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Canon EOS IX

APS on Steroids

Peter Kun Frary


This little stainless steel clad SLR is cute and exquisitely made, sort of a luxury Elf on steroids. It has most of the features of the EOS 10S, except for custom functions and barcode programming. Does APS live up to the marketing promises of better prints, smaller cameras, more print sizes, easier film loading, mid-roll change and exposure information recording? Or, was APS a marketing gimmick to get you to buy a new camera? Read further and decide for yourself.

Gap Boy with Taro, Ala Moana Shopping Center • EOS IX, EF 24 2.8, Advantix 400.

The EOS IX (1996) is the most full featured and expensive of five APS SLRs marketed during the late 1990s: EOS IX, EOS IX Lite, Minolta Vectis S-1, Nikon Pronea 6i and Nikon Pronea S. APS SLR sales were modest and the EOS IX was a sales flop for Canon USA. Consequently, the EOS IX is no longer available. Why? It originally retailed for $1100 with an EF 24-85 USM lens kit (body only, $650). A grand is too expensive for casual snapshooters, the market for APS. Most snapshooters were only willing to spend $200 to $300, hence the birth of the plastic EOS IX Lite. However, the real niche for APS turned out to be cute pocket cameras, e.g., the Canon Elf series. In fact, Canon just released another APS camera in 2002, the Elf Z3, a petite clamshell of bushed aluminum.

Canon EOS IXE • In Japan the EOS IX is called the EOS IXE and sports eye controlled focus (ECF). Canon should dump the G1 and G2 designs and use this body style for a consumer-level digital SLR.

Major Features

The EOS IX is a strange cross between the EOS 10S, Elan II, Rebel G and Elf:

Three-point wide area auto focus was borrowed from the Rebel G and 10S. The center sensor is a cross-type sensor while the outer sensors are vertical sensors. Unlike the EOS 10S, the AF rectangles don't flash red then activated. Instead, gray rectangles materialize when AF lock is achieved. Otherwise, the AF rectangles remain invisible. The AF modes include One-Shot AF, AI Servo and AI Focus. Incidentally, low light AF is noticeably better than the Elan 7E.

Viewfinder. The roof mirror viewfinder has an amazing 95% coverage (the manual specs say pentaprism with roof mirror). That's better than most cameras, including the EOS 3, A2E Elan, Elan II and Elan 7E. Unfortunately, the viewfinder is rather dim and small (.6 x magnification vs a typical .7-.75 x ). The viewfinder boasts a full information display: print format, AF sensors, AF confirmation, shutter speed, aperture, flash, DEP mode display, exposure compensation scale and manual mode exposure scale.

Film Transport. The extremely quiet--not silent--motor drive zips along at 2.5 frames per second. The mirror slap is surprisingly soft, softer than any SLR I have used, including the the Elan and Elan 7E. The drive is capable of both single shot and continuous drive modes.

Shutter Speeds. 1/4000 to 30 seconds in 1/2 stop increments. Bulb and self timer ability. 1/200 flash sync.

Three metering patters: 6-zone evaluative, center weighted and partial (6.5% of frame). No spot meter but the 6.5% partial is tighter than the 10% partial of the Elan 7. Like the 10S, meter patterns can't be independently selected: M mode uses center weighted and all other modes use Evaluative. Partial metering is engaged by pressing the (*) AE lock button in the Creative Zones.

Multitude of exposure modes: programmed "PIC" modes (sports, night, portrait, etc.), programmed AE, aperture priority, shutter priority, manual and depth of field. These modes are accessed by turning a clearly labeled dial on the the back. Moreover, you may override P, AV and TV modes with -2 to +2 of exposure compensation or auto bracketing.

E-TTL Flash Metering. You'll need the 420EX or 550EX external flash for E-TTL features like High-Speed Sync (FP), Flash Exposure Lock (FE Lock) and wireless multiple Speedlites. The built-in flash and older flashes (430EZ, 540EZ, etc.) use TTL metering with this camera.

Drop-in Film Loading. Open the film hatch, drop the film cartridge in and close the door. The camera automatically sets ISO and advances to the first frame. If needed, you may manually over ride ISO settings. Thus, there are no worries about exposing the film, putting your finger through the shutter curtain or exposing the camera's interior to the elements. The EOS IX loads from the top and, subsequently, is easier to use than bottom loaders, especially when on the run or using a tripod.

Midroll Film Change (MFC). You may rewind the film before exposing all the frames and reload the film later. The camera automatically advances to the correct frame. MFC is handy when you want to organize film according to subject or use faster or slower film for special conditions. You may also exchange partially exposed film with other APS cameras.

Information Exchange. A magnetic track records the date, time, print format, picture orientation, scene brightness, illuminant type (flash, daylight, fluorescent, or tungsten) and exposure settings. This information is used by the printer to detect print format, improve print quality and to imprint data on the front or back of the print.

