Canon EF, an FD-Mount 35mm SLR Camera

The Irresistible Appeal of the Non-Revolutionary

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The Canon EF camera with an NFD 50 mm f./1.4 lens. This image is the result of a focus stack carried out in post-production with 3 images taken on Fujichrome Provia 100 F. Focus was shifted manually during picture taking, using a Nikon F5 and a Macro Tokina AF 100 mm f./2.8.
…We never properly understand a thing until we not only know what it is, but also clearly understand what it is not.

— Thomas Troward .

An arrival in COVID times .

A fully functional Canon EF 35mm film FD-mount SLR camera in excellent condition came into my possession around Christmastime in 2020. This was during the early days of the very long third COVID lockdown in London.

After living with the camera for a little over half a year, my goal is now to conduct a review based on my experience. I will carry out the task of review not in an anachronistic fashion but aiming to identify what a potential user today in 2021 needs to consider as regards equipment made in the past. As is well known, the current production of cameras for any of the film formats and capable of supporting serious or professional use is limited in the extreme. A lot of legacy equipment remains in use for analogue photography.

I proceed with this review of the EF as follows: firstly, I consider the size and weight of the camera and how the dimensions have a bearing on the use of the camera. Secondly, I dwell on some of the qualities of the EF camera to determine whether the EF can make a reliable platform today for utilising FD and other lenses to their most advantage. I do not consider the EF camera as a stand-alone item, but as a camera that is part of a system of lenses, accessories as well as other bodies sharing the same lens fitting. Thirdly, I reflect on its ease of use. I seek to discover if some fundamentals of ergonomic design were incorporated in the engineering of this camera. I address matters of reliability and longevity. I draw some conclusions as to who could benefit the most from using this camera today. I provide further context by making comparisons with other well-known film bodies. Fourthly, I consider the human dimension of using this camera and share what I have learned as regards its handling, functionality, and comfort.

My current set-up for the EF comprises the 1980s 50 mm f./1.4 NFD Canon lens and three Tamron Adaptall 2 lenses: a 90 mm Macro f./2.5, a 70-150 f./3.8 zoom and a 17 mm f./3.5, also from the 1980s. These three Tamron lenses work “natively” on the EF camera in shutter priority automation. Sometimes I expand my equipment by adapting a Takumar 28 mm f./3.5 and a Nikkor 55 mm f./1.2 AI-converted. The Takumar and the Nikkor require a manual stopped-down operation. As regards automatic flash, I use a Nikon SB-800 unit.

When it was new, the Canon EF was an expensive camera, only slightly cheaper than the professional-grade F-1. The EF was in production from late 1973 to 1978, when it was superseded by the more moderately priced and completely battery-dependent SLR cameras of the A-series. Contrary to what its name may seem to suggest, the Canon EF is, however, an FD-mount camera. Consequently, the “EF-mount” lenses — which, for the most part, are autofocusing lenses — do not fit the Canon EF body.

Copal-built shutter (metal blades travelling vertically). The photograph was taken with a Nikon F5 and a Macro Tokina AF 100mm f./2.8 lens on Fujichrome Provia 100F.

Camera specifications .

It is wise never to judge a camera, old or new, by the spec. sheet alone. Nonetheless, the specifications of any piece of equipment are a source of relevant information. In 2021, salient features to consider as regards anything vintage are those that indicate sturdiness (or lack thereof), whether it was designed and put together with an eye towards future maintenance (or not), degree of dependency on battery power (if any), presence (or absence) of those rather fragile 1970s and 1980s electronics, and if there is lens interchangeability, what fitting it uses.

Shutter: Copal Square S. It is a feature that sets this camera apart from other models from the same manufacturer. This is a highly regarded, durable and reliable shutter. The Copal Square S shutter version used in the Canon EF is a hybrid electro-mechanical, multi-bladed metal focal-plane shutter. The vertically travelling curtains allow for an X-synch at 1/125th. This version of the shutter has both the gears for the purely mechanical timing of fast speeds as well as the solenoid for the electronic control of the slow speeds. Battery operation is only required for timing the slow speeds above 1 second and up to 30 seconds. All fast speeds from ½ to 1/1,000th second are available without a battery.

