Canon Demi EE17: The everyday diptych machine

There are many cameras out there that take standard 35mm film and expose alternative formats for creative effect. The Noblex’s literally sweeping panoramas, the Nishika N8000’s 3D gifs, and the Lomography Pop’s 9 frame pop-art “explosions” all have their appeal, but they all share the same problem: their form factor and results are too niche for everyday shooting.

As a 35mm half-frame camera, the Canon Demi EE17 may not be not as radical as the others, but it hits the sweet spot of day-to-day usability and opportunity for experimentation. Although not without challenges, it functions well as a flexible, compact zone/scale focus camera. When combined with home scanning, it opens the door to producing diptychs with huge storytelling potential.


Launched in 1966, the Canon Demi EE17 is certainly an older camera, but it’s compact, pleasantly hefty aluminum build stands the test of time, both in quality and looks. It comes with a fixed 30mm f/1.7 lens that makes it just a little too big to fit into your front pocket, but it fits nicely in a jacket pocket if you don’t feel like carrying around a camera bag.

An idiosyncrasy that is immediately obvious is that, like most half-frame cameras, it shoots in portrait orientation by default, cutting the traditional 35mm frame vertically in half. As a naturally portrait-orientation-biased-shooter myself, this was a welcome feature, but I can see how it wouldn’t be for everyone.

Focusing — which is zone/scale only — can be a challenge. To shoot, you turn the focusing tab on the lens to the correct distance marking on the lens, or follow the indicator in the viewfinder that swings between the cryptic ‘portrait’, ‘group shot’, and ‘mountain’ icons. The trick here is to be smart about hyperfocal distance, sticking to tighter apertures, light permitting. This style of shooting can be quite liberating on a sunny day outdoors, but in low light, wide aperture situations, nailing focus on the fly can be a crapshoot.

The built-in, battery-powered meter powers a shutter priority mode, which is selected when the aperture disk on the front of the lens is set to auto. The Demi EE17’s shutter speeds range from 1/500 second at the top end and 1/8 at the slow end, which is a totally workable range. There’s also a B (bulb) mode for longer exposures.

Film is rated with the DIN/ASA/ISO dial on the bottom of the camera, which ranges from 25 to 400 ASA. This can be further adjusted with a plus 1- or 2-stop exposure compensation setting for use with filters. The ability to rate higher speed films at box speed would be nice, but you can always shoot manual or just embrace the overexposed look.

Other than the meter, the camera is fully mechanical, which means it’ll take photos even without a battery. This is a good thing since an adapter is required if you can’t get ahold of the discontinued mercury batteries the camera requires. The cameras controls are satisfyingly smooth and clicky, with the exception of the slightly anaemic film rewind mechanism. Overall, it’s a camera I carry everywhere on almost every occasion.


The benefit of the Canon Demi EE17’s particular mix of features is it’s ability to achieve a variety of shooting styles despite its simplicity and size. On the one hand, it’s a semi-pocketable set-and-forget point-and-shoot, and on the other, it’s a decently capable fully manual camera. Naturally, however, this versatility comes at the expense of excellence in either extreme.

As with all half-frame cameras, of course, the EE17 takes double the number of frames compared to a full-frame 35mmcamera. That means for a roll of 36 standard exposures, you get 72, and that is a lot. As an everyday camera, it’s an excellent feature, but for project-based work, it can be a slog to go through the frames before development.

The Canon SH 30mm f/1.7 lens is, well, good enough. It’s equivalent to a ~45mm focal length on a full-frame 35mm camera. Given the limitations of the consumer-grade medium speed Fuji Superia X-TRA 400 I’ve been shooting on it, the half-frame resolution, and the challenges of grabbing critical focus in low light, the lens is plenty sharp and renders beautiful images.

So back to the title of this little review. I called the Canon Demi EE17 “The everyday diptych machine” for a very good reason. The benefits of exposing portrait frames along a strip of film is the inherent opportunity to create diptychs, triptychs and beyond. Especially combined with scanning film at home, it presents an entirely new set of opportunities to get more out of a roll.

In my particular DSLR/mirrorless scanning set-up, creating a diptych is as simple as taking a single photo of the 2 half-frames at once. After ‘developing’ the images with Negative Lab Pro in Lightroom, some individual editing is required to tweak colors for images taken in different lighting conditions.

Note: Ideally, you’ll want your negatives uncut to maximize diptych potential, especially if, like me, you’re looking to stick with frames that are physically sequential on a roll.

