Canon A1 - Best Lenses?

Discussion in 'Canon FD' started by mike_hardiman, Sep 18, 2005.

  1. Hi,

    I'm looking to make some upgrades to the lenses for my current Canon
    A1 rig (digital still is a ways off for me, waiting for full-frame
    cameras to become affordable).

    Right now, I have a 24mm/2.8 Canon lens which is excellent, a very
    sharp, and very bright Canon 50mm/1.8 lens, which doesn't get much
    use, as I find it is just either too zoomed in for landscapes, or not
    zoomed enough for other shots.

    I also have a Vivitar (FD) 70-210mm Zoom, which used to be fairly
    sharp, but I now have noticed a lack of sharp focus towards the
    corners of the frame with this lens. It also has a bit of a coolish
    cast to it as well.

    So, if there are any Canon FD users left out there, what lenses do you
    have that simply can't live without?

    I'm tempted to go the zoom route, get a 35-70mm Zoom, and either a
    70-210 or 100-300mm zoom (which I already read mixed reviews of on
    this board).

    However, I've noticed my static lenses have been far superior in
    sharpness to any zoom I've had. Thus, I might look for a 35mm static
    for all those landscapes that the 24mm is just too wide for, then a
    70-210mm telephoto zoom.

    Any suggestions or cautionary tales on lenses to avoid?

    I'll probably stick to true Canon, and bypass the third-party lenses.

  2. Mike, the 35/2 + 80-200/4 L would be what I would recommend.
  3. I like the 85 1.8 and 1.2L. I'd recommend the 1.8 unless you really need the 1.2 as it is several hundred dollars more.
  4. I second the FD 80-200 f/4 L -- it's very sharp.
  5. As already others did comment, with a L-lens you can not go wrong. They are good.

    Kerkko K.
  6. awahlster

    awahlster Moderator

    LOL I find it hard to figure out how to get along without the 45 Canon FD mount lenses I currently have in my FD Kit.

    17mm f4.0 nFd to 600mm f4.5 nFD in primes

    24mm to 200mm in zooms

    tilt and shift and soft focus

    I even have some lenses just because they look a certin way when using B&W film. or because they are the sharpest 90mm macro made in FD mount (a Tokina 90mm f2.5 AT-X). I have one 80-200mm f2.8 Tokina AT-X zooms just for stuff done in places like a school gym where you need at least a 200mm and a lot of light.

    If you want sharp

    from what you have said I suggest

    35mm f2.0 nFD or S.S.C.

    85mm f1.8 nFD great protrait lens wide open and very shapr by f5.6

    200mm f2.8 IF nFD last version with diamond pattern rubber on focusing ring.

    skip the zoom unless you can afford the 80-200mm f4.0L nFD a bit slower but every bit as sharp as the primes.
  7. Mike:

    First of all, the site below is an excellent source of information; so check it out and bookmark it for future reference.

    As to date, my Canon range of FD lenses are:

    35mm F/2.0

    50mm F/1.4

    70 - 150mm F/4.5

    85mm F/1.8

    100mm F/4.0 (Macro)

    135mm F/3.5

    200mm F/4.0

    One of these days, I will be adding the following:

    28mm F/2.0

    300mm F/4.0 (L)

    and possibly the 400mm

    Quite frankly, you already know the "problem(s)" with independent manufactured zoom lenses and the same is somewhat true of those FD lenses made by Canon. They do make better zooms, but "prime" (single focal length) lens are far superior - simply because they are designed for a particular focal length and/or a particular use - such as real macro lenses, i.e. the Canon FD 100mm F/4.0.

    In years past, zoom lenses were also somewhat notorious for having either "barrel" or "pincushion" distortion, i.e. lines, especially at the edges, either barrelled out or pincushioned inwards.

    You also have to remember that lenses are simply "tools" to achieve certain artistic or aesthetic or intended results in your photographic efforts. And if you don't happen to have the right or preferred "tool" for the intended job at hand, you can either walk closer or further away - if possible.

    Besides being a Canon A-1 user for some time, I am also a long time Leica rangefinder user and have attended two Leica Photographic Seminars - decades ago. The leader/lecturer of these seminars consistently made the point to fully explore the possibilities of the lenses you have on hand, before you opt to purchase additional lenses. And that suggestion for exploration was to not only walk closer or further away, but to also bend your knees, get down to the level of your subject - children, for example, etc. Good advice in my mind.