Metering: a silicon cell in the viewfinder is used for metering continuous light, and it provides center-weighted readings, ISO 12-3200. A useful drawing of the sensitivity pattern (mainly centre-bottom weighted) is featured in the owner’s manual. The metering range is wide, and the meter remains operational in very low light EV — 2 to EV 18 at ISO 100, with a 50 mm f/1.4 lens (in comparison, the CdS meter on a Canon FTb is sensitive EV 2.5 to EV 18 at ISO 100, with a 50 mm f/1.4 lens).

Loading and winding: manual loading, swing open back door, which is also fully removable, but no data-back was ever made available for this model. Single stroke advance lever. No provision for motor drive.

Power: the camera uses two button cells in separate compartments in the camera base. The original mercury batteries were 1.35v, and, therefore, the onboard light meter would under-expose by approx. 2 stops unless adapted by a qualified technician for using 1.5v PX625 button cells. The slow shutter speeds seem unaffected by the 1.5v of current PX625 button cells as the high-quality Copal-made shutter incorporates its own voltage regulation circuitry.

Exposure: shutter priority, with shutter speed and aperture displayed in the viewfinder. There is an exposure memory button but no exposure compensation dial. Full manual control with meter operational is possible. In shutter priority, apertures are selected by the camera in infinitely variable steps within the range available on the lens.

Flash: there is provision for a proprietary flash system, which provides automation for flash exposures, and which can operate with a number of lenses and a dedicated flash unit. Hot-shoe and standard PC terminal.

Viewfinder: a fixed eye-level pentaprism; dioptre correction lenses can be attached to the viewfinder window. It offers 0.82x magnification, 92% vertical coverage, 93% horizontal coverage. The metering needle operates on the aperture scale placed vertically on the right-hand side of the viewfinder; a shutter speed scale appears at the base of the image. There are overexposure and underexposure warning areas marked in red.

Focusing screen: matt screen with split-image rangefinder with a microprism collar. An earlier version of the camera only provides a microprism area in the centre.

Mirror lockup: the function is provided.

Self-timer and DOF preview lever: Cancellable self-timer lever which also offers DOF preview (depth of field preview), in manual operation only.

People at the gates, Buckingham Palace, London, 9-10 April 2021. Taken with the Canon EF camera and an NFD 50 mm f./1.4 lens on Eastman Double-X film.

My experience photographing with the Canon EF — the two realms at the gates .

People at the gates, Buckingham Palace, London, 9-10 April 2021. Taken with the Canon EF camera and a Tamron 70-150 mm f./3.8 lens on Eastman Double-X film.

I used the Canon EF for a few projects in 2021. The projects were in no small measure dependent on what the rules of lockdown in London deemed permissible at different points in time i.e. in terms of stepping out of the home, using public transport or the possibility of taking a socially distanced walk in an open public space, etc. The photographs I include here are for purposes of sharing what I learned using the EF camera and the set of lenses I put together for it. Similar or identical results could be obtained with many other cameras — even within the same system, an identical lens and film could be used in a flagship or an entry-level camera.

I photographed the small crowd that gathered at the gates of Buckingham Palace in London on 9 and 10 April 2021 following the announcement of the death of Prince Philip, husband of Elizabeth II, the current Queen of England. Social distancing, some of the strictest lockdown rules still in place, and probably the fact that in his lifetime, the deceased was not too much in the public eye made this floral support of the status quo an altogether muted affair.

People at the gates, Buckingham Palace, 9-10 April 2021. Taken with the Canon EF camera and a Tamron 70-150 mm f./3.8 lens on Eastman Double-X film.

