Legacy lenses have seen a resurgence with the popularity of mirrorless cameras, today we’ll be focusing on one of the most popular legacy lens mounts – Canon’s FD mount. And while this is primarily a website covering Micro Four Thirds, this could apply to many other systems. Even Canon’s current EF mount, though not without it’s fair share of drawbacks that don’t quite exist with mirrorless cameras, Lemming51 on DPReview points out:
Canon FD/FL lenses had a shorter mounting distance than the EF EOS design. So mounting these lenses to an EOS camera with a simple ring adapter does effectively apply extension, which makes them closer focusing (good for macro), but makes it impossible to focus beyond a meter or 2. Typical FD to EOS adapters have corrective lens elements to restore infinity focus, but these necessarily also act as a 1.26x teleconverter that results in the loss of 2/3 stop maximum aperture and degraded image quality. Unless you have an FD macro lens, or one of the FD super teles and Canon’s own original high quality FD/EOS adapter (rare and $$$$ if you can find them used), FD/FL lenses are best left to the Micro Four Thirds crowd who can adapt them without the optical corrective elements.
Pros and Cons of Using an FD Lens
Before we go in-depth, let’s go through a quick rundown of the pros and cons of FD lenses and you could decide whether or not legacy lenses are for you:
- Very inexpensive, back when I owned the Panasonic GF1 I purchased the Canon FD f/1.4 SSC in pristine condition for about $40 on eBay. I just did a search and today they fetch about $100 in the same condition.
- With the sheer amount of fast primes available for the Canon FD (listed below), you can cover a wide focal range for under $500 (or more if you fancy some of the rarer lenses and/or the SSC and L variants).
- Very popular among videographers, fast primes and the ability to control the aperture ring on the lens are definite pros.
- No Auto-Focus, the disadvantage is self explanatory and the primary reason why I rarely use it outside of portraiture… you just miss too many shots trying to lock in focus.
- Manually adjust aperture, utilizing the aperture ring on the lens.
- Big and heavy, back when I had the GF1, m43 was in it’s infancy and thus didn’t have many lenses. Now that it’s a mature system, there’s plenty of better options native to Micro Four Thirds. Though there are some holes, eg. I would like to a 100mm F2 and/or 135mm F2.8, which Canon FD has covered.
- Stabilization, remember that the focal length doubles on Micro Four Thirds, thus a a Canon FD 50mm f1.4 SSC will have a 100mm equivalent on an m43 body. With longer focal lengths you’ll have to shoot a faster shutter speed to get a sharp shot, something to keep in mind when you’re holding heavier lenses, even if you have a body with IBIS.
Which FD Adapter?
I personally use a Fotodiox FD to m43 adapter and have had no issues with it, at $20 it came highly recommended and it seemed like the safe bet as others did complain about issues with mounts from other manufacturers. Other mirrorless camera owners will have to get the FD mount converter for their system (eg. NEX, FX, EOS-M, etc.). Another popular mount that made headlines last year is the Metabones SpeedBooster which boasts additional features including:
- Increase maximum aperture by 1 stop.
- Increase MTF.
- Makes lens 0.71x wider.
These amazing features are accompanied by a $400 price tag, which could be a worthy investment if you’re in the need for speed and have a decent amount of FD lenses. eBay does have a few cheaper versions, but you get what you pay for as the “Focal Reducer Shootout!” thread on DPReview illustrates. The closest runner up in the shootout is the Lens Turbo by Zhongyi, which is the same manufacturer behind Mitakon, who essentially produces their own version of the Pana-Leica Noticron 42.5mm f1.2 for $359. The Lens Turbo is on eBay for about $150.
