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Canon EOS Beginners’ FAQ DonationsCopyright © 2002-2017 NK Guy

Version 0.9.6. 12 December 2010.

Part II - Cameras.

Choosing a camera.

Which Canon EOS camera should I buy?

This question is too vague to answer without knowing more about your needs and budget. It’s like asking, “what car should I buy?” Obviously a person who needs a vehicle big enough to accommodate a wheelchair has different needs from a person who wants something to pick up groceries and drive the kids around, who has different needs from someone in a midlife crisis who wants something zippy and sporty, who has different needs from a university student on a tight budget and so on.

So the first thing you should do is sit down and make a quick list of the type of photography you want to do both now and in the future. Here are a few questions you can ask yourself.

Are you looking for a something small and compact for taking snapshots of family and friends?
If so I’d consider a small point and shoot rather than an EOS SLR. SLRs are much bulkier than a pocketable point and shoot. Small point and shoots are also less obtrusive. And higher-quality point and shoot cameras, particularly those with prime (non-zoom) lenses can offer quite reasonable picture quality. In fact, a high-quality point and shoot can take better pictures than an EOS SLR with a lousy lens. You lose interchangeable lenses with a point and shoot, but many people never really need to change lenses.

How much money do you want to spend?
Photography is an expensive field to get into, as artistic endeavours go. A writer can get by with a pencil and paper and a dancer with shoes, but a photographer needs to buy relatively costly camera gear first. Knowing your budget and sticking to it can help you define what options are available to you.

Have you considered the overall camera system first?
Each camera system, or product line from a given maker, is standalone and mostly incompatible with products from other makers. Assuming you want to do more with your photography than stick with a single camera and lens, I think it’s wise to consider what other gear the same manufacturer makes, and whether that suits your goals. If you’re interested I have some notes on why I personally chose the Canon EOS system when I moved into the world of autofocus cameras that addresses this point. For example, two major selling points of Canon EOS for me were that EOS equipment is readily available from camera rental shops and that Canon tend to build their new camera technology into midrange equipment quite easily, making the new features reasonably affordable.

Is weight a consideration?
Are you going to travel or go hiking? If so, low-end and midrange cameras have a serious advantage in that they’re very lightweight.

Do you want to pursue photography as a serious hobby or career or do you just want to dabble in occasional picture-taking for fun?
If the former then investing in solid midrange and pro gear makes a lot of sense. But if your aspirations are a little less serious then lightweight inexpensive consumer gear is probably quite adequate for your needs.

Is there a specialized field you’re interested in?
For example, do you want to take closeups of flowers or insects, which would require macro lenses or other closeup devices? High-speed sports photography, which requires a camera with a fast motor drive and long telephoto lenses? Bird photography, which requires very long telephoto lenses and fast autofocus? Portrait photography, which requires short telephoto lenses and often the ability to use studio flash? Documentary photojournalism, which typically requires versatile lenses which can work in low light?

Do you want a new camera or are you willing to consider a used model?
There are quite reasonable bargains to be found in the used marketplace. You will not get a warranty (Canon warranties are not transferrable from the initial buyer to a subsequent owner) but Canon products are generally well made. See the section below on used equipment.

Do you want film or digital?
With prices for digital cameras falling all the time it’s easier than ever to get into the world of SLR digital, with its instant feedback, lack of film processing costs, convenience and flexibility. But film still offers some advantages, including high quality images with minimal initial investment and freedom from having to process everything on a personal computer.

Don’t expensive cameras take better photos than cheap ones?

Well, yes and no. No matter what commission-driven salespeople may try to make you believe, the image quality of a photograph is determined just as much by the quality of the lens as the camera. (well, and lighting and the skill and aesthetic sensibilities of the photographer and so on)

In fact, in the case of film the camera body itself doesn’t matter at all when it comes to quality. Many photographers jokingly refer to film cameras as “light-tight boxes” to emphasize this point.

In the case of digital, the resolution and quality of a sensor does vary from one camera to another, but frankly these days most contemporary digital SLRs offer really very good image quality. Certainly the top-end full-frame EOS body will produce better pictures than the most affordable consumer model, all things being equal. But normally you have to push things by enlarging the image a lot or shooting in low-light conditions for the differences to become hugely apparent.

You can stick a great lens on a cheap consumer body and take great photos, or you can stick a crummy lens on a super-expensive top of the line pro camera and take crummy photos. If you have the budget for both a great camera and a great set of lenses, by all means go for both. High-end cameras are full of convenient features, give you far more control and can do things that cheaper cameras can’t do, like autofocus really rapidly and shoot at high speeds. But if your budget is really tight, always go for the lenses.

So unless you’re looking for a cool-looking new toy to impress your friends and members of the appropriate sex, it’s best to spend the bulk of your money on good quality lenses and not the camera body itself.

Should I buy a used camera or lens?

There are a lot of quite reasonable buys to be found in the used market. You can buy, for example, a used older-model midrange camera for the price of a new entry-level model. The older camera may not have all the bells and whistles of the newer model, but midrange models are generally better-constructed and more feature-equipped than consumer models.

There are few things to note, however.

I’ve just bought (such and such camera). What do you think?

Many people claim that there’s no such thing as a dumb question. I disagree, as this is one. Why buy something and then ask for advice afterwards?

Comparing camera models.

What is meant by a “consumer” camera versus an “advanced amateur” or “professional” camera?

Canon design their cameras very carefully. Each model is aimed at a specific segment of the camera-buying market, and each model’s feature list is tailored to fit that market. Naturally, Canon don’t put too many advanced features into low-end cameras, because doing so would affect sales of their more profitable and expensive high-end cameras. The categories break down like this, from inexpensive (big EOS numbers) to expensive (small EOS numbers).

Consumer (low-end) cameras.
These are affordable cameras meant to be sold to novice (snapshot) and casual photographers, usually from shopping mall/high street camera shops, discount warehouses, etc. They are lightweight cameras with a basic feature set that have been designed to be as inexpensive as possible. This doesn’t mean they’re total junk - Canon design fairly decent products, on the whole - but they aren’t meant to be durable enough for anything much more than casual use. To keep things simple they are also highly automated and tend to have very few manual controls, and they’re made almost entirely from plastic.

Cameras of the Rebel series (North America), Kiss series (Japan), three-digit series (EOS 550, etc) and four-digit series (EOS 1000D, etc) are in this category.

Advanced amateur/midrange cameras.
These are cameras sold to experienced amateur photographers who, while not counting on their cameras to earn their living, nonetheless want somewhat more rugged and feature-laden cameras than beginners. These models aren’t weatherproofed and aren’t as tough as the all-metal pro cameras, but they’re still decent performers and offer reasonable manual controls. In the case of film cameras they’re built mostly from plastic with some metal for top shells and so on. Some of the more recent digital cameras in this range have metal bodies.

Cameras of the Elan series (North America) and two-digit series (EOS 60D, etc) are in this category.

Professional cameras.
These are the expensive and solid cameras sold to photographers who make their living doing photography and require utterly reliable equipment. They’re heavy, have a full complement of both manual and automatic controls, and the 1 series cameras are weatherproofed. Their autofocus systems are extremely rapid and are more accurate than those of lesser cameras. Bodies are built with a fair bit of metal in addition to plastic components.

All EOS cameras in the 1 series (1, 1N, 1V, 1D, 1D mark II, 1Ds, 1Ds mark II, etc) are considered to be professional cameras. Other one digit cameras - the EOS 3, 5D, etc - are usually considered to be semi-professional cameras. The EOS 7D sort of bridges the gap between advanced amateur and semi-professional.

Now, obviously it’s perfectly possible for someone to earn a living using a cheaper camera - you aren’t obliged to use one designated “professional.” And camera marketers are notorious for applying terms like “professional” to any type of product with wild abandon. But generally these are the categories that people use for classifying Canon’s EOS cameras.

What’s the difference between a Rebel, Elan or Kiss camera and an EOS number camera?

For marketing reasons, Canon use product names (tough manly words like “Rebel”) to identify some of the cameras they sell in North America. Many of their Japanese products also have names unique to that market - cute kawaii words like “Kiss.” Elsewhere in the world, Canon use straightforward and sober numbers to identify their EOS cameras - the smaller the number, the more expensive the camera.

A table of some of the more common models looks like this:

International North America Japan
EOS 1000 EOS Rebel EOS 1000
EOS 1000FN EOS Rebel S II EOS 1000S QD
EOS 500 EOS Rebel XS EOS Kiss
EOS 100 EOS Elan EOS 100
EOS 50/50E EOS Elan II/IIE EOS 55
EOS 500N EOS Rebel G EOS New Kiss
EOS 300 EOS Rebel 2000 EOS Kiss III
EOS 33/30 EOS Elan 7/7E EOS 7
EOS 3000N EOS Rebel XS N EOS 66
EOS 300V EOS Rebel Ti EOS Kiss 5
  EOS Rebel G II  
EOS 300D EOS Digital Rebel EOS Digital Kiss
EOS 3000V EOS Rebel K2 EOS Kiss Lite
EOS 350D EOS Digital Rebel XT EOS Kiss Digital N
EOS 400D EOS Digital Rebel XTi

EOS Kiss Digital X

EOS 450D EOS Digital Rebel XSi EOS Kiss Digital X2
EOS 1000D EOS Digital Rebel XS EOS Kiss Digital F
EOS 500D EOS Digital Rebel T1i EOS Kiss Digital X3
EOS 550D EOS Digital Rebel T2i EOS Kiss Digital X4

In the majority of cases the cameras themselves are identical - only the nameplate on the front is different. But there are a few minor differences here and there in the case of film cameras - the EOS 100 has an automatic popup flash in icon modes whereas the EOS Elan does not, for example. The EOS 5 has a nice manual metering mode display whereas the EOS A2 has a lousy one. Japanese versions may include fake panorama features (the ability to mask out the top and bottom of the negative), and so on. But, on the whole, most of the consumer-level cameras are the same across marketing regions.

Sometimes you’ll see someone advertising an international version of a camera in the USA or vice-versa. You do not have to be concerned about quality differences in this case - a Rebel T2i rolled off the same assembly line which made an EOS 550D , and so on. This can sometimes be to your advantage. For example, Americans seem to be unfamiliar with the international EOS names, since such cameras when sold used usually command lower prices on average than their identical but US-named counterparts.

