Good 50mm Lens For Sony Nex ... on a Budget?

Started Mar 27, 2013 | Discussions thread
ProfHankD Veteran Member • Posts: 6,234
Canon FDn vs. others

Michael Everett wrote:

I tried a few, including the OM 50 1.8 Japan version, the Zeiss Planar 1.7, the Canon Fd 50 1.4, and the Canon FDn 50 1.4.  The Canon FDn outperformed them all, including the Zeiss.  It's so sharp it's almost scary, and it is even sharp at 1.4.  FDn prices have gone up, and a good one is now around $100, but it's worth it IMO.

I've said this before, but based on the over 125 lenses I own and have tested, the Canon FDn adoration that often surfaces in this forum is not well grounded. (I don't have enough experience with Zeiss or OM glass to comment on those.) The Canon FDn line was produced in huge quantities, and they only work on mirrorless digitals, so many FDn lenses are widely available and not too expensive, but the FDn 50mm f/1.4 is somehow commonly selling for about twice what the IQ/build would justify relative to most competitors.

From what I've seen, Canon FDn lenses tend to have very good contrast, but other IQ attributes (color, bokeh, edge sharpness, etc.) are often poorer than for competitors. For the two Canon 50mm f/1.4 I've tested, I found the "silvernose" FD to be surprisingly different from, and significantly better in build and IQ overall than, the FDn.

Of the twenty-some-odd "fast 50s" I have.... The various Canon f/1.8 versions are clumped at the bottom overall, but are still quite good. The Canon f/1.4 versions are better than the f/1.8, but only contrast is outstanding compared to other f/1.4. My M42 SMC Takumar 50mm f/1.4 gives the smoothest bokeh, but it isn't as sharp as its 55mm f/1.8 brother (and is much worse if you haven't yet UV cleaned the radioactive yellowing). My Minolta MC Rokkors easily win on build quality (smoothness of operation of the focus ring is amazing on most Rokkors, only the Canon FL 55mm f/1.2 I have is in the same class) and are quite good in most IQ metrics, but the 50mm f/1.4 has a bit of a glow problem wide open. The 55mm f/1.4 Mamiya/Sekor I have is probably my best "fast 50" overall; ironically, it is not the best by any one IQ metric, but is near the best in every measure. Actually, my Helios 44 versions have IQ fairly similar to the M/S f/1.4 and f/1.8 versions, but they're f/2 and have notoriously crude Soviet build.

Anyway, the point is that just about every "fast 50" is pretty good and the best is mostly a function of how you weight different attributes. $50 can get you a really great fast 50.

If you get one be sure to pay the extra for one in good condition, because it was a pro lens in its time, and many have taken a lot of rough treatment.

The Canon FDn line makes an engineered optical performance gap between consumer and pro lenses. For Canon FDn (as for EF), pro lenses generally get the "L" designation, like the f/1.2 L. The f/1.8 and f/1.4 were the standard kit lens options. However, the FDn f/1.4 is an upgrade over their  f/1.8 in IQ as well as speed.

It is mechanically a very solid lens, however.

What? The FDn lens line is among the first to be nearly 100% plastic bodied, and the hacks needed to make a bayonet compatible with the technically-superior-but-awkward-to-use FL/FD breech lock mount produced one of the weakest bayonets ever made. There is also an issue involving the aperture defaulting to open rather than closed, making stuck-open apertures more common in Canon FD/FDn mount and requiring a pin in the NEX E-mount adapter. Something about the build/glass/coatings also seems to make old Canon lenses a tad more prone to fungus growth than most lenses. In summary, FDn build is still better than your average modern (plastic-bodied autofocus) lens, but totally outclassed by most manual lenses -- including the Canon FL line.

I will admit that the build quality usually is not a problem for FDn lenses, the lightweight plastic makes many FDn lenses balance well on a NEX, and the pin in the NEX adapters means all FDn lenses behave as presets (not just manuals). Still, "very solid" seems a very generous rating....

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