No Pants Day #9 - Canon FD 50mm/1.4 versus Sony FE 55/1.8

One of the shitty things about the Sony full frame E-mount line of cameras is the lack of native lenses.  Now, my stance on it is this...it's a 13 month old system.  What the hell do you expect?  Of course Sony doesn't help this by releasing FOUR bodies in the past 13 months...but hey...that's Sony doing Sony things.  One of the great things about the Sony e-mount line is it's ability to adapt pretty much any 35mm lens ever made to it.  This was one of the reasons I even moved over to the Sony system completely as I needed to make sure I had something I could use my Canon EF 17mm TS-E with.

My first ever picture with my A7r back on 2 Dec 2013 with the Canon FD 50 1.4

Sony 55mm 1.8 FE on Sony A7r

The Sony 55mm F1.8 Sonnar FE is regarded as one of the sharpest lenses ever made.  Second only to the Otus 50mm which costs four times the price of the 55FE.  You can pick up the 55FE on Amazon for $998USD.  We'll call it an even thousand from here on out.  Though...come to think of it I don't think I plan on using the price again....well anyway, just incase...."a grand".  The 55FE was the second native lens I purchased for my A7r.  The first lens however, that I mated to my A7r, was a 30 year old Canon FD mount 50mm/1.4.  This is only because I couldn't purchase the 35FE locally yet and the FD to E-Mount adapter was the first to arrive from Amazon.  What I initially got was a Fotasy adapter and recently purchased a Fotodiox adapter.  The first one had a annoying built-in tripod mount which isn't detachable.  It's not horrible to shoot with unless using a tripod.  The lens isn't heavy so I much rather use my RRS adapter plate on my camera to mount to the tripod head and the built in mount on the adapter gets in the way EVER so much.  Doable, but you can see how it pushes against my tripod head.  So I picked up the Fotodiox.  These things are like 15 bucks a pop.  And the lens?  Well here's the great part...these things can be picked up in like new condition for around $100.  Mine came with the Canon A-1 my parents bought and later handed down to me which was my first 35mm camera.

Shot with Canon FD 50 1.4 on Sony A7r

Manual Focus (MF) on the Sony A7 series...

Sony 55/1.8 @f/1.8 on Sony A7r

One of the things I've been rather fond of since the beginning of the A7x cameras is focus peaking and focus magnification when using manual focus.  I highly recommend if you plan on doing ANY manual focusing with your A7x camera you set the C1 button next to your shutter to focus magnification.  Obviously the big difference between the two lenses is one has auto focus and the other is manual focus only.  Another difference that to me, is very important, is the feel of the lens.  The esthetic.  Put the FE55 in manual focus mode and you'll know exactly what I mean.  The focus by wire, just feels so damn.....digital.  The throw of the FD50's focus ring is very long, especially in the closer focusing distances.  This makes it actually very easy to nail the focus perfectly, even when shooting with a very shallow depth of field.  The aperture ring has solid clicks all the way around.  There's something very enjoyable about shooting with this lens.  It's a conversation piece as well.  Some folks will recognize it as it was a very popular lens for many years.  Others recognize it as something vintage attached to something modern.  The FE55 has no aperture ring.  It's odd using the focus by wire system at times.  Perhaps if you've never used anything else it'll feel normal, but give the analog/manual focus ring a spin on an FD lens and instantly you'll know exactly what I mean.  

Shot with Canon 50 1.4 on Sony A7r

Shot with Sony 55 1.8 FE on Sony A7r

Canon 50 1.4 @F1.8 on Sony A7r

Take a second and slow things down.  Photography doesn't have to be about rushing....most of the time it probably down right shouldn't be.  While I can never manually focus anywhere close to as fast as any modern auto focus system, I do find a sort of relaxation with manually focusing.  Even when shooting people I find it's really not a big deal.  Sure a model might have to old a pose for a second longer, but I have yet to find issue with this.  There are folks out there still shooting with large format film cameras.

Sony 55mm 1.8 FE on Sony A7r

What about sharpness? Bokeh?  Flare?  Starburst?

Sharpness, bokeh (a little), flare and starburst all in one.  Canon FD 50mm 1.4 on Sony A7r

Like ANY lens in existence, there are subjective things, and factual "technical" things, some of which are subjective as well.  Out of focus rendering, aka "bokeh" is one of those things that people either love or hate about a lens (which I don't have a good side by side example, but you can see a little bit in the first example below).  Just look around online and you'll see complete 180's of people's opinions.  Then of course is the sharpness and some people's insane obsession with pixel peeping and swearing by one lens or another purely because of sharpness.  While others may like the softness a certain lens has.  If it's the best possible sharpness you want....spend the money and get the FE55 or better yet the Zeiss Otus.  This is most noticeable when wide open.  Once you hit the f/8 range the difference in sharpness is almost completely zero.  Now granted, I had to zoom in to 200% to see a difference between the lenses at which point...the FE55 is clearly more sharp as you can see below.  Is there a 10x difference in sharpness like there is in the price?  That's up for you to decide. (Click for larger)

How susceptible the lens is to lens flare?  Over the decades, one of the biggest advancements in lenses has been the lens coatings.  You can see below a huge difference between the two lenses.  Depending on what year FD50 you get alone will depend on what coatings are on the glass.

Starburst.  So the Sony has 9 aperture blades and the Canon has 8.  People often prefer odd numbers of blades.  But as you can see there is a bit of a difference in the size of the starburst between the two lenses.  There are more bursts coming off on the Sony, but they are longer and more obvious and defined in my opinion on the Canon.  So here are two examples (one at f8 and other at f16)...you be the judge.  Also...slight sharpness edge to the Sony, this was again at 200% view.

F8

F16

Conclusion

So there you have it.  A $100USD lens a $1000USD lens.  Almost identical focal lengths.  Within half a stop of each other.  Both solid built and feeling.  One a technological marvel, the other has withstood the test of time.  If I could only keep one you ask?  All factors considered and nostalgia aside....I'd keep the Canon.  I simply enjoy shooting with it much more than the Sony.  Though the Sony is the winner in every single measurable sense...I personally still prefer the Canon FD, though I won't be selling the Sony anytime soon.  Here are some more photos from both lenses. 

Canon FD 50mm on Sony A7r

Canon FD 50mm on Sony A7r

Canon FD 50mm on Sony A7r

Sony 55mm 1.8 on Sony A7r

Sony 55mm FE on Sony A7r

Canon FD 50mm on Sony A7r

No Pants Day

Every week I make it a goal to have a no pants day.  I've been doing this the greater part of my adult life. Think of it as a "me day".  It's not always a completely non-productive lazy day (though it is sometimes), but it's a day I'm not concerned with the outside world.  I'll catch up on household chores, process photos, piddle around online, watch Archer, Top Gear, etc.  And for a year now, do a blog.  It'll probably revolve around photography or art, it'll probably have some pictures, it might be a rant, a gear review...I don't really know what'll happen.  Bottom line is this:  It's my day and I'll write about whatever I want to.  Ideally, with no pants.