The Canonet QL17 – mini review

The classic little rangefinder that punches above its weight. In the 1970’s the Canonet became a household name, with over a million units sold. So let’s have a look and see why this camera became one of the best selling fixed lens rangefinders ever made.

Battle of the brands

During the 1970’s several of the great camera makers from Japan decided to try their hands at making a fixed rangefinder camera with a fast lens. Lots of them were made, and some of them were great, but none was more popular than the Canonet. With a fast f1.7 40mm lens, Auto exposure and a flash hot shoe this camera was a winner in many aspects.
But it was and still is the price the is the real winner. This camera was very cheap when released and is still not terribly expensive, you can pick up a beater for as little as $40. Though you are certainly going be paying a fair bit more for the black version, the rarest and most desirable version of this fantastic camera.

Easy to handle

The camera is small and very easy to handle. If you wanted a size comparison it would be roughly the same size a Minolta CLE, though a fair bit lighter. The camera is well made and has a nice bright 0.6 rangefinder. Inside the finder it is simply laid out and not overly cluttered.
Although small for my tastes it is bigger than many other compact cameras and is more than enough for most situations. The meter is simple and the actions are simple too.
This is a very easy camera to use, it was designed for the mass market, so there was no point in making it overly complex. There are no little idiosyncrasies, this is a walk the line camera, but a very good walk the line camera. Canon has never really been known as a company that makes eccentric cameras, and this one is no exception. What Canon do is make very capable cameras that everyone can use.

The Canonet QL17 (QL stand for quick load, in case you were wondering), boasts a leaf shutter, making it quiet and very stable. With a top speed of 1/500th it also offers flash sync at all speeds. This is a very good stealth camera, especially if you have the black version. It is fast, quiet and easy to stuff into a pocket at a moments notice.

One of my favourite things about this camera is the incredibly short focus action. At only 45 degrees it is almost over before it has started. I was a little bit surprised the first time that I used it and I thought it might be jammed, as I am used to a larger reach. Once you get used to this it will be an extremely fast focussing action.
The camera even has an idiots guide on it for less experienced photographers, with the sunny and cloudy settings on the barrel, so that you don’t have to do anything. But even a complete beginner will be able to pick this thing up and be shooting manually within a week.
The quick load function means no fiddling about making sure that the leader is aligned with the spools correctly, just load the film to the coloured tab, close the door and crank the film advance. If the advance doesn’t turn the film is not loaded, very simple. This makes changing film a breeze and helps you to be ready for the moment.
The AE mode is well balanced and very simple to use, this makes the camera is easier to use. It is easy to switch to manual mode too and you can make the choice between the two whilst on the fly. Activating the AE lock could not be simpler too, just slightly depress the shutter button and you are there.

There are some drawbacks to this camera though, as not everything is perfect. When this camera was produced, mercury cells were the norm. But this is no longer the case. There are substitutes though, you can get an adapter to use modern cells or you can do what I do which is buy a Wein mercury replacement zinc air battery. The zinc air replacement means that you don’t have to have the meter adjusted and you can carry on as normal.
As this was a mass produced camera for the lower end of the market people didn’t generally look after these cameras, so you may find that your camera is battered. Things to look out for are rotten seals, broken light meter, mould and worn out rewind levers. Whilst you can have the camera repaired by a few places, they are generally so cheap that you might find it easier to just replace the camera, unless it has some kind of sentimental value.
But, if you have the black enamel version of this camera, then it would be a safe investment to make sure this thing is in working condition. The black is rare and looks fantastic. If you find one, hang on to it and take care of it, it is a beautiful camera.
canonet QL17 black paint and the silver chrome versions
I have had a lot of fun using this camera, and I have been surprised at how good the lens is. This is a great camera for the price and will give you a lot of happy film moments. They are easy to find as so many were produced, but if you want a black one you might have to look a bit harder. There are several aftermarket repainted models on the market too, I have seen a hammertone version recently.
If you are looking for a budget rangefinder or are just starting to get into the film photography then you can not go wrong with the fantastic Canonet QL17. I sometimes have them for sale on the Cameras for Sale page.

Don’t forget to comment, tell me what you like about the Canonet, or what you don’t like, come and earn your Camera Karma