Desert Island Cameras No. 06 – Canon Edition

We’re back with another installment of Desert Island Cameras, the recurring article in which we answer the question, “If you could only have one, which would it be?” In our quest to help you choose the very best from the most popular camera brands, we’ve taken on the near-impossible task of paring down and choosing just one camera and lens we’d be happy to have for the rest of our lives.

Last time we talked about Pentax with that company’s former President, Ned Bunnell. Today we’re focused on the camera company that put high quality SLRs into the hands of countless amateurs across the globe – it’s Canon. And here’s the Canon camera we’d each pick as our stuck-for-the-rest-of-our-lives camera.


Dustin’s Pick

Being asked to pick a desert island camera from the world’s largest camera manufacturer is like asking me to choose my favorite guitar player from the 1980s. It’s gonna be tough. Canon’s long history of camera wizardry and market dominance has left us with a seemingly bottomless selection from which to choose. I’ve owned many a Canon in my day, and while all of them have served me well as photographic tools, there is one that stands out in my mind as a desert island no-brainer; the mighty EOS-1v.

A solid, well-built, quasi-weather sealed, film pac-man of a machine, the EOS-1v is about as close to perfection as one can get in a 35mm professional body. It’s the only 35mm camera I’ve ever felt comfortable using for paid work, secure in the knowledge that pairing it with my L series glass will undoubtedly produce results I can be proud of. It’s captured multiple weddings, family events, and the birth of my third son. It’s traveled with me internationally, been bounced around camera bags and off of walls, and still performs as if it just rolled off the assembly line back in 2002.

The familiarity of the EOS platform has allowed me to switch back and forth between my digital EOS bodies without a second’s pause, and the ergonomics are truly best in class. It’s my only 35mm film body that I can shoot all day and not come home with hand cramps or sore biceps.

Want specs? It boasts a 45 point AF system and predictive AI servo mode that tracks moving subjects surprisingly well. And with the HS hand grip add-on, this film-munching mongrel will devour a roll of film in roughly 4 seconds flat. That’s right – 9 FPS. Boing! Couple that with a top shutter speed of 1/8000th of a second, and you’re ready to shoot anything from sporting events to extreme bar mitzvahs.

Feature-rich film bodies have a limited audience nowadays, but if you’re someone who still shoots paid gigs on film, or if you’re an EOS digital shooter looking for a film body, or you simply want the most advanced 35mm camera ever made, the Canon EOS-1v is as good as it gets.


Chris’ Pick

Canon was a nobody in the professional camera market prior to the release of the F-1, and their first effort is still their best. The F-1 exemplifies everything that’s special about a pro-level Canon; it’s durable, configurable, versatile, and just as handy in a bar fight as your average chair leg. This brick of a camera might not be Canon’s handsomest creation (that honor goes to either the P or the 7), but it is a functional delight.

The F-1’s high level of configurability allows it to be the perfect tool for nearly any job. Typically I use the camera with a power winder (the Winder F) and the swiveling Speed Finder. The latter permits me to shoot with my eye several inches from the finder, and makes shooting from very low or very high angles much simpler.

Of course, the F-1 is not perfect. There’s no hiding the fact that it’s extremely large and cumbersome when compared to machines like the Pentax LX and Olympus OM-1. It’s also substantially larger and heavier than the brand’s own excellent Canon A-1. But what it lacks in compactness it more than makes up in ruggedness, and since this desert island situation likely means I’ll need a camera that is as at least as useful for documenting my suffering as it capable of cracking open the occasional crab.

I don’t choose the F-1 easily. Indeed, I’ve already recommended the FTb over the F-1 on this very website, for many very good reasons. In most shooting situations the junior Canon is every inch the F-1’s equal, and it comes with a much smaller price-tag. But if we’re talking the rest of my life, if I’m forced to choose just one camera to be stuck with forever, I don’t intend to settle. I want a power winder and a titanium shutter.


Jeb’s Pick

Of all the Desert Island posts I’ve collaborated on, choosing my preferred Canon was the easiest. I often gripe about Canon being unimaginative with their product design, and I admit I don’t give the brand enough credit for their technological mastery. But in one shining moment they achieved both gorgeous style and ultimate capability with the Canon Canonet G-III QL17.

That’s a big name for a small camera, but don’t let the size of this compact little rangefinder fool you into thinking it’s a cheap and featureless machine. The GIII is so good it’s become known as the “poor man’s Leica.” Dubious nickname notwithstanding, the camera’s reputation is completely deserved.

The Canonet’s shutter-priority auto-exposure system  ensures every exposure is accurate, and the meter reading displayed in the viewfinder shows which aperture is being used. It has a leaf-shutter-equipped 40mm f/1.7 lens that’s tack sharp. Focusing is fast and accurate with a short focus throw, and a contrasty focus patch sitting in a bright viewfinder. The shutter action is super quiet, and unlikely to startle any island wildlife. And even though it’s a petite camera, it brings a satisfying heft that lets you know that it’s not a toy (though it may not be quite strong enough for cracking coconuts).

The technical capability and build quality of the Canonet are in line with Canon’s brand, but for me, the Canonet is really special because it’s also a beautiful machine – something to gaze at as well as gaze through. And that’s a rare and wonderful thing when we’re talking about Canon.


James’ Pick

I love serious machines, and that should come as no surprise. The cameras I keep for myself are often the ones that are complicated and impressive; cameras for people who like to disassemble and reassemble British twin-cylinder motorcycle motors, if you know what I mean.

