The Canon EF is a special film camera. Because of its name, if you type Canon EF in any search bar, you’ll find all the existing Canon EF lenses before you find anything about this camera. However, if you’re a seasoned computer hacker like me and add the terms film camera to the research, you may find some information about this nice piece of camera history.
The Canon EF film camera was produced between 1973 and 1978 and is the first and last Canon camera to feature a vertical-travel Copal metal shutter (that’s a mouthful). It also uses a pretty unique hybrid shutter speed system, both mechanical and electrical.
It’s often referred to as the Black Beauty and is considered to be a simplified version of the F-1. Most notably, it doesn’t have the interchangeable viewfinder, it can’t be attached to a power winder and the shutter speed tops at 1/1000.
But this doesn’t mean that the Canon EF doesn’t have anything to offer. In fact, I really like the simplicity of this camera.
I started the analog chapter of my photography journey with a Canon A-1. Since I live in the alps, my valiant A-1 would brain freeze as soon as the temperature would get near 0° Celsius (math it out, Fahrenheitists), so I decided to look for a mechanical camera that would sport my huge collection of four Canon FD lenses. Don’t worry, G.A.S. quickly kicked in and I already have too many cameras as of the writing of this article.
First look at the Canon EF
Let’s start with the design of this camera. It’s a tank, like a Crusader or a B1 but smaller. It is heavy for a 35mm camera because of its metal build.
The Canon EF doesn’t implement anything revolutionary in its design. It focuses on what’s important and that’s what I like about it.
On top, you’ll find your typical layout: the film rewind lever, the ASA dial ranging from 12 to 3200, a LED battery check light, exposure lock, hot shoe flash, shutter speed dial, film advance lever, shutter release button and frame counter. The ASA dial can easily be lifted, so you may want to check it from time to time to make sure it didn’t change.
Shutter speed dial and release button
The Canon EF shutter release button has a relatively short travel distance but you can get a good feel of it. The shutter releases somewhere in that travel distance which prevents you from getting motion blur while pressing down. The film advance lever works smoothly and is unobtrusive when not in use.
The shutter speed dial is a real joy to use. It is big and sticks out at the front of the plate. You can easily set your shutter speed on the fly while looking through the viewfinder. You’ll see that some values are white and others are yellow (plus the orange 1/125 which indicates the flash sync speed). Those colours indicate the type of shutter the camera uses but I’ll explain that later.
Turning the camera on and off
When setting the switch to On, you activate the light meter and the film advance lever will pop out a few degrees. When switching to Off, you disable the light meter, lock the lever and the shutter release button which is always nice (blurry and overexposed shot number 23, I’m looking at you). There is also a tiny silver button on this switch that enables you to do multiple exposures.
DOF preview, mirror lock-up and timer
On the front of the Canon EF, you’ll find a lever that you can use as DOF preview, mirror lock-up or even self-timer. Yes, it’s a bit confusing at first but it’s nice to have all in one place over time. I could say that a grip like the one on the newer version of the F-1 or the A-1 could have been useful. The weight of the camera makes you want to grip on something from time to time.
On the bottom plate, you’ll find a red battery check button, the film release button and two battery doors. One is supposed to be for the light meter and the other for the shutter. It uses PX 625 1.35 volts mercury batteries. Thanks to an intern regulator, you can use this camera with common 1.5 volt batteries without any modification. What I don’t get here is that, besides not really knowing which battery compartment is connected to which function, it also seems that it still needs both batteries for everything. Let’s say you would just insert one battery for the shutter, it won’t work. You still need to have both but this might only be an issue with my camera.
Using the Canon EF
The Canon EF is a shutter priority camera when used with FD lenses set on A. Otherwise, you can use it manually. After loading your film, you simply advance to frame one without having to release the shutter every time. Nice feature to get into action quickly.
Metering and focusing
The Canon EF has a TTL light meter that is less sensitive at the top of the frame in landscape orientation to compensate bright skies. This means that if you shoot vertically, you should meter the scene horizontally, lock the exposure (if used in shutter priority mode) and recompose in portrait orientation. Otherwise, you just check what aperture the light meter indicates and set it manually on your lens which is easier in the end. Having to keep that exposure lock button pressed while recomposing and focusing is quite the exercise.
