Canon FD 70-210mm f/4 Lens Review
Canon FD 70-210mm f/4
Canon FD 70-210mm f/4
Some images taken with the Canon FD 70-210mm f/4 lens.
The first is the full image of a guardian lion at a Chinese temple.
The next is a 1200x800 crop from the same image. When the camera is sitting on a tripod at f/8 and you have time to mess around with the manual focus, the sharpness isn't too bad, but neither is it great.
Next we have a collared dove, which is also a crop. I didn't have as much time to mess around with focus for fear of the bird flying off and it isn't that sharp. This is the beauty of modern autofocus lenses. The focus is accurate and immediate, so there is much less chance of your subject making an exit while you are trying to get the shot in focus.
In this shot you can also see a fair degree of purple fringing. This lens has quite a lot of chromatic aberration.
Next, a shot with the Canon EF-M 55-200 f/4.5-6.5 for comparison purposes.
And the same shot with the FD 70-210mm f/4. I used both lenses at maximum focal length so you should notice the difference between 200mm and 210mm.
I much prefer the colours with the EF-M 55-200mm. With the FD 70-210mm the colours look a little washed out with poor saturation and the blue sky looks grey.
The sharpness of the FD 70-210mm isn't too bad and with this uncropped image I can't see any purple fringing, but these chromatic aberrations become evident if you start cropping.
Another shot with the Canon EF-M 55-200 f/4.5-6.5 for comparison purposes.
And the same shot with the FD 70-210mm f/4. Can you see how that blue sky has turned grey again?
The sharpness is fine, but the colours aren't very pleasing.
The next shot is at 70mm focal length using the macro feature, which reduces the minimum focusing distance down to 0.44m. The magnification is just 0.25x, but the sharpness is good and the results are quite acceptable.
Here's another in maro mode at 70mm.
After I acquired a Canon A1 and Canon FD 50mm f/1.8 lens in 1982 I soon felt an urgent need to increase my focal length options and this lens seemed like an obvious choice. It was fairly new at the time, having been introduced in 1980.
Not being a professional, I couldn't justify the expense of professional glass and because I had only just started my photography habit I wasn't that obsessed with gear anyway. I think my next acquisition after that was my FD 28mm f/2.8 lens.
The 28mm lens became my regular walkaround lens because I loved the wider focal length compared to the 50mm, and when some longer focal length was required I often carried the FD 70-210mm f/4.
I did buy some more lenses in subsequent years, but most of the time I used just these two lenses.
Back in the those times the 70-210mm focal length was quite common, presumably because the long end was three times greater than the short end. Many manufacturers made 70-210mm lenses, but not any more.
Nowadays, 70-200mm is more common. My EF-M telephoto lens has a focal length of 55-200mm and Canon makes some 55-250mm lenses.
This lens also has a macro feature. At the 70mm end (and only at that focal length), it is possible to turn the focusing mechanism further than usual in order to reduce the minimum focusing distance (0.44m compared to 1.2m if not in macro mode). The images aren't as good as those from a purpose-built macro lens, but it's a handy way to photograph small objects and provides a magnification of 0.25x.
The zoom design is push-pull and the same part of the barrel that you push and pull to change the focal length is rotated to adjust the focus.
In later years push-pull zooms went out of fashion and changes in focal length were controlled by rotating a ring on the lens. One notable exception was the Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-f/5.6, which still had a push-pull design.
I prefer a rotating ring, but you soon get used to push-pull zooms and they are quite easy to use. With one hand you can simultaneously zoom and focus. One drawback, however, that the push-pulling can suck dust into the lens.
Another drawback with the FD 70-210mm f/4 is that as you turn the focusing ring the inner barrel of the lens both rotates and goes in and out slightly. If you are using accessories such as graduated filters, which must be oriented in a specific way, this is a problem.
A good thing about the lens is that the f/4 maximum aperture remains constant through the focal length range.
There are no electronics in these old lenses and with no electrical connections the EOS M body does not recognise that a lens is attached. There is an option in the custom functions to allow the shutter to be released without a lens attached (Release shutter w/o lens).
With the original EOS M it is Custom Fn. 7. With the EOS M6 it is C.Fn II Option 3. THis information may change with subsequent firmware releases, but if you go into Custom Functions it isn't difficult to find.
Exposure, of course, has to be set manually as there is no mechanical link for the camera to control the lens aperture.
There is a ring on the FD to EOS M adapter marked Open/Close and it operates a pin inside the adapter. This pin activates the aperture lever on the lens and once this has been activated it is possible to rotate the aperture ring on the lens to set it to the desired aperture.
I was hoping to be able to manually set the aperture on the lens, dial the same aperture value into the camera via AV mode and let the camera sort out the sexposure. Unfortunately, I can't because with an FD lens mounted the camera simply displays F00 as the aperture.