    For many reasons, I would personally stay away from indenpendent manufactured lenses, even though they might be cheaper in the short haul. In having worked in a camera shop - decades ago - for nearly nine years, there was a noticeable difference in the sharpness, clarity, image brightness, etc. between a Canon FD 135mm F/3.5 and an independently made 135mm F/2.8 - even though the later lens was supposed to theoretically transmit more light to the viewfinder.

    So save your money, learn from your experiences, fully explore your lenses on hand, do your "homework", and then choose wisely.

    Hope this is useful.

  8. Hi Mike,

    I think the answers that you are looking for really depend on what you shoot, but having said that...

    I have a nFD 35mm f2.0 that I really like. It's a great focal length, fast, relatively compact, and very sharp. It's on my cameras a great deal of the time.

    Since I shoot portraits and do studio work, I use my 50mm f1.4 and 85mm f1.2L a great deal. Both are excellent in the studio and for low light portraits, and limited DOF work. One caution is that the 85mm is heavy. You don't want to pack it around if your not going to use it...

    Another lens that I wouldn't be without is my nFD 300mm f4.0L with the 1.4 and 2.0X converters. It's big and heavy, but not as painful as the f2.8L version to carry. It has sufficient speed for me, comes with a tripod mount, and a lens shade. The downside is that it uses 34mm drop in filters that are getting scarce and expensive. This lens is tack sharp, gives great color and contrast renditions, and is fairly flexible with the converters.

    There are some other lenses that I use from time to time, but these are the ones that I seem to keep going back to for photographing the things I like to shoot. The FD system is still a great system, and when you consider the value against today's autofocus prices, how could anyone not love them???

    Good luck in your quest...

    Cheers, Jack
  9. How about a macro lens?

    I own both the Canon FD 100 mm F4 and the Canon FD 200 mm F4. They're great lenses.

    For the rest I like wide - angles. The Canon FD 20 - 35 mm F 3.5 L is extremely sharp.

    I take a Sigma 14 mm F 3.5 on every nature walk.

    And you can have lots of fun with the 15 mm Fish - eye, which focuses almost to the front glass, which gives truly amazing close - ups!

  10. Seems there's true concensus here on the 35 f2. If you want only one, get the newer bayonet lock version. If you're a true black and white afficionado, look for a breech lock with the CONCAVE front element and minimum aperture of f16, not f22.

    I like the breech lock 28 f2.8 SC for its sharpness at large apertures and its near lack of barrel distortion. Another sleeper is the 100mm f2, sharpness of "L" caliber for hundreds less.
  11. This is a question for which there are many answers. I don't have an A-1 but I have twelve other FD and FL bodies. My favorite FD lenses are the 35mm f/2 S.S.C. (one of the radioactive ones), 100mm f/2.8 S.S.C., 135mm f/3.5 FD chrome front (heavy as lead), 200mm f/4 S.S.C. and 24mm f/2.4 S.S.C. chrome front. I would not use the 35mm f/2 FD S.S.C. with slide film because of the slight yellow cast. If you need more speed the 135mm f/2.5 FD lens is also very nice.

    I also have quite a few non-Canon FD mount lenses. Some of my favorites are: 90mm f/2.5 Vivitar Series 1 macro, 28mm f/2 Kiron, 28mm f/2.5 Vivitar, 35mm f/1.9 Vivitar, 55mm f/2.8 Panagor macro, 135mm f/2.8 Vivitar Close Focusing, 28-85mm f/3.5-4.5 Tokina AT-X. In general, the sharpest lenses are the fixed focal length models from Canon and the least sharp lenses are the independently made zooms. I agree with Mark that there were some independently made lenses which are at least as good as the Canons and maybe even a little better. His 90mm f/2.5 Tokina macro lens is essentially the same as my Vivitar 90mm f/2.5 Series 1 macro. Tokina made the Vivitar lens and if I am correct the Tokina lens has slightly better and later coating. I do not have a 100mm Canon macro lens to compare it to but I have several other macro lenses in this range and a number of bellows and enlarging lenses and the Series 1 lens compares favorably with all of them.
  12. I've found some of my favorite FDn lenses are ones that other's told me to pass on:

    7.5mm circular fisheye

    14mm 2.8L

    24mm 1.4L

    I like wide angle point of view. If you like your 24mm then get a 20mm or get a 17mm. With those in hand and you may find you want to shoot even wider, so get a 14mm.

