Canon EOS 1V Review – the Last Professional Film SLR from Canon

Canon EOS 1V Review – the Last Professional Film SLR from Canon

2560 1440 James Tocchio

If you’re aware of the trajectory of film cameras as a technology then you’ll know where this review is headed. You’ll know that the top of the line film cameras simply got better and better for nearly a hundred years. You’ll know that the last professional film cameras were the best film cameras ever made. And since the Canon EOS 1V was the final 35mm professional SLR that Canon built, you’ll know that it is quite simply their best.

Made in the year 2000 and produced until 2018, it proudly ushered out the era of film. It also ushered in the era of digital, lending its body and design language to Canon’s first DSLR, the EOS 1D.

Its spec sheet is unmatched by any other film camera (yes, Nikon F6 owners, the EOS 1V is very slightly better). It is by any measure an amazing machine, and a 35mm SLR swansong worthy of one of the most important camera companies in the history of imaging.

About two months ago my friend let me borrow his EOS 1V. I’ve used it with Canon’s ultra-compact 40mm, a super telephoto zoom, and a Sigma 50mm f/1.4, and no matter what lens is attached or what sort of photo I was trying to make, it worked perfectly. I’ve used its excellent burst mode, its ridiculously fast AF, and peered happily through its (literally) perfect viewfinder. No matter what I was shooting, it got the shot. I can firmly state without pause or qualifiers, that it is as close to perfect as a camera can be.

Still, there are people for whom the Canon EOS1V won’t be a good fit. I’ve met quite a few photography likers who simply cannot abide the aesthetic of the DSLR (and the SLRs which preceded it). If you’re of the type who won’t be caught dead with anything but a rangefinder, for style reasons, the EOS 1V is a natural non-starter (even though you’ll invariably be a better photographer if you just give in and embrace the perfection that is the late model SLR). And it’s a heavy camera, no denying. For those who want to travel light or who live and die by the point and shoot, the EOS 1V will be anathema. And I guess if you’re a Nikon diehard, like me, you’ll probably turn your nose up and instantly check eBay for a Nikon F6 (and, again like me, you’ll quickly discover that the EOS 1V costs 40% less on average than the Nikon).

Let’s take a closer look.

Specifications (this could take a while)

