The Canon Canonet QL17 G-III – Not “The Poor Man’s Leica”- It’s Better Than That

My Canon Canonet QL17 G-III

My Canon Canonet QL17 G-III

Sitting down to write this blog, after a few weeks off, I thought I was suffering from “Writer’s Block”. I am now realizing that what has been keeping me from updating the blog has been the fact that I’ve been shooting Kodak Portra like a maniac. With what? My second rangefinder, the Canon Canonet QL17 G-III, 1972 vintage. I’ve shot with, and blogged about, rangefinders in the past- 35mm Argus, and yes, the Polaroid Land Cameras do indeed use rangefinder focusing. Maybe the most refined in a series of Canon Canonet’s, and the most compact, this seems to be the most sought after model. The original Canonets are surprisingly large, almost SLR size. yet, were the rage when introduced in the early 60’s. It has a sharp, fast, bright 40mm f/1.7 fixed lens, perfect for street photography. It has, like the Canon Ftb, Canon’s proprietary Quick Load (QL) feature, which was the precursor to  automatic DX coding loading on 35mm cartridges. Simply pull the leader across the film plane, line it up over the sprocket advance, and to the red tab. Close the back, advance and shoot a couple of blanks, and the camera is ready to rock.

You can shoot completely manual (unmetered), or, in shutter priority, with an amazingly accurate internal couples light meter, with a CDS cell located right on the filter ring. One might not think that light meters of this vintage are accurate. It really is. Limitation? The fastest film you can load is ASA/ISO 800. And, the leaf shutter’s fastest shutter speed is 1/500th/sec. Portra 160, or 400, are great choices. I haven’t even shot any black and white with it, but am looking forward to shooting some Tri-X. I have the Canolite D electronic flash with it. I’ve tested it, it works, but have not shot with it. It is fully automatic, coupled to the rangefinder distancing. Ingenious.

The camera takes the “dreaded” 625 Mercury cells. Really, this is not that big of a deal. Wein Cells work great. They were designed as a direct replacement, and deliver a constant, correct voltage. Keep a couple of spares handy. I am thinking they would last a few months with regular use. But, remember, this is a mechanical leaf shutter. No batteries needed, unless that is, you choose “A”. Even that mode is smart- it locks the shutter in the event of under, or over exposure, into pre designated red zones, smaller than f/16, or larger than f/1.7.  Don’t lose the Canonet lens cap- it essentially shuts off the light meter sensor in “A” when you cap the lens.

I’ve read a lot of reports online from folks complaining that the lens is “not sharp” at f/1.7. It is. And, to them, well, be happy that you can shoot the camera at all at such a wide open aperture. Not too many lenses are “tack sharp” at f/1.7. Not even some Leica’s. it maybe has the form factor of the Leica CL, but remember, this is a fixed lens rangefinder. There were many similar models from Yashica, Minolta, Olympus, Konica. I know I am leaving a few out. But, you get the idea. It is a different class.

Speaking of which, this camera is often referred to, incorrectly, as “the poor man’s Leica”. Not a fair generalization. The camera is better than that. Not better than a Leica, no, I am not saying that at all. But better than a poor man’s Leica. It is a camera in its own class. What to look out for? The usual stuff. But, most notoriously? The light seals will, no question, be complete goo. If you are buying from someone online, and they say the seals are in great shape, do not believe them. I replaced mine with a kit, available online for about 9 dollars. It is a very easy job.

OK, how are the results? I love this camera. A few samples here, from the first roll, Portra 400:

Vintage mailbox, in an office building lobby.

Vintage mailbox, in an office building lobby.

Lobby columns.

Lobby columns.

Street performer, at a road race, performing for the runners at the finish line.

Street performer, at a road race, performing for the runners at the finish line.

Heading for the home stretch.

Heading for the home stretch.

Strike a pose...

Strike a pose…

I’ve said it before- I love this camera.

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