That’s why I struggle with Canon. There’s no denying that they’re one of the most important camera manufacturers to ever exist, but at the same time, they’re a company that’s made nearly all of their money selling less-than-serious cameras. If Alpa is Rolex, Canon is Timex. The quartz watch costs less and is more accurate than the Rolex, but I know which one I’d want to wear.

Don’t get me wrong – the AE-1, the EOS lineup, and so many of Canon’s other cameras are amazing cameras capable of making fantastic photos. But they just lack that kind of unquantifiable feeling of old-world machinery that really makes me fall for a camera.

So which Canon would I choose if I could only have one? Something a bit odd; the Canon Demi. This half-frame camera is tiny, looks gorgeous, and allows 72 exposures to be shot on a 36 exposure roll of film. The 28mm f/2.8 lens is sharp enough on such a small frame (there’s also a faster version with a 30mm f/1.7), and its contoured, all-metal body just feels great in the hands. I love it for its uniqueness, and for the rare reaction it produces when I use it (a Canon camera that makes me feel something!).


And those are our picks. Pretty amazing machines. But what do you think? Was your favorite Canon passed over? Let us hear about it in the comments.

If you like this piece, check out the rest of our Desert Island Cameras series to see which camera we’d choose if we could only have one Leica, Pentax, Minolta, and more. And let us know which brand you’d like to see us tackle next.

Want to find your own special Canon?

Find one on eBay

Find one on Amazon

Find one at B&H Photo

Find one at our own F Stop Cameras

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13 Comments

  • Reply
    Stéphane
    January 26, 2018 at 7:36 am

    I’ll take my Canon P ! 🙂

  • Reply
    Marcus didius falco (@falcos2012)
    January 26, 2018 at 8:22 am

    All good camera’s:)Shame my 2 ladies(Molly, EOS 5, Charlotte, EOS 1000Fn) were not mentioned:( Still, it’s always good 2 read & see beautiful camera articles like this one:)

  • Reply
    Francisco Taborda
    January 26, 2018 at 10:58 am

    Love this deserted island cameras. My favourite canon camera is the Canon P. I recently got mine CLAed and I’m looking forward to shoot with it again!

    • Reply
      James Tocchio
      January 26, 2018 at 11:00 am

      Chris loves the P. I’m surprised he didn’t choose it for this piece, to be honest.

      • Reply
        Francisco Taborda
        January 26, 2018 at 11:10 am

        I don’t have much experience with rangefinders besides Russians Leica copies like Fed. But I can’t imagine a full mechanical RF being much better than the P. That just make me wonder how much better leicas really are. Since the P already has everything I need.

    • Reply
      Chris Cushing
      January 26, 2018 at 12:45 pm

      Francisco – I adore my P. For my money the P kicks the stuffing out of LTM Leicas. Unfortunately the lens selection in LTM is not as strong as M mount, which is the P’s major failing when comparing to Leica Ms.

      I went with the F-1 over the P here because FD mount has excellent lenses on the longer end of the spectrum. Rangefinders and telephotos are typically not a good mix. Because of that the F-1 covers more of what I like to do better than the P does.

      The P is still an absolute jewel of a camera, and it’s probably my favorite camera I own for that reason. If I was a different sort of shooter it would absolutely beat the F-1 in my Desert Island Cameras rankings!

      • Reply
        Francisco Taborda
        January 26, 2018 at 1:56 pm

        I totally understand what you mean. At the end of the day we defined our perfect camera by our preferences. In my case I want a camera that completes my experience of shooting film. In my case it’s not only about the photo but about the process. Photography taught me to slow down and find what’s interesting and beautiful about my everyday life. The canon P fits perfect in that way.

  • Reply
    Edward Gonzales
    January 26, 2018 at 12:34 pm

    I had an AE-1P for a while, but after I got an A-1 I couldn’t go back. I favor aperture priority, so that was the biggest thing, but the A-1 also feels so much more substantial and meaningful in my hand. It’s become an extension of my eye, especially with the 50 mm f/1.4 *swoon*. I fear the day something in my A-1 electronics fails, so I’ve been on the look out for a New F-1 for my own desert island days.

  • Reply
    Jim Grey
    January 26, 2018 at 12:50 pm

    I used to really love my Canonet QL17 G-III, but the light seals failed. I’ve been meaning to re-seal it for five years now. Have the new seals, or should I say the five-year-old seals.

    I have found all the Canon SLRs I’ve used to be competent, but none of them have inspired love. The closest any has come is my A2e, which is pretty dang good.

  • Reply
    Randle P. McMurphy
    January 29, 2018 at 2:49 am

    Started my “serious” photography with a Canon AE-1 and some FD primes I bought used at a local store.
    There was nothing wrong with it even when some folks mentioned they wouldn´t touch this plasitc “toy”.
    Years later after I already switched to Nikon I had the chance to pick some Canon F1 and some FL primes for nearly nothing on Ebay
    I understand what they meant. Canon never managed to come so close to mechanically perfection like in the days these gear was built.

  • Reply
    Stefan
    February 5, 2018 at 4:04 am

    One vote for the Canon EF from me.

    • Reply
      James Tocchio
      February 5, 2018 at 8:53 am

      Great choice. That camera gets so few mentions but it really is one of Canon’s best from that era.

  • Reply
    Tobias Key
    February 12, 2018 at 1:37 pm

    I’m surprised no-one mentioned the T90. Unbelievably advanced at the time, with fantastic features like multi-spot metering. Every SLR since has owed something to the T90 design, and you can see echoes of it in the latest Nikons and Canons. Unfairly overlooked these days I think. Definitely the best FD mount camera, and by some margin.

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