  • Camera Type – 35mm AF/AE single lens reflex with focal plane shutter and built-in motor drive.
  • Lens Mount – Canon EF (full frame).
  • Exposure Modes – Program AE, Shutter Priority AE, Aperture Priority AE, Depth of field AE, E-TTL Program Flash AE, A-TTL Program Flash AE, TTL Program Flash AE, Manual Mode, Bulb Mode.
  • Shutter – Vertical traveling focal plane shutter with all speeds electronically controlled.
  • Shutter Speeds – 30 seconds to 1/8000of a second in 1/3 stop increments. Flash sync at 1/250 of a second.
  • Self Timer – 10 second or 2 second delay.
  • Metering Modes – TTL maximum aperture metering with a 21-zone silicon photocell. Evaluative metering (linkable to any focus point), Partial metering (approximately 8.5% of viewfinder at center, Center spot metering (approximately 2.4% of the viewfinder at center), Focusing point linked spot metering (approximately 2.4% of viewfinder), Multi-spot metering (maximum of 8 spot metering entries), Center-weighted average metering.
  • Metering Range – EV 0-20 for all metering modes.
  • ISO Film Speed Range – ISO 6 to 6400, automatically set with DX-coded film at ISO 25-5000.
  • Exposure Compensation – Autoexposure bracketing +/- 3 stops in 1/3 stop increments. Manual exposure compensation up to +/- 3 stops in 1/3 stop increments set with quick control dial. AEB and manual exposure compensation can be set together.
  • AE Lock – Auto AE lock operates in One Shot AF mode with evaluative metering when focus is achieved. Manual AE lock can be activated with AE lock button in all metering modes.
  • Multiple exposures – Maximum of 9 multiple exposures per frame, can be canceled and reset at any time; automatically resets after all multiple exposures have been taken.
  • Focusing Modes – One Shot Autofocus (AF stops when focus is achieved); AI Servo Autofocus (tracks subject movement up to the start of exposure); Manual Focusing (enabled with the focusing ring when the lens focus mode is set to M). Electronic manual focusing duriong continuous shooting and exposure is enabled with the PB-E2 and NP-E2 battery packs. Focusing point displayed in viewfinder, plus in-focus indicator and beep.
  • Autofocus Focusing Points – 4; any one focusing point can be selected.
  • Viewfinder – 100% coverage (20mm eye relief); 0.72x magnification; built-in diopter from -3 to +1; built-in viewfinder shutter.
  • Viewfinder Information Display – Within image area: AF area ellipse, focusing points, center spot metering circle; Below image area display: Shutter speed, aperture, manual exposure setting, AE lock, flash ready light, unsuitable FE lock warning, high-speed sync indicator, FE lock, bulb mode active, focusing point selection mode, depth of field AE, exposure compensation, in-focus indicator; Right of image area display: exposure level scale, exposure level indicator, flash exposure level, frame counter, frame count down indicator.
  • Focusing Screens – Interchangeable focusing screens (9 different types). Standard focusing screen model Ec-CIII.
  • Exposure Modes – Program AE, Shutter Priority AE, Aperture Priority AE, Depth of field AE, E-TTL Program Flash AE, A-TTL Program Flash AE, TTL Program Flash AE, Manual Mode, Bulb Mode.
  • Metering Modes – TTL maximum aperture metering with a 21-zone silicon photocell. Evaluative metering (linkable to any focus point), Partial metering (approximately 8.5% of viewfinder at center, Center spot metering (approximately 2.4% of the viewfinder at center), Focusing point linked spot metering (approximately 2.4% of viewfinder), Multi-spot metering (maximum of 8 spot metering entries), Center-weighted average metering.
  • Metering Range – EV 0-20 for all metering modes.
  • ISO Film Speed Range – ISO 6 to 6400, automatically set with DX-coded film at ISO 25-5000.
  • Exposure Compensation – Autoexposure bracketing +/- 3 stops in 1/3 stop increments. Manual exposure compensation up to +/- 3 stops in 1/3 stop increments set with quick control dial. AEB and manual exposure compensation can be set together.
  • AE Lock – Auto AE lock operates in One Shot AF mode with evaluative metering when focus is achieved. Manual AE lock can be activated with AE lock button in all metering modes.
  • Multiple exposures – Maximum of 9 multiple exposures per frame, can be canceled and reset at any time; automatically resets after all multiple exposures have been taken.
  • Focusing Modes – One Shot Autofocus (AF stops when focus is achieved); AI Servo Autofocus (tracks subject movement up to the start of exposure); Manual Focusing (enabled with the focusing ring when the lens focus mode is set to M). Electronic manual focusing duriong continuous shooting and exposure is enabled with the PB-E2 and NP-E2 battery packs. Focusing point displayed in viewfinder, plus in-focus indicator and beep.
  • Autofocus Focusing Points – 45; any one focusing point can be selected.
  • Film Advance – Automatic. Single frame and 3,5 FPS continuous shooting. 3 PS low speed continuous and 6 FPS high speed continuous with PB-E2 battery pack installed. 10 FPS with NP-E2 battery pack installed.
  • Film Rewind – Automatic, 8 seconds for 36 exposure roll. Silent rewind available, 12 seconds per 36 exposure roll. Mid-roll rewind possible.
  • Information imprinting with standard camera back – Any number from 00 to 99 and film No. from 001 to 999.
  • Shooting Data – When a picture is taken, shooting data is recorded in built-in memory and can be transferred to a computer for viewing and editing.
  • Camera Flash – Hot shoe with direct contacts (x-sync); PC terminal on right-hand bottom (threaded); E-TTL autoflash, A-TTL autoflash, TTL autoflash capable.
  • Custom Functions – 20
  • Personal Functions – 3 custom function groups can be registered.
  • Remote Control – Remote control and data transfer terminal provided (waterproof and dustproof caps provided).
  • Power Supply – One 2CR5 lithium battery. Battery packs available.
  • Dimensions – 160 x 120 x 71mm
  • Weight – 945g (33 oz) body only.

Key Features

As mentioned, the Canon EOS 1V is the pinnacle of Canon’s pro-spec SLRs. It therefore contains all of the best technologies that the company had come up with to that point in time.