The photographs were taken on Eastman Double-X (5222), a panchromatic black and white motion picture film with a nominal rating of ISO 250 for daylight use. I exposed the film at ISO 1600 (i.e. pushed 2 2/3 stops) and developed it in a Rodinal 1 + 50 solution for 16 min. at 20C. My goal was to create high contrast, not a lot of mid-tones, ink-black shadows and very visible grain. I wanted to produce images with the aesthetics of stills that could have been printed from old newsreel frames. I wanted the look of something very dated from the past. Photographing at ISO 1600 in the late morning light allowed me to maximise the depth of focus and to keep — as far as possible — two realms in view, the world in front and behind the palace gates. I wanted to juxtapose life and lifelessness.

People kept gathering at the gates. A few of them stood in a short line and then laid flowers. The palace provided the background to the scene: a very large building with boring neoclassical architecture that looks devoid of life and resembles a mausoleum.

People at the gates, Buckingham Palace, London, 9-10 April 2021. Taken with the Canon EF camera and a Tamron 70-150 zoom f./3.8 on Eastman Double-X film.

The easiest camera setting was shutter priority mode. As I was photographing, I realised how well-implemented this mode is on the EF. I felt completely free to compose, focus, take the photograph, and move about while keeping my social distance. Using the camera for some time made me less sympathetic to more general criticisms of shutter priority automation based on the idea that aperture priority, being entirely body-based, can offer auto-exposure with all sorts of lenses, such as pre-set lenses or fixed aperture lenses: mirror telephotos, microscopes, telescopes, etc. On the other hand, it was argued in favour of shutter priority that it prevented those “perfectly exposed smears” created by an aperture priority camera matching a user-selected small aperture with a shutter speed that is (too) slow. Shutter priority could, therefore, be more useful than aperture priority for stop-action work. These arguments all sound like concerns from a different era, clearly from before multi-mode became the norm.

People at the gates, Buckingham Palace, 9-10 April 2021. Taken with the Canon EF camera and a Tamron 17 mm f./3.5 on Eastman Double-X film.
Flowers laid at the gates: Buckingham Palace, London, 9-10 April 2021. Taken with the Canon EF and an NFD 50 mm f./1.4 on Eastman Double-X film.
Flowers at the gates, Buckingham Palace, London, 9-10 April 2021. Taken on the Canon EF with a Tamron 17 mm f./3.5 lens on Eastman Double-X film.

Portability and hand-held photography .

When I first picked up the EF with a normal lens, I noticed its weight. Body only, it weighs 760 grammes. There is good external craftsmanship in its octagonal-shaped body. It has the archetypical SLR shape. It is all harmonious and altogether very pleasing to the eye. The camera is relatively loud in operation with a not an unpleasant shutter and mirror sound. In some ways, it reminds me of the 1970s Olivetti typewriter my father still uses to this day.

People at the gates, Buckingham Palace, London, 9-10 April 2021. Taken with the Canon EF camera and a Tamron 70-150 mm f./3.8 lens on Eastman Double-X film.

Although many camera users are in pursuit of the lightest and the smallest, and there are undeniable advantages to lightweight equipment (such as being discreet, ability to carry it for longer periods of time), the fact that the EF is full-size brings with it a few important benefits. Number one is that the extra weight and bulk gives stability to the user. The EF camera can deliver sharp hand-held results with relatively slow shutter speeds. Nothing about the EF is fiddly or too small, and there is much less of a chance that you could push a button or turn a dial by accident. It is also comfortable to look through the viewfinder on the EF (I usually use my left eye), and because of the size of the camera, I never felt that my nose got in the way. My EF handled very well in January and February when I was wearing gloves in the cold weather, a task that is often frustrating with diminutive cameras.

The EF feels in your hands similar to other full-size, second-tier cameras, such as the Minolta SRTs, the M42 Asahi Pentaxes, the Nikkormats, and many others. But of course, the EF is much more handsome than the whole lot of them! Could the aesthetics of the camera itself have any influence on one’s photography? Most definitely yes. During lockdown, I never thought twice about taking the EF camera along on those permissible excursions — even a quick glance at the EF sitting on my desk is like an open invitation to take it out and use it.

