Canon QL17 GIII Review
The poor mans Leica. I have heard this so many times when doing my research for my first rangefinder camera. So many people had so many good things to say about the Canon QL17 GIII that I decided to buy one and see why so many people like rangefinder cameras.
I managed to find a Canon QL17 GIII online that came with the original carry case, leather strap and flash unit. It looked clean and the light seals had been replaced recently so this seemed like a good deal to me. The camera had such a good reputation so what could go wrong. The camera arrived a few days later and I was amazed at how heavy and solid it felt, comparing it to the Fujifilm X100, which is the closest thing I had to a rangefinder at the time. The lens was smooth to use, the light meter and electronics still worked, so I put a new battery in, loaded some film and went shooting with my first rangefinder camera. But before I give you my opinion on the camera, let’s go over some technical specifications for it
The camera feels genuinely heavy for such a small camera. Compared to an SLR, the camera is really small but the weight that it brings gives you confidence that they must have used some good quality material when building this unit. The Canonet GIII QL is constructed out of metal and there is very little plastic on the body, making it feel like a real man’s tool.
The bottom plate is as basic as you can get, it has a tripod thread and a button to allow you to rewind the film. Nice and well made with very little that could go wrong.
The Canonet GIII QL takes the 625 batteries and I have a lot of them stored in my apartment for use with my other film cameras. The batteries are easy to find here in China but they could be difficult to find in some countries that have banned the use of mercury batteries. The battery goes into the battery compartment at the bottom of the camera and there is a battery check light next to the viewfinder. This is an automatic camera, so the meter and the automatic settings need a battery to work, but you can use the Canonet GIII QL with no battery and meter the scene by yourself and then use the camera in full manual mode.
Getting into the Canonet GIII QL is really easy this time, just pull up the rewind lever and the back of the Canonet GIII QL will pop open. Once you got the back of the Canonet GIII QL open, you will quickly see why this camera is called a quick load camera. The system has a metal plate that you need to move up to load the film into the system. This makes loading film super easy. You just pop the film cartridge into the film slot on the left-hand side of the camera and pull the fill lead across. Close the Canonet GIII QL and wind the film a little and it is loaded. When this system came out, it must have been a nice little selling point as it is far easier to load film in this camera, compared to my Nikon F2.
The camera is pretty simple to load up with film so let’s move on to what it feels like to shoot with the Canonet GIII QL. Is it also as simple as loading the film? Well yes and no. We will start off with how to use the camera. The camera was designed to be very simple to use. All the controls for the camera are built into the lens. You change your ISO, set your aperture, shutter speed or even turn on the automatic mode, using the lens. This is a shutter priority camera when you set it to the A setting on the lens. You select the aperture and the camera will select the shutter speed that it thinks is suitable to get a good exposure. The exposures that the camera gives are good enough in most cases but there is one aspect of this system that I hate, and that is sometimes the camera will refuse to shoot if it cannot give you correct shutter speed and there is no indication as to why it refused to fire. It simply will not fire and you have to guess why. This happened to me a lot when shooting ISO400 film and it could not give me a fast enough shutter speed. The camera can only shoot 1/500 so you have to stop down the lens a lot if you are shooting a fast film. The one good thing about the system though, is that you can shoot the camera in 100% manual mode, and meter everything yourself, but then there is no light meter in the camera to tell you what the exposure is like. I ended only shooting the camera in manual mode after the first 20 rolls of film that I put through her. I just got too frustrated with the camera refusing to fire at times.
What is the camera like to focus? This is a manual focus rangefinder camera, as are most rangefinder cameras but this was the first rangefinder camera that I attempted to use, and I had a hell of a time trying to focus her. The viewfinder is fairly big and bright, the frame lines are nice and easy to see, but the focus patch, the god damn awful focus patch was a complete bitch to see. The patch is easy enough to see if you are in a nice dim location but takes the camera outside and there is just not enough contrast to see it easily. I struggled and struggled to get shots into focus with the camera. I am used to manual focusing, I shoot with my Nikon F2 or my Pentax 67 a few times every week, so I am used to manual focusing, but I wanted to throw this camera into the river at times. The focus throw is fairly short with the focus lever, meaning you can go from closest focus to infinity really quickly but once that patch got close to the subject, trying to line the patch up with the subject was a nightmare. Trying to focus this camera completely put me off rangefinder focusing and cameras. I absolutely hated it. I never wanted to use another one in my life again, and I could understand why so many people were raving and I wanted to avoid it in the future. The only reason I could guess as to why so many people like this is camera, is that most people are zone focusing and shooting at f8, so there is no need to try and focus with the rangerfinder when you need to shot. . Now I must add that since I last shot the Canonet, I bought a second Canonet to strip for parts to repair this camera and that cameras focus patch was much better than my units, so my cameras rangefinders patch is not the best. I have also recently shot with a Yashica Electro 35 and that cameras focus patch was much easier to use as well.
