Smart Cameras Offer Depth of Flexibility

Times Staff Writer

Does a peek into your camera bag reveal the same old tired equipment? Maybe it's time to trade in your outdated SLR (single lens reflex) camera for an electronic model with computer chips, liquid-crystal readouts, and other high-tech bells and whistles.

Cameras have not only entered the computer age but they have hit the ground running. New models tell you what exposure to use, what speed to use in shooting the picture, and even put the subject in focus.

Never mind that the principle of photography hasn't changed: It's still a matter of putting an image on a piece of light-sensitive film. But the old pinhole camera has gone Hollywood in a big way, and the question is how much glitter you need.

One of the latest and most highly touted entries into this "all-you-do-is-push-the-button" era of photography is the Canon EOS (electro-optical system) model 650 camera. It gives the photographer state-of-the-art automation and the ability to switch the camera into a different mode, so you can make all the creative choices.

The camera can be used in five different ways:

for an inexperienced photographer.

The Canon people, as you might expect, are extremely proud of their new baby. "This is the most innovative camera on the market," said William Kendall, senior technical representative for Canon in Costa Mesa. "Its computer microprocessor is twice as fast as any of the competition. It's also the most sensitive camera in low-light situations on the market. The camera will automatic focus in a low-light situation at an exposure of one second at f/1.4 with ISO (ASA) 100 film.

"It's the only system with a motor in the automatic focus lens, which means there is no mechanical coupling between the camera and lens."

While Kendall sees this as a major advantage, it is also a major disadvantage to this camera. Because of this new mounting system, older Canon lenses are not compatible with this camera. Lenses must be the new Canon EF lenses (electro-focus), which feature this new mounting system.

One of the other negatives is that the compartment at the rear of the camera, which houses the controls for changing the ISO, setting the self-timer and changing the automatic focusing modes, is inconveniently located. It is also troublesome to change these settings because some involve a two-step process of pushing one button and then turning a dial.

Other features include a motor drive built into the camera body, a metering system that's divided into six sections to determine proper exposure, manual focus override, built in hot shoe strobe, interchangeable view screen capability, automatic film rewind and one six-volt lithium battery that runs the entire camera.

Canon offers another camera in the EOS line--the 620. It includes the additional features that allow the user to shoot multiple exposures and the ability to make three continuous bracketing exposures automatically. The 620, however, does not include the depth-of-field mode.

The Canon EOS 650 camera with a 50-millimeter f/1.8 lens carries a list price of $709 (the camera body alone lists for $602). With competitive pricing at camera stores in Orange County, look for a price well under the list. Shop around.

However, buying the camera with a zoom lens such as the Canon EF 35-70-millimeter f/3.5-4.5, would probably be a much better value in the long run. Don't bother with the 50-millimeter if you can afford the zoom. And, even though it lists at $255, you're going to get your money's worth. If price is not a factor, consider the Canon EF 35-105-millimeter zoom lens that gives you a true telephoto option at 105 millimeters. The list on this zoom is $394. It really gives you a complete package, almost.

You have to remember that the EOS does not include an electronic flash. Some manufacturers have started including a small flash built into their automatic SLR cameras. Canon has gone a different route, offering the 420EZ and 300EZ Speedlite strobes as optional accessories. Both do a nice job with indoor and outdoor fill-in flash photography.

Overall, Canon has designed a camera that is easy to use, yet produces professional results. But remember, stepping up to a camera with automatic focus and different program modes will take a little time to get used to.

If you're looking for a point-and-shoot, stick-it-in-your-pocket snapshot camera, don't bother with the Canon EOS 650. This camera is designed for the photographer who needs a tool to create, combining automatic and manual setting.

It's becoming tough to tell the cameras apart. A growing number of manufacturers are entering the automatic-everything-SLR arena. But Canon, with these quality products, should continue to be one of the better sellers.

The photography column, which runs each Saturday in Orange County Life, is designed to help both the serious amateur and weekend shooter. Questions and ideas are both welcome and encouraged by: Robert Lachman, chief photographer, The Times, 1375 Sunflower Ave., Costa Mesa, Calif. 92626

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