People a the gates, Buckingham Palace, London, 9-10 April 2021. Taken with the Canon EF camera with a Tamron 17 mm f./3.5 lens on Eastman Double-X film.

As beautiful as an object as it is, with the Canon EF, you do not, however, get the sense that form follows function as when handling a very compact Nikon FM. The EF’s utterly conventional design is miles apart from the eagerness of a racing car evoked by a Nikon F3. It is obvious that the camera was built in the times of the original Canon F-1, and also in the era of the arguably gold standard for 35mm SLRs of its generation, the Nikon F2. Perhaps, because of its very traditional look, the camera does not feel modern despite its shutter priority automation. In contrast to an Olympus OM-1 (and in particular, the OM-1’s “repositioned” controls) the EF is so conventional that it looks almost pedestrian. However, the heavier EF is a lot easier to hold steady at slow shutter speeds.

For the most part, the controls of the EF are in the expected positions. The top plate layout is completely ordinary, but admittedly, with a touch of class — it looks sleek and uncluttered by switches. To the right of the fixed pentaprism housing, you find the shutter release button surrounded by a large shutter speed selector with speeds set out in 1-EV steps as it is the rule in most cameras (I wished this selector allowed intermediate positions — as on a Nikon F2 — to fine-tune the exposure). The uncommon feature is, however, that courtesy of its sophisticated Copal-built shutter, the dial on the EF offers a very wide selection of speeds ranging from 1/1000th sec. to a full 30 seconds. The dial is large and hence, comfortable to use, but it looks “plasticky” and slightly crude. Do not expect the “just right” amount of resistance you encounter turning the shutter speed dial on a Nikon F3.

The wind lever is also concentric in this arrangement which allowed the designers to use the available space on the top plate very efficiently and offer a larger than average lever for ease of operation. This wind lever pops slightly out when the camera is switched on. It is a lot smoother than its counterpart on an OM-1 but a far cry from the refined and silky operation of the advance mechanism found on a Nikon F3 or a Leica M. There is provision for multiple exposures by pressing the button located in the middle of the on/off switch while you charge the shutter with the film advance lever. Criticisms aside, the EF camera has a very efficient mechanism for loading film, which allows you to advance directly to frame 1 with a few strokes of the lever and without having to fire the shutter release.

On the left-hand side, the ISO dial surrounds the folding rewind crank. Nothing out of the ordinary here. The only notable thing is that the auto-exposure (AE) lock button is rather inconveniently located in this part of the top plate. There is also a red LED light that flashes to confirm that the batteries have charge when you press the red button at the base of the camera, and it also flashes when you are using the slow, electronically timed shutter speeds.

The viewfinder of the EF camera is bright and contrasty, which means that it is very easy and comfortable to focus quickly, provided that the lens is f./8 or brighter. There is good eye relief for those who wear glasses. The EF does not offer the 100% view of most professional-level bodies. In my copy of the camera, the non-interchangeable focusing screen has a split image rangefinder, which I find more convenient to use than any other type of focusing aids. Early models of this camera feature a focusing screen with microprisms.

Turning the camera upside down, we find the tripod socket, the rewind release button and, of course, no electrical contacts or coupling mechanism as there is no provision for a motor drive. Consequently, and although the camera has a removable film back, no bulk film backs were ever made for this model. There are two battery compartments.

To finish it all off, the brand name in beautiful script appears in white on the front of the pentaprism housing.

Dual battery compartments and no provision for a motor drive. Photograph taken with a Nikon F5 and a Macro Tokina AF 100 mm f./2.8 lens on Fujichrome Provia 100F.

Does this camera have a primary mode?

Avec le Canon EF si la technique vous ennuie, vous passez en automatique; in English: with the Canon EF, if technical matters bore you, switch to automatic. From an article in the bi-monthly publication “Zoom: le magazine de l’image”, 1975 by Guy Gentilhomme .

