My review of the Canon FDn 50mm f/1.4 adapted to the Sony E-mount (NEX) mirror-less camera.
Manual focus 50mm lens are perhaps the most common lenses from the "film era" and are therefore relatively easy to find. However, most of the budget models carried either a f1.8 or f2.0 model; the f1.4 lenses were usually upgrades from the basic models and are therefore better built (and offer and advantage in light gathering ability obviously). The Canon FD 50mm f1.4 falls into this later category of "premium" lenses. (note that there are several versions of these, including a later more "plastiky" nFD model). This lens is truly old-chool in construction, with an all-metal build. The model I bought also came with a lens hood (see Figure 1) which is a nice addition. These older lenses don't always have the best anti-refelective coatings, so a lens hood helps prevent reflections and flaring. As evidenced in Figure 1, this is not a small lens, nor is it a light one. There's some "heft" to this Canon FD f1.4. that some might find a little out of proprotion with a light camera body such as the Sony NEX-5N featured below. However, from an aesthetic point of view, the lens actually looks nice on the camera in my opinion and handles reasonably well. The manual focus ring is not one of the smoothest I've used (both the Olympus OM 50mm f1.4 and Super Takumar 50mm f1.4 are better in this regard). To be fair, I'm not sure if this is a characteristic of all these lenses or whether my sample had a dried-up lubricant. It's an old lens, so the later scenario is quite plausible.
One disapointment I encountered in this lens (that in this case I'm pretty sure it's just my sample) was that it could not focus to infinity with the adpater I used. Not sure if the lens was defective or wether the previous owner modified it; perhpas for use with a Canon EOS model... This limited my use to portraits. Not a huge deal since that was my primary intended use anyways, but would have been nice if I could use it in other situations. For $25 I'm not complaining though...
Figure 1 - Canon FD 50mm f1.4 on a NEX-5N
The "fridge test", I'll remind my readers, is the not-so-scientific name I give to a simple sharpness test I perform every time I buy a new lens. It consists of placing the lens and camera on a tripod, manual focusing on the fridge in areas of detail (papers, magnets etc) and then shooting at various apertures to see how the lens performs. See Figures 2 and 3 for center and edge performance respectively.
Figure 2 - The "Fridge Test" - Center
Figure 3 - - The "Fridge Test" - Corner
Wide open at f1.4, the lens is a bit soft as was expected. Things improve significantly at f2.0 which is quite usable. The corners seem to peak later than the center. Whereas peak performace at the center seems to be around f2.8, it seems more like f4 at the corners. Diffraction starts reducing sharpness at f11 and beyond; though f11 is not that bad.
No lens test is complete without some "real-world" results and photos. Figures 4 through 6 are some examples of what this lens can produce. It produces very nice portraits and shallow-DOF photos, but can also yield very sharp photos at the right aperture (infinity limit notwhitstanding).
Figure 4 - !
Sony NEX-5N, Canon FD 50mm f/1.4 @ f5.6
Figure 5 - Tony the Dog
Sony NEX-5N, Canon FD 50mm f/1.4 @ f1.4
Figure 6 - Dynamic Duo
Sony NEX-5N, Canon FD 50mm f/1.4 @ f4
On and APS-C sensor, the Canon 50mm f1.4 is a good portrait lens with relatively good center sharpness and pleasing bokeh. The sharpness wide open is actually quite good in the center (see my comparison article here) though less so in the corners. If you can get your hands on this lens for cheap as I did, it's a good deal and will serve you well. However, some people might prefer the lighter weight alternatives that perform similarly well such as the Zuiko OM 50mm f1.4 or the Super Takumar 50mm f1.4.
Comments, questions, suggestions? You can reach me at: contact (at sign) paulorenato (dot) com