Casual Photophile was born from an appreciation of the fact that cameras are amazing, tiny machines. What better way to illustrate the intricacy and wonder of these little devices than to tear them apart and splay their innards across a cold, white slab?
We’re always looking for new ways to bring unique content to our readers, and today we’re starting a new segment that delves into the nuts and bolts of vintage cameras, literally.
We call it “Exploded Views”, and every week you’ll be able to see every single spring, gear, lever, and screw that make up a particular camera. For our first exploded view, we’ve torn apart one of the most iconic classic cameras, the Canon AE-1.
Check it out.
Many a blister was formed taking this little camera down to its individual pieces. Let’s look at some of the interesting mechanisms we found along the way.
The first thing one will notice is the sheer number of components. This thing has an unbelievable number of springs, gears, screws, etc., and they’re all incredibly tiny.
That’s the tripod mount there on the right. Somewhat of a course casting, if we’re being honest. The internal gears, however, are very finely tuned. It’s interesting to see such a mix of materials for use in gears. Though it should be expected; many publications at the time of this camera’s release bemoaned Canon’s decision to opt for plastic internals.
Seeing the camera broken down into its individual components really helps us appreciate the remarkable miracle of engineering that’s occurring in your hands every single time you take a photo.
The springs visible in the above shot are exceedingly fine, small, and delicate. Some of them are virtually weightless, and it’s difficult to imagine the process that created them. But even though they seem insignificant, they’re used universally throughout the camera for a vast number of operations, most notably in the mirror-box assembly.
Here are the same springs placed next to a U.S. Penny for size reference.
Similarly numerous are the many varieties of retaining clips used to secure gears, levers, and actuators. Some of these cir-clips and retainers, seen below, are no larger than a pin-head. Amazing.
Next we have an assortment of parts, notably in the upper right of the frame is a riveted assembly of gears and levers. This assembly was housed on the side of the mirror-box and, with some hand-actuation, it’s pretty clear that this is the major offender in cases of the infamous “Canon Squeel”.
Some of the electronic circuitry is shown above. This was arguably the most important component of the AE-1, and essentially launched an entirely new generation of electronically controlled cameras. One of the first cameras to use this type of technology, the AE-1 propelled the industry forward on a wave of progressive computerization that would continue for decades.
We can also see the top plate, electro-plated plastic as opposed to metal. This was just one of many cost-saving measures that helped Canon become one of the most fiscally successful camera-makers of the era.
Below we have a veritable forest of screws and bolts. Merely one segment of the whole collection, this makes up roughly one-third the entire count of fasteners. Notice the different materials used for different applications, including brass, chromed machine screws, and hardened steel.
Here above we can see the lens-mount bezel and nameplate, pentaprism, viewfinder focusing screen and surround, among other parts. And below we see a detail shot of the viewfinder surround. Notice the aperture display in all its analog glory. Exceedingly minute.
And now we can see through the pentaprism an image projected of the camera parts below.
Finally, here’s one of the most astounding discoveries made while dissembling the Canon AE-1. Within a certain gear there rested a vast number of the smallest steel ball bearings we’ve ever seen. So tiny were they that we just had to display them in relation to something similarly small. A few of the bearings rest on a U.S. Penny, which lies next to an engraving on the bottom plate of the AE-1.
And that’s what a Canon AE-1 looks like after three nights of disassembly. We hope you’ve enjoyed checking out the guts of one of the most iconic vintage cameras. If you want to see more, let us know in the comments.
If you’re in love with a certain camera and want to know what it looks like on the inside, let us know about it. Maybe we’ll pick one up and tear it apart for you.
And now that you’ve seen what it’s made of, read our review to see just what the AE-1 is all about.
Oh, and we should mention that no functional AE-1s were harmed in the making of this segment. This camera was pretty well damaged when we began.