I’m often asked about good lens options for M4/3 & Sony E-mount cameras. Most people are hoping to save quite a lot of money when building a vintage set, so this guide will concentrate on affordable lenses with a price tag no higher than $300 per lens (I’ll also share a full set option for under $500 at the end of this guide). It’s important to note that this guide is written with M4/3 & Sony E-mount users in mind (these lenses will not work well on Canon EF cameras without expensive mounts).
There are certainly quite a few vintage lens options to choose from including the various M42 lenses like Carl Zeiss Jena, Helios / Mir as well as Olympus, Minolta, Pentax lenses, but I don’t think that there are many better choices for mirror-less cameras than Canon FD Lenses. I personally use them on daily basis and find them to be the best value for money lenses for both Sony E and M4/3 mount cameras. Their character is not too clinical (unlike that of many modern lenses) and also not too crazy (I love Helios 44-2 but it can be too much for some stuff), so they are perfect for all kinds of projects from general corporate to shorts and music videos. One of the best things about Canon FD lenses though is that they can be used on any mirror-less cameras, from full frame ones like Sony A7S and all the way down to BMPCC which has a Super16 sensor. However, when it comes to building a whole set of vintage lenses for M4/3 cameras like Panasonic GH4 & even more so for BMPCC, wide angle lenses present the biggest challenge. There was no need for such wide lenses back in the days when Canon FD lenses were produced. Back then even a 28mm lens was wide enough for most situations, but fortunately there is a way to help our M4/3 cameras get wider without breaking the bank. Personally I’m using a really cheap “ROXSEN” focal reducer to help things out on my BMPCC and a Zhongyi Lens Turbo II focal feducer on my Sony E-mount cameras (from now I’ll refer to Focal Reducers as FRs). The LT2 is a very impressive FR for the price (see my comparison to Metabones Speedbooster here) and I’m pretty happy with my Roxsen M4/3 FR on BMPCC too. I’m sure it’s not perfect, but I also tried it on GH4 and was happy with real life footage I shot using it. We’ll talk about the FRs a bit more at the end of this guide, but now let’s get into the actual lenses. (just to make it clear, this is not the ultimate Canon FD lens guide listing all the FD lenses that exist, but a guide to FD lenses that fit into a $300 price bracket).
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Affordable Canon FD Lenses for Sony-E & M4/3 | Buyers Guide
Let’s get into it, starting from the wide end:
20mm F2.8 (14.5mm F2 with FR) – Probably the most expensive lens in this set and also the widest Canon FD option for under $300. There is a 17mm F4 but it’s too expensive to make it into this set. Unfortunately 20mm not something that you’d call ultra wide on M4/3, but FR certainly helps. If you really need to get wider, then Tokina 17mm F3.5 (12mm F2.5 with FR) is a really good option, which can be bought for around $150-$200 on ebay. There is also a Vivitar 17mm F3.5 which is even cheaper and a Vivitar 19mm F3.8 (14.5mm F2.7 with FR) for those of you who might find the Canon FD 20mm a bit too expensive. It’s important to know that Canon FD lenses including 17mm, 20mm, 24mm, 28mm do not work with LT2 FR as the back element of the lens touches the front optical element of LT2 when focusing towards infinity. LT2 though works absolutely fine with Tokina 17mm F3.5 (haven’t tried the Vivitar alternatives), so if you need a very wide lens for Sony-E mount cameras and want to use it with LT2, then Tokina 17mm is the lens of choice. Roxsen M4/3 FR works fine with all the lenses though, so no limitation there.
24mm F2.8 (17mm F2 with FR) – 4mm makes a big difference in price when it comes to vintage wide angle lenses. 24mm with a focal reducer on a Super35 sensor camera will produce pretty wide shots, but on M4/3, especially on GH4 in 4K mode or BMPCC, I wouldn’t expect this lens to be used as the widest lens in the set. Never the less it’s a nice option if you decide to skip either the 20mm or 28mm.
28mm F2.8 (20mm F2 with FR) – Another 4mm up reduces the price even more. Unlike the 20mm, this is one of the cheapest lenses in the set. It will only cost around $50. There are also the F3.5 and F2.0 versions of this lens, but F3.5 is only $10-20 cheaper and F2.0 will usually cost almost $250 so I think F2.8 is the best value for money option here.
