Shortly after I bought my first Sony camera, I went to a photowalk and met up with another guy who owned an a6000.
After the meetup, we hung out for a while to grab dinner, and he told me all about (in excruciating detail!) his collection of vintage lenses. Prior to this, I didn’t even know you could adapt old lenses onto modern Sony cameras, so I was hooked instantly.
He ended up borrowing me his old Canon FD 50mm F1.8, a once-legendary nifty fifty from the company’s film days. In the end, he said I could keep it, and I’ve had it ever since.
Despite the fact that this Canon lens is decades old, it still remains one of my favorite lenses to this day. So, let’s talk about it!
Looking for a quick summary before jumping in?
- Beautiful image rendering with lovely contrast
- Heavy-duty vintage build quality
- A pleasant manual focus experience
- Dirt cheap, even w/ adapter
Size & Weight
Alright, starting off, let’s talk about size and weight.
Given that this is a vintage film prime, it’s really not that large. Even with the adapter, it measures just a little bit less than 2in (5.1cm) and weighs around 11oz (311g).
When coupled with my a6k, it actually makes for a fairly compact setup. It fits perfectly in my bag (with plenty of room to spare) and can even be pocketed!
I tend to shoot a lot of street photos, and the small lens plus the small camera makes for a really nice, discreet kit. Despite the rather modern look of the a6k body, the lens gives it almost a harmless, vintage point-and-shoot vibe.
Is the lens well-built?
Ok so, the lens is small, but is it well-built? Oh my goodness, yes it is.
In true vintage lens fashion, everything is made of metal. It’s small but hefty and feels incredibly durable in the hand.
Seriously, many vintage lenses were incredibly well-built, and this one is certainly no exception.
As for accessories, I’m not even sure Canon didn’t even make a lens hood for this thing back in the day.
Still, that being said, I’d wager that there are likely some aftermarket ones on eBay or something.
As for lens caps, if you buy from a reputable seller (like I said, I got mine from a friend who, in turn, got his from a thrift store) you might get caps included.
Otherwise, the front and rear elements are fairly standard size, so you should be able to use any old 55mm (filter size) cap. I think, at least.
Built to last?
So yeah, in all my reviews, I have a section where I ask, “is this lens built to last?“.
I think it should be fairly obvious that, yes, the Canon FD 50mm F1.8 is/was built to last. I mean, there’s still thousands of surviving copies on eBay and Amazon, so I think that’s a testament to the build quality.
Seriously, I’ve bumped mine against walls, brought it into rain and snow storms (not officially weather-sealed, for the record) and it still works perfectly.
I don’t typically follow the adage of, “they don’t build ’em like they used to”, but that’s pretty true with this lens.
Ergonomically, it’s quite comfortable to use. The lens is rather small, but the focusing ring acts as a nice grip and the weight is low enough to not feel like it’s dragging you down.
As I mentioned earlier, I usually use this lens when I’m looking for a bit of a challenge when shooting street photography. I can go for hours without feeling hand fatigue since, again, it’s fairly lightweight and so well balanced on my a6k.
Finally: aesthetics. I understand beauty is subjective, of course, but I just absolutely adore the vibe of vintage lenses.
The sleek black metal barrel contrasts incredibly well with the white, orange, and green text engravings. It’s got character.
Next up, let’s get into the nitty-gritty and talk about sharpness.
Quick warning: my lens tests don’t tend to get very scientific, I mostly just pixel peep. Don’t expect MTF graphs or anything complicated like that.
To start, images taken at F1.8 are actually pretty razor sharp, but with a caveat…
At F1.8, the focusing plane is incredibly thin. Given that this lens is entirely manual focus (more on that later!), it’s up to you to nail it just right.
I’ve found that, despite seeming like I have things in focus, I often miss it narrowly when shooting wide open.
Whew, when stopped down, however, this thing is an absolute beast!
Even just from F2.8, images are tack sharp and, given that the focus plane is a bit larger, it becomes much easier to nail accurate focus.
If you’re looking to do some panorama landscapes (I used this lens a lot for that), then you’ll be happy to know that sharpness seems to peak around F8. There’s very little corner softness, and the lens is just incredibly sharp from edge-to-edge.
Awesome performance, given that this thing is older than me!
Optical Quirks & Flaws
As for optical quirks and flaws (distortion, CA, flare, vignette, etc.), the Canon FD 50mm F1.8 is actually largely free of any egregious issues.
To start, distortion is minor and virtually unnoticeable.