    There are many fd users still taking great pics with prolevel equiptment. The prices have dropped to next to nothing on common glass(50mm 1.8) but the market for the best fd lenses remains strong.

    Lately I've noticed about 1/2 of all ebay USA winners of FD glass auctions are camera dealers buying for resale at their stores and websites.

    These days I am buying film while watching the digital revolution improve & drop in price. My FD system is saving me thousands of dollars in that I have no need to acquire 2005 technology to capture images that my 1970's and 1980's equiptment already provides. In many respects film is better. One example: I have yet to find ANY *noise* in any picture I've taken over the years and of course I never will encounter *noise* since thats never been an problem for film.

    In Yellowstone's Geyser Basin this past July, the National Park's digital photography teacher spent far more time looking through my speedfinder outfitted F-1n and 14mm 2.8L lense than with anyone else's digital cameras. He was continually stunned, which is pretty much how I feel everytime I use the 14mm & speedfinder outfitted F-1.

  13. If I were putting together an FD system from scratch I would go with the following.

    FD 17mm f4.0

    FD 24mm f1.4L (One of the 3 best lenses I ever owned)

    FD 35mm f2.0

    FD 85mm f1.2L (Another one of the 3 best lenses I have ever owned)

    FD 135mm f2.0

    FD 200mm f2.8mm Internal focus version

    FD 300mm f4L (Completes the trio of the 3 best lenses I have ever owned)

    20-35mm f3.5L

    35-105mm zoom (72mm filter size model)

    If you need a macro lens either the FD 100mm f4 or the FD 200 f4 are the way to go. I don't think the 50mm is long enough for serious macro work.

    I have owned and used all lenses I listed here except the 20-35mm f3.5L. But I did have its little brother the 24-35mm f3.5L. And that one it is one fine piece of equipment. Even so the addition of 20 to 24 mm in focal length is rather compelling.

    You would have a hard time beating this kit if you want to go with an FD system.
  14. SCL


    Although I sold my A1 after years use and switched to Nikon & Leica, my results over the years clearly pointed out to me that prime lenses significantly outperformed FD zooms. IMHO Zooms had the sex appeal, but the primes delivered the mail time and time again. And yes, today I use zooms about 75% of the time...but for anticipated the shots that count, I go back to primes.
  15. Wow! Such an overwhelming response. I guess I struck the heart cord of quite a few FD diehards!

    All very good advice which I will keep in mind and try to make an informed purchase or two coming up very shortly.

    My photography is very much varied, so I appreciate those who linked the lens they use with the type of photos they shoot.

    Thanks again!
  16. Canon New FD 35mm f2, and Canon FD 80-200mm f4 L.

    The zoom outperformed the 85/1.8 and 200/2.8 that I had, just not as fast. The concave 35/2 though said to be the sharpest has a yellow cast which drove me nuts. Apparently if you leave it in the sun the yellow will burn off...who knows?

    Good luck.
  17. I can add that the standard 80-200 zoom (non-L) is also an excellent performer for a lower price than its L version. I recommend the Tamron 90mm/2.5 macro lens for its super sharpness and small size. I use it far more often than the Canon 100mm/4.0 macro lens. I also recommend the 85mm/1.2L for super performance. It is heavy and expensive though. You already have the 24mm/2.8 lens which I used for many years as my prime lens for landscapes. The 50mm/1.4 is a great performer, but I use the 50mm/1.2L as I got it for trade and it is the same size as a 50/1.4.
  18. I have been shooting 35mm for many years, and can honestly tell you that while I have a 28mm f2.8, the 80-200"L" zoom, etc., the lens I use the most, or "can't live without" as you put it is a 50mm prime. Right now I use the f1.4SSC. I looked back over the years - and a majority of the photos I like ( or took, period) was through a 50mm lens. There is no better value+speed+optical performance combo out there from any manufacturer, Canon or otherwise.
    But... I am a gear junky - I would really like a 35mm f2 to add to this. And a 400mm f2.8... yeah, right... after I sell my organs maybe :)
    The FD system is the perfect means of exploiting the victims of the digital epidemic - they can't mount my lenses on their digigizmos, and so the prices are comperatively low. And there is some wonderful glass in this system!

