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Canon EOS Elan 7NE

Peter Kun Frary
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The Elan 7NE, released Spring 2004, is a minor upgrade of the popular Elan 7E. In most aspects, the two cameras are identical. The wisdom of "don't fix it if it ain't broke" rings true here. And why write another review of a virtually identical model? Hmm, good point. I'll keep it simple and spotlight the Elan 7NE's new features only. If you need information about the main features, specifications and accessories for this camera, read my full review of the Elan 7E or visit Canon USA.

EOS Elan 7NE, Battery Pack BP-300, E-1 Hand Strap & EF 50 1.4 USM • Photographed with EOS 10D, EF 50 2.5 CM, RS-80N3 Remote Switch, Bogan 3001 tripod and 2 white reflectors.

Like the prior Elan, this one is available in three variants in North America: Elan 7N (no ECF), Elan 7NE (ECF) and Elan 7NE Date (ECF & date/time imprinting). The Elan 7NE Date is called the EOS 7s in Japan and EOS 30V Date elsewhere. Outside of North America, the Elan 7N is known as the EOS 33V. To add to the confusion, Canon has two digital SLRs with similar names: EOS D30 and EOS 30D.

This article is a work in progress. I'll add more deep thoughts and, hopefully, an image gallery as the spirit moves me.

Upgrades & New Features

Autofocus. Although Canon claims improved AF speed, I honestly didn't notice any difference from the old Elan 7E under daylight conditions. Both are fast. I don't doubt this is the fastest Elan yet, but a few milliseconds is beyond human perception. However, low light AF is slightly more reliable--about the same as the EOS 10D--but nothing to howl about. In a side by side comparison with an Elan 7NE, Elan 7E, EOS 3 and 10D (center AF sensor only and EF 50 1.4 USM), the EOS 3 was able to lock on moderately contrasty objects at EV 0 and 1 whereas all the other cameras failed or had difficulty (took several tries). Yes the Elan 7NE can AF at EV 0 (F1.4 at 2 seconds, ISO 100) as per Canon specs, but it needs a high contrast target, e.g., a distant point of light. Nevertheless, both the Elan 7NE and 10D were slightly more sure footed than the older Elan 7E at EV 5 and lower, a small but welcome improvement.

Incidentally, my low light AF observations are somewhat at odds with the 7NE report in Popular Photography (July 2004, page 56). They claim the Elan 7NE is the fastest focusing EOS SLR in low light and the only EOS--film or digital--that can autofocus at Ev 0. Believe me, I wanted this to be true, but my EOS 3 whipped it every time with every lens I tried from Ev 0-5, especially with lower contrast targets. I find it difficult to believe the Elan 7NE is faster and more reliable in low light than the EOS 1V, 1D MKII or 1Ds. Unfortunately, I don't have those models available for comparison. It makes no sense for Canon to design and release a $4500 pro camera and $350 amateur camera at the same time (Spring 2004) but put better AF in the budget amateur body.

Basically, if there is enough light to hand hold the camera, AF will work fine on the Elan 7NE. For example, EV 5 requires an exposure of F1.4 at 1/15 at ISO 100. Any slower than that and you need a tripod or flash. If you have low light AF problems, use the center AF sensor only (the most sensitive one) and focus on a high contrast area, e.g., border between a light and dark area.

E-TTL II Flash Metering. The Elan 7NE is the first film camera to incorporate Canon's E-TTL II flash metering system. Most E-TTL II features are the same as E-TTL. So what's the basic difference between E-TTL and E-TTL II? E-TTL II computes distance information, performs area averaging and ignores usually bright or dark areas that may throw off subject exposure. Some older lens designs don't furnish distance information, but are still compatible with other E-TTL II refinements. In my estimation, the averaging aspect of E-TTL II is the most significant improvement. Distance information's role is minor but reads better in magazine ads.

EOS Elan 7NE, EF 35 2.0, Av mode, NPH 400 (ISO 320), FS4000US scanner The TTL popup flash provides fill flash in low light like a champ, easily balancing ambient and flash for a natural look. NPH 400 handles mixed lighting better than any digital camera I have used: flash, skylight & artificial lights all seem to work here. I wish my DSLR had NPH emulation...