Apparently, it is not an easy task to find a Canon EF with a functioning light meter. I have had two copies, both light meters worked at first (me, happy) but died after a short period of time (me, sad).
Focus can be done with a microprism in the center. Newer models also added a split-screen.
Two types of shutter mechanisms
Shutter speeds from 1/1000 to 1/2 seconds and Bulb mode are mechanical. Those from 1 to 30 seconds are electronically controlled. This was designed to reduce the use of the battery and enable the use of the camera even when the batteries are dead. Note that the shutter speeds slower than ½ second will stay at ½ when the batteries are empty.
When using electronically controlled shutter speeds, the red LED on top will flicker during the exposure. It is important to mention that 15 and 30 seconds shutter speeds are actually 16 and 32 seconds to preserve the doubling sequence.
Using the front lever
The front lever has three positions : M, L and a third one that apparently doesn’t deserve a letter. The latter serves as quick DOF preview and sets back as soon as you release the lever. The L position is also a DOF preview but stays locked once the lever is pushed. Lastly the M position, it locks up the mirror but can only be used after locking the L position first. The mirror stays up until set it back with the lever, you’ll get the hang of it.
For the timer, you have to press the pin on top of the lever to be able to set it in timer position. You then fire it off by pressing the shutter release button. It is a mechanical timer and can still be used without batteries. And unlike the Canon A-1 which has an electronic timer, the LED of the Canon EF won’t flicker when the timer is in use.
The shutter slap is pretty loud for a 35mm SLR, but I really like it. It’s probably not suited for the street ninjas out there snapping pictures unnoticed.
Images taken with the Canon EF camera
In summary, it is a semi-electronic metal brick that can be used to take pictures. Technically, there’s everything you need to take pictures. Of course, nothing is perfect. For example, the exposure lock button is oddly placed in my opinion or the ISO dial is offset easily but since my light meter doesn’t work anymore, both points are irrelevant for me. It’s a solid and reliable camera for its age and is an interesting chapter in Canon’s history.
On a daily basis, I don’t use it as much. A non-working light meter slows the process down, so my Canon A-1 is more practical and enables me to be more reactive while wandering around. But I love using it when I have time to take my shots be it at night for long exposures or for landscapes thanks to its ability to lock the mirror.
As the production period is relatively short, you don’t see them as often as other models. They’re not one the popular list of cameras which makes them more affordable than some SLRs. The Canon EF is not THE camera to have, but it is very capable and reliable. If you find a good deal, I can only recommend to get it.
Thank you for reading. I hope you learned something and enjoyed taking time to dive a bit deeper into the history of film cameras. Let me know your thoughts about the Canon EF and if you had the chance to use it !
You can find more film images and more on @thut.thomas.
Until next time 🙂
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25 thoughts on “Canon EF Camera review – The F-1’s Little Sibling – By Thomas”
Very interesting. Reminds me of the Konica Autoreflex T3. Canon AE-1 was released in 1976, so may have stolen the EF’s thunder.
Is the exposure lock a seperate button or is it on the first travel of the shutter release?
Yes, it is likely that the Canon AE-1 stole the show. It’s popularity even to this day certainly proves this point.
The exposure lock button is separated from the shutter release. It’s a small button on top, next to the ASA dial. That’s why I explain how fiddly it is to use it, while recomposing vertically, and focusing at the same time.
Fun review of a camera I hadn’t heard of before. Thanks for posting this.
I got one. I remember I preferred to use it instead of the F1. The A1 was my travel camera.
Nice ! What made you prefer the EF over the F-1 ?
EF is such a strange thing. I have my own from a relatively short time, having started with an AT1 and then focused for a lifetime mainly on FTb and F1’s.
It was not easy to understand, until I had my “Arsenal offside trap” moment and realized that I already knew all of it.
The body is practically the same of an FTb, with the large time selector switch anticipating that of AE1/AT1.