The main issue is warranties. In the case of EOS film cameras Canon appear to honour international warranties - a film camera bought in Japan should be serviceable under warranty in Britain, for example. However, in the case of digital EOS cameras Canon disappointingly do not. If this is an issue for you be sure to examine the fine print of the warranty before buying - that cheap camera you bought in New York on holiday may suddenly seem like less of a bargain if it fails under warranty when you’re home in Paris or Sydney. It could also be a hassle if you’re a professional photographer on an extended shoot overseas.

Note that Canon introduced their current numeric system (smaller numbers = more expensive cameras) with the introduction of the EOS 1. EOS cameras sold before then - the 600, 700 and 800 series models - have a fairly random numbering scheme. For example, the EOS 600/630 was an advanced amateur/semipro camera for its time, whereas the 750 and 850 were really low-end consumer cameras. Otherwise Canon have stuck fairly faithfully to this numbering scheme for all international EOS models. North American and Japanese product naming does not, however, follow much of a pattern and generally just goes by whatever sounds good.

Should I buy a consumer camera or an advanced amateur camera?

The answer to this question depends on your priorities. And, yes, it can get a little confusing sometimes. Particularly since a recent-model consumer camera can have a similar feature list to an older-model advanced amateur camera. But the basic differences are as follows, at least in terms of EOS film cameras:

  Consumer models Advanced amateur models
Product series, North America Rebel Elan
Product series, Japan Kiss Varies - EOS 100, 55 and 7
Product series, international Three (except EOS 100) and four-digit EOS Two-digit EOS and the EOS 100
Weight and size Very light and small Medium and midsized
Build quality Lightweight Sturdier
Rear command dial No Yes
Custom functions Film models: No. Digital models: most recent ones Yes
Manual controls for metering (evaluative, partial, etc) Film models: No. Digital models: most recent ones Yes
Manual controls for AF modes (AI Servo, etc) No Yes
DEP or A-DEP mode A-DEP (automatic focus point selection) Film models: DEP (manual focus point selection). Digital: A-DEP
Lens mount material Film cameras: plastic. All digital models and Rebel Ti/EOS 300v/Kiss 7: metal Stainless steel
Maximum shutter speed 1/2000 sec or 1/1000 sec, depending on model 1/4000 sec
Maximum flash sync (X-sync) speed 1/90 sec 1/125 sec; 1/250 on some digital models
Flash exposure compensation controls on body Film models: No. Digital models: most recent ones Yes (only controls internal flash on Elan/100)
Patterned red AF assist light No Yes (except Elan 7/7E/30/33/7 and all digital models)
Motor drive/fps speed 1-2.5 frames per second, depending on model 2.5-4 frames per second, depending on model
Eye-control version available No Yes (except original Elan/100)
Viewfinder type Early models use a pentaprism (brighter); later models use a roof mirror (dimmer) Pentaprism (brighter)

So which camera is better depends, as always, on your needs. The consumer series cameras are inexpensive lightweight cameras and an excellent value for beginners and people on a budget. The advanced amateur series cameras are sturdier, offer more control and are more appropriate for people who want to take their photography beyond casual snapshots.

Therefore you should consider an advanced amateur camera if you want greater control over metering and motor winding modes, if you want the rear control dial (which makes shooting in manual mode and using exposure compensation easier), if you want a higher flash sync speed (1/125 sec rather than 1/90), if you want flash exposure compensation built into the body and if you want the camera body to be slightly tougher.

General Canon EOS camera questions.

I’ve heard that Canon bodies are easily broken, since they’re made of plastic and not metal.

Nonsense. Many affordable Canon EOS bodies are indeed mostly made of plastic. But EOS cameras have been in production since 1987 and it’s pretty clear that the plastics used in other models are quite tough and sturdy. The midrange cameras, for instance, typically use fibreglass-reinforced polycarbonate and ABS plastics for various shell components. Most midrange and higher digital bodies are made from solid magnesium.

In fact, quality plastic shells are superior to thin metal in some cases - plastic is slightly resilient and can bend slightly to absorb a blow whereas thin metal can dent or deform badly, damaging internal components. (thick metal like the alloys used in high-end cameras are tougher than either, though) Plastic is also much lighter, which makes hiking around with a lot of gear more comfortable, and since it doesn’t transmit heat as easily as metal, can be more comfortable to hold in colder weather.

Now, it’s true that lightweight plastic cameras do feel less impressive to hold and heft. If that’s important to you then, yes, low to midrange EOS cameras are not for you.

Does the lens mount material - plastic or metal - make a difference?

Low-end Canon EOS film cameras built since the early 90s have used lens mounts made of polycarbonate plastic. (the EOS Rebel Ti/300V/Kiss 5 being the sole exception) All other EOS cameras, including all EOS digital cameras to date, use lens mounts made of metal.

The main advantages of the plastic mounts are that they’re very lightweight and cheap to manufacture. Polycarbonate plastic is pretty tough, and although you could probably break such a lens mount if you really tried, most people don’t have a problem. Besides, if your camera took a blow strong enough to crack the lens mount you’d probably have other problems with it too.

The main advantages of metal mounts are that they have superior resistance to abrasion and they look posher. So if you hardly ever change lenses then plastic is probably just fine. But if you frequently change lenses you’ll probably want a metal mount, since it won’t wear down as quickly. A heavily worn lens mount could, in theory, fit much more loosely.

How can I tell what market segment a camera is aimed at?

Look at the advertising. If the camera brochure features lots of snapshot photos of happy families on holiday, it’s a low-end or consumer camera. If the brochure features lots of photos of attractive young women smiling coyly at the camera, it’s a midrange camera. And if the brochure features more glossy fashion photos, landscapes, etc, then it’s a professional camera.

I have a film camera. Is there any way to turn it into a digital camera?

No, there isn’t. The only way to do so is to sell the film camera and use part of the proceeds to buy a digital camera. The other alternative is to shoot with film and then scan the film into the computer, but that’s time-consuming and expensive.

Back in the 1990s people were excited about the possibility of converting film cameras with removable backs into digital cameras. And, in fact, a vaporous company did promise to market such a product. In the end, however, such promises never materialized as they basically did not make economic or technical sense.

There are two sort of exceptions here. First, Kodak did build a number of digital cameras built around film bodies. The DCS series of cameras, for example, were built around heavily modified EOS 1N and similar Nikon cameras. But these modifications were done during the design and manufacturing process - they used most, but not all, of the 1N body components as a basis for the DCS products. And not only were the bodies re-engineered (motor drives left out, etc) but the digital components ended up sticking out the bottom in massive cases. The one exception to this was the DCS 200 back for the Nikon 8008s/F-801s camera, which was a replaceable digital back with a huge digital computer on the bottom. That one sort of worked but wasn’t exactly a bestseller.

Second, you can buy add-on digital modules for certain medium format cameras. These exist for all the reasons why a 35mm add-on digital module are impractical. The MF cameras in question are designed with removable backs and film modules from the start, the cameras are quite big so an add-on digital module (particularly one tethered to a personal computer, as many are) isn’t a problem and finally, the modules are aimed at the extremely well-heeled commercial photography and advertising markets which can afford the astoundingly high prices for the devices.

Is it true that you can’t use Canon film cameras with infrared film?

This is not a question with a yes or no answer. The short answer is that it depends on the specific model you use and the specific type of infrared film.

The medium-length answer is that most Canon EOS film cameras use infrared film-positioning LEDs (lights) as part of the motordrive mechanism, and these LEDs can inadvertently fog Kodak HIE and EIR infrared film. Konica 750 and Ilford SFX films are not affected. Sadly, since HIE and EIR are both discontinued films, this question isn’t really important anymore.

The long answer is that this depends on the specific EOS model in question - please consult my separate article on the topic.

Why do none of the low to mid range EOS cameras have a spotmeter?

For the first 20 years of the EOS lineup, Canon decided that spot metering - measuring light over a small area of the image, typically 1-3% - was a good tool to use to get people to buy more expensive cameras. So unfortunately only their professional and semi-professional cameras have historically had true spotmeters.Since the late 2000s, however, Canon have started to migrate true spot metering into their mid-range cameras.

Most EOS cameras, however, have partial metering - metering over about 6.5% to 10.5% of the image area, depending on the model. Partial metering is very much like a fat spot meter - you can use it in a similar fashion in many cases. Also, if you have a zoom lens you could zoom in to your metering point, meter with the partial meter, and then zoom out. The result is that you’ll be metering from a small area, just like a real spot meter.

How old is my camera or lens?

Canon EOS products often have date codes stamped onto them. These alphanumeric codes are separate from the numeric serial number and are usually hidden away somewhere - inside the film chamber of most cameras or on the black light baffle on the underside of many lenses. Not all EOS products have this code (for some reason Canon gear built in Taiwan often lacks date coding, and Canon is dropping date codes as of 2010) and those that do often have the code printed in shiny black ink that’s hard to read.

The code looks like UG0205, for example. The first letter represents the name of the factory at which the product was made - often O for Oita (cameras) or U for Utsonomiya (lenses). The second letter is the date code, in which A is the year 1986. The next two digits are the month of manufacture, and the last two digits are apparently internal codes meaningful only to Canon. In the UG0205 example, therefore, my lens was built in Utsonomiya in February 1992.

While this date code is entertaining to look up, note that it doesn’t necessarily tell you much about the condition of a given item. An old lens might have sat around on the shelf and be in perfect condition today or a nearly new lens might have been knocked around and abused. The date code won’t help you here.

I’m left-handed, but EOS cameras are all designed for right-handers. Do I have any choices?

Sadly, no. You just have to get used to it.

Canon, like virtually all other camera manufacturers, have never made cameras designed for left-handed users. All the major controls on EOS bodies are located on the right-hand side of the camera, and the viewfinder also assumes you’re right-eyed unless you enjoy jabbing your eye with your thumb. I guess you could use the camera held upside-down if you find the usual orientation to be hard to use, though operating the shutter release with your thumb is a drag. You can buy a crummy left-handed point and shoot if you don’t mind eschewing SLRs. But other than that this problem is unfortunately another example of the tyranny of the majority.

Camera functions and controls.

Is there any reason not to use the basic (picture icon) modes of my camera?

Yes. The icon modes are great for beginners but teach you nothing about how to use your camera. Each mode contains a set of assumptions and computer programs that Canon’s engineers think will cover the various types of shooting conditions reasonably well.

But if you want more control over your camera’s operation - and thus over how your photos will turn out - you’ll need to explore the letter modes of your camera as described in the next section.

What do the various letters (P, Tv, Av, M, C, etc) on the command dial mean?

