I Bought a New (Used) Film Camera – Canon EOS 100

Against the advice and pleadings of many of my friends, I went out and bought a new film camera this weekend. I figured now that I’m carrying around some nice Canon lens‘, it makes sense to stick one of them on a backup body and have a 2nd camera. I like the idea of loading it with black and white and taking just a few shots with it here and there. I also like it ’cause it slows me down in my picture taking and makes me think about the basic mechanicals more. I don’t like the fact that I can’t see my image right away. I have trouble learning from my mistakes when you introduce the time lag from when you take the image to when you get it back developed and can critique it. Anyway, there are way more pros than cons and I’m having a blast already. Here’s a couple shots from my first roll.






The Canon EOS 100 seems like a decent camera. I got it for just over $200 CDN. Here’s some notes on it from NK Guy at Photonotes

Stuff I like about the Elan/100.

* For a plastic-bodied camera, it seems moderately sturdy. There’s a bit of play on the camera back which I don’t like, but otherwise it appears to be well made. It has a steel lens mount, not plastic (polycarbonate) like the low-end Canons. Keep in mind, however, that although the lens mount is metal it’s attached to a plastic frame, so it’s not as sturdy as a pro EOS camera that’s metal all the way through. The key advantage of metal mounts is that they’re superior to plastic in terms of wear resistance, which is important if you change lenses a lot.

* It’s a good size. A bit big for a lot of occasions, perhaps, since people tend to get apprehensive when they see a large camera looming towards them (compared to a typical consumer camera, it’s sizeable. Compared to a pro camera it’s small) and tend to associate big camera with professional photographer. So it’s not that great for casual snapshots. But neither is it a monstrously heavy solid metal beast like an EOS 1 or 3. It feels solid in the hand; good heft. Like all cameras these days it’s designed for right-handed people, but frankly left-handed users haven’t got much choice in that regard. Physically the Elan/100 is much rounder than the earliest EOS cameras, but fatter and chunkier-looking than the newest ones. The large flash housing (it has a motor for the zoom feature) contributes a great deal to this non-svelte outline. Canon seems to have dropped zooming flash for the built-ins, resulting in sleeker lines for the new cameras. (eg: Rebel 2000/EOS 300 and Elan 7/EOS 30)

* The basic feature set is pretty complete. All the usual metering modes – manual, full auto, time and aperture priority. Built-in flash, fine for fill flash when you don’t feel like lugging around a big external flash gun. Second-curtain shutter sync. Lots of custom functions. Plus piles of other stuff, like the usual idiot modes (portrait, landscape, macro, sports – night mode being the only missing one), auto bracketing, depth of field exposure mode, multiple exposure settings, AI servo focus tracking, etc.

* Rear quick control dial. It’s great to be able to be in manual mode and adjust the aperture and shutter speed values with one hand – thumb for the back dial and index finger for the top dial. You can also use the dial for program shifting. The Elan/100 was the first consumer EOS camera to have one of these dials, and boy do you miss it if you have to go to a EOS camera that lacks it!

* It’s very quiet. At least for an SLR. The Elan/100 is renowned for being one of the most quiet SLRs Canon’s ever made, since it uses a belt drive to move film, though I think Canon is now saying that the new Elan 7/EOS 30 is quieter. I’m not sure about this myself – the Elan 7/EOS 30 seems pretty quiet, but it also has a higher-frequency mirror-click noise than the original Elan/100, which I find distracting. The original Elan/100 is quieter than the Elan II/50, and very quiet compared to deafening tanks like the EOS 3. It is not, however, silent. No matter what Canon’s promotional material may claim. The buzzing zoom motor on the built-in flash is, in fact, the noisiest aspect of the thing in operation. (the Elan II/50 lacks a zooming flash, though its flash does have a higher guide number – it can put out more light.) Or if you have an old non-ultrasonic lens with an arc-form drive motor, the lens autofocusing might be more obtrusively noisy. I like quiet cameras. I suppose noisy cameras are good at impressing people with their solid clunk sound, but I really don’t find that personally interesting. The only advantage I can think of for a noisy camera is in fashion photography, because apparently models are familiar with changing poses when they hear the camera click.

