5 frames with a Canon A-1 and TRI-X – By James Mitchell

When my sister asked me for Christmas present suggestions, I just said “film”, and not HP5 or FP4 because I shoot those pretty often. I was very excited to unwrap a roll of Kodak TRI-X. It’s one of the classic emulsions and I had never shot! Come boxing day, that TRI-X was in my trusty Canon A-1. I bought the A-1 for the 50mm f/1.4 lens on the front but ended up keeping it. It’s super reliable, it has full-auto, aperture and shutter priority modes – and the meter hasn’t let me down yet. If I could pick one little nit, it’s that, if you take the lens out of automatic, the aperture doesn’t show in the viewfinder, making full manual less convenient.

First, the good. What a versatile film! I started off with pictures of the misty forest, followed it up with my in-laws’ dog (side note, he’s such a great dog I worry that any dog I get might be a disappointment) and finished the roll on the workshop in which my fiancée and I made our wedding rings. Tri-x can do it all!

Buuuut remember my “trusty” Canon A-1? It turns out the light seals are gone and I’ve ended up with a lot of leaks on a roll I am otherwise pretty pleased with. The real bother here is that I was planning on taking pictures of the preparations for our wedding with it!

My other film cameras are either a bit broken (a Zeiss Contessa which is beautiful but has an out of alignment rangefinder), a bit basic (the Agfa Silette I have written about before) or unreliable (would you trust a Kiev 4 with anything you love?). I have a couple of modern, plastic SLRs and may be able to borrow something better than the kit lenses on them, but I haven’t got time to sort out the seals on the A-1…

Looks like I’ve got a roll of T-max and a hard choice to make…

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25 thoughts on “5 frames with a Canon A-1 and TRI-X – By James Mitchell”

  1. I have an A1 that I bought because as supposedly not working at £20 it was worth the punt,one new battery later and it’s fine,it does have the dreaded A! Shutter squeak but a repairer has assured me it’s no way the worst he’s heard and has got a few years left in it, I’m with you that for such a highly specked camera the lack of fully metered manual is a pain

    1. It’s a shame that with a lot of these cameras it’s just a matter of time before something goes…
      And the lack of a proper manual mode is quite baffling!

  2. A1 seals are very simple. In fact if you live anywhere near Bristol and you wanna pop to over to me I will change them for you. The FD 1.4 is a brilliant lens and also adapt well to digital cameras, something you might want to consider.

    1. That’s a very kind offer, but I’m in Coventry. The 50mm 1.4 basically lives on my digital and gets more use than the kit lens for it for sure!

    2. I’m only using a Kiev 4 for a year. That’s every single photo I’m taking. In the last 6 months I’ve missed a couple of shots, the frame spacing sometimes gets a bit close and on 2 rolls I tore the film over winding at the end of the roll.

      Mine is from 1981, probably the worst era and it is a great camera. Don’t be scared.

      There are some pictures of mine on Instagram ___antony____

  3. James, a pity about the light seals, but at least you followed the golden rule of putting a trial film through a camera before committing to something important.
    Persevere with Tri-X, it is a wonderful all-rounder. Do you develop it yourself, or have it lab processed? My only reservation with lab processing is you are at the mercy of whatever “brew” they use, and they will give it a standard developing time. Tri-X, I found, works very well with Kodak’s D76 or Ilfod’s ID11, where the film’s characteristics can be changed to suit; Tri-X is very amenable to be “abused”.

    1. I’ve actually put a few rolls through it and it has been deteriorating with each one. I used DD-X for this and would be tempted to keep to this combo but I do like to tinker… D76 next I think!

  4. There would be a few places around that would re-do the seals for you if you don’t want to do it. Great camera, definitely recommend fixing it!

    1. I like a little DIY, though the last time I tried to fix a camera it just ended up in bits. Light seals should be simpler than a TLR shutter though

  5. Light seals are a 45 minute simple job. You need 2mm or 3mm thick closed cell foam sheeting plus a bit of adhesive-backed foam, isopropyl alcohol, pointy bamboo skewers, and q-tips. The fiam materials can be sourced cheaply on Ebay. YouTube has many tutorials, and the same methods apply to virtually all Japanese SLRs of this era

  6. JM: Replacing seals on virtually any 1970s-era Japanese SLR is an easy 45 minute task. Go to Ebay store ALL ABOUT RUBBER and buy some 1/16″ closed cell EPDM foam sheeting (a square foot will serve you through two dozen cameras). This you will cut into 1/16″ or 3/32″ wide strips with a small, very sharp scissors., and use for the grooves along the top and bottom of the film chamber where the film door closes. Also get a bit of adhesive-backed EPDM of similar thickness (this is for the vertical seal at the end of most film doors, near the hinge). Next, get some 92% isopropyl, a large box of Q-tips, and some pointy bamboo skewers or oversize toothpicks (these you will use to remove the old seal material and thoroughly clean out the areas where the new seals fit.) Here’s a YouTube tutorial on replacing the seals on an AE-1: https://youtu.be/E2VuUGUccMo This guide is accurate for your A-1 as well. Go for it, mate — it’s not difficult at all.

  7. Fantastic images, and a film I need to try out myself some time.

    I didn’t find the light seals on my A-1 particularly troubling to replace when I did mine – hardest part is always getting the old surfaces clean!

    Here’s hoping you get them sorted before the big day!

    1. I didn’t get them sorted in time, but I did borrow an EOS 50mm for a canon 500n. Autofocus feels like cheating!

      Thanks! I can happily recommend that you do try Tri-x

  8. These are beautiful and really show off what Tri-X can do. I love the tones in the ones with the trees, especially in the fourth photo. And the dog really pops out of the frame in the second one of him too. But the first has to be my favourite, you’ve caught that scene perfectly and it looks absolutely timeless. Really loved these, thank you for sharing.

  9. Can anyone reading this blog comment on today’s TriX versus the TriX of the 1960s and 1970s? I lived on a diet of that film back in the day, rolling my own cassettes from 100′ bulk loads, and usually pushing it to ISO 1200 (known as ASA 1200 back then) in Acufine developer. The original TriX had great latitude and (at 1200) high contrast and a grain structure that became visible (but not annoying) on an 8″x10″. I used it in an H3V with a Super-Takumar 35mm f2.0, a good walkaround combo for after-dark street shooting. JMitchell’s samples here suggest that the new TriX has finer grain than the original emulsion. Any opinions, anyone?? Thanks!

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