Choosing a Canon EOS Film Body

by Mike on April 19, 2011

(WTF? You mean this film camera don’t got any megapixels?)

As I’ve recently noted, I just picked up a used Canon A2E 35mm film SLR body from Adorama.

Before buying the A2E, I did quite a bit of research into which body to buy, and I wanted to share that here.

Canon EOS film bodies use almost all of the same lenses that you’re using with your Canon digital SLR body. The exceptions are the EF-S lenses like the 10-22mm wide-angle zoom and┬áthe 17-85mm mid-range zoom.

EF lenses like my 50mm f/1.8 and 28mm f/1.8 work just fine.

So if your lens has EF (and NOT EF-S) in the model name, it will work fine on any Canon EOS film body.

Now, there are two great things about used Canon film bodies.

The first is that they are virtually all dirt cheap. You can buy one for under $30 at Adorama. You can also spend a little more ($150-200) and have the film equivalent of Canon’s top-of-the-line 1D and 1DS cameras. That means pro-level ergonomics, autofocus, and durability.

The second (and this is true of pretty much all film cameras) is that you don’t lose any image quality with a cheaper body. This is because image quality is determined by your film and lenses. So you can spend $25 on an entry-level Rebel X and get the same images that come out of a top-of-the-line pro-level EOS 1n or EOS 3. However, do keep in mind that the pro bodies’ autofocus performance and ergonomics may do a better job of helping you get certain shots.

So how do you choose a Canon EOS film body?

I think of it like this:

If you want a serious camera for serious shooting in all conditions, consider an EOS 1, EOS 1n, EOS 1V, or EOS 3 body. They all feature super-fast autofocus performance and are built to last. If I had to bring a film camera to a war or a natural-disaster site, I’d go with one of these bad boys.

If you want a high-quality but more-affordable (as in under $100), look at an A2, A2E, or EOS 5. These are all the same camera, the only difference being that the A2 lacks the eye-controlled autofocus of the EOS 5 and A2E (same camera sold under different names in different countries).  This feature allows you to choose your focusing point by looking at it.

I love my A2E – it’s easy to use, has great autofocus performance, and it’s pretty quiet.

However, the A2 and A2E have one annoying quirk – you can’t use the exposure scale in manual mode because of some patent issue. Instead, you have to pay attention to two arrows pointing up and down, which is tricky and confusing. This is fine for me, because I’m pretty much exclusively using this camera in aperture priority mode, where the exposure scale works just fine. Cameras labeled EOS 5 don’t have this problem.

And if you just want something to play around with, you can grab an EOS 650 or Rebel for under $75, or even under $50.

I highly recommend Adorama for used Canon film bodies. They have a very friendly 90-day warranty on used gear, something I know from experience. I recently purchased a Mamiya 645 camera that turned out to be defective, and Adorama took it back with no bull$hit and no stupid restocking fees.

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