* Discreet red autofocus assist light. The Rebel 2000/EOS 300 and new Elan 7/EOS 30 flash the main flash unit for AF (autofocus) assist, which is extremely annoying and distracting for your photo subjects. Not to mention a huge battery drain. I much prefer the patterned red light, which bothers subjects considerably less. I guess Canon moved to using the flash since large lenses can block the AF assist light and to save a few yen by eliminating the high-intensity LED. Custom function 4 lets you disable the AF assist light if you want. The Elan/100 also correctly supports AF assist lights on external flash units, unlike the 10/10s and 5/A2.

* The wireless RC-1 remote control. Very useful indeed. It has the obvious application of letting you trigger group grin photos from within the group, but its utility goes beyond that. You can do 2-second mirror pre-fire lockup with it. In bulb mode you can press once to open the shutter and once again to close it, and since it’s wireless you aren’t bumping the camera.

* Mirror prefire lockup. It’s not true mirror lockup, since you can’t just lock the mirror when you feel like it, but custom function 7 lets you set a 10-second mirror prefire lock on timer mode or 2-second when using the RC-1 remote. Which is all I’d use MLU for anyway – reducing the mirror-slap vibrations which might blur slow-shutter exposures.

* Flash sync of up to 1/125. Some lower-end Canons (eg: the Rebel 2000/EOS 300) can only go as high as 1/90. (of course, the high-end ones go up to 1/250, and E-TTL Canons also have pulsed FP flash which simulates even higher flash sync.)

* Horizontal and vertical (cross) AF sensors, unlike some earlier Canons which could only detect one plane – vertical lines.

* AE lock button on the back, by your right thumb. This is also used for DOF preview if you enable custom function 5.

* You can switch between the three available metering methods – evaluative, partial and centre-weighted averaging – as you like. For the record, the Elan uses the same less than entirely intuitive iconic system for identifying the various meter modes as the old T90. Evaluative metering appears as [(*)] in the LCD, partial metering appears as [( )] and centre-weighted average metering appears as [ ]. Unfortunately this information is not displayed in the viewfinder – just the top-deck LCD.

* The partial metering mode covers 6.5% of the image area, compared to 9.5% for the Elan II/50 and 10% for the Elan 7/30. Odd that the Elan/100 is better than the newer cameras in this regard, but there you go. 6.5% isn’t a true spotmeter (which would cover 1 or 2 percent), but it’s useful enough for me. The coverage area of the partial metering mode is indicated by the larger clear circle in the viewfinder.

* Built-in flash won’t pop up automatically in the idiot modes. The 100 does this, but the Elan doesn’t for patent licensing reasons. Thing is, I like being in control of whether flash is needed or not, so I consider this a bonus and not a missing feature. The flash also zooms to accommodate three different lens focal length coverage areas; the first zoomable built-in flash on an SLR, I understand. This is handy, albeit a bit noisy as noted above, because it permits the flash to spit out more light at longer focal lengths.

* Whether you set the shutter speed value using Tv mode or M mode or the aperture value using Av mode or M mode, the Elan/100 remembers the values, even when turned off. It appears to store the two values as two variables. (ie: the M mode settings are not retained independently of the Av and Tv mode settings) This is in contrast to older cameras like the 10/10s which stupidly always forget your settings when you go back to them.

* 3 frames per second shooting speed in one-shot mode. (2.5 in AI servo) Which I never need since I don’t shoot sports, but I suppose it might be handy someday when Uncle Fred falls into the swimming pool. If I had an Uncle Fred. Oddly, the Elan II/30 is slower than the Elan/100, at only 2.5 fps. Apparently this is because the Elan/100 uses two electric motors to power film rewind and film advance, whereas the Elan II/30 only has one as a cost-saving measure.

* Barcode reader. Actually, this fits halfway between “like” and “don’t like.” You can scan in various settings into the camera from a custom barcode reader and list of barcodes. This is clearly a feature aimed at novice or braindead consumers. “Oh, I’m taking a photo of a flower, so I flip through my barcode book until I find a picture of a flower, then scan in that barcode!” However, what makes it sort of interesting and redeems the feature in my eyes is that you can replace the built-in idiot modes with your own custom settings. (the only other EOS camera to have a barcode function, the 10, doesn’t have this ability) So if you never use the sports mode setting, say, you can find a handy night-mode setting and scan it in. In fact, people have reverse-engineered the barcode data format and, if you have a program that can print out the interleaved barcode style, you can actually write your own settings. That’s sort of fun if you’re of a nerdy bent. The barcode sensor is the translucent red button located immediately above the film rewind button on the side of the camera.

