When I wrote my previous reflection about a year with the Canon AE-1, I was eagerly awaiting the arrival of an upgrade. One side-effect of picking up a new hobby like photography is that you will be confronted with Gear Acquisition Syndrome, and you will have to learn to control and live with it. My sister and brother-in-law now live in Japan, and Mike was planning to spend a few days in Istanbul in June, on his way to the WordPress conference WordCamp Europe, in Berlin this year. After we arranged dates, I began scouring eBay auctions, looking for Japan-based sellers with specific cameras, thus giving in to my GAS. While I had not felt limited in my use of the Canon AE-1, all of the blogs and forums on the internet told me that it was a beginner camera, and my fragile ego was crying out that I upgrade.
With camera gear, photographers generally invest in a system, meaning that one buys a bunch of lenses with a specific mounting system, and then the same lenses can be used with multiple different camera bodies within that same system. With the Canon AE-1, I had unwittingly become a Canonite, and specifically of the FD lens mount variety. This was Canon’s system from the early 70s until the late 80s. In the previous year I had succumbed at various points to my GAS and had already amassed a few different FD lenses. In considering a camera upgrade, I was thus searching for a Canon FD camera body.
If you search for “the best Canon FD bodies” you will find that people who write on photography blogs and forums will typically advise three different cameras. The Canon F-1 (1971), A-1 (1978) and T-90 (1986). Both the A-1 and T-90 were cameras that introduced elements that have been used on just about every camera made since then, and so are classified as “ahead of their time.” All of these new functions, though, require batteries to operate, and I have to admit, I am a bit averse to technological advancements. In looking for a camera upgrade, I wanted a basic meat and potatoes camera, something that didn’t rely on batteries to work. Hence, I wasn’t so interested in either the A-1 or the T-90, as I had no use even for the automatic setting on my current AE-1. This left the professional model from the 70s, the F-1.
The F-1, however, after more than forty years, still demands a high price in second-hand shops and on eBay. After doing some research, though, I discovered that there was a lesser-known model that was produced at the same time as the F-1, the EF, sometimes referred to as “Black Beauty.” It used the same all-metal body that the F-1 used, and so it was basically a gigantic, indestructible brick. It’s a camera for covering riots and wars. The EF was not cheap, back in the day, and was basically an electronic version of the professional F-1, with the more modestly priced Canon Ftb aimed more at the amateur market.
The EF had a relatively short run, only being produced from 1973-1978. It was superceded by the whizz-bang A-1 which came out in 1978 with more advanced electronic settings. The in 1987 Canon figured out how to do automatic-focusing, and changed their lens mount system. The new lens system was called the EF, thus reducing the short-lived camera of the same name to relative obscurity. Today, most information online is about the lens system, and not the camera. As a result of its short production line, not being the professional model, and Canon’s new lens mount sharing the same name, the EF is Canon’s forgotten gem of the 1970s.
The EF was Canon’s first foray into the world of automatic settings in cameras, and as such, needed batteries. Back in the day it used mercury batteries, but the EF had a voltage regulator, so 1.5v batteries can be used in it today without a problem (unlike other cameras from the 1960s and 70s). The EF could also function without batteries, as the shutter operates manually from 1/1000 – 1 second exposure. The batteries operate the light meter, the shutter for automatic-aperture mode, and for shutter speeds from 1-30 seconds.
I was attracted to the EF’s ability to be used fully manually, and also because it used the same all-metal body that the F-1 had. Further, I liked its status as a forgotten camera; it was like an athlete who nobody remembered finishing second place to the reigning world champion one year, and the next year to a rising star from the next generation. This is also reflected in its price nowadays: where the F-1 will cost at least $200 on eBay, the Ftb around $100, an EF in good condition can be found for a steal. I had Mike pick one up for me in mint condition for $68, shipped to his house in two days.
Mike is also a photographer, and when he came he brought his camera along and we explored the city taking photos for a few days. The difference between high-end metal of the EF and mass-produced plastic parts of the AE-1 was apparent with the smooth, heavy, solid klunk of the shutter. People had talked about this on the blogs and forums, but it hadn’t been something I’d thought about before. It was like The Beatle’s Got to Get You into My Life. When I got home I picked up the AE-1 and snapped the shutter a few times and wondered how I could have thought that this was satisfactory until this moment.
Over the rest of the summer I traveled to Ohio and Oregon in the United States, and upon returning to Turkey went down to Olympos. Stay tuned for more updates on Summer 2019 Adventures with the Canon EF, and my thoughts about the camera after using it.