Most of my cameras are manual cameras in that they don’t have auto-focus, a motor to advance the film and they don’t have a bunch of presets for sports, landscape, aperture priority, etc. Honestly, that’s by choice, but there are times that I enjoy being able to just trust the camera and worry about framing; that’s where the Canon EOS Elan ii comes in.
Originally marketed as a advanced amateur camera, the EOS Elan ii comes packed with a bunch of features all designed to make it easier for you to make great photographs without having to worry about the technical stuff. Introduced in 1995 the Elan ii was the second in the line and came loaded with 4 presets (Sports, Landscape, Portrait, and Close-up), and Program, Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority, Automatic and Manual modes. It was available until it was replaced in 2000. Like all other cameras of this age it is an auto-focus, auto-advance 35mm film camera built entirely of plastic but with an aluminum EF lens mount and aluminum cover for the top and front of the camera. Even with the optional BP-50 battery grip installed this camera is one of the lightest cameras of it’s age but remains quite durable. The grip allows for the use of 4 AA batteries which is a much better option than the custom (2CR5) battery. As a side note, there has been some discussion and evidence that using rechargeable batteries in the ELAN ii is a bad idea, especially NiMH batteries, but then again, they really weren’t available when this camera came out. The EOS Elan ii implements Canon’s E-TTL flash system. which fires a low-intensity pre-flash then uses the reflected light to display and meter the depicted scene. This allowed the camera to perform well even in low-light situations and does an excellent job metering and focusing on the desired subject accurately.
One of the eye catching features was the Eye Controlled Focus allowing the user to shift their eye to control weather you would focus on the right, left or center of the frame. I liked this featured and found it easy to use and intuitive but it wasn’t greeted with success by everyone and Canon made some major improvements in the next model version (Elan iiE).
I find the camera pretty easy to use. The Command Dial on the back and the adjustment dial on the front behind the shutter release are well placed and easy to find while not being prone to mistaken adjustments. At first glance it might seem like there are a lot of dials, but the use of each of them is well defined and provides quick access to switch from single shot to multi-frame up to 2.5 frames per second. The AF mode dial allows you to determine how the camera focuses while changing the subject framing. One Shot AF, AI Servo and AI Focus. One Shot AF allows you to adjust the frame after obtaining a focus point and the camera will not adjust it’s focus point. AI Servo is useful if you know the subject might move sporadically and the camera will detect the movement and adjust automatically, while the AI Servo is better used on subject you know will be moving. AI Focus mode acts like One Shot AF until the subject moves, then it switches to AI Servo to make the corrections. I hardly ever used AI Focus and found the either One Shot AF or AI Servo were the best choices.
I have found the metering to be quite accurate, although not as nice as the Nikon Matrix Metering, but you wouldn’t get that on the N90 either, which would be about equivalent to the Elan ii. You do get easy to adjust settings from center weighed, partial and evaluative metering. I just about always use evaluative or center weighted, as I found the partial metering a bit too ambiguous. The icons are a bit confusing though, especially compared to other camera systems, but honestly this is probably one of the least used adjustments. Still, having the blank rectangle mean center weighted metering doesn’t seem all that well thought out.
Adjusting available setting in the various modes is what you think they would be. The dial located on the front changes either aperture or shutter speed depending on the mode, and the command dial adjusts aperture in manual mode. Overall the various dials make a lot of sense and are easy to adjust after using the camera for a while.
The Eye Controlled Focus system is probably the headline feature of the Elan ii, and it does it’s job well. Once calibrated you can use it to focus in both One Shot and AI Servo mode to set, change and track focus of the subject. I used it all the time when this was my main camera and very rarely did I have any issues focusing on the desired subject. It wasn’t overly fast though, definitely not instantaneous but since I rarely shoot sports or subjects that I have to track while moving it wasn’t a huge issue. But in a sports setting, I doubt I would have used it that much until Canon improved it with the Elan iiE.
Another feature that slips through the cracks with the Elan ii is the amazing range of shutter speeds. With a top end of 1/4000 and a slow end of 30 seconds plus bulb is phenomenal. I routinely shoot really long exposures, and being able to go up to 30 seconds with built-in settings is great. I have never found myself wishing I had more shutter speed options like I have with some of the older, manual focus cameras I have used over the years.
Using the grip makes the camera much more comfortable to hold, and this was the first camera that I started using the hand-grip straps, rather than the neck strap. I prefer these types of straps as they make it extremely difficult to drop, and it’s more comfortable than a neck strap.
There are a lot of features that I haven’t gone over too, it has 11 configuration settings as well as auto exposure bracketing, exposure adjustments, red eye reduction and multiple exposure settings from 1 to 9 exposures on a single frame. Honestly that’s a bit overkill, but it’s a nice feature. You can also override the film ISO to make it easy to push or pull your film as desired. Several cameras in this range didn’t give you that ability and just adds value to the Elan ii.
The one thing that I should mention that is kind of dumb is the remote controls. Both of them need to have direct access to the front of the camera in order to work correctly. I don’t know why Canon decided this was a good way to do it, other than having an additional sensor on the back would have been more expensive, so if you need a remote release, I would use the cable, unless you need to shoot a bunch of selfies or group shots where your in the shot too.
You can pick up a Canon EOS Elan ii or Elan iiE pretty cheap these days, and I mean like $50 on eBay with a lens. So if you feel like trying it out, you could get into it with a de3cent lens and not feel too bad if you don’t like it much. The number of lenses available is huge since the Canon EF mount was used for a few decades by Tamron and Sigma as well. I picked up a Tamron 28 – 105mm Zoom lens when I bought my camera, and it’s been a great workhorse, although not terribly fast with a minimum aperture of f/4.
The Canon EOS Elan ii/iiE would make a great backup camera or a camera to just have in the car. If you get the BP-50 battery grip it uses standard AA batteries so you wouldn’t have to worry about carrying extra batteries that you can’t get at any convenience store.
Canon EOS Elan ii
Production: 1995 – 2000
Weight: 3lbs 6oz
Mount: Canon EF
Shutter speed: 30 sec – 1/4000
Exposure rate: 2.5 frames per second
Multiple exposure setting
BP-5B external battery pack
Hard case: EH14-L
Wireless remote: RC-1
Remote cable: RS-60E3
Rubber frame: Eb