Canon EOS cameras from 1990s

I was first introduced to the Canon EOS range in mid-1990's. At that time I created an early version of this page. All the cameras described here use 35mm or APS film. I slightly edited the page in 2013, but left most of the content unchanged. In the digital camera era, I hope the information could be useful to film camera ethusiasts, or perhaps camera collectors.
 
A comprehensive overview of all Canon cameras ever produced can be found at the Canon camera museum website.
 
Canon uses different names for cameras sold in different parts of the world. Except for some differences between the EOS 5 and A2E, equivalent cameras are identical except for the name.
 

Canon EOS 3000, EOS 88

This was the cheapest offering from Canon at the time and was not regularly available in the United States. It appeared to be a re-vitalization of the Rebel XS / EOS 1000 which was the pre-predecessor of EOS Rebel 2000 / EOS 300.

The eos 3000 has a lightweight all-plastic body, three focusing sensors and six light-metering segments, lots of exposure modes from full automatic to full manual. The built-in flash covers the field of view of 35mm lens. The target audience was a beginner SLR user with a limited budget. At slightly higher price points, better alternatives were available.

Canon EOS 300, EOS Rebel 2000

The entry-level model in the USA, and the most commonly available one elsewhere in the world, this camera is surprisingly well-featured for its price. While made entirely of plastic, the plastic bodies very rarely break in actual use. It is also very lightweight and as such may appeal to professionals and serious amateurs as the backup body.

All essential features for a modern SLR camera are there: seven selectable focusing sensors, predictive and one-shot auto-focus, evaluative (35 zones!) and spot metering of light, programmed, shutter-priority, aperture-priority and manual exposure modes, flash covering 28mm lens. The flash system is capable of utilizing E-TTL flash. The beginners can utilize the PIC exposure modes, such as portrait, sports, or night scene. These modes also provide a way to force the camera to using spot metering (macro mode) and predictive auto-focus (sports mode) which are less convenient to select otherwise. A new feature, not available on its predecessors, is the depth-of-field preview, which lets you evaluate the sharpness of the photo at the aperture chosen.

Being an entry-level model, several cost-saving features have been incorporated into the camera. The lens mount is made of plastic and may be unable to support heavy professional lenses. The AF-assist and red-eye reduction functions are served by a combined bright white light which can be annoying to the subjects. Some functions (such as selecting the focusing sensor, or using manual mode) are less convenient than on the other EOS bodies.

The 300 (as well as the 3000 described earlier) uses an unusual film loading technique, which will protect the film from being spoiled when the back of the camera is opened by accident: After film has been loaded, it is wound to the end of the roll and then exposed from the last frame towards the beginning. The frame counter counts down (from 24 or 36), showing the number of remaining exposures. This feature has the side effect of creating an extra delay when loading the film, and using extra battery power if mid-roll film changes are attempted. As far as the latter are concerned, the film leader can not be left out after rewind either.

The motor drive operates at about 1.5 frames per second, and the fastest shutter speed is 1/2000 s. The fastest X-synchronization speed is 1/90 seconds, while the flash units capable of E-TTL are also able to synchronize at all available shutter speeds (up to 1/2000).

Summary: A good choice, if budget is (was) limited. While some nice widgets are missing, this camera probably had the best price/performance ratio of all current SLR offerings on the market in late 1990s, Canon or otherwise.

Canon EOS IX7, EOS IX Lite

This camera body uses the APS (Advanced Photo System) film, which may be (nearly) impossible to obtain nowadays. It is smaller than the 35mm models, but appears larger than the EOS IX, even though the published dimensions of these two bodies are very similar. Like all EOS cameras, it is compatible with all Canon's EF lenses and accessories(*). Two lenses were released together with the body - the EF 22-55mm f/4/0-5.6 USM and EF 55-200mm f/4.5-5.6 USM. While most convenient for use with the APS film, they are actually fully usable with the 35mm EOS cameras as well. Due to the smaller frame size of the APS film, the image quality will be somewhat lower, and the angle of view of the lenses will be narrower.

EOS IX7's features are similar to those of the Rebel 2000/EOS3000, plus special features available only with the APS film format, such as communicating information to the photofinisher's printing machine and making mid-roll film exchanges easier to accomplish. The film is wound at 1 frame per second and the fastest shutter speed is 1/2000s with fastest X-synchronization speed at 1/125s.