How to Evaluate the Condition of an FD Lens
When we’re talking about 20+ year old lenses, it’s important that you buy one in good condition. Over the years scratches, haze and fungus can accumulate on lenses, sometimes invisible to the naked eye. If you’re buying locally, a good way to evaluate this is the flashlight test. Though, as the aforementioned article will tell you, it’s important not to be too pedantic. Even the author mentioned, “I’ve avoided writing this article for 10 years because I know that once I do, everyone will start sending back lenses.” Kind of like what some are doing today after reading about “shutter shock” on various m43 forums and comments, they send back the lenses when the real problem is they’re using the wrong shutter speed. Don’t blame the lens on your technique. As a matter of fact, this article shows that you can have heavy amounts of dust, scratches – and even masking tape with little effect on the image. Other things to check on an FD lens are the aperture, focus and zoom rings for smooth functionality.
Check Craigslist (or your regions popular local classified) for deals, sometimes you can happen upon someone who doesn’t know what they’re selling, like a grandchild selling their grandfather’s old gear. I’m not saying it’s likely, but I have seen people brag about picking up boxes full of old FD equipment for dirt cheap, or FD “L” lenses for under $50 because of situations like that. For reference, the Canon FD 85mm f1.2 L is fetching about $750+ on eBay. If you are looking to buy on eBay, make sure it’s from a reputable seller, and make sure there’s plenty of pictures to evaluate condition. Look for mentions of no haze, fungus, etc.
Compatible Lens Mounts – FL, FD and New FD (FDn)
Three Generations of Lenses – FL, FD and New FD – The following information is provided by Canon’s official Camera Museum, a look through the Canon Camera Story. Though their origins started nearly 30 years earlier, we’re starting in 1964, with the introduction of the FL lenses, just four years after their R-Series Lens. Canon proceeded with FL lenses to reduce manufacturing costs and for future technological improvements. FL lenses also marked the first time fluorite was used in their lenses, which was used to reduce secondary chromatic aberrations. FL lenses can be used on FD mount cameras or adapters.
The FD Lens was introduced with the goal of “Developing a high performance lens to be ranked top for the coming ten years.” To do that, Canon focused on a core set of basic policies and principals from the design stage to market:
1) The number of lens elements should be minimized, and aberrations should be corrected perfectly.
2) Flare should be reduced even at maximum aperture, and blur should be uniform. The smaller the aperture, the sharper the image should become.
3) The overall image should uniformly have high resolution and contrast.
4) Natural color should be reproduced and well balanced throughout the entire lens series.
5) All mechanisms should be easy-to-operate and durable.
These five guidelines have been the underlying concept for the development of all Canon lenses to date.
The specific technical criteria for FD lenses were:
1) Central resolution exceeding 100 lines per millimeter should be ensured
2) Functions for producing high contrasts should be added
3) To minimize the color balance difference among lenses and to achieve the predetermined color balance, the appropriate glass material and multi-layer coating technology should be used
4) Flare should be reduced by optimizing the lens configuration and preventing interface reflections. Technology for preventing reflection from the inner barrel and components should be developed. The barrel should prevent non-image forming light from entering the lens.
The New FD (FDn) Lens marked the move from a breech mount to bayonet mounting system, a feature photographers clamored for because they wanted “a feel of complete lock” when switching lenses. All FDn lenses also come standard with S.S.C. coating (detailed below). Though not expressed on their website, build quality was somewhat reduced as they moved to using more plastic as opposed to the mostly metal construction of the previous FL/FD lenses, a trend that would continue on through to the EF lenses.
Even most Micro Four Thirds lenses are mostly of a plastic build, which is part of the reason why there’s such adoration for older FD lenses and it’s metal construction. And with the retrod rangefinder like µ43 cameras of today, there’s something sexy about mounting an old lens on a new body.
The Different Variants of FD Lenses
S.S.C. – One of two proprietary lens coating by Canon, the Super Spectra Coating (SSC) was a higher quality grade than the standard S.C. coating. Lenses with S.S.C. coating were stamped in red on the front of the lens. As previously mentioned, all New FD (FDn) lenses featured S.S.C. coating and thus did not need to be designated on the front.
