Some film cameras are cheap. There is no doubt about it. Sure, you can but a Leica or a Hasselblad for a small fortune but it is fully possible to buy a great camera that suits your needs perfectly for next to nothing. Even the same brand can have similar models with vast differences in pricing, especially concerning point & shoots. Olympus MJU II vs. a not so overly hyped Olympus model is perhaps the clearest example of this. Either way, one’s personal experience is not determined how much you pay for it.
I always look to try to score a bargain wherever I can find one and usually that is looking at online auctions. I have a few standard searches, mostly for brands that I like such as Canon, Olympus, Yashica etc. One day, I came across a Canon camera I had never seen before. It had an almost stereotypical 80’s-inspired design and with a price tag of roughly 1 euro. To my surprise, I was the only one who placed a bid, and the camera was mine. It was not until a few days later when I discovered my mistake. The camera I had bought was not a Canon, but a “Cannonmate AE 808”. An almost painfully obvious knock-off which for some reason I had mistaken for an obscure model of Canon.
The Cannonmate AE 808
The Canonnmate itself has a quite interesting design with a four-pointed star on the lens cover and a logo which appears to almost be glowing. You can really feel the poor build quality, but it does sit quite nicely in my hand. It has the features one has come to expect from a basic point and shoot, a flash which must be put on manually, an ISO dial which only varies from 100 to 400, a rewind button and a shutter button. Nothing more, nothing less. It has a 35mm lens, but it is unclear what the widest aperture is but probably it’s probably not even as fast as f/3.5.
Perhaps the most interesting aspect about this Canonnmate camera, is that it might even be a fake of a fake. Every so often, I have seen cameras with the “Canon mate” brand pop up online, and just figured that is was some cheap third party Canon production with the original Canon logo on it. There is a review of one on Canny Cameras here.
But this camera isn’t a Canon Mate, it’s a Canonnmate. Could this be a be a knock-off Canon Mate, and therefore a knock-off of a knock-off – that would be a staggering process of forgery. Perhaps, instead Canon themselves were not happy with the Canon mate brand and threatened a lawsuit. If that were the case, perhaps this is simple a later -model knock-off.
Either way, there is very little to be found about the Cannonmate brand, just a few online shops selling them cheap, and a roll uploaded to Lomography.com but not much else.
But how was the Cannonmate to shoot with? I put in a roll of Kodak Gold, put it in my pocket for the day and gave it a try. At the end of the roll, my experience that it was not that great, but not too bad either. I certainly enjoyed using it more than many of Canons non-fake point & shoots (such as the Prima 5 and Prima Twin S).
I got some (almost) decent shots from it too, but it can really compared to a well-built brand name camera? No, but it was still fun to shoot with. It wound and rewound the film flawlessly and handled basically just like any other point & shoot. It was not awfully loud but not stealthily quiet either.
I almost felt a sense of wonder to see what this Canonnmate – a possibly-inception level fake camera – could do. The exposure was sometimes a bit off as it tended to overexpose but it was used on a cloudy but bright day which might have thrown of the meter a bit.
My expectations for the Canonnmate were extremely low so the fact that it was able to produce some half-decent pictures took me by surprise. This was perhaps the most enjoyable aspect of using this camera.
I usually buy cameras quite selectively and often based on reviews which made the experience with the Canonnmate quite freeing. Instead of comparing my pictures to the ones in posted in reviews, I focused more than ever on my personal experience with the camera and never felt the “pressure” to like a camera because of some preconceived idea that I should. For example, I have shot perhaps 10 rolls with my Olympus XA and I am still coming to terms with what I think of camera, trying to ignore its almost cult-like status.
Despite being perhaps the most fake camera ever, the Cannonmate gave me something that an expensive and hyped point and shoot could not have, freedom to explore something completely new. So even though the result where mediocre at best, it reminded me to focus on my own experience with a camera instead of worrying what I should and should not like.
I would not recommend the Canonnmate AE 808 to anyone, but I would recommend leaving your preconceived ideas at the door and just go and take pictures with whatever camera you like, even if it is perhaps the most fake camera ever.
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