Canon Canonet 28: The beauty that lies in simplicity

Canon Canonet 28: The beauty that lies in simplicity

My experience with the Yashica MG-1, opened me up to the world of rangefinders. Although it had its flaws, I made me appreciate the fact that, at least, range finders were accessible, and not necessary expensive troublesome relics. In fact, anytime I walked into any of my favourite thrift stores, I had this secret yearning to find a rangefinder sitting on one of the camera shelves. Luckily for me, one such day came, when I walked into the thrift store to find this camera: the Canon Canonet 28. I didn't need to think twice to know that it was a good camera. By now, I had heard the Canonet name being thrown around a lot among analog camera people, and I was excited seeing one --- which was definitely going to be mine soon --- in the flesh. As I always do, I tried to push the shutter and advance the film lever, and was slightly heartbroken to find out the shutter button and the film advance lever were just stuck. Nonetheless, I still paid for it with the prospects of either getting it fixed, or just cleaning it out and using it as some kind shelf decoration.

Now that the camera was finally mine, I had to find out how best I could use it. This of course means the usual journey through Googleland. While reading up, I realized that unlike the other cameras I had earlier looked up after a purchase, there seemed to be a lot of information online about the Canonet 28. Through my reading, I found out the Canonets are a huge family of cameras, and the Canonet 28 model wasn't the cream of the crop. That distinction goes to the Canonet ql17 gIII. With that said however, I was very pleased with my purchase; it's the second rangefinder I'm getting for a very cheap price. My satisfaction really peaked when I was made aware, through a manual I found online, that this camera locks the shutter when it's placed in an automatic mode without batteries. My camera was in automatic mode, and it didn't have any batteries. Just imagine my relief when I shifted the aperture dial from the A position, and pushed the shutter to hear it click. I was even more elated when I turned the advance lever and clicked the shutter again.

With the satisfaction of a working shutter, I had to tackle the next problem: the battery. It seems if you intend to collect old cameras, you should be ready to contend with discontinued battery formats. This camera takes a mercury button cell that has been discontinued in order to save the planet. The somewhat good news is, there is actually an alkaline replacement that works with this camera. But from what I learnt, it seems the alkaline replacement messes up exposures and your pictures don't turn up great. Also, unlike the mercury batteries which maintain constant strength till they die, the alkalines gradually lose power over their lifetime, which means your exposures just keep getting worse over time. Regardless of all these tradeoffs between the mercury and alkaline cells, I really didn't like the idea of putting a battery that has a slightly higher voltage into the camera. Luckily, the actual good news is there is an air cell battery that still works with this camera at the right constant voltage. The catch with this battery is that it doesn't last long, and for me that wasn't a problem. I ordered it.

So, how does the Canonet stack up technically? Well, as far as I could tell, just like the Yashica MG-1, the Canonet 28 was a low end model in the Canonet line, that was released in the early 1970s. It featured a full automatic exposure mechanism where the camera selected both the shutter speed and aperture for you. All you had to do was to focus on your subject and shoot. In addition to this automatic mode, there was also a crippled manual mode, meant to be used with a flash. In this mode you select the aperture, and the shutter fires at a constant 1/30s. For optics the Canonet 28 has a fixed 40mm lens, with aperture ranging from f2.8-f16. To make exposures, there is a leaf shutter with speeds ranging from 1/30s to 1/600s. The rangefinder is coupled with the lens such that adjusting the focus distance on the lens barrel also alters the rangefinder patch.

When it comes to looks, the Canonet 28 just screams: I'm cool! It definitely looks its age, with clean lines in its design, and a very premium feel to its construction. When held in the hand, the Canonet 28 feels relatively smaller than all the other cameras I had used till date. Despite this smaller size, it still has some significant heft to it. This should be no surprise given that it has an all metal body. The body actually feels cold to the touch in the parts where metals are exposed, and comfortably warm in the parts covered by leather. The standard camera widgets I have come to expect are also well represented. There is a little selector on the lens barrel for the ISO, a smooth aperture ring, a focus ring with a very short throw, a film rewind lever and the most interesting of all a film advance lever that plays directly into the design lines of the camera body. Unnoticeably missing though, is the self timer --- I guess to cut costs and maintain quality, something definitely had to give.

Like I do with every camera I own that works, I ran a couple of rolls through the Canonet 28. My experience shooting with it was nothing but awesome. I fell in love with the short throw of the focus ring, and although it made it a little difficult to be precise on things that were close, it made shooting distance objects that were moving a lot easier. The viewfinder was very clear, with markings on the side displaying the selected shutter speed. Generally, it felt very simple to operate, and quite comfortable to hold in the hand. As far as the images it produced go, all I can say is they are exceptional. This camera was obviously made to simplify picture taking in a particular era, and judging by me experience, it achieved its goal. If the Yashica MG-1 made me fall in love with rangefinders, the Canonet definitely sealed my love for them. I know many people clamour these days to get thei hands on the pricier Canonets, but if you want a simple no hassle rangefinder to play around with occasionally, the Canonoet 28 is surely one of your best bets.