If you use bounce or wireless flash, distance information isn't used. Why? The camera can't guess the location of the Speedlite in relation to subject and therefore ignores distance information. Bounce and wireless performance appear to be the same as E-TTL. That is, excellent.

The popup flash is still plain TTL, so you'll need an EX-series Speedlite to benefit from E-TTL II.

Does E-TTL II insure direct flash exposures are more accurate than before? E-TTL on the Elan 7E performed well, so I haven't noticed a significant improvement with the Elan 7NE, not even with slide film. E-TTL II results with DSLRs are more striking, probably because digital sensors have less exposure latitude and thus are more sensitive to metering errors than film.

Although Canon improved E-TTL, they left one serious flaw to keep photographers thinking and spinning dials: Flash Negative Evaluative Exposure Compensation or NEVEC. If the flash is on in M, Av or Tv modes, the camera applies negative 0.5 to 1.0 exposure compensation to the background under dim lighting, e.g., Ev 8 at ISO 100. Thus, flash and ambient light are not balanced because the background is underexposed. Some like this look, but I hate it! If you're in a hurry, use Av or Tv mode and counter NEVEC with plus 0.5 to 1.0 exposure compensation (guesstimate). However, the most accurate method is to meter ambient and flash separately:

1. With flash off, meter ambient light in M mode.

2. Turn flash on and take picture. Be sure the active sensor is on the subject and don't adjust exposure no matter what the meter says.

If you're considering a flash for the Elan 7NE, the Canon 420EX Speedlite is a perfectly matched companion. It's the only flash that covers all seven of the Elan 7NE's AF sensors with AF assist. Incidentally, E-TTL II circuits are onboard camera, so all EX series Speedlites are fully compatible with E-TTL II's new features. Click here for my 420EX review.

Enhanced Control Surfaces. Some controls, e.g., mode dial and AF mode dial, have raised lettering for enhanced visibility and tactile sense. Plus, all labels are now white on black The prior model used silk screened labels, mostly white on black, and a few black on white icons. I didn't have problems feeling or seeing the controls before. This enhancement seems at best of minor consequence. In other words, it's a mere cosmetic change.

Raised Lettering and Icons • Feel your way to photographic nirvana. I prefer the look of flat symbols.

Top Deck of the Elan 7NE • Clearly labeled knobs and levers instead of buttons and menus make adjustments a snap. Photographed with EOS 10D, EF 50 2.5 CM, RS-80N3 Remote Switch, Bogan 3001 tripod and 2 white reflectors.

Fit & Finish. The aluminum top and front plates sport a dark gray crinkle finish similar to Sigma EX lenses. That is, sort of an industrial look but without the EX gold sparkles. The crinkles scatter light and hence the finish appears dark gray rather than black. I can't say it's more handsome than the satin finish of the 7E--I like the old finish better--but it is more gripable and appears tougher. It certainly doesn't show fingerprints like the smooth finish of the A2 or original Elan (EOS 100). Goth fans and black finish freaks may be disappointed--it's not hell hole black.

The fit and finish is good but not on par with my 2001 Japan made Elan 7E. The main gotcha I noticed is the popup flash cover is slightly offset to one side, resulting in a larger gap on the right (see image below). However, the backdoor is snug and doesn't squeak or click like some earlier Elans. The lens mount is has more play than any EOS body I have owned. Lenses twist on too easy for my taste and, hence, may be more prone to interior dust than the tighter mount tolerances of my EOS Elan 7E, A2, 10D and 3.

Illuminated LCD. Press a button on the top deck and the LCD glows a glorious blue, a Godsend for night shoots with a tripod. No more fumbling with a penlight! The illuminated LCD is the most significant and welcome Elan 7NE upgrade. Even the choice of color--medium blue--is pleasing, unlike the dull orange of the 5D, 10D and 20D LCDs. They should have included this feature from the beginning!

Blue Moon LCD • Photographed with EOS 10D, EF 50 2.5 CM, RS-80N3 Remote Switch, Bogan 3001 tripod and 1 white reflector.