Aspherical, Fluorite, and ‘L‘ Lenses (via Wikipedia):
An enhanced range of FD lenses was available to photographers who required the highest optical and mechanical performance. In addition to more robust mechanical construction, these lenses used a variety of special technologies, including ground aspherical surfaces, calcium fluorite optical elements, and ultra-low-dispersion glass. Canon used these means to achieve outstanding optical performance at the extremes of lens design: wide apertures and extreme focal lengths. Aspherical surfaces improved performance of wide-angle and standard lenses at very wide apertures. Ultra-low dispersion and fluorite elements virtually eliminated chromatic aberration at long focal lengths.
The earlier versions of these lenses carried “AL”, “Aspherical”, or “Fluorite” indications on the front of the lens. The post-1979 ‘New FD’ versions acknowledged all the exotic technologies under the single designation “L” (commonly believed to indicate ‘luxury’ or ‘asphericaL’). Canon has continued the “L” designation, and the famous red ring around the lens front, in the current EF autofocus lenses for EOS cameras, where the symbol now officially stands for “Luxury.”Which FD lenses should you buy?
As this article is almost 5,000 words, it’s likely you won’t remember everything. But if you remember just one thing from this article, let it be this: Opt for the fast primes with S.S.C. coating. Luminous Landscape has an excellent post on Understand Lens Contrast, which details the importance of lens coatings:
Before lens coatings were invented, lens flare was a major determinant of image quality. The best lenses were generally the ones that allowed performance to remain high with the fewest elements, because there were fewer air-to-glass surfaces to create flare. This explains the lifespan of the exceptionally long-lived Tessar-type, despite its speed limitations. Lens coatings are of critical importance to modern lenses; virtually all zoom lenses and many highly-corrected multi-element lenses would be useless for general photography without them. Often, coating is what makes the most difference between an average lens and a very good one.
Have you ever noticed how many early 35mm photographers tried to avoid bright sunlight? You might be forgiven for thinking that the decade of the 1940s was entirely overcast (and not just by the world political situation). With experience as their teacher, many photographers in the ’30s and ’40s learned various clever ways of avoiding or minimizing high-flare situations. The amateur admonition to “never point the camera in the direction the sunlight is coming from” dates from this era. Such was life with “miniature” cameras before the days of multicoating.
Which FD Lenses Should You Buy?
First, you have to look at the current lens lineup for your system for holes. Let’s take a look at the current primes for Micro Four Thirds:
Fortunately, Micro Four Thirds has grown to be a relatively mature system in the past 5 years with few holes. I’d really love to see a 100mm F2 or 135mm F2.8, and I know others have clamored for longer, which the Canon FD has covered. But let’s start with a wide focal length and move up.
Canon FD Wide Angle Lenses
Keep in mind the crop factor, for Micro Four Thirds it’s 2x, NEX is 1.5x and EOS-M is 1.6x. So on a Micro Four Thirds body, the Canon FD “wide angles” are closer to a “normal” FoV.
First off, if you’re looking for a fisheye lens, your best bet is probably the Rokinon 7.5mm F3.5, which is native to Micro Four Thirds. Canon does have it’s own versions, such as the Canon FD 15mm F2.8, but since you’re doubling the focal length and only using the center of the lens you’re not likely to get the effect you want.
For me personally, it’s really hard to recommend a wide angle FD lens because there’s just so many other better alternatives for Micro Four Thirds. And other m43 owners agree in this thread where someone is asking about alternative wide angle lenses for Micro Four Thirds. With ultra compact options such as the Panasonic 14mm F2.5 and 20mm F1.7 under $200 and $350 used respectively, there’s really no reason you should bother with FD lenses at this focal length. But if you really are hellbent on buying some, stick with the fast primes:
[box] Note: Most of these lenses have a slower version, ie. the Canon FD 24mm F2 SSC is also available in F2.8. Most of the primes also have a standard S.C., and a multi coated S.S.C. variant. Thus if you want to save a little more money, the options are there. For a complete list of lenses visit the Canon Camera Museum FD Lenses and New FD Lenses.[/box]
- Canon FD 24mm F2, or the rare FD 24mm F1.4 L.
