I freely admit that I'm prejudiced in favor of the Canon A-1. Having owned two of them with great satisfaction for many years I can vouch for their high performance and legendary reliability. The A-1 is also a beautifully proportioned camera that epitomizes the honest, straightforward look of fine machinery. It seems to say," I can do anything you want, and I'm not going to let you down." Amazingly, this classic, high-tech, manual-focus 35mm SLR can still deliver on its promises even after nearly 30 years. And you can now acquire a pristine Canon A-1 in E+ condition with 50mm f/1.8 Canon FD lens at Adorama's used department for the astonishingly low price of $129, or $99 for the body alone!
A new era in automation
When this incredible machine, the first to feature digital electronic information processing, was introduced back in 1978, it created a sensation. The ad copywriters touted it as "hexa.photo.cybernetic" because of its six-mode exposure control and advanced electronics.
Indeed, the A-1 was the first 35mm SLR to combine aperture-priority, shutter-priority, and programmed auto-exposure, plus stopped-down AE, manual, and electronic flash auto-exposure. But it did much more than that, offering an electromagnetic shutter release, cloth focal-plane shutter with electronically-timed speeds of 30-1/1000 sec, LED digital viewfinder readouts of shutter speeds, apertures, over- and overexposures, manual metering indications plus flash warning signals, and provision for attaching a Motor Drive MA or Power Winder!
In short, the A-1 was the wonder of the pre-autofocus age and so advanced that journalists wondered out loud how the competition would ever catch up.
A myriad of thoughtful details
While the Canon A-1's basic specs are impressive enough, what is even more amazing is how brilliantly they are integrated into a smoothly functional package. Useful little details include an exposure memory lock, depth-of-field preview, multi-exposure control, and exposure preview switch; all are well-designed and easy to use. You can turn off the digital viewfinder display with a switch, close the viewfinder blind with a well-placed lever, and remove the camera back in a trice. The clever front "palm grip" that screws into the camera over the battery compartment door aids hand-holding ability and balance.
When a Canon dedicated flash (such as the original Speedlites 155A or 199A) are mounted in the hot shoe, the flash will automatically be set to the 1/60 sec sync speed when the flash recycles, and revert to the set auto-exposure mode while the flash recycles. There's a choice of three autoflash apertures available and an "F" (for flash) indicator in the finder, but no TTL autoflash--a feature that had not yet made its appearance.
A rugged and useable classic
While the Canon A-1 was designed primarily as an enthusiast's machine and made no pretense at being a professional model (like the Canon F-1), its rugged construction, legendary dependability, and motor drive capability made it a favorite of many pros, who often used it as a back-up camera. Its solid feel and excellent balance are certainly among its more endearing qualities.
While Canon FD lenses are no longer as plentiful as they were back in the day, there is still a wide enough choice of lenses in Canon FD breech-lock mount (both by Canon and independent lens manufacturers) to make the A-1 a going proposition as a user collectible--and you definitely won't be disappointed by its performance. If you do decide to opt for a clean, used A-1 at Adorama's enticing price of $129 with lens, I suggest you also look for a Power Winder, Motor Drive MA and other vintage Canon accessories for it. As any new A-1 owner will soon appreciate, this camera not only a genuine classic, but also user and a keeper as well.