The 5 Best Canon AE-1 Lenses for All Types of Photography

Production of the Canon AE-1 went on from 1976-1984. Over a million copies sold, establishing it’s fame. 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.

The AE-1 uses the Canon FD mount, which lasted until 1987. As a result, all lenses are going to be 30-40 years old. This makes lens condition the most important consideration when buying lenses.

Market conditions and what’s available change over time. What was true in forum posts 10 or 15 years ago doesn’t mean that it is still true.

Availability, condition, usability, price, and types of photography determined lens choices. High prices excluded professional “L” series lenses.

Here is the list of the best Canon AE-1 lenses:

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

If you don’t already have it, your first Canon AE-1 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. It is incredibly easy to find copies of the lens in good condition.

  • The classic film setup with the original kit lens.
  • Unbeatable value.
  • Light weight and compact.
  • Easy to find used in good condition.
  • Uses 55mm filter threads.

See current price and more information on:

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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.

If you are interested in shooting an occasional roll of film, this will be the only lens you need. It is well balanced when mounted on the AE-1 and light enough to be easy to carry around for an entire day.

It will weigh anywhere from 170-305g, depending on the version of the lens. The new FD version, which was the most recently produced is the lightest and most desireable.

Canon FD 50mm f/1.4 Lens
Canon FD 50mm f/1.4 Lens
  • Excellent image quality.
  • Optical multi-coatings.
  • Fairly easy to find in good condition.
  • Larger and heavier than the f/1.8.

The Canon FD 50mm f/1.4 is 2/3 of a stop faster, but that comes at the cost of additional weight and size. This is a bigger drawback than the higher price when compared to the f1.8.

See current price and more information on:

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There were fewer f/1.4 lenses made, which can make finding one in good condition more difficult. The most common problems I come across with these are tight focus rings, haze, and fungus.

Focusing the lens at 1.4 is difficult. Do not expect to achieve the same consistency compared to a modern DSLR, or mirrorless camera.

For the best results, you’ll need to stop the lens down. At that point, there is practically no difference in image quality between it and the f/1.8. You’re just stuck with a heavier lens on the AE-1.

There are 4 different versions of the 50 f/1.4. The “new FD” version is the newest of the bunch and is the one to try to get as they will be less likely to have problems.

Canon FL 55mm f/1.2 Lens for the Canon AE-1 film camera
Canon FL 55mm f/1.2 Lens (It’s the closest lens I have around.)
  • A fast professional lens.
  • Can be hard to find in good condition.
  • Large and heavy on the AE-1.

The 50mm f/1.2 was a lens built more for bragging rights and marketing than being usable. Good luck trying to get anything in focus at f/1.2. Even if you do, images will be soft.

See current price and more information on:

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Stopped down you’re not going to notice a huge difference between it and the f/1.8 or f/1.4. Also, due to the size of the lens, you’re never going to want to carry it around for extended periods of time.

The main appeal of the lens is as a collectible that rarely gets used as a novelty “creative tool.” If you’ve got the money and want to own it because it is a big, relatively rare lens, go for it.

For almost everyone else, I think your money would be better spent on a 50mm f/1.8 or f/1.4 plus a 28mm and 135mm or 100mm lens. You’ll likely also have money left over for film.

Here are some mostly 35mm lens options. Expect to pay more than you would for a 50mm lens of comparable speed.

  • Canon FD 35mm f/2 SSC
  • Canon FD 35mm f/2.8
  • Canon FD 35mm f/3.5
  • Canon FD 55mm f/1.2
Wide Angle Lenses for the Canon AE-1, Canon FD 28mm f/3.5 Lens
Canon FD 28mm f/3.5 Lens
  • Great combination with a 50mm lens.
  • Wide angle view is perfect for street photography.
  • Inexpensive and widely available.
  • Small and light option for the Canon AE-1.

A 28mm lens on the Canon AE-1 is great for architecture, landscapes and street photography. The main appeal of this lens for the Canon AE-1 is that it can be easily found in good condition.

See current price and more information on:

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Canon also made 28mm f/2.8 and f/2 lenses, but they are difficult to find in good condition. They require some hunting around to avoid copies with haze, fungus, or tight/loose focus rings.