- Canon FD 28mm F2
- Canon FD 35mm F2
- Another option is the Canon FD 20-35mm F3.5 L, which you can find for about $350 on eBay, a bargain for an L lens. Here’s a shot I took with this lens a few years back on the GF1:
Canon FD Normal and Short Telephoto Lenses
According to Google search volume, the lenses within 50 to 135mm are in the highest demand amongst mirrorless owners, with the Canon FD 50mm F1.4 and 85mm F1.8 topping that list. And for good reason, with the crop factor, they land in that ideal focal length for portrait lenses and are much cheaper to current alternatives.
Canon FD 50mm F1.4 – Perhaps the most coveted FD lens, it’s the perfect portrait lens, great build and image quality, super fast and relatively compact. I’ve bought and sold a lot of FD lenses, but this is one I’ve kept for over 5 years now. The Olympus 45mm F1.8 is an awesome lens at $300 used, but the Canon FD 50mm F1.4 can easily be had for under $100 on eBay, and it’s 2/3rds of a stop faster. It has the range and speed for a lot of applications, such as dimly lit concerts, here’s a wide open shot I took at a Babyface concert at Spirit Mountain Casino in Oregon:
And another at a Boyz II Men concert at Lincoln City, OR (Yes my fiancé and I love R&B music 🙂 ):
Here’s a portrait where I stopped down a bit, I believe 2.8 or 4.0 (you won’t get metadata with FD lenses), nonetheless, you’ll still get beautiful bokeh:
And lastly, here’s a portrait that shows off some studio work where we used the RoundFlash:
I did consider the 50 and 55mm F1.2 variants, but after seeing so many people say that it’s not worth the upgrade, or even that 50mm f1.4 performed better, I decided to save my money and opt for the 50mm F1.4, and I have zero regrets. Overall, it’s an awesome lens and at the price I recommend that it’s the first lens you play with when you start shooting with legacy lenses.
Canon FD 85mm F1.2 L – I admit. I love big glass. When I see a lens that’s virtually no bezel, just pure glass – I drop my jaw in amazement and just lust over it. Check it out on the Canon A-1:
Though at it’s asking rate of at least $750+, it could be tough to pick over the native Olympus 75mm F1.8, one of the sharpest lenses on Micro Four Thirds, not to mention half the size. But consider this, adapt it with a Speedbooster and you have an equivalent 120mm F0.9 lens! If you don’t want to shell out $750+ for the F1.2, the 1.8 is the next best thing at about $200.
Canon FD 100mm F2 and F2.8 – Now we’re moving on to the area where µ43 lacks, fast tele primes. The faster F2 is a a bit large, but does have high marks, these go for around $200-300 on eBay. The slower F2.8 S.S.C. is a bit more compact, and can be found on eBay for under $100. Here’s some nice samples of the F2.8 on a NEX-5.
Another option is the 100mm F4 Macro, which you can snag for under $100 and offers true 1:1 macro ratio. µ43 does have a few macro options, namely the Oly 60mm and Panny 45mm F2.8, but those are both over $500.
Canon FD 135mm – At 135mm, you have the option between the somewhat slow F3.5 S.C. or the faster FDn 135mm F2. Here’s a review of the former by Ness Flores, who tested it on his EM5. And here’s a collection of reviews on the 135mm/F2. If you really wanted to play at this focal length and don’t want to spend the $300+ that sellers are asking for the F2, and want something a little faster than the F3.5, there’s the FL 135mm F2.5 that’s relatively common and there’s a few on eBay right now for about $50.
