A Legendary Camera That Deserves Love


There aren’t many cameras that elicit salivation like the Canon QL17 GIII. The longer, proper name is the Canon Canonet QL17 GIII, but I’ve seen it called by the former name many times. It’s a camera from a time where Canon still made primarily metal cameras. It’s also from the rangefinder era and it’s just a gorgeous piece; Many photographers are bound to like it. But make no mistake, it’s not a Leica.

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The Big Picture

Online, lots of folks compare the Canon QL17 GIII to Leica cameras, and they shouldn’t. Leica cameras are a whole other price point, built far better, more durable, and more reliable. The Canon QL17 GIII is more comparable to the Yashica GSN Electro 35. It’s a smaller, sharper, better built version of the Yashica. It’s not for a newbie: start with digital, get used to using it, and then realize that this camera is hard-mode.

Think of the Canon QL17 GIII as a Leica M6 that will eat batteries faster, is smaller, and has a fixed lens. Considering its 40mm lens, you can probably equate it to the Leica CL with the 40mm f2 Rokkor lens. But even so, the Leica is still the better camera.

The Canon QL17 receives 4 out of 5 stars. Want one? Check out the Canon Canonet QL17 GIII on eBay for the best deals. Otherwise be sure to check Amazon and Blue Moon Camera to see if they’re in stock.

Pro

  • These things last contracts.
  • It’s what I like to call semi-mechanical. This means that it uses a battery just to power the light meter. Otherwise, it can continue to keep working even if the light meter isn’t powered.
  • I mean, it’s gorgeous. I genuinely wish that Canon made cameras that look like this.
  • It feels wonderful in my hands.
  • The lens is pretty sharp.
  • Smooth focusing and short focus throw means that it’s a good camera for street photography

Cons

  • No aperture priority mode. But there’s a shutter priority mode.
  • This camera eats batteries.

Gear Used

I bought the Canon QL17 from Kyoto Studio Japan on eBay. I used it with the:

  • Field Work Slim Leather Strap: purchased ourselves.
  • Fujifilm Natura 1600 (we had some self over)
  • Fujifilm PRO400H (we’ve still got some in the fridge)
  • Kodak Tri-X 400 (our own purchase)

All of our film is developed as a courtesy of Blue Moon Camera and Machine based in Oregon. We’re smitten with the work that they do.

Innovations

The Canon QL17 GIII isn’t an innovative camera by today’s standards. But what it does do is flaunt its stunning good looks far better than any other current camera out there.

Ergonomics

Here’s a look at the Canon QL17 GIII. It should be said that mine comes in a rare color. It was reskinned. But the idea is still the same. On the front there’s a rangefinder focusing tab around the 40mm f1.8 lens. Behind that is the grippy material and the rangefinder/viewfinder windows.

The back of the camera is pretty simple. You’ll just see the viewfinder and the battery check button.

The top of the Canon QL17 GIII is where the action happens. Here you’ll find the rewind lever, the hot shoe, and the film advance around the shutter button.

Take a look here around the lens. All that you need to know is here. The lens holds the shutter speeds, apertures, and has a window for the ISO setting.

Build Quality

The Canon QL17 is made of metal and finds ways to keep it lightweight. There are bound to be photographers out there who will complain that it doesn’t have a grip. And it’s not really designed to have that. It’s a rangefinder-style camera and instead, you just have to hold it in a completely different way. Good rangefinders are a tactile experience that help you take incredible photos.

Of course, mine was refurbished and I bought it for myself as a birthday gift. Still, there’s a lot more that helps with the build quality. Since this camera doesn’t need a battery to operate, then there’s no need to put one in there as long as you know how to meter a scene. Even if the light meter stops working, the camera will continue to snap photos. That’s very reassuring.

Ease of Use

Anyone that understands cameras and has worked with them for years should be able to understand the Canon QL17. There’s a control for the ISO, the focusing, apertures, and shutter speeds. Reviews Editor Hillary Grigonis is an experienced photographer, but she doesn’t have much experience with film. Still, I’m sure that she’d be able to wrap her head around this. Brittany and Feroz on the other hand are experienced film photographers, and wouldn’t have any issues using it.

