Collecting Cameras

Trying to repair a sticky shutter on a Canon EOS Rebel S

When I reviewed this Canon EOS Rebel S not long ago, two thirds of my test roll’s photos were mostly or entirely black. The shutter was clearly not firing properly. I said I thought it was failing.

Canon EOS Rebel S

Fellow film photographer Mark O’Brien left an incredibly helpful comment: “…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. … So, it’s not so much that the shutters fail, they fail because they get gummed up by something else.”

I opened the camera to check, and there it was: a gooey mess on the shutter curtains.

I dipped a Q-Tip in rubbing alcohol and gently wiped the goo away. After the curtains dried I mounted my 50mm f/1.8 Canon EF II lens and loaded a roll of expired Kodak Max 400. What a perfect use for expired film! I shot la-de-da stuff around the house. The subjects didn’t matter — I just wanted to know whether my hacky fix restored the shutter.

The processed negatives arrived presently. I figured they’d tell me everything I needed to know, so I didn’t order scans.

Wolverine Super F2D

My fix seemed to help, but didn’t solve the problem entirely. One shot was partially exposed and the last six were entirely blank. And several shots looked to be severely underexposed. Could I rescue them in Photoshop?

I decided I wanted scans after all. I’ve loaned out my flatbed scanner, so I dug out my Wolverine Super F2D, a cheap film digitizer. It’s essentially a light table with a built-in digital camera. It yields noisy, soft images, but it works fast and is easy to use. I figured it’d be good enough to see how the images turned out.

It was. And I had my scans in about ten minutes. It reminded me of making a quick contact sheet in the darkroom. Here’s a lonely little purple petunia, with my gas grill in the background.

Petunia with my grill in the background

The Rebel S really wants the photographer not to be bothered with matters of aperture and shutter speed. It’s an entry-level SLR, after all. But it does let you scroll through all the aperture/shutter combinations that yield a good exposure in the available light. I scrolled it for the widest aperture I could get so I could shoot this coffee-table scene handheld.

On the coffee table

The Rebel S’s shutter never sounded very good to me, making a hollow clacking sound with each exposure. I wasn’t sure it was working at all. So I peered into the lens and fired the shutter to see if I could detect any shutter movement. I couldn’t, of course; how silly of me. But the Rebel S’s autofocus did its job even at close range. The puzzled/angry look on my face cracks me up.


While these images are usable, they reveal flaws in the scanner itself. The Wolverine isn’t exactly a refined instrument. First and foremost is the light area in the upper left of each image. I can’t tell what causes it but my guess is a light leak in the film transport. Also, the Wolverine did nothing to correct a fairly stout lateral curl in the negatives, which distorts the resulting images. And when you view these at full size, the noise makes the images look like mosaics.


But at the sizes I’m showing them here, these images work okay. I bet they’d make acceptable 4×6 prints. The detail is good, though the colors are a little off. I can’t tell whether that’s the scanner or the expired film, though.


I couldn’t save any of the underexposed shots, by the way. But it was fun to see the images that did turn out.

I really want this dumb camera to work! Because, and it almost feels like telling a dirty secret to say so, I like using it. So small, so light, so easy. Such an about face from the big, metal, manual SLRs I normally love to shoot.

But I’m two for two on busted Rebels. Despite my irrational attraction to these cameras, I’m not sure I want to go three for three. I was browsing Used Photo Pro the other day and found a Canon EOS A2e body for $27. This is a big, solid, semi-pro SLR that retailed new for about $1,200. It arrived the other day. So my EOS journey continues, just in a different direction.

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Camera Reviews

Canon EOS Rebel S

I wish I could still recommend Canon EOS Rebel-series cameras, like the EOS Rebel S, to first-time film shooters. I used to; they’re inexpensive, easy to use, and great fun to shoot. Unfortunately, I’ve bought two in a row now that have failing or failed shutters. Checking with other film shooters, I find that this is common to these cameras.

If you’re looking to break into film photography, I still recommend an auto-everything 35mm SLR. Just choose one that’s robust, like the Nikon N60 or N65, the Canon EOS 630 or EOS 650. Or go for broke and check out all the cameras I’ve reviewed, here. You’re bound to find one that suits you.

But it’s a shame. For easy breezy SLR shooting, these Rebels 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

If you groove on Canon SLRs, you might also check my reviews of the AL-1 (here), the A2e (here), the FT QL (here), the T70 (here) and the TLb (here.) Or just go see my long list of all the cameras I’ve reviewed, here.

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 son. I twisted the Rebel S’s mode dial to P so it would choose every exposure setting for me, and shot with abandon.

At the Fair

Other than wishing for a bigger, brighter viewfinder, the Rebel S handled flawlessly and I had a great time. These cameras are such a pleasure to use.

Born in the USA

Only nine of the roll’s 24 photos turned out. The rest were mostly or entirely black, as the shutter did not open properly. What a bummer.

Leather handbags

I suppose you could try higher-level EOS bodies. You could even buy older bodies like the EOS 650 and EOS 630 bodies, which are hardy but also larger, slower, and less fun to shoot. These cameras are dirt cheap. 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.


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.


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.


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

If you find a Rebel-series camera for cheap, check its shutter curtains for black goo. If you see goo, steer clear, as that shutter’s a goner.

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.

If you like old film cameras, check out all of my reviews here!
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