Modern Classic SLR Series
The Canon AE-1 Program - Other Issues - Part I

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Programmed AE

As with most of the other A Series model, the AE-1 PROGRAM has a Central Processing Unit (CPU) which functions as the brain of the camera's sophisticated electronic system. It handles all signal information and issues appropriate commands for immediate response to any picture-taking situation. And in Programmed AE mode, it computes two essential functions - the shutter speed and aperture. This "focus and shoot" feature naturally makes taking pictures a lot easier. You no longer have to worry about sudden changes in lighting conditions, e.g., when your subject moves from an extremely bright, sunlit place into shadow.

PGRM Setting.jpg
For Programmed AE, turn the shutter speed selector dial to "PROGRAM," making sure that the lens aperture ring is set on "A." Although the aperture is selected for you automatically, the f/stop will still appear in clear, red LED's in the viewfinder.

The original AE-1 was lacking a programmed AE mode, while the fabulous spec
Canon A-1 has six exposure control modes in all - of which the Programmed AE was one of them. Users generally realised the convenience of the Program AUTO. In fact, the early eighties was the era where full automation in camera design really took off. Competition such as Olympus OM-4, the Nikon FG and Pentax's Program A have added more flavour into such a competitive market place. But the real killer was the Minolta's X-700, with the MPS (Minolta Program System) and TTL flash exposure metering, and even though Minolta's optic are fully capable of providing shutter priority AE, the X-700 has mysteriously turned to aperture priority AE instead and omitted shutter priority AE from its feature list.

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The decision remained and the camera was very well received and rated as a hugely successful camera model commercially and put Minolta back to the path as a major contender in the SLR camera market until Canon's T70 relegated it to second place in 1984.

X700.jpg NikonFG.jpg ProgmA.jpg OM4.jpg

What do all these competitions have in common ?

The AE-1 PROGRAM, despite rich in features when compared with other A series models, like its huge improvement over the original AE-1 of 1976 - some of its weaknesses were quite apparent when compared with the models from the other makers in similar class. The body seemed a little too bulky, although it projects a solid feel and have the advantage of sharing with other system accessories such as Motor Drive MA, Power Winder, Databack, etc. The shutter may sound a little fragile with its silk-cloth horizontal travelled shutter curtain, which also present a slower sync speed of 1/60 sec. Next was the omission of TTL flash exposure control from its main feature list, it was the only model among the few rival models mentioned earlier that doesn't provide a TTL flash metering. The exposure control in auto mode is only restricted to AE Lock and there is no exposure compensation dial for you to fine tune exposure, other than using the film speed to fool the meter circuit. Lastly, as a camera that was targetted at serious amateur and home consumers, the lack of a handy one touch multiple exposure capability is indeed a questionable move by Canon.

Shutter-Speed Priority AE You cannot deny if your preference is on action bound type of photography, Canon cameras always triumph in its spec sheet. Although an aperture priority AE camera can also provide similar result by adjusting the aperture value to the desired shutter speed setting (Or at worst, manually set shutter speed and find the combination for the appropriate matching aperture value). But by having the exposure control in automated way is far more convenient if your type of photography demands the precision of ensuring the correct shutter speed fast (or slow) enough to achieve the effect you wanted. Thus, the Shutter-priority automation set you free to concentrate on the action rather than fumbling with camera controls. A Formula One racing car hurtling around a race track or even a child cycling past in the park will come out as mere blurs (long before AF became the standard for such action photography) if you don't use a fast enough shutter speed. And this is why Shutter-speed Priority AE is most effective way for action photography. With an old fabric based
horizontal travelled shutter curtain design virtually adopted for all A series models, the AE-1 PROGRAM's fastest shutter speed was limited to 1/1000 sec. and is affects the maximum sync speed to a limited 1/60 sec. These spec were considered a little lag behind especially when competitions like the Nikon has already introduced the action stopping 1/4000 sec in their mechanical Nikon FM-2 model a year later in 1982. Even the compact and push button control Pentax ME-Super was offering 4 - 1/2000 sec + B + X (1/125 sec) on its spec sheet. Hey, I am not complaining, but that really interpreted into a less successful AE-1 Program as compared with the original AE-1 that has sold more than 5 million units worldwide! Well, that was a feat hard to be duplicated ... even by any of Canon's EOS models. Anyway, whatever the shutter speed you have set, the AE-1 PROGRAM's viewfinder will display the f/stop, providing a handy reference to the depth of field. And in case the picture will be under- or overexposed, the appropriate f/stop will flash on and off to warn you. With shutter-priority AE to capture the action and a Programmed AE Mode which lets you just focus and shoot, the AE-1 PROGRAM is one of the most versatile SLR's around.

Manual Control With two AE modes (plus Electronic Flash AE), why the need for manual control as well (Not refering to battery issue, the AE-1 Program still needs battery to power all its function, even when you are in manual exposure control mode), you may ask? One reason is that some photographers still like to do everything themselves and the other is that the situation (e.g., unusual lighting conditions or for special creative effects) sometimes requires it. Manual doesn't mean difficult, however, with the AE-1 PROGRAM. First, dis-engage the lens' aperture ring from the "A" mark. Next, select a shutter speed by turning the shutter speed selector dial. Now, depress the shutter release button halfway. A
red "M" will appear in the viewfinder to remind you that you are on manual mode, while the aperture the camera would otherwise have chosen will also be displayed. The choice is yours whether to set this aperture or compensate by over- or underexposing the shot.

Metering The AE- 1 PROGRAM's meter employs a center-weighted averaging system and the camera has incorporated some of the latest in electronics and optical technology available during its era. Exposure information is invisible until you need it, at which time you press the shutter release button halfway or the Exposure Preview Switch. Then all necessary data will appear in red LED's on the right-hand side. If the picture will be underexposed, the appropriate aperture blinks to warn you. And if the shutter speed selected in the programmed mode is 1/30 sec. or slower, the "P" blinks to warn you of camera shake. The brightness of these LEDs changes according to the brightness of your subject, so they are always easy to read, no matter what the lighting conditions.

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The light sensitivity pattern (shown below) remains virtually unchanged even when different lenses are used.
AE Lock Switch There is only a single handy way in the AE-1 Program to override camera's selected exposure - with the AE (Automatic Exposure) Lock. Although one would expect Canon to incorporate an addditional exposure compensation dial as well as but strangely it was omitted. However, a seasoned photographer should able to utilize the film speed setting to attain similar compensation.

AE Lock.jpg
The one touch AE lock, facilitated compensation by increasing the exposure by 1.5 stops and triggers a memory control to free your left hand for focusing or steadying the camera.

Partially depress the shutter release button to meter and press in the AE Lock Switch. Keeping the shutter release button depressed, compose your picture and shoot.

| Previous | Next | 1/2 Part II - Other Issues
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Part I: Basic Camera Operations (3 parts)
II: Advance Camera Operations (5 parts)
III: Other Issues (2 parts)

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Highly suggestive useful external links/
resources created by Mr.Christian Rollinger:

Essentials: - Canon AE-1 Program:- A Repair Manual B Part List C General Repair Guide Canon AE-1P Instruction Manual Canon Flash models:- Canon 300TL flash(1.5MB); Macrolite ML-1(HTML); Macrolite ML-2; Macrolite ML-3; Speedlite 133a; Speedlite 155a(HTML); Speedlite 177a; Speedlite 188a(HTML); Speedlite 199a; Speedlite 244t; Speedlite 277t (HTML); Speedlite 533; Speedlite 577
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