It was built to an incredible standard of robustness; a durable metal chassis and magnesium alloy outer body shell make it one of the most reliable cameras ever made. Its controls are extensive and arranged in an intelligent and natural way. The auto-focus system is unbeaten by competitors. It has predictive auto-focus that’s capable of almost 9 FPS with the PB-E2 battery pack attached. The advanced metering system from the EOS 3 (an improvement over the EOS 1 that preceded the EOS 1v) has been included. The shutter can reach speeds of 1/8000 of a second. The viewfinder is perfect. It’s weather sealed and dustproof. It has every shooting mode, every metering mode, and every focus mode. It has everything.

Lens Compatability

Cameras are useless without good lenses. Thus, Canon’s EOS 1V is far from useless. The entire range of Canon’s EF mount lenses (for full frame cameras) can be used on the EOS 1V. This makes it a fantastic film camera for today’s digital Canon shooter. If you’ve already got a suite of lenses for your full frame Canon EOS DSLR and want to add a film camera to the stable, the EOS 1V is a perfect choice. It does not work with crop-sensor lenses (Canon EF-s or EF-m), however.

But, wait. Let’s not move on so quickly. The lens selection shouldn’t be understated. Canon’s EF mount is one of the most popular camera mounts in history, and over the last thirty-odd years, Canon (along with many other manufacturers) have created countless lenses for these cameras. There’s a perfect lens out there for every Canon EF shooter, and plenty within every budget (used and new).

This, to me, is one of the great strengths of the EOS system. We can buy a single set of lenses and use them interchangeably with our film camera and digital camera. That’s efficient and clean.

Ergonomics and Use

If you’ve used a DSLR in your life then you’ll be familiar with the handling of the EOS 1V.

There’s an ample rubber-coated hand grip and a protruding thumb rest which helps with balance, though even with this grip the camera and whatever lens is attached are so heavy that two-handed operation is a must. Two strap lugs allow attachment of a strap. They’re on the top, and they’re big.

All of the camera’s buttons and dials (with the exception of the depth of field preview on the front) are intelligently arrayed on the top plate and the back of the camera. The shutter release sits just ahead of the primary control dial, which allows adjustment of the most important shot parameters depending on our selected mode. There’s a convenient exposure compensation button, which I use extensively since I prefer shooting in aperture priority AE mode, and the autofocus controls are easily within reach. The less often used controls are relegated to the left hand side of the top plate, ready when you need them, but out of the way when we’re just here to shoot photos.

One lacking control that I do miss is a secondary control dial on the rear of the camera. Many cameras prior to, during, and since the launch of the EOS 1V have a control dial under the index finger and another on the back that can be manipulated with the thumb. It’s a very natural way of controlling shutter speed and aperture, or a primary control and exposure compensation. The EOS 1V lacks this secondary dial and instead uses Canon’s typical circular wheel. Though definitely a nitpick, this circular wheel has never felt right to me. It’s too large and too low, and it’s just not as fast or natural to use compared to the two-dial operation of many other SLRs/DSLRs/mirrorless cameras. With use, it becomes closer to second nature. But it’s not perfect.

I also dislike the location of the On/Off switch, positioned as it is just below the film door on the mid-left of the camera. Feels weird.

Adjustment of tertiary parameters can be affected by holding two buttons in unison. For example, holding the mode button and the AF button allows us to access the bracketing mode, which we can then adjust with the control dial. Holding the metering button and the AF button allows us to adjust the ISO. It’s a pretty elegant solution to the problem of fitting so much functionality into a camera without cluttering it up with excessive controls. I love it.

Pressing the AF select button on the back of the camera highlights the AF point in the viewfinder in bright red. After that single press, we can adjust the AF point side to side with the dial and up and down with the control wheel. It is fast and efficient, and we can do all of this without removing our eye from the viewfinder. The AE lock is prominent on the back, perfectly placed. There’s a film type window on the back door, a super informative LCD display on top, and a light which illuminates this panel at the press of a button.

I’ve mentioned it already, maybe twice, but the viewfinder of the EOS 1V is perfect. Not only is it enormous and bright, but the camera’s electronic controls are implemented intelligently within the finder. For example, when we select a particular control, let’s say exposure compensation, all of the other information drops away while we adjust exposure comp. The full information display returns once we’ve adjusted exposure comp and half press the shutter release button. This happens whenever we’re adjusting any control outside of aperture or shutter speed.

