Canon Canonet SE 45mm F1.9
Made in Japan by Canon through the 1960s, the Canonet offers the vintage photographer an image making instrument which needs no power other than that provided to the light meter by the selenium cell and finger power to press the shutter button and wind the film. Quite reassuring. No batteries to suddenly give out or electronics to mysteriously fade out. One of these was my Father’s pride and joy accompanying us on our European early 1970s OE. I have this camera today and it still delivers 47 years later.
It is an uncluttered, shutter priority camera able to shoot full manual or auto The auto settings are termed by Canon, EE photography, or Electric Eye. With Aperture ring set to auto and the correct film speed selected the shutter speed ring is turned to select 'indoor, cloudy or sunny' . These settings are selected against the film speed lever as the setting marker. The Canonet's 'electric eye' selects a corresponding aperture value to produce a properly exposed frame. The selected aperture value appears on the bottom edge of the viewfinder.The shutter will not release if light parameters are outside the 'EE' capability. To achieve the same result manually an appropriate shutter speed can be chosen using the shutter speed ring on which 1/500 down to B can be selected. Move the aperture ring away from auto to manually select aperture from F1.9 to F16 and the Canonet is fully manual. To select B (bulb) on the shutter speed ring this requires the release of a small lever halfway down the left side of the lens housing. Film speed is set between ASA 10 - 400 by way of a slide lever on the underside of the lens.
The fixed lens is excellent glass with a focal length of 45mm and maximum aperture of 1.9. The smooth rangefinder focus ring makes bringing the contrasty viewfinder patch into line, easy. Shutter speed and aperture rings are nicely spaced and have finger grips. Easy to adjust while holding the camera. Shutter speeds from 1 second to 1/500 with film speed 10-400 ASA give plenty of scope in various lighting conditions. The supplied lens hood fits snugly down over the lens when not in use and reverses to fit over the outer black lens edge when deployed.
Unusually the film winder is placed on the underside of the body with the top third of the lever able to be raised for grip. Leaves the top plate uncluttered with only the shutter release and shoe mount. This system works quite well and soon becomes 2nd nature after a few rolls of film.
The film door release is also on the underside to the left requiring a lever and button to be activated, preventing accidental door opening with film loaded. The film loads from right to left. Light seals are likely to need attention. The selenium light cells have a certain ‘shelf life’ but generally, on the Canonet, the light cells are still working, especially if previous owners have stored the camera in dry conditions and used the lens cap when not in use. This effectively turns the light cells off, as they are in the dark not creating current. Other rangefinders with selenium cells placed on the front plate of the camera are not so lucky as the cells have been permanently on, so today are most likely permanently off. Poor, overly humid storage is another negative for selenium light cells. Even if the cells have failed not too much of a concern for the Canonet as the camera is mechanical and can be shot fully manual if the photographer is aware and can estimate light conditions or be using a handheld meter. This camera is all about the lens, which if in clean condition (fungus free) is capable of magic results.
One downside is the tripod mount which is placed on the extreme left, obviously placed to make way for the film winder, .making the camera unbalanced on a marginal tripod. As this is quite a heavy camera at 700 grms a substantial tripod is a better choice for those longer exposures.
Compared to todays’ digital menagerie it is heavy at around 700 grams and quite large at 140mm long, 55mm deep including lens and 85mm high, including the film winder. It is solid and feels like it will last another 47 years. The dedicated Eveready black genuine leather case is one of the best of it’s era. With it’s supple leather and secure stitching camera protection is guaranteed.
The first class images this camera can produce, the absence of battery worry and the very affordable price – around NZ$180.00 - $250 should land a clean working example - make this Canonet from the 60s a worthwhile camera bag addition.