The article in the French magazine “Zoom” included in a blog post I came across while doing online research hits the mark when it compares the EF to an aircraft with autopilot. The autopilot in question is, of course, the shutter priority automation of the EF. Shutter priority is so well implemented and easy to use that, in contrast, any other mode of operation seems like an afterthought by the designers. The manufacturer probably expected that the typical user of the EF would never switch off the automation.

Shutter priority is engaged by turning the aperture ring on the lens to the “A” position, which appears after the smallest aperture setting (this is also available on the Tamron Adaptall 2 lenses). There is a lock for this auto position. If you do not like the selection of aperture, just change the shutter speed. Think of that large shutter speed dial that overhangs at the front of the camera as a front command dial. It is very comfortable to change speeds with your index finger while looking through the viewfinder, and you can therefore be in control of what the automation is doing for you.

To set this camera to the manual operation, you take the aperture ring off the “A” position and directly set a value. In metered manual mode, weaknesses of the design become more apparent. The values you set manually on the aperture ring on the lens are unfortunately not projected (à-la-Nikon) into the viewfinder. This would not be so undesirable (e.g. none of the Olympus OM cameras project this value into the viewfinder either) if in metered manual mode the camera offered a match needle or similar functionality to indicate “proper” (and over or under) exposure when you turn the aperture ring, the shutter speed dial, or both. The meter needle simply suggests an aperture for the selected shutter speed. The camera does not change the way its built-in meter displays information when in the manual mode. This is a consequence of the way auto-exposure is implemented. Taking the lens off the “A” position effectively de-couples it from the meter. If you decide to use the stopped-down method, you activate it with the depth-of-field (DOF) lever at the front of the camera. In this mode, the meter reads the light actually coming through the lens at the shooting aperture — the meter needle can be aligned with the stopped-down mark for “proper” exposure. Depending on the aperture in use, the viewfinder may get too dark. The average user of this camera in the 1970s probably had it in shutter priority all the time, never noticing this inconvenience. It is, however, a disappointment. This camera was expensive, and at the time, it was the number two from the top in the manufacturer’s hierarchy. Of course, the built-in meter can be completely ignored whenever you are in manual, and you might even prefer working that way. If you are using an FD-mount lens with auto-diaphragm while in manual then you can have maximum aperture brightness in the viewfinder no matter the aperture you set on the lens. You will be able to focus easily and not have to deal with the darkened viewfinder resulting from a lens actually set at shooting aperture.

Another consequence of the way the auto-exposure system was designed is that you must be in manual mode for the depth of field (DOF) preview lever to stop down to the selected aperture. The reason is that it is only in manual mode that the lens can be made to close to a value set on the aperture ring. It is pointless to use the DOF preview lever in shutter priority mode: the lens would simply stop down to minimum aperture. I venture the guess that most focus and shoot users in the 1970s would have never used the DOF preview function to notice this issue.

Automatic flash operation.

There are two extra contacts on the hot shoe of the camera. Those are meant for a proprietary flash system. The owner’s manual gives a description of this system and lists a few recommended FD lenses to use. Out of curiosity, I searched the auction sites for the flash unit in question and the adapter ring but was unable to find any of those on the day I tried (2 April 2021). This flash system, which was also offered in the original version of the F-1 camera, electrically couples the focus ring with the aperture control to set the correct flash exposure for the focussed distance. The flash unit would also light up a confirmation LED in the viewfinder, but you would still have to set yourself a proper flash sync speed.

An automatic flash is, however, perfectly possible with the EF in a much simpler way. Use any automatic flash unit (with thyristor circuitry) manufactured from the late 1970s and onwards. This includes a few of the current flash units intended for digital cameras as long as they have their own onboard metering cell (i.e. they have provision for additional automatic modes that are not dependent on the TTL flash information provided by a camera). The switch “normal and flash” located on the left-hand side on the back of the top plate of the EF camera should be left in the “normal” setting, as the “flash” in the selector concerns exclusively the old proprietary flash system, and not any other type of flash operation.

