[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 with 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 to balance 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 especially praise the focus ring. The smooth and precise focus ring really helps to nail the focus in a lot of 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 quite like it.

Nevertheless, sometimes it exhibits softness when 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 actually 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, which surely contributes 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, this FD 50mm f1.4 lens stayed attached (the other 20% was taken by FD 28mm which I have yet to review).

If you’re a vintage lens lover and would like 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.

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

More Samples

Let me know what you think


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