A hipster’s guide to EOS film cameras

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Are you the sort of person who thinks that digital photography is as unexciting as shaving? Then read on…

Chances are if you’re younger than 30 you never got to use a serious film SLR camera before you started learning about digital photography, and that might mean you find choosing or using a traditional film SLR quite intimidating. Well today I will almost make it easy for you by helping you overcome the intimidation factor with only the small cost of some mild insults and the occasional rude word. You see, you get to learn all about Canon film SLRs and I get to laugh at your expense for a while – I’m sure you’ll agree it’s a fair trade.

Firstly, why on earth do you want to get a film camera? You do know they’re shit don’t you? Back when digital cameras first came out, film SLRs continued in production because the quality of digital wasn’t good enough to replace 35mm film. But now the quality of digital has reached the point that even medium format photography has gone almost entirely digital (and if you don’t know what medium format is you can probably hazard a guess. Hint – there’s a large format and that’s even larger. Ok, forget it, just google it.)

So nowadays there is absolutely no good reason for anyone to shoot on 35mm film except because they want to. Maybe you’ve heard of Lomography, which is the art of making people think their messed up crappy photos are a good thing.  I’m not knocking lomography because it’s, like, art, isn’t it? But monkeys smearing their shit on the wall can be regarded as art by some people too. Take a photo of THAT on some expired film for an entirely meta lomography experience.

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A lomography photo – by Alejandro Lavin, Jr. 

If you’re still here then good. You really want to try shooting 35mm film, then I shall tell you all you need to know.

Firstly, if you are looking at a Canon film camera because you already have a Canon Digital SLR and want to share lenses then be careful – chances are if you have one of the less expensive Canon cameras you will have bought it with a EF-S lens, such as the EF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 in one of its several incarnations. None of these will work with ANY 35mm camera. You need EF lenses, not EF-S. Any Canon EF lens will work with any Canon 35mm camera or any Canon DSLR.

Alternatively, you may see some deals with Canon EOS film cameras offered for sale with lenses and wonder if they will work on your Canon DSLR. This is more complex. If the lens was also made by Canon then yes, it will work, but bear in mind almost all of the kit lenses (the lens supplied with the camera as a bundled deal) are cheap low-quality lenses. I’ll do more of a roundup of these cheap lenses later as there are some bargains to be had. But my advice is never pay more than about £20 ($30 USD) extra for one of  these lenses on top of the price of the camera because you’ll probably not be too inspired by it.

But beware of two other things

1. Third party lenses made for EOS film cameras, especially those made by Sigma, probably won’t work on your digital EOS camera body. Or if they do they’ll only work wide open which means you won’t be able to get them to work at their sharpest as the aperture is permanently fully-open. So, in general avoid any camera/lens combinations if the lens is NOT a Canon lens.

2. Canon introduced the EOS range of 35mm film cameras in 1987 – before this they had a range of manual focus* cameras using their previous lens system, the FD (or FL in earlier models) system. While you can adapt FD lenses to work on an EOS digital camera doing so requires an adaptor which can compromise the energy flux density of the universe**, leading to a localised quantum vacuum collapse and complete entropic reversal. It also has a piece of glass in the adaptor which reduces the quality of the image significantly – so basically just don’t even try it. If you have an EOS M/M2/M3 mirrorless camera then no such problem, you can buy an adaptor to use these lenses properly – and without giving Stephen Hawking nightmares.

Let’s get some of the terms specific to film EOS cameras you need to understand out of the way.

Film speed – Remember how on your digital camera you can set the ISO speed differently depending on whether you’re shooting in low light or bright light? Well on film you can’t do that – you select the right type of film for the conditions you’re expecting. So you have to prepare for your day’s photography by thinking about which film to load. As with digital the lower the number the higher the quality. But in general:

ISO 100 – Bright sunlight

ISO 200 – Overcast

ISO 400 – Fast action (eg sports)/indoors

ISO 800 – Faster action/low light

ISO 1600 – Someone moving very fast in a coal mine

 

Processing type – Most colour film you’ll see for sale is marked as ‘C-41 Process’ – this quite simply is a coding for the chemistry of the film and the process required to develop it. There are two other types of film you may encounter, slide film (which you might find yourself in a world of pain trying to get processed) and black and white film (which you can get processed by mail order via several online stores. You can also buy the equipment and chemicals to process it yourself if you have nothing better to do with your life.

In short, stick to C-41 process film.

 

DX Coding – This is a series of metal/black squares on the side of a 35mm film cartridge which encodes the ISO speed of a film. EOS film cameras have a row of metal prongs inside the camera that read the presence of these squares and set the ISO setting of the camera automatically. With some models you can override the setting to deliberately over or underexpose.