The lens is a 40 mm f/1.7 with six elements in four groups. The lens seems to be nice and sharp if you can nail the focus and it has some good contrast for black and white photos(Never shot color film with it) so the lens is good for me. I shot the lens into the sun many times, I could not get much flaring, and the lens does not seem to vignette either. I generally like the lens and think it is good.
The camera uses a leaf shutter with shutter speeds ranging from 1/4 to 1/500 of a second and it is supposed to sync with flash at all speeds when shooting in the A mode. No idea if that works as I could never get the flash to work. I tried a couple of times and even bought a second flash for the camera but they would never fire. The 1/500 shutter speed does mean that you will need some ND filters if you plan to shoot this camera with a fast film or you will need to stop the lens down a lot. I mostly tried to shoot the camera with ISO400 speed film and I stopped the lens down to f8, but in strong light, I would have problems shooting with the shutter refusing to fire as the scene was too bright.
The camera takes the PX625 mercury battery, but they can be difficult to find now so you can use LR625G alkaline batteries but your meter might be a little off with the new battery. With black and white film, that really should not be a problem as most black and white film has good latitude for exposures but if you plan to shoot color or slide film, then it might be a problem. Luckily the camera can be used without a battery and you can meter for the camera using a separate light meter if you need to shoot something where exposure is critical.
So this camera is a bit of a mixed bag for me, I like the lens, but I really don’t like the focusing. But if I had to compare it to other similar cameras, such as the Yashica Electro 35mm, then the Canonet Giii QL doesn’t look so good. I think the lens is superior on the Yashica, the viewfinder and the focus patch is absolutely better, and the only thing that the Canonet does better than the Yashica is the loading of film. The quick load system is really nice and easy to use, but loading film into most 35mm cameras is not that difficult. The build quality is also slightly better on the Canonet compared to the Yashica Electro 35.
The second camera I would compare the Canonet to would be the Olympus mju ii. Both cameras have a quick load film system, and both are automatic exposure cameras but that is where the similarities end. The Olympus mju ii is an autofocus camera that is made out of plastic and it is tiny. The Canonet is well made and heavy with manual focus. I will say that the Olympus mju ii is the better camera but then it is much more expensive now with its cult-like following that has developed over the last few years.
The last aspect that I want to talk about with the Canonet GIII QL is how it feels in the hand. In my opinion, this is the single most important aspect of a camera and something that many people overlook. If you don’t like the look and feel of a camera, then you will never want to go out shooting with it. In this regard, the Canonet GIII QL absolutely kicked ass. The camera feels great in the hand, advancing the film feels good, the focus lever feels nice and smooth, even though the focus patch is terrible. I shot more than 30 rolls of film with the camera before giving up with the focusing problems that I was having.
I hate writing conclusions for camera reviews. Mostly because this time, the Canonet is a camera that I really wanted to like, I was hoping that it would lead me into the promised realm of the magical rangefinder that everyone on the internet raves about, but I was disappointingly let down with the horrible focusing experience. If this was the last rangefinder camera that I had used in my life, then I would have told you that rangefinder focusing is complete bullshit and a waste of time. But I also really enjoyed using the camera, it felt good in the hands, using it felt good and at times when the focus gods blessed me with a shot that was in focus, I really enjoyed the results that I got from the camera. At the end of the day, this is not the perfect camera for me, but I think it is a good camera for someone who likes to shoot street. The quiet shutter, the vintage look, the good lens, makes this camera great for those hipster street shooters who like to push their film to 800 and shoot with the lens stopped down to f16 so that everything is in focus or they just zone focus everything. I have stopped using the camera since buying my Nikon F2 but I have no regrets about buying the camera. It was an enjoyable little partnership that we shared for a while and it taught me that I am really an slr type of photographer.
- Small and compact
- Good construction quality
- the lens is nice and sharp
- Horrible rangefinder patch
- limited ASA or ISO range
- Not shooting at times because of exposure problems which means that you lose a shot while trying to figure out what went wrong.
- Hard to find the PX625 battery in some countries.