The camera doesn’t limit our control. In aperture priority mode, for example, if I adjust my aperture and then decide that I want the shutter to stay open a little longer than the camera deems appropriate, I need only scroll the shutter speed wheel to adjust exposure time. The camera considers this to be the same as adjusting the exposure compensation setting directly, and displays both the new shutter speed and the exposure compensation amount in the viewfinder. Other cameras would not allow us to adjust the shutter, or demand that we use the dedicated exposure comp control. The Canon knows what we’re trying to achieve and gives us a couple of different ways to get there – we can use whichever feels most natural.

Closing Thoughts

I could go on and on about the nuts and bolts of this thing. It has it all, and I could spend thousands of words dissecting all of the individual ways that it helped me make a good photo, all of the ways that it’s a better camera than this other camera, or that other camera. But I’m not sure how valuable that would be to the reader.

As I sit here holding the Canon EOS 1V in my hand I find myself struggling to think of a way to make this review interesting. The EOS 1V is very nearly a perfect camera. It does everything right, and nothing wrong. I can’t write a punchy headline about how it failed me, or that it’s over- or under-rated. For the money, and this camera is surprisingly-priced at around $600, there is no better, more capable film camera. The Canon EOS 3 is similar and costs less, but it’s made out of plastic and it’s not as reliable (Canon says the EOS 3 was capable of 100,000 shutter cycles compared with the 1V’s 150,000). Nikon’s professional level F6 comes almost immeasurable close to matching the EOS 1V, but the Nikon costs almost double.

Okay, perfection is impossible and the EOS 1V is no exception. Some of the buttons are small and tricky to find without looking. It’s a little on the heavy side. The lenses aren’t cheap. $600 is still a lot of money. And it’s a bit “middle-aged-dad at Disneyland” in the looks department.

Then again, I’m a dad, almost middle-aged, and I love Disneyland. And I’m pretty sure I love the Canon EOS 1V, too.

Buy your own Canon EOS 1V on eBay here


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James Tocchio

James Tocchio is a writer and photographer, and the founder of Casual Photophile. He’s spent years researching, collecting, and shooting classic and collectible cameras. In addition to his work here, he’s also the founder of the online camera shop Fstopcameras.com.

All stories by:James Tocchio
18 comments
  • Great post, pal. I‘be said it before and I’ll say it again… desert island SLR.

  • Sounds like a dream to shoot with : ) although if I had one I think I would miss the eye control focus of my Canon EOS 7, his almost silent shutter (if I am not wrong the Canon EOS 1V has a more normal sound) and his smaller size and weight. Maybe I write this to convince me myself to not look for this camera :,D

  • That Canon would not be the best film camera for me. It looks just like a modern DSLR but you put in film. For me the best film camera is something like an Olympus OM2n with has everything you need and nothing you don’t for daytime photography that does not require fast auto focus. It is better than the Canon because almost all the lenses I use for mine have the same filter size. For the smaller lenses like the the 50mm f1.8 it fits into an ever ready case. And it only weighs 18oz (body), plus the battery lasts for years. When I need a much more automatic film camera I pull out one of my Minolta 600si bodies. The 600 can be manual or full auto. No menus. All single function controls that can be easily seen at a glance. Like the Olympus many of it’s lenses have 49mm filters, but some take 55mm. There are lots of good lenses with AF available at attractive prices. And lenses like the 50mm f1.4 are small and light. The lenses adapt easily to the Sony E mount or fit directly on the Sony A mount.

    Once and a while I think about getting an F6 Nikon. But then I snap out of it and stick with the film cameras with no menus and work just fine.

    • If you are looking at Nikon, the comparable option to the 600si would be the Nikon F4 with the alll single function knobs and buttons plus excellent forwards and backwards compatibility with Nikons extensive catalog of lenses.

  • Tom Raymondson May 23, 2022 at 1:21 pm

    I know it shouldn’t matter, but I’ve always liked the angular “look” of classic manual focus Minoltas, Nikons, and Canons. This looks like to started to melt (as does my EOS3).

