When it comes to Canon cameras, you can count the number of times they’ve been featured on the one hand. I’ll admit that I am a Nikon guy, but when this beauty was offered up, I couldn’t say no. The Canon EOS 650 while fairly plain and no-nonsense is a camera is a significant part of the history of photography. The EOS 650 is the first autofocus offering from Canon and the lens mount it introduced changed the company’s direction. And while I was a little warry of the camera, it performed beautifully it did take a bit of time of figure out some of the finer points of control, but that will teach me not to read the manual before taking it out. Thanks to (Great Uncle) George McCullaugh for providing this beauty for a review.
Model: EOS 650
Type: Single Lens Reflex
Format: 135 (35mm), 24x36mm
Lens: Interchangable, EF-Mount
Year of Manufacture: 1987-1989
The 2nd of May 1987, a red-letter day for Canon, not only was it the company’s 50th Anniversary it also saw the release of their newest camera, the EOS 650. And when I say a new camera, I mean brand new, the EOS line superseded their past FD cameras in both mount and technology. Players big and small had been working on cracking autofocus, Nikon had the F3AF, Pentax the ME-F, and even Chinon threw in the CE-5. Canon had been no slouch either with the T80. But all these cameras forced autofocus with cameras using special lenses, at least until the Maxxum 7000 cracked the code in 1985. Minolta did this through the introduction of a brand new lenses mount, the still used A-Mount. So when Canon began their work on a proper autofocus camera, they went the same route as Minolta and built a whole new mount. Turning to Greek Mythology, they took the name of the Titan of the Dawn Eos to brand their new Electro-Optical-System or EOS. The EOS proved a brand new concept for Canon, gone was any mechanical links between the lens and the camera body. The lens has a self-contained CPU and autofocus motor and linked directly to the camera which would then use it’s AF sensors and Matrix meter (Averaging) to communicate the aperture and focus control to the lens. Canon produced two types of AF motors for their lenses, the L-Series got the Ultra-Sonic-Motor or USM, while the consumer-grade lenses received an Arc Form Drive or AFD. These were controlled from a CPU running Canon’s new BASIS system to provide fast and accurate autofocus tracking. While they had a lot of thought put into the camera’s functions the design came from the T90 and given an angular overhaul similar in look to the Maxxum 7000. Canon’s goal was to make photography, especially SLR photography accessible to all, so the 650 was aimed at the consumer and first-time buyer market. The 650 did not last long with production ending in 1989. However, the mount that started with the 650 sees continued use today.
It looks like a 1980s VCR. But we’re not here to judge a camera by its looks but rather its function. While you can see the design lineage from the T90, rather than keep the curved almost organic look of the camera, they moved more towards the look of the Maxxum 7000 with the sharp, hard angles. However, the control surfaces on the 650 are nearly identical to the T90 right down to button placement and the single command dial. In general, I have nothing against the simplification of the control surfaces, and it proved a simple task to learn how to operate the camera, some functions such as setting the ISO, rewind, timer, and AF modes I wish were more visible. But what I need to operate the camera are right in the open, well sort of. Let’s get my biggest beef with the camera out of the way first, the selector dial. A small knob at the back of the camera on the same side as the LCD screen where you set the mode and power the camera on and off. In the “L” position the camera is off, easy enough L for Locked. When wanting the use the camera, I saw an audio symbol so something along the lines of having an audio signal, that gets annoying so I didn’t put the knob there. Next, I had an “A” or a Green Box, well A sounded like it was Automatic, so I picked the Green Square. Sadly the on the Green Square you cannot change the mode the camera does all the thinking for you. I should have read the manual and set the camera to A so I could choose between the standard P(program), Tv (shutter priority), Av (aperture priority), and M (manual). This brings me to a second beef, the lone command dial. I guess I’m just spoiled with working with dual control dials or a control dial and a thumbwheel but running the full camera manual makes changing settings a bit painful. However, the placement of the command dial is perfect right by the shutter release which makes running the camera in semi-automatic mode easy because you’re not hunting down the dial, it’s right there. The best part of the camera, however, is the viewfinder, it’s big it’s bright and can be seen in low and bright light. The feedback is excellent without being in the way and generally makes the camera easy to use.
I do like a camera the makes you feel its weight, you know you have it around your neck, in your camera bag, you have to work for your images. You don’t get that with the EOS 650, for it’s the size and bulk it is a light-weight camera, easily carried for a whole day without any feeling of fatigue. And despite being boxy, the handgrip is smooth and has enough of a curve to fit comfortably in hand. When it comes to operating the camera is no-nonsense a dedicated power on, and mode dial (which I discussed earlier), shutter and the command dial are all right where you can reach them and easy to operate. But where the 650 stands out is the speed of the autofocus and the accuracy of the function. Out of all the AF cameras of that era, the 650 is heads over even the Maxxum 7000 and certainly over the offerings from Pentax and Nikon. Other than that the camera is fairly plain, very much a LeBarron K-Car like the 7000, it takes the picture, and that’s about it, no real excitement.
Unlike Nikon and Pentax which both shoehorned autofocus functionality onto their F and K mounts respectively the EOS and EF systems were new from the ground up. But the nice thing about the EF mount on the 650 is completely compatible with modern EF lenses. Just don’t mount an EF-S lens, you will damage both the camera and the lens. All those wonderful L-Series lenses with USM motors will mount and function perfectly. Of course, the lens itself is without any real controls save the auto/manual focus switch. And you can get some older AFD lenses for a little less money or stick to the plastic fantastic 50/1.8 like I have for mine. And the Canon lenses even the cheap ones are optically sound and make for excellent images. I mean I never was one to say Nikon was better than Canon or vice versa because honestly, I stick both optics in the same category and rating. Either way, the EF-Mount makes the camera shine among those of the 1980s, same with the 7000 for near full compatibility with their modern lenses.
Like the 7000 the 650 is a K-Car, it’s not overly exciting to use, it gets the job done and done well. So there’s a place for the camera on my self as a great way to introduce people to film photography mostly those who are used to Canon equipment as the controls between the 650 and the modern cameras of today are rather similar. The one thing of note is that the camera does take a 2CR5 battery which is only available at speciality battery or camera stores and can get fairly expensive. But it does last a long time, so it all balances out. The camera is readily available on the used market, and if you’re lucky you can grab one with a lens for under 100$, the bodies alone are running between 10$ to 60$. Making it a perfect way for an inexpensive entry into film photography if you have a selection of EF lenses. So yeah, this Nikon guy is sold on Canon, but don’t expect me to switch systems.
Don’t just take my word on the EOS 650, you can check out the reviews by other awesome camera reviewers!
Casual Photophile – Canon EOS 650 Camera Review – The Autofocus Revolution Arrives
Lomography – A Review of the Canon EOS 650
Scott Locklear – Canon EOS 650 Camera Review
Down the Road (Jim Grey) – Canon EOS 650 Review