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

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Focusing Screens AE-1 PROGRAM uses a standard New Split rangefinder focusing screen. The New Split, designed especially for the New F-1, was the world's first screen that eliminated the darkening of the splitting image of the focusing part. It is the main reason why AE-1 Program has such an impressive viewfinder image. It is bright, very bright that one has to try to believe it (Anyway, so used to the dimmer views in many of the Canon's SLR..). The New Split is made up of crossed prisms having two angles lined up to form a grating.

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The prisms are positioned vertically. When the light beam coming through a large-aperture lens is broad, the steep-angled part is used. With a small aperture lens, focusing is performed.

<<-- A special tweezer tool is provided for user with each screen to facilitate their installation but highly unlikely that you will be still using it after a few rounds. Anyway, just be cautious and avoid damaging any parts.

The Canon A-1 require the user to send the camera back to a service centre to change its screen, and some camera models like the
Nikon FE of 1978 and Pentax mechanical MX allow user to interchange the focusing screens by themselves, a method that was made available for the AE-1 Program.

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In fact, it has the widest choice among its class - eight different screens were available including the standard screen incorporating the New Split/Microprism rangefinder.

The New Split/Microprism rangefinder, has clearly benefited from the development of the professional class New Canon F-1's sophisticated focusing screen technology. With the gentle-angled part of the screen. The conventional split-image rangefinder employs the single-angled echellette prism. The problem with this system is that the image darkens when slow lenses are used, blackening out at about f/4. With the New Split rangefinder, no darkening occurs even at f/5.6 ! This is one area that Canon has really scored with its effort.


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The surface of the focusing screen itself in the past also contributed to darkening of the image at small apertures. Until now the matte's surface particles were irregularly shaped with the consequence that light rays striking it were diffused in different directions. Canon has solved this problem with a unique laser-matte screen. Its surface texture is finer and smoother, and the particle sizes are different. Light rays hitting the surface are less diffused, so less light is lost. As a result the AE-1 PROGRAM's viewfinder is 50% brighter than its predecessors. And unlike some makers' matte screens, this new laser-matte screen purposely has an irregular pattern to solve the problem of moire effect:

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PDF format file (430k)

The AE-1 PROGRAM focusing screen compatibility chart with various FD lenses.

One BIG advantage of the AE-1 PROGRAM is, it can be used with many Canon accessories within the huge Canon photographic system. As the FD mount lever and pin based system was considered 'abandoned' and replaced with the electronic EOS mount system, the once world largest camera manufacturers must have a lot of used bodies, lenses and system accessories floating around the market. With the exception for those who are depending on photography to make a living (termed 'Pro'), or disturbing eyesight (like me..), take a look at the FD system seems logical enough for the pocket if you can forget about support and service issues from Canon, its manufacturer. Accessories ranging from power winder(s) and motor drive, databack, remote, focusing aids, optics and accessories for macro and close up photography, it should be good enough to handle virtually any photographic situation imaginable.


Note: The AE-1 PROGRAM can use both new and older Power Winder A and A2. Difference was only the older winder will only advance the film when you release your findewr from the shutter release button, further, remote capability is NOT possible with the older Power Winder A.

Motor drive ?
Yeah ! That was made possible with the electrical terminal and as well as the motor drive coupling as with the Canon A-1. The earlier AE-1 and other models within the A series have only a two pin terminal and not permissible to use with the motor drive MA set These terminals align with the winder contacts to provide perfect electronic matching and enable instantaneous film advance. Canon claimed a maximum firing rate of 4 fps can be achieved with the Ni-cd Battery Pack MA and 3 fps with alkaline cells.

Since all the manual-focus Canon cameras and their accessories have been discontinued, it is better to use the Motor Drive MA with its battery Pack MA that uses AA-size alkaline or carbon-zinc batteries.

The Motor Drive MA has two speeds which advance the film at a rapid 4 fps and 3 fps, respectively. Single-frame shooting is also possible. Two power sources are available: the Battery Pack MA and the rechargeable Ni-Cd Pack MA. The Power Winder A2 provides automatic film advance of about 2 fps. It has a convenient switch for continuous or single frame shooting. With the Power Winder A, continuous film winding takes place as long as you depress the shutter button. The Power Winder A accepts four size AA alkaline or carbon-zinc batteries; the Power Winder A2 accepts these and Ni-Cd batteries as well. The Wireless Controller LC-1 can be used with the Motor Drive MA or Power Winder A2 (Not possible with the older Winder A).

Some quick general info on the Power Winder A2
Detail description and Operation manual are available)


Winding Speed: Approximately 0.5 seconds.
Operation: When the shutter release button on the camera is pressed, the winder will function.
Shutter Speed Coupling Range: 1/60 to 1 /1000 second for continuous photography. "B," or any shutter speed for single frame photography. (However, if set at "B," AE photography cannot be performed.)
Two Positions: "C" for continuous shooting at about two frames per second. "S" for single frame shooting. Automatic Cut-off Circuit: When the film is completely wound or if the batteries become exhausted, the winder will automatically stop and the warning lamp (LED) will light up.
Power Source: Four AA size 1.5V alkaline, carbon zinc or Ni-Cd batteries.
Mounting on Camera: By using tripod socket on the camera.
Size: 140.8 x 53.4 x 27.5mm
Weight: 275g including batteries.

