As I’ve explored Canon’s EOS line of 35mm SLRs, I had a run of bad luck with bad shutters on two EOS Rebel cameras. I was interested in them for being smaller, lighter, and faster than my early bodies, the EOS 630 and 650.
And then a commenter mentioned how much he enjoyed the 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, which is 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.
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.
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. 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, and 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.
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. With this feature turned on, when you look at what you want to focus on the camera tracks your eye, grabs the focus point closest to where you’re looking, and focuses on what’s 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, mounted my 50mm f/1.8 Canon EF lens, and headed out to shoot. My first stop: the Episcopal church over on Meridian Street. It’s one of the places I regularly go to test old cameras as it has lots of interesting subjects at various distances. The A2e performed well. Just look at the clarity and color it returned!
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.
But at medium and long distances, everything worked out fine. The A2e metered light brilliantly, returning fabulous, sensitive shadow detail in contrasty situations.
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.
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 with a pen and a notebook and freewrite while I sipped whatever varietal they had on the brew. No frilly coffee drinks for me: I take mine black. Somehow I haven’t been in there for three years. I must rectify this situation.
I finished up the roll with a few la-de-da shots around the house. I must have the most-photographed home in Indianapolis.
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.