* Camera shake warning when the shutter speed is too low for the current focal length, when the camera’s in Program or the idiot modes. Obviously, Real Pros don’t need this feature, but I think it’s a handy reminder. The Elan II/30 lacks this feature.

* The timer beeps if you’re in a “creative zone” mode and the beep option (custom function 6) is enabled, or if you’re using one of the idiot modes. Either way the AF assist light also flashes to let your victims know when to pull the appropriate funny face for the camera. (nb: the timer does not respect CF4 and always flashes the the AF light shortly before triggering the shutter.) Tragically the beeper won’t play stupid little tunes for you in timer mode, the way the 1000N/Rebel II did. Oddly, the manual which came with my the Elan claims that with CF6 enabled the camera will also beep when the AF system achieves focus, but my camera never does that. Apparently this is a mistake in the manual and only the EOS 100 beeps on focus. Either way, I’m happy – the green dot in the viewfinder is adequate focus confirmation for me.

Stuff I don’t like about the Elan/100.

Generally, I’m pretty satisfied with the Elan/100. There are issues I have with it, but most of the camera’s design limitations are quite reasonable given price/performance tradeoffs. There are only a handful of aggravating “why did they do it that way when the better way surely couldn’t have cost more?” problems. And of course some of its limitations weren’t limitations at all at the time of its release – it was reasonably advanced for its time.

* The Elan/100 has a fairly simple six-zone evaluative metering system. Again, it was good for its time, but newer cameras have improved evaluative metering with more zones. (eg: the Rebel 2000/EOS 300 has 35 zones) It’d be nice to have a camera that handled backlit or high-contrast subjects a bit better without having to think about it. And a true spotmeter would be nice.

* Autofocus is pretty good, but hunts a fair bit if it’s dark or if you give it a low-contrast area to focus on. This is a particular drag in low-light conditions since manual focusing is very tricky when the viewfinder is dark. The Elan/100’s viewfinder doesn’t have a 1980s-era split-circle focus assist aid or anything. However, although it doesn’t officially have interchangeable finder screens note that the viewfinder screen from the EF-M (which has split circle and microprism focus aids) is physically compatible with the Elan/100 and can be installed if you can track down an EF-M screen. Since the EF-M is long discontinued and Canon no longer stock parts for it this can be tricky. Your best bet is to find an old broken EF-M or buy a used one and sacrifice it by putting the screen into your Elan/100. The camera’s bright red AF assist light (or the equivalent on an external flash unit) helps, though it is a bit irritating for human subjects. The biggest problem is if you put an external flash onto a bracket – basic geometry then dictates that the AF assist light won’t line up with the centre focus point most of the time and will flash uselessly out of alignment. (moral: don’t use a bracket for low-light photography) Still. The Elan/100’s low-light sensitivity is much better than a low-end Rebel and still better than the Elan 7/30’s, believe it or not. And at least it has an AF assist light. New Canons, like the EOS 300/Rebel 2000 and EOS 30/Elan 7 don’t even have this light anymore, amazingly enough.

* The Elan/100 is an older B-type EOS body and so has no E-TTL flash metering or FP mode (high-speed flash sync) support. Utterly unsurprising, since E-TTL didn’t exist when the Elan/100 was made. But TTL and A-TTL flash metering are really pretty lame – one area where Nikon is definitely ahead of Canon, in large part since Nikon’s flash control technology uses distance information returned by the lens. A lot of Canon’s lenses are capable of returning distance information, but it appears that Canon don’t use this data for patent reasons or somesuch. Also, since the Elan/100 has a single focus point it can’t do multiple-zone flash metering like the newer cameras can. The new bodies can bias flash exposure towards the active focus point.

* Only one focusing point, as noted above.