These letters let you choose specific automatic exposure (AE) methods. They’re referred to as “creative zone” modes by Canon, since absolute beginners are expected to use the icon (“image zone”) modes instead. The creative zone modes give you greater control over the operation of the camera, however, and are thus more appropriate for more experienced photographers.

Program AE mode (P).

When your camera’s command dial is set to to P the camera will automatically select both shutter and aperture settings for you according to its built-in basic program. It’s similar to the green rectangle mode in this respect.

Unlike the green mode you can often adjust exposure compensation, AF, film winding and metering modes in addition to supporting AE lock, exposure bracketing and multiple exposures, depending on the model.

Shutter priority AE mode (Tv).

In this AE mode you set the shutter speed (time) by rotating the main dial located next to the shutter release button. The camera will then automatically set an appropriate lens aperture for you. Tv stands for “Time value.”

Use this mode if specifying the shutter speed is important. For example, you may want a fast shutter speed to freeze motion or a slow shutter speed to blur it.

Aperture priority AE mode (Av).

In this AE mode you set the lens aperture by rotating the main dial located next to the shutter release button. The camera will then automatically set an appropriate shutter speed for you. Av stands for “Aperture value.”

Use this mode if specifying the lens aperture is important. For example, you may want a large aperture for better low-light shooting or narrow depth of field. Or a small aperture for wide depth of field.

Metered Manual mode (M).

In this mode you set both the lens aperture and the shutter speed completely manually. If your camera has a rear (back panel) dial then you set the shutter speed with the main dial and the aperture with the rear dial. (or vice-versa, if your camera lets you reverse the dials) If your camera has only a main dial then you have to press and hold a rear button in conjunction with rotating the main dial.

The camera will assist you by telling you whether it thinks you have the correct metering. Some older EOS cameras display little + and - arrows telling you whether your picture is correctly exposed, overexposed or underexposed. Other models display a little animated slider bar with a dot indicating the current exposure setting; a simulated matchneedle. If the dot is exactly in the middle then you’re using the setting that the camera believes to be correct metering.

Depth of field mode (DEP and A-DEP).

These modes allow you to concentrate on the depth of field - the area in the picture in which stuff is in acceptable focus. For more details on these modes see the DEP/A-DEP section below.

Custom mode (C).

The custom mode is to be found on many Canon point and shoots and some newer digital EOS cameras, starting with the EOS 5D. Custom is essentially a dial setting which allows you to roll your own icon mode. You set the characteristics you need for the camera (aperture priority with second curtain sync and spot metering, for example) and store the setting. Then you can switch your camera over instantly to those settings by turning your camera to the C function. This can be very useful for rapid access to normally hidden camera functions, such as mirror lockup.

How can I find out what all the icons and acronyms on my camera mean?

I have an online photographic dictionary which lists the most common camera icons and acronyms if you’re interested.

What is the difference between DEP and A-DEP modes?

DEP stands for “depth of field automatic exposure” and A-DEP stands for “automatic depth of field AE”. Both modes will choose a shutter speed and aperture combination to let you achieve a certain depth of field effect, but they do so differently. Most EOS cameras have either DEP or A-DEP modes. However one model, the 10/10s, has both and many newer digital bodies have neither.

To use DEP, first autofocus on a foreground item within your desired depth of field by selecting the subject and pressing the shutter halfway. “dEP 1” will appear in the viewfinder. Then recompose the image and autofocus on a background item by selecting the subject and pressing the shutter halfway. “dEP 2” will appear in the viewfinder. Finally, compose the final image in the viewfinder and press the shutter release halfway again.

The camera will then calculate the necessary aperture setting and shutter speed to keep both items, and everything in between, in focus. If this isn’t possible then the camera will blink a warning. If your camera has multiple focus points do not change the selected focus mark at any stage during this process. Press the shutter release all the way to take the photo.

A-DEP requires multiple focus points and so is never available on any EOS camera with only one focus point. In this mode you arrange your image in the viewfinder such that a foreground item within your desired depth of field is covered by either the left or the right focus mark, and that a background item is covered by one of the two remaining focus marks. Press the shutter halfway and hopefully two focus marks will light up in the viewfinder telling you which items were chosen.

The camera tries to set the aperture and shutter speed such that everything between your two selected points is in focus. If it’s not possible for that to happen then the camera will blink a warning at you. If it is possible then neither the aperture nor the shutter speed will blink and you can press the shutter all the way to take the photo. A-DEP, as its name implies, is more automated and also affords less control than DEP.

What is bulb (B) mode?

Camera shutter times are normally specified in fractions of a second. Taking pictures on a sunny day, for example, can easily mean extremely brief exposures of 1/60 to 1/1000 of a second. But what if you want to take really long exposure photographs - perhaps several minutes - at night?

Most cameras don’t have a way to dial in extremely long (longer than 30 second) exposures. Instead the camera has what is known as “bulb” mode. To enter this mode on most EOS cameras you set the camera to manual metering (M) and then set the shutter speed to “buLb”, which is usually the setting past 30 seconds. With some cameras you set the camera to B mode. Either way, in this mode the shutter will remain open for as long as you keep the shutter release button pressed down. You then set a stopwatch or something and time the exposure manually. More conveniently, some recent EOS bodies have a top-deck timer so you just need to turn on the LED backlight and you can watch the seconds tick by.

There are three obvious problems with this way of exposing film. First, if you press and hold the shutter release button on the camera body itself there’s a very good chance that you’ll inadvertently bump the camera slightly and risk blurring the exposure. Second, it can be really tedious holding down the shutter for a long period of time. And third, metering can be tricky.

The first two problems are easily addressed by using a remote shutter release. Most EOS cameras take optional wired shutter releases which plug into small sockets on the side of the camera. These accessories let you trigger the camera shutter without physically touching the camera. Several EOS cameras also support an optional wireless release which lets you trigger the camera by pointing a small device at it. The shutter release command is sent to the camera via pulses of invisible infrared energy. For more information have a look at the section on remote shutter releases.

Wired remote releases also typically have lock mechanisms, making it much easier to take a long exposure. Wireless remotes on EOS cameras also work well with long exposures, since one press of the remote button opens the shutter and a second press closes it. (this is analogous to the “T” or Time exposure mode used in many older cameras)

The exposure problem is different. Ordinary light meters inside cameras can’t really meter for extremely low light levels, so metering for long exposures is essentially a matter of trial and error. It’s best to settle on one type of film and a fixed aperture choice and learn what shutter speeds work well for you. Astrophotography of stars and such can easily involve exposure times in the hours.

Incidentally, bulb mode is so named because in the olden days of purely mechanical cameras remote shutter releases were typically rubber bulbs linked to the camera via hoses. Squeezing the bulb pushed a mechanical lever at the end of the hose, pressing down the shutter release. The use of the term on modern computerized cameras is an anachronism.

What do the various metering modes and icons mean?

Canon cameras support a number of different ways of metering light coming in through the lens. The midrange and professional models let you choose which metering mode you want, and consumer cameras generally default to evaluative in most settings with partial as an override option. Here are the various metering modes.

Evaluative metering.
Evaluative metering is the most automated metering mode. In this mode the image is divided into a number of zones - usually 3, 6, 16, 21, 35, or 64. The camera’s computer then looks at the metering zones and applies various algorithms (computer programs, essentially) to guess a likely exposure setting. It then chooses appropriate shutter and/or aperture settings based on these calculations. Unfortunately, Canon have not published details of how these algorithms work. Nikon, incidentally, call this type of metering “matrix metering,” and sometimes people use the term “matrix” to refer to all forms of multiple-cell computerized light metering.

Evaluative metering usually works reasonably well, though the meter can often be fooled by extreme metering conditions - such as a person backlit with a bright light. A larger number of metering zones does not, however, necessarily mean improved metering. Some cameras with 6 metering zones can meter just as well or as reliably as another model with 35 - it really depends on the camera model. Evaluative metering is convenient but, since it’s so automated, doesn’t teach you much about the fundamentals of metering.

Evaluative metering is identified in midrange and pro EOS models by the [(*)] symbol.

Spot metering.
Spot meters examine a very small area (a spot) of the overall image - usually just 1% or 2% or so. They’re popular with experienced photographers who select an area that they want to appear as light grey on the final image and use that to meter from. Spot metering is an essential tool for metering in challenging light situations, but is harder to master from the point of view of the novice. Only professional and semi-professional EOS models offer spot metering. Some also offer multi-spot metering, which allows you to select multiple spots and then average out the readings.

Spot metering is identified in midrange and pro EOS models by the [ * ] symbol.

Centre-weighted averaging metering.
This mode essentially simulates the typical metering mode used in cameras sold in the 1970s. Such cameras average the total amount of light coming in across the whole image but give a bit more importance (weight) to the centre. Unfortunately Canon do not publish the weighting percentage and weighting diagrams for most of their cameras, so only experience will tell you how this mode works.

Though technically simple, this metering mode works well for images which have relatively little variation in light level across the scene. A classic example might be a landscape on a sunny day. The sky at the top will be fairly bright, but since the metering is centre-weighted the bulk of the scene should be metered correctly.

Centre-weighted averaging metering is identified in midrange and pro EOS models by the [   ] symbol.

Partial metering.
Very similar to spot metering, only a larger area of the image is used - typically 6.5%, 9.5% or 10%, depending on the model. Think of partial metering as a very fat spot. Some cameras with multiple focus points tie the area to be metered to the currently selected focus point.

Partial metering is good for giving you more control over metering results. For example, let’s say you’re trying to take a photo of something which is surrounded by darkness. Evaluative metering might be a problem as it might be thrown off by all the dark areas. With partial you can select a section of your image that you want to be medium grey and then you don’t have to worry about the meter being fooled by the stuff around it.

Partial metering is identified in midrange and pro EOS models by the [(  )] symbol.

Does the number of metering zones matter?

There’s quite a variation in evaluative metering zones across the Canon EOS lineup. Some cameras meter from three zones, some from six, some 21 and some 64. And Canon have generally been increasing this number over the years.

The immediate assumption one can make is that the more zones the better. But that’s not necessarily the case. Many other factors come into play - the speed of the camera’s internal computer, the sophistication of its algorithms (computer programs) and so on. Given the choice between a low-end camera with a ton of metering zones and a midrange or pro camera with a handful of metering zones I’d go for the latter any day.

In short, while metering zones are important I personally wouldn’t make a purchasing decision based on the number of evaluative metering zones a given camera has.

What does Single versus Continuous wind mean?

