The Canon Canonet (aka Bell & Howell Canonet 19) was groundbreaking when it arrived in 1961, delivering a high spec rangefinder from a high-end manufacturer for only modest prices. It was an instant success with stock selling out in 2 days and the camera going to sell over a million units. But how does it stack up against cameras of its day ?
This was arguable Canon’s first prosumer camera. Later canonets like the Canonet QL 17 GIII have perhaps more written about them but this is a true marvel of its day. It’s exceedingly well styled & solid and put together with coupled rangefinder and coupled automatic exposure and has killer optics with a f/1.9 lens.
Canon Canonet Specs
- Lens: Canon SE 45mm 1:1.9
- Focus: Coupled Rangefinder
- Metering: Coupled Selenium
- Aperture : f/2.8-16
- Shutter: 1-1/500 sec + B
- EV (100) : 2-17
- ASA range : 10-400 *
- Filter-Thread: 55mm
* Mk 3 – MK 1-2 only up to 200 ASA
Camera shoots in either shutter priority or full manual unmetered mode. Unlike Rivals like the Fujica 35 Auto-M, there is a in viewfinder display of exposure settings (in the Mk 2 & 3 versions you get an aperture needle scale.) The Mk 1 & 2 are limited to 200 ASA for metering but the mk 3 allows you to set metering up to 400 ASA with the cyclops selenium array (so no batteries then). You get the usual cable threading, PC sync for flash with cold accessory shoe and a self timer which I wouldn’t recommend fiddling with. The filter size is a bit on the large at 55mm but correctly positioned so both lens and meter array are covered meaning filters are automatically adjusted for.
The viewfinder is bright but has a yellow coating cast. Nice brightlines for framing and the focus spot moves to accommodate for parallax. The camera has a underbody wind mechanism.
Shot wise it generally is very good. Sharp optics and when working the exposure system works well. Mines sometimes locks as out of EE range however even in reasonable conditions despite being CLA’d . I’d got that done as the meter was over reading a fault others have noted perhaps due to changes in the selenium matrix over time. I find the Fujica 35 Auto-M a little easier to use as its focus ring is on the end of the lens whilst the Canonet is nearer the body abet with a lever underneath. My Fujica’s metering hasn’t had any issues (although its rangefinder needed adjusting)
Ideally try to get a Mk 3 as you’ll get access to up to 400 ASA metering. The camera can be capped to protect the lens and metering but one with a case indicates been looked after. Ideally get with the push on hood the sits on the lens in reverse when not in use.
Lovely bit of kit and quite revolutionary. In its day more modern styled than the Fujica M Auto-35 but nowadays a harder call. The Canon has a faster lens, more slower shutter speeds and viewfinder metering feedback. With the Mk3 you get meter support up to 400 asa. But the Fujica offers otherwise the same package as well as EV compensation and is more classically & instinctively positioned. Oddly I think it is marginally sharper too. A better choice than Yashica Minister III with which it ages as although the Yashica is very sharp and accurate it is uncoupled with exposure.
Why Buy ?
- Canon optics
- It’s a design classic
- Build quality
Why not ?
- Metering can sometimes be issue
- Not much else
What I Paid & current eBay Pricing
- £10 + £6.69 P&P with case, hood & cap in 2014
- Needed CLA (£45)
- Can be lucky and get just under £10
- Most checked ones nearer £20
- Fujica 35 Auto-M – Other 60’s rangefinder with EV Comp
- Yashica Minister III – Beautiful but uncoupled meter rangefinder
- Lomo Sokol 2 – FSU Classic sized rangefinder sold in 70’s – 80’s
- Canon Canonet page at camera-wiki.org
- Manual at Mike Butkus’s site
- Another review at on Brian Q. Webb Blog
- Rangefinder Cameras group at Flickr