Although the hot shoe is standard (its central contact is in the usual position), I noticed that it is about 2mm shorter than normal. This means that the foot of most flash units will probably stick out by 1.5 to 2mm. Extra care may be needed to avoid an accidental slip-off. There is a PC connector on the side of the camera if your flash unit requires it.

Needless to add, the manual flash operation is always an option.

Adaptors for non-FD lenses: on the left, for F-mount lenses to an FD-mount camera (third party adaptor) and on the right, Canon-made adaptor for M42-mount lenses to FD-mount camera. This photograph is taken with a Nikon F5 and a Macro Tokina AF 100 mm f./2.8 on Fujichrome Provia 100F.

The use of Nikkors and Takumars on the Canon EF camera .

Received wisdom suggests staying within a native lens system or third-party lenses dedicated to a particular camera mount. The good news is, however, that it is easy to go outside of the FD-universe of lenses and accessories. The flange distance on FD-mount bodies is 42 mm. This means that there is easy adaptability of F-mount lenses (their register is 46.5 mm) and M42 mount lenses (their register is 45.46 mm) as well as other long-register lenses in several other mounts (which I will not address in this article). The adaptors are thin rings to make up for the small difference in distance to the film plane. Before proceeding with any adaptation, make sure that the locking systems on the FD and the adapted mount do not interfere with each other. No elements should protrude at the back of an adapted lens during focusing action. This could cause damage to the mirror of the EF and the lens.

With a few precautions, there are many lenses in M42 and F-mount to consider. As regards specifically to the F-mount lenses, manual focus lenses to consider date from the early non-AI from 1959 onwards to the most numerous AI and AI-S type to the few micro-chipped AI-P lenses. Moreover, a lot of the autofocus F-mount lenses with aperture rings are potentially also good candidates for use in manual focus on the Canon EF. In general terms, and without going into every possible designation or individual case, potential lenses for adapted use can be found among the original AF lenses, the AF-D lenses, even among some of the early AF-S lenses as long as they are D-type. The newer G- and E-type lenses are not adaptable.

Any adapted lens operates in the stopped-down method only. There is no auto-diaphragm function possible — if available on the lens — and of course, there is no shutter priority automation. If the aperture is smaller than f./8, it dims the viewfinder to the point that the split image rangefinder is rendered useless.

Canon EF was a one-off model.

My research indicates that this camera stands out from other FD-mount cameras. The camera is the result of an interesting mixture of class and quality in what is otherwise a very conventional design. It was the first time that this manufacturer offered auto-exposure in a model so close to the flagship position in their hierarchy of cameras.

Some of the refinements of the EF camera were unfortunately not incorporated into the designs of the consumer-oriented A-series of cameras of the late 1970s and early 1980s. For example, the manufacturer went back to cloth shutters travelling horizontally for their A-series and therefore, flash sync speed was dropped to a more ordinary 1/60th. sec.

Is Canon EF worth the money?

Peter Dechert writes, “Canon’s EF was their first truly ‘gee-whiz’ model, the largely unsuccessful Pellix excepted, and has been much liked for many years by its band of enthusiastic owners.” Should you join in, as I think I may have done? It all depends on the use you want to make of the equipment. In 2021, the EF may not be a good choice for a main 35 mm film body intended for pro-level or intensive use. And even if considered as an addition to a set-up that already includes other bodies, you may still want to choose a potentially more reliable camera, in light of the following:

The EF is not a well-rounded camera. It is intended for general photography, not for any specialised work, and it does not seem suitable for heavy-duty service. For example, it cannot be accessorised properly for high magnification, very long lenses, attachment to telescopes or technical perspective correction lenses. Its standard focusing screen would make many of those lenses difficult or even impossible to focus. Focusing screens are not interchangeable in this model, and the fixed viewfinder does not offer 100% view. In addition, the EF appears as if it was designed to prioritise giving a “polite” handling experience to the user as long as they remain in shutter priority mode. In its automatic mode, everything about the EF camera is well behaved, and nothing sticks out. The shutter priority automation is indeed the star feature of this camera. The fact that it is there seems to push everything else to the background. Take the camera off its auto mode, and its quirks become apparent.

