenses: Canon FD (for full-aperture metering) and Canon FL and non-FD (for stopped-down metering) series lenses.

Standard Lenses: FD 50mm f/1.2, FD 50mm f/1.4, FD 50mm f/1.8

Lens Mount: Canon breech-lock mount.

Viewfinder Information: Fixed eye-level pentaprism. Gives 94% vertical and 94% horizontal coverage of the actual picture area with 0.83x magnification at infinity with a standard lens. Information is displayed in form of LED digital display to the right of viewing area. Includes "P" mark (programmed AE and camera shake warning indicator), "M" mark (manual aperture control indicator), aperture display (f/1 - f/32, in full f/stops), flashing warning for overexposure and underexposure, stopped-down metering index, "" mark (flash charge-completion display with specified Canon flash units and auto-exposure flash confirmation signal with Speedlite 188A and 166A).

Dioptric Adjustment: Built-in eyepiece is adjusted to standard -1 diopter.

Focusing Screen: Standard split-image/microprism rangefinder. Seven other types of interchangeable screens are available optionally.

AE Mechanism: Electronically-controlled programmed AE and shutter-speed priority AE metering system using one IC and three LSl's .

Light Metering System: Through-the-lens (TTL), Center-Weighted Averaging by silicon photocell (SPC).

Meter Coupling Range: EV 1 (1sec. at f/1.4) to EV 18 (1/1000 sec. at f/16) with ISO/ASA 100 film and f/1.4 speed lens.

Exposure Memory: EV locked in when shutter button is pressed halfway and the AE lock switch is pressed once. Exposure is memorized as long as shutter button is pressed halfway.

Exposure Preview: By pressing shutter button or exposure preview switch.

Shutter: Cloth, focal-plane, 4-spindle, electronically-controlled. With shock and noise absorbers.

Mirror: Instant-return, with shock-absorber.

Film Speed Scale: ISO/ASA 12 - 3200.

Shutter Speed Selector Dial: 2 sec.- 1/ 1000 sec.. plus "PROGRAM" and "B" With guard.

Shutter Release Button: Two-step, electromagnetic shutter release button. Also serves as exposure preview switch. With lock, cable release socket, and finger rest.

Main Switch: Three positions: "A" "L," and "S." At "L" all active circuits are cut off as a safety feature. "S" position is for self-timer photography.

Self-timer: Electronically-controlled. Main switch set to "S." Activated by pressing shutter button. Ten-second delay with electronic "beep-beep" sound. Number of beeps emitted per second increases two seconds before shutter release. Cancellation possible.

Stop-down Lever: For depth-of-field preview (FD lens) or metering (non-FD lens or close-up accessories).

Power Source: One 6v alkaline-manganese (Eveready [UCAR] No. A544,IEC 4LR44) silver oxide (Eveready [UCAR] No. 544, IEC 4SR44, Duracell PX 28), or lithium (Duracell PX 28L) battery. Battery lasts about one year under normal use.

Battery Check: "Beep-beep" sound when pressing battery check button. Six or more beeps per second indicate sufficient power; three or fewer beeps per second indicate insufficient power.

Flash Synchronization: X synchronization at 1/60 sec.; M synchronization at 1/30 sec. or slower. Direct contact at accessory shoe for hot-shoe flash. PC socket (JIS-B type) with shock-preventive rim for cord-type flash. Accessory shoe has contact for normal automatic flash plus special contact for AE flash with dedicated Canon Speedlites.

Automatic Flash: Full AE flash photography with specified Canon Speedlites. Shutter speed set automatically. Aperture controlled automatically according to setting of flash when pilot lamp glows.

Back Cover: Opened with rewind knob. Removable, interchange with Databack A. With memo holder.

Film Loading: Via multi-slot take-up spool.

Film Advance Lever: Single-stroke 120° throw with 30° stand-off. Ratchet winding possible.

Frame Counter: Additive type. Automatically resets to "S" upon opening back cover. Counts backwards as film is rewound.