EOS film cameras all contain motorized film-winding mechanisms. How the camera winds film depends on the mode you’re in. Note that not all EOS cameras have a specific control for choosing wind modes, but most do. If your camera lacks the ability to choose winding modes remember that each icon mode is associated with one or other of the winding modes. So if you need a specific winding mode you might look up which mode uses which mode.

EOS digital cameras work in an analogous fashion, though of course no actual film is involved. Digital cameras can capture single frames or continuous “bursts” of multiple frames.

In single wind mode the camera will shoot one picture each time you press the shutter release button. Nothing happens when you continue to hold down the button. Single-frame mode is usually identified by a rectangle icon. Use this mode for shooting something static, such as a landscape. For this reason the landscape icon mode uses single frame winding.

In continuous wind mode the camera will shoot as many frames as it can for as long as you hold down the shutter release button. Until you run out of film or storage space, of course. The shooting rate depends on both the motor-drive speed of the camera (anywhere from 1 to 10 frames per second, depending on the model) and which autofocus mode the camera is in. Continuous wind mode is usually identified by an overlapping rectangle icon.

This mode is useful for shooting rapid-fire pictures of something. For example, an exciting moment in a sports tournament or a speech by a famous politician might both be moments when you want to shoot a lot of frames in the hope that one will turn out well. For these reasons the sports and portrait icon modes use continuous frame winding.

What are the One-Shot and AI Servo autofocus modes?

Most EOS cameras support three autofocus modes - One-Shot, AI Servo and AI Focus. Midrange and professional EOS cameras let you choose which mode the camera is in, often via controls marked in yellow.

However, low-end EOS cameras do not let you choose these modes directly. Instead, each of the basic modes is preprogrammed to use one of the three autofocus modes. So you can sort of choose your autofocus mode indirectly by choosing a basic mode that happens to have the autofocus mode you want to use.

One-shot AF (autofocus).
In this mode the camera locks in on your subject and doesn’t refocus once you’ve achieved focus. It won’t take a picture unless you’re in focus or unless the lens is in manual focus mode. It’s good for shooting static subjects.

AI (“artificial intelligence”) servo mode.
In this mode the camera tries to keep refocusing the lens as you track your subject. The exposure is determined when the shutter release button is fully depressed in both single and continuous winding modes. AI Servo is supposed to be able to track subjects moving to or from the camera - a feature called predictive focus.

Since it requires a lot of computer power to do this all accurately, generally speaking newer models do a better job of this focus tracking than older models. It’s a useful feature for shooting moving objects, but again more with faster cameras than slower older ones.

AI Focus mode.
In this mode the camera starts in One-Shot mode but switches automatically to the AI Servo mode if it detects subject motion.

What camera setting should I use for a wedding? Landscape? Birthday party? (etc)

Unfortunately it doesn’t work like that. There are no magic settings and formulae for choosing camera settings. You have to learn what the various settings do - and the right time to use them - through experience.

For this reason I don’t recommend the basic (icon) modes if you’re interested in learning photographic technique. In the icon modes the camera makes all the decisions for you and you have no idea what internal settings it actually used. I’d recommend sticking to the four creative zone modes (P, Tv, Av and M) and reading up on photographic technique. Many libraries and bookshops have some excellent books that can help you with this. Many of them date back to the 70s and 80s, during the heyday of amateur photography, but the techniques they describe are still fundamentally applicable today.

What is exposure compensation?

The camera isn’t always right when determining the proper exposure for a photograph. Sometimes for technical reasons - the camera’s internal light meter might be fooled by a bright light, for example. And sometimes for artistic reasons - the camera is only a machine and doesn’t know what areas of a picture you consider particularly important.

So for that reason most EOS cameras have a way of overriding the exposure setting determined by the camera. This is quite often implemented via a rear command wheel which you can rotate to select the number of stops of light to be added or taken away from the camera’s default measurement. EOS cameras which lack a rear command wheel, such as low-end EOS models, usually allow you to apply exposure compensation by pressing a back-panel button and rotating the main command dial.

For example, since camera light meters assume you want everything to be a medium-light shade of grey it can be a real problem taking a photograph under bright conditions. The classic example is the photo of the white dog standing in white snow. A photographer might apply a stop or two of positive exposure compensation. This additional exposure time means that the dog and snow should appear white in the final photo, not grey.

Note that in addition to regular exposure compensation, which involves compensating for the metering of ambient light, most midrange and better EOS cameras also feature flash exposure compensation (FEC). FEC allows you to adjust the light output from a flash unit, and does so independently of the ambient light metering.

What is a custom function?

Canon’s midrange and pro cameras - as well as their best flash units - have custom functions, which are user-controlled settings that let you customize the camera somewhat and access special features. For example, some people like using first-curtain sync flash and some people prefer second-curtain sync flash. Many EOS cameras have a custom setting which lets you choose the option you prefer. None of Canon’s film consumer cameras have custom functions, though most consumer digital EOS bodies do.

Unlike digital cameras, which describe each custom function on-screen, all EOS film cameras just number their custom functions, so there’s no way of knowing what the various custom functions do without consulting the manual. Alternatively, maintains a list of all the custom functions for EOS cameras which have them.

I set a custom function but it has no effect. What’s wrong?

Custom function settings are ignored if the camera is in a basic (icon) mode. You have to turn the camera’s mode dial to one of the advanced or “creative” zone letter modes, such as P, Tv, Av or M. So if the camera exhibits its default behaviour (eg: using first curtain sync rather than the second curtain sync that you’ve set using a custom function) be sure to check which camera mode you’re in.

What is leader out on film cameras?

Normally film is spooled all the way back into the canister when a motordrive-equipped camera like an EOS film camera rewinds film. This is usually a good thing, as it’s then easy to identify the canister as being used.

However there are times when you might want to leave a tongue of film protruding from the canister when you rewind it. For example, perhaps you want to change rolls of film in the middle - maybe going from colour to black and white - and then you want to reload the partially used film later. If the film leader is out then this is pretty easy to do.

Most midrange and high-end EOS cameras have leader-out as a user-configurable option, set using a custom function. And, as custom functions are ignored in icon modes, this functionality only works in the creative (letter) modes.

How can you change films in the middle of a roll?

Nearly all EOS film cameras have a pushbutton or setting which causes the camera to rewind the film back into its canister immediately, even if the roll is not fully exposed. If there’s a button it’s usually recessed to avoid accidental pressing and is marked with a film canister with two arrows pointing into it. A few older EOS cameras require bizarre antics to rewind midroll, such as removing the lens, setting the camera to ISO and pressing the two back buttons.

However, unlike APS, 35mm film has no way to record the total number of shots used on a roll. There is no automatic way to switch films midroll and have the shot count recorded if you’re using a 35mm film camera. So if you decide to rewind a roll of film midway through for later use then you will have to write down the framecount so you don’t double-expose the film. Black fine-tipped indelible markers are good for this - you can write this number directly onto the canister itself.

To reload the film to the correct position use the following procedure.

Most modern EOS cameras use infrared diode positioning systems and are extremely accurate in aligning the film when you load it. So you shouldn’t need to shoot one additional blank frame to make sure there’s no overlap between the last frame shot the first time through and the first frame shot the second time through. However, if you have an older EOS camera with an electromechanical frame counter then you may need to add a blank frame for safety purposes. Check my article on infrared photography to see which type of film positioning system your camera uses.

Camera features and accessories.

What is mirror lockup?

Nearly all SLRs use a flip-up mirror mechanism. When you take a photo the mirror flips up out of the way to expose the film or digital image sensor. Unfortunately this mirror motion induces slight vibrations in the camera, which can result in slight blurring appearing in the photo, particularly with extremely long telephoto lenses. Cameras contain foam bumpers to reduce this mirror slap, but some vibration is inevitable in a moving reflex mirror camera.

The simple solution to avoid blur caused by mirror slap is to flip up the mirror, wait at least a second or two to let the vibrations die down and then take the photo. There are two basic ways that cameras can do this.

Some cameras offer true mirror lockup. Such cameras let you flip up the mirror whenever you like. They may be purely mechanical mirror lock mechanisms or they may be electro-mechanical. Most of Canon’s high-end cameras offer true mirror lockup.

Other cameras offer what’s often known as mirror pre-fire. These cameras flip up the mirror a couple of seconds before taking the picture when the camera is in self-timer mode but don’t let you lock up the mirror at will. Most of Canon’s midrange cameras offer mirror prefire in conjunction with the self-timer or an infrared remote control.

Obviously there’s a significant drawback to mirror lockup - you can’t look through the viewfinder when the mirror is locked up. For that reason mirror lockup is really only used in slow-paced picture-taking conditions, such as landscape photography when using a tripod, and so on. Canon are also notorious for hiding mirror lockup or prefire access in the camera custom function area, which makes it inconvenient and slow to access. (unless your camera has a C mode on the command dial) However, don’t worry unduly if your camera lacks the feature. For most applications it doesn’t make a massive difference in camera blurring, and Canon cameras have fairly well-damped mirrors.

What is a pellicle mirror?

As noted above, most SLRs contain moving reflex mirrors which flip up to let light from the lens expose the surface of the film or the digital image sensor. However some SLRs use fixed mirrors instead. Canon have made a number of such cameras over the years - the EOS RT and EOS 1N RS being the most recent models. Canon have never made a digital EOS body with a pellicle mirror.

These cameras have “pellicle” mirrors which are essentially fixed half-silvered mirrors which send some light up to the viewfinder while passing the rest through to the shutter. The result is a camera which can shoot instantly with no mirror blackout time - perfect for sports and action photography - and no need for mirror lockup. The drawbacks are less light reaching the film, a dimmer viewfinder and the need to keep the mirror scrupulously clean at all times. Such cameras are fairly specialized pieces of equipment and not used by most photographers.

What is meant by a bright or dim viewfinder?

Very simply this refers to the amount of light reaching your eye when you look through the camera’s viewfinder. High-end Canon cameras tend to have very bright and clear viewfinders. Cheaper Canon cameras tend to have dimmer viewfinders, almost as if a brightness knob has been turned down.

Obviously bright viewfinders are better than dim ones, as they make it easier to see your scene for focussing and composing. Unfortunately, bright viewfinders also require large glass pentaprisms (see below). Canon’s cheaper cameras have either smaller prisms or roof mirror systems.

What is a pentaprism? A roof mirror?

