As I’ve explored Canon’s EOS line of 35mm SLRs I’ve been curious about the higher-end bodies. And then a commenter mentioned how much he enjoyed the Canon EOS A2e he had when they were new. It’s a semi-pro body, crammed full of features at a sky-high price: $1,200 upon its 1992 debut. That’s equivalent to a little more than $2,000 today. So I went snooping around Used Photo Pro to see what they go for these days and found one for $27. That’s pennies on the dollar! I love a bargain, so I bought it.

Canon EOS A2e

This camera (called the EOS 5 outside the United States) is every bit as big and heavy as those early EOSes. But it works quickly and smoothly in straight-up shooting, so I met at least half of my goals.

Canon EOS A2e

The A2e features an electronic focal-plane shutter that operates from 30 sec. to 1/8000 sec. and shoots at 5 frames per second. The camera has all the modes you’d expect: programmed, aperture-priority, and shutter-priority autoexposure; full manual exposure; and special modes for macro, portrait, landscape, and sports.

Two dials control aperture and shutter speed. The usual one (among EOS cameras) behind the shutter button, and a big one on the camera back. In program mode, the first dial cycles through the aperture/shutter-speed combinations that yield good exposure. In aperture- and shutter-priority modes, it selects the aperture or shutter speed, respectively. Finally, in manual mode, it selects shutter speed while the big dial on the camera back selects aperture.

That big dial apparently controls other things, too, such as letting you choose among evaluative, center-weight average, and spot metering. But I didn’t plumb its depths. Actually, I avoided using it. It’s awkward to use while the camera is at your eye. The forums and reviews all over the Internet say it’s prone to failure anyway. I imagine this was a point of real frustration for people who relied on the camera back in the day. But for me, shooting casually, it was easy enough to stick to exposure modes that avoided needing to use the back dial.

Canon EOS A2e

You get two additional modes with the A2e. The clever DEP mode makes you focus twice, on something close and something far away; the A2e then ensures that everything in between is in focus and properly exposed. The Green Zone mode (the green rectangle on the mode dial) is similar to Program mode except that it blocks all adjustments, turning the A2e into a point-and-shoot SLR.

The A2e reads the DX coding on the film cartridge to set ISO from 25 to 5,000, or you can set it manually from 6 to 6,400.

The A2e also features eye-controlled focus — that’s the e in A2e. Canon’s EOS A2 is the same camera without this feature. The viewfinder contains five focus points. The camera tracks your eye, grabs the focus point closest to where you’re looking, and focuses there. Even after I set it up as the manual directs, I couldn’t make this feature work. I don’t care. It’s a gimmick feature that I wouldn’t use anyway.

If you enjoy Canon SLRs, also check out my reviews of the EOS Rebel (here), EOS Rebel S (here), EOS 630 (here), and EOS 650 (here). I’ve also reviewed a few earlier manual-focus Canon SLRs, including the FT QL (here), the TLb (here), the AE-1 Program (here), and the AL-1 (here). Or check out all of my camera reviews here.

I dropped in a 2CR5 battery and some Fujicolor 200. Then I mounted my 50mm f/1.8 Canon EF lens and headed out to shoot with this Canon EOS A2e. My first stop: the Episcopal church over on Meridian Street. The A2e performed well. Just look at the clarity and color it returned!

Red berries

It was early evening and light was fading. I was shooting in Program mode, and the A2e was giving me as much depth of field as it could in the available light — so much, I feared I’d get no bokeh. So I dialed in bigger apertures. I wound up with a very narrow in-focus patch on several shots. I should have backed off a stop or two.

Angel investor

But at medium and long distances, everything worked out fine. The A2e metered light brilliantly, returning fabulous, sensitive shadow detail in contrasty situations.

Church door

I can’t get over the great color I got. This is one of the first rolls of film I scanned on my flatbed scanner. I’m used to a certain greenish caste from Fujicolor 200, and I didn’t get it at all here. I did get more grain than I’m used to, though. I wonder if what I’m used to is Fujicolor 200 as scanned by the Noritsu scanners most labs seem to use. This is Fujicolor 200 as scanned by my Epson V300.

Autumn Iris

I put the A2e on a tripod and photographed this Belleek pitcher on my coffee table. Margaret and I visited the Belleek factory while we were in Ireland and bought a few pieces there for our home. I really enjoy shooting objects close up in low light, but many of my old cameras just don’t do it well. The A2e handled it like a pro.


Do you remember how when David Letterman enjoyed one of his guests, he’d invite him or her to stay past the commercial break? Do you remember how seldom it happened? It was a high compliment to the guest. Sort of like Letterman, I seldom test a camera beyond one roll of film. On that rare occasion I seriously enjoy one, I’ll go for a second roll. Upon finishing the Fujicolor, I immediately loaded some Kodak Tri-X and kept going. I shot most of the roll on a day out with Margaret, which included visiting a little curiosity shop in Broad Ripple.


