Last Updated on May 8, 2023 by admin
Mostly plastic, mainly good was how the Chinon CE-5 camera was described by a review at the time. Here’s my take on it 40 years after it launched.
More forgotten then even the Nikon F-301(which I happen to love) the Chinon CE-5 is definitely a last place hero though in fact in its day one of the very first cameras to ever be able to manage Auto Focus a feat which eluded many of the bigger makers. In part the AF may have doomed it. A savvy buyer, back in the balmy days of 1981, when the CE-5 launched may well have reasoned that if the big boys like Pentax, Canon, Minolta and Nikon have all fallen flat on their faces trying to make Auto Focus work why trust a no-name to get it right.
The three small contacts that appear on the upper left side of the lens mount were there to facilitate operation with an AF lens sold as an extra. Chinon only ever made two AF lenses for this. A standard 50mm and a 35mm-70mm Zoom. Both are now so rare I spent three years seeking one without any luck at all. The lenses are big, bulky and dwarf the camera.
The Chinon CE-5 was only in production for about 12 months and had the disadvantage in the UK market, along with every other Chinon, by being exclusively sold by Dixons. A high street chain with a reputation for goods of dubious quality and often shockingly cheap and shabby. As a result I doubt Chinon ever really got any serious photographers attention and were generally seen as cheap wannabees. That’s a real shame as their build quality is often superb and functionally the cameras work extremely well the CE-5 is no exception.
So lets have a look at the Chinon CE5 –
- It featured a Seiko Electronic Vertical Metal Bladed shutter – quite some improvement over most budget cameras with their cloth horizontal shutters. The CE-5 uses a stepless shutter for its Aperture Priority (AP) mode with speeds from ‘B’ to 2000th – few cameras from this period would run over 1000th.
- Exposure compensation for the AP mode up to 2 stops – it’s a little odd they way they implemented it but it’s there plus an exposure lock function which Chinon called Exposure Memory.
- A power winder/motor drive option that allowed the camera to be fired off the power winder grip even with no batteries in the winder. Adding the power winder made the camera very comfy to hold and with no batteries added little weight.
- One of the best Depth of Field Preview (DoF) controls I have ever used. Only the Canon FTb has a better and more conveniently placed one in my experience.
- Slick controls, well placed, no annoying on/off switch (the bane of my life with Minolta X-x00 series. The on/off switch is located on the shutter speed dial. If it’s off it’s off, if you have selected a shutter speed its on.
- Smooth winder action that would give Minolta a run for their money and a better viewfinder than anything except the Minolta with their AcuMatte screens. The CE-5 has a nice bright view with a full information viewfinder showing Aperture, Selected Speed and the meters recommended speed. In Aperture priority mode the display shows the cameras selected speed. The view finder features a splits prism and a micro collar for focusing but the screen is fixed and non-interchangeable. Again few cameras have interchangeable screens and this is usually limited to pro quality gear.
- Hot shoe, very standard by the 1980s but with the nice touch of a flash ready indicator in the viewfinder.
- And to round it out an electronic self timer – none of this clockwork stuff seen on vintage gear but fully electronic and selectable for 5 or 10 seconds – a nice touch which really shows the CE-5 was modern from the age of electronics.
So an excellent run of features all topped off with a nice soft plastic external leatherette with a very soft feel, good ergonomics and something special for the creative photographer – a simple double exposure switch. Just slide the switch over after taking a photos and wind on. The lever will disengage the wind on mechanism but arm the shutter. After taking the second shot the lever automatically returns to its normal mode though you can flip it again if you want a go at doing a triple exposure.
Chinon really put some effort in for the CE-5 and launched it with a whole load of extras including an odd looking flash which works very well.
On top of all of the good things already mentioned the CE-5 used the Pentax K mount so there are literally thousands of lenses that it can accept. Users should beware though that some 3rd party lenses can cause the lens release tab to jam. I had a Sigma that regularly caused issues.
Best thing of all with the Chinon CE-5 is they were mostly bought by mums and dads and seldom used. Many are probably still sitting in cupboards little used in near perfect condition and often available at bargain prices as a result.
With all this goodness flowing from the CE-5 it surely has some downsides – right? Well there’s no Mirror Lock Up (MLU) which is unlikely to ever be a problem for most people and if it is something you must have well that’s tough luck as most cameras after the early 80s deleted this as a feature even in their top of the range pro equipment .
It’s not perfect, it’s mostly made of plastic, the body core is actually metal but it would be hard to know that from the exterior as almost all the external elements are plastic. Even the winder lever is plastic! Canon spoofed it with their plastic casings and used a copper base paint layer so the camera would ‘brass’ over time and appear to be made of metal, they also used a metal baseplate. Minolta used a similar trick with a brass undercoat but put a plastic ‘protector’ plate over the base to disguise the fact that it’s plastic. Chinon just shot from the hip and made it out of plastic and had done with it. That’s a real shame as the plastic fantastic vibe does make the camera feel cheap. The CE5 does feel a little more fragile in the hands especially with regards to its winder lever but that’s just a feeling rather than fact.
The biggest downside with Chinon is they are nigh impossible to repair. They were never a huge seller in the day in the UK so spares and expertise are hard to come by and in the CE-5s case its so heavily electronic any faults are likely to mean it’s a total loss. To be fair that’s no different with many electronic cameras from this period. Even Minoltas XD (regarded by many as the best MF camera ever made) can suffer catastrophic failure due to its ageing electronics.
Obviously being electronic the CE-5 needs batteries, but these are standard and readily available SR44 type which is nice as it means no messing about with battery conversions but it has no manual backup so without batteries your dead.
As a shooter the CE-5 I owned was a great grab and go camera. It was reliable and its meter accurate, it fitted easily in the hand and when kitted out with a motor drive was a good grippy camera. The simple and well laid out controls with a full information viewfinder make it an easy camera to live with.
A massive range of glass is readily available for it thanks to its Pentax K mount which lets you get on with almost any glass – you can even get a readily available K Mount to M42 adaptor to use older M42 lenses which are plentiful and cheap. I used some Chinon M42 mounted lenses with mine via a mount adaptor and found Chinon glass to be extremely good in the 50mm range. The lenses perform extremely well and are very well made using brass and aluminium construction when most manufacturers had moved to plastic. Equipped with a readily available and ludicrously inexpensive Pentax M series 50mm it’s both compact and light.
Kitted out with a Pentax M-Series lens my own CE-5 shot very well and with its range of features could outperform many cameras from the bigger brands. If only Chinon had made it with metal and not had the awful Dixons brand attached to it, I suspect this would have been a very serious competitor to the Canon AE-1 and the Minolta X-700 so beloved of the new generation of film fans.
Sadly, a last place hero thanks to its off brand name and its more glamorous rivals shining more brightly but, it’s definitely a star performer when it comes to value and functionality.
Mel is one of the driving forces behind High 5 Cameras and writes all our articles.
Starting serious photography back in 1972. Over the years she got to shoot film with most of the major brands in 35mm and large format as both a studio photographer and content provider for websites in the early life of the web. These days she is rediscovering photography and has become the GOTO person for knowledge on camera repair advice.