Canon 55mm f1.2 m4-3 (3 of 4)

A few of you were asking about the Canon 55mm FD f1.2 lens and what I meant when I said the lens is “slightly softer” and that the lens “lacks a few lens coatings”. So I thought I would give a few examples and post a few raw images from the GH4 so you can get a better idea of what this actually means.

Before I continue I would like to point out that I’m not a lens testing “expert”. While I can easily point out common effects seen in older lenses, I don’t know what nanocrystal coating, magnesium fluoride coating, or coating technology in general is used to correct these issues. However, if you’d like to find out more about lens coatings here’s a pretty good place to start.

Canon 55mm f12 soft

This is a 100% crop from the Canon 55mm FD f1.2 lens shot on the GH4 from this raw file. The image was taken wide open at f1.2. If you pixel peep on this image (as we are doing right now) you can see that the letter “C” while readable is soft around the defining edges at f1.2. You’ll may also notice the slightly green fringing on the top of the letter. If you take a look at the raw file and zoom out to around 80% (rufly the UHD reduction to 3840) the “C” in Canon starts to look smooth and the color fringing basically disappears. Drop that down to 40% (ruffly 1080p) and you probably won’t notice anything at all.

The effect is often referred to as “creamy” and in the days of film some directors would even apply grease to the inside of their lenses in order to achieve this effect. What you’re seeing is just a lens made before the advent of all the modern coating technology and that’s why some like to label newer lenses as “sterile”. They are basically saying that the manufacture has sterilized the lens by killing all of it’s personality.

Canon fd 55mm f1.2 (1 of 1)

Because the Canon 55mm FD f1.2 lens is lacking a number of new coating technologies it is also very susceptible to lens flare (you can find the raw file here). In this case it only took a minor change in angle and a repositioning of the light source to create this dramatic lens flare effect across the image. If your name where J. J. Abrams you’d be asking for this sort of look in every 3rd shot. On the other hand, some people find the look ugly or unattractive.

Just because you’re using an older lens doesn’t mean you have to put up with lens flare. A lens hood or repositioned light will easily eliminate the problem. Just keep in mind that older lenses are more prone to lens flares, it’s part of their “personality”.

Canon fd 55mm f1.2 hero (1 of 1)

Lastly, lets take a look at how this affects your subject matter. In this case I startled Hero, the 4 pound pomeranian that tolerates me as a roommate (you can find the raw file here). All of the imperfections of this lens end up giving you a what I consider to be a pleasing image. It’s a little soft, but that does a good job of covering up some of Hero’s scruff and you don’t really notice any color fringing unless you zoom in on the raw file to 100%. Even then, Hero looks pretty good for a 11 year old pomeranian (good job Hero).

Whether these effects look good or bad is a very subjective. You’ll have to decide for yourself if the personality of an older lens is the right fit for your collection. These effects are present in most lenses dating back to the 60’s, 70’s, and even the 80’s. I enjoy the look, but you might find it unattractive and it all boils down to personal taste.

Hopefully this gives those of you who were asking a better idea of the “look” you can expect from older glass. However, keep in mind that if you combine these lenses with Metabones speed booster adapters many of these effects are lessened thanks to the focal reduction process making the lens optically closer to it’s newer brethren.

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