The way you’re using the meter, shutter priority or off, is the same of Canonet QL17 (less easy on a top-level SLR than on a pocketable, fixed optic RF).
So you simply have to forget that it’s neither AT1 nor FTb and use it like a QL17, remembering that the primal weighed-area metering system is a bit rude.
It’s an interesting experiment of three different ideas, the panzer mechanic of F series, the ergonomy of the forthcoming, late ’70s automatic cameras, with the anomaly of the Copal vertical shutter that probably had something more to say (cfr. Contax 139 and so on) but also anticipated the hybrid shutter of F1n. Or, if you prefer, a fascinating dead end branch of an evolutionary tree.
Not the easiest camera to use, but the feeling of an unique living memory of a transition era (for the pedantic philologist) or simply of a damn beautiful black brick.
Thanks for your input and comparison whith other Canon cameras 🙂
My only conparison point is the A-1, from which it is very different.
The EF stands under on an odd and unique spot indeed. In my opinion, this makes it even more fascinating 🙂
Oh, the EF. I am a long time Canon FD owner and user who bought an EF in the early 90s, took it on a 3 month trip as my only camera and hated it every time I used it. My take is that the best use case for them is; stick a period appropriate SSC lens it and leave it in a display case where they do good work as shelf queens, because of the heft and shiny black paint.
The EF is an ergonomic disaster area, weighs a ton and, for me just made photographing anything a thoroughly unhappy experience. You’ll find it’s better than an AE-1 because it has the Aperture displayed in the finder but worse because the finder is darker, there is no way to add a wider and the EF is approximately 1,000 times heavier. Overall, I’d take the AE-1 every single time and I don’t even like the AE-1. The electronics are now way past reliable service and the meters and longer exposures are defunct in most that come up for sale now. So an EF is probably a manual camera that doesn’t even go to 1s and even if you manage to find one where the electronics aren’t fried you’ll still need to shell out for 2x PX 625s to use it.
I see you’re no fan of it 😛 But I can understand it, its weight certainly is its biggest flaw, thus making its use limited depending on the photographer. As mentionned, I prefer using it when I have time. It’s not my daily run-around camera.
It’s still interesting to learn what this camera is all about. Every camera has its flaws and it’s just a matter of personal preferences in the end 🙂
I hope that you found a camera that’s suits you better. Greetings !
Fahrenheitists? I’ve been called many things as an American (esp. overseas) but this is one of the most original. Today, you can call be backosoreis,
Your review and description of the EF reminds me of a camera designed by the same committee that had a hand in designing the Wildebeest – it works but…
You like it, it works for you and you’re creating with it. Nicely done.
0 degrees C = 32 degrees F. On 2/32023 in my small town here in Connecticut experienced a temp of -30F. for a period of about 14 hours. On Mt. Washinton located in the State of New Hampshire experienced temps at -108 F the same time period.
Yes, I just thought of it as a little pun about people debating on which measure system to use. No mocking intended.
It’s not the camera I use the most, but it’s fun (for me, at least).
We had some cold days here too ! Some towns recorded -42°C 🙂
Call me an odd duck, but I really enjoy the Canon EF. Those who complain about its weight must not be fans of the wonderful Canon F-1 series, Nikon’s legendary F series, or, honestly, any other cameras not made with lots of plastic (the Canon AE-1, really?!). I’ll take a solid metal body any day and be happy for the added stabilization in my hand.
I quite like the shutter dial, too, which is just like the dial on the Leica M5, which sports the best SS dial (not to mention internal meter) of any Leica M. I told you I was an odd duck! I’m lucky that my EF, which I picked up for $5 USD at a yard sale, has a working meter. While it’s not an everyday shooter—I prefer cameras from the two series I mentioned in the opening paragraph—it’s fun to take out here and there, and I always seem to find something new to love about it—like that gorgeously dampened shutter sound, the super solid film-advance lever, etc.!
5$ is a real bargain !
It is indeed a solid and reliable camera. It feels good having a camera that can withstand some rough use.
That advance lever is a joy to use. I can only agree 🙂
No mocking interpretation received! We could also call the cold evenings dog nights: real cold is a 3 dog night!
