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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.


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