As part of my film Camera Donation project, I was fortunate enough to receive a Canon Canonet QL19. The Canonet QL19 was first introduced by Canon in 1965, four and half years before I was born. It is a 35mm rangefinder camera with a shutter priority Cds-meter, controlled auto-exposure and manual override.
When I started this blog, I never had intentions of giving detailed reviews of film cameras, but each time I’m fortunate enough to come across one I feel obligated to write something about my experiences with the camera. This QL19 was in excellent condition and mechanically it appeared ready to test a roll of film. The light seals along the bottom edge of the bottom of the camera looked suspect so after loading it with film I taped all the seams created by the back cover with gaffers tape. This isn’t an in-depth non-bias review of a camera but my limited personal and biased experiences with the camera and a few images from the camera as well.
Canon’s first QL series included the QL17, QL19, and QL25. The main distinction (besides price) between the cameras were their maximum apertures of 1.7, 1.9 and 2.5 respectively. The QL17 carried a 6 element 5 component lens and the QL19 and QL25 carried a 5 element 4 component lens. In addition, the QL25 lost the self-timer and the ability to use M type flashbulbs.
The QL in the camera’s name stands for Quick Loading and for the single roll I’ve loaded, I would agree. The system seemed intuitive and it made the loading of the film a bit easier than what I’m used to with traditional 35mm SLRs. You pull the leader of the film until it lines up with a mark near the film take-up sprocket. The back cover contains a smaller second door that first folds over the film so you can visually confirm that the film is properly held in place and aligned on the sprocket teeth. After confirming proper film alignment, you close the back door, advance the film in manual with the lens cap on and you’re all set.
To the best of my knowledge, this QL system was abandoned by Canon and no form of it is present in any other manual loading 35mm film cameras that I’ve seen, including Minolta, Pentax, Nikon, and Olympus. I’ve only used it once now but it did seem easier than trying to thread the film leader into a small slot and it also gave me more confidence that the film would be properly engaged in the sprockets once I closed the back. I’m curious why Canon decided to abandon it. I’ll use this camera again and maybe as I shoot more rolls of film with it, I’ll get my answer.
I quickly discovered that the rangefinder was in poor shape. It was very faint and I decided for this test it would be an outdoor camera only. The rangefinder was usable in bright light but non-existent in indoor or low lighting conditions. After I had already run a roll through the QL19 I learned about a trick you can use to improve the contrast for a fading rangefinder window. I tried it on another rangefinder that I have and it gave great results. Because of this trick, I’m all fired up to try the QL19 again using this technique. But for this review, I only used the camera outdoors with its unaltered rangefinder viewer.
The next “old and used camera” anomaly that I ran across is that by frame 10 I was starting to suspect, while in shutter priority mode, the camera’s metering was choosing an aperture that would underexpose the image. I then made several comparisons with my Fujifilm X100T, an exposure meter app on my phone and the QL19 and confirmed that it was consistently reading about 1 to 1 1/3 stops too low in all light conditions. The camera was loaded with Fujicolor 200 so I switched the camera’s ASA from 200 to 100 for the rest of the roll. After reviewing the scans of the negatives, thanks to the films latitude, the underexposed frames weren’t much different but I could see a little less detail in the shadows.
I worked through the roll shooting in both manual and shutter priority (auto) without any major issues and I’ll briefly list some points that I noted as I used the camera. As a protection to the user, the shutter will not release in auto mode if the meter calculates a shutter speed outside of the camera’s limits. The camera is equipped with a working self-timer lever. However, all the levers (ASA, self-timer and shutter ring safety stopper release) are not easily changed. It’s an old camera and all of these levers are just small sharp metal tabs. An exposure compensation dial didn’t make the bragging list and has to be performed by changing the film speed. The camera contains a cold shoe and x-sync port which I didn’t test.
The shutter is quiet as a mouse and the camera had a medium to a large size feel in my hands. A nice addition is that the light meter sensor is located above the lens but within the filter ring, which saves you the hassle of adjusting for correct exposure when you have a filter attached to the camera. The shutter speed and aperture rings are located on the lens and a quirky choice made by the manufacturers is that the aperture ring is free-flowing and doesn’t contain detents for half stops or stops as I’m accustomed to but the shutter ring does utilize detents at each full stop. In addition to shutter speeds of 1/500 to 1, bulb is also a choice and the shutter trigger accepts a standard screw-in cable release.
I wasn’t able to take many low light photos and primarily used smaller apertures with generous depths of the field but on the two photos I did take with wide apertures, I suspect the camera might be front focusing 4-5″. The focus distance indicator is not located directly on top of the lens (as you look down on the camera) but about 20 degrees to the right. This is the first camera I had ever used like this and it was a bit off-putting. Overall, I enjoyed using the camera and I plan to shoot it again. Now that I know that it is capable of producing usable images, my plan is to test it’s limit the next time it gets out. I’ll explore if the flash port works and try a few long exposures to test the bulb shutter setting and to discover if there are any issues using a cable release.
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My Film Beginnings Project has also intrigued me to try using other 35mm film cameras along the way. If you have a working 35mm film camera that you no longer use please take a look here to see what I’m thinking. Any help you can provide would be greatly appreciated. Thank you.