- Sign In Sign up
- Sign In Sign up
Canon EOS 5 / A2E
by Philip Greenspun, 1997
I bought the EOS-5 after reading an article by a photojournalist in which hesaid that the eye-tracking autofocus gave him sharper pictures. He didnt have tojostle the camera with his hands to focus manually or do the "center the AFtarget on subject, press shutter release halfway, recompose for final image"Nikon dance.
Eye tracking never worked for me, but I still like many things about thecamera.
Custom Function 4
I didnt fall in love with my EOS-5s until someone on the Net told me aboutCustom Function 4. This moves autofocus from the shutter release to a buttonunder your right thumb. If you have a lens with an ultrasonic motor, you canleave the lens in AF mode for AF or MF. When you want to focus, turn the ring onthe lens or push the button under your thumb. You make a conscious decision. Ifyour subject stays at the same distance and you dont feel the need to refocus,you need not.
AF turned my Nikons into enemies.Youd be tracking an animal in your viewfinder, about to take that great slide,and AF sensor would seize on a cloud in the background or a blade of grass in theforeground. Youd be cursing and frustrated while the puny screwdriver blade inthe camera tried to rack the huge mass of the 80-200/2.8 from infinity to closefocus and back.
Custom Function 4 means that you can have AF and still have the camera as yourpartner. The instant AF of the Canon in-lens motors is a nice bonus.
[Note: you need an ultrasonic motor to have simultaneous MF and AF. Thats onegood reason never to buy an off-brand lens for your Canon EOS.]
If you wear eyeglasses, youll find that all Canon SLRs have inferior viewingsystems. A combination of eyepoint and exit pupil size means that you probablywont be able to see the whole frame and displays. Even if you dont weareyeglasses, youll probably find it more difficult to focus manually with thestandard Canon screens. Perhaps the Canon screen is slightly brighter than on aNikon 8008 or N90, but with those cameras even fast wide angle lenses snap in andout of focus overall. Ive lost quite a few pictures with my EOS-5 and 20-35/2.8because the image looked basically sharp but wasnt (I would have had the lensset to MF for some tripod work).
Dont hold your breath for any improvement in this area. I spoke with a CanonUSA technical expert and he said that theyve been complaining to the engineersback in Japan about the smaller-than-Nikon exit pupil, to no avail.
I find Canons matrix meter to be less intelligent than Nikons. Bracket,think, and use negative film.
You must have a VG-10 vertical grip. It duplicates the important controls foryour thumb and forefinger (shutter release, main control wheel, CF4 button, andAF sensor select) and therefore the camera user interface remains stable relativeto your hand even when you change to vertical format. After playing with thissetup for one minute, I didnt miss the on-lens aperture ring from my Nikons.
Every camera Ive ever owned with more than one shutter release has yieldedplenty of surprise photos. Heres one from CapeCod.
A second shutter releaseis quite convenient when photography isnt allowed (e.g., in this Atlantic Citycasino) and you dont want to be seen with your hands on what the security peoplewould think of as the controls.
Stupid, stupid, stupid. Compared to Nikon and even evaluated on its ownmerits, the Canon flash system reeks of bad engineering. If you have anoff-center subject and try to use fill flash, you will be one sorry person. Notethe horribly overfilled image at left, where the flash was set to -1.3 stopsexposure. A Nikon N90 would have done a perfect job here, computing theappropriate flash power from the lens focus distance rather than from how muchwas returned from an office building in the center of the frame.
AF assist at night is another area where the EOS-5 falls on its face. Sincethe camera has five AF sensors and Canons accessory flashes wouldnt cover thefull width, the EOS-5 wont enable any accessory flash AF assist light. Insteadit turns on its built-in light, which is obscured by any professional lens.
If youspend $300 on a 540EZ flash, which does have a wide enough AF assist lightcoverage, the EOS-5 still wont turn it on. Canons engineers didnt have enoughforesight to build some room for expansion into their flash standard. Nikon isntreally a lot better in this respect; they bring out a new flash and new flashcommunication standard with just about every new body, but at least their stuffworks. (The image at right, from Travelswith Samantha, Chapter IV, was taken with an old 8008/SB-24 with none of thefancy D stuff, but it is still way better than what youd get out of theEOS-5.)
The on-camera flashin the EOS-5 is basically useless. It isnt high enough to see around mostprofessional lenses. You therefore end up with big shadows (see image at left,from my Footsteps travelogue). It would be verynice for adding catchlights to subjects eyes when you were using an accessoryflash in bounce mode, but the on-camera flash turns off as soon as you plug in anaccessory flash. Let me add that one time in CostaRica, the on-camera flash saved my butt when I was up in a tree with no otherflash and a sloth crawled within 10 (see image at right).
To add final insult toinjury, considering how many flash shots the EOS-5 blows, there is no in-cameraflash exposure confirmation light. An old Nikon 8008 will warn you with aflashing lightning bolt that you didnt get enough light onto that last picture,but unless you have the 540 EZ and remember to take your eye away fromthe finder to look at the light on the flash, you wont know that you lost theshot until you go to the lab.
The EOS-5 is the quietest SLR Ive used. With the EOS-5 and a 20mmperspective, not only do people not realize that they are in the picturethey dont realize that you are taking pictures. This has been amarvelous gift when Ive been doing photojournalism and the only time it has beena handicap is during fashion photography. Models are used to breaking their posewhen they hear the motor drive click, but even with only a 200mm lens they aretoo far from the EOS-5 to hear it operating so you have to tell them when tochange expression.
I have two EOS-5s that have exposed morethan 600 rolls of film in 18 months. Theyve gotten wet in the Costa Ricarainforest, sandy at the beach, and taken some knocks, but they show no sign ofquitting. The plastic case seems to absorb shock and hide scars very well. Ivenever had a failure on any of my Canon equipment (2 bodies, 7 lenses, 2 flashes).By contrast, my Nikon 8008 matrix meter died after a few months and a 20/2.8 AFlens suffered internal damage despite careful handling.
Avoid the A2E
Someone has a U.S. patent, believe it or not, on the use of a digital scale toshow under or over exposure in a metered-manual SLR. Canon didnt want to paythis patent holder and therefore turns off the -2/+2 (in half-stops) scale whenin metered-manual mode. You get just an over or under indication but have no wayof telling how much without dialing back to neutral and counting. TheEuropean/Japanese market EOS-5 is not crippled in this manner. B&H Photo andAdorama in New York carry the grey market camera.
Note: Canon USA will honor the warranty on any Canon product purchasedanywhere in the world. Since it is all one company, they are basically requiredto do this by state law in any state that has typical commercial laws. Of course,most Fortune 500 companies dont really think they have to comply with any law ifthe entity on the other side is a mere consumer. So lets give Canon credit forthis. Anyway, dont let a retailer sell you an extra cost U.S. warranty.
The EOS-5 is a fabulous professional-grade tool at a consumer price. It hasits shortcomings and they can drive you to distraction because they seem sounnecessary, but I feel on balance that it is the best camera in the Canonline.
Where to Buy
The EOS-5(gray market version) is stocked by Adorama, a retailer that pays photo.net areferral fee for each customer, which helps keep this site in operation.
Text and pictures (c) copyright 1991-1997Philip Greenspun.
Article created 1997