The 5 Best Canon AE-1 Lenses
The Canon AE-1 is a famous camera that sold over a million copies while it was produced from 1976-1984. 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The Canon AE-1 uses the Canon FD mount, which was superseded by the Canon EOS mount in 1987.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 condition and what’s available change over time. What was true in forum posts 10 or 15 years ago doesn’t necessarily mean that it is still true.
Lenses for the Canon AE-1 have been chosen based on the availability of good condition lenses, usability, price, and types of photography. Professional “L” series apochromatic have not been included due to being hard to find and expensive.
More details are below, but if you’re in a hurry, here’s the list:
- Kit Lens - Canon FD 50mm f/1.8 (eBay)
- Wide Angle Lens - Canon FD 28mm f/3.5 (Amazon)
- Portrait Lens - Canon FD 100mm f/2.8 (Amazon)
- Zoom Lens - Vivitar Series 1 70-210mm f/3.5 (eBay)
- Macro Lens - Vivitar 90mm f/2.8 (eBay)
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. It is incredibly easy to find copies of the lens in good condition.
- The “classic” setup as it can be considered the original kit lens.
- Unbeatable value.
- Light and compact.
- Widely available and easy to find in good condition.
- Uses 55mm filter threads.
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 just 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
- 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 in my opinion than the price increase when compared to the f1.8.Copies of the lens can be found on eBay, Amazon, KEH, and Adorama.
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.
Also keep in mind that manually focusing the lens at 1.4 is difficult. You’re not going to experience the same consistency you’d get from the autofocus on 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.
The exception would be if you also intend to use a lens adapter to use the lens on a mirrorless camera with focus peaking or other manual focus aids.
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 FD 50mm f/1.2
It’s the closest lens I have around.
- A fast professional lens.
- Optical multi-coatings.
- Can be hard to find in good condition.
- Large and heavy.
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.Copies of the lens can be found on eBay, Amazon, KEH, and Adorama.
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.
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 SSC
- Canon FD 35mm f/2.8
- Canon FD 35mm f/3.5
- Canon FD 55mm f/1.2
Wide Angle Lens
Canon FD 28mm f/3.5
- Great combination with a 50mm lens.
- Optical multi-coatings.
- Inexpensive and widely available.
- Small and light.
A 28mm focal length lens is great for architecture, landscapes and street photography. The main appeal of this lens is that it can be easily found in good condition.Copies of the lens can be found on eBay, Amazon, KEH, and Adorama.
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.
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 weighing between 170g and 500g. Faster apertures will also mean that those lenses will physically be large and throw off the balance of the camera.
- 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
Portrait & Telephoto Lens
Canon FD 100mm f/2.8
The 85mm focal length wasn’t as big of a deal in 1976 when the AE-1 was first released. Instead, the 100mm or 135mm focal lengths were more popular choices for portraits.
- Excellent portrait lens.
- Less expensive 85mm alternative.
- Great value.
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.Copies of the lens can be found on eBay, Amazon, KEH, and Adorama.
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/1.2L
- 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 AE-1 Zoom Lenses
Canon FD 35-105mm f/3.5 & Vivitar Series 1 70-210mm f/3.5
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.
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 will with almost 100% certainty have at least one of 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
Additionally, you need to keep in mind the drawbacks the lenses have even when in excellent condition.
- Image quality will not be good when shot wide open.
- One or both ends of the focal range may suffer from a large amount of distortion.
- Zoom lenses are larger and generally heavier than primes.
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
- Canon FD 80-200mm f/4L
- Canon FD 28-85mm f/4
Vivitar 90mm f/2.8 & Vivitar 55mm f/2.8
- My favorite vintage macro lens.
- Available in multiple lens mounts.
- Incredible value.
- Sharp corner-to-corner at f/8.
- 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.
Both of the recommended macro lenses were made by Komine. The lenses were also released under different brand names. Elicar, Quantaray, Panagor, Spiratone, and Rokunar are names that you may find on copies of the lenses.
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
Keep in mind that the Canon FD macro lenses will require an extention tube to achieve 1:1 macro magnification. The lenses will still be usable without the extention tube. They will just be limited to 1:2 magnification.
- Canon FD 50mm f/3.5
- Canon FD 100mm f/4
- Canon FD 200mm f/4
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.
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.
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
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
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.