Dx135can

Photo by Wikipedia user Caltrop

Loading a film – Rather than try and teach you how to do this right, you can do no worse than trying to google for “EOS <insert camera model here> manual pdf” because most of the original camera manuals are available online somewhere or other. However, if you’re too lazy to do this then you do this.

1. Turn the camera on. In general this means turning the mode dial away from L and onto something like P

2. Open the back door of the camera, the catch will be on the left hand side, you may need to press in a small circular button at the top of the catch and slide the catch down. Be careful, they are often easy to break and not economical to repair in most cases.

3. If you think of the film cannister like an AA battery with a knobbly bit at one end, then you want the ‘positive’ side facing down and the film strip running along the inside of the camera. Pull a little more of the film out until the end part is just over the spool on the right hand side where the film is collected. Shut the rear door and you should hear something whirr away which means the film is being loaded. The display should show ‘1’ meaning shot number 1 is ready.

 

Looking after your film – The film is coated with light-sensitive chemicals which can degrade over time, so to increase the lifetime of your unused film keep it in the fridge as it’s temperature sensitive. Unless you’re a lomography fan who loves out-of-date film in which case keep it wherever the fuck you like.

 

Filters – To Old Skool photoshop your shots you use filters. Real filters. Which are bits of (mostly) coloured glass that you screw into the front of your lens or, if you are getting really seriously into it, you buy square ‘Cokin’ style filters and use an adaptor to hold them in place in front of your lens.

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Filters – they’re like instagram for real life.

Batteries – Most of these older film DSLRs take batteries you won’t have seen before, things like CR2, 2CR5 or CR123A. Research what your camera needs and get the batteries through eBay – they are all still made. These are non-rechargeable although some (such as the CR123A and CR2) have rechargeable versions available nowadays.

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A selection of various camera batteries. Photo from wikipedia user Lead Holder

So, you want to get an EOS film camera, which are the best buys?

Just as with the Digital cameras there are several different lines of EOS film cameras, from the ‘budget’ version up to the professional. As with the digital cameras generally the fewer digits in the number the greater the features of the camera (eg, EOS 1000D < EOS 600D < EOS 60D < EOS 6D)

There’s a great timeline on Wikipedia that  shows each of the film EOS models and their relationship to each other. In basic terms the higher up the chart the more professional it is, and obviously as you move from year to year with later models shown to the right you get cameras with more features. But in some cases you also get a reduction in build quality with later (cheaper models), so don’t assume getting the camera on the far right of the list is always the best option.

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So firstly some advice – the price of almost all of these cameras second hand is so cheap that there is really no point at all in buying anything in the ‘Entry Level’ category. In many cases you’ll pay less for your camera body than the price of your first film and the cost of developing it!

The ‘Professional’ category of the EOS 1 cameras are very very good (I have an original EOS 1) but they are still quite expensive – so you’re unlikely to buy one for less than £100 ($140). But if you see one cheap then go for it!

So, we’re limiting ourselves for now to the ‘Enthusiast’ category. This is the same category that cameras such as the EOS 60D, the EOS 5D Mark III, etc fit into in the digital world. But even within this category there are good and bad buys.

Here are some of my personal favourites:

 

Canon EOS 650/630/620/600

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Image by wikipedia user Szczery

The EOS 650 was the very first EOS camera, launched in 1987, and was immediately very popular. This camera is a great choice for three fantastic reasons.

1. It’s built like a tank – it feels solid and built to last.

2. It’s cheap. You can buy one on ebay for less than the price of a Caramel Brulee Latte and a Gluten-free Veggie Wrap.

3. The design is so 80s that it literally shits Rubik’s Cubes***.

The EOS 650 is simple in form and function. It has only the buttons that you need. But it works well, it’s cheap, and looks great. The 620 and the 600/630 were slightly improved models  – the 620 had a faster maximum shutter speed of 1/4000 vs 1/2000 of the 650, for example, the 600/630 had a higher frames-per-second (5ps vs 3ps) of the other two – but trust me that’s really not important with 35mm film. The 620 also had a backlit LCD screen on the top, the others aren’t backlit. But in general they’re all quite similar.

The only real disadvantage of these cameras is they have no built-in flash.

Canon EOS 10/EOS 10s

$(KGrHqUOKnIE4N OY8n4BON65 NiU!--_32EOS 10s. Photo from eBay

 

 

The first of the ‘premium enthusiast’ EOS cameras which would later bring the EOS 5 and the highly-sought after EOS 3 (= still very expensive), I really do like the EOS 10 a lot. Its replacement the EOS 5 is more powerful but is let down by a reduction in build quality which means several common problems blight the camera, in particular the mode dial can break and spin without changing mode.

