Tuesday Titans: The Canon EOS-1 Pro Film Camera

 

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The Canon EOS-1 professional 35mm SLR of 1989. The EOS-1 is a titan with a tank like body, super speedy AF, and a futuristic design.  A true Camera Legend among 20th century cameras.

The Canon EOS-1 is 35mm SLR introduced by Canon in 1989 as the flagship camera of their (then) two year old EOS system.

Canon is no doubt one of the legendary names in the camera world. Despite non Canon fans (usually Nikon fans!) attempting to take jabs at Canon by saying things such as “Canon’s main business are its copiers and not cameras” or “Canon’s bodies are made of plastic and feels cheap” everyone that I know equates Canon to cameras first and foremost.

And the camera division is apparently a source of pride for the company. Even though, yes, they make way more selling copiers and other stuff to corporations, they do put a lot of that money back into creating awesome cameras that are often on the cutting edge of technology.

One of the greatest things about loving all cameras is that I’ve never been accused of being a fanboy, not that I know of anyway 🙂

Anyway, I’m rambling a little bit here, but the main point is that since the 1930’s Canon has had its share of legendary cameras. The Kwanon of 1934, the Canon II of the late 40s and early 50s, the Canon 7 and 7s rangefinders of the 60s, the A-1 and F-1 of the 70s, the T90 of 1986 just to name a few.

Canon is no stranger to making all kinds of cameras. However in 1987 Canon set out to do what many of their loyal customers thought to be the unthinkable; create a whole new series of lenses and cameras and letting go of their FD system which enjoyed a tremendous following and passion from professionals and enthusiasts alike. And with the introduction of the EOS-1 in 1989, Canon set out to create a new legend. Would their plan work?

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The Canon T90 of 1984 and the EOS-1D Mark II of 2004. The predecessor and successor of the EOS-1 respectively.

This was a very risky move. To take (in 1987) the nearly twenty year old, proven FD system and not only replace it with a whole new system, but also to convince their huge and loyal customer base that they should buy into the new system.

And the new EOS lens mount was NOT compatible with the FD system and vice versa. So in essence, Canon had to say…’Guess what guys? You can’t use all those lenses and accessories you’ve acquired for your A-1, AE-1, F-1, etc, etc if you buy the new EOS system’

As to be expected, it was a hard sell at first. From all I have read on this, many loyal FD fan were totally bummed, even angry at this move. They felt betrayed that their gear would now be “obsolete” and unusable on the new EOS system.

And you have to remember back then was not like today where you could use your legacy lenses on many different cameras with the right adapters. Adapters that allowed the use of one mount to a different mount were precious and few back then. I know of people who switched to Nikon because they were so outraged!

WISDOM OF FORESIGHT AND THE POWER OF TIME

Despite the initial outlash, now nearly thirty years later, I believe that time has proven Canon right in their decision to change from the FD mount to the all electric EOS mount.

With the EOS mount came cameras with super speedy autofocus, and such innovations as quiet USM “ultrasonic” motor lenses, cameras with electronically controlled wheels and dials, offering sophisticated levels of control customization. Many of these features we see on almost all serious DSLRs today. The EOS lens mount was also large enough to make way for some very unique L lenses such as the EF 50mm f/1L, the 85mm f/1.2L, and 200mm f/1.8L.

I believe Canon, as well as Nikon and other manufacturers saw the promise of the future with the runaway success of 1985’s Minolta Maxxam 7000, the first truly successful autofocus 35mm SLR.

Looking back, you have to give Canon, its camera designers and engineers credit for having the courage and foresight to create a whole new system that not only embraced the technology that was available then and but would also be able to take advantage of technology yet unseen in 1987.

THE EOS-1 FILM CAMERA

Two years after the introduction of the EOS system and the enthusiasts’ friendly EOS 650 camera, Canon decided the new system was successful enough to introduce their new pro flagship, the EOS-1 professional system camera.

The EOS-1 is a big brute of a camera and was very much reminiscent of the T90 of 1986 in its design.

However, being designed with professional photographers in mind, the EOS-1 was built to a much higher standard with an extra tough aluminum frame wrapped inside a polycarbonate plastic shell, and weather proofed with o rings, seals, and gaskets.

I remember in the mid 1990s reading an article on the Canon EOS-1 vs the Nikon F4s. I can’t recall if it was Modern Photography or Popular Photography magazine, but it was a great article on the pros and cons of both cameras, and included opinions from two professional photographers who used these cameras for their livelihood.

