Some might say that the Canonet QL19 and its relations in the Canonet family are rangefinder cameras, rather than point and click film cameras. But why can’t they be both?
I previously looked at one of the original Canonet cameras and argued that it was on the border of being a point and click camera. My argument was that, for its day, it served the same purpose as more modern point and shoot film cameras. The Canonet QL19 is easier to include. It also doesn’t really take the classic format of some of the more modern compact film cameras – it doesn’t have a lot of plastic in it and has a more traditional camera shape. It also isn’t autofocus and won’t automatically wind frames forward, or rewind the film at the end of the roll.
But, the Canonet QL19 is certainly not a ‘professional’ interchangeable lens camera and having shutter priority makes it pretty easy to walk around point and clicking snapshots to your heart’s content, without having to think too much about anything other than photo composition. That, along with having a built-in lens, is good enough for me.
Compact and quick loading
The Canonet QL19 is certainly compact, for its time – although perhaps not to the degree of the more modern point and shoots. It is one of several similar cameras, produced by Canon from the mid-1960s until the early 1970s. The Canonet QL19 has a 45mm ƒ1.9 lens (to ƒ16). The QL apparently stands for ‘quick loading’ and it is, indeed, very easy to load film. I simply, placed the film flat into the chamber, closed the camera and the film wound onto the take-up spool as I turned the lever. There is a helpful red and white dial to show that the film is advancing (as well as, of course, observing that the rewind dial is moving).
Shutter speeds range from 1/4 to 1/500. Film speed needs to be set manually and ranges from 25 to 800 ISO (or ASA, in this case). There is a self-timer, and a tab on the focus wheel, which comes in handy on such a compact lens. My copy of the camera came with a dedicated flash – called the Canonlite D – and there are three different flash settings on the aperture dial. However, I wasn’t able to get this working. I suspect that the bulb is gone after all these years.
Shutter priority is an interesting way to shoot photos. In digital photography, I tend to use aperture priority for ‘walk around’ shooting. I usually prefer being able to control depth of field and, with modern digital sensors dealing so well with high ISO speeds, it’s easy to keep using a fast shutter speed in most lighting situations. Setting the Canonet QL19 to shutter priority allows me to set the shutter speed I like whilst, at the same time, keeping an eye on the chosen aperture in the finder window. I found that depth of field became less of a concern and it encouraged a more flowing ‘walk around’ approach to photography. I can see how the Canonet QL19 might have been a good choice for travel and tourist photography, back in the day.
Manual mode is also possible, however the meter doesn’t function in manual mode. It is there purely to show the aperture at different shutter speeds, when in shutter priority mode. The camera can work in manual mode without a battery, but requires one for the meter and shutter priority to work.
Quiet and smooth
The rangefinder in my copy of the Canonet QL19 was quite faded, but still usable. The thing I loved the most was the shutter itself. It’s probably the quietest shutter I’ve ever used. Even compared to other rangefinder cameras I’ve used – such as the Canon P, or Canon 7, or even the more modern Voigtlander Bessa cameras – I found it the smoothest and most vibration free.
I really liked this camera. It is compact, although not light, and the 45mm lens is a nice format. The ‘top of the line’ in the Canonet range is apparently the QL17, with a fast ƒ1.7 lens. However, I’m not sure that this would add a lot for the kinds of situations that I would choose this kind of camera for – it’s not what I would reach for first in low-lighting situations. Importantly, this Canonet QL19 was also cheap (about $20 in a charity shop). The CLA cost more than the camera.
That said, it’s probably not the kind of point and shoot film camera that I would throw into a bag as a first choice. It’s heavier than more modern film compacts and it doesn’t have autofocus. Whilst its lens might be better quality (subjectively) than many of the cheaper modern point and shoots, I’d be more inclined to take out my Olympus OM1n, if I wanted to concentrate on quality. It’s a similar size and weight.
But overall, the Canonet QL19 is a winner in my humble opinion.