In this review I’ll be taking a closer look at my current 50mm lens of choice, the Canon FD 50 1.4. I’ve been using this lens for most of my shoots for over 6 months now and I decided that it’s finally time to share my thoughts about it.
Due to their incapability with Canon EF mount, FD lenses do not enjoy the same popularity as Nikon alternatives, which fortunately for some of us makes them some of the best value for money vintage lenses.
CANON FD 50mm F1.4 is a perfect example of great value for money. This is a fast F1.4 prime lens that can be bought on ebay for as little as $50. In comparison to not particularly impressive, modern Canon EF 50mm F1.4 (see this test) which will set you back $400, the FD version is an absolute bargain. For me it’s also better than Canon EF version in almost every way, expect for auto-focusing, which is more useful for photography rather than video anyway. Both EF and FD version are plastic, but FD is a much more solid lens with a butter smooth, long throw (approx 200°) focusing ring. In comparison EF version has a flimsy, not particularly smooth focus ring which will break if you give it a change; I should know as I once broke the focusing ring on the Canon EF 50mm F1.4 just from a gentle knock, which would do absolutely nothing to the FD version. The focusing ring on FD version of course has hard stops, which are essential for proper follow focus use and there are plenty of M and FT marks on the barrel to help you focus accurately. The lens is really lightweight at just 235g, which can be a great thing or not so much depending on how you like them. Please don’t mistake it with the feel of Canon EF 50mm F1.8, the nifty-fifty, because FD 50mm F1.4 still feels solid at this rather light weight.
When it comes to image quality, unlike Canon EF version, FD 50mm is not a boring lens. It has plenty of character which is partially why I love vintage lenses so much. When it hits the sun, this lens flares absolutely beautifully, which reminds me of the flares produced by the legendary Canon K35 cine lenses (rumors are that they are themselves based on Canon FD lenses which is a very good thing, if it’s actually true). When used in controlled lighting situations (or with no direct light) the FD 50mm F1.4 produces high contrast, vibrant images with match modern lenses much better than some other vintage 50mm F1.4 lenses like Olympus OM (see this test) which is the reason why I eventually picked FD 50mm F1.4 as a low light partner to my Sony 18-200mm (non creative) all rounder.
Combination of low contrast dreamy look and high contrast vibrancy (see video below) makes this lens a great creative choice.
This isn’t the sharpest lens wide open; the images are a little dreamy and lack critical sharpness (similar to Canon EF 50mm F1.4), therefore I used to use this lens at around F2-2.8 for best results, but as video above hopefully proves, Lens Turbo II really improves the sharpness at F1.4 to the point where I’m perfectly happy using it wide open if I need to. Lens Turbo ll also reduces already minimal chromatic aberration. This review is not about the Lens Turbo adapter, but if you are using Canon FD lenses on Sony E-mount cameras, this adapter will make your lenses so much more special!
No lens is perfect, so let’s now take a look at some pros and cons of this lens
- Incredibly affordable for a 50mm F1.4 (from $50)
- Smooth focus ring with hard stops & multiple M/FT marks
- Approx 200° focusing rotation for precise manual focusing
- 17 click-stop aperture settings for precise exposure/depth of field adjustment
- Multi-layer Super Spectra Coating for high contrast and consistent colour balance
- Beautiful mix warm/purple flares for creative old-school look
- 0.45cm closest focusing distance for nice close ups
- Quirky Bokeh wide open (subject to taste)
- Not sharp wide open (at least without Lens Turbo ll)
- External Plastic Construction (not as solid as many other fully metal vintage lenses)
- Flares Easily (can be a problem in certain situation when you want to preserve high contrast)
- FD mount is a little fiddly making quick lens changes more difficult
- Bokeh might not be to everyone’s taste and 8 blade aperture means that it’s not perfectly circular when aperture is stepped down.
For me pros massively out weight the cons, but it’s good to see a full picture and I would definitely recommend this lens to any Sony E-mount or M4/3 user!
By the way as you might notice on ebay, there are actually 3 versions of this lens. The black version (with green FT lens markings) that you see in my review is the latest one. A version with silver locking ring and orange M lens markings is actually an older version and FL version (rather than FD) is the oldest out of 3. The older versions might look more impressive, but just keep in might that the newer version is actually the one that is suppose to be the best performer. I haven’t tested 3 of them yet, so can’t really say if there is much truth in that.
Either way, if the price is right, you probably won’t be disappointed by either of them.
Feel free to share your thoughts and your own experiences with Canon FD lenses in the comments section below.
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