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Classic Camera Review:  Canon EOS Elan 7E

In ancient Greek mythology, Eos is the goddess of the dawn, bringer of light, sister of the sun god Helios and moon goddess Selene.  Surely Canon knew that when they came up with the acronym for “Electro-Optical System”.  At least I hope they did.  

I started writing this post before I even finished the first roll through the camera.  I wrote a couple paragraphs about how my preference for mechanical clockwork cameras still prevails, and how electronic cameras are largely disposable in my mind.  Clearly I had gotten ahead of myself, and I erased those paragraphs after revisiting this post weeks later. 

Realizing that I had to check my preferences at the door, I decided that I needed to be more objective and less biased.  With several rolls behind me now, this camera has earned my respect.  This camera is fast to deploy, remarkably intelligent, accurate and efficient.  I still hold that it is not my preferred type of camera, but I will readily admit that this was a fun exercise. In short, this is an efficient and effective tool.

This Canon came along in a mixed lot from a thrift store, with a couple of lenses and accessories.  For the price, I couldn’t let it pass.  I knew little about the model, as all the film EOS bodies seem to look the same to me.  Little did I know that this this camera is packed with features and capabilities far beyond my expectations.  

Introduced in October of 2000, this Canon incorporated many features found in the more “professional” models.  Camera manufacturing technology had leapt forward in the 1990s.  The transition from analog to digital was imminent.  Many of these transition era cameras were engineering marvels in their time.  

One of these features is eye-control focus.  In the viewfinder there are superimposed focus points positioned throughout the central area of the frame.  There is a sensor that reads the eye position of the photographer, and the camera will focus on the point at which the photographer is looking.  This feature can be calibrated to the photographer’s eye, and can also be turned off with the same switch.  

Initially I thought it was a bit of a gimmick, but eventually came to enjoy using it.  There are situations in which it is a hindrance, but for casual shooting it works just fine.  I have to make a conscious decision to use it, as I am programmed to focus with a center spot and recompose.  For wide-angle cityscapes or landscapes, I usually turn it off.  The focal point can be manually controlled with the back control dial in that case.  

Besides the eye control, this model features evaluative metering, with 35 zones linked to the active focusing point.  Everything I have photographed with this camera has been exposed accurately.  It is also very quiet.  The first time I loaded it, I was not sure it had wound on properly.  It had, but it was so fast and quiet that I was unsure. 

This camera has features that are designed to increase the success rate when shooting in tricky situations.  Sometimes I simply cannot mount the camera to a tripod, carefully assess the lighting, meticulously focus, analyze the composition, and construct the perfect image.  There are times when I wish I had been carrying a camera like this.

Such an occasion was a diplomatic black-tie party.  It was outdoors, at night, in a poorly lit courtyard of a US Embassy.  I was assigned to cover the party, paying particular attention to the interaction between the US Ambassador and the dignitaries attending the event.  I took at least two frames of every handshake, as well as candids throughout the night.

That embassy party was one of my first professional assignments, and I was experiencing more than a little anxiety.  Furthermore, I was shooting Ektachrome, which was quite particular about exposure.  The following morning I was likely the first to arrive at the only lab in in that city I trusted to run E-6.  I doubt I slept until I saw the finished slides.  

The camera I was shooting was manual focus, and although I had sufficiently fast glass, it was difficult to maintain focus on moving subjects.  I was trying to shoot with a fairly wide aperture for two reasons:  to try to isolate the subjects in a narrow field of focus, and also to minimize flash output.  I needed my flash to recharge quickly between shots, as I didn’t want to miss anything.  More importantly, I didn’t want to be obnoxious and blind everyone.  

Autofocus, particularly predictive autofocus would have helped immensely there, provided it could handle the darkness.  TTL flash control, evaluative metering and a quiet motor drive would also have been helpful.  This camera provides full TTL-metered flash control with the dedicated Speedlites.  As I mentioned before, the metering has been spot on.  I would trust it to shoot even the most finicky transparency film.  

Canon and Nikon dominated the professional PJ scene for decades, constantly trying to out-do each other and take the lead.  The result was the evolution of cameras with features designed to give the photographer every possible advantage.  Many of these features were first incorporated into the professional cameras like the EOS-1V and EOS-3, and trickled down into the mid-range cameras.  This camera was aimed at that middle market of advanced enthusiasts.  

Trying to identify and list any negative traits is difficult.  It would be unfair to compare it to anything but its contemporaries, and I really don’t find it lacking.  The viewfinder seems to be a bit small and busy, but perhaps necessary for the type of photography for which it was intended.  I find it interferes a little with the quiet zen-like experience of creating an image.  The left dial has presets that I have never found useful, but I have known people that enjoy them.  

Initially I assumed that the body was plastic like so many others of that era, but the top and front are actually black anodized aluminum.  That increases my confidence in its likelihood to survive a drop, but not by a lot.  Professional cameras were designed to withstand professional abuse.  This camera was not meant for that life, but it still feels better in the hand than the entry-level EOS cameras.  

Lenses for the Canon EF system abound.  A wide range of primes and zooms exist, and work on both film and digital cameras.  Many are high quality, professional lenses likely to give consistently stellar results.  

Despite being 24 years old, it is still a very capable camera.  December 31, 2019 is the last date available on the date-time imprint function of the Elan 7E “Date” version.   This gives me some idea of the lifespan anticipated by the designers.  I wonder if they are surprised at the resurgence of film photography, and the popularity of their creations.  

This is a distinct departure from my preferred camera category.  Nevertheless, I have enjoyed using this Canon immensely.  It made everything so easy.  I was able to grab shots that I would have undoubtedly missed, had I been futzing about with a mechanical camera and handheld meter.  

Basic Specs:

Designation:  Canon EOS Elan 7E

Introduced:  2000

Weight:  20.5oz/580g

Shutter:  Vertical metal focal plane shutter

Shutter Speed Range:  30 seconds to 1/4000 second

Flash Sync:  1/125 second

ASA Range:  DX-coded:  20-5000.  Manually adjustable from 6-6400

Meter:  Center-weighted, Evaluative, and partial

Shooting Modes:  M, Av, Tv, P, Auto, Portrait, Landscape, Portrait, Closeup, Sports, Night 

Drive Modes:  Single, Continuous

Multiple Exposures:  Yes

Hot Shoe:  Yes, TTL

PC Socket:  No

Battery:  2 x CR123

Self-timer:  Yes

Auto-exposure Lock:  Yes

DOF Preview: Yes

Mirror Lockup:  Yes

Built-in Flash:  Yes

This camera has many other features, for which I would refer you to the voluminous manual, found here: