Canon FD 50mm F1.4 In-Depth Review

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.

Combine the FD 50mm F1.4 with a $150 Lens Turbo II you have yourself a 54mm F1.0 (full frame equivalent) on Super35 camera like my Sony FS100.

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

Pros:

  • 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)

Cont:

  • 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.

 Old-Older-Oldest

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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33 Responses to Canon FD 50mm F1.4 In-Depth Review

  1. I have a Canon FD 50mm f1.8 bought for 30 € on ebay. Put on my Panasonic G6 I have to say that it is perfect for video. I use it with SpeedBooster Camdiox and turns it into a 72mm at f1.2! I can not find anything bad in my videos with this lens and also the flare are very nice (vintage). For 30 Euros I think I made a good deal.

  2. The Canon FL lens you show as “oldest” has a different optical design than the others. However, there was a second Canon FL version that did have the new optical design. This latter has the auto-manual aperture ring adjacent to the breechlock ring.

  3. There were three versions of the lens Canon FD 50/1.4:

    1st – “Silver Nose”. 55mm filter thread. Breech lock.
    2nd – Under the acronym “SSC”. 55mm filter thread. Breech lock.
    3rd – Also known as “FDn” 52mm filter thread. Automatic locking.

  4. I use the 50mm FD on my MFT (GF1 now GX7) question : with a standard non optical adaptor. Is my lens 100mm at F1.4 still ?

  5. Will this lens mount on full-frame Canon EF Mount? You say it is incompatible. But I have seen some adapters on Ebay and Fotodiox saying FD to EF.

    • FD is the manual mountain that predates the EF mount it would be possible to make a adapter but it wouldn’t focus to infinity unless the adapter has a correction lens which was generally considered to ruin the quality of the image

  6. Hi. I am going to purchase this summer a Sony Alpha 6000 (or maybe 6xxxx) and i started to look at vintage lenses to use with. I have some questions, taking into account that I plan to use it mainly for video and that i want to build up a basic set:
    1. I know you love the Helios 58mm. Between this Canon FD and Helios, which one would you choose? Why?
    2. Which 1:1 macro lenses would you recommend (something around 85mmm-135mm focal)?
    3. Any wide angle sugestions?
    3. I found out about these cheaps CCTV lenses (Fujian, Navitar…) Do you plan to make any reviews about them? Some look really great!

        • Jupersan, thank you for your questions. Mark, as long as the questions are about lenses, anyone is welcome to ask and hopefully we can all help each other rather than argue with each other.

          1: if I had to choose just one, surprisingly I’d choose the Canon, because while I love the Helios, for many projects its character will be too strong. I find that Canon FD has enough character while staying fairly clean in its look, which makes it a better choice as an everyday lens.
          2: The holy grail of MACROs and in fact lenses in general the Vivitar Series 1 90mm F2.5. It’s known to be one of the sharpest lenses ever produced. Sharper than many modern lenses too, so it’s difficult to recommend any other MACRO over this one.
          3: there are loads of wide angle lenses out there. Check out my 20mm shootout for some ideas and if that is not wide enough, check the Canon FD Buyers Guide where you’ll find a few wider suggestions including Canon, Tokina and Vivitar.
          4: Generally, I’m not a fan of CCTV lenses, but I know that there are some interesting ones out there, so I might take a closer look at some, but be warned that most will not cover APS-C/Super35 sensor, many won’t even cover Super16, so if I was you, I’d skip them all together 🙂

          Hope this helps.

          • Thanks a lot for you reply. Your articles (and answers) are really helpful for those of us beginning and who face too many choises. I just got this 50mm FD on a local market today following your review and on my way home incidently talking about it to a friend, she happens to have a bunch on old Leica lenses/cameras from her father in her basement 🙂 (I love Berlin!!!) I got really lucky today because I got the Canon for an excellent price in great condition (€70, in the shops i could not find it cheaper than €120+) and my friend offered me to pick up one of the Leicas as a present when i explained she can sell them (i choose a 135mm/2.8 Elmarit-R) hehehe
            Now my next move will be get that Vivitar Series 1 90mm F2.5 you recommended. Thanks again for this guide and the time you invest in it.

  7. Of course it is a stupid talk, as much as your stupid comment! Don’t forget that there are two infinite things in Einstein’s words: the universe and the human stupidity. So it is all over my dear!

  8. An excellent read. I have both the FD and the breechlock SSC versions of the 50mm 1.4 and I love them both. I did not sell either of them because although of the same design they perform a lot differently.

  9. I bought one of these lenses when they came out and have had it converted to fit on my Canon 5D. Before this I bought an adapter ring which was useless and provided a very poor image.
    The conversion by the Lense Dictor (http://www.thelensdoctor.co.uk/page5.html) replaces the original mount with the eos fitting. The result is a lense that works as it was intended and there is no degradation in quality. The engineer worked for Canon and all lenses are returned having been serviced.
    Obviously the lense is entirely manual and modern cameras don’t have the advantage of the Canon A1 etc with a screen to aid focusing. Despite this I have really enjoyed going back to manual focus and metering and the pictures are as sharp as my L lenses – at least up to A3.

  10. Hi, after reading this review, I would like to try this len with Lens Turbo II with Sony A7S.
    Am I correct it will still give me a full-frame?

    I also need to look for an adapter, any other adapter anyone has experienced that would give the same sharpness as Lens Turbo II when shooting at wide-open.

    Thanks.

  11. I have the all black Canon FD 50mm f1.4 in mint unused condition, it’s locked on auto, which I need to release somehow, I will obtain an adapter to Sony Nex, please someone provide info on how it’s done. Is there a few different ways to release these later 1.4’s? looking forward to your reply.

  12. Hi there, I have a GH1 with a 50mm FD 1.4 lens and the Proskar Anamorphic – 16. At the moment it is not bolted on but I am just holding it in front of the 50mm to check. I don’t seem to get anything in focus with it. Could it be that the focusing is broken on the Proskar? (nothing seem to move inside the lens when I move the ring). Any thoughts would be welcome!

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