Canonet Ql 17 (Pic: Andrew Smith)
The Canonet QL 17: classic 70s rangefinder style (Pic: Andrew Smith)

By Andrew Smith

The Canon Canonet QL 17 is a fixed lens range finder film camera from decades past. I that interests you, then keep reading! I have read many articles about the Canonet and seen it in camera collector groups for years. Its passing similarities to classic Leica models like the M2 and M3 give the Canonet a “kerb appeal” not too many other cameras have.

I could go into the history of the camera like many online reviews… or you could just spend a few moments doing the research yourself if that is what you really like. I prefer to speak on behalf of my own experience with the camera and those experiences will make up this this article.

This small camera had been on my mental wish list for a few years… along with 40-or-so other cameras. On a day off, I found one trapped in a glass cabinet in a thrift store in northern Virginia, about two years ago. The camera was reasonably priced and included a lens hood and an ever-ready case so jumped on it.

Despite my sudden impulse purchase It took me a bit of time to actually use the camera, as I was busy at work and had several other cameras on my shelf all begging to be taken out. I finally decided to load the camera and a few rolls of Kodak Gold 200 and take it with me on a trip around Las Vegas. The small size made the Canonet a no-brainer for a travel camera. The following images are all from that trip.

The camera is somewhat unusual as it has a built-in 40mm f1.7 lens. The lens looks decent at all apertures but I generally cannot pull off a dramatic depth of field with the lens. This is likely due to the fact I often shoot the camera outdoors in bright light. The lens is a very good focal length right in between a 35mm and a 50mm giving it a lot of flexibility. While I would not say it is ideal for portrait work it is passable.

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Despite the lack of lens variety, the included lens is usable in most situations I have encountered while out shooting and a simple stress-free option. The images are consistently sharp and the viewfinder is bright and accurate.

The camera does suffer from unappealing lens flare in some instances.  Some shooters may like this vintage look but I find it to be too extreme for my taste. The lens is not especially sharp at the infinity range, but not as bad as other lenses I have seen from this period.

All relevant controls are also on the lens (focus, aperture, shutter speed, and ASA setting) making it easy to find all of the setting. You can even set the camera to full manual if you want to use the Sunny 16 rule.

The rangefinder patch is easy to see in the view finder. The short focusing track and easy to grab tab on the focusing ring make focusing the camera very easy compared to most vintage cameras. I you have the proper batteries the camera also has an automatic aperture function. But that leads into my biggest complaint about the QL 17.

Yes, this little camera’s biggest downfall is the battery, or their lack of availability. The original mercury batteries are very rare and are no longer sold in the US as far as I can tell. Modern zinc batteries work but do not last long enough for my liking (two weeks with moderate shooting).  Adaptors for LR44’s are available… but are not all they are cracked up to be. Most of these adaptors do not seem to meter accurately and most I have tried to use seem slightly too large for the battery compartment.

All in all I think this is a good camera for most people. The Canonet lives up to its looks and can hold its own compared to many classic Leicas and much more expensive Nikon models. The Canonet offers a lot in a compact affordable package. The lens is sharp, the camera is easy to use, it will not intimidate new users nor disappoint veteran shooters.

The sleek looks in a small package and the lack of lenses, adaptors, viewfinders and grips is somewhat refreshing. While the camera is not one I use every day, it is a keeper. I mean this quite literally as I downsized my camera collection several months ago by about 60%. The Canonet was one of the few cameras I decided to keep and the only Canon in the new reduced collection.

Portrait on Canonet (Pic: Andrew Smith)
Portraits are more likely to succeed when the light is low

If after reading this review you are still not sure whether you have room for this little camera, I would suggest looking in your camera bag, if you have space for something five inches long, 2.5 inches thick and  three inches tall (about the size of most flash units) , well, there’s room for a QL 17.

Why not try one, you have nothing to lose but a few dollars and a roll of film.


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Andrew Smith
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