Summary: APS film is nearly impossible to obtain, so I cannot imagine a situation where you might actually use the camera. Might still be interesting as a historical or collectors item.

(*) The EF-S lenses, introduced with APS-C sized sensors in digital cameras several years later, are not compatible with any EOS film camera, including the APS models!

Canon EOS IX

Like EOS IX7, this camera also uses the APS (Advanced Photo System) film, which may be (nearly) impossible to obtain nowadays. It appears smaller than any other Canon's SLR, and is compatible with all Canon's EF lenses and accessories(*). Due to the smaller frame size of the APS film, the image quality will be somewhat lower than in 35mm, and the angle of view of the lenses will be narrower.

EOS IX's features are somewhere between those of the Rebel 2000/EOS 300, and the Elan IIE/EOS50E. Compared to the EOS IX7, it has infrared remote-control capability, 2.5 frames per second motor drive, and a faster shutter (1/4000s max, 1/200s X-synchronization). Also, the body is made of thin stainless steel instead of plastic. There are three focusing sensors and six light-metering segments. Like most other APS cameras, it can write data on the APS film's magnetic strip, communicating information to the photofinisher's printing machine and making mid-roll film exchanges easier to accomplish.

A model with eye-control focusing point selection, called EOS IX E, was sold in Japan. I have not heard of it being available elsewhere.

Summary: APS film is nearly impossible to obtain, so I cannot imagine a situation where you might actually use the camera. Might still be interesting as a historical or collectors item.

(*) The EF-S lenses, introduced with APS-C sized sensors in digital cameras several years later, are not compatible with any EOS film camera, including the APS models!

Canon EOS 50, EOS 50E, EOS 55, EOS Elan II, Elan II E

The next step up from the Rebel series, the Elan II feels more solid in the hand and comes with several nice features the Rebels are missing. Aimed at the serious amateur, or possibly as a backup for the professional. Being an older model (introduced in 1995), it has only three focusing sensors and six segments in the light meter, but othewise all the light metering and exposure modes from Rebel 2000 are there, as well as the small flash.

Most of the "cheap camera" features listed for the Rebel 2000 are solved in the Elan II: The lens mount is made of metal. The AF assist beam is red and can be turned off. There is a separate red-eye reduction lamp which can also be turned off. Film loads as usual, starting at frame 1. The motor drive at 2.4 frames per second is, however, still too slow for some applications. The highest shutter speed is 1/4000 s, and the fastest X-synchronization can be achieved at 1/125 s.

The models with an "E" in their name have Eye-Controlled selection of focusing sensors. This means that, after an initial calibration, one can command the camera to focus on a specific subject just by looking at the sensor which points at it. There are three sensors to select from. Also the diaphragm can be closed down for depth-of-field preview by looking at a specific icon in the viewfinder. The non-E models do not have the eye control ability, but the same functions can be achieved using buttons and dials.

If you are trying to check out the eye-control system, be sure to calibrate it for your eye first. Also, the eye control system will benefit from multiple re-calibrations during actual use, especially if done in various light conditions.

Other nice features of the Elan II include custom functions (about 10 bits to slightly modify the camera's behavior), a dial on the back for easy setting of exposure compensation or aperture values, capability of leader-out rewind which makes mid-roll film exchange possible, and the ability to make use of E-TTL flash. The mirror can be pre-fired 2 seconds before exposure, reducing camera shake for critical shots (especially macro). People with large hands may benefit from the BP-50 battery pack/vertical grip, which has its own shutter release button, on/off switch, and can take both lithium and alkaline batteries.

The ergonomics of the camera is better than that of the Rebel 2000, with more levers and dials which become intuitive to use in a very short time. The dial on the back is a great ergonomic feature, allowing for easy input of exposure compensation or aperture information. The EOS 50 is also compatible with Canon's RC-1 remote controller which is a nice alternative to self-timer for taking self portraits, and also can be used instead of a cable release. Both the self-timer and electronic cable release socket are still available for those who prefer them.

Some people have experienced random temporary failures of their Elan II's caused by poor battery contacts. The easy solution is to place a folded piece of paper between the battery and compartment door.

The camera's mirror is noisier than that of the older EOS 100 (Elan) and EOS 5 (A2E), but the motor drive itself is very quiet, and the silent rewind mode is almost soundless. The BP-50 battery pack lacks the dial next to the shutter release button, which makes its use as a vertical grip a little awkward at times.

