Canon FD 50mm f/3.5 Macro Lens Review
Released in 1979, the Canon FD 50mm f/3.5 macro is one of the two versions of the lens released for the FD mount. The other macro lens is the 50mm f/3.5 S.S.C.
The second version of the lens is a new FD mount design, which eliminates the rotating locking ring. It is backward compatible with FD and FL camera bodies.
Used prices on eBay and Other Sites
Checking prices on 12/04/20, and they haven’t changed much. You should still be able to find copies of the lens for under $100.
On 11/11/18, versions of the lens selling in the same price range as every 50mm or 55mm vintage macro lens made by other manufacturers.
To get a good deal, just check listings daily. When a fresh deal shows up, be ready to buy it quickly, because they don’t last long.
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 as it makes it possible to use the lens on a bellows. It is also smaller and lighter to walk around with as a closeup lens, without the Canon macro lens FD extension tube.
The Canon Extension Tube FD 25 is required to reach life size magnification. The lens alone will only go to 1:2. With the Canon macro lens FD extension tube attached, the lens will not be able to focus to infinity.
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.
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. You should have no trouble finding adapters for the Nikon Z, Canon R, Fuji X, Sony E, Micro 4/3, or Leica L-mount.
The lens can be adapted to a Canon EOS DSLR, but the adapter will need a corrective optical element to allow the lens to focus normally which will degrade image quality. Adapters that do not have a corrective element will act like a small extension tube which will prevent the lens from focusing to infinity.
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 aperture 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.
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.
|Version||New FD Canon 50mm f/3.5 Macro|
|Elements Groups||6 ele. 4 gr.|
|# Aperture Blades||6|
|Aperture control||Manual & Auto, Auto Diaphragm|
|Hard infinity stop||Yes|
|Magnification||1:2, 1:1 w/ extension tube|
|Minimum Focus Distance||23.2cm (9.1”) /|
|Working Distance||10.8cm (4-1/4"), 5.6cm (2-3/16")|
|Weight||240g, 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.
The only notable accessory is the Canon Extension Tube FD 25. This tube is needed to reach life size magnification.
Another option is to use a bellows to get the needed extension needed for 1:1 magnification or higher. Though there may be some issues finding an adapter to use a DSLR on an FD mount bellows.
Reversing with Canon Macro Auto Ring
To get higher levels of magnification, the lens can be reverse mounted. To control the aperture when shooting with the lens reverse mounted, the Canon Macro Auto Ring accessory can be used.
An alternative would be to use a fd to a different lens mount adapter or cut the bottom off of a Canon FD rear lens cap.
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.
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.
There are 3 versions of the lens. The first was for the FL mount, which is compatible with the FD mount.
The second Canon S.S.C. version has a lens nameplate around the front of the lens. The new FD version has engraving around the top of the lens barrel.
- FL 50mm f/3.5 Macro - 19??
- FD 50mm f/3.5 S.S.C. Macro (Super Spectra Coating) - 1973
- New FD 50mm f/3.5 Macro - 1979
Build Quality and Design
Both copies of the Canon lens I have are well-constructed. They are close in size and weight.
The focus ring on my S.S.C. macro copy is starting to feel a bit tighter than it should, but the lens is 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…
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.
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.
A review rating for the lens really depends on the price. Pictures from the lens hold up well against the vintage SLR macro competition in the same price range.
For $50 or less, I don’t see how a photographer could go wrong with purchasing the lens. I don’t think paying over $100 would be a good decision.
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.
To learn more about macro, take a look at the Beginner’s Guide to Macro Photography.