|Canon EOS Elan 7E
Canon's Solution for the Serious Amateur
by Jim McGee
With a host of automatic functions, user modes, and it's built in speed light the Elan 7 is clearly aimed at the amateur market. But look closely at it's wealth of features, 35 zone metering system, 4 frames per second firing rate, it's compatibility with Canon's wireless TTL flash system and it's attractive street price ($400 - $475) and you can see that this camera will attract it's share of serious amateurs and pros looking for a lightweight backup body.
Like similar offerings from Nikon and Minolta the Elan 7E is designed to be an ideal bridge camera for folks getting into serious photography.
It provides automatic modes to use while learning and a wealth of advanced features that make it a great image tool for the experienced photographer. In short if you're an experienced amateur this camera can give you a lot of bang without busting the bank.
If you're just getting into serious photography this is a camera that you can use to get great pictures right now - and more importantly one that you won't grow out of any time soon.
One of the first things I noticed about this camera was how quiet it is. Most SLRs use gears to drive the film. Canon uses a belt system in place of the gears, which makes for quieter operation. Quiet doesn't mean slow however. The Elan 7 can crank through your film at 4 frames per second or 3.5 frames per second with predictive autofocus activated.
This is also an easy camera to learn and use. A little experimentation and I was up and running and only went back to the manual when I needed a reference.
The meter is Canon's 35 zone metering system with the option of using a weighted meter that is linkable to the in-viewfinder focus points using custom function 3. We threw the meter a few good curve balls shooting on a storm darkened amusement pier. Things and people on the pier were in shadow under the clouds while the sky, when it appeared in the frame, was significantly brighter. The meter proved accurate and performed with aplomb.
Additionally half stop autobracketing (±2 stops) and centerweighted metering are available; though we really missed the ability to spot meter in these conditions.
The Elan 7 has a built in flash with a guide number of 43 at ISO 100. Translation: a good flash for portraits and light duty fill flash but you'll want to get one of Canon's EX series flash units for really serious flash work.
The Elan 7 is fully compatible with Canon's wireless TTL flash system and performed well at fill flash duty, though as with virtually every flash system we've tested, we found the best results with fill flash when -1 stops flash exposure compensation were dialed in. Maximum flash sync speed is 1/125th of a second.
The Elan 7 is packed full of features. We mentioned it's pre-programmed shooting modes. These include program, where the camera makes all the decisions, several specialty modes biased towards shooting portraits, landscapes, close-ups, sports, and shooting at night.
In the Field It was easy to pick up the Elan 7 and start putting it to use. The controls make sense and its light weight is a virtue. It balanced well with the 28-90mm lens (which is available with this camera as a kit) but it's light weight didn't counterbalance the heavy 100-400mm IS lens as much as we'd like. But in fairness most Elan 7 buyers aren't going to be buying a lens that costs more than twice as much as their camera and this is only a problem with the heaviest of Canon's pro lenses.
One thing we did notice was that we had a tendency to have to pull our eye away from the viewfinder to find some of those little buttons. Annoying at first but familiarity should cure the problem for experienced shooters .
The viewfinder is bright and clear. Continuous focus is activated when the camera detects motion and it was able to do a good job tracking moving subjects on amusement rides in low light. We had that low light because we were out shooting in summer thunderstorms and though the Elan got seriously wet at one point it never missed a beat. Even so this camera isn't nearly as watertight as it's pro oriented stable mates so we wouldn't advise regular soakings.
Under the tricky lighting conditions of the amusement lights, overcast skies, and the occasional sunlight breaking through I did miss the fact that the Elan 7 doesn't have spot metering. But when looking at the slides on the light table I found that it's meter did a fine job. Exposures in most cases were spot on despite the difficult lighting. There were times when shooting action that we wished for a little faster autofocus speed, but we've been spoiled by shooting with bigger faster pro cameras. When compared to other cameras in its price range the Elan 7 focuses quickly and accurately. We experienced little or no focus hunting in low light conditions.
While we're talking about autofocus we should fill you in on Eye Control Focus. The Elan 7 is available with or without Eye Control Focus which is designated by the 'E' in the camera's name. Eye Control Focus will add about $50 to $65 to the price of the camera depending on the retailer. It's kind of cool that all you have to do is look at something in the viewfinder and the camera focuses on it. This could be especially handy with active subjects like small children who seem to be in constant motion. However I found it to be annoying when shooting landscapes. As my eye ranged around the finder looking at details and composition the camera kept changing focus - which got old very quickly. Luckily you can turn Eye Control off if you don't want to use it.
All in all I found Eye Control to be useful for a lot of different shooting situations. It's easy to turn on and off via a switch on the top of the camera and it was easy to setup and calibrate.
Each person must calibrate eye control to their eye and the camera can store information on five different shooters. In talking with several folks who own this camera Eye Control got mixed reviews. Some use it all the time, others never. Your best bet is to try it out in the store to see if it's a feature you want. Canon does warn that Eye Control may not work with bifocals, mirrored sunglasses, or hard contact lenses.
What About Canon's Big Rigs? If this camera has so many virtues why would anyone pay all that money for Canon's high end cameras? A few reasons are: faster shutter speeds, faster film advance rates, faster flash sync speeds, spot metering, and more rugged build quality capable of taking pro level abuse.
If you need those features you're an advanced shooter and you already know that you need to spend two to three times the price of the Elan 7 to get them. In addition to the extra cost you'll also pay a penalty in extra weight.
But if you're sitting there wondering if you need all that extra ruggedness and speed of the pro bodies chances are that you don't - making the Elan 7 or 7E a good choice indeed.