* The infrared positioning diode that senses film sprocket holes also fogs the lower edge of Kodak’s HIE infrared film. My particular camera fogs a couple millimetres into the viewable image area, not just the sprocket holes. The Elan/100 was the first EOS camera to use IR sprocket hole-counting diodes, in fact. I have another page dealing with high-speed infrared film and EOS cameras for those interested.

* In manual mode there’s no actual metering scale. Just arrows telling you whether you’re over or under exposed. Annoying. The EOS 100 has the same problem as the Elan. (in the case of the A2/EOS 5, the North American camera (A2) lacks a manual meter but the international version (EOS 5) has one. ROM upgrades to turn your A2 into an EOS 5 are very popular with North American A2 owners.) The EOS 50/Elan II and EOS 30/Elan 7 have manual-mode metering scales.

* The Elan’s flash program has a serious problem that manifests itself when you’re using an ISO setting of around 2500 or higher. With an ISO speed set this high TTL flash often stops working. Luckily at film speeds this high you’re probably going to be relying on available light and not on flash, but it does limit your fill-flash options.

* As with all of Canon’s cameras the Elan/100 lacks a (post-exposure) flash confirmation indicator in the viewfinder. This is apparently for patent reasons, but still annoying. The 540EZ and most EX-series external flash units have a flash exposure confirmation lamp, but that means you have to check the back of the flash unit after each picture – you can’t just look for a light in the viewfinder. Also doesn’t help me – I have the 430EZ flash, which lacks this lamp.

* No battery pack grip was ever made for the Elan/100. You can’t use easily-obtainable and cheap AAs to power the camera – you always have to use expensive lithium 2CR5s. It’s true that AAs don’t last very long, but having that option can be a lifesaver if you’re in the Middle of Nowhere and run out of lithium photo cells. There was an add-on optional grip extension (GR-70), but it’s just a lump of rubber with a hand strap. It doesn’t give you any additional buttons (so it’s of no additional benefit for portrait photography), it doesn’t contain batteries and it lacks a tripod socket so you have to remove the grip before using the camera with a tripod.

* You can’t move focus control off the shutter release button to a back button like you can on some higher-end Canons like the A2/EOS 5. I’d really like this feature to avoid the tedious screwing around that’s required to get both focus and exposure settings right in low-light conditions.

* The Elan/100 has metering controls which are adjustable in half stop increments only. It does not have the ability to adjust exposure settings in third stop intervals like newer EOS cameras.

* No wired shutter release socket, unlike the Elan II/50 and 7/30. This betrays its consumer focus here – there are times, in studio settings, when you want a wired release. (needless to say the Elan/100 also lacks a PC socket.)The wireless remote is great, but since the sensor for it is on the front of the camera you have to move around and point the remote at the front. Great for when you want to be in the picture; not great if you don’t. Also, the IR sensor is tucked away on the body right below the AF assist LED. This can be blocked by a large lens or lens hood, which is annoying. The Elan 7/30 is improved in this regard – the IR remote sensor is built into the handgrip on the front. Incidentally, I’ve taken an RC-1 remote and hacked so that the IR LED is on the end of a little wire with a piece of velcro. That way I can use it as a wired remote if I want to stand behind the camera in a studio-type setting. A bit clunky, but it works.

* The shutter lag (the time between you pushing the shutter button all the way and the camera actually taking a photo) is definitely better (faster) than low-end Canons like the Rebel/1000, but is also slower than the 10/10s, which is snappier by far. I don’t know the actual value. Mirror blackout is the same – shorter than the Rebel/1000 but longer than the 10/10s.

* The internal flash charges up each time you turn the camera on. Big battery-eater. Of course, I suppose I’ll come to like this feature the next time I need flash to be instantly available to catch that perfect moment.

* The red-eye reduction lamp isn’t available in the “creative” modes – P, Av, Tv and M – if you have second-curtain sync (custom function 2) enabled. I find the deliberate disabling of this feature somewhat annoying. Obviously red-eye reduction doesn’t work as well if you’re using second-curtain sync with a long shutter time, but that doesn’t make it utterly useless.

* No separate DOF (depth of field) preview button. You can enable custom function 5 and have the AE lock button double as a DOF preview button, but this can be annoying if you don’t want to lock the exposure settings.

