History Makers: Canon A1 – Automatic for the People…. 1978

Hot on the heels of the Minolta XD was the Canon A1, which took things to the next level.

Think about it - if you have a camera that can work out the right shutter speed depending on the aperture, and the right aperture depending on the shutter speed, then why couldn’t you have a camera that made both decisions for you?

The answer…..well, there was no reason! Canon worked this out first and in 1978 launched the Canon A1. It came with Manual mode, Av, Tv, and the new fully automatic, or “Program” mode. If you wanted you could just point your camera at something, fire the shutter, and the camera did the rest. We take that for granted now, but 40 years ago it must have looked like withcraft!

The Canon FD lenses that are compatible with this camera are legendary for a reason, so the camera was incredibly popular. It opened up a whole new audience to the world of SLR cameras. No longer could “I wouldn’t know how to use it” be an excuse for not owning your own camera.

This little gem could make a claim to be the single most important camera on this list, although owners of an OM1, a Spotmatic or Ashai Pentax might argue otherwise of course.

If you want a camera that gives you the choice of shooting in fully automatic mode, without having to sacrifice manual mode, then this little piece of history would be a great place to start. Plus you can impress (or perhaps bore!) your friends with the story behind the camera as an added bonus.

Within a few years other cameras from other brands overtook the A1 in terms of features, design and reliability. But no other camera could claim it was the first fully automatic SLR camera. The A1 can.

Read our previous History Maker posts:

Minolta XD - Giving you a choice...1977
Pentax ME - A helping hand...1976
Olympus OM1 - Smaller is better...1973
Pentax Electro Spotmatic - Aperture priority is born...1971
Pentax Spotmatic - TTL Metering...1963
Asahi Pentax - The Modern SLR is born...1957