I also remember at that time, opinions and doubts about Canon’s use of polycarbonate materials on their pro bodies, especially from “heavy metal” camera lovers and pros.

Today, with the power of time, polycarbonate and other hard plastics have been proven to be as durable, if not more so, than the all metal bodied cameras of yore.

The EOS-1 is an all electronic camera and it operates on one 2CR5 battery. It will not operate without a battery. The electronics in the EOS-1 series of cameras have stood the test to time. The shutter speeds range from 30 secs to 1/8000th of a second and the camera can do a maximum of 5.5 frames per second with the optional Power Booster E-1. The viewfinder has 100 percent coverage. The camera had only one autofocus point which was cross-type and in the center of the frame.

USER EXPERIENCE

I got my first EOS-1 in the mid 90s. I still remember vividly the first time I held the camera. It was one of those magic moments on my camera journey!

I remember the sense of pride and amazement that I had in my possession this huge and powerful pro Canon in my home. Holding my first pro grade body ever was a feeling that, many many cameras later, comes very rarely today. It would take a lot to excite me these days 🙂

After I got over the initial excitement, I was quickly disappointed to find that the EOS-1’s AF, which was very fast and speedy outdoors and in good light, struggled and hunted in low or even moderately bright indoor lighting.

On top of that, the single central point AF did not have the red light indicator. That feature came with the EOS-1’s 1994 successor, the EOS-1n.

After a few months of use, I quickly sold the camera and moved up to the EOS-1n which was a much better camera in all aspects.

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“The One” 2012. Canon EOS-1, EF 50mm f/1.8 lens.

THE LEGACY AND LEGEND OF THE EOS-1

Despite my disappointment with the EOS-1, I eventually got another one when the prices became real cheap.

As with many other cameras, I can now appreciate its strengths while avoiding or trying to avoid its weaknesses.

Armed with a very strong selection of Canon EF lenses, the EOS-1 helped Canon to finally take over their rival Nikon in the 1990s as the professionals choice. It would take Nikon many years later to catch up and regain equal footing.

With the EOS-1 came many innovations such as dual input dials, wheels, and the use of polycarbonate and hard plastics on a professional grade body. All these features have made its way to many mid and high end cameras that came after the EOS-1.

The Canon EOS-1 is a true Camera Legend of the modern camera world. The EOS-1 is not only legendary, but has historical significance as the first pro body of the EOS line.

All the pro film EOS bodies that came after the EOS-1, including the 1n/1V/3 are all much better performers having taken all the best features of the EOS-1 and refining it to much higher levels, but if you want to experience that early EOS experience, warts and all, and want to pay the lowest price you can for a pro EOS film body, then the EOS-1 is a great choice, even if only to appreciate its design and/or to appreciate the technology of its day.

Note: The Tuesday Titans series was created to profile the huge “Big Guns” or monster sized cameras.

WHERE TO BUY

If shopping for an original EOS-1 film camera, prices are trending from $50-150 with an average under $100.

For a safe purchase with a good return policy, both Adorama in their USED section or Amazon periodically have the camera in stock.

IF YOU’RE JUST READING THIS AND PREFER MODERN CANON CAMERAS

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17 thoughts on “Tuesday Titans: The Canon EOS-1 Pro Film Camera

    1. Hey Derek! I actually have an F4s review that I did a few years ago on another blog. I was going to repost here it at some point, but I’d love to see your F4 review for sure! 🙂

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      1. Nah… I am sure enough people have done detailed F4 review like yourself. Doesn’t make sense for me to do one an quite possibly talk about the same things.

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      2. Hey you got a good point, but you know what, people are always looking for something ‘new’ to read on these old cameras as funny as that sounds! I wouldn’t even mind reading a new review on the F4. Come on Derek, do it man! 🙂

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      3. Hey man we have a lot in common! I slack off a lot too, it took me like two weeks to get that book review out lol! And trying to keep up this blog hasn’t been easy man 🙂

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  1. I started with Canon those many years ago….but for some reason, in my journey thru one camera system after another in MF and 35mm, I never returned to Canon…came close once as I handled the brand new and beautiful EOS-3 at Photo+ when film was still king but I stopped short. Very informative and well written piece Sam. But I can’t get into another system! I have too many already. :-))))

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hey Bro! I can’t blame you. I know you’re another one with a closet full of photographic sweets! I went Nikon for a while and almost didn’t return to Canon either, but now it doesn’t matter because I love all systems, at least the ones I could afford haha

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