Stainless Steel Body. The interior is mostly polycarbonate but the stainless steel outer body gives it great rigidity, durability and beauty. The EOS IX looks and feels extremely solid and well made. My A2 and Elan feel like plastic toys in comparison.

EOS IX LCD • Rear mounted display is packed with information

What's missing from this feature list? A selection of Custom Functions like second curtain sync, mirror lockup, flash reduction defeat, etc., would be nice. Unfortunately, there's no dioptric adjustment either. However, you can buy corrective viewfinder lenses (difficult to find). A vertical grip/battery pack or brushed aluminum grip extension would be nice but is unavailable.

The EOS IX, like the A2 and Elan, have a feature that later EOS SLRs lack: shiftable DEP mode. DEP mode refers to depth of field autoexposure. By focusing on the nearest and farthest points desired in focus, the camera automatically sets hyperfocal distance and aperture to render everything within those two points sharp. The EOS A2, Elan and IX allow you to shift the program to increase or decrease depth of field (I normally increase depth of field). I miss this feature on my EOS 3 and Elan 7E! To get the same result on these cameras, I use the DEP mode, note the aperture setting, disable AF (so the hyperfocal distance won't change), change mode to Av and set a stop or two smaller aperture.

Image Size

The APS image size is smaller than 35 mm and, thus, angle of view is reduced at any given focal length, a magnification factor of 1.25 x. For example, a 24 mm lens on an APS camera has the same coverage as a 30 mm lens on 35 mm. If you're into telephotos this is great, but it's a bummer to lose your wide angle lenses. Digital SLRs like the EOS D60 or 1D suffer the same dilemma.

APS images are 56% the size of 35mm images. Therefore, images must be enlarged more to produce standard print sizes, e.g., 4 x 6 or 8 x 10. Thus, it's crucial that the camera be held rock steady. No more one handed shooting from trees! Camera shake is also a major problem with digital point 'n shoot cameras, most of which have tiny 1/4 inch image sensors.

AF Assist Light

There is one mildly disappointing feature of the EOS IX: the irritating AF assist light. But, hey, that's better than no AF assist light. The EOS 1V, 3 and Elan 7E have nothing. Why is it irritating? A bright white automatically light flashes in low light thereby blinding and confusing your subjects before you take the picture. Yuck! The near-infrared AF assist light of the Elan and Elan IIE is discreet and elegant. You may disable the AF assist light by covering it with electrical tape (elegant solution). Even with electrical tape over the AF assist light, low light AF is better than the Elan 7E. Fortunately, with an external flash, the camera defaults to the Speedlite's AF assist light.

Retractable Flash

The EOS IX sports a retractable flash above the pentamirror. The retractable flash uses 3-zone TTL flash metering linked to all 3 focusing points. In other words, flash exposure is adjusted depending on what is under the active AF sensor, so lock-AF-recompose is not recommended with flash. If you can't live without lock-AF-recompose, you can still do it with an external Speedlite and get great flash exposures if you use FE Lock (see below).

Canon EOS IX, EF 24-85 USM Lens & Retractable Flash • Extremely Cute Looking.

The retractable flash is handy for fill flash and close snapshots, but not much else. Flash coverage is fixed at 22mm. The flash auto erects during backlighting or low light in Full Auto and some PIC modes. In Creative Zones (P, Av, Tv & M), you activate it with a button on the top desk. The Guide Number of 36 feet at 100 ISO translates into a 39 foot range with 100 ISO film and an EF 50 1.4 USM lens. The EOS IX has onboard flash exposure compensation of -2 to +2 stops in half stop increments. Flash exposure compensation also works with external Speedlites. Amazingly, the EOS IX syncs at 1/200 or slower, the same as the EOS 3 and A2.

Christmas Agashi, Honolulu • EOS IX, EF 24-85 3.5-4.5 USM, fill-in flash with retractable flash, Advantix 400. Without fill-in flash she would have been too dark due to the backlighting from the pool.

External Flash

Except for pro cameras such as the EOS 1V or 3, most EOS cameras have a popup TTL flash. So why use an external E-TTL flash? First, even the smallest external Speedlite such as the 220EX is twice as powerful as the popup. Thus, you have more power for group portraits or subjects posed against the setting sun. Second, a shoe mounted Speedlite is less prone to red eye problems because it is further from the lens axis. Third, Speedlites may be used off-camera on stands or brackets for better modeling and macro work. Fourth, light modifiers, e.g., diffusers or bounce cards, may be employed for softer light. Finally, you may use special features of E-TTL flash, e.g., high speed sync (FP Flash) or flash exposure lock (FE Lock), not available on popups.