* The flash exposure compensation settings only control the camera’s built-in flash. They can’t control external flash unit compensation, like my 430EZ Speedlite flash unit. This is apparently not the case with newer Canon bodies. Luckily the 430EZ has buttons on the back for flash exposure confirmation, so I don’t lose that feature altogether.

* No manual focus indicator in the viewfinder. A little MF symbol in the viewfinder would save you that extra second of wondering whether the lens is in auto or manual focus mode and fumbling for the switch to double-check. The top deck LCD doesn’t display “ONE SHOT” or “AI SERVO” in the grey rectangle area if you’re in manual focus mode, but that isn’t very helpful.

* Viewfinder has only about 90% coverage. Oh, well. Consumer camera. It also isn’t very easy to look into if you wear glasses. Nikon’s cameras generally do a much better job of accommodating spectacles wearers.

* No leader-out custom function for rewind. (leader-out is a very useful thing if you want to be able to change films midroll and resume shooting with that roll later on) You can listen to the rewinding very carefully and pop open the back at the exact moment when the film comes off the spool, but that’s obviously a clumsy way to do things.

* The plastic handgrip loses its shiny rubber coating with use, becoming patchy and messy.

* I don’t like the command dial lock, because you have to push the centre lock button down to release it. This is both fiddly to use and vulnerable to the same infamous problem of command dial breakage that the EOS 5/A2 suffers from. It really is too bad that Canon refuses to acknowledge the command dial problem as the design failure it is – sticking consumers with the expensive repair costs is really unfortunate. It also means that a used Elan/100 might be a considerably less attractive deal if you have to shell out $100-150 US to fix the damned thing. The Elan II/50 and the new Elan 7/30 have the lock button on the side, which offers the same positive locking functionality but is far more convenient to operate. (though admittedly is less aesthetically pleasing than having the lock in the centre.)

* The battery door doesn’t have a proper moving hinge – you flex open the plastic itself, which eventually will break. Idiotic design. This is a problem especially in cold weather, because plastic tends to become quite brittle at low temperatures. And if the door breaks the camera will stop working unless you keep the battery pushed into place with one hand. Now I realize you don’t change the battery all that often. And I’m sure the hinge has been tested at room temperature to work a certain number of times. But it’s more a reminder that the camera simply isn’t built to last. Like a modern car, it’s designed for the first owner only – maybe five years. Then it’ll break and will cost so much to fix you have to go out and buy a new camera instead. My 25 year-old mechanical Pentax Spotmatic would probably have been working just fine decades hence had some scum not stolen it. My Elan will be a useless lump of plastic.

* This applies to pretty well all cameras these days, but the LCD itself is only supposed to last 5-10 years or so before it fails. Mine’s about a decade old, and is still working, but the fact that it might fail and have to be replaced at my expense is pretty annoying. See my complaints above about the flimsy battery door.

* Making things worse, the camera was discontinued several years ago and in a few years’ time it may not be possible to get it repaired if replacement parts are no longer available from Canon. The company is only legally obligated to keep parts on hand for about a decade, I think.

* The latch on the camera back is made of plastic, not metal. And the catch is exactly the sort of thing that will snap off with use. For that reason I always push the door in and release the catch, then open the door with the catch open, in an attempt to minimize stresses placed on the catch and thus the chances of it breaking on me. Maybe I’m paranoid, but it doesn’t take any extra effort, and I’d hate to have the catch break in the middle of a shoot.

* Many late 80s/early 90s EOS cameras, including the Elan/100, have a known problem of black sticky tar-like stuff appearing on the shutter. This is caused by a foam piece inside deteriorating and turning into sticky black glue. Fixing the problem requires replacing the shutter and replacing said piece of foam. Moderately expensive, as you have to open up the entire camera to do it. You can also clean the shutter yourself if you feel like taking the chance. This isn’t a trivial problem. I recently lost about two dozen shots on a recent shoot because of a gluey shutter – the pictures simply turned out blank or occasionally grossly underexposed. Frustrating.