    "L" (Luxury) lenses are Canon lenses of professional quality. You recognize them by a red ring around the front.

    I started photography when I was 18 with a Canon FTb, a 50 mm F 1.8 and some diopter lenses.

    In those days there existed an FD aspherical 55 mm F 1.2 lens, which was so expensive I couldn't even begin to think of it.

    I bought a 100 mm macro, and a 35 mm F 2.8, and blissfully unaware I made thousands of shots through the years.


    Five years ago I saw that 55 mm aspherical on sale in a 2nd hand shop. It was still expensive, but I had more money than when I was 18 and I bought it.

    This lens was so good... It was razor sharp, the bokeh was great at F 1.2, it looked beautiful, and it gave very rich pastel colours.

    Dhe damage was done...

    I had contracted the "L" disease.

    Whereas I had spent maybe a thousand dollars on equipment in the last twenty years, I now spent a couple of thousand a year.

    I bought the 24 mm F 1.4, the 20 - 35 mm F 3.5, the 85 mm F1.2,.........

    And every time again I was amazed by the incredible quality and wanted more.

    I now have 25 lenses, 5 "L", and 7 bodies.

    The only advantage to "L" disease is that it feels very good, except in your wallet.

    I keep on discovering endless possibilities with this arsenal. Photography has become a passion for me.

    So, my advice is:

    If you decide to buy some "L" glass, think deeply, because there's no way back!!!

  20. Is there any other way to distinguish or identify an "L" series lens other than the red stripe? I noticed no FD lenses on the B&H Used Dept website specifically mentioned "L" lenses, and none of the images (which are clearly stock) showed the distinctive (alluring?) red stripe.

    Are they so scarce that not even the great B&H has any in stock?

    Slightly off topic, but I've often wondered if I should start going to yard sales... probably plenty of Schmoes out there selling granddad's old camera stuff for $25.

  21. mike, B&H's used department does currently have some FD "L" glass. they typically say "L" right after the aperture. for instance, the Canon Telephoto 300mm f/4.0 L FD Manual Focus seen here:

    there's others on the site too.

    be sure to check out as well for a wide selection of FD gear, including "L" glass.

    good luck with your quest. for what it's worth, the 35mm F2.0 SSC (concave, radioactive thorium glass) is a terrific performer and can be had relatively cheaply if you keep an eye on ebay. got mine in great condition for about $50US. the yellow cast is noticeable on slides, but is wonderful for black & white and not a problem for color negative work. i highly recommend that lens.
  22. OUCH!!!

    B&H's $549 for an "8+ 300 f4L is $250+++ too high. It should trade for no more than $300. And thats not my $300 either since I don't buy or own 8+ glass.

    The generic photo of what the 300L looked like BRAND NEW is very misleading too. They should take the time to offer the exact pics of this 8+ lens.

    Ebay has spoiled me. I buy FD where the camera dealers buy, and you should too.

  23. I've had quite a few FD lenses in the past 33 years. But I've settled on this assortment.

    15mm fisheye
    17mm f:4
    24mm f:2
    35mm f:2
    35mm f:2.8 Tilt/Shift
    50mm f:1.4
    50mm f:3.5 Macro
    85mm f:1.8
    135mm f:2.8
    300mm f:4L
    35-105 zoom
    80-200 f:4L zoom
    20mm Macrophoto
    35mm Macrophoto

    The only other lens I've considered adding is the 600mm f:4.5 for birding. If I did more birding I'd own it already.

