Review of Canon Sure Shot AS-1 (Prima AS-1)

I'm gonna be honest: the reason for publishing this review is that I'm very unhappy with my camera's extremely poor performance, and partly also the response from Canon to my complaint. The Internet is a great place for whining, so here I am.. Please note that this is based solely on my personal experience, and its validity may obviously vary on a more general basis, unlike what one might expect from more extensive reviews. I claim not to be an expert on this camera -- I merely offer my experience. For what it's worth..

The story

I got my Canon AS-1 (Sure Shot AS-1 un the US, Prima AS-1 in Europe) early 1999, the seemingly perfect match for snapshots in wet conditions. As an avid photographing flyfisherman, I wanted a lightweight, waterproof, and high quality P&S to pack in my vest. At about $150, the Canon AS-1 seemed like the best buy.

The Canon has a fixed and reasonably fast lens of 32mm f/3.5, and no zoom to compromise image quality and speed, or so I thought. After getting my first rolls of film back from the lab, I soon realized, Canon would in fact be hard pressed to degrade the image quality any further.
I was extremely disappointed with the optical results, as there is an absolutely intolerable circle of overexposure in the center of every frame, and whereas the edges have a amazingly different cast and appearance. On average, the pictures are ok, but a white center and black corners doesn't exactly make for the best grey-card, does it? On some shots, one might think the centre of the film has been subject of x-ray machines or a fault in the film, with its overexposed, foggy zone standing out. That is not the case, as the film speed is only 100 ASA, it happened to several types of film (both print and slides) and some of those were nowhere near a X-ray machine.

The optical disaster - in pictures

Please, take a look for yourself! Below are two rather big (sorry!) examples of how this camera performs. I've copied samples from the main picture and pasted them together for better comparison of the differences on the same horizon (like that was necessary!).

The pictures were taken with the sun straight above or from behind, so the horizon should be equal in exposure and color all over (pictures taken with my SLR were just that). There has been made no adjustments to the pictures, and the appearance on the screen is very representative of the actual slides (expect monitor calibration and color balance). Film: Fuji Provia 100 ASA

bilde 1
himmel vann


The Canon response

I took the camera to an authorized Canon service facility here in Oslo, Norway. I also brought along a few slides, including the two above. I specifically told the service representative what my complaint was based upon: the overexposed center and underexposed borders. After a few days, I got word back that, hey! If I wanted better pictures, I'd have to buy a significantly more expensive camera. Apparently, this poor image quality is fully acceptable for a $150 Canon P&S.

Unsure of what to do, I scanned some pictures and put them on the web, and asked for comments in the newsgroup I got quite a few responses, and they all agreed upon that this quality was absolutely unacceptable. Several of them had a AS-1 themselves. So, I contacted Canon, and we agreed to have the camera and slides shipped to them for closer inspection. I once again specifically mentioned my problems (overexposed center and underexposed border).

After a week or so, I received an email from Canon, explaining that they had checked the camera, and found both its exposure and focus to be in acceptable working order. I immediately sent a response explaining that I was happy with both focus and exposure, but I wanted a comment on the differences in exposure within a frame. I also put up a webpage with these two pictures with samples copied and pasted together, so that there would be no way to misinterpret my intentions.
I received no response, and my server logs showed that they did not even bother to check out the webpage I had set up. Two days later, and much to my naive surprise, the camera arrived in my mailbox, with a note from Canon claiming it to be in fully working order, as explained in the email. Case closed on Canon's behalf it seems.

My thoughts

Without being an expert on photography or cameras, I see basically three different explanations to my problems:
  1. My camera is a lemon, and most AS-1 cameras work great.
  2. The film was bad.
  3. The AS-1 series doesn't work very well under bright conditions.
Explanation 1 (lemon) is possible, or perhaps even likely, as I know of several others who has this camera, and get decent results.
Explanation 2 (bad film) is rather unlikely, as I've experienced the similar results with different types of film, both slide and print film. The problem was however particularly evident with low speed slide film in bright conditions.
Explanation 3 (light) is also worth considering. The camera as a max shutterspeed of 1/250 sec., and according to my SLR's metering, the Canon would be shooting at 1/250 & f/16 when these pictures were taken. Give or take a stop. Perhaps the camera doesn't perform very vell at f/22, a setting which is rarely used.

I'm not quite sure what to think. Possibly a combination of the three? Extensive testing might provide useful clues, but I'm really not that interested. I'll probably use it occasionally, and maybe that will shed some light on the issue. But mainly, I'm preparing to lug my SLR around a lot more..

Other things I like/dislike about it

Good stuff:
Very lightweight and compact!
Extremely easy to operate, one dial for cameramode and a shutter button. Grandma can handle this one!
Waterproof down to 5 meters, and it even floats!

Bad stuff:
The macro-setting requires a button other than shutter to be pressed, and that means you have to use two hands. Inconvenient when snorkeling.
Automatic only film rewind, which is also somewhat unreliable. Doesn't always detect end of film
Hard to tell if image was taken, sometimes it just doesn't shoot, and you need to pay close attention to sounds and counter to verify that it actually shot a frame.
The power switch is too exposed, and the camera can be easily turned on accidentally, even when in its case.

The final word

That's it. My advice to those considering getting this camera, is to give it a good test run before handing over your money. Preferably under conditions in which you expect to shoot the most.
No one is disputing Canon's capabilities of making excellent photo gear, but make sure you don't end up with pictures like mine..

30th. of June, 1999. Christian Figenschou. <>.