How to Load Film into the Canon AE-1

By Nathaniel Stephan
Last Updated: April 21, 2020
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How to load film into a Canon AE-1

Need to know how to load film into your Canon AE-1? No problem, this guide will make sure that you are successful. Every step will be covered with a few tips and tricks along the way.

Before You Load Film

Check the Battery

Make sure the battery is not dead. You will need to be able to operate the shutter.

If you do not have a battery, you will need a 4LR44 battery. It is also a good idea to keep an extra battery with you when you are shooting.

Make Sure the Canon AE-1 Functions Correctly

If your Canon AE-1 has not been used in a long time, check to make sure the camera is functioning correctly before loading film.

Make sure you are able to cock the shutter with the film advance lever and the shutter fires when you press the shutter release.

Check the lens to make sure the optics are clean and clear. The focus and aperture rings should also turn smoothly.

Finally, make sure the light meter is working. Look through the viewfinder and change the aperture or shutter speed. The indicator should move up or down after a change to the aperture or shutter speed.

Make Sure the Camera is Empty

Make sure there is no film in the camera. Unlike some cameras, the Canon AE-1 does not have a window to see if film is currently loaded in the camera.

There are two ways to check to make sure there is no 35mm film in the camera.

The first is to go through the steps on how to rewind film from the Canon AE-1. These are the same steps you'll need to follow once you're done with the roll of film you're loading.

Another option is to step the camera to bulb mode (The "B" on the shutter speed dial), remove the lens, and then hold the shutter release button down. If there is film in the camera, you'll be able to see it. If not, all you'll see if the film backplate.

Do Not Load Film in Sunlight

You can ruin your film by loading it in direct sunlight or bright light.

Bright light increases the risk of light piping. When this happens light is able to penetrate through the light seal on the 35mm film canister.

The film is not guaranteed to be completely ruined. You could end up with varying degrees of fogging.

Fogging can produce a range of undesirable outcomes such as a loss of contrast, blown out streaks, or a completely exposed frame. The problem should subside with progressive frames.

For Best Results, Use Fresh Film

Film degrades in quality over time. It should also not be exposed to hot temperatures like those in a car on a sunny day or attic during summer.

Expired film can be used, but you are not guaranteed predictable performance.

For the best results, use a fresh pack of film. My recommendations are:

Step-by-Step How to Load Film

Time needed: 1 minute.

How to load film into the Canon AE-1.

  1. Open the film door.

    To open the film door on the Canon AE-1, pull up on the film rewind knob. Leave the knob pulled up.Canon AE-1 opening the film door

  2. Load a roll of film.

    The film roll goes in the left side with the film leader on the bottom. The film leader is the rounded half-width section at the start of every roll of film.Load film into the Canon AE-1

  3. Push the rewind knob back down.

    The rewind knob has prongs that will lock into the film canister. This will keep the film canister in place, as well as allowing you to rewind the film.

  4. Pull the film leader over to the film take-up spool.

    With your left hand hold the film canister in place. With your right hand gently pull on the film leader to pull some film out of the canister.Canon AE-1 Pull Out 35mm Film

  5. Thread the film leader onto the take-up spool.

    The take-up spool has slots and notches designed to hold the film in place. Carefully insert the film leader and make sure enough of the film leader is inserted to be firmly held in place.Canon AE-1 film on take-up spool

  6. Advance the film and fire the shutter.

    With your left hand, hold the film canister in place. With your right hand, use the film advance lever to cock the camera.
    Look to make sure the film leader does not come out of the slot in the film take-up spool.Canon AE-1 advance film

  7. Advance the film again. (Optional)

    If you are not confident the film is going to stay on the take-up spool, you can repeat step 6.

  8. Close the film door.

    Carefully close the film door. Make sure the film rewind knob is down and the film door has securely latched closed. Light leaks will ruin frames that are exposed.Canon AE-1 film back securely closed

  9. Set the ISO (ASA) on the camera.

    The ISO (ASA) setting can be seen through the window on the top of the shutter speed dial. To change the value, pull up on the outside ring of the shutter speed knob and rotate.
    A tip to make the process easier is to have the film advance lever moved out from the body. You do not need to apply enough pressure to advance the film.
    You can also do this step before you begin to load the film.Canon AE-1 Set ISO (ASA)

  10. Check the film counter.

    Advance the film and fire the shutter until the camera reaches the "0" frame. You might have to do this 2-3 times.
    The frames that you advance through before reaching "0" are on parts of the film that was exposed during the film loading process.Canon AE-1 frame 0

  11. You're ready to take photographs.

    Congratulations! Your camera is now loaded with film and ready to shoot.
    Once you've shot the roll of film, the guide will show you how to rewind and remove film from the Canon AE-1.

Where to develop film? You can do it at home, or send it off to a lab to be developed and scanned.

How to Know When a Roll of Film is Done?

The film roll is used up when you are no longer able to easily crank the film advance lever. The film counter should also be near the number of exposures that were on the roll. Most likely either 24 or 36.

You should then rewind the film back into the 35mm canister. To do this film out the film rewind knob and press the film spool lock button on the bottom of the camera. You'll then be able to rewind the film.

Canon AE-1 Resources

Best Canon AE-1 Lenses
Best Film for the Canon AE-1
Canon AE-1 Review
Canon AE-1 vs Pentax K1000

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