[Lens Review] Canon FD 50mm f1.4

SEPTEMBER 25, 2022


[Lens Review] Canon FD 50mm f1.4

Being mostly a Nikon user, I was highly ecstatic when I received a legendary Canon F1 film camera paired with an FD 50mm f1.4 lens from a friend. After using the combo for more than a year, it’s time to judge the lens.

The photos used in this review were taken using 50mm with either that Canon F1 or a digital camera, Sony A7ii, via an adapter. Can you guess which is which?

Build and Handling

Let’s get the numbers and measurements first:

  • The lens has 7 elements in 6 groups
  • Weight: 305 grams
  • Filter size: 55 mm
  • Minimum focus distance: 0.45 m
  • Aperture: 8 blades, f1.4 to f16 in half stops

Manufactured in the 70s, Canon FD 50mm f1.4 is a manual-only lens. The build is incredibly solid, made of metal all the way. This results in the lens being quite heavy for its smallish size, though when paired with a body, the weight aids in balancing the camera. My copy of the lens came with a metal hood BS-55, which, unfortunately, is a little bit lax around the tightening.

I want to praise the focus ring especially. The smooth and precise focus ring helps to nail the focus in many situations, such as shooting fast-moving objects during the panning shot of a taxi or the fast-paced festival photo below.

Image Quality

From what I gather from other people’s reviews on FD 50mm’s image quality, the consensus is pretty favorable. After using it personally, I tend to concur with the general opinion.

Being an f1.4 lens, it’s a definite bokeh machine. Wide open, it renders the background completely into a blur, as you can see in the photos below. Some people might not like the ‘busy’ rendering and prefer a more creamy result, but I like it.

Nevertheless, it sometimes exhibits softness in the center, especially in harsh daylight. But stopping it a little to f1.8 or f2 solves the issue by a margin. By f5.6 it’s sharp as a tack. For street photography, though, I tend to stop down until f8.

Also, the lens shows its age when used with a full-frame digital camera. It doesn’t produce results as sharp as I wanted. I feel like it shines best when paired with a film camera instead. However, I would add that this flaw gives this lens a certain charming character that is not present in modern, sharp lenses.

One thing to note is that I own the first, older version of the lens, not the second one with SSC coating, contributing to this perceived less-than-stellar performance on digital. On film, this fault is not too noticeable.

More in this series…

Final Verdict

Score: 7/10

For me, it’s an above-average lens. Almost 80% of the time, I took photos with the Canon F1 body with this FD 50mm f1.4 lens attached (the other 20% was taken with another Canon lens that I own, FD 28mm).

If you’re a vintage lens lover and want to adapt the lens to digital, I think you might like Pentax Takumar 50mm f1.4 or the quirky Helios 44-2 58mm f2 better over this Canon lens, character-wise and weight-wise.

Overall, you will still enjoy using Canon FD 50mm for its character. Given its relatively cheap pricing (around $60-70), it’s pretty worthwhile to invest in this lens. Give it a try yourself!

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About the Author

Jerfareza Daviano | Photographer in Sendai, Japan
Jerfareza Daviano

Jerfareza is a freelance photographer from Indonesia currently based in Sendai, Japan, offering wide range of photography service especially profile portraits, couple or family photos, and wedding photography. Should you wish to hire him you can check here for more details.

Visit his website for articles about travel in Japan especially Tohoku area and interesting bits about photography.


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