The best flash features are hidden in the E-TTL circuits of the EOS IX and require an EX Speedlite, e.g., the 420EX or 220EX, to access them. A review of the 220EX is here. A review of the 420EX is here.

E-TTL Flash Metering

When you press the shutter button, an EX series Speedlite fires a low power preflash to determine flash exposure a split second before exposure. The preflash is not noticeable because it is so near the main flash it appears as a single flash. The camera's Evaluative meter, e.g., the 6-zone Evaluative meter in the EOS IX, is used to measure both ambient light and flash. In most modes the camera balances both flash and ambient light for a natural appearance. Flash exposure is biased to the active AF sensor.

Fill-in Flash

In bright light, EV 10 and above, EX series Speedlites provide automatic fill-in flash in Full Auto and P modes. In dim light, below EV 10, flash is the main light in Full Auto and P modes (the background may be dark). Av, Tv and M modes deliver automatic fill-in flash in any light, even at night (slow sync). Slow sync results in a natural balance between ambient light and flash. However, you may need a tripod due to the resulting slow shutter speeds.

The active focusing point is linked to metering and, thus, flash exposure. In other words, there is an exposure bias in favor of the object you focus on.

FE Lock & Flash Exposure Compensation

FE Lock is great for off-center subjects or troublesome highlights that fool the meter. FE Lock works like a spot meter for flash. First, place the center AF sensor on your subject and press the AE Lock button. The EX series Speedlite fires a low power preflash. Exposure is determined by the reflectance of the subject in the partial metering circle, so be careful what you aim at. Use a medium toned area for best results. Finally, you have 16 seconds to recompose and shoot. The flash will expose the subject correctly even with usually light or dark backgrounds or an off-center subject.

FP Flash

FP Flash allows you to sync at any shutter speed, albeit with great loss of power and, hence, range. It is great for daytime fill flash as it allows use of large apertures or fast film. However, FP Flash works best in Av, Tv and M modes where the user has control over aperture and/or shutter speed. When a Speedlite is mounted on the EOS IX, P and DEP modes are not shiftable making these modes almost useless for FP Flash. Moreover, P mode tends to favor smaller apertures over faster shutter speeds when a Speedlite is mounted.

Wireless Flash

The EOS IX may be used in wireless and multiple E-TTL flash modes. My ST-E2 Speedlite Transmitter and 420EX Speedlite worked great with the EOS IX in wireless mode. Unfortunately, the EOS IX is not compatible with lighting ratio control so all multiple Speedlites fire at a 1:1 ratio.

Remote Controller RC-1

The Remote Controller RC-1 works with the EOS 10S, Elan, Elan II, Rebel TI Date, EOS IX and Elan 7E. It also triggers Canon point 'n shoot cameras that use an infrared remote, e.g., Elf Z3. The RC-1 can trip the shutter from 15 feet in front of the camera or slightly behind the camera. It will also fire the shutter from a few feet above, below or to the side of the camera so it makes a fine cable release. The range of the infrared beam increases indoors or in places with reflective surfaces, e.g., white walls and ceilings. You have a choice of immediate release or 2 second delay. If you hate plugging in electronic releases, especially removing that darn little cap, the RC-1 is the way to go.

RS-60E3 Electronic Release

An inexpensive electronic cable release is available, the RS60-E3, for exposures requiring vibration control. The RS60-E3 behaves like the shutter button: half depress locks AF and exposure and a full depress fires the shutter (the RC-1 triggers AF, exposure and shutter in one press). You may trip the shutter from 2 feet away. If you have the RC-1, the RS-60E3 is redundant for most people. The RS60-E3 is also used for the Rebel Ti, Rebel 2000, Elan II and the EOS IX.

Are APS Prints Better?

The information recorded on the magnetic track of the film about scene brightness, illuminant type (flash, daylight, fluorescent, or tungsten) and exposure settings is analyzed by the photofinishing computer and theoretically produces a better print. For example, it recognizes a night scene and instructs the printer to print it differently (darker) than a day scene or a sunset. From my experience, a competent lab produces equally good prints from APS or 35mm. On the other hand--especially on busy holidays--I have gotten crappy APS prints. Nevertheless, APS has slightly more consistent print quality than 35mm when using automated processing such as Kodak Premium Service. Plus, it's cool to have the date, lens and exposure information on the back of the print.

The three default print sizes, 4 x 7 (full frame), 4 x 6 (cropped) and 4 x 11 (very cropped) are a nice gimmick. Your print size preference is encoded on the film and read by the printer. However, everything is shot full frame so you may have them printed differently if you change your mind. The various print sizes are created from cropping and enlargement, nothing new. For example, the quasi panoramic mode is merely a magnification of the middle strip of the APS negative.