If you’re the type of person that says that you’re looking for something simple, this isn’t it. But if you’re an experienced photographer that wants something simple, this surely is the camera for you.

The camera has a satisfying shutter sound and click. Further, the film advance has a bit of extra give that makes advancing the film feel so satisfying.

Metering

This is a film-camera. With that said, the Canon QL17 GIII abides perfectly by Sunny 16 metering methods. Take it out into the sun with little shadows, and it will meter the scene perfectly according to that system.

Focusing

The Canon QL17 focuses manually via the rangefinder process. When you look through the viewfinder, you’ll see a scene in front of you. In the center, you’ll see a picture-in-picture effect. As you focus the lens, you’ll see the entire scene either line-up or make no real geometric sense. To get something in focus, you’ll place the center area over a subject and focus closer or further away until you get it.

We’ve got an article on what that looks like right here for you to check out. For anyone that doesn’t understand how this works, we’ve got a whole article here on how to effectively use a rangefinder. If it’s tough to see the picture-in-picture effect, then try to blue cellophane trick that helps you see a bit more clearly.

Image Quality

Of course, the Canon QL17 is a film-camera. But more specifically, it uses a 40mm f1.7 lens that’s permanently attached to it. This lens oozes with all the character that you’d love in an image.

Bokeh

The bokeh from the Canon Canonet QL17 GIII is a mix between both creamy and hazy. There aren’t all that many aperture blades and to be honest, I don’t think I’d use this camera for it’s bokeh. It’s surely meant to document moments as they happen instead.

Sharpness

Even if the bokeh is just mediocre, the sharpness from the 40mm f1.7 lens stopped down is fantastic. I can only imagine what this would be like the T-Max 400.

Lens Character

This lens has halation, and we should expect that with something this ancient. You’re bound to really like what it does.

Extra Image Samples

From day one, The Phobographer has been huge on transparency with our audience. Nothing from this review is sponsored. Further, lots of folks will post reviews and show lots of editing in the photos. The problem then becomes that anyone and everyone can do the same thing. They’re not showing what the lens can do. So we have a section in our Extra Image Samples area to show edited and unedited photos. From this, you can make a decision for yourself.

We didn’t edit any of these photos.

Who Should Buy It?

The Canon Canonet QL17 GIII is a camera that belongs in the hands of experienced photographers. If you’re searching for a rangefinder with a fixed lens, great build quality, and a small size, this is tough to beat. We like how it can delivery gorgeous images too. But keep in mind that it’s going to eat batteries alive. So I’d suggest using it for careful, meditative street photography and image taking instead.

Tech Specs

Specs are credited to Camerapedia’s listing.

  • Type: Rangefinder camera
  • Manufacturer: Canon Inc. Japan
  • Lens: Canon Lens 40mm f/1.7. 6-element 4-group construction, with four newly designed glasses. Spectra coated in amber and purple. Filter thread 48mm.
  • Shutter: Between-the-lens type. Shutter speeds from 1/4 to 1/500 sec. and B. Automatically sets aperture, self-cocking combined film/shutter wind, self-timer, X-synchronization.
  • Viewfinder: Bright-Line type, Parallax Correction Mark
  • Rangefinder: Viewfinder combined with range-finder, bright frame with automatic parallax correction, aperture scale, exposure indicator, over/under exposure indicator, and over/under warning marks.
  • EE Mechanism: Built in exposure meter with CdS cell for fully automatic exposure control. Shutter speed priority system. ASA 25-800 (DIN 15-30). With ASA 100 film, EV 3.5 (f/1.7 at 1/4 sec.) EV 17 (f/16 at 1/500 sec.)
  • Battery: Originally powered by one 1.35V M20 (#625) mercury battery. Battery checker built-in. (It’s possible to use alternatives. *see above)
  • Flash: Hot shoe Accessory shoe with direct contact exclusive for Canolite D and the flash socket for the other flash units. Electronic Flash Sync with All Shutter Speeds.
  • Weight: 620g

Some images in this review were shot by my buddy Brent Eysler.





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