Canon FD Lenses in 2017
I shoot on a Sony A6000. Bottom line, it’s great for 1080P. Which means it’s great for YouTube. I don’t have the budget for an A7SII. I started on the NEX-5N (still my B-CAM) and in 2014, when the BMPCC went on sale, I opted for the Sony A6000 instead. All my lens adapters still worked on the A6000’s NEX mount, and therefore, I didn’t need to retool my lens kit, consisting of several Canon FD zooms and Pentax K-mount primes.
So, how have the FD lenses been performing?
Well, I’ll tell you: Outstandingly! That’s how!
But I am finding some limitations as my experience grows. It began with this TSF Channel episode:
It was shot primarily with an FD 28-85mm f/4, an FD 35-105mm f/3.5, and a Pentax-K 17mm f/3.5 prime. The 28-85mm was used for most of the shoot. It proved a workhorse. The Pentax 17mm was used during traveling, hand-held work, and coupled with a Zhongyi Lens Turbo II, PK-NEX mount, was a stop faster and almost full frame. The rig was similar to the photo on the right.
For the FD lenses, I finally splurged, and after some searching, I found a Metabones FD – E-Mount Speed Booster, having virtually the same effect on the Sony, eliminating the lens crop factor and increasing lens speed by a full stop. Both Canon zooms work incredibly well on it.
The only notable problem when using a speed booster and realizing the full potential of a wide angle prime or zoom at its widest setting, is that the lens shade is now suddenly visible, causing a physical vignette in the frame. This was a constant problem with the 17mm on the Zhongyi and the FD 28-85mm zoom on the Metabones.
When you’re backpacking, a matte box is out of the question. A rubber lens shade is just as good, but the trade off with a speed booster and wide angle is to fold the shade back, which might induce a flare. You also may have to frame a shot knowing your going to crop in post. You don’t want your subject near the edge of the frame.
Here, you can see the lens shade folded back to avoid vignetting.
During the A Time Out shoot, the 28-85mm FD was the prime work horse. I used it on subsequent shoots often as a smaller, lighter alternative to the 35-105mm FD, where I knew I could get the same flat, “big picture” look I enjoy from ’80s action pictures. The Last Boy Scout and 48 Hrs. come to mind. I like that look and I try to achieve it on TSF Channel.
I was very disillusioned when I came back from the .308 Success! shoot and discovered a huge sequence from a remote location was buzzed. I knew I did my due diligence, took ample time to focus and recheck my work, but I didn’t see it until it was on the big screen back at the office:
Because some lenses do not perform well at their extreme tolerances. In this case, the FD 28-85mm was at max zoom, 85mm. The subject on the left half of the frame is actually in better focus than the rifle — and they’re next to each other.
I tried several times over two months to reshoot the sequence, but I couldn’t get the timing right. This was shot as the sun was setting, so the lighting was very particular, and only available for a short time to get it right. I failed each time. It was truly movie magic. I was so disappointed, I sat on this project for three months. Finally, I tried to correct this in post, hoping a sharpen filter and darker palette will mask the error. It still looks like crap:
Luckily, the rest of the sequence was captured correctly. The rest of the show looks good, too, especially in the earlier sequences. The FD 28-85mm can capture killer detail. I just happen to like shooting at f/4, even in broad daylight. It worked out okay.
The FD 35-105mm has its issues, too. It doesn’t retain critical focus throughout its zoom range. You don’t notice these things at first, but after constant use, and especially when you’re looking to make time on location, agitating things like having to refocus after you zoom out, becomes a real pain. That’s not how it’s supposed to work.
Remember the drill? Open iris; zoom in; gain critical focus; zoom to desired framing; set iris to correct exposure.
It didn’t work this time. And the sun was just over the lip of the top matte box flag (oh, I had one on that day!). So it was very contrasty. Sony’s Focus Assist lied to me (sniff). No excuses, though. My fault. But very challenging situation. You can watch the final result below. The subject matter isn’t that spectacular if you’re not into firearms.
But look at those images, though…
As always, thanks for your attention.