I was given this camera with the words “I was going to throw it away, but you can have it if you want and can make it work”. A quick check showed that the light seals were glue and the meter battery was flat (but hadn’t leaked). A little bit of emery cloth on the battery contacts, a new battery and some light seals and it sprang into life. Incidentally, Covid handwash gel is perfect for cleaning old light seal residue: the alcohol does the work and the gel stops it spreading.
So, what do we have? An automatic exposure rangefinder camera with a 40mm f2.8 lens. It was made from 1971-76 and was one of the last all-metal compact cameras before everyone switched to using plastics. This puts it right in the middle of the production run of the Olympus Trip (1967-1984) and it’s a similar offering.
The Canonet 28 was a cheaper person of the more famous Canonet QL17 and was made in Taiwan. It has shutter speeds ranging from 1/30 to 1/600, apertures from f2.8 to f16 and film speed settings from ISO 25 to 400. All pretty normal, basic and usable. Like several other automatic cameras of this type, the shutter locks if the meter indicates under or over exposure. So putting a lens cap on the camera prevents accidental shots. It also stops you taking blank shots if you forget to remove the lens cap.
The lens might be better than you would expect, with five elements in four groups. This is the same configuration as the Pentax 40mm pancake lens that everyone is chasing, so this Canon might be a cheaper alternative that comes with its own film holder and shutter.
The viewfinder shows only the shutter speed selected by the meter, not the aperture. But they vary together from 1/30 at f2.8 to (the experts say) 1/620 at f14.5. If you take the setting off the Auto position you get 1/30 shutter speed but access to manual control of the aperture. This is meant for using flash. The meter itself will lock and hold its setting with a half press of the shutter. Perfect for this camera’s audience – you can shoot on automatic, then take a bit more control as you learn more about photography. It also weighs just over half a kilo, so not too onerous to carry around. The only thing to perhaps think about is that it was originally built to use a 1.35v mercury battery. Mine now has a fresh 1.5v cell (same as the expired one that was in it), so there may be a difference in the metering. We’ll see if it matters.
The lens has a short focus throw, turning only through about 40 degrees to go from infinity to its closest focus of 0.8m. The rangefinder patch in the viewfinder looks faint, but in use works quite well. I’m used to twisting and turning my rangefinders to get an edge or feature that can show a double image for focusing (or even using a laser pointer). The Canon surprised me by showing a clear double image without any fiddling.
The flash hot shoe has an extra contact, as there was a dedicated flashgun for this camera that could be used in full autoexposure mode. With any other flash you have to take the camera off auto and set the aperture. This sets the shutter speed to 1/30, which is pretty slow for a Copal shutter that should sync at all speeds.
There is a little window below the tip of the winding lever that gives visual confirmation that the film has engaged with the sprockets and is winding-on. It’s a bit superfluous, as the rewind crank also rotates. Or I thought so, until I rewound the film. When you do that the indicator wiggles until the end of the film releases from the make-up spool. This makes it easy to rewind the cassette with the end still out. The film counter window is tiny, but has a magnifier. Even so, I had to tilt the camera into the light to be able to see the numbers.
There is another bit of good design that you find when you load the camera. Rather then the usual wind-and-fire to get past the initial exposed part, the Canonet just winds-on a couple of times to get to the start position. Clever, as it just works and would save you from losing the first shot or two on the film if you were not familiar with 35mm.
In use, the viewfinder display of the camera’s selected shutter speed is not that helpful. It really only confirms that the camera is not struggling with overexposure or a slow speed.
The shutter button has quite a long action, but this does make it easier to find the half-press spot where the meter reading will be locked-in. This is really the only control you have – take a look at the displayed shutter speed, point the camera at a darker or lighter area to change it, then lock that exposure with a half-press of the shutter button. Then reframe and shoot.
I’m impressed with the build quality of this camera. It was Canon’s cheap and low-end model but the rangefinder seems to be in adjustment and everything works. For a 45 year old camera, this is pretty good. It does help that it has obviously been looked after.
Carrying the camera is not so great. The standard strap slips off my shoulder (which could be fixed) and it places the camera under my elbow. This would be fine, but it risks me knocking the lens cap off. That would enable the camera’s meter and shutter, so there could be a risk of taking accidental shots. The camera is small and light though, so it’s easy to hand-carry. Hey, I could even go tourist and carry it around my neck.
I loaded the camera and took it for a walk. Normally I would be more interested in the handling of the camera than the pictures, but I’m curious to see what the automatic exposure does and how the 40mm lens performs. …And it’s pretty obvious that the higher battery voltage is being seen as more light, meaning that the camera is underexposing. Now, I’m sure I could do something clever with a battery adapter but I took the crude and simple route: I put a spot of black marker pen on the meter window. It’s not a permanent marker, so I can see how the lens works and buy the adapter if I need it.
The lens is quite good. It even delivers a slightly swirly bokeh under the right conditions.
Even though the aperture of f2.8 is modest, it can be used in lower light and it can give some subject to background separation.
The negatives were nicely exposed, so the bodge with the marker pen seems to have worked. Neat.
So overall, quite a handy package that works better than you might expect for what was a cheaper consumer camera.