Canon AT1 Review – The Unpopular Sibling – By Gavin Bain

If you’ve read any of my previous contributions to this website, you may recall that I started my photographic journey with a pair of Praktica’s. My first was a Praktica MTL3 and then a Praktica LLC. As much as I loved those camera’s I was searching for something smaller and inconspicuous shooting for people on the streets of Sydney, so I purchased an Olympus OM10 which I have reviewed on 35mmc before here.

Well we all know what GAS is like, and after acquiring my Olympus and loving it, I wanted to find a Canon camera. I didn’t know which one but I felt like a Canon camera was right for me. Good old Mr Google showed me some examples, one of which was a Canon AE1 looking sexy in black. 8 or so years ago the amount of Canon AE1’s on eBay was plentiful, but out of my price range. They were around $200 even back then. So I had to hold off on that purchase.

Roughly 6 months later a gentlemen from the church I was attending mentioned that he had an old film camera he brought over from South Africa when he moved to Australia, and I was welcome to buy it off him for a cheap price. I’m sure everyone in the camera community knows what “for a cheap price” means. No, not that… It means hardly any discount! I agree’d to visit him at his house and have a look anyway. To my surprise it was a black paint Canon AE1, Canon FD 50mm f2.0 and a Canon FD 80-300mm plus the leather case and a tripod. The best part? He wanted $80. Sold.

Fast forward to 2018 and I’d been enjoying using my AE1 when a good friend of mine messaged me saying that had he stumbled across some old cameras at his work, and did I want them. The first thing he showed me was a Pentax Auto 110 in the full retail box, lenses and all in immaculate condition. He wanted to give it away for free, but I told him that he could get a couple hundred for it if he sold it, so I let him have that one. A few weeks later he messages me again. He had found a Canon AT1 with a Sears 28mm f2.8 lens, and he was sending it to me. I had never seen the AT1! I knew of the A1, AV1, AE1 and the AE1 Program but never the AT1. So patiently I waited for the post man…

The Canon AT1 is like the unpopular sibling in a gifted family. All the Canon A brothers are talked about online all the time, and hyped up about their abilities and how fantastic they are, but not the poor old AT1. But it’s a damn good camera, and I even went so far to sell my beloved black AE1 and the 28mm lens because I just don’t need it! (I could have used the 28mm but it sweetened the sale). I loved my AE1 a lot but moaned about the fact that it wasn’t manual.

If you’re not familiar with the A series of cameras from Canon they can be described as follows. Obviously there is more to the differing models, but this is a quick guide:

A1 = Fully manual and auto features
AE1 = Shutter Priority
AE1 Program – Shutter Priority and you guessed it, program mode
AV1 = Aperture Priority
AT1 = Fully manual

So suffice to say, I was smitten with this new camera. The on/off switch as well as the shutter lock found on the other models is a godsend. The shutter sound is also very satisfying. There’s a story floating around on the internet that Apple recorded the sound of a Canon AE1 firing and altered it slightly for the iPhone camera sound, but I can’t tell you if that’s true or not. The viewfinder is no frills with a simple dual needle meter and that’s all. The one thing I can probably fault the AT1 on…? It’s the silver variant and not the black one!

I generally shoot rangefinders these days, but I’m on a bit of an SLR kick at the moment so I shot a roll of HP5 in the Canon around town. Although it’s louder, the image results are just superb from the 50mm lens.

The below images I developed these at home in Ilfosol 3 and scanned them on an Epson scanner.

These images were developed at Hillvale Photo in Melbourne, in whatever they use and scanned on whatever they use. I’ve always loved my scans from Hillvale so I’ve never had to question what they use.

If you’re chasing any of the A family from Canon and want to be different, grab an AT1! They have gone up in price, like everything film related, but they’re a lovely camera!

Instagram: @gavinbain

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20 thoughts on “Canon AT1 Review – The Unpopular Sibling – By Gavin Bain”

  1. My brother got one for good marks at school. I always envied him.
    When I brought home a similar good school report my grandfather gave me his Agfa Sillete (no light meter, no nothing, no manual, no explanation from him) instead of the Praktica I wanted so badly. That was 1974 and I was 13. Could not manage an all manual meterless camera at that time. But I borrowed my brother’s Canon AT for my honeymoon a dozen of years later. So some of my best memories were shot with it.

  2. Thanks for this! The AT-1 was my first SLR, purchased for me brand new in the late 1970s when I was all of 12 or 13 years old. I was drawn to its simplicity (and my parents didn’t complain that it was the cheapest model in Canon’s lineup). I still use it today.

    1. Wow, you still have it? I just bought a used Canon Ftb with three Canon lenses for $150. I could not find a replacement battery for it, so I just downloaded an app. to my Samsung phone called lightmeterfree to use as a light meter. I have not used the camera yet though.

  3. Yeah, the AT-1 is pretty nice. It’s actually the only A or T Series camera canon made with coupled open aperture manual metering (OK, there is the T60 but that’s Cosina made).

    Coming from a Pentax MX to the T90 sometimes I just wanted to go back to a simple manual only camera, so bought an AT-1. The AT-1 isn’t as good as an MX but did the job well.

  4. I’ve been a long time Canon fan, and whilst I’d sort of heard of the AT1 I’d never come across one or realised what it was. So thanks for educating me!

  5. Compliments on a most artistic product shot! I love the way your green plants and the green of the Ilford HP5 boxes work together in this “black and white and green with tan accents” composition. One of the nicest vintage camera shots I’ve seen.

  6. Great, the AT-1 is an interesting camera!

    I was close to buying one, but I preferred the AV-1 (which I’m still waiting for), because I’m currently interested in small reflex with aperture priority.

