Part 1 – Introduction: First Impressions and Practicalities
As much as I would love to tell you that my relative absence has been due to top-secret missions, undercover reporting and other knicker elastic snapping capers, I would be lying. Sadly – and I take no pride in this – house moves and other personal life issue are the true explanation. I did wear Batman underpants throughout, however.
I’m back in Kabul and have 13 lenses with me (5 x Canon FDn, 5 x Olympus Zuiko OM, two FE and one Canon EOS). Come to think of it, I should have rounded that number up or down. If I count the one on my Panasonic GM-1 it makes 14 and I will feel less likely to be vaporised in a Taliban attack over the coming days. Glad that disaster has been averted.
Nobody needs 13 lenses in Afghanistan, but I brought them here so that I could not only write about them, but also use them ‘live’ for a new photographic project. As promised, I am going to keep my comments ‘straight,’ after all, I will be using equipment to produce images that I will put my name to.
Its handy that these lenses are very small and relatively light, because with hand luggage that was well north of 10 kg (in a deceptively small bag), I had at least another few kilos stuffed into the pockets of my coat. I felt like Mitch Leary (played by John Malkovitch) in ‘In the Line of Fire’ except I did not have a ceramic home made pistol and I was not planning to murder anyone. Had this been a Canon EOS or Nikon FX outfit, I would have needed to charter a separate cargo aircraft.
With Leica M mount lenses in my cupboard and a few Zeiss/Sony FE lenses, why am I looking at these vintage manual lenses at all? The answer is twofold: Firstly, at 50mm and longer, the Zeiss ZM and Leica lenses perform wonderfully, but at 35 and below, they are not all very impressive. I have a CV 35 1.2 which is phenomenal, but it weighs a tonne. The 24 1.4 Summilux also performs beautifully once stopped down, but its also very heavy. M mount lenses are also a lot more expensive and the vintage lens options are far cheaper than new native Sony/Zeiss FE lenses. So we have both price and performance reasons for looking seriously at adapted vintage glass.
Native FE lenses are slowly rolling out, but the recent 24-70 f4 Zeiss offering has met with some criticism due to soft corners at 24mm and a not too outstanding performance at 70mm. For users like me, the range of this zoom is critical and represents well over 90% of my shooting, so its less than spectacular performance is a disappointment. It does, however, leave £1000 in my wallet and requires only a 24mm and 50mm prime to replace it in light of the fact that I own a 35mm Zeiss FE and can use my Summarit-M 75mm.
While we are looking, if you do not need AF, might it make more sense to use a vintage 35mm instead of the expensive but brilliant 35mm Sony Zeiss FE? I paid £40 for my Canon FDn 35 f2.8, which is only 6% the cost of a new 35mm FE!!! but it cannot possibly compare from an optical perspective, can it?
So why two systems – Canon FD and Olympus OM? Well, I wanted to evaluate which is the better solution for my needs and I have heard so many conflicting opinions about the relative merits of the two systems when adapted for the Sony A7 and A7R that I wanted to find out for myself. I figured if I bought a bunch of each, whereby I can compare like with like, I will get a much more rounded perspective and you readers will benefit from that too. I can then sell on the lenses that I am not inclined to retain. I wanted to end up working my main kit around one system, to reduce the number of adaptors being carried on field trips. I ruled out Carl Zeiss C/Y lenses due to cost and lack of availability in some focal lengths. I ruled out Minolata MD/MC as there is not the same level of praise for some of the wider lenses as the FD and Zuikos.
After all this, I also hope to thin out my Leica-M and Zeiss ZM lenses, because they will sell for far more than I bought these vintage lenses for, thus freeing up cash for other things. I’ll keep the essentials for my Leica Monochrom and sell the remainder, but there have to be some seriously good lenses in here to make that feel acceptable.
Without further ado, here are the Canon FDn lenses that I now own. All are multicoated. I opted to avoid the old style FD lenses are they are generally heavier than the new FDn lenses (by quite a margin in some cases) and there are coating variations. At least with the newer FD lenses I get the same coatings on everything and save quite a bit of weight.
- 20mm f2.8
- 24mm f2.8
- 28mm f2.8
- 35mm f2.8
- 50mm f1.4 (I had hoped to snag a 50mm Macro too, but the sample I bought had a pin sticking out of the mount that prevented mounting – I suspect it had been disassembled and cleaned and not reassembled properly – so was sent back).
…. And here are the Olympus Zuiko OMs (all are multicoated samples, with the exception of the 28mm f2.5, which is single coated):
- 24mm f2.8 MC
- 28mm f2.8 MC
- 28mm f3.5 SC
- 50mm f3.5 Macro MC
- 85mm f2 MC (note how incredibly compact it is)
I deliberately went for MC examples to get better colour and contrast for colour work, as well as to secure what should (on average) be better resolution. In some cases, well-regarded sources assert that the later MC samples are indeed a bit sharper than the SC ones (most often cited with respect to the 50mm f1.4 (which I do not own) and 85mm f2).
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