TLDR: Its a waterproof point and shoot that works very nicely
I bought two Canon Sureshot cameras. The first has a broken battery door and a non-functioning mode select switch (it is permanently on auto). The second one is working perfectly, came with its original case and strap, and has already had a few rolls of film put through it without any issues. I ended up with two because I thought the first was a bargain (even if I did have to tape the battery door closed). It was a bargain, until I found the second which actually ended up costing me a little less than the first. The joy of online auctions. What this does mean is that I have a spare, and this is no bad thing if repairs ever rear their ugly head.
The motivation to pick up an A1 is discussed here – I basically wanted something that I didn’t need to be worried about taking out in the glorious British weather, and whilst the Ricoh LX-33w did successfully fulfill the weatherproof requirement, the pictures it took were far from wonderful.
When new, the camera cost 42000 yen (about £280 apparently), so no cheap and cheerful holiday shooter. It is fully waterproof (rather than just weatherproof), and multiple sources state that it was ‘the world’s smallest and lightest underwater camera’ back in 1994. None of these sources state where this assertion came from, but given how few fully waterproof cameras were about in 1994, it is not hard to believe.
The camera puts 25 to 3200 iso film (DX coded) behind a 32mm f/3.5 lens, picking an appropriate shutter speed from 1/250 up to 2 seconds. Settings are minimal, with an auto mode, flash always on, flash always off, and the mode that is marked on the dial with a little fish icon. ‘Fish mode’ is actually a macro mode for things that fall into the 0.45 to 1 meter away from you category. Presumably this works as well on land as sea, but its clearly designed with taking pictures of fish in mind.
Autofocus is quick, even in challenging conditions. Canon gives numbers for both land (0.45m to infinity) and underwater (1m to 3m); Macro: 1.5ft. to 3.3ft./0.45m to 1m. This is the first indication that Canon didn’t take a similar approach to Ricoh, and just take a regular point and shoot out of their Sureshot line, and add enough plastic and rubber to make it waterproof. There are a couple of other obvious clues: The body has chunkier ergonomics than most cameras, with a nice ridge on the right hand side to ensure you have a solid grip and it is beige, with red highlights, I guess so that if you drop if in the ocean you can retrieve it. The last, and for me biggest thing is the viewfinder. It is a big, bright viewfinder that you can use at a fair distance – Canon reckon the:
Albada viewfinder has a long eye relief, making it easy to view even with a underwater face mask or ski goggles.
It hadn’t even occurred to me that waterproof means snow safe, but the camera will definitely be coming skiing with me in the future. What the viewfinder means for me is that even on the dull, rainy days I want the camera for, it is still easy to compose an image. It compares favorably even to larger SLRs, even if it does have a big red surround.
It has been said elsewhere, but the way this camera looks could be a positive or a negative for you. It is not understated, looks fairly toy-like (though far less so than the yellow Minolta cameras that form the rest of the waterproof 35mm offer), and its unlikely that too many people are going to be taking you too seriously if you pull this out of your camera bag. But, for street photography, which, with its quick auto-focus, this camera isn’t the worst choice for, its out-there appearance may help to put you into the ‘ridiculous tourist’ category that sometimes unlocks some great shots. I actually kind of the like the way it looks, but this is probably because it looks like something I would have wanted to use when I was eight (which was how old I was when it was released.
The A1 does exactly what I want it to do – allow me to take photos of some sort of quality in bad weather.