    What I don’t understand, is that you say that the AE-1 has no manual mode; I have had the A-1 and AE-1 both with manual mode and semi-automatic mode, not to mention that the A-1 is also program.

    Also I can’t understand why Barry Reid said “It’s actually the only A or T Series camera canon made with coupled open aperture manual metering”, given the fact that all cameras have this feature since the late 1960’s or even earlier.

    Sorry for the speech and my horrible English, Google translation, you know 😉

    PS: It would be nice to see a review of the infamous AL-1

    1. Hi, Ricardo, what I mean is this:

      If you use manual mode on an AE-1 (or the AE-1P or the EF) the viewfinder shows the speed it would like you to select but does not indicate whether you have that speed selected. You don’t know if what you have selected is over – or under – exposed. The meter, as seen through the finder, doesn’t react at all to your changes of shutter speed on the dial – so the metering not coupled to the shutter speed.

      I shot with a T90 + other Canon FD bodes from ’91-2005 when I went digital. As a geeky sort of guy I tried all the A-Series and a few others. Metering in manual mode was harder than it should have been with all but the AT-1 and the New F-1.

      This is, IMHO, the biggest weakness of the Canon FD series; The only FD bodies which allow coupled metering wide open and an auto mode are the polar opposites of the New F-1 and the T60.

      On the other side, if you pick up an ME Super and take it off auto mode the viewfinder will show the selected shutter speed but if the exposure lets you now if it’s overexposed or underexposed. Thus it is coupled to the viewfinder.

      As an aside, there is a form of coupled metering with the T90 & A-1. If you go into stop down mode you get advised OP if you are under or CL if you are over which helps you find correct exposure. It does however limit you to stopped down metering.

      1. Matthew Tapson

        You forgot to mention the Canon AL-1 which I think, of the range (excl the A1), is my favorite. Aperture priority which I prefer, takes AAA batteries and rock solid. I got one the other day thrown in for free with a Canon QL17 I bought. Here’s a pic I took with mine:

  7. Geert De Prest

    The A-1 and AE-1 can be used manually by transferring readings from the meter to the camera. For example, if the AE-1 meter needle indicates 3.5, set the lens to 3.5. There is no in-finder match diode or match needle semi-auto mode in either of these cameras.
    But, there is such a mode in the AT-1 (although i rely on others here, I never had this model myself), the T-60, and of course the FT, FTB, and F-1.

  8. Very interesting write-up. Canon basically made every combination and permutation of manual and autoexposure SLRs from the late 70s to the early 80s. I recently got gifted an A-1 from my mother and have really enjoyed using it so-far. Actually, I’m accustomed to shooting manual-only with my other SLRs and the manual mode metering of the A-1 is a bit different, with the aperture for proper exposure displaying instead of a match-needle or LED-based indicator. I actually prefer using this camera in Aperture priority mode at this point, but I’m only a few rolls of film into it at this point. Gotta love the quality of the FD lenses though. I found good prices on 28mm f/2.8, 50mm f/1.4, and 135mm f/2.5, all breech-lock.

  9. I adore the Cannon AT1! My dad bought one when they first came out. He gave me his Zeiss Ikon Contessa. When he upgraded to the AE1 I got the AT1 which I still have. It takes fabulous pictures. I used it until the film advance broke in 2009.

  10. Like other here, the AT1 was also my first camera (1978-79?). I loved the simplicity of the match-needle exposure metering, and the onus on requiring experimentation to achieve results (without the internet to fall back on). I graduated on to the A1 and others, and am currently using the 5D III. But with all honesty, the AT1 was my favourite camera.

  11. Pingback: Deciding on My Favourite 5 Frames From 2019 (And Maybe A couple of Sneaky Extras) - By Gavin Bain - 35mmc

  12. I have owned almost every FD camera. When people ask my favorite, I sometimes say the T-90, but usually I say the AT-1. Using most of the A-series auto cameras in manual mode is a nightmare. Using match needle is zen.

    Many people think the camera needs a new exposure reading for every shot. This makes them panic at the idea of leaving auto-exposure mode. You don’t need a new reading every shot, even with slide film. You need a new reading, at most, when the light changes, or when you swing the camera around to a new subject.

    Doing exposure compensation adjustments is faster and easier with a match needle. And you can choose whether to make those changes with the shutter speed or the aperture. No bossy opinionated shutter priority, aperture priority, or program mode overriding the change you need.
    The A-1 and T-90 give you shutter speed and aperture in the viewfinder and that opens up a lot, I love those cameras. But they just aren’t as simple and grounded as the match needle system in the AT-1.

  13. Barry Perhamsky

    I had a canon AT-1 and liked it very much. There’s much more to photography the just aiming the camera and taking the picture.

  14. I wouldn’t call the Canon AT1 camera unpopular. Many professionals and amatures who know a thing or two about photography prefer it over the AE1, because with the AT1, you have more control. That is to say, you can do more things. For example: if you’re shooting in black and white, you can take different meter readings and set your camera for this f/stop, this shutter speed, you can meter on the palm of your hand, and when using flash you can do different things…… It’s just a more versitile camera then the AE1

  15. Daniel Pete Rainwater

    My first serious camera was an AT-1. I loved it and shot many many photos with it. After years of learning much about the effects of different shutter speed/aperture combinations I was gifted a nice A-1 kit by a family member. An A-1 body, 50mm 1.8, 35mm , and an 80-200 zoom as well as various filters, a Vivitar (the top of the line Vivitar flash at the time), and the same case that I had used for years. I still use that case BTW. When I later went digital with a D7 MKII I kept the A-1. Now I collect and use old cameras and have started developing black and white (D76). Isn’t it amazing what a little A-1 can get started?

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