Return to the Canon A1

This isn’t a review as I have already owned this camera and sold it to fund a new lens for my digital camera. This camera holds a special place in my heart as it was the last one in which I found photos of my mother before she died. A few weeks ago my friend said she had a present for me and handed me a very dirty, barely functioning A1. She had purchased it for £10, a bargain really even in that state. She said, see if you can get this to work again.

On first inspection…

  • It was quite dusty
  • The battery compartment door was broken
  • The compensation button was stuck
  • The shutter was really slow and barely moved on some speeds
  • The seals were shot and crumbling on touch, this included the mirror dampener which was flaking all over the mirror
  • The f1.4 lens showed signs of fungus and the blades were stuck
  • The film counter wasn’t working correctly
  • It had the loudest squeal I have ever heard.

The first thing I decided to tackle was the lens. If I could clean it up, I could use it on my Canon AE1 that I recently regained and had serviced.

I am not really great at repairing lenses, mainly due to a lack of experience. I don’t have lenses lying around to practice on, well I do, but they are working so I am not using those. But here was one, I could try and I found a handy video.

I watched it step by step and worked on cleaning the lens. All was going well…

…until the ending. The last part didn’t have a clear view of the procedure to put it back together. I managed to get it all clean and in one piece, the blades were moving as they should, but it just wouldn’t mount back on the body. I didn’t want to damage it further as I knew all the pieces were there and it was 90% ok. So at this point, I sent it off to be fixed. Due to the cleaning etc I had already done it was very cheap and was returned very quickly. Yeah, a working Canon 50mm f1.4 lens.

OK, so now to work on the body…YouTube to the rescue again. I found this video which would help me fix the stuck button and the battery door. For both of these repairs I would have to take off the top cover.

That was very easy to follow and I managed it without issue. The battery door was in two pieces, but they were there so I took it off and glued it before reattaching. The stuck button just needed a little sanding and it moved freely again. I have done this kind of repair before, on a canon T90 so it might be a common issue with Canons of this era.

The last photo shows wool being used as a light seal on the main body. These were in good condition and probably light tight, not flaking, so I decided to leave them. BUT, I have a feeling this is the reason the film counter didn’t work as it should. The counter counts but it doesn’t reset. I think this wool has jammed the reset lever that works when the door is opened?? Actually, all I have to do to overcome this is to rewind the film and check the counter has returned to zero before loading a new film. The counter goes down as you rewind. If it isn’t on zero then I can actuate the camera until it is almost on zero again before loading the next film, simple.

OK, lens sorted, button fixed, battery door fixed, seals changed including the dampner, counter not an issue, what about the shutter?

While watching the shutter when I pressed the button it seemed like it wanted to work but it was getting stuck on the track. Maybe there was some dirt in there, it was very dirty. So I used a powerful air blower while it was open on bulb. That seemed to help, but it wasn’t perfect. I went through the process again, but this time I very very very carefully sprayed the area with a silicone spray. This did the trick, the shutter was now opening and closing…with an enormous squeal, but opening it was.

I have fixed a squeal in the past and it made me like the camera less, but this one was so bad that I had to do something. And one more video…

It did improve the squeak but it is still there. I repeated the process and left the camera to rest, but it was still there. At this point I thought, that’s enough. The camera is working and I don’t want to add too much oil and make things worse. At some point, I will pay for a proper service as this camera is worth it.

So now the hard work is done, does the camera actually capture images with the correct exposure?

As I was unsure at this point, I loaded some Kodak RAR and wandered the local area as I walked to the little library. Here are the results.

It was a dull day and the f1.4 came in handy, but look at that…it WORKS!!!!

The next time I saw my friend was on a She Hearts Film trip to London so I took the A1 with me, loaded with Agent Shadow. I took a couple of Cokin filters to try, so the shots with blur are filters not issues. I didn’t finish the film so also took it on a trip to Hull. I developed the film in pyro.

It definitely works 🙂

And here it is, my working Canon A1, thanks buddy.

15 thoughts on “Return to the Canon A1

  1. Toby says:

    I love this post….it’s some ways it’s high tide mark of your journey into film cameras. I remember 4-5 years ago when we first started chatting you hadn’t attempted to take a lens or camera apart to fix issues and gave the impression you were slightly weary of doing so…and now look at you. Bravo, hope you’re pleased with yourself, I’m certainly pleased for you.
    Some lovely shots, this is in the category of cameras were I reckon I can tell you like it, the photos have a bit of something extra

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Peggy says:

      I am proud of myself 😀 I would be more so if I had managed to 100% fix the lens. I am tempted to buy some junks to try those. And you are right. A couple the ones I have got rid of in the past, I wish I still had to try a a yashica 124g which I gave away as broken. 😞

      Liked by 1 person

  2. shaunedwards says:

    Well done. I’ve tried to repair a couple of cameras that I picked up for a few £ on a whim. I thought why not, they are not working anyway.
    Both ended up in the bin as a pile of parts!
    So you achieved a lot more than I have. I wish I had my dads old camera. But unfortunately it went missing years ago.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Peggy says:

      Hi, sorry your comment went in the spam folder. I have lots of regrets about cameras I have thrown away in the past. Now I try really hard before giving up.


  3. Roger B. says:

    Good job there Peggy, involving many steps on the Repair Road.
    The FD lenses, both original and “new”, when dismantled, often end up with a misalignment of the red dots on the mount and the rear face of the lens; they must be precisely in line for the lens to mount:
    The shutter squeal on AE-1 and A-1 cameras is easily fixed with a few drops of light oil dispensed from a needle oiler into the correct spot on the bottom of the camera:
    Be careful to avoid over-oiling, as excess oil will end up on the shutter curtains!
    YouTube has become a great source for DIY camera and lens repair videos … some are much clearer and accurate than others, so I watch ’em all, gleaning as I go.
    Best of luck to you in your future endeavors!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Peggy says:

    Thanks for the links Roger. I did try oiling the camera but it wasnt removing the squeal so I decided to stop to avoid over oiling like you mentioned.


  5. Christophe LONGUEPE says:

    To eliminate the squeak, see the video “Éliminer le squeak des canon ae1-ae1p-A1” from hosto photo. French video but very well done.
    With my Canon A1 I used this way (see the video) and… Miracle. As new.
    Thanks for your report
    Christophe Longuépé (Christopher Long sword in English)

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Stu says:

    Wow, well done. I was reading through that, waiting for the inevitable ‘I sorted everything other than the shutter, and that proved impossible, so the camera is effectively dead’ but that never came. Canon has never grabbed me for some reason. I’ve owned at least one of most other brands and have a go, like you at repair if it looks reasonably simple. 38 quid for a lens repair is fantastic. Can I ask where you sent it?

    Liked by 1 person

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