  • I have a Canon 1n, the model before the 1v. It has the same robustness as the 1v but a slightly lower feature set. I bought it secondhand around year. 2000 privately from a guy I knew in a camera store. He used to photograph weddings in his spare time but early on changed to digital. After I eventually went digital my 1n sat in a cupboard for about 18 years. I decided to get it going again a few weeks ago. It skipped a few frames which came out blank on the first couple of films. So I set rewind to leave the tail out of the cassette and ran an expired film through the camera 30 or 40 times using all the shutter speeds. Now it works perfectly. All my 20 or so EF and Sigma Art lenses work and autofocus perfectly with it but I will try to find someone to service the 1n as it is showing a bc error despite working perfectly. Bc can be battery ( it’s not that ) as well as several other errors. It is a great companion for my digital 5D4 and one of the reasons I will stay with DSLRS

  • Merlin Marquardt May 23, 2022 at 3:57 pm

    Great review of a great camera. Like the photos of the camera. Like the green background. How’d you do that?

  • This camera is in my wish list.
    But, Nikon F6, F5, Leica R8/R9, Minolta Maxuum, ….
    Contax RTS III
    Not easy.

  • EOS 1V is a consummate professional camera. To be honest though, most of the features are not needed by an amateur like me….. And that goes for Nikon F5 and F6 as well.

    However, compared to F5 and F6 its shutter has a stronger recoil. In the F5 the shutter recoil is barely noticeable and in the F6 it is simply not there at all.

    Still, EOS 1V is one of the greatest cameras ever built and an absolute joy to own & operate.

  • Hey James,
    Wonderful review of what I’m sure is a great camera. I lucked into an EOS 1n and 1Ds recently and, although the look reminiscent of my dad bod, they work hard and don’t complain.

    I feel like I should point out something I thin you may have overlooked about the DOF preview; it’s placement seems illogical until you consider using it with your pinky finger. It’s perfectly positioned to be pressed by either your shutter hand pinky or your lens hand pinky; just a matter of what feels more natural.

    Canon EOS are funny cameras to me; when I look at them I don’t want to pick them up but once I’m holding oneI don’t want to put it down either. Until I look at my Pentax LX, that is

  • James, how do you think it compares to the Minolta Alpha 7/9?

    • I think the Canon is better built than the Minolta a7, for sure. I think the lens selection and versatility is a little bit better for the Canon as well. Of course, you could be using a Minolta a7/9 and the Sony alpha DSLRs in much the same way, with one set of lenses between them. But the Canons are more plentiful, and L glass is pretty unbeatable for pure image quality.

      If we’re talking about pure image-making, they will be about even. I don’t think the Canon will do anything the Minolta can’t. In the case of this comparison it might just come down to which brand you fancy, or which one you can find at the best price.

      • James,
        I completely agree concerning the a7, it is a great camera with exceptional features and it’s my favorite Maxxum. However, there is no way it matches the build quality of a professional class camera.

        In my naïveté, I thought the a9 would be an a7, just somewhat better built—until I bought an a9. I am blown away by build quality and other features such as focus speed, which seems faster—and this is after loving the a7. I can’t say anything about glass because both Canon L glass and Minolta G glass cost far more than I can even consider as a hobbyist. Perhaps, one day, I can sell a few things a buy an 85mm 1.4 G and an 80-200mm 2.8 G—a man can dream…

  • Hi James, a wonderful write up as always about arguably one of the best two 35mm cameras out there – yet I couldn’t bring myself to read all through it. I lost interest somewhere in the upper half of the endless list of specs. I completely get why it is so great – it was answering the needs of professional photographers in the last iteration of film cameras, so it represents the pinnacle of an era. Thus, it is collectible, too. And, as you say, it will give you more flawless pictures than any of the older machines. Yet I am afraid I don’t find it appealing in the least. It just doesn’t evoke any more excitement in me than a nice DSLR, so, not a lot. I am just more thrilled by things that work with cogs and springs, although I am happy to admit that this Canon is superior in absolutely every way. It’s just not for me. So finally there’s an article on your wonderful site that doesn’t trigger my Gear Acquisition Syndrome and that’s a rare thing indeed! Thanks and keep up the great work!

    Stefan

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James Tocchio

James Tocchio is a writer and photographer, and the founder of Casual Photophile. He’s spent years researching, collecting, and shooting classic and collectible cameras. In addition to his work here, he’s also the founder of the online camera shop Fstopcameras.com.

All stories by:James Tocchio