What is the Difference Between the Canon AE-1 and the Canon AE-1 Program?

Two of the most popular 35mm film cameras for beginners and professionals alike, a lot of people get confused about which Canon SLR they should purchase: the Canon AE-1 Program, and the Canon AE-1.

This guide will explain all of the main differences between the Canon AE-1 Program and the Canon AE-1, to help you decide which camera is best for you.

Canon AE-1 and AE-1 Program on coloured background

Firstly, we will introduce you to both cameras, so you know what we're talking about.

What is the Canon AE-1?

The Canon AE-1 is a 35mm SLR (single lens reflex) film camera, manufactured from 1976 to 1984. Canon continued to make the Canon AE-1 for three years after introducing the next model, the Canon AE-1 Program. 

The camera has all of the essential features that you need in a great 35mm film camera. 

The camera has manual shutter speeds, and manual or automatic aperture. The light meter needle inside the Canon AE-1's viewfinder indicates the aperture that the lens needs to be set to, to correctly expose the image.

What is the Canon AE-1 Program?

The Canon AE-1 Program is a mid-range 35mm SLR camera. It was the successor to the Canon AE-1 and was introduced in 1981. 

Whilst the Canon AE-1 only had manual shutter speed settings, the Canon AE-1 Program has automatic shutter speed settings, as well as manual ones.

The viewfinder display has LED lights to display which setting the lens is on (automatic or manual) and which aperture is required (if the lens is set to manual).

Nowadays, the Canon AE-1 Program is still going strong, and is the first choice for a lot of people new to film photography, but lets compare the two cameras.

What is the difference between the Canon AE-1 and Canon AE-1 Program?

These two Canon cameras differ in a few important ways. They are very similar in their design, size, weight, and shape, so there isn't much to compare when it comes to the physical design of the Canon cameras.

The real differences come in their features, and the way in which which the camera is used. 

The key difference is the shutter speed settings. 

The Canon AE-1 only has manual shutter speeds. The shutter speed is set on the dial on the right of the camera, and the light meter needle in the viewfinder will display which aperture the camera needs the lens to be set to. The lens can be set to "A" which means the camera will automatically choose an aperture.

Canon AE-1 camera shutter speed dial

The Canon AE-1 Program, on the other hand, not only has manual shutter speed settings, but also automatic shutter speed settings. 

This means you can set the camera to do the shutter speed automatically for you, depending on your lens' aperture, or you can select your shutter speed manually. 

Canon AE-1 Program 35mm film camera shutter speed dial

Both of the cameras have manual ASA settings, manual shutter speeds, and manual aperture. 

However, the Canon AE-1 Program has the ability to be completely automatic (with automatic shutter speed and automatic aperture), as well as partly automatic (with automatic shutter speed and manual aperture). The Canon AE-1 can only have the aperture on automatic, with manual shutter speed settings.

Does the Canon AE-1 have auto?

The Canon AE-1 has the ability to have automatic aperture, but it only has manual shutter speeds. So, you can either have the camera on manual aperture and manual shutter speed, or automatic aperture and manual shutter speed.

Canon Ae-1 in black 35mm film camera

Which camera is better: the Canon AE-1 or the Canon AE-1 Program?

This depends on the way you want to do your film photography. 

The Canon AE-1 requires you to adopt a slower way of taking photographs, as you have to set your shutter speed and potentially your aperture as well. It is easy enough, however, to select a shutter speed, and then just change your aperture, or vice versa. 

The Canon AE-1 Program has the advantage of automatic shutter speeds, to be able to take photos much quicker. 

I highly recommend both cameras for beginners as they teach you the basics and fundamental skills of 35mm film photography. 

The benefit with the Canon AE-1 Program is that you can start with the camera in fully automatic mode, and then gradually move to fully manual, using one of the settings on automatic along the way. 

For this reason, I recommend the Canon AE-1 Program over the Canon AE-1, but this does not diminish the Canon AE-1 as a camera at all. 

Read our blog here on whether you should get a manual or automatic film camera.

Read more of our blog posts here.

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Max, owner of Cameras By Max

Article written by: Max

Max is the owner of Cameras By Max. They work full-time repairing and refurbishing all the 35mm film cameras you see on the website. Their favourite camera (at the moment) is the Olympus XA, and their favourite city in the world is Edinburgh.


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