The 5 Best Canon AE-1 Lenses

By Nathaniel Stephan
Last Updated: March 17, 2020
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Best Canon AE-1 Lenses

The Canon AE-1 is a great 35mm film camera. If you don't have a lens or are looking for a new lens, this will cover the top 5 lenses to use with your Canon AE-1.

More details are below, but if you're in a hurry, here's the list:

  1. Kit Lens - Canon FD 50mm f/1.8
  2. Wide Angle Lens - Canon FD 28mm f/3.5
  3. Portrait Lens - Canon FD 100mm f/2.8
  4. Zoom Lens - Vivitar Series 1 70-210mm f/3.5
  5. Macro Lens - Vivitar 90mm f/2.8

Below the best Canon AE-1 lenses, are broken down by focal length and cost. There are loads of excellent lenses available, some are even collectible.

Kit Lens and Standard Primes

Canon FD 50mm f/1.8

If you don't already have it, your first lens should be the original "kit lens" for the AE-1, the Canon FD 50mm f/1.8. The 50mm f1.8 is inexpensive, widely available used, and has excellent image quality.

Canon AE-1 50mm Lens

Canon FD 50mm f/1.8 Lens

  • The "classic" setup as it can be considered the original kit lens.
  • Great value.
  • Light and compact.
  • Widely available.
  • 55mm filter threads.

Also found at: eBay, KEH, Adorama

This is likely the best lens for the Canon AE-1 as it is great for all types of photography. Travel, street, portraits, landscapes, architecture, and casual everyday use. This is the most sought after lens to be paired with the Canon AE-1.

In terms of size and weight, the lens is small, light, and well balanced. It will weigh anywhere from 170-305g, depending on the version of the lens. The new FD version, which was the last produced is the lightest.

There are also 2 faster versions of the 50mm lens in a Canon FD mount.

Canon FD 50mm f/1.4

Canon FD 50mm f/1.4 Lens

Canon FD 50mm f/1.4 Lens

  • Outstanding optics.
  • Optical multi-coatings.
  • Widely available.

Also found at: eBay, KEH, Adorama

The Canon FD 50mm f/1.4 is 2/3 of a stop faster, but that comes at the cost of additional weight. It is not that much more expensive than the f1.8.

There are 4 different versions of the 500 f/1.4. The "new FD" version is the newest of the bunch.

Canon FD 50mm f/1.2

Canon AE-1 Lens

Canon FD 50mm f/1.2 Lens

  • Outstanding optics.
  • Optical multi-coatings.
  • Widely available.

Also found at: eBay, KEH, Adorama

A large, heavy, and difficult to focus lens. Shot wide open, images will be soft. Stopped down you're not going to notice a huge difference between it and the f/1.8 or f/1.4.

There are two versions, both are expensive. The cost of the lens is due to rarity and collectibility, not optical quality.

Alternative Standard Lenses

If the 50mm focal length isn't what you are looking for, here are some other options. Expect to pay more than you would for a 50mm lens of comparable speed.

Canon FD 35mm f/2 SSCAmazoneBayKEHAdorama
Canon FD 35mm f/2.8AmazoneBayKEHAdorama
Canon FD 35mm f/3.5AmazoneBayKEHAdorama
Canon FD 55mm f/1.2AmazoneBayKEHAdorama

Wide Angle Lens

Canon FD 28mm f/2.8

Canon FD 28mm f/3.5 Lens

Canon FD 28mm f/3.5 Lens

  • Great combination with a 50mm lens.
  • Optical multi-coatings.
  • Widely available.
  • Inexpensive.

Also found at: eBay, KEH, Adorama

A 28mm focal length lens can be used for street photography. However, the most popular use for wide-angle lenses are landscapes and architectural photography.

My top pick of the Canon FD 28mm f/3.5 is due to the inexpensive price, wide availability, and excellent optics.

Alternative Wide Angle Lenses

In terms of cost, the relationship is simple. The wider the focal length, the more expensive the lens will be. Faster versions also go for significantly more.

Weights will vary based on the characteristics of the lens. Broadly, you'll find lenses from 170g to 500g. Faster apertures will also mean that those lenses will physically be large and throw off the balance of the camera.

