taking oldies for a walk: Canonet Ql19

Instead of building a PC/Hackintosh my plans for the weekend were to start a new little project for my own pleasure.

I (together with my girlfriend) own too many cameras. I got about one for each system, starting from a Holga over (D)SLRs to giant mid format cameras. And I mostly use my Leica M4 and most of the time ignore the great capabilities of the other cameras. That’s why I decided to get one camera at a time, pop a fresh film into it and take it for a walk.

Last weekend I took my first rangefinder camera, the Canonet GIII QL19. The camera is a sibling of the better known QL17. Apart from smaller details they are mostly identical, one featuring a 40/1.7 and the other a 45/1.9 lens. The QL19 dates from around mid to end sixties. Back in the days single lens reflex cameras were rare and expensive and most everyday photography was done on point and shoots or rangefinder compact cameras like the QL19. But with the rise of cheaper SLRs with more automatic functions for exposure and later focus and film transport the rangefinder cameras vanished from the mainstream market and become more relevant for professional and semi pro users, that used Leica or Voigtländer systems among others.

Here is my girl “Canonette” QL19, with some wear to it.image

I started photgraphy back in 2005 with a EOS350D and used mostly digital cameras for quite some time. But after 2007 I got more and more interested in analog photography and so I used some old SLRs before I got my first rangefinder. I got this one cheap on ebay for about 40 EUR and never regretted the buy.

For those not familiar with camera technology geeky stuff: a rangefinder camera does not use a viewfinder that looks through the lens as SLR does but an extra viewfinder close to the lens. Different from a point and shoot cheap camera a rangefinder camera has a built in mechanism to find the distance to the object and focus on it. The rangefinder uses a technique similar to a stereoscopic device to find the range. By looking from 2 slightly different angles at an object the distance to it can be measured. This methode is easier than those of manual SLRs and works especially well in dim light, when most other systems, including full auto cameras, stop working. Another advantage is that the viewfinder isn’t blocked while the picture is taken. This is especially useful for reportage and street photography where you want to keep an eye on the scene while shooting. In the QL19 the rangefinder is rather green and a bit darker than those of a Leica. But it works well and is quite accurate.

What I like about the QL19 is its robustness and size. It is significantly smaller than my Leica and lighter, too. Of course, the lens is not as good as a nice voitländer lens, but it is better than most other lenses in small systems like this. The QL19 has a built in light meter and the film loading mechanism is the quickest and easiest I have ever seen for 35mm film. I don’t understand why this was never used again, even in later canon models. The AE1 for example is younger than the QL19 and is slower to load. You get an idea of it in the next picture.


You just put the film under the metal tongue, close the camera and load the film. That’s it. No fiddling, no way the film can loosen and avoid transport, it simply works. I want to see this in more cameras.

Unlike the Leica rangefinder and most SLR the lens is fixed and can not be exchanged. Some might see this as a downside, but I enjoy the small package with a decent lens. The whole camera is not made to compete with bigger and better systems, as it costs only a fraction of their prize. I paid more than 10 times more for my used Leica M4, and it din’t have a lens included. The canonet cameras are the budget way into small rangefinder cameras and anyone interested in this should pick one up on ebay.

So. This saturday I was mentally occupied with setting up said Hackintosh, but I used the time when I had to get my hardware exchanged to take some pictures. Unfortunately only in Mitte/Friedrichstr, which isn’t such a nice area to shoot, but I had fun with this small camera. I used an old and expired Ilford HP5+, which resulted in heavy grain and not too many greyscales. I got dozens of this film for really cheap a long time ago and am now slowly using them up.

Today I developed the film in Ilfotec LC29 1:30. Here are some of the results.





More can be found on my flickr.

Next week I will talk about the Canon AE-1 Program, a classic full metal SLR with a 50/1.4.