Despite of these known shortcomings, the Elan II/EOS 50 was a very competitive and attractive model incorporating almost everything a serious amateur would need.

The sister model EOS 55 was available only in Japan, came in black as well as metallic colors, and had Quartz Date and Panorama adaptor as well as the Eye control features.

Summary: the best option for a serious amateur. Get the eye control if the budget permits; but you can live without it if money is short. Buy the RC-1 remote control as well.

Canon EOS 5, EOS A2, EOS A2E

This model is targeted at the advanced amateur or professional on budget. When this page was initially written (late 199s), the EOS 5/A2E was the oldest in Canon's lineup and was being replaced by the EOS 3.

The EOS5/A2E is an advanced camera, incorporating most of the ergonomics and technology of the Elan II/EOS 50, plus some remarkable improvements: The light metering system of the A2 has 16 segments (the Elan II had only 6), the motor drive is faster (5 frames per second) and quieter. The highest shutter speed is 1/8000 s, with the fastest X-synch speed at 1/200 s. There are five focusing sensors and they can be eye-selected in the EOS 5 and A2E. There are 16 custom functions and a socket and special mode to connect to a studio flash system. The built-in flash zooms as you replace or zoom the lens. One can replace the focusing screen with another one (6 selections available).

Similar to the previous models, the EOS 5/A2(E) also incorporates a lot of Canon's usual technology: predictive and one-shot autofocus, built-in TTL flash with 4-segment metering, separate red-eye reduction and AF-assist beams, mirror lock-up, depth-of-field preview (eye-controlled and button-controlled), mirror pre-fire for reduced camera shake, exposure compensation (separate for ambient light and flash), auto bracketing (3 shots total), multiple exposures, the back dial for exposure compensation/aperture inputs, manual override of DX coded film speed, very silent mirror and film wind/rewind mechanisms, and even the PIC exposure modes for the beginners.

The VG10 vertical grip, while lacking alkaline-battery capability, duplicates the shutter release button, the main dial next to it, and the two buttons on the back (AE lock, focusing point selection). Users with large hands or taking lots of vertical frames should check this accessory out.

Due to patent problems, there are some differences between the U.S. A2(E) and the international EOS 5. In manual exposure mode, the EOS 5 shows you the difference between metered and selected exposure, while the A2(E) only shows whether you are over- or underexposing. Also, the built-in flash does not pop up automatically when it would in the EOS 5.

Being an older model than the Elan II, these cameras lack eye control when the EOS5/A2E is held vertically (for portraits), as well as the E-TTL flash control system. The older A-TTL system is still there, however.

The most common point of failure seems to be in the mode-selection dial at the left hand side of the camera: when bumped or turned without properly pressing the unlock button, it can lose its click stops and in some cases, all functionality. The repair is costly, requiring replacement of the whole top panel.

Summary: Highly praised by advanced amateurs and professionals alike. An older model than the EOS 3, but could be worth checking out even in the digital camera era.

Canon EOS 3

Introduced in late 1998, this body contains all the latest features in Canon's EOS system of that time, and was a strong competitor to the EOS 1N. It was also quite similarly priced. The target market was both advanced amateurs and professionals. The construction includes a metal framework, weatherproofing, ability to connect to the booster originally designed for the EOS 1N, and compatibility with the "pro" line of Canon accessories (focusing screens, remote controls, etc).

Just like the EOS 1, it has no built-in flash, no AF assist lamp and no PIC modes, which further shows its target market among the professionals. Unlike the EOS 1, however, it does not have the 100% viewfinder, and no "RS" version is available. Also, the film advance system uses infrared sensor, just like the cheaper bodies.

The focusing system uses a wide-area sensor which is divided into 45 focusing points, arranged in an oval pattern. The camera can control the selection of the correct sensor, or one can be selected with eye-control or even manually. The light metering system uses 21 segments, and besides the usual evaluative, partial (8.5%), and spot (2.4%) patterns, a multi-spot metering mode is available where several individual spot readings are averaged for the final exposure.

The flash system includes, besides the "usual" TTL, A-TTL and E-TTL capabilities also an ability to control multiple flash units from the same camera, with a wireless protocol. All the usual advanced-camera features, such as, e. g. depth-of-field preview or mirror lock-up, are also available. There are several battery-pack and booster options, which increase the shootimg speed up to 7 frames/second and/or provide extra battery power and vertical shutter release.