Canon FD 35-105mm F3.5 Macro – It’s quite well known that legacy zooms aren’t quite up to snuff of the quality we have today, but there are a few exceptions. Throughout this article, I have only 3 FD zoom recommendations: This one and the other 2 are L lenses. Though a little big, it’s quite versatile as it plays in the ever so popular 70-210mm e-FoV. At the wide end, it’s also capable of Macro (1:2 ratio). Quite a steal at under $100. Here’s a review and some samples on Flickr, and here’s a shot of my pug Benji with this lens:
Canon FD Long Telephoto Lenses
Canon FD 200mm – At 200mm we have the F2.8 SSC, but the lens I’d like to talk about is the ultra rare 200mm F1.8L. A lens so rare, I couldn’t find any on eBay’s current or completed auctions. It’s difficult to even find pictures (much less copyright free pictures). But the Canon Camera Museum can confirm it’s existence, whopping in at 2800 grams – nearly 10x the weight of the Olympus 75mm/1.8, and 28x heavier the Panny 20mm/1.7. For context, here’s the current EF version on a Canon 40D.
Canon FD 80-200mm F4.0L – At around $250, this lens is a bargain for an L lens and is highly sought after in mirrorless community. Here’s a discussion on the Sony NEX forum where a user compares the 80-200/4.0L and trumps Sony’s current 55-210mm lens. Personally, I’m on the fence about this one because of the size and I rarely ever play in this FoV. I owned the Panasonic 45-200 for a while and rarely used it (among other reasons).
If you like shooting outdoor family portraits this could be a solid lens for the price. Using background blur calculator, at 200mm/4.0 this produces almost as much blur as the Oly 75mm at F1.8, and at F4 it’s no contest. For situations where you’ll need to stop down (eg. group shots), this could be the perfect lens to completely blur the background.
Past 200mm we’re looking at a really small niche, and really massive lenses. Here’s a complete list:
- FD300mm/2.8 S.S.C. Fluorite
- FDn 300mm/2.8L
- FDn 300mm/4.0
- FDn 300mm/4.0L
- FDn 300mm/5.6
- FD300mm/4.0 S.S.C.
- FD300mm/5.6 S.C.
- FD300mm/5.6 S.S.C.
- FDn 400mm/2.8L
- FDn 400mm/4.5
- FD400mm/4.5 S.S.C.
- FDn 500mm/4.5L
- FD500mm/8.0 S.S.C. Reflex
- FDn 500mm/8.0 Reflex
- FDn 600mm/4.5
- FD600mm/4.5 S.S.C.
- FDn 800mm/5.6L
- FD800mm/5.6 S.S.C.
Tyson Robichaud – An avid µ43 user, I remember him from the old Panasonic GF1 group on Flickr, probably when it was just a few dozen people. Today Micro Four Thirds has grown exponentially and Tyson certainly does his part in spreading the word with his ultra-detailed reviews on µ43 cameras and lenses. Keeping in mind that this post was written in 2010, he found a box of old FD gear on Craigslist and reviewed the following:
- FD 35mm F2 S.S.C. – “A perfect mate for the GF1… very painterly bokeh straight out of the camera.”
- FD 55mm F1.2 S.S.C. – “Wide open it’s soft.” A common complaint I heard of the 50/55mm 1.2’s, though he does mention that the effect can be nice. As previously mentioned, you’re probably better off saving some money and opting for the 50mm/1.4.
- FD 100mm F4 Macro – Briefly mentioned earlier, Tyson called it a great lens at $150 for true 1:1 macro. Though today, you could probably pick one up for less than $100.
- FD 400mm F4.5 S.S.C. – Definitely not for everyone as it’s quite the monstrosity on his GF1, but he did manage to capture great shots of his “wildlife.”
The beauty of the Micro Four Thirds system is that you could attach virtually any lens on the market if you have the right adapter. Even with µ43 growing as a mature system with a variety of native lenses to choose from, let us not forget about Canon’s legendary FD mount, which was produced for over 20 years before the introduction of Canon’s EOS line.
What are your favorite Canon FD lenses? Let me know in the comments below!