Canon 7.5mm f/5.6 FisheyeCanon 24mm f/2
Canon 14mm f/2.8LCanon 24mm f/2.8
Canon 15mm f/2.8Canon 28mm f/2
Canon 17mm f/4Canon 28mm f/2.8
Canon 20mm f/2.8Canon 28mm f/3.5
Canon 24mm f/1.4

Portrait & Telephoto Lens

Canon FD 100mm f/2.8

best lens for Canon AE-1 Telephoto

Canon FD 100mm f/2.8 Lens

  • 85mm alternative.
  • Great value.
  • Inexpensive.

Also found at: eBay, KEH, Adorama

The 85mm lens wasn't as big of a deal in 1976 when the AE-1 was first released. Instead, the 135mm focal length was a more popular portrait lens.

For taking portrait photos with the Canon AE-1, there are several short telephoto lenses to choose from. The 100mm f/2.8 lens is one of the cheapest options available.

An 85mm lens will cost the most, with 135mm lenses making up the middle ground of the price range.

Since all of the Canon FD telephoto lenses are manual focus, they are smaller than modern versions. Obviously, something like the Canon FD 85mm f/1.2L is going to be large and heavy with the amount of glass in the lens.

Expect low prices for the Canon FD 100mm f/2.8. There is also a 100mm f/4 macro version of the lens. That will cost more and is not a good choice for portraits as it needs to be stopped down.

Alternative Telephoto Lenses

An alternative, the Canon FD 135mm f/2.8 is one of the cheapest prime lenses you can buy. You will have to dig through many listings for third-party 135mm lenses that will not be anywhere near as good as a Canon lens.

Canon FD 135mm f/2.8 ~$100. There are lots of third-party 135mm f/2.8's. Avoid the third-party lenses as they are very soft wide open, have noticeable distortion, and are poorly constructed.

There are 85mm lenses. The most expensive is the Canon FD f/1.2L lens. A more affordable option is the Canon Fd 85mm f/1.8 lens, but it is still considerably more expensive than the other telephoto lenses above.

Canon FD 85mm f/1.2 LCanon FD 85mm f/1.8
Canon FD 100mm f/2Canon FD 135mm f/2.5
Canon FD 200mm f/2.8Canon FD 200mm f/4
Canon FD 300mm f/2.8Canon FD 300mm f/4
Canon FD 400mm f/2.8Canon FD 400mm f/4.5
Canon FD 500mm f/4.5Canon FD Reflex 500mm f/8
Canon FD 600mm f/4.5Canon FD 800mm f/5.6

Canon AE-1 Zoom Lenses

Canon FD 35-105mm f/3.5 & Vivitar Series 1 70-210mm f/3.5

Canon 35-105mm f/3.5 Zoom Lens

Canon FD 35-105mm f/3.5 Zoom Lens

  • Ideal focal length range for most photography.
  • Excellent value.
  • Physically large.

Also found at: eBay, KEH, Adorama

Vivitar 70-210mm f/3.5 Zoom Lens

Vivitar Series 1 70-210mm f/3.5 Zoom Lens

  • Covers a popular focal range.
  • Great for portrait or wildlife photography.
  • A rare time when a third-party lens is the best.

Also found at: eBay, KEH, Adorama

The convenience of pairing a Canon AE-1 with a zoom lens is appealing. Having a range of focal lengths available without needed to switch a lens is great.

You need to keep in mind that these are vintage zoom lenses.

  1. Image quality will not be good when shot wide open.
  2. One or both ends of the focal range may suffer from a large amount of distortion.
  3. Zoom lenses have more parts than primes, so they are more susceptible to damage. Make sure to check to see if a lens is decentered before you buy or within the time allowed by the return policy.
  4. Zoom lenses are larger and generally heavier than prime camera lenses.

Alternative Zoom Lenses

In terms of price, almost all vintage zooms are going to be low priced. Look for lenses that are clean and in good condition.

