Canon FD 50mm f/3.5 Macro Lens Review

By Nathaniel Stephan
Last Updated: April 17, 2019
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Canon FD 50mm f/3.5 Macro Lens Review

Released in 1979, the Canon FD 50mm f/3.5 macro is the second and last 50mm macro lens for the FD mount.

The lens is a new FD mount design, which eliminates the locking ring. It is backward compatible with FD and FL camera bodies.

Used prices on eBay and Other Sites

On 11/11/18, versions of the lens selling in the same price range as every 50mm or 55mm vintage macro lens.

If you're patient and check prices a few times a day over the course of a few weeks, you might be able to find a deal.

Check current prices at Amazon or eBay.

I was not able to find a listing for the lens on Amazon. However, there is a listing for the SSC (Super Spectra Coating) version on Amazon.

Comparable Lenses & Conclusion

Quick Thoughts on the Lens

Needing a extension tube is not necessarily a negative. The lens is easier to use on a bellows. It is also smaller and lighter to walk around with as a closeup lens, without the extension tube.

The Canon Extension Tube FD 25 is required to reach 1:1 magnification. The lens alone will only go to 1:2. With the extension tube attached, the lens will not be able to focus to infinity.

Wide Open

None of the vintage macro lenses that I have tested have been good when shot wide open. So, with a maximum aperture of f/3.5, the Canon being slower than f/2.8 doesn't matter.

If you want a macro lens that you can shoot wide open, you're going to have to pay more for modern optics.

Sharpest Aperture

The sharpest apertures for the Canon is f/8. At f/5.6, the corners are soft. If you want a lens that's sharp at f/5.6 checkout the Vivitar 55mm f/2.8 macro.

Cameras to Use the Lens On

Adapting to Mirrorless Cameras

Canon FD adapters are easily found for any mirrorless camera system.

Personally, I find the FD breech-lock annoying to adapt. The lens has to be locked onto the adapter and then the aperture needs to be locked to allow for manual control. Bayonet mounts, like the Nikon F, are easier to deal with.

For use on FD camera bodies, such as the Canon AE-1, the lens is great. The only drawback that remains is cleaning inside the breech lock.

Used Prices

Coming in at $40-$80 on eBay, the lens is as affordable as all of the other vintage macro lenses. The lens is worth getting if it can be found under $50.

For a bit more, the Komine made Vivitar 55mm f/2.8 macro lens is sharper at f/5.6 and f/8. Plus the Vivitar does not need an extension tube to reach 1:1 magnification.

Lens Specs

ManufactureCanon
Made inJapan
Year Released1979
Original Price$154.95*
VersionNew FD Canon 50mm f/3.5 Macro
Elements Groups6 ele. 4 gr.
Focal Length50mm
Aperturef/3.5-32
# Aperture Blades6
Aperture controlManual & Auto, Auto Diaphragm
Focus typeManual
Hard infinity stopYes
Magnification1:2, 1:1 w/ extension tube
Minimum Focus Distance23.2cm (9.1”) /
Working Distance10.8cm (4-1/4"), 5.6cm (2-3/16")
Filter Threads52mm
Weight240g, 344g w/ extension tube
Dimensions⌀63mm x 76mm (2.5" x 3")

Note: Price is from a 1985 Competitive Camera Corp catalogue. The 25mm extension tube was priced at $34.95.

Lens Distance Scale, Aperture Ring, and Focus Ring.

Accessories

The only notable accessory is the Canon Extensin Tube FD 25. This tube is needed to reach 1:1 magnification.

Another option is to use a bellows to get the needed extension to go to 1:1 magnification or beyond.

Reversing with Canon Macro Auto Ring

To get higher levels of magnification, the lens can be reverse mounted. To control the aperture when reverse mounted, the Canon Macro Auto Ring is required.

A remote cable release is also needed to close down the aperture diaphragm. There is no way to lock the aperture with the macro auto ring.

Alternative

I'd recommend a cheap FD-to-EOS adapter to lock the aperture instead. The Macro Auto Ring isn't worth the money unless you have a specific reason for wanting it.

