The 30-Year-Old Canon Camera That Introduced Eye Control Focus

    Did you know that Canon introduced the world to eye-controlled focus in 1992? In this flashback, I will discuss the Canon EOS A2E, the world’s first camera that allows the user to select the focus point just by looking at it.

    The Canon EOS A2E (EOS 5 in European markets) is a superior SLR with a host of advanced features, including an excellent 5-point autofocus system, multiple exposure modes including Program, Shutter and Aperture Priority, Manual, Portrait, Landscape, Sports and more, large flash, built-in 28mm-80mm auto zoom, 1/200 second flash sync, top shutter speed of 1/8000 sec, 16 customizable functions including high speed movie rewind, back button autofocus control, mirror lock and the ability to remove film leader, a feature which I have always appreciated because I developed my own film. The A2E is also one of Canon’s cameras that has helped code their design language and, in action, it’s very similar to the 5D series. It has the same control wheel, main dial and rear control wheel, a testament to the enduring great design. If all of this isn’t enough, the camera is the first to introduce eye-controlled focus (in the A2E model), although it can be purchased without the feature like the A2.

    A Prosumer Camera Loved By Professionals

    Within the lineup, the A2 series is positioned just below Canon’s EOS-1 series and is marketed as semi-professional models. However, the A2 quickly became popular with professional professionals for its powerful feature set, excellent handling, and reliability. While the camera is made mostly of plastic, it has proven itself to be extremely well built and can handle a wide variety of shooting conditions. I’ve owned my A2E since 1998 and it still works perfectly. When the optional VG-10 vertical grip is attached, it not only provides the user with a vertical shutter button, main dial, AF selector and custom buttons, but also makes for much better ergonomics and results in one of the best cameras of the period.

    Eye control focus

    Not to be confused with the eye-tracking focus in modern digital cameras, the eye-control focus allows the user to select one of five horizontally positioned focus points by looking at a point and pressing shutter button halfway. This system was revolutionary in the 1990s, but results vary depending on the particular photographer. However, it has always worked well for me, and even when I dusted off my A2E and shot a few rolls of film for this flashback, I was pleasantly surprised with how accurate it was, although not perfect, but most of the time it works. However, in A2E, this only works in landscape mode, so portrait photography has to be done the old-fashioned way, by manually selecting the focus point or letting the camera decide.

    Eye-control focus quickly reached its peak in the EOS 3, a camera I also own but (sorryly) sold many years ago. The EOS 3 takes its place above the A2E and just below the EOS-1 series in Canon’s lineup, and features an incredible 45-point autofocus system with much-improved eye-control focusing capabilities. Unfortunately, eye control was a short-lived feature that disappeared completely not long after the EOS 3, and although I don’t know the official reason why, I’m guessing it’s because of the way it works. inconsistent behavior from one user to the next.

    I’ll add another problem I’ve found with eye control focus. When using the system, I sometimes find myself looking at one of the autofocus points instead of at my subject, so, in a strange way, it distracts me from the composition. mine for a moment, because my eyes are focused on the little red squares. in the viewfinder.

    Ergonomics and Handling

    The A2E’s ergonomics and handling are outstanding, especially for a camera that’s almost 30 years old. As I mentioned, the layout is very similar to the 5D series, and if you look at the cameras side-by-side, you can see how Canon has stayed true to their design language throughout the years. The grip on the camera is one of the best, as it’s big, deep, and very comfortable. The vertical grip offers the same level of comfort and support, and the buttons are well placed, making the camera easy to use in either portrait or landscape orientation. Dialing in the correct exposure is easy via the main dial and rear control wheel, although the A2 series lacks an exposure scale and uses a simple plus/minus symbol in the viewfinder (sample). European cameras have a proper exposure scale that makes it all the more desirable in today’s used market). The viewfinder is large and bright, and in general, the buttons and dials seem to be in their right places, which makes using the camera after many years easy.

    The A2E isn’t a small camera, and one thing that amazes me is how bulky it seems now. Even without the vertical grip, the camera is sturdy and has a decent weight, especially for things that are more or less made of plastic. It’s certainly not too heavy, but the size and weight are noticeable if you’re carrying it around for a day of shooting. The large built-in flash also means that the top of the camera protrudes slightly forward and has an angled design, unlike most high-end Canon models, but I’ve always found this to add to the look. camera charm.

    Speed, velocity

    For this article, I tested the A2E with the EF 50mm f/1.4 lens, and I found focusing overall to be quick and accurate. There were a few times when the images that I thought were locked out were a bit blurry. Since one feature the camera is missing is the diopter, it’s difficult for me to tell if focus is locked in some cases. Another oddity about the camera is that every so often, it takes an extra second for the camera to work. At first I thought something was wrong with it, but then I realized that it hasn’t gained focus and is still in the process of locking the object. This has also happened a handful of times.

    Besides the autofocus, one thing that I enjoyed about using the A2E again was how fast the rotation in the settings was. Changing from one mode to another is quick and easy, and adjusting aperture or shutter speed is as simple as using a modern Canon camera. The dial in the settings is intuitive and fun, with the main drawback being a simple plus/minus exposure meter that lacks a scale.

    Image quality

    I shot two reels of film with A2E (Fuji Superia 400 and Ilford XP2 Super 400). Then I developed and scanned the negative at my local camera shop. I edited two black and white images in this article, but the rest are straight from the scan. I was quickly reminded of how much we are spoiled with high-resolution digital cameras in terms of image quality; however, the results are very satisfying and there is a certain film that is very desirable and is often imitated. Images are contrasted with muted colors and have just enough grain to make them look vintage. I also used the flash as an accessory for my wife’s portrait, and the camera captured that situation wonderfully. While I’m investing more in filming, I’m still not to the point of investing in a high-resolution film scanner. I would imagine that if I bought a good scanner I would see a noticeable difference in the quality of the scans, but I haven’t been there, especially since the cost of using the camera is already quite high. , as I detail below.

    Vertical handle

    I’ve always loved the vertical grip for the A2E. It’s small, light, and looks great on camera without looking like an afterthought, as many hand grips often do. Part of why it’s so light and small is that it doesn’t contain a battery compartment, which is obviously a compromise, but what is lost in functionality has been achieved in size and usability. I’ve always thought that the sharp angle of the grip on the non-shutter side was also a very nice design choice, as it helps keep the camera from looking like a giant brick.

    Cost of photography

    The A2E uses 2CR5 batteries, which were popular in the 1990s and are suitable for many cameras. Today, however, the 2CR5 will run around $20. Add to that the cost of the film, which is about $15 per roll, and the cost of scanning and developing two reels, about $20 per roll, and easy. cost almost $100 to shoot two reels of film with this camera! This is why I don’t test it continuously at high speed!


    The Canon A2E was and is a great camera. For the 1990s, it was feature-packed and versatile and had quite a bit to offer videographers. For me, using a camera like this is an exercise in nostalgia and fun, although after brushing off the A2E, I think I’ll be using it more often. The question now is whether to invest in a scanner and start developing my own film again, and we all know that this can be a time consuming and expensive project. , although very interesting.

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