It is a 50mm lens, after all, and they tend to suffer from distortion much less than their wider-angle counterparts.
Vignette is actually fairly similar. Some older lenses suffer from insane vignetting, but this one is mostly fine.
When shooting wide open, you’ll find minor darkening of the corners, but it’s easily fixable. Or, you can leave it be to add more emphasis on the center of your frame.
In terms of aberrations, the Canon FD 50mm surprisingly handles them quite well.
Even in some more extreme tests, such as shooting branches against a sunny sky, I found that the CA was typically quite minor and easily fixable in post.
Finally, like most vintage lenses, we see rather iffy flare resistance. Although not a lens that would make JJ Abrams proud (aka not an extreme flare-er), you will see some pretty significant ghosting and loss of contrast if shooting directly into the sun.
Either way, I often didn’t find it to be a major issue, and you can make a sort of makeshift “lens hood” with your hands in a pinch.
Overall Optical Performance
So yeah, despite this lens being nearly half a century old, it still performs better than some modern glass! The Canon FD 50mm F1.8 offers fantastic sharpness without many drawbacks. And, I must mention, it offers a lot of character…
Character (Strong/Rich Contrast)
Yep, vintage lenses often offer some sort of character. They’re typically not clinically sharp (like a Sigma Art lens, for example).
In this case, the Canon offers a very crisp, contrast-heavy look that I haven’t seen replicated by any modern glass. It’s hard to explain over text, but it just appears that shadows are richer and highlights are brighter.
Hopefully, my sample photos throughout the article can “show” it better than I can describe it.
As we’ve established a few times through the post already, this lens is entirely manual focus. There are also, as you’d expect, no electronic connections for aperture control or metadata.
So, the focusing ring feels fantastic.
It’s fairly large, easy to grip, spins smoothly, and is well-dampened. There have been very few situations where I thought, “dang, it’s hard to get focus with this thing”.
The focus throw is adequate, and I never felt like I was spending an overly long time hunting for perfect focus. Part of that, is of course, thanks to Sony’s MF assists.
This brings me to the next point. Sony’s cameras have incredible systems built into them to assist with manual focus.
The focus magnifier lets you double tap a custom button to zoom in 5x/10x to insure your focus is perfect, and peaking highlights everything that the camera believes is currently in focus.
If you’re new to manual focus, feel free to check out my comprehensive MF guides for the a6000 and the a7 series. They’ll teach you everything you need to know (and probably even more).
Finally, the lens, of course, features a focus scale and distance marking.
Although I didn’t often use them (instead relying on focus peaking), they seemed to be accurate (in terms of feet/distances).
Really quickly, we’re going to cover a few more random things about the lens before tying this all up.
Given that the Canon FD 50mm F1.8 is an entirely manual lens, it, of course, doesn’t feature a camera-controlled aperture.
Instead, you change the aperture by physically spinning the ring on the camera.
This ring is clicked (yay!) and turns smoothly enough to be comfortable, but not too smoothly to where it’ll be accidentally knocked out of place.
The only times where I’ve ever accidentally knocked the aperture out of wack was when I was wearing very heavy gloves in winter.
Finally, this old lens came in two different versions.
One version is a pretty typical lens that we’re all used to. It mounts to the camera (or, in our case, an adapter) by twisting and locking in.
The other version, however, is known as a breech lock mount. You pop it onto the adapter and spin a little silver ring to lock it into place.
No matter what version you buy, they’ll both require the same FD –> E adapter, but I just figured I’d mention the differences.
My Final Thoughts
An Awesome Lens
So yeah, I’ve owned this lens almost as long as I’ve had my camera and it’s still one of my favorites for when I just want to shoot for fun.
It offers incredible character (seriously, contrast is so strong and beautiful) and it’s got that good-ol’ vintage build quality. And it does all this while not being incredibly large, heavy, or even expensive. Seriously, this thing isn’t pricey at all, even with the required adapter.
So, if you’re looking to dive into vintage lenses, consider picking up the Canon FD 50mm F1.8. These days, it’s still fairly easy to find, whether that be on Amazon or eBay.
I can’t praise this thing enough. Image quality, beatiful and strong build, a fantastic manual focus feel. It hits all the right marks.
I’ll leave a purchase link below if you’re looking to pick it up for yourself, but don’t forget the adapter! Thanks for reading. 🙂
Make sure to remember the adapter!
Canon FD 50mm F1.8 Sample Photos
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