* No backlit top dial and LCD. Makes it a bit of a pain to operate in the dark. Would’ve cost peanuts to add a couple surface-mounted LEDs in there for night operation. Or, for a bit more money, an EL backlit screen like on the EOS 620. (one of the oldest EOS models around) Hopefully this will change in the future. The EOS Kiss III L, a minor revision to the Kiss III (Japanese name for the Rebel 2000/EOS 300) sold only in Japan, has an illuminated top-deck LCD. Let’s hope Canon continues this through the line.

* The six-second timeout on the exposure settings. If you’ve pushed the shutter release halfway and have customized the exposure settings and then let go, you’ve only got 5-6 seconds before the viewfinder display shuts off and it forgets whatever you’ve put in. That’s a bit short sometimes. All EOS cameras seem to do this, yet only the 1V and 1D has a funtion that lets users extend this time if they want.

* There’s also a timeout on the remote-control sensor. The camera won’t recognize the RC-1 control signals unless you’re in self-timer mode, which can be annoying in itself, but after a few minutes it shuts off the remote sensor as well. I presume this is some sort of power-saving measure, but it’s certainly one that eliminates the possibility for many fun hacks. Let’s say that you wanted to take a photo of a bird flying into its nest. If the remote-control sensor didn’t time out you could rig up a nifty hack so that the bird could trigger the camera when it crossed a beam of light, say. Sadly you can’t do tricks like this with the Elan/100. And since there’s no wired release socket you can’t hack anything together that way, making the Elan/100 utterly unuseable for long-delay triggering.

* No textual or mnemonic explanation for what the custom functions are. If Canon were to use a simple dot-addressable LCD they could easily throw a few bytes of extra data into the ROM that would actually explain what CF 1 or 7 does, so you don’t have to tape a photocopy of the manual onto your camera bag. The digital D30 and D60 cameras have the full text of their custom functions displayed on the rear screen, which is handy. But oddly the new Elan 7/30 actually has a smaller LCD than older cameras like the Elan. The 7/30 also uses cheesy triangular arrow symbols which point to printed icons on the edge of the LCD, rather than actual symbols on the LCD for some reason.

* No frame counter information in the viewfinder – just on the top-deck LCD panel.

* No film-plane mark. People who do precise macro photography want to know where the film plane is actually located, so they can measure off exact distances. The film plane mark is a circle with a long line through it, like a sort of Plimsoll line on a ship. The Elan/100 lacks this. Makes no difference to me, really, since I don’t do this sort of macro photography, but it might bother someone out there. All the new Canons, even the cheapest Rebels, now have the film plane mark printed on the top.

* Unlike the Elan II/30, the self-timer doesn’t display countdown information in the LCD. A shame – it’s a cute feature.

* If you’re into astrophotography you should know that the Elan/100, like most Canon EOS cameras, uses power to hold the shutter open in bulb mode. And that can drain the battery flat in a few hours. Here’s a useful table comparing the various EOS models in this regard.

* The metal tripod socket is not in line with the lens axis. It won’t affect most people but if, for example, you want to shoot a QuickTime VR panorama and need to locate the camera on a bracket so that it rotates around the lens nodal point this might be a minor issue.

* Back isn’t removable. So you can’t replace it with a bulk-loader or Polaroid adapter or date-printer or whatever. This doesn’t affect me at all, but as above, I suppose it might affect someone. There was the 100QD, which was a version of the 100 with a date-printing back, but since the backs aren’t interchangeable you either have a date-printing camera or you don’t.

* No interchangeable finder screens. The 600 series cameras were the last non-pro EOS cameras to have interchangeable viewfinder screens.

* It ain’t sealed. Okay, so I’d have to spend fifteen times more money and get a top of the line EOS 1v or 3 to get a fully-sealed weatherproof camera, but it’d be nice to have some basic rubber seals around things, even if they weren’t up to the 1v standard. As it is, it’s a bit annoying to shoot for a couple days in a dusty location and finding the battery compartment lined with a layer of dust. Even cheap portable CD players have little rubber O-rings around buttons and dials these days. I’ve had to wrap the whole camera in black gaffer tape (not cheap silver duct tape, which leaves ghastly gluey residues, but expensive gaffer tape used by film crews) to deal with this. This makes it hard to operate the controls, of course, so I’ve also resorted to taping small pieces of transparent cling film (sandwich wrap plastic film) over key button controls and the top LCD.