2.09.2012

Canon Designers Fail Again. My Overdue Review on a "Retro" Product.

When will all this retro nonsense stop?

I watched the Nikon rollout of the D800 a few days ago and it reminded me that Canon is on the ropes. For good.  Oh sure.  They're the biggest camera company in the galaxy (right now), design and produce their own incredible sensors, and just a few years ago the Nikon users were jumping in droves to get the white lenses, the super video, the full frame, the high ISO.  But now everything has changed and there's no such thing as continual "leapfrogging."  Canon is doomed.  DOOMED !!!  We all know it.  And I think I found the genesis of their hideous decline.  Someone asked me to review this camera (above)  and I was shocked with the primitive feature set.  I know it must be a current camera because it's so........retro.

It's called a Canonet QL17.   How cutesy.  It sports a prime 40mm lens with a fast, 1.7 f-stop but that's just about where the feature set ends....

Well,  here's my review:  The damn thing is unusable.  Let's go down the list of unredeemable flaws.  To start with, all that satiny metal finish is way too retro-ly conspicuous.  I've applied ample stealth tape in an attempt to tone down this grasping, faux modern design aesthetic as best I can.

The lens is FIXED.  Not that it was broken but,  I've learned now that any camera with a fixed lens is inferior to an interchangeable lens camera.  And zooms are best of all.  Who can do any kind of work without a fisheye and an extreme telephoto?  Read no further.  I'll warn you off right now.  This is not a birding camera.  Unless you relish the idea of tiny birds hidden in the recesses of your frames.  Dots, really. There's no reach at all. The lens is just a 40mm and that's on full frame !!!!  

But I just found out that the "full frame" imager is the same as the one used in the Nikon F full frame that we reviewed earlier.  It's not re-usable.  It's WORO.  Which means "write once, read once."  They used a sensor called "film."  It's very noisy over ISO 400,  and the camera doesn't have a lot of post processing tools built in.  In fact, it has none.  It's a very expensive way to run a camera.  But it's offset by having a MSRP of $149.95, new.


Continuing with the flaws you would have to add the lack of autofocus.  See the little knob just to the right of the lens in the photo above?  You pull that up or down to effect focus.  And the confirmation that you're doing a damn bit of good in the pursuit of focus is in a little window you look through.  Apparently this is a "rangefinder" camera.  Like that other retro copy, the Leica M9.  Come on, if you need the retro styling just get a Fuji X-100.  That's the real retro deal.

This camera may be one of the very few in the world without a menu. In fact, there's no electronic interface I could find.  You wiggle the stick for focus.  You watch fuzzy yellow blocks come together for focus and while I think there used to be a meter in the camera but the designers chose a battery that didn't "jump the shark" into the 21st century.  So your meter is all mental.  Kind of an "Abundance Metering" philosophy.  If you "think" good exposure then surely you will manifest good exposure.

The camera has a limited range of shutter speeds and those are only available in full stops.  Wanna shoot outside?  I don't think so.  The top shutter speed is 1/500th and God knows you can't do anything with that.  And get this.....the slowest shutter speed is 1/4th of a second.  Jeez.  No star trails here.



 There is a bulb setting and a self-timer but my test camera's self timer was obviously defective.  It buzzed like a savage honey bee every time I tried to use it.  Notice the steel and alloy construction.  Sadly it adds a lot of weight to what should have been a lightweight camera.  Don't those designers know about the joy of plastic?


Speaking of hopelessly retro, get a load of this.  It's a PC terminal for a sync cord.  And it's a "dumb terminal" not an interactive connection.  All it's good for is triggering flashes.  And, you guessed it, Canon "cheaped out" and didn't include any provision for "smart flash."  (Although they do have a provision for a primitive "guide number" flash.) Could they be more painfully retro?


And I'm sure you saw this coming...No LCD screen.  No way to preview or review your images.  It's almost like this camera is "capture averse."

This unit may represent an older part of Canon's line but it's an example of the company's obvious misdirection.  If they had launched products like this in the 1970's do you think they'd even still be in business today?

I'm waiting for an improved, eighty five megapixel verison with auto Hipstergram, auto HDR, auto Compose and auto Banter.  And, if Canon ever dumps the tired ass retro thing and comes into this century of camera design, let them know that I'm waiting for a red one.  Fire Engine Red.

In All Seriousness...The Canonet QL17 was my first real camera and was a constant companion for years.  I finally retired it to a place of honor in the equipment drawer when I bought my first Leica M3 with a 50mm Summicron.  The Canonet went with me to Paris back in 1978 and many of my favorite images came from that little, wonderful box.  It loaded quickly (hence the QL) and it gave me easy to print Tri-X negatives, roll after roll.  It was small, unobtrusive and quick to use.  The meter was acceptable but we took advantage of a useful tool, provided by Kodak, when we wanted fast and accurate exposure setting advice.  Every roll of Kodak film came packaged with a sheet of paper, and on that sheet was a little set of illustrations showing different light sources and recommended settings.  We'd tape the little paper strip onto the bottom of the camera, under Scotch tape, for quick reference.  And it worked better than matrix metering nearly every time.


The fast (and sharp)  lens and vibration free leaf shutter (flash sync to 1/500th), in concert with ISO 400 film, let me shoot with impunity in low light.  The rangefinder never front or back focused and was equally good in bright or dim light.  Your battery could go completely dead and all you would lose is the metering.  In all it was an incredibly condensed and compressed tool for shooting real life.  If you find one in good shape for a good price you might consider snapping it up.  It's a good intro camera for people who've never had the pleasure of using real film.