Meet the Camera: Canon Canonet QL19

I really had no intention of buying this camera. I was trying to find an Olympus 35 RC as a gift for my girlfriend, but I wasn’t having much luck. When this QL19 popped up for sale at a very attractive price, I jumped on it. Sure, it had some issues – sticky aperture, sticky self-timer, used up light seals, somewhat dim viewfinder, meter non-functional – but I figured I could fix those and have it ready for her birthday if I didn’t find the 35 RC I was looking for. As it turned out, a good Olympus turned up a couple weeks later, so I bought that for her and kept the Canon, now able to work on it without the pressure of an impending birthday deadline.


When it comes to film cameras, Canon’s Canonet line of fixed lens rangefinders is about as ubiquitous as it gets. Starting with the Canonet of 1961 and ending with G-III models that were produced until 1982, literally millions of Canonets were built. Within a range that encompassed numerous variations and models over 21 years, the New Canonet QL19 was on the market for less than a year starting in May 1971, making it one of the least common variants.


The problems the camera had seemed like they might be largely due to lack of use and old lubricants getting sticky, binding up the works. A little judiciously-applied Ronsonol and light oil, combined with exercising the various moving parts, got the aperture freed up and the timer working. I pulled to top cover off and cleaned up the viewfinder and lubed the advance mechanism. Opening the bottom allowed me to clean up the electrical contacts for the battery, which, with a new battery installed, got the meter working; with a little adjusting it matched center-weighted readings from my G12. New light seals were cut and glued in place.

The naming convention of the Canonet line was generally based on the lens; my QL19 has a 45mm f/1.9, a step down from the top-of-the-line f/1.7 on the aptly-named QL17. Using the QL19 is simple and quite pleasant: loading is via Canon’s Quick Loading system (hence the QL), there’s a handy focus tab with a very short throw, the rangefinder patch is bright and clear, and the advance is smooth and crisp. The camera is relatively small (much smaller than the earlier Canonets) and handles easily, though it is quite heavy for its size. With the meter working, the shutter priority mode became an option; full manual override is always available, battery or no.


In practical terms there isn’t a whole lot of difference between the QL17 and the QL19. The former has a slightly more complex lens design (6 elements instead of 5), and the later G-III variants saw the QL17 adopt a 40mm focal length, while the QL19 stayed at 45mm. Other than that, they’re the same camera; the difference in speed is pretty negligible in actual use.

I haven’t used this camera much yet, not for lack of desire, but I simply haven’t had it that long and as my collection grows each camera seems to get taken out less often. I decided to play to the Canonet’s strength relative to my other compact cameras – shutter priority shooting and a fast lens – and do some low light shooting with a roll of Fuji Superia 800. The results were generally good, though predictably the metering is relatively crude and doesn’t do particularly well with high-contrast situations; I’ll post some photos from that roll soon.


So there it is, the New Canonet QL19, in all its glory. Nothing too fancy, but a solid user camera with a lot of flexibility. I think I’m going to enjoy shooting more with it.


As I’ve probably mentioned before, photographing birds is one of my infuriating compulsions. There’s something about the way they behave that makes it seem like they are taunting anyone who might want to take their picture – the irregular movements, the speed with which they fly in and out of reach. From the hyperactive songbirds to the swooping raptors, they’re all just screwing with anyone with a camera.

This is one area where I will happily and unreservedly give the nod to digital over film. I’d be in the poorhouse if I shot birds with film. Digital cameras, and DSLRs in particular, make it possible to compensate for the capricious and arbitrary behavior of the feathery bastards, giving the OCD-afflicted photographer a fighting chance of getting a decent shot or two without having to file for bankruptcy.

Canon T3
Canon T3

The fact that they are pretty everywhere just makes it worse. You can’t get away from them, and they’re all in cahoots.

Canon T3
Canon T3

This seagull apparently didn’t get the word that you aren’t supposed to make eye contact with the photographers. I’m sure he was duly chastised by his fellow birds.

Canon T3
Canon T3

Long lenses are the bane of the camera shy bird. These two red-tailed hawks were circling fairly high up, thinking no one could possibly get a decent shot at that range. Birds may be devious, but they are somewhat ignorant of technology.

Canon G12
Canon G12

Birds are tactically clever. This duck is part of the flock that professionally taunts tourists in Central Park. They swim around close by, but that’s boring. When they fly, however, they buzz the people so closely that clear shots are virtually impossible.

They’re cruel, manipulative creatures, those birds. They seem to enjoy watching us flail about with our cameras, trying desperately to get a shot of them. It may look like they’re just nonchalantly flying around enjoying themselves, but that’s all part of the master plan to drive us stark raving mad. I don’t know what photographers ever did to them, but whatever it was word apparently got out, and birds hold grudges.