With this creative tool in mind, I’ve begun to consciously look for sets of images while shooting, deliberately setting up a sequence and a story. This can spice up even the most mundane photo walks with an added layer of complexity. That said, there’s also great reward in finding a serendipitous diptych from two entirely different scenes like the one below.

More than anything, the half-frame N-tychs shows us how intrinsic storytelling can be in photography. Even if an image is mediocre standalone, displayed alongside a companion, the juxtaposition can convey a great deal more. N-tychs are a shortcut that reminds us how photos are perceived and interpreted intuitively, and it motivates me to do better in making individual images as well.


To conclude, the technical details aside, I simply love the images that this camera creates, and how different they are from what I’m used to. The ability to pump out diptychs is a significant added benefit, but the baseline quality of the camera and its results are no joke either. If you’re looking to scratch the itch of experimenting with a non-standard camera, but you still want the flexibility of an everyday machine, the Canon Demi EE17 is for you.

That said, I don’t think I can recommend the Canon Demi EE17 to everyone.

The half-frame format fell out of the mainstream for understandable reasons. It isn’t for the precision and control-driven technician, nor is it for a true casual user. Instead, it sits in a slightly awkward middle ground, where with some work and practice, you can produce something that looks and feels just a little bit special.

Thanks for reading.

~ Arthur

Canon Demi EE17 technical specifications

ManufacturerCanon Inc
Camera nameCanon Demi EE17
Manufacture dates1966-?
Camera type35mm Lens-Shutter zone-focusing half-frame camera
Film format35mm film
Image format24x18mm
LensFixed Canon SH 30mm f/1.7 (6 elements in 4 groups).
Approximately equivalent to ~45mm AFOV on full-frame 35mm film.
ViewfinderReversed Galilean viewfinder with projected frames.
0.45x magnification / 90% coverage.
Exposure meter needle and correct exposure window (with aperture scale) within the image area.
Overexposure and underexposure warnings on both sides of viewfinder.
Pictographs for near (1m), medium (3m), and far distances (15m) at viewfinder bottom.
Distance needle coupled to lens focusing ring.
FocusingRotate focusing ring to match zone focusing marks.
Pictographs for near (1m), medium (3m), and far distances (15m) provided.
Focusing range from 0.8 m to 15m (infinity).
Distance scale provided on focusing ring.
ShutterSeiko-sha. 1/8 – 1/500 sec., B.
Built-in self-timer.
X-sync flash port.
MeteringCdS cell for shutter speed-priority.
Metering range (at ISO 100) of EV 4.5 – 17 (f/16 at 1/500 sec.).
Film speed range of ISO 25 – 400.
FlashX-sync flash across entire shutter range
Wind / RewindSlotted take-up spool.
145° full wind-on stroke, partial strokes enabled.
Film counter counts up.
Resets automatically when camera back is opened.
Collapsible camera-top crank for rewind.
LoadingSwing open back load - dual locking mechanism
FinishChrome with black leatherette
Dimensions
(appx)
117 x 71 x 48 mm (WxHxD)
Weight445g
AccessoriesSoft leather case, lens cap and strap

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Arthur Kanekohttp://arthurkaneko.com
Nature vs. Urban. City and landscape photography from the San Francisco Bay Area and beyond.

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8 COMMENTS

  1. This is an excellent article Arthur, thank you very much for sharing. Your images are beautiful and methodology behind it is fantastic. I’m continuously amazed how sharp some compact camera lenses are – regardless of their age – and how favourably they compare next to more expensive glass. Trying to shoot the at larger apertures is another story of course but for that sort of “shooting everyday/fun/relaxing” purpose this type of camera was designed for – they rock! I’m a vertically orientated shooter too so I’m often thinking in diptych or triptych sequences and building them in Photoshop afterwards. I don’t have a half-frame yet, but this makes me want to hunt one down!


  2. Nice article and nice work. You’ve made me think once again about this camera which I keep finding myself admiring and desiring.

    But I gotta ask: you said “like most half-frame cameras, it shoots in portrait orientation by default, cutting the traditional 35mm frame vertically in half.” Most? Can you point out a half-frame camera which divides the frame horizontally? THAT would be fascinating, not least for the mechanics involved ..

  3. Excellent observational skills! I’d normally call that little Canon a beautiful accident producer but in your hands it becomes more than that. Nice work!

    • Thanks John, appreciate the kind words. Curious your thoughts on beautiful accident producing. Anything I should be paying attention to in the future?


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