The key feature of the SLR camera is the ability for the photographer to look through the viewfinder and see directly out of the taking lens, and a clever optical trick is required to make this possible. The traditional approach is to use a large solid glass prism to reflect incoming light from the lens and project it up into the viewfinder. This prism is known as a pentaprism because it has five sides through which light passes or is reflected. The pentaprism is also the reason why SLR cameras have large angular humps on the top.

While it may seem obvious today, the pentaprism was quite a breakthrough when it was introduced with the 1949 Contax S camera. Before the advent of the pentaprism, camera viewfinders usually displayed laterally reversed and/or upside-down images.

While pentaprisms work quite well there is one drawback associated with them - they’re solid blocks of heavy and expensive optical glass. For that reason Canon, starting with the Rebel X/EOS 500 series of cameras, began putting hollow mirror systems into their consumer EOS cameras rather than pentaprisms. This has the advantage of making the camera considerably lighter in weight and lower in profile, but also has the drawback of creating a dimmer viewfinder, since mirrors are less efficient at reflecting light than prisms.

What is a viewfinder shutter or cover for?

High-end Canon SLRs have a flip-down lever by the viewfinder that lets a mechanical shutter swing down and physically cover off the back of the viewfinder so you can’t look through it anymore. Canon SLRs which lack this feature usually ship with a detachable plastic or rubber cover either attached or built into the camera strap.

What’s this for? Well, the light metering sensors in an SLR are located inside the top hump of the camera as part of the viewfinder assembly. They record light levels inside the viewfinder. And when you’re peering through the viewfinder then most of the light entering the camera is coming in through the lens. However, when you’re not looking through the viewfinder (thereby physically blocking it) then light can enter the camera from the viewfinder itself, throwing off the light meter. This is particularly a problem if you’re using the camera on a tripod in self-timer mode.

Viewfinder shutters, therefore, reduce the risk of metering error from stray light entering the viewfinder. So they’re only useful in automated exposure modes. If you’re shooting in manual metering mode then the shutter isn’t needed since it’s you, not the camera, who’s setting both shutter speed and aperture. Note that there’s no risk of this stray light affecting the film or image sensor at all - it can’t make its way past the flipped-up mirror. It only affects metering.

Of course you can use anything on hand to block this stray light if you lose the viewfinder cover. You could put a hat over the back of the camera, say. Kodak’s black 35mm film canister lids fit neatly over a lot of EOS camera viewfinders as well, though Fuji’s don’t (partly because they’re translucent white and partly because they don’t fit).

What is dioptric correction?

Many people who wear glasses don’t like wearing them when they look through the viewfinder. The glass bumps up against the eyecup, so you can’t get your eyes close to the viewfinder. This makes it hard to see the entire image, particularly with EOS cameras which are notorious for not having the greatest viewfinders in this regard.

But obviously if your eyes require corrective lenses then you won’t be able to look through the viewfinder if you take your glasses off. At least not if you couldn’t adjust the focus of the viewfinder itself. This is what dioptric correction does - it lets you adjust the viewfinder so that spectacles-wearing photographers can see through it sans glasses. Cameras with built-in dioptric correction have tiny dials or sliders located next to the viewfinder. Moving these controls adjust the viewfinder focus point.

Note that you aren’t out of luck if your camera lacks such correction facilities and you want it. Canon sell small add-on lenses which clip directly onto the viewfinder of most EOS models. These dioptres are available in a variety of strengths to suit different eye prescriptions.

Personally, as a glasses-wearing person, I don’t find dioptric adjustment very useful. I’d be much happier if Canon cameras would simply accommodate eyeglasses wearers better by altering the exit pupil of the viewfinder such that you don’t have to jam your face right up against the viewfinder to see everything. Dioptric correction means that you have to take your glasses off to look in the camera, put them back on to see the world, take them off again, etc. Still, many people do find dioptric adjustment very useful. You’re probably best off trying the camera in a shop to see what works best for you.

It’s really easy to bump the dioptre adjustment dial or slider on a camera, so if everything looks out of focus through the viewfinder, check for that.

What is depth of field preview?

When you look through the viewfinder of a Canon EOS camera - or just about any modern SLR - you’re looking through the lens when the aperture is set to its widest setting. This means as much light as possible is coming through, which makes it easier to see the scene and focus and so on.

However, depth of field is at its shallowest when the lens is wide open. So if you want to get a sense of the depth of field that will result from some other aperture setting you need to close the lens down physically to that setting. The depth of field preview button available on most Canon EOS cameras does just this.

Unfortunately the differences in depth of field between various settings can be hard to make out in the viewfinder itself. So all the DOF preview button usually does is to make things look darker. And if you’re shooting in low light conditions, making the viewfinder darker may mean you can hardly see anything at all. So DOF preview buttons, while they have their uses, are of somewhat limited value.

What is eye-control focus (ECF)?

Eye-control focus is a technology unique to some Canon EOS film cameras that lets the camera track what you’re looking at in the viewfinder so it can select the nearest focus point automatically.

ECF works as follows. A series of tiny infrared LEDs (light emitting diodes) shine harmless infrared energy onto your eyeball as you peer through the viewfinder. Light sensors record the infrared reflecting off your eye and calculate the focus point. A computer in the camera then examines this data and decides which of the focus points is closest to that point and selects it. If the camera is in AI Servo mode then it will also adjust focus automatically based on that selected point.

ECF is thus a very complex technology which involves a lot of different factors. And, needless to say, it works well for some people and not well at all for others. Each ECF-capable camera must be calibrated for each user, but even thorough calibration (you need to run through calibration at least a half dozen times or more before things will be set up properly) is no guarantee that ECF will necessarily work for a given person. Reliability of ECF depends also on the speed of the eye scanner. The EOS A2E/5, the first cameras to use ECF, were fairly slow at selecting the correct focus point. The EOS 3 and the Elan 7E/EOS 30/7, by contrast, have faster computers and so respond more quickly. Interestingly, the 1V (Canon’s last film camera) does not support ECF. Canon have stated that this is because they wanted the 1V to work 100% of the time, and that ECF does not attain that level of reliability.

Some people use ECF a lot and consider it a very useful feature; almost magic. (look at something and it goes in focus!) Others find it a pointless gimmick that doesn’t work reliably. At time of writing Canon have not released any digital cameras with the feature, so it seems likely to be an abandoned technology.

What is a cross sensor?

There are two basic configurations of autofocus sensors used in SLR cameras. Linear sensors detect lines in one direction only - usually just vertical lines, though some camera sensors, such as the EOS 10/10s outer sensors, can detect only horizontal lines. Others, known as cross or cross-shaped sensors, can detect both vertical and horizontal lines. With their higher sensitivity, cross sensors are considerably more accurate than linear sensors, particularly in lower-light conditions. Some cross sensors are also high-precision sensors (see below).

Many EOS cameras with multiple focus points have a cross sensor as the central point and vertical-line sensors as the other points. So in challenging focus situations it’s usually best to switch manually to the centre sensor so you get the full benefits of the cross. Note that the first generation of EOS cameras (600 series) and most early Rebel/three or four digit film cameras do not have cross sensors. A few recent digital cameras have all cross sensors for faster focus.

Autofocus doesn’t work very well when it’s dark. What can I do?

Low-light autofocus is quite a challenge for any camera that uses a passive autofocus system, like all EOS cameras. Passive autofocus means that the camera simply looks through the lens and reads whatever’s there - it doesn’t send out infrared or sound or light or radar beams or whatever to determine the correct focus distance. (the AF assist systems used by most Canon cameras and flash units don’t change this, since the lights are optional assist systems and are not required by the autofocus system)

Generally speaking the more expensive the camera the better the autofocus. There are exceptions to this, but it’s a reasonably accurate predictor of how good AF is going to be when light levels are lower. So a top of the line EOS 1D mark IV is going to have wildly better low-light autofocus than an EOS 1000D consumer camera, for example.

One way to get a sense of the camera’s low-light AF performance is to look at its specifications. Light levels for AF systems are measured in exposure values (EV), and autofocus systems have their light sensitivity levels expressed as a range of EV. A good camera can autofocus from 0-20 EV. A consumer camera can usually only manage 2-20EV, which means that it needs more light at the dimmer end of the scale to work properly.

There are several things you can do to help your camera with its low-light AF performance.

Which EOS cameras can use split circle viewfinder screens?

Back in the 1960s and 70s microprism viewfinders were common in SLRs. These were special viewfinder screens containing tiny prisms on the surface. These prisms would break up the surface of out of focus areas, making it easier to focus. A later innovation was the split circle (split prism) viewfinder. Such viewfinder screens featured a circle, bisected by a usually horizontal line, in the centre of the screen. To focus the camera you would find a high-contrast vertical line (eg: edge of a wall, a tree trunk) and look at it through the viewfinder. You would then adjust the focus until the line appeared unbroken in the split circle. Split circles worked quite well, but had two notable drawbacks. First, you needed to find a straight line to focus on and second, the image in the circle tended to black out when used with very slow lenses. There were also combination viewfinders with split circles in the centre and a ring (collar) of microprisms.

Sadly, most camera makers ditched these convenient manual focus aids with the advent of autofocus in the late 1980s, apparently on the assumption that autofocus is so fabulous that you’ll never need to focus manually again. And worse yet, most EOS cameras do not have interchangeable focus screens. There are, therefore, only a handful of EOS camera models to which split circle viewfinder screens can be added. These cameras are listed below. All other EOS cameras cannot use a split-circle viewfinder.

The following cameras had or have interchangeable viewfinder screens, and Canon make or made a variety of optional screens for these cameras, including split circle screens. Some also have third party screens available from American makers; Reflexite Beattie Intenscreen being one and Brightscreen being another - though note that these makers do not necessarily support all of the cameras listed below.

EOS 600 series (650, 620, 600/630, RT), EOS 1 series (1, 1N, 1N RS, 1V, 1D, 1Ds, 1D mark II, 1Ds mark II, 1D mark IIN), EOS 3.

The following EOS cameras have interchangeable focus screens, but Canon never made a split circle screen for them. Not sure why - presumably because Canon never designed their metering systems to accommodate a split prism, which is a shame. The Beattie Intenscreens for Canon EOS cameras are Canon screens with Beattie’s custom coatings, so you can’t buy a split circle from them either. There are third party screens for the EOS 5D, however.

EOS 5/A2/A2E, EOS 5D

The following camera was not sold as an EOS camera, but was a stripped-down Rebel/1000 without the ability to autofocus. Since it was a manual focus camera it shipped with a split circle viewfinder:


The following cameras do not have officially interchangeable viewfinder screens, but by happy coincidence have viewfinder screens of precisely the same size and dimensions as the long-discontinued EF-M (ie: they were all built around the same basic mirror box chassis design). As a result it’s fairly easy to remove the stock laser matte screen and replace it with an EF-M screen. For information on making this change have a look at my split circle screen page.

