Back when I was a poor, poor student I worked part time at a "hi-fi" store that was situated at the bottom of a high rise dormitory just on the edge of the UT campus. The bottom two floors of the building were for retail and restaurants. Across the walk way from our hi-fi shop was Austin's preeminent camera store, Capitol Camera. They had all the good stuff. When I started working in the shop in 1976 everyone around me was also into cameras and photography. Really into it.
I'd been photographing with a Canon G3 QL17 and loved it but the path forward was obviously an SLR with a "real" lens on the front of it. I saved for months and months and bought the least expensive Canon SLR at the time. It was a Canon TX and it came in a kit with that 50mm f1.8 FD lens (above). The camera, lens and I were inseparable. Home-rolled Tri-X film from a bulk loader and a membership to the Ark Cooperative Darkroom rounded out the my early and long initiation into the wonderful world of photography.
The camera got traded in a long time ago. It was perfectly usable but pretty primitive. The top shutter speed of 1/500th of a second was the sticking point that moved me along to my next camera. I think that one was a Canon EF...
But the lens stayed around. This morning I put it on a cheap adapter and then onto a Leica SL camera. This puts me mostly back into all manual territory but with a few perks. One is that I can use the rig in aperture priority automatic. Another is that I can use auto-ISO. And the best perk is that I can magnify part of the frame for very accurate (manual) focusing. It's important to also know that you are always working in the stopped down mode with these adapted lenses. Whatever aperture is set on the lens is the aperture you are viewing and focusing with. But it's neither an impediment nor a blessing. It just is.
Even though this particular lens is about 46 years old the aperture ring works fine, the blades stop down correctly and the focusing ring is still mostly smooth and still pretty well dampened. The glass is clean and clear and the distance scale, even when the lens is used on an inexpensive adapter, is accurate.
In our current time when lenses have become huge and everyone seems obsessed with optical perfection it's a wonderful vacation to work with a "lesser" lens. But I don't mean to imply that there's anything wrong with the lens. Just that it only has six elements in five groups, there are only six aperture blades and they are NOT curved for bokeh enhancement. and the lens coatings are primitive when compared to current products.
If you have an interest in working with a vintage product like this you'll find zillions of them on the big auction site and generally there are always some available on KEH.com. Expect to pay less than $50 for all but the most exquisitely "mint" copies. In exchange you'll get a small, light, easy to handle lens that you'll want to stop down to about f 3.5 or f4.0 in order to get nicely sharp images. More aperture....up to f8.0 keeps improving the sides and corners and....adds to the already sharp central core of the images.
When I came back home from my exploration with this old friend I was so happy with the way it worked in the "field" and the way the images looked in Lightroom that I called my local camera merchant and asked my expert if they had any other Canon FD glass in their used inventory. I'm currently looking for three focal lengths. I'd like a 35mm f2.0, a 50mm f1.4 and any one of an assortment of 85-100mm lenses. As long as they work and the optics are good I'll take em.
Why? Because sometimes perfection isn't as perfect as it's cracked up to be. And most of these lenses are still very good performers with unique "fingerprints." Couple that with "smaller and lighter" and you have the winning formula for making the kind of images I like. Kind of consider it embracing "good enough" in trade for smaller, lighter and less stuffy.
By the way, the kid is doing well. Eating like a horse (I forgot that 26 year olds can really put it away...) and recovering quickly.
Here's some images from this morning:
It's safe to presume that what were considered failings of earlier lenses used on earlier digital cameras has been largely remedied by toning down the AA filters on newer, higher res digital cameras and also making the filter stacks thinner so light rays didn't get clipped as they moved toward the corners and edges of sensors. Better sensor technology lifts all lenses. Even these older, "made-for-film" lenses we've held onto.
Got any old Canon lenses sitting around? Ready to get rid of that 100mm f2.0 or f2.8? No use for that 50mm f1.4 that's just sitting on the edge of your desk in your Summer house? No space in your Leica drawer for "lesser" glass? We can help.
Oppressively hot here but I'm staying indoors and acting as the boy's butler this week. I'm hoping for a generous tip but you know the reputation these millennials have.....