How to Use a Canon A1/AE-1 35mm Camera




About: I am a photographer in Cumberland and am willing to work for free for anyone who would like a off-scene photographer. I am willing to photograph for anyone in Cumberland, RI

Got an old Canon A1 laying around? Don't know how to use it? Well, if you fall into this category, then you may be able to take professional-looking photos with this rather than your digital point-and-shoot camera. You will be able to learn how to utilize this pro-range camera with just your point-and shoot skills. You will also learn how to diffuse/soften a flash, how to set the correct aperature, shutter and film speeds and also learn a little bit about multiple exposures with the A1. Also, if you are interested in panoramic photos, this Instructable will teach you all about it. I'm Eren S., and I will be your guide.

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Step 1: Learn the Basic Parts of the A1

The basic parts that you may need to use are listed in this step.

Step 2: Turn on the Camera and Test the Battery

Switch the A/L knob to A and test the battery. If you cannot see the LED blink rapidly, then you need to get a new battery. Getting film would be good, too. Mind the fact that all film is different. I normally use 400 ISO film for indoor pictures in good lighting conditions and 800 ISO for a sunny day outdoors when there is a lot of action. I would also reccomend to go to Radioshack for the 4LR44 battery. It is only 4.99 USD. They have a great selection of batteries there, so if  your flash takes AA's (if you have one) pick some of those up, too.

Step 3: Insert Film

Remember what I said in the last step? You need film, because this thing is from the 80's. It's not digital, and if film just doesn't fit your budget, then you can stop reading. Also keep in mind that film, when exposed to light, reacts. To open the back, cock the lever halfway and pull up the rewind knob. Put the cassette in the holder. Be careful not to pull out too much film, but don't be afraid to pull out enough. Catch the leader in the film spool and close the back quickly, but not too hard. You're almost ready.

Step 4: Set Shutter, Film Speed, Aperture, and Exposure Compensation, If Needed

The next step isn't so exciting-it's time to do some math. The shutter is how fast the shutter curtain opens and closes to expose the film. The less exposure the film receives results in a darker picture, but a wide aperture can compensate for a fast shutter speed. The shutter speed is measured in fractions, such as 1/1000, or 1/400 and others. Now you know some basics of shutter. The aperture is a diaphram inside the lens that becomes larger or smaller to expose the film more or less. It is measured in f-stops. For More depth of field, a higher f-stop is good, such as f-22. Now you know about aperture. The exposure compensation is for low-light or high-light conditions. It is used in large portions, so be careful. I wouldn't worry about it until later. To set the aperture in shutter priority, simply turn the aperture dial on the lens to your desired aperture. This is called manual override. Or, if you want the camera to set the aperture for you in Shutter priority, then turn the aperture dial to "A". This is just plain shutter priority. Then, turn the AT dial to TV, set the aperture and continue. To go into Aperture priority, simply set the AT dial to AV and turn the ring on the lens to "A", set your aperture on the camera and continue.

Exposure compensation:
To use exposure compensation for low or high light conditions, simply set the exposure compensation dial to the desired amount. (I beleive the Exposure comp. is measured in stops, but I stand to be corrected)

ISO/ Film speed:
The Film speed is simply selected by the film speed dial. It's pretty much self-explanatory.

Step 5: Cock the Film

Cock the camera via the cocking lever.

Step 6: Take Your Picture

First, turn on the veiwfinder display (see step 1) and then very gently half press the shutter to veiw the aperature and shutter, and, if you like the veiw, after zooming and focusing, press the shutter. The camera should click. Advance the film and repeat steps.

Step 7: Good Job!

You just took a picture! Now repeat steps 2-6 Until your film is out and get it developed. (P.S. If you can, get it developed at a minilab)

Step 8: Thank You!

Thank's for veiwing my instructable. See maniacmusicman's account (my main) for tinkering projects.

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    12 Discussions


    3 years ago

    I have used my A-1 for many years--still love it. However, suddenly, it does not shoot. The button will depress, but it will not work the shutter. I replaced the battery, still no action. Is there something I have done to lock it? (It is not in the lock position). Any help would be appreciated. Thanks.