Some early EOS-3's had an underexposure problem (up to 2/3 stops), which could be corrected under warranty. Surprisingly, some of the people with these problems were also asked to take their lenses to the shop even though the eventual adjustments seemed to involve the camera body only. The problems have been attributed to inaccuracies of communicating the full aperture of the lenses to the camera.

Summary: Those who wish to get a serious film-era body for advanced amateur or professional use should check it out.

Canon EOS 1N, EOS 1NRS

This was Canon's last-but-one professional body, and appealed for some advanced amateurs as well. In early 2000, it was superseded by the EOS 1V.

The body is weatherproof and very rugged; in addition to the lens mount the film rails are also made of metal. The viewfinder covers 100% of the image area on film. With a booster one can take 6 frames per second. There is an additional "fine spot" meter in the light metering system.

The built-in flash is gone, as well as the AF assist lamp and the PIC modes. Apparently professionals will use an external flash and do not need to be told how to expose for a portrait.

The 1NRS model has a semi-transparent (pellicle) mirror, which does not move up during exposure. This allows for a 10 frames per second shooting rate at the expense of losing 2/3 stops of light.

Various other tiny bits are there to assist the professional: the exposure can be set with an accuracy of up to 1/3 stops, the function on the rear dial can be customized, the selection of focusing screens includes 9 varieties, the mirror can be locked up for exposure (EOS 50 and 5 have mirror pre-fire) and you can add a booster to increase the film winding speed.

Movement of film is measured by a sprocket wheel, not an infrared sensor as in other Canon bodies. While this makes use of infrared film possible, changing film mid-roll will become more complicated.

There is no eye control capability, and the body cannot make use of the E-TTL flash system. It is also the bulkiest and heaviest of all Canon bodies. Some functions which are set via dials in the other models are moved to buttons in the EOS 1N, probably to increase reliability and weather-resistance. Thus the ergonomic approach is a bit different, which may be a problem if a non-professional body is used as the backup. The differences are not major, though.

Summary: A serious offering for the professionals of the time. If you want to experience a film-era Canon EOS camera, it may be possible to get one in used condition for a reasonable price.

Canon EOS 1V

This is Canon's last professional film body, and can appeal for some advanced amateurs as well. As of April 2013, the camera is still available in "new" condition for sale in some stores.

Canon stresses the mechanical ruggedness and durability of the body. High-tech alloys, polymers and sealants are used to enable it to survive in the most harsh conditions. The shutter is able to take at least 150,000 exposures without failing. The viewfinder covers 100% of the image area on film. With a booster one can take up to 10 frames per second. The focusing system has 45 metering points, and the light meter has 21 zones. There are various methods to select among them.

Lots of customization can be done to the camera, part of this requires hooking the camera up to a computer. Shooting data is automatically recorded for up to 200 rolls of film (less rolls if more data per frame needs to be recorded). This data can then be transfered to a computer for storage or analysis. A nice feature is also the capability to record a unique ID number on beggining of the film, which makes latter matching of exposure data and physical rolls easier.

Just like in the EOS 3 and the earlier EOS 1N, buttons are used instead of dials for selecting some functions, apparently being more resistant to wear and tear.

Summary: as noted above, the camera is still available in new condition, as well as used. If you wish to experience film-based EOS at its best, this is the camera to get (if you can afford it).


Glossary

E-TTL - Canon's name for a flash system which uses a pre-flash and the camera's regular multi-segment light metering system to determine flash and camera settings for a good balance between flash and ambient exposure. You will need a Canon flash with "EX" in its name to take advantage of E-TTL.

PIC - Programmed Image Control: exposure modes for specific shooting situations, such as portrait, landscape, sports and macro.

Point-and-shoot - a camera which does not have interchangeable lenses and usually offers little control over exposure. The typical small camera most people have nowadays.

SLR - Single Lens Reflex - a camera which allows for viewing through the same lens which is used for taking the picture. A moving mirror, matte focusing screen, and a pentaprism are used to project the image into the photographer's eye.

Links

Feature list of some Canon EOS cameras
Canon USA corporate site
EOS Frequently Asked Questions
Canon Camera Museum by Canon - info on all Canon cameras ever made.

Disclaimer: The information has been collected from Canon's advertising materials and various sources on the Internet. I will take no responsibility for the correctness of this material or the consequences of following my advice.