Canon FD 50mm f3.5 macro

I’ve been taking close-up photos of flowers against white backgrounds using a Canon EF 50 1.4 and extension tubes. The pics look great printed really big (A1+) on vinyl.

You can see some of the results here:

But the lens isn’t designed for macro work. The short focusing throw combined with minisucle depth of field when on an extension tube means a lot of faffing about with the tripod to get the camera in the right place. And I’m not 100% happy with the resolving power of the lens when combined with extension tubes.

Printing big pictures means pixel peeping, and while I’m 95% happy, there’s a bit of me that wonders if things couldn’t be a little sharper.

So I decided to try a proper macro lens. I found an FD 50mm f3.5 macro on eBay advertised as ‘fixed aperture’. I messaged the seller explaining that the lens isn’t fixed apperture. I asked whether he meant the aperture was broken. Being nice, I explained how to check.

The seller changed the listing to ‘spares or repair’. I took a punt and bid anyway. And won. It works fine. So that’s a 50mm macro for £20. Result. And because I did the right thing by messaging the seller I don’t have to feel bad about it.

Canon FD 50mm f3.5 macro on a Sony A7R.

Canon FD 50mm f3.5 macro.

Canon FD 50mm f3.5 macro.

What’s great about this lens?

  • The long, long focusing throw (you can see the numbers stacked on the focussing ring because the barrel turns through more that one revolution) means it’s really easy to achieve focus without tripod faffery.
  • The 50mm length and long focussing range mean you can get really close or stand back a bit – perfect for the range of flower sizes I deal with.
  • The image quality is great. You need to get very pixel peepy, but it resolves detail better than the 50 f1.4 with extension tubes.

My set up for flower close ups.

Dried carnation (I like dead flowers). Canon 50mm f3.5 macro, Sony A7R.

Dried gerbera. Canon 50mm f3.5 macro, Sony A7R.

Dried rose. Canon FD 50mm f3.5 macro.

The same rose shot with a Canon EF 50mm f1.4 and an extension tube. OK, it looks identical here, but believe me, when blown up it’s not as detailed as the one above.

What’s not great about this lens?

  • There’s massive focus breathing – it can feel like you are zooming rather than focussing. Not that I care. I’m not making films and trying to pull focus.
  • It’s not a contrasty lens. You’ll need to work on the pics in Lightroom.
  • The f32 aperture is pretty useless. Anywhere above f16 and you loose resolution. But that’s a problem with physics (diffraction) not this lens. Anyway, I like the fall-off in focus you get with wider apertures, gives the pictures depth. Most of my flower pics are at f11.

Should you buy this lens?

If you want super-bargain-high-quality-macro-fun, yes. Even at normal eBay prices these lenses are great value.

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