Photography

Canon EOS Rebel S

I have growing doubts about my recent recommendation to first-time film shooters to pick up a 1990s Canon EOS body and lens. I’ve bought two in a row now that have failing or failed shutters. Maybe new film shooters should buy autofocus Nikons instead.

Which is a shame, really, because entry-level EOS cameras are a real pleasure to shoot. I like them better than their Nikon counterparts. No, aliens haven’t abducted me and replaced me with a double. I still prefer my 1970s metal, manual-focus SLRs, and nobody did those better than Nikon. But when I want easy breezy SLR shooting, these EOS Canons are hard to beat.

Canon EOS Rebel S

The EOS Rebel S (EOS 1000F outside North America) differs from the Rebel I reviewed last year only in that it has a built-in flash. Otherwise, these two SLRs share everything: a vertically-travelling shutter that operates from 30 sec. to 1/1000 sec., a hot shoe that syncs up to 1/90 sec. with compatible flashes, and various manual and automatic shooting modes. A 2CR5 battery powers it.

Canon EOS Rebel S

These Rebels, introduced in 1991, introduced a signature feature: when you load the film, the camera winds it all onto the takeup spool. Each time you fire the shutter, the camera rewinds one frame back into the film cartridge. The frame counter counts down accordingly. If you’ve ever forgotten to rewind film before opening an SLR and uttered the curse words that always follow such folly, you will appreciate this feature.

Canon EOS Rebel S

I loaded some Fujicolor 200, mounted my 35-80mm f/4-5.6 Canon EF lens, and headed to the Indiana State Fair with my 17-year-old son.

At the Fair

I twisted the Rebel S’s mode dial to P so it would choose every exposure setting for me, and shot with abandon. Other than wishing for a bigger, brighter viewfinder, the Rebel S handled flawlessly and I had a great time, just as I did with the non-S Rebel I shot last year.

Born in the USA

But only nine of the roll’s 24 photos turned out. The rest were mostly or entirely black, as the shutter did not open properly. Some sleuthing I did around the Net reveals that this is the number one fault with old Canon EOS cameras: the shutters just wear out. And the only way I know of to find out whether one of these cameras has failed in this way is to put a roll of film through it.

Leather handbags

But I’ll try again, and again if I must, to find a working, smaller EOS body. (I still have my older, slower, larger EOS 650 and EOS 630 bodies. Both work, but neither is nearly as fun to shoot as this Rebel S.) And why not try another? These cameras are dirt cheap right now. I bought this one from Used Photo Pro for just $13. It comes with a 180-day warranty, but it doesn’t seem worth the hassle to return it for just $13.

hats

And on the photos that did turn out, the colors were off and the dark areas were especially dark. Photoshop brought out shadow detail in the hat photo above, but couldn’t get the colors right on the inflatable cows below.

cows

I shot this whole roll in Program (P) mode, which chose aperture and shutter speed for me. If you like control over your exposure, you can choose aperture-priority (Av), shutter-priority (Tv), or metered manual (M) modes. There are also modes allegedly optimized for portraits, landscapes, closeups, and subjects in motion.

cow

To see the other few shots that turned out, check out my Canon EOS Rebel S gallery.

It is funny to me that among metal, manual-focus SLRs I’ve enjoyed every Nikon I’ve ever tried, but haven’t warmed to the Canons with the exception of the T70. Yet among plastic autofocus SLRs I enjoy Canons a lot more than Nikons overall excepting my fantastic N90s.

tl;dr: This is a fun camera, but beware getting one with a worn-out shutter.

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12 thoughts on “Canon EOS Rebel S

  1. Andy Umbo says:

    Back in the day, when I was managing a big studio, I converted all my 35mm fashion shooters to Canon cameras from Nikons when auto focus came in. Canon’s decision to redesign the lens (and incorporate the focusing motor into the lens), was just the right way to go, including make the f/stop setting a camera body function, so people that shot mostly strobe, like my crew, could set an f/stop and it would remain that for the whole zoom range, even in “floating f/stop zoom lenses!

    I can’t say I thought the bodies were as long-term dependable, but the cameras sure functioned way more elegantly than the Nikons, even the auto focus method seemed better and more intuitive.

    I used a series of lower end “prosumer” Canon auto focus cameras of the era myself (like the Rebel), and I have to say, they were all just perfect. As much as I love mechanical, metal, manual focus cameras of my “pro” youth, I am really surprised that place like KEH have some pretty high-end 2nd-gen Canon auto-focus film cameras for virtually nothing! I’ve seen A2’s, which were considered pretty high up the “pro” scale, for about 60 bucks in excellent shape! It really makes me want to buy another one!

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    • I did some sleuthing after receiving your comment and yes, you can pick up A2s for next to nothing. I wonder whether there will be a boomerang effect in 5-10 years and these will go for more again. Kind of like I could pick up Canonet QL17 G-IIIs for $30 10 years ago but holy wow not anymore.

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  2. A friend of mine that has worked in camera stores for quite a while pointed out that the problem with the shutters is that the foam used as a light baffle in the shutter mechanism turns to a gooey mess and infiltrates the curtains. Sure enough, I had a Rebel S that I picked up at a thrift shop that appeared to work, but on closer inspection, I could see the gummy stuff on the mechanism. So, it’s not so much that the shutters fail, they fail because they get gummed up by something else.

    Canon made millions of Rebels, so I suspect that later models may be less prone to this problem. However, they are cheap cameras, and you may want to look at an EOS Elan II…which I used for a while and really liked.

    Comparing something like the Nikon N2000 to a plasticky Rebel makes one appreciate the sturdy Nikon build. :)

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  3. What did you think of the lens? I have heard people complain about that kit lens over the years, however it looks like it did a good job for you. I guess these Rebels were never meant to last for a long time. I imagine that Canon would hope that once the problems with the shutter set in that most people would have moved on to the next generation.

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  4. Marcus Peddle says:

    People tell me that Canon has better colour than Nikon but that Nikon produces sharper photos. I don’t think I was ever very interesting in buying a Canon because of the design. Pudgy with sloped shoulders. Or something. They lack the sleekness of the Nikon SLRs. But that’s probably a silly reason not to choose a camera.
    You mentioned opening the back of a camera before rewinding the film. Man, I did that two days ago, possibly the first or maybe just second time I’ve ever done that. I was at the end of the roll as well, so probably a lot of the photos are ruined. Lots of people say not to enable auto-rewind on the Nikon F100 so I didn’t. I regret that. So I turned the feature on when I got home. Man . . . . Luckily, all the photos were landscapes near my home and I can go back any time to do them again.

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