Most serious amateurs--the market willing to shell out a grand--dislike APS film. It gives them something to hate (they need to get a life!). The small image size--16.7 x 30.2 mm--doesn't enlarge as well as 35mm film (24 x 36mm). So what. The target market for APS is casual snapshooters desiring small prints. To be fair, you can't see a difference between APS and 35mm at 4 x 6 or 4 x 7 print sizes. So, it's perfect for its intended purpose. If you need massive enlargements you should shoot medium or large format.

Unfortunately, APS film choices are scant: 100, 200, and 400 ISO print films are available from major film companies. However, slide film isn't available in the USA, and ISO 800 film (Fuji) and the single black and white offering (Kodak) are hard to come by and pricey. Nevertheless, most snapshooters are happy with ISO 200 or 400 print film. If you intend to print panoramics or 8 x 10 enlargements, stick to slow fine grained emulsions such as Nexia 100, 200 and Advantix 100 or 200. Sadly, Fuji recently discontinued its excellent and ultra fine grain Nexia 100 film in North America but gave us Nexia 800. Nexia 100 is available in forgien markets and may be purchased as a gray market product at B&H Photo. Kodak still has an ISO 100 APS offering but I expect it to disappear soon.

Final Words

Why did I buy an EOS IX? It was on closeout in mid-1999 for $200 and looked extremely cool. Canon's designers pulled out the stops on this one. It can use my EOS lenses and accessories. Plus, when I hang at the mall, women often ask about the cute little camera. "Are you digital?" "Ah," gulp, "I wouldn't dare do that, I'm happily married." Some of them can't resist and gently caress the stainless steel skin. One woman fingered the rear-mounted LCD while gazing longingly at the Canon logo. In contrast, my EOS 3, PB-E2 Booster Drive and EF 200 2.8L USM make women uncomfortable and run away. So, I bought an Elf and women were suddenly and strangely attracted to me.

Canon Elf Z3 • Check out the backlit display. After buying an Elf my love life has never been better.

I keep an EF 28 2.8 or EF 24 2.8 lens on the EOS IX and use it as a snapshot camera. With the lens hood mounted, it looks like a Leica in a miniskirt. It's petite size allows it to fit in my fanny pack for biking or holiday excursions.

Complaints

My main complaint is that the EOS IX viewfinder is small and dim compared to most SLR viewfinders. Unfortunately, the APS DSLRs, e.g., EOS D30, D60 and 10D, also suffer the same fate. Viewfinder dimness is not noticeable during outdoor daylight shooting--brightness and contrast are fine. However, it is a problem when shooting at night or in dark interiors. Well, at least it shows 95% of the frame! Of course, a fast lens like an EF 50 1.4 USM rather than a slow zoom help: brighter viewfinder, enhanced AF and metering, extended flash range and you may handhold the camera under dim conditions.

The Bottom Line

The EOS IX has most of the advanced features of a midrange EOS SLR: interchangeable lenses and flash, automatic, semiautomatic and manual exposure modes, wide area AF, Single Shot AF and AI Servo, 1/200 normal flash sync, high speed flash sync (to 1/4000 sec), wireless flash capability and remote release sensor. It also has the convenience and features of APS: Information Exchange (IX), midroll change (MRC), multiple print formats and drop-in film loading. It is a discreet camera: small and non-threatening, the motor drive is extremely quiet and the mirror slap is the softest I have encountered. These features make it perfect for parties and other situations where a full sized SLR might scare away subjects. Moreover, these features are elegantly organized and enclosed in a petite and beautiful stainless steel body.

If you mainly need 4 x 6 or 4 x 7 prints, the image quality is excellent. I can't tell the difference between APS and 35mm at that size. If you shoot ISO 100 or 200 film and use good technique (keep the camera steady and use a sharp lens), excellent 5 x 7 and 8 x 10 enlargements are possible. Unfortunately, current ISO 400 and 800 films are too grainy for critical enlargements. For example, 4 x 11 panoramic prints are unbearably grainy with ISO 400 film. However, panoramics with ISO 100 or 200 film come out reasonably sharp.

I've seen used EOS IX bodies at KEH.com for $75-100, a litle more for the EOS IXE. However, you can still buy a new kit or body in mom and pop photo shops (or overseas). Just don't pay $650 for one!

Unlike point 'n shoots, the EOS IX is a real camera with real controls. Did I mention that it's cute and fun to use? It looks really fine with my EF 300 4L USM mounted, kind of like a futuristic weapon! APS film's days are numbered, so enjoy this late 90s curio while your can.

Images Taken With The EOS IX (click to make bigger)

Source Materials

Canon IX Instructions. Canon, Inc. Japan: 1996.

Raby, Philip. Complete Canon EOS IX User's Guide. Hove Photo Books. St. Helier: 1997.

4/2/2002 • Revised 6/8/2006

©Copyright 2002-2012 by Peter Kun Frary • All Rights Reserved

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