    I use the 35mm T/S more than any other lens. The 24 f:2 and the 80-200 probably get the most use after that. Then the 35 f:2, 50 f:1.4 and the 85 f:1.8 all get about the same use.
  24. I have the 28mm/2.8, 50mm/1.8, 85mm/1.8 and 135mm/3.5. They're all very good lenses but the 85mm/1.8 is very sharp indeed and excellent for portraiture.
  25. Ive seem some answers saying to steer away from lenses from "other" manufacturers. I felt the same way till I tried a Tokina PRO ATX 12-24MM on my 20D. I had the money to buy the Canon 10-22 but had to go with the Tokina. Not just for the reason it was a third the cost but because Im not sure how you could beat it. Maybe with a prime, but I wasnt buying a prime. Im not sure about other brands and for that matter other Tokina lenses but the PRO ATX series seem to be very nice. I am ready to add the 24-70 2.8L and the 70-200 2.8L but will have a serious look at Tokinas offerings for these zooms. I just switched from Nikon and dont regret it a bit. Love the 20D.
  26. My apologies for the above post, the Tokina lenses will only work on a less than full frame camera. One good reason for me to buy the Canon L lenses instead, havent decided yet. I already have my eye on the 5D, or another 20D body.
  27. Hi Mike and everyone,

    I have quite a few fd lenses on the shelf 55mm 1.2 ssc asph, 35mm ssc and 35mm chrome nose, 24mm ssc and some other zooms etc but the one lens that really blew me away the first time I used it was my very old 50mm 1.4 chrome nose. I bought this a few years back after using a 50mm FDn 1.8 and the difference was really noticeable. There may have been a fault that made the 50mm 1.8 look a little sift - I'm not sure - but the 50mm 1.4 is just super sharp.

    Best regards

    Dave Thrower
  28. I prefer FDn 4/300 L SSC and FD 2/35 SSC lenses. Unless one have`t tried them using heavy tripod, mirror locked up and cable release it`s impossible to know how good those lenses actually are.
  29. Couple things that need straightening out. You CAN mount FD lenses on digital camera bodies. I own the 50mm 1.4 and the 85mm 1.2L. I use a Canon EOS 300D...the Digital Rebel. You mount these lenses by using an adapter which can be bought, usually for less than $40. As for lenses that I can't live collection is small. Just those two as far as FD's go. But, the 85mm is my baby. I picked it up for $625 because there is a surface coating scuff on the lense. It looks like it may have been scuffed by fabric and the scuff doesn't affect the photos at all. Normally this FD lense still goes for at least $800-$1000. I agree with previous statements of the lense being heavy. It is almost heavier than my camera combined with any other lense I own. But, the pay off is that this lense is absolutely the best I have ever touched to date. When I compare my other lenses for sharpness it is as though I've been shooting through a difraction filter. A lot of people laughed at me when I said I was going to try mounting FD lenses on my digital camera but, I am the one who is laughing now. Even the professional photographers that I meet up with at sporting events are always checking out my camera to try and figure out which lense I am using because there is no electronic focus lense that looks like it. The 50mm 1.4 is a nice lense too. I also got this lense rather cheap. At one tenth the price of the electronic focus version I will gladly do the focusing myself. It's a gorgeous lense to use and sharp, although not as much as the 85mm.
  30. hello to all you Canon FD fans from France,

    although this thread seems rather old, here's my "two cents' worth":

    first of all the negatives: I have a 135mm 2.5FD which can be most kindly described as a
    "soft focus" lens. only acceptable sharpness at about f8. instant David Hamilton or nearly

    the 35-105mm f3.5 zoom had a nice polyvalent focal range, but had visible barrel and pin
    cushion distorsion at the extremes. sold it. sharpness was pretty good.

    the positives:

    I agree with everybody about the 80-200mmL zoom: it does beautifully.
    the 1.4 is marginally better than the 1.8 generally in the 50mm standards, especially in the
    larger apertures.
    using the macros as prime lenses is not a bad idea, especially for the 100mm and 200mm,
    but a 50mm1.4 and 80-200mmL seems already like a fantastic combo for all-around work
    (eventually complemented by a 28mm2.8)

    also have a 20mm, 35mm 2.0 and 2.8, and 85mm 1.8. the only non-Canon is a Kiron
    70-210 zoom.

    for FD/EOS adapters, I was warned that that you have to have one with a compensation
    lens, as the mounting flange is at a different distance from the film in FD and EOS

    and, GOD, keep that A-1; it's still as beautiful a piece of camera, as the day I bought it,
    although I agree that the T-90 (which I have) is ultimately the better body.
  31. Richard,

    If you can't get a sharp image from the 135/2.5 FD until f/8 then the lens needs to be serviced. For portraits I would rather use a 100/2.8 FD SSC but from f/4 down the 135/2.5 is sharp and has very nice out of focus rendition (bokeh).

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