The tones and composition of the grapes is my favorite.
Wait you can measure in dogs now ? 🙂
Measure how many of your dogs decide that it’s so cold they need to sleep on your bed 🤠
Did you try to find a repair service to repair your light meters? Or is that hopeless nowadays? I like these big sturdy cameras, but it’s a pity if most are not viable.
I didn’t look for a repair shop. There aren’t that many in my region.
I asked one for a repair on another camera once and it was too expensive (for me and for what I initially paid for the camera). But maybe it’s worth it for the EF.
But I don’t mind using it with an external light meter.
An interesting camera I never knew about. It appears to have solidity and weight similar to the Nikormat or Nikon F series rather than the plastic electronic feel of later Canon EOS cameras.
I’m allowed to say that because I own both EOS and earlier Nikon systems. I have my foot in both camps.
You are indeed entitled to speek out about both sides of the force 😉
The EF is not that popular, as I’m sure are many other cameras. I feel like there’s too much of a popularity game on some cameras.
Thanks for reviewing the EF. I guess some folks are not that impressed with it, and it has only been in recent years that I have read more about it and its position just under Canon’s F-1. It was the first 35mm camera I ever owned, purchased new in 1977 just a year after graduating from college way out here in Arizona. I had gotten truly hooked on photography in my required photojournalism class and knew I needed to get my own semi-professional camera, something I couldn’t afford as a starving college student.
I bought it because, firstly, it was black, like those Nikons I lusted after. And as soon as I picked one up and looked through the amazingly bright viewfinder, it looked and felt like a perfect fit. It had a discounted price I could afford, after resigning myself to the realization that financially, a Nikon was not in my future. But I instantly loved it and used it for many years, including professionally in several jobs I had as a writer where I could provide photos to accompany my writing. The only real drawback for me was lack of motor drive capability. Other than that, we were a perfect couple!
Even after using it for years I really knew very little about how the EF fit into Canon’s stable of cameras and its many unique design features and firsts. To this day, I have to wonder why some of these features, like the Copal vertical metal shutter weren’t standard in Canon’s higher end bodies. The EF is almost a freak in some regards. But a beautiful freak, at least for me.
Sadly, it was irreparably damaged after a strong wind gust blew it and its tripod over. Otherwise, I might still be shooting with it today. I always wanted another and a couple of years ago I acquired a couple of old ones that I have yet to really put to the test. But I definitely will.
Nice to read some of your experience with it 🙂
I’m also curious to know what made it the only camera with that copal shutter. Costs ?
I hope you’ll get some nice shots with your cameras soon !
Nice review, written with a good sense of humour. Useful too, for those who may envisage to buy one or have it already. Never used it myself, although I have a Canon SLR (or two) around the house, excellent cameras, each with its own qualities, flaws and quirks.
You are using it, get great shots with it, having fun with it, and I believe this to be the main thing. It all boils down to what makes your day. Great review, thank you for sharing !
Thank you for your feedback. I wanted to write a light hearted review/how to use article. I’m glad it has been perceived that way 🙂
Nice review of a great camera, Thomas. i love this camera, its simplicity and its smooth operation, shutter sound, silky smooth film transportation. This becomes clear when you compare it to a Canon AE1, suddenly that camera feels like a toy compared to the EF. I found out about this camera, with a very confusing name indeed, seeing it on the second hand market. A few hi-lights for me are: it can be used as 100% mechanical camera. The shutter dial sticks out and makes it very easy to adjust without taking your eye off the viewfinder. A feature i’m really fan of is when mounting film, after you close the back door, you can just transport the film a few times, without pressing the shutter for it to be ready for shooting, Super functional. Every film camera should have this feature.
A few minor things worth mentioning: no film card holder on the back of the camera, so you’ll have to look for another way to remember what film is in the camera. And knowing when your camera is on, it is always measuring the light, ask for too much attention in normal use. Mine is always OFF, switching it on just before a shot, making the shot and switching it off again, but maybe that’s just me. Happy shooting everybody.