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Insights & Thoughts

Budget DSLR Video Tip: Using Old Canon FD Lenses On Your Digital SLR

By Anthony Thurston on October 26th 2013

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Did you know that you can save a ton of money and grow your video lens collection by buying old Canon FD lenses? You can find these for very cheap, I just saw a 50mm F/1.4 for under $100, that is a huge savings over the current Canon 50mm f/1.4 at around $400. The catch is that these old FD lenses require an adapter to use with your Digital SLR and they are manual focus only.

Some of you, many of you actually, will probably scoff at this tip. But the results don’t lie, for video (I would not recommend these for still photos) these lenses offer a huge savings over current lenses and still have decent performance (with a few caveats). For less than the cost of one new lens you can pick up an entire range of quality FD prime lenses that will greatly expand your capabilities over the kit lens that came with your camera.

Caleb Pike with DSLR Video Shooter did this video a while back explaining the benefits of these old lenses. The video itself is older, but its still completely relevant to today DSLRs and the quality of the lenses has not gone down at all. Check it out below:

I had always written off using any lens that I needed an adapter (Pickup an FD to EOS Adapter Here) to use in the past. I had heard many times over that the lenses were too soft, and did not perform well on new digital bodies. After watching this video though I think that these lenses get a bad rap, sure they are not the best you can get…..but for the price the few caveats to using them (1 stop of light loss, softer wide open, crop factor) seem minor to me.

[Check Out Our DSLR Gear Guides For Tips On The Best New Lenses For Video]

 
Obviously if you have the money for quality new glass then this tip is not meant for you, but if you are new to shooting video and are looking to improve your capabilities on the cheap then these are a great option. They give you the opportunity to use focal lengths that you may not be able to have access to otherwise, giving you the ability to practice your craft on the cheap.

What did you think of the quality from the FD lenses shown in the video? What are your thoughts on using old FD glass to build out your first video kit, getting valuable practice without the cost of new lenses? Share your thoughts in a comment below.

Anthony Thurston is a photographer based in the Salem, Oregon area specializing in Boudoir. He recently started a new project, Fiercely Boudoir to help support the growing boudoir community. Find him over on Instagram. You may also connect with him via Email.

Q&A Discussions

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  1. Michael Gugger

    Check out my short film which I shot on the Sony A7Rii + Canon FD.

    https://vimeo.com/245405363

    I used old Canon FD lenses for all the interior shots and for the water scenes I used the 35mm Sony / Carl Zeiss lens since it was the only auto focus lens that would fit in the underwater housing we had. I constantly switched back and forth from fullframe / super 35 mode – which is what I love about the A7Rii.

    The whole film was shot using only natural light. For the interior scenes I mostly exposed from the window since that was my source of light. Because I created the look mostly in camera, it made color grading pretty hard…I used a custom color profile – one which I’m not sure if I would use again because the a lot of footage came out very purple-y… maybe it’s from the old canon glass?

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  2. Dave Thomas

    Great video!

    +1 for the EdMika conversion kits. I tried the Fotodiox adapter when I found a FD 300/4 on ebay for $140. That was before Ed Mika produced an adapter to this particular model. The amount of flare, contrast reduction due to the internal lens on the Fotodiox adapter made it go almost completely unused.

    Your milage may vary, the problem I had were probably exacerbated by the physics of the glass adapter with this long lens, it’s probably better with something like a 50mm in the video. But you’re losing something.

    After about 6 months of waiting Ed Mika produced an adapter for this lens (it was $100 more expensive than the fotodiox), I was able to buy one from him. The results? Dramatic. Flare, contrast, colors, it’s a completely different lens.

    I also have a collection of M42-mount lenses I use for DSLR filmmaking, and the best values I’ve found are Russian Soviet-era (I have 5) and Tokina-made Vivitars (I have 3 or 4). They’re easier (ie cheaper) to adapt to Canon than FD. So I stay on the lookout for exceptional FD lenses at a good price to adapt with Ed Mika which doesn’t have a glass element in it. Otherwise I stick to M42.

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  3. Caleb Pike

    Thanks for posting the video guys. Love your content!

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  4. Rachel Lewis

    I think the quality is great, I use a EdMika converted FD 55 f1.2 on my Canon 5DIII, here’s an example vid, mute it LOL and skip to 0.30
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=craRGzEdCvI

    Also, here’s a photoset, just LOVE it
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/41947915@N03/sets/72157632033023069/

    The EdMika conversion is much more expensive but allows infinity focus and no crop :) I couldn’t recommend these old lenses enough for anyone looking to getting into videography and is not in a position to spend the big bucks on the modern lenses :)

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  5. lebin

    I dont think this is a fair test, First of all, the adapter’s glass, it will be vary from the result, it is like using a lot of tele lens, and adding tele-convertor, and comparing them.
    Some FD lens are actually almost on par with the modern lens.

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  6. Brian Carey

    So can these lenses focus at infinity when used with the fd to eos adapter?

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    • Anthony Thurston

      That depends on what adapter you get. If the adapter has an optical element then the FD lenses *should* focus to infinity (but having the optical element is what causes the crop factor), if you get a adapter without an optical element then the FD lenses will not focus to infinity.

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    • Rachel Lewis

      The EdMika conversion kits do focus to infinity :)

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  7. jonno

    goto:
    zone-10.com/cmsm/index.php?option=com_content&task=category&sectionid=10&id=57&Itemid=97

    for good reviews on FD glass

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  8. jonno

    stop any of these FD lenses down to f5.6-f8 and they are very sharp!

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  9. Edgars Drusts

    What lenses do you own, what do you reccomend?

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    • Anthony Thurston

      I would recommend any of the FD fast primes (F/1.8, F/1.4, F/1.2), zooms can be hit or miss but I wouldn’t get anything less than F/2.8 since you will need to stop the lens down to get better sharpness.

      Basically, take whatever new glass you have and fill in your range with some FD glass on the cheap. For example: If you own an EF 50mm F/1.8, go uut and pick up some FD glass in the 24 or 35mm range, and some farther like an 85 or 100mm.

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  10. Emric

    The ‘go-to’ lens for my NEX-6 is an FD 35-105 f/3.5. Great Lens! My next one will be an 85mm 1.8 or 1.2 if I can help it!

    Couple shots with the 3.5;
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/profilestudio/10374008216/
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/profilestudio/10319394033/

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    • Emric

      Best part is the NEX-to-FD lens adapter has a slide which allows me to ‘slide’ the aperture as you would with a de-clicked manual video lens. great for micro adjustments if needed. Perfect fro video.

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