The Canon EF is a special film camera. Because of its name, if you type Canon EF in any search bar, you’ll find all the existing Canon EF lenses before you find anything about this camera. However, if you’re a seasoned computer hacker like me and add the terms film camera to the research, you may find some information about this nice piece of camera history.

The Canon EF film camera was produced between 1973 and 1978 and is the first and last Canon camera to feature a vertical-travel Copal metal shutter (that’s a mouthful). It also uses a pretty unique hybrid shutter speed system, both mechanical and electrical.
It’s often referred to as the Black Beauty and is considered to be a simplified version of the F-1. Most notably, it doesn’t have the interchangeable viewfinder, it can’t be attached to a power winder and the shutter speed tops at 1/1000.

But this doesn’t mean that the Canon EF doesn’t have anything to offer. In fact, I really like the simplicity of this camera.

I started the analog chapter of my photography journey with a Canon A-1. Since I live in the alps, my valiant A-1 would brain freeze as soon as the temperature would get near 0° Celsius (math it out, Fahrenheitists), so I decided to look for a mechanical camera that would sport my huge collection of four Canon FD lenses. Don’t worry, G.A.S. quickly kicked in and I already have too many cameras as of the writing of this article.

First look at the Canon EF

Let’s start with the design of this camera. It’s a tank, like a Crusader or a B1 but smaller. It is heavy for a 35mm camera because of its metal build.

The Canon EF doesn’t implement anything revolutionary in its design. It focuses on what’s important and that’s what I like about it.

On top, you’ll find your typical layout: the film rewind lever, the ASA dial ranging from 12 to 3200, a LED battery check light, exposure lock, hot shoe flash, shutter speed dial, film advance lever, shutter release button and frame counter. The ASA dial can easily be lifted, so you may want to check it from time to time to make sure it didn’t change.

ASA dial, exposure lock and CAT switch of the Canon EF camera

ASA dial with the exposure lock button next to it and the CAT switch below.

Shutter speed dial and release button

The Canon EF shutter release button has a relatively short travel distance but you can get a good feel of it. The shutter releases somewhere in that travel distance which prevents you from getting motion blur while pressing down. The film advance lever works smoothly and is unobtrusive when not in use.

The shutter speed dial is a real joy to use. It is big and sticks out at the front of the plate. You can easily set your shutter speed on the fly while looking through the viewfinder. You’ll see that some values are white and others are yellow (plus the orange 1/125 which indicates the flash sync speed). Those colours indicate the type of shutter the camera uses but I’ll explain that later.

The shutter speed sticks out on the front. Making it easy to use.

Turning the camera on and off

When setting the switch to On, you activate the light meter and the film advance lever will pop out a few degrees. When switching to Off, you disable the light meter, lock the lever and the shutter release button which is always nice (blurry and overexposed shot number 23, I’m looking at you). There is also a tiny silver button on this switch that enables you to do multiple exposures.

On/Off switch of the Canon EF camera

The meter is constantly metering. Turn it off when not in use to save your batteries.

DOF preview, mirror lock-up and timer

On the front of the Canon EF, you’ll find a lever that you can use as DOF preview, mirror lock-up or even self-timer. Yes, it’s a bit confusing at first but it’s nice to have all in one place over time. I could say that a grip like the one on the newer version of the F-1 or the A-1 could have been useful. The weight of the camera makes you want to grip on something from time to time.

DOP, mirror lock-up and self timer of the Canon EF camera


On the bottom plate, you’ll find a red battery check button, the film release button and two battery doors. One is supposed to be for the light meter and the other for the shutter. It uses PX 625 1.35 volts mercury batteries. Thanks to an intern regulator, you can use this camera with common 1.5 volt batteries without any modification. What I don’t get here is that, besides not really knowing which battery compartment is connected to which function, it also seems that it still needs both batteries for everything. Let’s say you would just insert one battery for the shutter, it won’t work. You still need to have both but this might only be an issue with my camera.