Film Rewind: With rewind button and crank

Other Safety Devices: Camera will not function when power level insufficient. Film winding impossible while shutter is in operation



Construction, Program mode, ease of use
Shutter speed limit, button organization on the front

I had this lens refurbished after its bodies sealing was eroding into the film compartment. It works excellent now, like a new camera. The AE-1 Program uses a small 6V battery, such as Duracell 28L I find one battery to take hundreds of pictures. It is slightly heavy as it constructed with a metal body with some polymer doors.

I find the Program mode to be fantastic. I only use it when I do not have the time to properly expose my shot, or I do not care what shutter speed I use. This makes this camera ideal for action shots. Nearly all of my photographs from Program mode were properly exposed.

This camera has a limit of shutter speeds of 1/1000 of a second down to 2 seconds aside from bulb. Personally, I find the slower shutter limit to be annoying, as bulb does not allow you to see what exposure you should use. I end up bracketing several shots and hope that one of them was properly exposed.

On the viewfinder, the exposure meeter is measured only on full f-stops, so it can be frustrating if you are trying to estimate what shutter speed to use without looking at the shutter dial. Nor is it hard to fine toon an exposure under a full stop of light.

There are two ways of seeing the exposure settings, half-press the shutter button, or the Exposure Preview. This is handy while adjusting the aperture or shutter speed independently. The AF Lock switch button is right next to the Exposure Preview being rather hard to press the right one without looking directly at the switch.

There is a shutter release cable that is inserted on the shutter button for long exposures. It is about a foot long. If you do not have the release cable, there is a self timer mode.

One thing to keep in mind while using this camera is the Stop-down Lever. Don't try to mount or remove lenses while the lever is locked. I accidentally did this once, and now it is a delicate process to remount a lens so you can still control the exposure meetering or adjust different apertures.

The ASA dial supports 12 to 2500 ISO speeds. I am not sure if you try to use faster film speed if the camera will properly expose the roll.

I have never used the PC slot for off camera flash, nor have I used a motor drive for this camera, which it does support. The manual states that 1/60s is the fastest shutter speed that a flash can synchronize with the camera.



bright viewfinder, 8 focussing screens, action grip, AE lock, DOF preview, good value
no speed info in finder, no 1/2 stop info in finder,

With it´s shutter priority and Program modes, and very bright viewfinder, the AE-1P is a good street and action camera. It has a useful AE lock button which only has to be pressed once while the shutter button is pressed halfway to lock in the meter reading. For me this button is too close to the more prominent Exposure Preview button, and so is a bit fiddly to activate. And unfortunately this AE lock is the only exposure compensation the camera has, apart from altering the ASA dial. At least this ASA dial has a separate locking button - more reliable than the pull up and turn ASA dial on my AT-1, which after 30 years is difficult to adjust. Mind you, I did have to clean inside the ASA window of the AE-1P before I could read the numbers! (interesting how my AT-1, AV-1 and AE-1P all have very different ASA dial layouts).

I like the variable brightness viewfinder LED´s which show the actual aperture number, but the display only shows full stops, a minus in my book, especially when I want to add some exposure compensation. In manual mode only the suggested aperture is displayed, not the actual one set on the lens, but at least the AE-1P does have a manual indicator light in the finder to remind you (unlike the EF!). I really like the very bright viewfinder, thanks to the same interchangeable focussing screen design as used on the New F-1. One of the benefits of being almost the last camera in the A series, I guess (only the AL-1 was later).

I don´t use the AE-1P´s Program mode myself, partly because the camera doesn´t tell me what speed it´s going to use, unless it´s 1/30 or slower (the Program mode indicator light blinks). That´s not much use to me if I´ve got a 200mm lens attached. But it´s good to know Program mode is available if needed.

My AE-1P is a battered version that I bought a couple of years ago. Still works well though, and feels a solid enough camera. I like the A-1 type action grip that sits in front of the battery compartment, and all in all I can recommend the AE-1P. Especially at today´s bargain prices. The squeaks and squeals that come out of the battery check button give it´s age away though!