Canon FD 17mm F4 | REVIEW

As you may know, I’m a big fan of Canon FD lenses and it’a finally time to review one of the widest lenses in Canon FD line-up, the 17mm F4!

WHY:

Many people will ask: Why bother with such slow and fairly expensive 17mm prime, when every cheap modern kit lens more or less matches such specs at the wide end (e.g. Sony E 16-50mm F3.5-5.6Canon 18-55mm F3.5-5.6Nikon 18-55mm F3.5-5.6) with more flexibility and even optical image stabilisation.

What many people forget is that these zooms only cover APS-C/Super35 sensor while Canon FD is a full frame lens. Back in the days of 35mm photo cameras, there was almost no need for anything wider than 17mm because it already was and still is an ultra wide lens when used on a full frame camera. Think of any modern full frame 17mm prime lens and you realise that vintage ultra wide lenses like FD 17mm are not that expensive!

Untimely though, the main reason to choose this particular lens, over a modern alternative or a cheaper vintage alternative like Tamron 17mm F3.5 or Tokina 17mm F3.5 (my comparison here) is its ability to match the rest of the Canon FD lenses,  so if you are into Canon FD lenses or considering building a set, read on!

VERSIONS & BUILT QUALITY:

As with many other Canon FD lenses, there are two common versions of the 17mm F4: “Breech-lock” version (with orange M markings & silver ring at the back) & New “nFD” version (with green M markings & bayonet style mount). I have the earlier version and personally prefer the more rugged feel and solid, metal built construction of these as opposed to nFD, have quite a few plastic parts. Saying that, I have been using my nFD 50mm F1.4 (review) for quite a few years now without any problems and these lenses obviously survived 20-30 of used prior to that, so build quality is definitely not something you would need to worry about when considering these lenses!

USABILITY & COMPATABILITY:

These lenses are great for video use! The focusing ring is smooth and dampened with a good amount focusing rotation (about 140°) and obviously, there are hard stops at each end of the focusing range (will not mess up focusing marks on a follow focus). The close focusing distance is just under 0.25m, which is absolutely awesome for those cool, close/wide shots. This lens has a 72mm front filter thread, which is very common size in model work, but the front itself does rotate, you so using certain filters may prove tricky. Lastly, the FD mount; not only is it one of the most confusing lens mounts, but it also has poor compatibility with Canon EF (FD to EF adapters with the correctional optical element are not worth bothering with). The only proper way to use this lens on EF camera is to convert it using EDMIKA mounts, but this has to be done with every lens in the kit, so conversion costs can add up. This compatibility issue is what kept Canon FD lenses more affordable, but with the rise of mirrorless, these lenses are again becoming extremely popular. Now, you can even buy FD mounts for some RED and ARRI cameras, so EF mount compatibility is no longer as much of an issue for higher end camera users.

WIDE ENOUGH:

At the time when I shot my test video above, I was using a Super35 / APS-C size sensor camera, so I wasn’t really getting the most of out of this lens and it didn’t exactly feel “ultra-wide”, but even with 25mm FF equivalent felt wide enough for natural looking wide angle shots. When used on a full frame camera though, it feels very wide indeed’ I’d even say too wide “natural” looking shots, so I think it’s still a great lens even on S35/APS-C, but maybe not quite wide enough for M4/3, let alone S16.

IMAGE QUALITY:

While we are talking about crop factors, it’s important to note that this lens performs “better” on S35 that on FF. A lot of people complained about this lens being soft, but really don’t think that it’s any softer than Tokina or Tamron alternatives I reviewed previously. Yes, on full frame fall off (vignetting) is quite obvious when shooting wide open, edges are softish and suffer from CA, but put it on S35 camera and most of that gets cropped out! Same goes for the barrel distortion, which is a bit wavy in FF, but again much less noticeable on S35, so it really depends on a camera you will be using it with. Like many other vintage lenses, it really benefits from being stopped down. Even at F5.6 is a much becomes quite a confident performer, with most of the problems mentioned earlier eliminated, both on FF and especially on S35.

CHARACTER:

Just like my other Canon FD lenses, this lens produces punchy and vibrant images in good light and low contrast, dreamy images with warm flares in direct lighting (see 1:02 in my test video above). Overall it’s a character I absolutely love, however, someone else might prefer a more consistent low or high contrast performance.

SPECIFICATIONS:

  • Mount: FD
  • Optical Construction: 11 Elements in 9 Groups
  • Filter Thread: 72mm
  • Field of View: 104° (on full frame)
  • Aperture Range: F4 to F22
  • Aperture Blades: 6
  • Focus Ring Rotation: approx. 140°
  • Closest Focusing Distance: 0.25m
  • Weight: 490g

As usual, let’s take a look at its pros and cons to figure out if it’s a good or bad lens!

PROS:

  • Ultra wide angle lens with full frame coverage
  • Good sharpness and contrast for a vintage lens
  • Beautiful flares
  • Great built quality

CONS:

  • Not “ultra-wide” on anything other than full frame
  • Pricey for a 17mm F4 lens if used on APS-C/S35/M4/3/S16
  • Flares easily
  • Slow at F4 wide open
  • FD mount in confusing
  • Bad Canon EF compatibility

CONCLUSION:

As a vintage lens fan, it’s not often that I can find more cons that pros, but I must say, I’m more critical towards this lens than I was when reviewing Tokina and Tamron alternatives. My ability to test it on a Full Frame camera as I was writing this review, gave me a better insight into its flaws, but overall I truly believe it’s a great lens. I sold the other two lenses and kept this one. Even thought it’s slower and more expensive, it’s the only one I want to reach for when using my Canon FD set for a shoot and that trust to use it on real life project is the biggest compliment I can give to this lens! If you are a Canon FD user, I highly recommend checking this lens out!

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