EOS Rebel/1000 series (EOS 1000, EOS 1000F, EOS 1000F QD, EOS Rebel, EOS Rebel S, EOS Rebel S Quartz Date, EOS 1000 QD, EOS 1000N, EOS 1000FN, EOS 1000FN QD, EOS Rebel II, EOS Rebel S II, EOS 1000S QD and EOS 1000S QDP), EOS 100/Elan. (possibly others)

The following digital cameras do not officially have interchangeable viewfinder screens according to Canon, but have third party focus screens available from two separate American entrepreneurs - Katz-Eye and Haoda Fu. These add-on screens give you a split-circle manual focus assist with, on some versions, a microprism collar. I have not tried the Katz-Eye products, but I have a review of a Fu viewfinder on this site.

EOS 10D, 20D, 300D/Digital Rebel/Kiss Digital, 350D/Digital Rebel XT/Kiss Digital N

How good are EOS cameras and lenses for manual focus work?

That depends on the model. EOS cameras and lenses are all completely optimized for autofocus operation. You can go into manual-focus mode at any time (only a couple of really old cheap EF lenses lack manual focus rings) on any EOS camera, but it’s not always an easy thing.

This is because EF lenses generally have very short throws, which makes precise focussing by hand fiddly. (this was done deliberately, since lenses with short throws can autofocus more quickly than those with long throws) It’s also because most EOS cameras do not have interchangeable finder screens and the screens that the cameras ship with lack any form of focussing aid, as mentioned in the previous section.

But there is one way out in the case of recent digital cameras with Live View capabilities. Live View lets you zoom in quite a bit, making manual focus easy and precise. It doesn’t work in near-dark conditions, but under ordinary lighting, Live View can be a manual focus lifesaver.

What does it mean that Canon professional cameras are high-precision and optimized for fast lenses?

Canon’s high-end EOS cameras (those with 1 digital model numbers) contain high-precision cross sensors. These are autofocus sensors which focus three times more accurately than the standard sensors found in other camera models. The drawback is that they require very fast lenses to work. If you put a slower lens onto one of these cameras then the cross sensors revert to linear sensors which detect lines in one direction only. The upshot is that putting a slow lens on one of these cameras is a bad idea as you’re not taking full advantage of its capabilities.

Is this a big deal? Should you be worried that your non-high-end EOS camera has only standard precision autofocus sensors? Well, if you’re shooting under conditions of very narrow depth of field all the time - extreme macro photography or really long telephoto lenses - then using a pro camera can help you autofocus more accurately. But if you’re doing normal photography then you probably won’t notice a difference.

What is the advantage of a rear control dial (QCD)? Why doesn’t mine work?

Most EOS midrange and pro cameras have thumb-operated rotating dials on the back panel. These command dials are a very popular feature as they let you adjust both aperture and shutter speed with one hand when in manual mode and let you adjust exposure compensation in P, Tv and Av modes, again with one hand. This dial is also known as a QCD, or Quick Control Dial.

Cameras which lack this rear dial have a back-panel shift button. You have to press this button while rotating the main index-finger-operated dial to adjust the second function, which is considerably less convenient.

The 580EX and 580EX II flash units also have such a rear control dial, which makes it easier and quicker to adjust flash exposure compensation and other functions.

If your camera has a rear control dial and it doesn’t seem to work it’s likely that it isn’t turned on. Most EOS cameras with rear dials have small on/off switches next to the dials which allow you to disable the dial so it doesn’t get nudged accidentally. Some EOS cameras have a three position power switch - off, on with the rear dial off, and on with the rear dial on.

What are add-on handgrips for?

Many EOS cameras can have optional handgrips added to their bases, and a few (notably 1-series digital cameras) have large handgrips permanently attached. These handgrips serve a number of different functions.

What is the advantage of a removable camera back on film cameras?

Certain EOS film cameras, mainly the high-end pro models, have interchangeable backs. This feature lets you remove the camera back which shipped with the camera and install a different back instead.

For example, you could swap your regular camera back out for one with more sophisticated timer functions, such as the Command Back E1 for EOS 1 and 1N cameras. Or you could add a Quartz Date Back E to an EOS 630 to get date printing. Professional photographers sometimes install Polaroid film backs so that they can get instant previews of complex lighting situations.

None of Canon’s current low or mid-range film cameras support interchangeable camera backs. None of the digital cameras have interchangeable backs for obvious reasons and neither are their electronics upgradeable.

Should I get a date back film camera?

Personally I don’t think that film date backs are a useful feature, because all Canon EOS 35mm cameras with date printing will print this information on the visible portion of the negative - in the lower right-hand corner of the final print or slide. This is great for identifying what day you took a snapshot or keeping track of research photos on an expedition, say, but it’s also really ugly-looking, as the print will obscure part of the image. And, just like VCRs with their flashing time displays, people always seem to forget how to change the clock and end with piles of photos with the wrong date or time on them.

Sadly no Canon EOS cameras have the ability to print the date between frames on the negative. Models with date capabilities are typically identified as “QD” (for Quartz Date) or “DATE” in the product name. EOS consumer cameras marketed in Japan, however, nearly all ship with date-printing as standard feature, as it’s apparently considered a desirable function there. You can, of course, turn date-printing off if you don’t want to use it.

The exceptions to this problem of printing dates on the image are Canon’s APS cameras and the digital cameras. APS cameras record date information to a magnetic strip on the film, so you can request the date be printed on the back side of the photograph when you have it developed. Digital cameras record the date and other shooting data along with each picture, but the data is stored separately (as EXIF data) and so does not appear on the actual image.

The only camera for which I recommend the date version is the Rebel Ti/EOS 300V/Kiss 5. For some reason the date version of this camera supports the optional wireless remote control, whereas the non-date version does not. So if you’re looking to get this camera I recommend the date version for that reason alone - wireless remotes are great.

Of course, if you think there might be a chance you’d want date printing then you should make sure your camera has the feature when you buy it. Aside from a handful of exceptions listed above, most EOS cameras do not have interchangeable backs, which means you can’t add date printing capabilities later on.

What types of remote controls are there?

Remote shutter releases are an essential part of every photographer’s toolkit. They let you take photos without touching the camera, which can be important if you’re using a tripod and want to avoid camera blur, particularly in bulb mode. And they let you trigger the camera at some distance from it.

All EOS cameras use either wired electric shutter releases (wires with simple pushbutton switches on the end) or wireless infrared shutter releases or both. The old style mechanical shutter releases (sort of like bicycle cables with plungers) are not supported, though if you really miss them you can buy the Canon Cable Release Adapter T3 (see below).

Canon have included three basic types of wired connectors with their EOS cameras over the years. This isn’t really a beginner question per se, but here for completeness:

T3 connectors.

The first EOS cameras, the 600 series, did not ship with shutter release sockets but had optional handgrips (GR-20 handgrips) which had plugs for shutter releases of the T3 variety. Several other EOS models of the late 80s and early 90s - notably the 1, 1N and 5/A2/A2E - shipped with T3 connectors built in. A few - notably the Elan/100, the 10/10s and the Rebel/1000 line - lacked support for any kind of wired shutter release at all.

T3 connectors are a proprietary electrical connector and are not supported by anyone but Canon. And sadly they’re fiddly and annoying to deal with, especially if you’re trying to fit a shutter release to your camera in the dark, as they’re tricky to thread on.

Cameras which have T3 connectors:

T90, EOS 650, 620, 630/600, (all EOS 600 series cameras require the GR-20 grip) 750, 850, 1, RT, 5/A2/A2E, 1N, 1NRS.

T3 accessories:

Remote Switch 60-T3 (or RS-60T3). A simple wired remote with a 60 cm cord.

Extension Cord ET-1000T3. A 10 metre (33 foot) extension cord for T3 releases.

Cable Release Adapter T3. A device with a switch on the end of a short length of cable which adapts old-style mechanical shutter releases to all EOS cameras with T3 wired connectors.

Remote Switch Adapter T3. An adapter cable for adapting old-style Canon TM-1 shutter releases (the kind used on really old manual-focus FD mount cameras) to T3-equipped cameras.

Wireless Controller Set LC-3. A staggeringly expensive wireless infrared shutter release system for T3-equipped cameras, consisting of a separate transmitter and receiver. 100 metre range.

2.5 mm miniplugs.

Most midrange EOS cameras since the mid 90s and consumer EOS cameras since the late 90s come with standard 2.5mm (3/32" in the USA) audio three-connector sockets for remote shutter releases. These connectors, named “E3” by Canon, are handy since they’re commonly available and thus homemade shutter releases (see below) can easily be made. You can also make an extension cord for this type of connector as well - just get a headset extension cord for a cellular phone which uses 2.5mm stereo plugs. The downside is that the tiny plugs are a little fragile and do not lock, which means they can come unplugged easily by mistake.

Cameras which use 2.5mm miniplugs:

EOS 50/50E/55/Elan II/IIE, EOS 30/33/7/Elan 7/Elan 7E, EOS 30V/33V/7S/Elan 7N/Elan 7EN, EOS 500/Rebel X/XS/Kiss, EOS 500N/Rebel G/New Kiss, EOS 5000/888, EOS 3000N, 66, Rebel XS N, EOS 300/Rebel 2000/Kiss III, Kiss IIIL, EOS 300V/Rebel Ti/Kiss 5, IX, IX 7, IX Lite, EOS 300D/Digital Rebel/Kiss Digital, EOS 350D/Digital Rebel XT/Kiss N Digital, Canon EOS 400D / Digital Rebel XTi / Kiss Digital X, Canon EOS 450D / Digital Rebel XSi / Kiss Digital X2, Canon EOS 500D / Digital Rebel T1i / Kiss Digital X3, Canon EOS 550D / Digital Rebel T2i / Kiss Digital X4, Canon EOS 1000D / Digital Rebel XS / Kiss F Digital, EOS 60D.

2.5mm miniplug accessories:

Remote Switch RS60-E3. A simple wired remote with a 60 cm cord. Two position button with optional lock feature for long exposure (bulb) photos. Note that there is a minor naming inconsistency between the RS60-E3 and its sibling, the RS-80N3.

N3 connectors.