Canon FD 70-210mm f/4 AmazoneBayKEHAdorama
Canon FD 80-200mm f/4LAmazoneBayKEHAdorama
Canon FD 28-85mm f/4AmazoneBayKEHAdorama

Macro Lens

Vivitar 90mm f/2.8 & Vivitar 55mm f/2.8

Vivitar 90mm f/2.8 Macro Lens made by Komine

Vivitar 90mm f/2.8 Macro Lens

  • My favorite vintage macro lens.
  • Available in multiple lens mounts.
  • Incredible value.

Also found at: eBay, KEH, Adorama

Vivitar 55mm f/2.8 Macro Lens manufactured by Komine

Vivitar 55mm f/2.8 Macro Lens

  • My second favorite vintage macro lens.
  • An excellent choice for close-up photography.
  • It does not need an extension tube to reach 1:1 magnification.

Also found at: eBay, KEH, Adorama

Both of the recommended macro lenses were made by Komine. The lens was also released under different brand names. Elicar, Quantaray, Panagor, Spiratone, and Rokunar are names you may find on a copy of the lens.

There is a Vivitar 90mm f/2.8 Macro Lens Review and a Vivitar 55mm f/2.8 Macro Lens Review.

For shooting at macro magnification (1:1), the 90mm lens is going to be the better choice because it has a greater working distance.

The 55mm lens is excellent for table-top and close-up photography.

Alternative Macro Lenses

Canon FD 50mm f/3.5AmazoneBayKEHAdorama
Canon FD 100mm f/4AmazoneBayKEHAdorama
Canon FD 200mm f/4AmazoneBayKEHAdorama

Used FD Camera Lens Prices

Prices change all the time. For the past several years, interest in film photography has been increasing. As a result, prices have steadily risen.

Your best option is to check prices from several sites. Immediately snap up a good deal when you see one because it can be a long time before another shows up.

What Lens Mount Does the Canon AE-1 Use?

The Canon AE-1 lens mount is the Canon FD lens mount. Canon used the FD lens mount for film cameras produced from 1971 through 1992.

Here is a list of all the cameras that have a Canon FD mount.

The FD mount replaced the Canon FL mount, which was used from 1964 to 1971. In terms of Canon AE-1 lens compatibility, you can use FL mount lenses on the AE-1, but you will have to use stopped down metering.

Standard Lens Cap Size

The standard lens cap and filter thread diameter for Canon FD lenses is 55mm.

Having a standardized size is nice because you only need to purchase and carry one set of lens filters for your Canon AE1.

Some Canon telephoto and zoom lenses have larger filter thread diameters because they have large front lens elements.

FD vs FL Lens Mount

Canon AE-1 Lens Mount FD

The Canon FL mount preceded the FD mount. You can use FL lenses on the FD mount, and FD lenses can be used on the FL mount.

What Canon FL mount lenses lack is the ability to do auto stop-down metering. This means the lens will need to be stopped down with the depth-of-preview switch in order for the light meter to display an accurate reading.

FD vs new FD Lenses

Canon AE1 Lens Mount

The entire new FD lens rotates to lock onto the camera. Whereas original FD lenses have a breech-lock ring at the back of the lens that needs to be tightened in order to mount a lens.

FD and new FD lenses are interchangeable with each other. There are no compatibility issues.

Sometimes you will see new FD lenses referred to as FDn lenses.

The change in the design of the breech-lock ring was due to complaints. A small number of users had lenses get stuck on a camera mount.

If you are not familiar with attaching an FD lens to a camera body, don't worry. Just take it slow and don't force anything, you won't have any problems.

Telling FD and FDn Lenses Apart

It is easy to tell FD and new FD lenses apart. New FD lenses will have a red button on the barrel of the lens, near the mount.

The older FD lenses have a metal ring that needs to be rotated after the lens is mounted to lock it into place.

More Canon AE-1 Camera Resources

If you are unfamiliar with the camera, here is my Canon AE-1 review. It contains additional information on the camera which is helpful if you are not completely familiar with the camera.

2 comments on “The 5 Best Canon AE-1 Lenses”

  1. Will the Vivitar 70-210mm Series 1 lens fit directly onto the Canon AE-1 Program? Or do I need to buy an adapter

    1. The Vivitar 70-210mm was sold with several lens mounts. As long as you buy a lens that has a Canon FD mount, the lens will mount like every other lens you've used with your Canon AE-1 Program.

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