Canon AV-1 Review: Film Photography Made Fun

Canon AV-1 Review
Canon AV-1 Review – my eBay buy
Canon AV-1 Review

It pains me to say this, but the Canon AV-1 is my favourite 35mm film camera. Why? It’s a good camera, super easy to use, small, and light. They are also pretty cheap compared to other film cameras, and they are a great option if you are just starting out in the 35mm film world. Why does it pain me to say it? Because their DSLRs and mirrorless cameras are overrated.

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The film used is Kodak Gold 200. Scroll to the bottom for the imagery from the AV-1. Kodak Gold 200 is, so far, my favourite film. The grain is fine, the ISO is low, and the tone is warm.

I bought this particular Canon AV-1 to take apart. It was on eBay selling for spares & repairs, and I bought it for an eye-watering £3.97. It claimed it didn’t work, and I could see a bit of fungus on the body, but this didn’t matter because I was going to dissect it to see what was inside. Anyway, the camera turned up, and it didn’t work. It wouldn’t wind on or release the shutter or appear to do anything.

But I have another Canon AV-1, which I bought many years ago, that does work. So, I swapped the batteries to test the new AV-1 battery. It was working on my old AV-1, but the new AV-1 still wasn’t working. After some playing and fiddling, I found a connection issue on the springloaded piece of metal at the bottom of the battery chamber. Since sorting this, it came to life and has worked ever since.

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The metering worked and gave the same readings as my functioning AV-1. The self-timer worked; it wound on. The battery test button worked. The shutter released. Everything worked, or so it seemed. But there was only one way to ensure it worked: to put some film through it.

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Canon AV-1 Review

If you’ve read any of my Fujifilm lens reviews, you’ll know I shoot almost exclusively wide-open and in aperture priority mode. So, the Canon AV-1 lends itself perfectly to me. I didn’t know when I bought either of these cameras, but the AV-1 offers only aperture priority mode. The difference between the AV-1 and AE-1 is that the AE-1 has a shutter priority mode. It would make sense, given the camera name: AV = Aperture Value.

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Body & Handling

The camera handles really well. It’s a small and light camera that also looks great. Because it’s so simple to operate, there aren’t many buttons to get in the way of shooting. The body has typical design aesthetics of the late 1970s and early 1980s SLRs.

Inside the viewfinder, you will find a split prism focus screen. These are very useful on manual focus cameras. Surprisingly, there’s no Depth of Field Preview button on the camera. It’s not a problem, though, as they are the most pointless feature on any SLR or DSLR. I’ve never found them helpful because the viewfinder goes dark, and you can’t see anything anyway.

I bought my first AV-1 with a standard 50mm f/1.8 lens. You will likely find plenty of these cameras with these lenses attached, but if you want to expand your lens range, you are looking for Canon FD mount lenses. You can pick them up pretty cheaply. They don’t command the same prices as rival brands, adding to the appeal of these cameras.

For more information on camera operation, you will find the instruction manuals on Google.

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Exposure Modes

There are five exposure modes on the camera, of which you will likely only use one: the red A. This is the standard mode – aperture priority. There is no manual mode. It is a semi-automatic camera that exclusively uses aperture priority. The semi part is that you set the aperture using the aperture ring on the lens, and the camera will set the appropriate shutter speed, provided you have set the correct film speed ASA (what we know these days as ISO).

The AV-1 is touted as a beginner film camera because it doesn’t have a manual mode, but that devalues the camera a bit. Just because it doesn’t have manual mode doesn’t mean it’s only valuable for beginners. I’ve been a professional photographer for over a decade and rarely shoot stills in manual mode. Why? Because it’s easier and faster, and I rely on the camera’s metering to determine the exposure before I adjust it using exposure compensation. This is important because very few of us carry a light meter around, so we have no other way to determine the metering other than by letting the camera do so. 

Exposure isn’t something I worry about too much these days on digital, and so I kept forgetting to check the exposure meter in the viewfinder. I’m so used to shooting on my Fujifilm X-T5, which has an electronic shutter of up to 180,000 of a second, that it’s almost impossible to overexpose a frame, even on f/1.4. But shooting on Kodak Gold 200 on a bright day, I had to stop down the aperture because the maximum shutter speed is 1000/sec. Thankfully, it didn’t catch me out.

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How’s the metering in the AV-1, you ask? Great, I’d say. The AV-1 uses TTL (Through The Lens) metering, meaning it meters the intensity of light through the lens reflected from the scene. This handy feature has been commonplace in cameras since its inception in the early 1960s. From what I’ve read, it uses a centre-weighted average metering pattern. So, provided you keep your subject fairly central in the frame, it will expose correctly for it.

When shooting, I tend to want to maintain the highlights in the scene, so I generally expose for them. This is easy on a modern camera, such as my Fujifilm X-T5, because it has an electronic viewfinder, and I can see what I’m getting before I release the shutter. But on a film camera, there’s no way to be sure other than by using a light meter to measure the incident light (light hitting the subject, not reflected from it), so we heavily rely on TTL metering. In the case of the Canon AV-1, the camera does a great job. On a bright, sunny day, it maintained the highlights pretty well.

It has no exposure compensation, contributing to its simplicity. So, if you’re not ofay with exposure and the exposure triangle, you can let the camera do the work and decide only the aperture. It’s not manual, so you have no choice about manually setting the exposure, but you can adjust the exposure if you really want to. This is how.

Suppose you carry a light meter around and want to adjust the exposure because the camera is getting it wrong (or you’re cheating with your digital camera to set your exposure). You can use the ASA (ISO) setting as the exposure compensation because altering the ASA setting fools the camera’s metering into over- or under-exposing. Lowering by one stop (200 to 100, for example) would reduce metering sensitivity by one stop and drop the shutter speed by one stop. Raising it would do the opposite.

There is also another handy feature on the camera to assist with exposure – a backlight control switch. It increases exposure by 1.5 stops via the shutter speed and is designed for when your subject is backlit. For example, if someone is in front of a window, press and hold the backlight control switch, which will alter the shutter speed to allow 1.5 stops for more light.

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The Shutter

When I opened the back of the camera, I noticed the shutter looked unusual. I’m used to metal focal plane shutters, which you would find in most modern cameras. This isn’t the case in the AV-1. It has a focal plane shutter, but it’s made of fabric instead. From what I’ve read, their operation is similar, although they have a few drawbacks. They just aren’t as durable. This sounds legit, so don’t go sticking your finger through it. They also have lower flash sync speeds and lower maximum shutter speeds than metal ones.

The Canon AV-1’s standard shutter speed range is from 1000/sec down to 2 seconds. Beyond 2 seconds, you’ll need to use B mode, B meaning Bulb, where you can use a cable release to open the shutter as long as you’d like. If you require a faster shutter speed than 1000/sec to maintain correct exposure, then you’re stuffed. You will have to use a higher aperture to reduce the shutter speed or a Neutral Density filter to maintain a wider aperture. 

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Canon AV-1 Photos

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Canon AV-1 Review

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