Canon EOS 50e 35mm autofocus camera – part one

The Canon EOS 50e is a high quality, auto focus, 35mm film camera made by Canon in Japan in the late 1990’s. It has some innovative and interesting features, including setting the auto focus points by detecting where the photographer is looking in a scene!


These pictures can also be viewed full sized here.

My Camera.

I paid £8:50 for this camera as a body-only purchase from a business on eBay that specializes in camera sales. In fact, that isn’t completely accurate, because I initially paid £17 for the camera but when I received it there was a fault with it and the seller kindly agreed to a 50% discount if I wanted to keep the camera, or a full refund if I wanted to return it.

The problem I found was that the shutter stuck on most operations, and after a bit of investigation I found that there was oil contamination on the shutter blades. Since I assumed this would be relatively easy to clean off, I took the discount offer and repaired the shutter.

The actual repair was quite simple. With no lens fitted to the camera I pushed the mirror up and supporting the camera with my hand I pushed a finger through to the inside of the shutter blades. I could then use a cotton bud soaked in IPA (Isopropyl alcohol) to clean up the sticky goo from the back of the blades, whilst my finger stopped the blades distorting too much. I needed to do this several times, disposing of each cotton bud as I removed the mess, and allowing the shutter to dry in between, but after a few goes the shutter seems to be working properly again.

It other respects the camera seems to be in good shape. There is a little dust in some of the cracks and crevices of the case so it could do with a good clean, but all the important parts like the mirror and focus screen are clean, the controls are in good shape and work correctly, and the LCD display has the proper level of contrast (sometimes LCD’s can loose their contrast as they get old).

Although I bought the camera as a body only, I fortunately have a 28 to 80mm EF lens from a Canon EOS300 camera which I bought many years ago which works well with the body, so once the shutter cleanup was complete I could load the camera up and take it out for a test drive.

Canon EOS 50e Description

This is not going to be a complete description because the hand-book for his camera is available on-line and gives a very thorough description of it’s operation. Instead, in this initial post, I’m just going to give my first impressions of the camera.

It’s quite a bulky and solid feeling unit which is made mostly of plastic but still feels quite tough, although I suspect it would easily crack if it were dropped onto a hard surface. It’s quite a large camera, on par with the Pentax Z-1 or Minolta 800si, and when it was manufactured it was aimed at the serious amateur photographer.

The stand out feature of this camera is the ingenious use of eye control to focus the camera. The focus system consists of three sensors positioned in the center, left and right of the frame, and with the camera set up to use eye control it can be made to focus using the sensor which is closest to the point that you look at in the scene. Inside the viewfinder are sensors which detect where the user is looking and this information is used to select the correct focus point.

I set my camera to use this system and I can confirm that it really is rather good at getting the focus selection right. The system has to be calibrated to the user’s eye movements, but this is a quick process which only takes a couple of minutes. There is provision for up to 3 user settings to be stored, which is quite useful, as apparently the camera will learn and improve its accuracy as time goes on. You would obviously want to make sure the correct user was selected each time so the self learn system wouldn’t make the performance worse.

As well as the focus points, it’s also possible to use eye control to stop the lens down and preview the depth of field. This is achieved by looking at a symbol in the top left hand corner of the frame within 6 seconds of the focus being set.

I’m not familiar with Canon cameras so I was quite surprised when I saw this feature, but it seems it did not last very long with their cameras. None of the modern Canon DSLR’s have this feature so I guess it must be considered a failure.

For me, the other stand out feature is the focus performance itself. Although this is a 20 year old camera, the auto focus performance is really fast and quiet. I set the camera to use the centre focus point only, turned on one shot focus, and manual exposure control, and in my semi-dark office I could easily lock on focus in less than 1/2 second as I tried some test shots (without film). Even on some very low contrast surfaces the camera seemed to lock really quickly. As an owner of a Pentax DSLR I can say that my K5 would not perform much better, and that is 15 years newer!

This is a short introduction to the EOS 50e – in the next part I will cover my shooting experience with the camera as I took it for a spin and include some sample pictures.

Canon EOS 50e Specifications

  • Canon EOS 50e 35mm autofocus SLR
  • 6 segment TTL metering
  • Program mode, Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority, Fully manual, Fully Automatic + scene modes
  • Warning for camera shake
  • ISO 6 to 6400 (reduces to 25 to 5000 for DX coded films)
  • +/- 2 stops exposure compensation
  • Powered film transport, single shot/multi shot + bracketing
  • 3 auto focus modes + manual focus
  • Focus point selectable automatically or by eye control
  • 30sec to 1/4000sec shutter speed
  • Electronic self timer
  • Front and rear control dials
  • Built in flash
  • Top panel LCD information screen
  • Additional control functions on back panel
  • Custom functions allowing camera to be set up as photographer requires
  • Ser No: 8003783
  • Manual available here
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2 thoughts on “Canon EOS 50e 35mm autofocus camera – part one

  1. I had a 50E and still have the EOS30. The former packed up with a jammed shutter, but very impressed with its handling and general quality. Now in the camera graveyard in the sky.

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