There are some limitations inherent in the long-discontinued FD-mount system of lenses and accessories. FD lenses (and the older FL lenses) are not easily adaptable to other makes of SLR cameras or even to the EF-mount (EOS) autofocusing line of cameras of the same manufacturer. Admittedly, mirrorless cameras have changed things concerning adaptability to digital equipment: FD lenses are now easily adaptable for manual focus to practically anything mirrorless (probably with the only notable exception of some mirrorless EF-mount high-end camcorders and digital cine-cameras). A few of the FD lenses are renowned for their attributes, especially but not exclusively, the premium lenses labelled with an “L”. Among other things to look for that signal quality, is the S.S.C. red identifier (S.S.C. = Super Spectra Coating).

Aging electronics: professional users in the 1970s frowned upon cameras driven by electronics, and for good reason. In those days, only pro-level or at least top-range mechanical cameras offered the dependability necessary for running through them roll after roll of film, day in and day out, as required by professional work. Users in 2021, therefore, need to be aware that the electronic components are the Achilles’ heel of this camera. Granted, unlike the cameras in the A- and the T-series, if the electronics fail in the EF, you can still use the mechanically-timed fast shutter speeds — a sizable range from ½ sec. to 1/1000th sec. remains available. But that means photographing with a broken camera, and as far as I am concerned, the Canon EF is too beautiful to be misused that way.

The EF camera is large, relatively heavy, and it was available in black only — none of these attributes can be equated to strength or durability. Although it does have a good external finish, it is, however, a little bit rough around the edges. This becomes immediately obvious if the EF is placed next to an absolutely no-play-between-the-parts M-series Leica, Nikon F or single-digit F, or the third and final version of the Canon F-1.

In the used market, it is possible to find sturdier and more reliable cameras at a similar price point. Furthermore, depending on when and where you look, something in the flagship category could be had without stretching the budget too much. If the main goal of ownership of the EF camera is, however, to have direct access to the manual focus FD and FL lenses and the desire is for auto-exposure, then you could consider a camera from the T-series instead of the EF camera (but give a thought to the possibility of failure regarding aging electronics). An F-1, the late version, would be the sturdy camera choice. If the preference is for manual operation, then look in the direction of the simpler and cheaper FT SLR cameras.

The Canon EF and some refillable 35 mm film cartridges from the days before DX codes. Taken with an Olympus IS-3000 bridge camera on Kodak Color Plus 200 film.

The Canon EF is a photographer’s camera — also a short reflection on how time changes perceptions.

In the 1970s, the EF was probably aimed at enticing up the rungs of camera ownership an audience of snap-shooters who were otherwise accustomed to point and shoot photography. The note about the camera in the Canon museum puts this very directly, although using vocabulary from another era: “The camera’s specifications and ease of use were ideal for aged users.” The EF would not trouble anyone with the manual-only operation of the cheaper SLRs. Neither would it confuse holiday and weekend snap-shooters by requiring professional-style handling like the top-of-the-line F-1. The EF seems to have been conceived as a deluxe and rather expensive entry-level camera, however, one that was very easy to use, and with a size and external finish typical of a more serious camera.

Fast forward to the present day, and it is clear that perceptions have changed. The Canon EF has become something else. Time has elevated it to the rank of a photographer’s camera. This does not suggest that it is something crammed with features (the EF is very spartan), or that these features are spectacular (using the EF could be wonderful and just as well frustrating), be particularly expensive (the EF was expensive in its day, but it is not now in the used market), offer access to a vast system of lenses and accessories or even be known for any excellence. Being a photographer’s camera means that there is something extra about it, that this camera is much more than just a piece of equipment like any other camera. The difference is the point where emotions get involved. When the EF came into my possession, I was struck by how attractive it is despite being so conventional. I immediately started thinking about its design and all the effort, thought and craftmanship invested in it, all leading to the camera I had in my hands. Emotions are powerful — those of the user, those of the people who created it, those who manufactured it, and so on and so forth.

