Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Canon EOS 650 Film Camera - A Great Minimalist

EOS 650 With EF 40 f2.8 STM, Kodak Advantix 400

I mentioned yesterday how I had procured a nice vintage EOS 650 SLR from the local classifieds  and today, as promised, I have some test shots to show. I guess what we have here is a case of  "what goes around comes around" from Canon, because they are now producing the EOS 650D, also known as the Digital Rebel T4i. Perhaps Canon is thinking that the world has forgotten their very first "EOS System Camera" which came out as the EOS 650 in 1987? If so, then we've forgotten a very nice piece of history. To give you all of the detail, Ken Rockwell has provided a very thorough review, including good advice on how to best use this camera.

I wonder how many of these are out there just sitting on people's closet shelves? I ask this, because in a way, it is a lot like some older automated SLR's, which are generally shunned by professionals, and abandoned by ordinary people who've gone to digital. But yet, in many other ways, it is so different than all this. First off, it does use the amazing EOS system, which remains, 26 years after it's introduction, the best selling auto-focus, interchangeable lens camera specification of all time, and it's not about to go away any time soon. And secondly, unlike other abandoned SLR's that were perhaps equipped only with Aperture Priority shooting, so as to embrace people who wanted SLR quality but didn't want to learn all the ins and outs of a manual camera system, the EOS 650 is set up with every shooting mode (PASM) available.

But there is one small and strange caveat - the "M" (full Manual) is present in name only, because when shooting in M Mode, there is no exposure meter available, other than three cryptic indicators, called "OP", "CL" and "oo". This effectively means that you might as well consider this to be a fully automatic camera, and be done with it. It is a strange setup - all Canon had to do was equip the Viewfinder with it's very familiar green LED meter, instead of having the LED display indicate "CL, OP and oo", which means "Close Aperture, Open Aperture, and Correct Exposure". This is the only fault I can find with the camera's usability, and I consider it a small one, because the other important modes are all present and accounted for, including an excellent Exposure Compensation setting, (which allows you to manually over-ride the exposure decision made by the camera in any of it's automatic modes).

I am calling the EOS 650 a "Great Minimalist", because it is not bristling with control buttons and knobs all over it. It is also of exceptionally good build quality - close to being a Professionally built piece in every respect. The way in which this camera is controlled is perhaps the most clever and logical setup I've ever seen. It consists of a few small buttons strategically located (read: "placed exactly where they should be"), combined with Canon's very familiar front control wheel behind the shutter button, and a generous LCD display on top. So, you want to change shooting modes? Simply press the Mode button and spin the wheel. Want to  do Exposure Compensation? Just press "Exp.Comp" and spin the wheel. Similarly for  everything you'd ever want to do - just press the right button, spin the wheel and watch the LCD display. No endless menu settings - I love it!

I also find the camera's weight and handling to be just about the very best I've yet to experience, with the possible exception of my Soviet Leica copy FED-5. It is a real pleasure to shoot with. Shutter response, as it is with every film camera, is immediate, as is the motorized film advance, but somehow, this camera's speed "seems" even faster than immediate.

Another notable feature is the introduction of Evaluative Metering, which Nikon calls Matrix Metering. Now here's where I come away with egg on my face. Recently, I was ranting on about Canon's implementation of Evaluative metering on their Digital SLR's to be the bane of my existence. I made a statement - "in a real camera, there is no such thing as "evaluative metering". ". Well, I was wrong, because I now own a real (film) camera which has it - Canon's first, I believe. It is, in fact the default setting, although Centre Weighted Metering is also available at the push of a button. I knowingly shot all my test shots using the default, because I want to prove something - that maybe it works better with film. Let's look:

With EF 40 STM Lens

 With EF 40 STM Lens

 With EF 28-105 USM Lens

 With EF 40 STM Lens

With EF 28-105 USM Lens

Looks pretty nice doesn't it? Everything straight from the film negative, scanned with my Epson V500 at 200 DPI, with no post-processing. Everything's nice and bright, yet with good detail in the shadows, very natural colours, no noise, and proper textures. All this with the default "Evaluative Metering" - yes it does seem to work very well with film. I'm finding this to be true time and time again - film photography just works, but frequently with Digital, you need to fiddle with it to make it work.

So, what's the final word? Well, I hope there won't be one, because this is looking like it'll be my "go to" camera, with lot's to talk about in days to come. Film is my preferred medium, and the EOS 650 is a total joy to use - it's the best "grab and go" SLR I've yet to see, and did I mention it also has a wonderful viewfinder? The only downside is that to get good lenses in Canon EOS-Land, you have to put out a whole lot of money. I've only got three EOS System lenses, and none of them are as good as the old M42 Pentax and Russian glass I've been using, both on my Spotmatic and Canon DSLR's. Although it's true that I can use the M42 stuff on the EOS 650, just as I always have on all my Canon Digitals, the thing I mentioned above concerning the Manual operation of this camera will make this more difficult.  I'll have to do some experimenting before I get confident enough to use my old manual focus lenses on a roll of film with this camera.

Oh yes, one more thing. The camera doesn't come with a built in flash, but I got the rather large, external 300EZ Speedlight with the deal. I did one flash test shot, and like everything with this camera, nothing is complicated - you simply put the camera in "P" Mode, turn on the flash, and shoot. The camera's internal computer calculates everything about the flash for you, including the zoom-factor if you're using a zoom lens.

Heeere's Larry!

With EF 40 STM Lens and 300EZ Flash

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