Canon Demi

A Pretty Little Half-Frame Review

5 min read by Dmitri, with images by Betty.

Canon Demi is the famous Japanese camera maker’s answer to the Olympus half-frame camera debut back in the 1960s. At that time, half-frames were the result of the improving quality of film and enlargement technology — not just as a dollar-saving measure.

Today, certain films’ resolution, along with a proper scanning technique, can still surpass digital sensors. Meanwhile, the prices for our emulsions are steadily going up. Half-frames make sense today just as much as they did eighty years ago.

Canon Demi specs and design.

The Demi is a well-designed, quality device meant to fit in a pocket; it features a fast for its size 𝒇2.8 28mm (~40mm full-frame equiv.) Canon lens with a close-focusing distance of .8m (2’7½”). Its shutter actuates between 1/30s and 1/250s. The camera’s exposure aid is a match-needle with an uncoupled selenium light meter. Canon Demi can work without its meter if it happens to be broken, and it does not need batteries. Its weight and dimensions are 380g and 115 ✕ 68 ✕ 37mm (4.53” ✕ 2.68” ✕ 1.46”).

Oddly enough, Demi’s aperture and shutter speeds are coupled. This means that if you choose 𝒇2.8, your shutter speed will be locked to 1/30 and 𝒇22 will produce 1/250. This means that you won’t be able to choose your aperture and shutter speeds independently. To understand how this works and to figure a way to use your camera with an external light meter, consider the chart below that lists the coupled values:

𝒇2.8 ....... 1/30

𝒇4 .......... 1/45

𝒇5.6 ....... 1/60

𝒇8 .......... 1/90

𝒇11 ......... 1/125

𝒇16 ........ 1/190

𝒇22 ........ 1/250

Those shutter speeds aren’t typical, and they aren’t marked on the camera. A bit of a hindrance, especially as I found the meter to be somewhat inaccurate in some settings.

The focus is set by guessing the distance and setting it on the innermost ring around the lens. It has a rather nice viewfinder for such a small camera.

The Demi even comes with a sync port and a cable release hole for the shutter button, should you like to take long-exposure/bulb shots — or something with external flash.

This is a beautifully designed camera with lots of rounded edges and nice trim. The variant reviewed here, Canon Demi 2, came with chassis made from relatively lightweight aluminum in contrast to Demi 1, which was made out of heavier brass. Neither variant is marked on the camera though you could often tell by the colour of the flash sync port.

Demi was a huge success for Canon, spawning a series that included interchangeable lenses, coupled light meters, and other improvements. Still, Demi 1 and Demi 2, with the tricky combined shutter/aperture dial, are the best-looking and most compact cameras out of the series.

Demi’s lens and image quality.

Once you get over the camera’s quirky exposure controls and get used to guessing the distance, you’ll find that its optics are quite good.

Demi’s Canon SH28mm, with its 5 elements in 3 groups, is reasonably sharp. It can resolve lots of detail on each of your half-frame exposures with a decent amount of contrast.

I did find a bit of chromatic aberration and flaring when pointing the lens towards the light. Most modern lenses will do their best to counter these distortions; to some degree, they can be removed via Photoshop or similar. However, in the right places, the light haze over the image with this lens seems to give a lovely character and colour to its renderings in certain situations.

The lens produces lovely bokeh with a bit of a swirl.

SH28mm does not seem to have any noticeable barrel distortion, which is another point in its favour.

Demi is a lovely camera if you want a beautiful half-frame with a good lens that can fit in a (large) pocket. It works well for what it is, provided that the meter is accurate or you are willing to deal with the table of f-number/shutter values above. But if that seems like too much of a hassle, don’t despair: there are plenty of options out there that could save you that precious emulsions, like the incredible Olympus PEN SLR or the fantastic Ricoh Caddy.

Where to buy your Canon Demi camera.

I haven’t seen a Demi in any of my local used camera shops; indeed, they are quite rare these days. Most of the copies are sold from Japan on eBay — that’s where I got mine.

In the listing, look for info (or ask) about the selenium light meter. Check that the lens doesn’t have too many scratches — though a few small ones shouldn’t affect your photos. Also, check for fungus and hazing: this kind of stuff is best sorted out in description as it’s often difficult to see in low-res photographs. The shutter should also get some attention (does it work?). These cameras tend to have degraded light seals, but they aren’t difficult to fix — if you’re willing to spend some time and save a little money. And, of course, check the seller’s reputation.

A few premium-priced Demis are floating around with red and blue leatherettes. However, these collector-grade cameras can still have issues, so if you fancy one, make sure to still verify that it works.

With precautions out of the way, I should add that my experience with Japanese retailers on eBay has been great thus far. They are often the same camera stores you’d be visiting on your next trip to Japan — courteous and respectful.

By the way: if you choose to buy your camera from eBay, please consider using this link so that this website may get a small percentage of that sale — at no extra charge for you — thanks!