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 weighing between 170g and 500g. Faster apertures results in larger and heavier lenses. That throws the balance of the camera off.

  • Canon FD 7.5mm f/5.6 Fisheye
  • Canon FD 14mm f/2.8L
  • Canon FD 15mm f/2.8
  • Canon FD 17mm f/4
  • Canon FD 20mm f/2.8
  • Canon FD 24mm f/1.4
  • Canon FD 24mm f/2
  • Canon FD 24mm f/2.8
  • Canon FD 28mm f/2
  • Canon FD 28mm f/2.8
best lens for Canon AE-1 Telephoto
best lens for Canon AE-1 Telephoto

The 85mm focal length wasn’t as big of a deal in 1976 when the AE-1 was first released. 100mm or 135mm focal lengths were more popular Canon AE-1 lenses for portraits.

  • Excellent portrait lens.
  • Less expensive 85mm alternative portrait lens.
  • Great value lens on the Canon AE-1.

There are several short telephoto lenses available for portraits. The 100mm f/2.8 lens is one of the cheapest options available.

See current price and more information on:

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

Canon FD lenses are small than modern versions because they are manual focus. 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.

An alternative, the Canon FD 135mm f/2.8 is one of the cheapest prime lenses you can buy.

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 soft, have noticeable distortion, and have a cheap build quality.

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 expensive.

  • Canon FD 85mm f/1.2L
  • Canon FD 85mm f/1.8
  • Canon FD 100mm f/2
  • Canon FD 135mm f/2.5
  • Canon FD 200mm f/2.8
  • Canon FD 200mm f/4
Canon 35-105mm f/3.5 Zoom Lens
Canon 35-105mm f/3.5 Zoom

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

Unfortunately, vintage zoom lenses have not aged well. It doesn’t matter what manufacture made them either. Nikon, Pentax, Olympus, Kiron, Komine, Sigma, Tokina, or Tamron tend to have the following problems:

  • Haze and or Fungus
  • Large amount of dust in the lens
  • Loose or tight zoom ring
  • Loose or tight focus ring
  • Oil on the aperture blades
  • Decentered lens elements
Vivitar 70-210mm f/3.5 Zoom Lens
Vivitar 70-210mm f/3.5 Zoom

Keep in mind the drawbacks vintage zooms have.

  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 are larger and generally heavier than primes.

Most zooms are going to be cheap to buy. Look for lenses that are clean and in good condition.

  • Canon FD 70-210mm f/4
  • Canon FD 80-200mm f/4L
  • Canon FD 28-85mm f/4
Vivitar 90mm f/2.8 Macro Lens made by Komine
Vivitar 90mm f/2.8 Macro Lens made by Komine
  • My favorite vintage macro lens.
  • Available in multiple lens mounts.
  • Incredible value.
  • Sharp corner-to-corner at f/8.

See current price and more information on:

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Vivitar 55mm f/2.8 Macro Lens manufactured by Komine
Vivitar 55mm f/2.8 Macro Lens manufactured by Komine
  • 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.

See current price and more information on:

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Both of the recommended macro lenses were made by Komine. The lens was also sold under the following brand names:

  • Elicar
  • Quantaray
  • Panagor
  • Spiratone
  • Rokunar

Both are also ideal lenses for adapting on to digital cameras. Achieving critical focus is easier with manual focus lenses.

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

The 55mm lens is excellent for table-top and close-up photography. It makes capturing detailed images easy.

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

The Canon FD macro lenses requires an extention tube to achieve 1:1 macro magnification. The lenses will still be usable without the extention tube. They will be limited to 1:2 magnification.

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

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.

The Canon AE-1 lens mount is the Canon FD mount.

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.

The Canon AE-1 can not use current Canon EF or Canon RF lenses.

Canon AE1 Lens Mount
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.

Canon FD and new FD lenses can be visually identified. 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.

The standard lens cap and filter thread diameter for Canon FD lenses is 55mm. Some Canon telephoto and zoom lenses have larger filter thread diameters because they have large front lens elements.

Canon AE-1 Lens Mount FD
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.

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