    3 replies

    Reply 3 years ago

    Please pay no mind! I found the problem. Somehow the "lock" under the advance lever was in the lock position.


    Reply 2 years ago

    This has happened to my AE-1 too. How do you unlock the advance lever


    Reply 2 years ago

    If you look underneath the advance lever, there is a small lever just to the left of the 10-second mark. Push that to the left, and you should be able to shoot. I used my camera for many years without this happening, and then it happened again just a couple of days ago. I love this camera, and fortunately Walgreens finishes the film (I have never done this myself) and will put the pix on a disk. I have a pretty good digital, but still like the flexibility of lenses and filters with the A-1. Hope this works for you.


    Reply 4 years ago on Introduction

    I purchased my AE-1 with a telephoto lens for $10 at a thrift store. I later bought a 50mm lens for $10 more. It has sat in a drawer for 4 yrs. and NOW I am determined to learn how to use it. It is something I have always wanted to do , however I kept putting it off. Thanks for being here!


    4 years ago on Introduction

    If I buy an older AE-1 would lenses from the newer A1 also work on it?


    9 years ago on Introduction

    really like this instructable i wanted to ask how much did this camera cost you cause i just recently got it from a sidewalk sale for 30 dollars with the lens no others what type of lenses do you suggest to get right off the back or close to it

    1 reply

    Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

    There's tons of options for outfitting your A-1 but I'd start out with a 50mm, 1.2 or 1.4 if you can find them. 30 bucks is a great deal. I had to fix mine but it's a great camera and as far as cameras go, fairly easy to fix most problems.


    Well, I know I'm succumbing to "someone is wrong on the Internet" syndrome with this, but here goes:

    Step 2: ISO 800 film in bright daylight? I guess if you *have* to shoot at f/22 all the time (hello, diffraction) then that's fine; anything larger than than that and you're going to max out past the 1/1000 fastest shutter speed.

    Step 3: You don't cock the lever halfway. In the picture (which is one I took; it'd be nice if you credited me for this and all) the wind-on lever is in the dead area of its travel. Pushing it to this position does exactly *nothing*. Also, it doesn't mention anything about advancing to the first frame. Just closing your back quickly (why?) and winding on once.

    Step 4: Turning the dial to Av and setting the aperture, *then* turning it to Tv to set a shutter speed will do nothing to set the aperture manually, as you seem to be suggesting. Av lets you select an aperture and have a shutter speed set automatically, Tv allows you to select a shutter speed and have your aperture set manually. If you want a fully-manual exposure, you set it to Tv, choose a shutter speed, then set an aperture manually on the ring on the lens.

    (I'll note that the title refers to the AE-1; the AE-1 operates quite differently, being a shutter-priority-only camera, and does not have an AT dial.)

    >The faster, the less bright and the more grainy.
    Film grain is a factor of the film you're using, not your shutter speed.

    >The shutter speed I'd recommend for a well-lit room (no flash) is 1/400. At what ISO and aperture? If you're wide-open on an f/1.4 lens on ASA 1600 film, maybe, but you should say so.

    >The aperture is how wide the shutter opens to expose the film.
    No, it isn't.

    >Now you know about aperture
    You got this part right, but it's not from reading this. No discussion of the effects of the aperture on exposure?

    >The exposure compensation is for low-light or high-light conditions.
    No, it isn't; it's for conditions where you know better than the camera's meter.

    "Canon A-1 Specialist"? Really?

    1 reply
    Eren S.Lewis Collard

    Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

    Thank you, Lewis. I am so sorry about these insanely inaccurate factoids. I have fixed them to your standards and hope that you keep helping me by finding these small mistakes. Apparently, one of my siblings had accessed my account and messed up a couple of my other ibles, too. I have changed my password and also fixed the others, too. Thank you, yet again, and I hope to see you visiting me again shortly!

    Eren S.

    9 years ago on Introduction

    Nightninja, I am sorry for not getting back to you soon but I inherited this camera. 30$ is a great deal, though. Anyways, I hope to see you around on Instructables! (P.S., if you liked this instructable, I could write more on how use neat stuff like spy lenses and home made adapters. Also, you can apply some hacks to this camera. If you want more help, drop me a line) Eren S. Former maniacmusicman and Canon A-1 Specialist