High end EOS cameras now ship with N3 connectors in lieu of T3 connectors. Like their predecessors they’re proprietary Canon-only connectors, but they’re less of a pain to use and are lockable. They’re not as fun as 2.5mm plugs since you can’t just go down to your local Radio Shack and buy a connector for purposes of playing around, but they are sturdier connectors in general and can’t get pulled out by mistake.

Cameras which use N3 connectors:

EOS 3, 1V, 1D, 1Ds, D30, D60, 10D, 1D mark II, 1D mark III, 1D mark IV, 1Ds mark II, 1Ds mark III, 20D, 20Da, 30D, 40D, 50D, 5D, 5D mark II, 7D.

N3 accessories:

Canon Remote Switch RS-80N3. A simple wired remote with an 80 cm cord. Two position button with optional lock feature for long exposure (bulb) photos. Note that there is a minor naming inconsistency between the RS-80N3 and its sibling, the RS60-E3.

Extension Cord ET-1000N3. An incredibly expensive 10 metre (33 foot) extension cord for N3 releases.

Remote Switch Adapter RA-N3. A cable adapter which converts old T3 accessories for use with N3 camera bodies.

Timer Remote Controller TC-80N3. A handheld wired remote with a computerized timer and a backlit LCD screen. This feature-packed remote gives you all kinds of self-timer options including normal timers from 1 second to nearly 100 hours, an interval timer and so on.

Wireless Controller Set LC-4 and LC-5. These are both staggeringly expensive wireless infrared shutter release system for N3-equipped cameras, consisting of a separate transmitter and receiver. 100 metre range. The LC-4 is basically the LC-3 with an N3 connector attached instead of a T3 one.

The LC-5, introduced in 2005 in conjunction with the EF-S 60mm macro lens, is a minor upgrade to the LC-4. It adds what Canon call a one-shot release mode (1SR) which triggers the camera when a subject walks into range of a prefocussed camera. It can also wake a camera which has gone into low-power sleep mode. It’s odd that Canon chose to release the LC-5 in conjunction with the EF-S macro lens, since only one camera body at the time - the 20D - could use both products. The LC-5 also isn’t something that confers huge advantages to macro photography - a wired remote is usually just as good for this.

Third party shutter releases:

For years Canon were the only maker of EOS-compatible shutter releases. But in 2003 or so a Chinese firm based in Hong Kong, Adidt Tenologies (sic), produced a line of EOS-compatible products. Their M1 series is basically an RS-80N3 clone and consists of a simple handheld switch remote sold as three different products - with 2.5mm (M1-C1), T3 (M1-C2) or N3 (M1-C3) plugs. As one might expect, these products are a matter of getting what you pay for. They’re much cheaper than the equivalent Canon products but they’re also not as sturdily made. I have a more detailed review of these remotes. Note that more recently Adidt have produced a more interesting and innovative product, the R3 series of wireless remotes. These remotes use radio frequency (RF) signals rather than infrared, meaning you get much better range (up to 100 metres with one version) and you don’t need line of sight. They also have keychain pocket transmitters.

Oddly enough, it seems other companies have decided that there’s a huge market for Canon-compatible remotes, as since Adidt’s entry into the marketplace, two other firms have released remote products. One, Nova Photography, is another Chinese firm selling cloned switches that closely resemble the Canon RS-80N3 product. The other, Seculine, is a Korean firm selling a video viewfinder for SLR cameras. They sell an advanced version, the ZigView R, which has a number of interesting features, such as intervalometer timing, motion sensor shutter release (an animal moves into the field of view, for example), bulb release and so on.

Homemade fun:

It’s also a fun, albeit nerdy, hobby project to build your own remote transmitter. Since the Canon remote release circuit is extremely simple - two momentary normally-open single-pole switches - it’s simple to construct a homemade release that does the same thing.

I’ve built one myself using a radio-frequency remote kit. This consisted of a largeish box with relays which hooked up to the camera and a small pocket digital remote. I put a 2.5mm plug on it and then built a tiny 2.5mm socket into a Canon RS-80N3 remote. This way I can plug my radio remote receiver into any Canon camera that uses a 2.5mm socket or an N3 socket. You can also hook up cameras to infrared or laser tripwires to take wildlife photography (the animal effectively takes its own photo when it crosses the invisible beam of light!) and so on.

Should I get a wired or wireless shutter release?

Wired shutter releases use simple electrical wires with switches soldered to the end. Wireless shutter releases, on the other hand, work on the same principle as handheld remote controls for TV sets and other entertainment devices. They’re essentially small boxes which send pulses of digitally-encoded infrared energy, invisible to the human eye, through the air to the camera.

Most of Canon’s midrange cameras support both wired electric shutter releases and wireless infrared shutter releases. The wireless system is particularly convenient since the wireless receivers are built into the camera bodies and require no external receiver devices - you just need a tiny handheld transmitter to trigger the camera remotely.

Naturally there are pros and cons with buying the wired or wireless shutter releases for your camera, assuming your camera supports both. Which kind you need really depends on what you want to do, though since they’re fairly cheap as camera accessories go you might want to consider just buying one of each.

Wireless shutter releases:

Canon’s wireless shutter releases for consumer and midrange EOS cameras, the RC-1, RC-5 and RC-6, are miniature handheld devices powered by long-life lithium cells. They’re easily clipped to your camera’s neckstrap for portability and work only with certain EOS bodies designed to receive their signals, as listed below. (for more information on the two-piece LC-3, LC-4 and LC-5 wireless releases see the previous section)

Wireless releases are great for group photos when you need to be in the photo. You can set the camera to IR-receive mode, walk casually over to the rest of the group, press the wireless shutter remote in two-second timer mode, lower your hand and smile for the camera. No need to dash frantically over to the camera before its self-timer runs out or run long cables along the ground.

They’re also great for taking long time period exposures at night. When the camera is in bulb mode one press of the button opens the shutter and another press closes it. You can thus easily take bulb mode pictures without bumping the camera and blurring the picture.

The main drawbacks of the wireless system are as follows. First, the camera’s wireless receiver is built into the front of the body. This means that the wireless transmitters don’t work very well if you’re standing behind the camera. You can tape a piece of paper to the camera to reflect the infrared signal downwards, which sometimes helps, but it’s obviously not a great solution. Second, the IR receiver on earlier EOS cameras is mounted near the lens mount and is thus easily blocked by large lenses or lens hoods. Later cameras - the Kiss IIIL, the 30/33/7/Elan II/IIE and 300V/Kiss 5/Rebel Ti - have receivers mounted on the handgrips which makes them slightly less susceptible to this problem. Third, the cameras have time-out values linked to their IR receive modes. If you don’t take a photo within 5 minutes or so of setting the timer then the camera turns off its IR-ready mode, which limits its utility for certain applications. Fourth, Canon warn that the IR receivers are susceptible to interference from fluorescent lamps and may trigger inadvertently if brought too close to one, though I’ve never noticed this happening before. Finally, the transmitters are small and easily lost or broken, and have a range of just a few metres.

Despite these drawbacks, however, they’re really handy little devices and highly recommended for all EOS owners with cameras which can use them.

The main two Canon wireless transmitters compatible with midrange EOS cameras are the RC-1 and RC-5. The RC-1 is a small device about as big as a pack of chewing gum. It has a three position switch - off (lock), two-second delay and immediate release. You then press the release pushbutton to take a picture in either two-second delay mode (which can invoke mirror prefire on certain cameras) or immediately. The RC-5 is flatter and wider and, while intended for Canon’s point and shoot cameras, also works with infrared-compatible EOS cameras. It only has a two-second trigger mode, however, and cannot be set to fire immediately.

Note that there’s apparently also the RC-4, which seems to be a bit bigger than the RC-1 but with the limited feature set of the RC-5. I’ve never seen one and they appear to be available only in certain markets. So I don’t know for certain if it uses the same IR signals as the RC-1 and RC-5, as I’ve seen suggested.

One fun thing to experiment with is that some learning remotes for TVs and VCRs happen to support the same infrared control pulses as Canon’s camera remotes. It’s probably not immensely useful, as home entertainment remotes are fairly large, but it may turn out that you already have a camera remote sitting in your living room.

Wired shutter releases:

The RS-60E3 remote switch for low and midrange EOS cameras is more useful for taking photos when you’re behind the camera and don’t want or need to be in the picture. The cable is pretty short at 60cm, but can easily be extended with a cellular phone headset extension cable that has 2.5mm stereo plugs.

Unlike the wireless releases the wired releases have two-position pushbuttons, so you can meter and focus by pressing halfway and then shoot by pressing the switch all the way.

Note that there are significant differences between the way cameras work when triggered by wired versus wireless shutter releases. EOSdoc have a convenient (if daunting) table listing how the EOS 30/33/7/Elan 7/7E works with these two remotes.

Cameras with support for wireless shutter releases:

EOS cameras with built-in wireless infrared receivers only and no wired shutter release sockets:
EOS 100/Elan, 10/10s.

EOS cameras with both built-in wireless infrared receivers and 2.5mm wired shutter releases:
EOS 50/50E/55/Elan II/IIE, IX, EOS 30/33/7/Elan 7/7E, Kiss 3L (Japan only) EOS 300V/Rebel Ti/Kiss 5, EOS 300D/Digital Rebel/Kiss Digital, EOS 350D/Digital Rebel XT/Kiss N Digital, EOS 30V/33V/7S/Elan 7N/7EN, Canon EOS 400D / Digital Rebel XTi / Kiss Digital X, Canon EOS 450D / Digital Rebel XSi / Kiss Digital X2, Canon EOS 500D / Digital Rebel T1i / Kiss Digital X3, Canon EOS 550D / Digital Rebel T2i / Kiss Digital X4, EOS 60D.

EOS cameras with both built-in wireless infrared receivers and N3 wired shutter releases:
EOS 5D mark II, EOS 7D.

Unfortunately, most of Canon’s semi-pro and pro cameras do not support wireless remotes directly. You can buy LC-3 and LC-4 receiver/transmitters for them, which give you ten times the range of the tiny remotes built into the midrange cameras, but those devices are extremely expensive and quite bulky.

What is an intervalometer?

A fancy name for an interval timer or time lapse timer. A normal self-timer will take a single photograph after a set period of time - usually 2 or 10 seconds. But what if you want to take a photo once every 5 minutes or once every hour? This is where interval timers come in handy. They are useful for taking photos of things which change over time, such as flowers opening up or the sun setting in the sky. On some cameras you can also combine the intervalometer with multiple exposures so you can take a single-frame photo showing the moon rising in the sky or the progress of a solar eclipse.