35mm F2.8 (25mm F2 with FR) – Another really affordable option, can be bought for as little as $50 on ebay. Same as with the 28mm, there are also the F3.5 and F2.0 versions of this lens, but again, F3.5 is only $10-20 cheaper and F2.0 is significantly more expensive. If you have the budget, F2.0 versions of 28mm and 35mm are of course better lenses, but if the budget is tight, F2.8 versions are definitely good enough and certainly fast enough with a focal reducer.
50mm F1.4 (36mm F1.0 with FR) – This is my current 50mm of choice. I love the images it produces and best of all it will cost no more than $100 on ebay. It’s a great low light, portrait/close up lens. This is not the only FD 50mm that fits into the $300 price bracket though. There is of course a dirt cheap $20-40 F1.8 (F1.2 with FR) version, which is definitely not bad for the price if you are on a very tight budget and you can even sometimes snap up the F1.2 (F0.9 with FR) version for under $300, but I think the F1.4 is best value for money option out of the 3.
85mm F1.8 (61mm F1.2 with FR) – Also a very, very sexy lens if you have the budget for it. It’s not the cheapest in the set but for around $150-200 it’s definitely worth it!
100mm F2.8 (72mm F2 with FR) – Very cinematic lens for little money. If the 85mm is a bit too expensive, then this is a nice alternative producing similar looking images. At F2.8 it’s a nice match to the wider F2.8 primes. There are also F2.0 version of this lens, but it can rarely be found for under $300, so a bit too expensive to be recommended in this guide.
135mm F2.8 (97mm F2 with FR) – Great telephoto option (especially on GH4/BMPCC). You won’t need to go higher for most shooting situations. I love the look 135mm lenses produce, similar to 85mm and 100mm for less money. If you are willing to spend a bit more, then there is also F2.5 version which is very nice and if you only have $20-30 to spare, then there is a mage cheap F3.5 version too!
200mm F2.8 (144mm F2.0 with FR) – If you need that extra push on the telephoto side, then this is the one! Still within the $300 bracket; still F2.8. Incredibly cinematic images can be produced with this lens. A solid and steady tripod as well as a lens support are pretty essential for this lens to avoid camera shake when focusing.
35-105mm F3.5 (25-75.5mm F2.5 with FR) – I wanted this guide to be about prime lenses so this is the only zoom I’ll recommend. Sometimes you just need that flexibility to work fast. It’s still pretty a fast lens for a zoom with such range and it has a handy MACRO function too. Best of all it’s very cheap, so definitely a “must have”, especially when you are starting to build a set and need to cover wide range of focal lengths.
I’ve mentioned a MACRO function on the 35-105mm, but it’s not really a competitor to a proper MACRO lens and if you happen to really need one as part of your set, you’ll be pleased to know that there are actually to Canon FD options for under $300 to choose from, the 50mm F3.5 and 100mm F4. Now I admit, they are not the fastest lenses in this guide, but being MACRO lenses, they usually need stepping down quite a lot anyway to get enough depth in focus, so slower apertures should not be a problem for MACRO users.
Now, let’s come back to Focal Reducers for a bit. Canon FD lenses themselves are great as they are, especially on FF frame cameras like Sony A7S, but to make them amazing on smaller sensors, a focal reducer is an absolutely essential addition. There are quite a few FD focal reducers our there. I don’t claim that the ones I use are the best out there but both do great job transforming FDs into faster & wider lenses, which makes a massive difference on cameras like GH4 and BMPCC, so I’d definitely recommend to get one. Improvement for the price is amazing!
I’ve listed a lot of lens options about, but if your budget doesn’t allow you to buy a full set, then to start with get the Tokina 17mm F3.5, Canon 35-105mm F3.5, FD 50mm F1.4 & 135mm F3.5 together will a focal reducer. Such set will cover almost any shooting situation. Together with a focal reducer you will effectively have a 12mm, 25-75.5mm and 97mm, all rated at F2.5, plus a 36mm F1.0 for low light situations. Looking at such specs, it does sound like this would be a very expensive set, but these 4 lenses together with a focal reducer will cost you just $500 which is pretty incredible for a full set of lenses that will cover just about any focal length you might need.
I have a pretty similar set to the one I recommended to you (see below) and I wouldn’t recommend something that I don’t like myself. I do hope you found this guide useful and it will help you save some money on your future lens choices! Eventually I will do a more in-depth guide to Canon FD lenses but I hope this a good start! 🙂
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