Flash Photography

Diverting from the mainstream flash photography technology employed by virtually all its competition during the early '80s, the AE-1 PROGRAM only has automatic and manual flash to toy around with, and came without the popular TTL OTF (Through the lens, off the film plane) flash exposure control, first developed by Olympus in their OM-2n in 1975. Canon claimed the reliability and accuracy of the technology used by its competition was an issue and instead, decided to provide only automatic flash.

This is the same that applied to their flagship model, the New Canon F-1 introduced six months earlier than the AE-1 Program. Well, whatever they may have claimed, eventually we saw the multimode Canon T-90 in 1986 offering both A-TTL and TTL flash metering for the first time in a Canon SLR body.

Making its debut along with the AE-1 PROGRAM was a new dedicated flash unit: the Speedlite 188A. The Speedlite 188A has its advantage in its operating ease and convenience. All you need to do is to set the ISO film speed and the auto aperture on the flash. There are two apertures to choose from besides manual: f/2.8 and f/5.6 with ASA 100 film, which correspond to distances of 1-9m and 0.5-4.5m respectively. Guide number was a moderate 25 (ASA 100, m).

Turn the unit on and after a few seconds a green "" will appear in the viewfinder. This signifies that the flash is charged and ready to go. The AE-1 PROGRAM's circuitry will automatically sets the camera to the 1/60 sec. flash sync speed and chooses the aperture as well, as long as the lens is on "A" and the shutter speed selector dial is at any setting
other than "B" The " " will flash on and off for two seconds after the shutter is released to inform you that the exposure was correct. It operates on only four AA-size batteries. A wide adapter (standard accessory) enables flash coverage with lenses as wide as 28mm. However, depends on your requirement on the varible power output, Canon's other Speedlites, like 133A, l 55A, l 77A, l 99A, 533G and 577G, can be used with the AE-l PROGRAM. With the exception of auto-exposure flash confirmation, they provide the same ease of operation as the Speedlite 188A.

Some quick general info on the Speedlite 188A


Type: Electronic computer flash unit with a series control system.
Guide Number: 25 (ASA 100, m) or 41 (ASA 25, ft.). l 6 (ASA 100, m) or 26 (ASA 25, ft.) with Wide Adapter 188A.
Recycling Time: Less than 8 sec. using alkaline-manganese batteries. Less than 6 sec. using Ni-Cd batteries. Number of Flashes: About 200 using alkaline-manganese batteries. About 70 using Ni-Cd batteries.
Flash Coverage Angle: Covers a 35mm lens. Covers a 28mm lens when Wide Adapter 188A is used.
Flash Duration: 1/700 sec. to 1 /50,000 sec.
ASA Film Speed Scale: ASA 25-880.
Dimensions: 68(W) x 52(D) x 103(H)mm (2-11/16-x 2-1/16-x 4-1/16")
Weight: 290g (101/4 ozs.) incl. batteries.
Accessories: Soft Case, Wide Adapter 188A.

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The film back is detacheable type and thus it can be used with Canon Databack MA. But it has its limitations since Canon Databack is little weak* in its original design.

The AE-1 PROGRAM can be used with many Canon accessories. For close-up work there are the Extension Tubes FD, Auto Bellows which employs a Double Cable Release for automatic diaphragm control, and the easy-to-use Macrolite ML-1 flash unit. Two close-up lenses - the 450 and 240 - can be used on any Canon lens from 35mm to 135mm to take superb macro pictures. Copying - taking pictures of flat objects is another field fully catered to with Canon accessories. Essential in this line is the Copy Stand 4. For the scuba diver who wants to take his Canon AE-1 PROGRAM underwater to film the wonders of the deep, there is the Marine Capsule A. Used with the Power Winder A, it can accept 16 different lenses.

* Canon's Data Back A. It attaches to the back of the camera and automatically imprints data on the lower right hand corner of the picture in perfect synchronization with exposure. Three dials enable you to imprint the day, month and year, or classify your pictures with Roman numerals or letters of the alphabet. In addition, the Data Back A can be used with the Power Winder A2 or A (Please purchase with caution, the numeric dial doesn't provide to year 2000 +).
Credit: Image courtesy of Mr. Claudio®. who is a collector for Canon photo gear, he also has an Ebay Section as well as maintaining a website on his own where occasionally trading some photo equipment. Image(s) copyright © 2003. All rights reserved.

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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 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
Others:- Canon Auto Bellow Unit Manual; Canon Macro Photography Guide, Canon Slide Duplicator Manual, Canon Angle Finder User's Manual

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Maintenance Team: Kaipin, Terry Carraway & Dr Strangelove; Pawel Nabe for his image on the Data Memory Back. EEwyn Foo, my nephew, who has spent quite a number of nights converting the original manual in HTML format. Mr. Richard Yeow, General Manager -Optical Division of Canon Marketing for granting special permission to reproduce this manual into HTML format in his site as a form of obligation to all Canon FD mount users worldwide. * Canon, FD, FL Lenses, are registered trade names or trademarks of Canon Inc. Japan.