The 10s is almost identical to the 10, the 10s was the US designation. The only difference is that on the 10s you have to manually raise the flash to use it, on the 10 it will automatically raise when needed. This was apparently due to patent restrictions at the time.

It has a fast 5-frame-per second winder, and unlike almost all other EOS cameras it doesn’t use an IR diode in the film path, which means you can use infra-red film in it should you want to.

I prefer it to my EOS 5, but then the EOS 5 is a good camera if you get a good working version.

Canon EOS 100/50/30

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EOS 100 – Photo by ML5 on Wikipedia

I’ll group these all together because they are all in one series, although they are all very different in design and have their own issues. But these were the primary ‘semi-pro’ EOS film cameras back in the day so they are all readily available online at reasonably low prices.

The EOS 100 is nicely built, almost identical to the more expensive (at the time) EOS 10. It’s not as fast (only 3 frames per second) but it does have the benefit of a rear control dial which really makes using it so much easier.

All three of these cameras have a locking mode dial, but only to lock it in the ‘L’ (off) position, once it is set to a mode the dial can be switched to another mode without needing to unlock, which is a pity.
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The EOS 50 – Photo by Cramerd on Wikipedia

The EOS 50 and 30 add a dedicated dial for autofocus mode select (One shot/AI Focus/AI Servo, the same as the modes on your EOS Digital camera that you don’t understand) and for metering type (again, I could tell you what they are but your eyes would start to glaze over.)

Speaking about eyes. The EOS 50 and 30 add a very impressive feature,  you can select which focus point (3 on the EOS 50 and 7 on the EOS 30) to highlight just by looking at it! This is a technology that somehow got lost in the transition to digital. Yes, back in the day we had men on the moon, supersonic passenger planes and eye-controlled cameras. But those days are long gone, my friend.

Of course, you’re far more interested in how they look. Style-wise, the EOS 100 is all black, with a large red LED focus assist light between the lens and the grip. The EOS 50 refines the style a little more by an elegant mix of silver and black. The EOS 30, being the last in the line launched in 2000 has exactly the same boring style as all the digital EOS cameras you have. It’s a good camera, but if you want people to stop and look then it’s not the one you want. For that you want the EOS 50,  I have to say the EOS 50 is by far my favourite design of all EOS film cameras.

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The EOS 30 – Photo by Rama from Wikipedia

And some cameras to avoid

Not all EOS film cameras are worth trying. Some are real stinkers. Mostly in the ‘Entry-level’ category, but not exclusively.

Canon EOS 750

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This one is just retarded. It has a single mode on it, Program, meaning that it automatically chooses aperture and shutter speed for you, you can’t control them manually. Of course you probably don’t use anything on your Digital Canon except P mode and occasionally that one with the little flower. In which case go ahead buy this, it’s great for you!

It also came with a lens that you couldn’t even manually focus.

Canon EOS IX

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EOS IX – Photo by Elliot on Flikr

To be fair the camera itself is fine, the problem is the type of film. This EOS eschews traditional 35mm film for the APS cartridge film that was briefly popular back in 1999 or so. The cartridge has several advantages – firstly it’s easier to install, it allows different style of photos to be taken including panorama, it allows you to remove a film when it’s half-used and replace it, and then put it back in later to continue. And the cartridge keeps your negatives safe once they are developed.  Unfortunately at the same time the film companies decided to reduce the actual size of the film for each shot so that the resolution (and quality) are lower on APS than on 35mm. Add to that that even at the time developing costs were much higher and nowadays it’s very hard to get the film or developing services. So, just avoid it.

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An APS film cartridge. Photo by Aaronyeo on Wikipedia

Having said all this, of course yes I do have one, and I’ve just ordered some (out of date!) film for it, so I’ll see what it can do and write up another article later.

I hope you’ve found this article interesting and informative, and if not just think that in the time you’ve taken to read this your beard has grown even longer!

 

Head photo: Andrea Rose

* There was an autofocus Canon FD camera, the T80. This used its own autofocus FD lenses which are entirely incompatible with the EOS system. I have one of these and will write up about it soon!

**  I might be lying about the quantum effects of this adaptor. But it can seriously mess up your chakra.

*** Not literally

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28 Responses

  1. A used EOS Elan 7 would be a good film body. $50-$100 used, but unless you have some special need or desire to shoot film, I’d just save a few more $$$ and go for the 350D now.

