Canon EOS Elan

I have a lot of photographer friends, almost all of them shoot in digital exclusively, yet they probably all have a film camera or two in storage somewhere. More a dozen times one of these friends will get in touch and say “Hey! I have an old film camera that I don’t need and I understand you’re weird and like these things, wanna buy/have this one?” Normally I will say “Sure, lemme have a look” and 95% of the time that will end with “Yes I want it, give/sell it to me in due haste!” My Canon EOS Elan is one of those acquisitions, given to me in a bag containing all sorts of old gear as well as a Canon AE-1 Program (I’ve had four of those). Score. Plus, the bag was really nice too – all leather bag made back in the day when “leather” didn’t mean “the pressed-together meatloaf plywood leather composite crap that will surely start cracking at the seams and flaking within a year.” I gave away the AE-1, I’ll likely give away the Elan one day, but this bag I’m keeping forever.

The EOS Elan is a plasticky auto-focus prosumer Canon produced between 1991 and 1995, and you can probably find one on Ebay for 20 bucks. Not in high demand, most early AF cameras are equally not in high demand. That doesn’t mean they’re bad cameras, it just means they don’t have the same retro appeal as older 60’s and 70’s manual focus cameras. People love those, they look great, and occasionally even make great pictures. However, if you view a camera as a tool rather than a showpiece, this 20-dollar Elan is a superior camera. Most 90’s auto-focus/ auto-exposure cameras are. They just aren’t very cool.

Notice I didn’t say “sexy” – I’m already over that trend in describing inanimate objects that aren’t sports cars. Sports cars get a pass… they’re sexy. Everything else is just a thing. Even sexy old cameras.

As with many early cameras of this era, the Elan is kinda big, kinda bubbly, a little slow but it has the distinction of being fairly quiet. The auto-focus motor is quiet, the rewind motor is quiet, it’s the one hyped feature of this camera and I have to agree, it’s a thing worth noting because it is in fact my quietest auto-focus camera. It would be great for street photography or sneaking photos in an art museum when the guards aren’t looking. The controls, however, I’m not really crazy about.

To start with, it has that LCD screen that most 90’s AF cameras have. That’s fine, I guess, it’s a burden I can live with, but the command dial on the left side of the top plate is not my favorite. I suppose many amateur photographers would find a “sports” setting or a “portrait” setting to be helpful, but since I learned photography on a Pentax Spotmatic I always just use aperture and shutter speed controls to compose shots like that. This camera shoots in both aperture and shutter priority modes too, so I guess I’ll just leave the command dial there. It would be helpful if this camera had an on-off switch separate from the command dial, just to turn on the camera you have to push down a button and spin that command dial to your setting of choice, and the shutter button is fairly sensitive so you’d need to spin that dial to the “off” position after shooting a round. There’s a big dial on the back, too, I can’t remember what that does so I never mess with it.

All clunkiness aside, this budget relic takes some fairly decent photos. I think I took it out twice and, while nothing about it felt completely groundbreaking, it produced results. Eventually I’m probably going to give this to a film photography newcomer because while I’m not in love with it (I have two dozen film cameras at the moment, have to draw a line somewhere) I feel confident that it will have a good home in the right hands.