I love vintage mechanical and electronic items. If I had money and space, I’d collect typewriters. And watches and radios. And, oh gosh, televisions! Margaret is grateful that I lack money and space. The cameras I have stuffed into every nook and cranny are more than enough.


This is my favorite coffee shop in Indianapolis. I used to go over there on Saturday mornings and freewrite while I sipped a cup, black. No frilly coffee drinks for me. Somehow I haven’t been in there for three years. I must rectify this situation.

Monon Coffee Co.

I finished up the roll with a few la-de-da shots around the house. It’s easily the most-photographed home in Indianapolis.

Bag and mail

To see more of my photos from these rolls, check out my Canon EOS A2e gallery.

The Canon EOS A2e is not just a well-featured instrument, it’s great fun. For most everyday shooting, you don’t have to use the cumbersome controls. Just dial in P, or Av, and enjoy pleasant shooting. If it weren’t for that awkward and failure-prone back dial, this camera would be truly great.

However, My Nikon N90s, a similarly featured camera from the same era, lacks this fundamental flaw and feels more solidly built. When I hanker to shoot a well-featured auto-everything camera, it’s the one I’m going to reach for most often.

If you like old film cameras, check out all of my reviews here!
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16 responses to “Canon EOS A2e”

  1. Rhianne (@forthedistractd) Avatar

    I really love my EOS 750, so I’m intrigued about others from the EOS family, great review!

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Thanks! I’m actually surprised by how much I enjoy these EOS bodies. I’m a metal/mechanical SLR guy at heart!

  2. Bill Bussell Avatar
    Bill Bussell

    You have a great eye, and it makes little difference about the camera you use. I was never a Canon fan because I was aware of mechanical struggles a fellow photographer at The Star experienced with his Canon cameras. It was often flash sync, and that was important for the work we did in that era. The new Canon DSLR are certainly a break from previous problems. Merry Christmas

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Bill, thank you for the compliment! Sure, the eye matters more than the gear. But don’t you find that good gear just makes the experience more satisfying?

      I’m not surprised to hear that the Canons didn’t go over at the Star due to reliability problems. Nikon had the edge here.

  3. DougD Avatar

    Great photos with that one, but what really strikes me is how much it physically resembles my 5 year old EOS 60D DSLR.

    It is an enormously talented camera, but I have constantly struggled with the controls, and usually wind up just using the left top dial to select modes. It’s always felt old, non-intuitive and clunky somehow but this post explains it, the controls setup is from 1992!

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Yeah, Canon nailed down the EOS idiom in the same era as the A2e was released. If you learn the A2e, you can use any subsequent EOS SLR.

  4. Carole Grey Avatar
    Carole Grey

    Great shots, Jim.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar


  5. dan james Avatar

    Jim, these late EOD film bodies really are appealing, packed with features for next to no money at all.

    The only Canon EOS I’ve had (and still have) is the EOS 500, and I’ve got fantastic results with it, using a Fujinon M42 lens and an adapter. I’m keen to use it again soon.

    It’s one of the more basic consumer models but the main pros for me are Aperture Priority or Manual shooting with the old M42 lenses, excellent metering, wide range of ISO and shutter speeds, and a very light and compact package. Plus a surprisingly decent viewfinder for manually focusing the old lenses.

    There’s the option of course for me to pick up a Canon lens later on if I wanted it even more lightweight, but I kind of like the fusion of a modern plastic body with sophisticated electronics, paired with ancient M42 glass.

    I have been intrigued by more sophisticated models single digit like yours here for a while. But out in the field, aside from maybe an even greater range of ISO and shutter speed (which I’d likely not need) and more program modes (redundant with an M42 adapter where you can only use all manual or Av) there’d be little point I think.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I agree: little point in one of the flossier bodies for your application. And if the shutter goes in your 500, the used market is flooded with similar bodies for cheap.

      1. dan james Avatar

        Yeh I’m actually wondering about getting an EF lens for it too now. I don’t have any native lenses, I just use it with M42 lenses via an adapter (I also have a C/Y to EOS adapter I’ve not shot with yet), but with a compact AF prime like a 50/1.8 or 35/2 it would make a very light and capable package when I didn’t want to carry one of my “proper” full metal SLRs…

        1. Jim Grey Avatar

          The 50/1.8 is delightful. And they’re reasonably priced on the used market.

  6. dan james Avatar

    By EOD of course I meant EOS! : )

  7. aagctt Avatar

    Excellent choice for EOS film camera. I paid more to have the command dial (the left knob for selecting shooting modes) replaced on my A2 than you paid for your A2E. It may have gone bad because it sat in closet for almost 20 years, or because I did not press the lock release button in the middle down enough when I did use it years ago and wore out the clutch mechanism.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Thanks! I gather that the clutch was the weak link in that chain, and wore out even under light use.

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