  2. Steve says:

    Great article, I have 8 EOS film cameras including a working 5. I wouldn’t have them if it weren’t for the fact they are so cheap now. I got a 650 body from ebay for 99p plus p&p and that got me started. Then I bought an RT with a Canon 35-105mm for £19 and keep adding more.

    When I am not using my EOS 5, which also has eye control, I tend to use my 300x. It was the last EOS camera introduced and as I have the first, the 650, it made sense to have the last too.

    Interestingly the first picture uploaded to the internet was taken with an EOS 650. A picture of Les Horribles Cernettes edited using Photoshop v1 in 1992.

  3. Alex says:

    Sigma lenses work just fine on the 50e, no aperture problems at all.

  4. Crystal says:

    Nice article, just purchased a Canon EOS 650 from Ebay for less than $15. Now I have to get a lens and film, then start shooting. I’m new to photography and am trying to learn how to use 35mm film cameras.

  5. Some Of My Best Images Were Shot On A Super-Featherweight Canon Rebel 2000. It’s not the gear. It’s the skill. I also had a gallery install where I used 6 EOS 650 Bodies I Got From a Thrift Store Grab Bag ($20 TOTAL!) To Get People To Shoot Each Other And Develop The Following Night.

    • jolyon says:

      Most people forget that unlike digital cameras with film cameras the image quality has nothing to do with the camera body at all – only the film, the lens and – most importantly – the photographer!

      • Steve watkins says:

        Not entirely true. A cheap film camera — even with nice glass can have all sorts of image quality issues, right out of the box. Light leaks, film plane, shutter speed etc.

  6. Sam says:

    Thanks for writing this. It’s really useful. I’m getting a film camera again because I’m thinking about photograph longevity. Printed photographs haven’t yet proven to have the same life as photographic paper ones have they? Thinking about my great grand kids wanting to see pictures of their grandad when he was a baby. I know there will be digital images for them to access but just in case Donald Trump blows up the Internet or something, I thought I’d have images in different media. Maybe I’m a paranoid schizophrenic! Thanks again though, I’m now fully clued up as to what to buy.

    • jack says:

      Remember it is important to label those prints!
      My family has 5 or 6 photo albums plus boxes full of very old photos of ancestors we cannot name and places we do not recognize. I’ve seen black and white photos that yellowed out, color photos that yellowed out. we have photos that lost their contrast and others that just darkened irregularly, probably to do with being stored in garages, 30 to 110+ degrees, inks breaking down, acid in the old paper, ect. Then some slides and negatives too scratched to be appreciated, apparently they needed their own cases, not to be with the photos.

  7. Ian Parry says:

    At last. Someone who is not afraid to call a spade,a spade and not a digging implement.Thank you for this informative article. I am in the process of learning the joys of film cameras, again.50E and others. Looking forward to the next article.

  8. Diego says:

    Hi, I actually have the reverse problem: I’m trying to use my old EF lens (28-90) on a Canon EOS DSLR, but it only works IN PART. After a few shots it either stops working completely or the image I got on the visor becomes pretty dark. I wonder if there’s anything I could do to make the adaptation better.

    Any light on this? It’s a pretty good lens…

    Thanks!

  9. Doug Hall says:

    Would love to see a similar article looking at Canon cameras using FD lenses. You won’t find a more impressive 35mm body than the New F-1, in my opinion, and especially if you see a mirrorless camera in your future, the FD lenses are ridiculously affordable via eBay.

  10. Stefan says:

    Some of my best film images were shot on a Praktica MTL3 😐

  11. Steve watkins says:

    Black and white is where 35mm film cameras really shine. And black and white developing is not hard to accomplish. I shoot digital for work, but I have more fun with film — and I shoot 35mm, 120, 4×5 and even 8×10. I know this is about 35mm though.

    A shot in 35mm tri-x is hard to replicate in digital — there is a look to it. It can be done, but it’s tough to get it right. Shooting film makes you thiink aobut your shots more, It makes you a better digital photographer overall.

    And God bless the hipsters. they and their lomo cameras are why I have so many choices of film to feed my Hasselblad.

  12. Ally says:

    Great article. My eos 600 does have a lit lcd panel though.

  13. jack says:

    can you give a list of cannon slrs with focusing aids such as micro prism and split prism? My grandfathers Minolta is so easy to focus manually, my t3i and rebel 2000 not so much. I’d primarily be interested in uv and ir photography, any suggestions? I bought a cannon lens for $15, it came with a rebel 2000.

    • jolyon says:

      The manual focus Canon SLRs (ie the FD range and the Canon EF-M from 1991 are the only ones that come with such focusing screens as standard. Some others have optional screens available.