Lens Hood & Original Cases

The BW-52A is the designated lens hood. The front element sits far enough back where a lens hood will not be needed.

There are also 2 options for cases. The LH-C10 is a hard lens case and the LS-B11 is a soft lens case.

Lens Versions

There are 3 versions of the lens. The first was for the FL mount, which is compatible with the FD mount.

  1. FL 50mm f/3.5 Macro - 19??
  2. FD 50mm f/3.5 S.S.C. Macro (Super Spectra Coating) - 1973
  3. New FD 50mm f/3.5 Macro - 1979

Build Quality and Design

It is a nice, well-constructed lens. The focus ring on my copy is starting to feel a bit tighter than it should, but still completely usable.

The grease is likely starting to dry out, which is common among lenses of this age. The Canon's focus ring is still smoother than rebadged Komine 55mm, Minolta 50mm, and Nikon 55mm macro lenses that I have.

The Breech Lock...

Lens Canon New FD Mount

My biggest problem with the lens is the breech lock mount. If used on a Canon film camera, it performs well. The problems start when adapting FD lenses.

Adapting requires the lens to be locked onto an adapter. In order to do this, the second lock that controls the aperture must be disengaged.

Once the adapter is on the lens, the aperture can be locked into the closed position. After both steps are successfully completed, the aperture can be manually set using the aperture ring on the lens.

If the aperture is not locked, the diaphragm will not close when the aperture ring is turned.

I've screwed up this procedure on a couple of occasions. I didn't notice right away because I was using flash and did not chimp.

The aperture also has to be unlocked in order to remove the adapter from a lens. I find the entire process annoying.

The mount is also hard to keep clean. Dust and oil build-up under the mount over time. I'm not aware of any easy ways to clean it.

Usage & Working Distance

The lens was tested with a Sony A7 and a cheap adapter. Extension and reversal was was done on a Nikon PB-4 with a Nikon D750.

Going past 1:2 magnification with the extension tube is not a good experience. With the lens stopped down to f/8 or f/11, artificial lighting is going to be needed.

There's only going to be a couple of inches (~5cm) of working distance. That lack of room between the camera and subject makes lighting difficult. A 90-105mm macro lens has better usability at 1:1.

For close-up and tabletop photography, the 50mm focal length is great. The lens can fill the frame, while still being within arms reach of the subject.

This is especially good for vertical shots where a 90-105mm lens would require a ladder to get the same framing.

Test Shot Sharpness Comparison

  • f/3.5 - Alright in the center with softer corners.
  • f/5.6 - An improvement, but the corners are still a bit soft.
  • f/8 - The sharpest aperture. Corners look great.
  • f/11 - Starting to see diffraction.
  • f/16 - Diffraction becomes more noticeable. Not as sharp as f/11. Can make sense for images that will be downsampled and used online.
  • f/22, f/32 - Diffraction. The entire images are soft.
Macro Sample Image Corner Crop at f/3.5
100% Corner Crop at f/3.5
Image Sample Corner Crop at f/8
100% Corner Crop at f/8

Macro Magnification

The lens performed better than many other similar macro lenses in the same price range. A mount adapter or Canon macro auto ring is needed to get the aperture diaphragm to close.

I still had a couple of inches of working distance with my bellows fully extended. Using an adapter for a mirrorless camera will also act as a lens hood.

When compared to the Amscope 4x microscope objective, I don't see the point of reverse mounting this lens. For $18 plus the cost of the needed adapters the Amscope gives sharper images at a higher magnification.

Reversed Lens Center Crop at 2x Magnification
100% Crop of a Dominican Republic bank note.
~2x magnification from reversing the lens.

Conclusion

The lens holds up well against the competition in the same price range. For $50 or less, I don't see how you could go wrong with the lens.

If you have to have an FD mount, you might need to pay a bit more to find one in a timely fashion.

If you are lens mount agnostic, shop around among the comparable lenses. I don't think I would be able to tell the differences between lenses by looking at images. Find the best price for any of the lenses below and buy that one.

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