A photographer’s camera is the camera you would not hesitate to take out to photograph, simply for the sake of photographing with it. The Canon EF could be irresistibly appealing in this regard. And yet, it is so full of peculiarities. A walk in the city with an EF becomes less ordinary, merely because you know that your enjoyment will be much more than the usual with some other camera. I would, however, leave my EF at home and take something else on a paid job that requires analogue equipment. In a work situation, I would have some concerns about its reliability. In addition, I would find some of its quirks too distracting when trying to concentrate on the job at hand. That said, I would not, however, be surprised if an owner would never want to part ways with their EF because they cherish it. After all, you can experience warm feelings towards the camera, and at the same time, be fully aware that, in objective terms, there are more reliable choices out there.

The Canon brand name on the pentaprism housing. Taken with a Nikon F5 and a Macro Tokina AF 100mm f./2.8 on Fujichrome Provia 100F.


Online sources last consulted on 30 July 2021.

☞​ List of Canon FD lenses, compiled by Dennis Baron.

☞​ Canon Camera Museum online.

☞​ Camera review on Imaging Pixel.

☞​ Camera review on

☞​ Camera description on Camerapedia.

☞​ Canon EF (in French) and it has the article published in the (bi-monthly) magazine Zoom, without specifying the issue other than the year, 1975 in which the author Guy Gentilhomme compares the Canon EF to an aircraft’s autopilot.

☞​ Peter Dechert: Canon SLR” book which is available in Mike Eckman’s website.

☞​ Camera review on (archived).

☞​ Camera review on

☞​ Camera review on Canon Classics.

☞​ Bob Shell, “The Canon Compendium: Handbook of the Canon System,” Hove Books, 1994. This is an excellent reference book that covers until 1994, therefore, addressing all of the FD/FL lenses and bodies. It covers a few of the initial years of the EF-mount cameras and lenses that were launched in 1986.

☞​ Simon Stafford, Hillebrand and Hauschild, “Compendium: the Nikon system from 1917,” Hove Books Ltd., 2nd. Edition 2003 .

☞​ Thomas Troward, “The Hidden Powers and Other Papers on Mental Science,” chapter XIII “Entering into the Spirit of It.” Originally published 1902, reprinted 2007, Cosimo Inc., New York.

☞​ Owner’s Manuals consulted online: for the Canon EF; for the Canon FTb and for the Canon T90.

Thank you ’s.

I wish to thank Andy Sands of Chiswick Camera Centre, in West London, for the many conversations about vintage photographic equipment and the effects of time. Andy is a great source of knowledge and very generous with his advice. I am also very grateful to Joel Goldstein, for our daily sessions to study the works of Thomas Troward, an early 20th-century author whose lawyer-like evaluation of evidence inspired my analysis of the Canon EF camera. The views expressed in this article are entirely my own.

About me .

At the end of 2012, I acquired my first pro-level data body, and for about five years, I only used digital equipment. I revisited film in 2017 — a project required that I source a film body. I re-acquired the same model of camera that was my favourite before I began my digital journey. I look for lenses and cameras in charity shops, second-hand sections in camera stores, flea markets and auction sites. When a new (or at least new to me) item comes in, I follow the rule that another one must go, as I am not a collector, and also, I live in London where living space is limited. I am not a nostalgic person. I am very happy that digital equipment does, in fact, exist and that the old and the new can be used in many different and successful combinations. My goal now is to continue embracing both analogue and digital photography, for my personal projects and for client work when appropriate.

People at the gates, Buckingham Palace, London, 9-10 April 2021. Taken with the Canon EF camera and a Tamron 70-150 mm f./3.8 lens on Eastman Double-X film.

By the way: Please consider making your Canon EF camera purchase using this link  so that this website may get a small percentage of that sale — at no extra charge for you — thanks!