By Popular Demand, a Republished Article on Canon FD Lenses and Sony’s Mirrorless Full Framer
When Olympus finally put a good sensor in one of their micro four thirds cameras, everything changed. The Olympus OM-D E-M5 proved mirrorless cameras could mix it with DSLR’s (the lenses were always good enough). Now, all major camera marques have introduced DSLM’s in varying formats. It was only a matter of time before a full-frame mirrorless camera was introduced. I don’t think it came as a surprise to see Sony get there first. The surprise was just how small it was; not much larger than the OM-D E-M5, but with a superior grip and better EVF. The more unpleasant surprise for many was the lens desert – a new system looking for lenses to attach itself to, and also the price of the Carl Zeiss primes.
Nevertheless, I still bought a Sony a7 in December with the intent from the offset to use it mainly tripod mounted for landscapes with legacy lenses attached via an adapter. I like to experiment, and the possibility of exploring the potential of old manual focus 35mm lenses at their true focal length was an exciting prospect.
My previous forays into using old lenses on digital cameras were not particularly successful (Olympus E-3 with Nikon F, Olympus OM-D E-M5 with Pentax M and Fujifilm XE1 with Canon FD), largely due to the difficulty of focussing, but I knew that with a large, high resolution viewfinder assisted by focus peaking, manual focussing would be much easier. However, I wasn’t prepared for how easy.
Having used Canon FD lenses previously, and been impressed with their quality, I chose to invest in them again, but this time the later FDn lenses. I found the rotating mounting ring of the older breech lock lenses a pain to change with an adapter. Also the later lenses are lighter and smaller.
To date I have:
- Canon FDn 50mm f/1.4
- Canon FDn 35mm f/2.8
- Canon FDn 100mm f/2.8
- Sigma Super-Wide II 24mm f/2.8 (FD breech mount)
- Tokina RMC 17mm f/3.5mm (Minolta MD mount. Currently in the post)
Mounting Canon FD Lenses onto the Sony a7
I bought a couple of good quality Pixco adapters from on-line dealer Jack The Hat. The Canon FD adapter has a locking ring, which you are required to lock to enable control of the lens aperture ring.
This can be awkward in the dark of pre-dawn, and cold hands can make it doubly difficult (don’t forget those gloves!), but it is certainly manageable. The best technique is to leave the adapter permanently attached to the camera body, and just mount and dismount the lenses as and when needed (changing adapters of course presents another challenge which I will tackle when the Tokina 17mm arrives).
Manual Focussing for Just Enough Depth of Field with Focus Peaking
This is a technique using focus peaking to attain just enough depth of field, negating the need for hyperfocal focussing techniques and avoiding lens diffraction.
- Set camera mode to aperture priority or manual exposure. I prefer aperture priority.
- Enable ‘Release without Lens’ in the camera menu. (Press Menu > Custom Settings 2 > Release w/o Lens).
- Enable focus peaking (Menu > Custom Settings 2 > Peaking Level). I prefer peaking level set to High and peaking colour set to Yellow.
- With your chosen lens mounted and aperture set to f/5.6, set the camera on a tripod, and compose your image frame on the rear LCD screen.
- Twist the lens focus ring until the foreground is acceptably sharp (indicated by yellow highlights around edges. The background at f/5.6 is unlikely to show any yellow highlights indicating an out-of-focus background.
- Twist the aperture ring to larger f-stop numbers one click at a time (smaller aperture equals greater depth of field). You will see the yellow highlight extend further into the background of your image. Depending on your composition, maximum depth of field will be reached anywhere between f/8 and f/13 depending on the lens.
What About Portraits?
When my Canon FD 100mm f/2.8 arrived I immediately put Sophie to good use. Thankfully she enjoys having her photograph taken. I have found that when using the lens wide open, focus peaking using the wonderful EVF will highlight the catchlights in her eyes and nowhere else. Perfect. From there I can open up a stop or two if required.
So How Are The Canon FD Primes On A Full Frame Camera?
They are just fine. More than good enough to my eyes. Great for landscapes. I’m not into lens testing charts, so that’s all you are getting from me on that. Good technique and learning a lenses strengths and weaknesses over time will pay dividends. The real star though has been the Sigma Super-Wide 24mm. Just superb. Well, onwards and wider. I can’t wait to try the Tokina when it arrives.