  14. Patrick says:

    A great bit of writing, I bought a EOS 3000 a year or two ago when you could still get films developed at Boots (the chemist UK). Of course they went all digital soon after. I got a film done at a “kiosk” in a mall here in Spain and it was terrible. I think the chemicals were old as the ones I had done at Boots came out fine. Anyway thought I’d play around with developing b/w just for fun because as you have said there are not so many controls to confuse an old person. Just about to load my first roll of HP5 13/03/17 ….BTW now I know what cameras to look out for thanks Patrick

  15. Colokeb says:

    This is a question about the lens that came on EOS film cameras: Would it be the same consumer lens for a Rebel bottom tier as on an Elan 7e kit?

    • jolyon says:

      No. The Elan 7e would come with a full-frame lens, something like an EF 28-80 or EF 28-90. They will work fine on a Rebel, but you won’t be able to go anywhere near as wide on the lens as you will with the standard Rebel kit lens (EF-S 18-55) 18mm vs 28mm Also, the Rebel kit lens has image stabilization, the lens with the film camera doesn’t.

  16. Jak says:

    I recently started shooting with film for my photography class (I am a sophomore in high school) and I enjoy shooting with film far more simply because I spend more time thinking about every shot and less time pretending my camera is a machine gun. I’ve been using my parents original canon eos rebel from 1990, but I hate it’s rickety plastic body and it’s rather limiting maximum shutter speed of 1/1000th of a second. Thanks for writing this list of film cameras, It has been very helpful for me to find a reliable film camera that I can use my current cameras lens with.

  17. elizabeth says:

    I must say I love this guide ,well written. I will try and get my hands on canon 100 but I do own the canon 750 eos .I love it because it doesnt have many setting lol

  18. Wade says:

    For an EOS Elan 7E film body which uses a CR123A battery, can a Li-Ion rechargeable CR123A be used instead? The reason I ask is that the voltage on the labels of the rechargeable Li-Ion CR123A batteries is 3.7V.

    There are also a few, harder to find, Li-Fe-PO rechargeable CR123A batteries available, that indicate 3.0V on their labels, but they have a much lower capacity, usually around 400mAh vs. 600mAh for the Li-Ion batteries.

    Thanks!

  19. Steve Ember says:

    Thank you, Jolyon, for the most informative introduction to EOS film cameras, as well as the wicked humor in your writing. It was nice to find someone with a genuine appreciation of models like the 650 and 620. The 620 was my introduction to EOS photography. I bought mine new in 1988. Like you, I progressed upward to the more heavy-duty pro models, which I continue to use alongside my EOS D-SLR. I sold my 620 in 1991 to generate funds to buy the EOS-1, and for many years, my mainstays were the EOS-1 – along with the elegant (even stealthy in terms of sound) little RT. Might I suggest you write a piece about the RT, which was unique for its pellicle mirror and the “assurance” it gave if using flash that at least you’d see it go off! But back to the 620 – Guess I must’ve gotten sentimental on seeing some early slides taken with it in Paris and Switzerland. Yep, bought me a “new” one in lovely condition on ebay in 2012. How could I NOT for USD 28 including shipping! Absolutely reliable ever since and something very comfort-foody about using it – as in it gets the job done including auto- bracketing for slides – and doesn’t fry your brain with…MENUS. Also that year, bought a 650 also in lovely condition (probably about fifteen bucks – so, again irresistible), I guess just as a similar-control companion to, or back-up/parts donor for, the 620. Hardly “needed” to have it, but now glad as I consider that 30 years ago, it kicked off the EOS phenomenon! Oh, the “little RT” – still happily clicking behind its little pellicle mirror. Kudos on the fine article – I know it will engage readers in the delights of shooting film in some quality cameras.

  20. Dave Jerauld says:

    Something to beware of with 80’s & 90’s cameras. That was the era when the manufacturers began applying “rubberized” coatings to camera bodies and lenses to enhance the grip. As I shop around 2nd hand shops, I find many examples of these cameras where that coating is degrading and becoming sticky. A flea market seller gave me one sticky camera for free and I tried a variety of solvents: alcohol, acetone. mineral oil, ect but no lasting success…Basically, it degrades from the inside out and nothing seems to stop it for long. If you are checking out an older camera and it’s a bit tacky, I’d say avoid it.

    • jolyon says:

      Best way I’ve dealt with these sticky coatings (and not all are affected by it. Out of all of my EOS film bodies only a couple are sticky) is to use talcum powder on it. Coat the sticky areas with a thick dusting of the powder (keeping the internals well covered), leave it for a while and then brush off the loose talc later. You’ll be surprised how much of a difference it makes.

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