Only one EOS film camera shipped with a built-in intervalometer - the EOS 10/10s. However, you could add a Technical Back E to an EOS 600 series camera or the the Command Back E1 to an EOS 1, 1N or 1NRS. You can also buy an external intervalometer, the rather expensive Canon TC-80N3 (see above). This handheld device is compatible with all EOS cameras which use the N3 connector for remote shutter release.

There are add-on devices for hobbyists, scientists and other experimenters, such as the Digisnap line of products. Korean maker Seculine sell a video viewfinder for SLR cameras, the ZigView R, which has a number of interesting features including intervalometer timing.

Finally, nearly all digital EOS cameras can be controlled remotely by personal computers and can easily be set up in this fashion, though of course must remain tethered to the Mac or PC using a USB cable the whole time. In fact, digital cameras are perfect for intervalometer work since you don’t have the limitation of the length of a roll of film - you can keep filling up your computer hard drive with nearly endless photographs.

Camera problems.

I took a photo and stuff appears around the very edge of the photo that I didn’t see in the viewfinder. Why?

Only top of the line EOS cameras (mostly the 1 series cameras ) have 100% coverage for optical viewfinders. All other EOS cameras have lesser amounts of coverage - typically 92% or 90%. So it’s possible that things at the very periphery of the picture may not be visible in your camera’s viewfinder.

Canon do this because 100% viewfinders require larger, heavier and costlier pentaprisms or mirrors. Normally it’s not a big problem, though. Photo labs tend to crop images slightly when printing and slide mounts tend to cover the edges of slide film.

However, if you use a digital EOS camera remember that the back panel preview screen has basically 100% coverage of your shots.

My camera says it can go from f/1 to f/91. Why won’t it?

The aperture range of any camera/lens combination is determined entirely by the optical properties of the lens and not the camera.

The aperture range of a camera is very wide so that the camera can be used with a wide range of lenses. But if you’ve got a lens that has a maximum aperture of f/3.5 then that’s the maximum aperture you’re going to get. Trying to set the camera to f/1.8 will do no good at all.

The same goes for the minimum aperture setting. Most EF-compatible lenses have a minimum aperture setting of f/22 or f/32 (though this value is not printed on the outside of the lens) and can’t go to f/64 or anything like that.

There are black specks in my viewfinder! I got fingerprints on the mirror! What can I do?

First of all, remember that dust in the viewfinder and fingerprints on the mirror do not affect picture quality in any way. When any SLR takes a photograph the mirror is flipped up out of the way and light passes through the lens and strikes the film directly. Viewfinder dust is merely an irritant when you use your camera. In theory heavy marks on the mirror could affect accurate metering and autofocussing, but it probably won’t make a difference unless the contamination is really severe.

Second, all the internal components of the camera are extremely fragile. Mirror coatings and viewfinder screens in particular are extremely delicate and very easily scratched. If you’re a beginner you’re probably best off taking your camera to a repair shop and having a professional clean it - it probably won’t cost much at all, if anything. Don’t use solvents, since the finder screens are made of etched plastic. Viewfinder specks are frequently caused by dust particles on the top side (ie: inside surface) of the viewfinder screen. Since most EOS cameras have viewfinder screens that aren’t meant to be user-removable you have to be extremely careful when messing around with them.

In short, don’t worry about it unless it really bothers you. Being overly fastidious about camera condition is a great way to waste a lot of time, but doesn’t help actual photography at all. Keep your lens glass clean, though!

Having said all this, however, if you see small dark spots on your digital photos or on the back panel preview screen, then it means you’ve got a speck of dust on the image sensor.

My film camera’s back flexes slightly when I squeeze it. Is this a problem?

Nope. Many low to midrange EOS film cameras have a bit of creaking flex to their backs. It doesn’t feel particularly reassuring but isn’t a sign of pending failure or low quality or anything else really. Nothing to worry about.

My lens is slightly wobbly when attached to the camera. Is this normal?

A very slight amount of play between the lens and the camera body is normal, yes. When the lens is locked into position you often will be able to rotate it in either direction by a tiny amount, particularly on less expensive EOS cameras. You should not, however, be able to rock it back and forth - the lens barrel mount and the camera body mount should remain precisely parallel. But a minute amount of rotational lens play is really not important.

The camera is turned off and yet the screen on the top is still on. Why?

This is normal with EOS film cameras. If you’ve got film loaded into the camera then the top-deck LCD panel will display the current frame count even when the camera is off so you don’t have to turn the camera on just to see how much film is left. This is why Canon called the “off” position on the command dial “L” for “lock” for many years - the camera is still technically powered on, just in a low-power mode.

This does of course consume battery power. But don’t worry about it unless you’re planning on leaving your camera in storage for some prolonged period of time - months or years. Consider digital wristwatches - they display stuff on their screens on an even tinier battery for very long periods of time too.

Why does my camera click faintly when I tilt it?

A few EOS cameras, notably the EOS A2E/5 and the 10D, contain a position sensor that detects whether the camera is being held normally (landscape orientation) or vertically (portrait). This sensor is used by different things depending on the camera - the ECF system (the A2E/5 has ECF which works only in landscape mode), the evaluative metering system (to determine whether there’s bright sky at the top of the frame) and capture orientation (for digital cameras). The position sensor can make a faint clicking sound when you tilt the camera.

Why does my camera wind for so long when I first load a roll of film?

Your camera is probably a consumer-level (or Rebel series) film camera which uses a “safety prewind” system for loading film. This type of camera unspools the entire film from the canister when you first put it into the camera. As you shoot photos the film is then spooled back into the canister. When you reach the end of the roll the short length of film remaining is wound back into the canister, and you’re done.

This is advantageous since if you open the camera back inadvertently you will be exposing (and ruining) all the unused film. You might lose a frame or two, but the bulk of your photos will have been spooled back into the canister and are safely out of harm’s way. Not only that, but the camera’s LCD will always display the exact number of frames remaining on the roll - you don’t have to think and remember if you have a 24 exposure or 36 exposure roll in the camera and calculate the remaining shots from there.

All other EOS film cameras wind the traditional way - they spool the film out, shot by shot, and then rewind the film back into the canister when you’re done. This difference in film-spooling methods can be a problem if you want to exchange a partially shot roll of film between a consumer EOS camera and any other model.

My camera won’t load a roll of film. What can I do?

There are a few things you can consider.

Which EOS models are vulnerable to the problem of blank photos caused by a sticky (oily) shutter?

EOS film cameras made from the late 1980s to early 1990s are vulnerable - the 600 series, EOS 10/10s, 100/Elan, 1000/early Rebels, etc. All of these cameras have an internal foam rubber shutter bumper which deteriorates with time, turning into a black shiny glue-like oil which gums up the shutter blades. A stuck shutter will often result in blank or wildly underexposed photos being taken. In my experience the problem is exacerbated by high temperatures.

Unfortunately most of these oily shutters show up long after the warranty period has expired, so Canon will not replace the shutter for free. You have to clean the shutter yourself (see my brief article on the topic) or have it replaced at your expense.

Which EOS models are vulnerable to broken command or mode dials?

The EOS A2/A2E/5 are the models best known for this problem. The Elan/100 is also susceptible.

These film cameras have a design flaw in the main (top deck left) mode dial. The dial has a small central lock button which you must press down before turning the dial. Unfortunately the dial’s detent mechanism is held in place with two tiny plastic pins which are easily broken. If they break then the top dial simply freewheels and can’t be used for adjusting anything. Quite often the dial becomes stiffer to turn with age, increasing the pressure on the small pins.

Some people claim that this breakage problem is user error and that people must always remember to press the lock button down before turning the dial. While pressing the lock button before turning is important it also seems not to be the entire issue, as many users who claim to press the lock button religiously before turning the dial also experience breakage problems.

If your camera dial broke under warranty Canon will have replaced the entire top deck assembly which includes a new dial with allegedly slightly thicker pins. Many users report that the new dials break too, unfortunately. You can fix the problem yourself by replacing the pins with tiny screws if you’re extremely mechanically adept or you can pay Horizon Electronics, a popular repair shop, to do it for you. See also Jim Strutz’s EOSDoc article on the subject.

The built-in flash on my EOS 5/A2/A2E won’t pop up. What’s wrong?

This is a fairly common problem. The camera’s hotshoe has two small microswitches which detect the presence of a flash unit - or anything else - in the shoe. If either of these switches are depressed then the internal flash unit will not pop up. Unfortunately these switches can easily get stuck.

For more information on fixing this problem, which usually involves a couple minutes of work with a small Philips-head screwdriver, have a look at this post by Todd Fredrick.

What’s this about the EOS 3 having exposure problems?

Some early models of the EOS 3 had a firmware (internal computer program) bug which lead to the camera underexposing images by about 2/3 of a stop. Later models have revised firmware which fixes the problem. If you suspect your camera might be misbehaving in this fashion you can simply take your camera to Canon who can reprogram the camera without opening it up.

While this problem was real it should be noted that most EOS 3s don’t suffer from this problem. So by all means have your camera checked out if you notice real exposure problems on narrow-latitude films such as slide or infrared film, but don’t worry about it unduly otherwise.

Why does my camera lock up when I push the shutter release button?

If your camera locks up (ie: does not respond to any controls) after you press the shutter button then have a look at the following:

My camera displays “bC” or “Err 99” when I try to take a picture. What does this mean?

BC is an error condition in EOS film cameras, and means one of two things. It either means “battery check,” so try putting in a fresh battery, or it’s a general error condition of some type. If the battery is fine, have a look at the previous section for things to check, especially dirty lens contacts or lens compatibility problems with Sigma lenses. Error 99 is essentially the same error condition as BC, only on EOS digital cameras. The EOS D30 also had error codes 09 and 10, which are similar.

My camera displays “00” as the aperture setting. What does this mean?

A 00 aperture reading means that the camera can’t communicate with the lens electronics and so is operating in stop-down metering mode. There are a number of common reasons why this might appear.

Why does my camera’s date printing feature not work?

Is date printing turned off? If the date back LCD display shows “----” then no date information will be printed. Try pushing the MODE button on the camera back, if it has one, until it displays the date.

If the date back doesn’t respond at all then you may need to replace the battery. Most EOS film cameras with date capabilities use a tiny lithium CR2025 button cell to power the date back - they usually don’t use the camera’s main 2CR5 battery. (the 10QD being one exception)

Or you could do without - surely your photos look nicer without the date stamped all over the corner?


Part I - General.

Part III - Lenses.


- NK Guy,

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