Viewfinder. The size and brightness of the viewfinder appears identical to the older Elan 7E. That is, a little dimmer than my A2 and EOS 3 but brighter than an EOS IX or Rebel 2000. The only difference I noticed is the borders of the AF selection rectangles are slightly lighter than the Elan 7E, i.e., more grayish than black. This difference may be perceived as good or bad depending on personal preferences. I love using Eye Controlled Focus (ECF) and find the lighter AF rectangles difficult to see in dim light (no problems before). However, if you don't use ECF you may find dark AF rectangles distracting and prefer lighter boxes. Incidentally, like the Elan 7E, ECF worked well for me. ECF must be calibrated for your eyes. Like the earlier Elans, calibration is cumulative and it takes about a dozen calibrations under different conditions to be reliable.

I noticed a viewfinder gotcha: two particles on the focusing screen. I've owned many EOS cameras since 1990: EOS 630, Rebel S, 10S (2x), Elan (2x), A2 (2x), 1N, 3, IX, Elan 7E, 10D and the Elan 7NE. Japanese quality control was exemplary: all came with impeccable fit and finish and sparkling clean focusing screens. Not a single particle spoiled any viewfinder. The Elan 7NE is the first new SLR to arrive with 2 dust particles on the focusing screen. These particles are lodged between the screen and pentaprism, hence they appear sharply focused, and can't be readily blown off like particles on the other side. Sure particles don't impact picture quality one iota, but nonetheless are distracting and disappointing.

Downgrades

Manual. Canon manuals--like most camera manuals--aren't known for detailed explanations or completeness. For example, Canon explains how to engage exposure compensation, but doesn't detail why and when to use it. Adeptness at manual overrides of metered exposures takes years of experience, so it's unfair to expect a manual to include a complete photographic course. However, Canon cut more corners than usual with this puppy. The old Elan 7E manual is luxurious in comparison: glossy stock, decent layout and graphics, spot color and brief but clear English. The Elan 7NE manual is shameful: smaller (hard on the eyes), cheap stock, crowded layout and a surprising amount of poorly written sentences. Canon not only saved paper, but saved on graphic artists, writers and editors! Well, at least the manual fits in your shirt pocket.

Random Musings

Country of Origin. Thus far I've seen Elan 7N/7NE cameras made in both Taiwan and Malaysia. My 2001 Elan 7E and my wife's 2002 Elan 7 are Japan made and have impeccable fit and finish. Currently, only high end EOS models like the 7D or 1V are made in Japan. The reduced labor and material costs allow Canon to sell the new Elan 7NE for less than the Elan 7E's old price. Americans like things to be as cheap as possible, so Canon has a smart strategy. However, the gotchas with the popup flash cover, dirty focusing screen and play in the lens mount give me the impression Taiwanese quality control isn't up to Japanese standards. I'm willing to pay more for better quality control but I'm probably in the minority. Incidentally, the country of manufacture is no longer molded on the bottom plate. They now use a cheesy white paper label.

The Elan 7NE is the best Elan yet and likely the last of its kind (unless a Digital Elan appears). It's a little sad as I've used an Elan series camera constantly since 1991.

Final Words

Like the Elan 7E before it, the Elan 7NE is an excellent camera: thoughtful ergonomics, easy operation and photographic flexibility. And it should be as it's identical to the prior Elan 7E save a few minor improvements. The enhanced AF, flash and cosmetics make a great camera a little sweeter. Plus, the Elan 7NE boasts the best value to performance ratio in the EOS film line. Only minor issues with quality control stain an otherwise near perfect camera. For most photo hobbyists this is as near to an ideal camera as it gets. The Elan 7NE is also great for travel and trekking due to its petite stature and full feature set.

Canon EF 24-85mm 3.5-4.5 II Zoom Lens. Great walkaround zoom for the Elan series.

If you're upgrading from the Rebel series, the Elan 7NE is a major step up. If you have an Elan 7E or EOS 5/A2, upgrading is unwarranted unless you need a second body. The Elan 7NE is the last of its kind--mid-range film EOS--but is a humdinger and highly recommended.

6/22/2004 • Revised 04/24/2011


©Copyright 2004-2012 by Peter Kun Frary • All Rights Reserved

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