My Love-Hate Relationship with the Canon QL17 G-III

Lovely images, a better quick loader than my Leica, and easy to handle, you'd think I'd be packing the Canon QL17 G-III all over town. Our relationship it turns out is complicated.

I don’t find myself tied to any camera or brand. I use what I have at hand, a plethora of randomly placed cameras in my house, daily carry bag and car (you know, when you used to be able to go outside before the end-times). My requirements for a camera are not complicated: if I set the f/stop, dial in my shutter speed, and press the shutter release, will it make an exposure.

That singular requirement defines my love-hate relationship with the Canon QL17 G-III. As compact rangefinder cameras from the early 1970’s go, you’d be hard pressed to find a more affordable performer than the Canon QL17 G-III. The 40/1.7 six-element lens is a pretty great lens, the meter isn’t half bad, the quick film loader is amazing (ala, the QL part of the name), and it has a parallax compensating frameline.

I came to the QL17 like most of the cameras I have around in that it came in a box full of film-related parts and various junk that someone gave us years ago. I was not naive as to the camera’s status; among a group of photographers it’s known as the poor man’s Leica CL. People I knew heard I had one and offered fair sums for it; others pointed I could sell it on E-Bay with ease. Where would be the fun in that though?

Looking at the copy I have from the outside it appeared pristine. With the exception of the plastic cover for the flash port which had faded from white to yellow, the camera looked as it was never used. However, never judge a camera by it’s case:

  1. The foam seals where completely destroyed, not uncommon for cameras of the era.
  2. The shutter seemed off, not exactly slow but it did not sound nor feel right.
  3. The meter requires a 625 battery, which you aren’t going to find these days.

#1 and #3 I could readily resolve with a little choice work on the camera without to much trouble. The foam seals I could quickly and cheaply replace and a simple O-ring, an LR44, and a little compensation testing and I could potentially skip the diode replacement work (which I eventually did). Said fixes brought the camera up to speed for use, at least, for a while.

Justin Ribeiro

The shutter however would be the hate portion of our relationship. The camera shutter became terribly inconsistent whether it would fire at all. This became a rather annoying problem when I had taken the camera out and about. I’d run rolls of film without issue only to be treated to the slack press of the release and would find the camera would no longer fire the shutter.

Days later, the camera sitting on my work bench I’d hear the shutter fire. A few winds and test shots, and it seemed all was well. I set forth to clean said camera, but taking apart a QL17 is not for the faint of heart; to get to the shutter you really have to break the camera all the way down and honestly, it just wasn’t worth my time to do that.

That said, I did use the old go-through-the-front to clean the blades (and example of said quick fix is available on YouTube from Fix Old Cameras). I found this fix somewhat unsatisfying to be honest. Yeah, the camera shutter worked fine but at that point, the entire camera was rather untrustworthy in my mind. A few months later, I was back to square one when the camera locked up.

The front lens element out of the Canon QL17 for cleaning before removing secondary to access the shutter blades.
Justin Ribeiro

Ultimately I’ll have to find a rainy day to just break it down an repair the shutter. You might say “but Justin there are so many on E-Bay!” and to that I say, yes there are. The problem being that most people are listing them for too much money for untested and non-CLA’ed copies and I’d consider that a high risk purchase given my previous experience with this camera. If you’re in the market for one, find a good CLA’ed version (they are out there), but be wary of untested versions which like my description above, might be more trouble than they’re worth.