Using the Canon EF

The Canon EF is a shutter priority camera when used with FD lenses set on A. Otherwise, you can use it manually. After loading your film, you simply advance to frame one without having to release the shutter every time. Nice feature to get into action quickly.

Metering and focusing

The Canon EF has a TTL light meter that is less sensitive at the top of the frame in landscape orientation to compensate bright skies. This means that if you shoot vertically, you should meter the scene horizontally, lock the exposure (if used in shutter priority mode) and recompose in portrait orientation. Otherwise, you just check what aperture the light meter indicates and set it manually on your lens which is easier in the end. Having to keep that exposure lock button pressed while recomposing and focusing is quite the exercise.

Apparently, it is not an easy task to find a Canon EF with a functioning light meter. I have had two copies, both light meters worked at first (me, happy) but died after a short period of time (me, sad).

Focus can be done with a microprism in the center. Newer models also added a split-screen.

Two types of shutter mechanisms

Shutter speeds from 1/1000 to 1/2 seconds and Bulb mode are mechanical. Those from 1 to 30 seconds are electronically controlled. This was designed to reduce the use of the battery and enable the use of the camera even when the batteries are dead. Note that the shutter speeds slower than ½ second will stay at ½ when the batteries are empty.

When using electronically controlled shutter speeds, the red LED on top will flicker during the exposure. It is important to mention that 15 and 30 seconds shutter speeds are actually 16 and 32 seconds to preserve the doubling sequence.

Using the front lever

The front lever has three positions : M, L and a third one that apparently doesn’t deserve a letter. The latter serves as quick DOF preview and sets back as soon as you release the lever. The L position is also a DOF preview but stays locked once the lever is pushed. Lastly the M position, it locks up the mirror but can only be used after locking the L position first. The mirror stays up until set it back with the lever, you’ll get the hang of it.
For the timer, you have to press the pin on top of the lever to be able to set it in timer position. You then fire it off by pressing the shutter release button. It is a mechanical timer and can still be used without batteries. And unlike the Canon A-1 which has an electronic timer, the LED of the Canon EF won’t flicker when the timer is in use.

The shutter slap is pretty loud for a 35mm SLR, but I really like it. It’s probably not suited for the street ninjas out there snapping pictures unnoticed.

Images taken with the Canon EF camera

Bern, train station.

Wine grape harvest, 2022.

Somewhere in Switzerland.

Wine grape harvest, 2022.

Sunrise in the wineyards of Valais.

Final words

In summary, it is a semi-electronic metal brick that can be used to take pictures. Technically, there’s everything you need to take pictures. Of course, nothing is perfect. For example, the exposure lock button is oddly placed in my opinion or the ISO dial is offset easily but since my light meter doesn’t work anymore, both points are irrelevant for me. It’s a solid and reliable camera for its age and is an interesting chapter in Canon’s history.
On a daily basis, I don’t use it as much. A non-working light meter slows the process down, so my Canon A-1 is more practical and enables me to be more reactive while wandering around. But I love using it when I have time to take my shots be it at night for long exposures or for landscapes thanks to its ability to lock the mirror.

As the production period is relatively short, you don’t see them as often as other models. They’re not one the popular list of cameras which makes them more affordable than some SLRs. The Canon EF is not THE camera to have, but it is very capable and reliable. If you find a good deal, I can only recommend to get it.

Thank you for reading. I hope you learned something and enjoyed taking time to dive a bit deeper into the history of film cameras. Let me know your thoughts about the Canon EF and if you had the chance to use it !

You can find more film images on @stillsgrain and landscapes on @thut.thomas.

Until next time 🙂

Contribute to 35mmc for an Ad-Free Experience

There are two ways to experience 35mmc without the adverts:

Paid Subscription – £2.99 per month and you’ll never see an advert again! (Free 3-day trial)
Subscribe here

Content contributor – become a part of the world’s biggest film and alternative photography community blog. All our Contributors have an ad-free experience for life.
Sign up here.

Read the full article here