With the original EOS M it involves a lot of trial and error messing around with ISO and shutter speed settings until you have the correct exposure.
With the EOS M5/M6 there is a handy feature called "Expo. simulation". If you enable this feature the rear display simulates the exposure depending on the lens and camera settings. If you turn the aperture ring on the lens to make the aperture larger or lengthen the shutter speed you see the image on the rear display getting brighter, and vice-versa. The histogram also simulates the exposure.
Using this feature it is fairly easy to get very close to the correct exposure without activating shutter and looking at the resulting image.
Firstly, focusing at infinity isn't a problem using the K&F Concept adapter on an EOS M body.
However, after years of using AF cameras, and with deteriorating eyesight, focusing manually these days takes me a lot longer than when I was shooting with film bodies and using manual focus lenses all the time.
The only time I use manual focus these days is for macro photography and I use the same technique when using FD lenses. On the camera 'Info' screen there is a small magnifying glass symbol. Press it once for 5x magnification and again for 10x magnification. The increased magnification makes focusing easier.
Old film bodies that only used manual focus lenses had special split focusing screens to assist manual focusing, but this isn't the case on digital cameras using Live View.
It's not that easy or quick, but quite accurate focusing can be achieved.
Update: The above comments apply to using the original EOS M. When I upgraded to an EOS M6, which has a focus peaking feature, focusing with manual lenses became a lot easier.
Just turn on the focus peaking option and select a colour from red, blue or yellow. On the LCD display the colour you have selected will appear on the subject wherever it is in focus. This is a really excellent feature for manual focussing, however, it can be quite difficult to see in bright sunlight.
Construction And Handling
This isn't an 'L' lens, but it's construction is the same as all Canon consumer FD lenses. The focus and aperture rings operate smoothly and with fairly careful handling it will last a lifetime.
The first lens I tried on my EOS M body was the Canon FD 300mm f/4 and despite the messing around setting the correct focus and exposure the image quality was excellent.
The next lens, the Canon 28mm f/2.8, wasn't bad with certain images, but there was a noticeable degradation compared to the FD 300mm f/4.
The FD 70-210mm f/4 was the poorest lens of all. Sharpness was OK (sometimes) but the colours and contrast weren't very pleasing to the eye at all.
When I tested it I took along my EF-M 55-200mm to make some comparisons and the colours from the EF-M looked a lot brighter and more cheerful. The FD 70-210mm made quite a pleasant looking sky look grey and murky.
One thing I should mention is that I did have this lens repaired many years ago. While on vacation in Colorado a train appeared from around a gorge and I attempted to make a very fast lens change.
I dropped the lens and it became unusable. Back in the UK many parts were replaced, but the repair may have affected the image quality.
When I came to test this lens with my EOS M6 I was quite excited and had high expectations. Unfortunately, the results left me quite disappointed.
This was one of my most used lenses in my film days. Starting in my late 20's a lot of my friends started to get married and I found myself attending a lot of weddings. This was great for candid wedding photos because you could photograph people without them being aware.
Regarding image quality, I think that the lens was always a poor performer but when I was only looking at 6"x4" prints from the photo lab I didn't really notice. However, digital photography and high quality monitors very quickly show up any lens weaknesses.
In later years when I scanned in some of the negatives taken with this lens and viewed them on a monitor I saw that they were poor quality. When I used this lens with an EOS M body the results were better than the negative scans, but noticeably wore than the other FD manual focus lenses I had tested.
Mirrorless cameras have given old manual focus lenses a new lease of life because a simple adapter allows hese lenses to be used and there are no focusing issues at infinity.
From my experience so far and because of the way that modern digital cameras so easily highlight lens imperfections, if you decide to use some old FD lenses you need to choose the better ones.
The Canon FD 300mm f/4 lens is an excellent example of one of the better lenses. Obviously, there is no autofocus, but the image quality is on a par with modern lenses.
Unfortunately, that isn't the case for the FD 70-210mm f/4. It was a budget lens made for the masses, which consisted of people like me. Those hobbyist photographers who had an SLR and standard lens, and who wanted an affordable telephoto lens.
It did a job and back in the film days the image quality seemed acceptable, but compared to the image quality standards we are used to these days it now seems like quite a poor lens.
Should you buy one? There were a lot made and I would suspect that nowadays there are quite a lot of cheap ones on the second-hand market. I honestly wouldn't bother.
As I write, there is a strong rumour that Canon will be releasing a Mark 2 version of the excellent Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L IS. This will probably lower the prices of used Mark 1 versions and the non-IS version of the Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L is also an excellent lens in terms of image quality, even though it doesn't have the very useful IS.
Even if you have a small budget and an old FD 70-210mm f/4 looks tempting, I would wait a little longer, save some more money, and get one of the EF 70-200mm lenses.
Maximum Diameter: 72.2
Filter Diameter: 58mm
Closest Focusing Distance: 1.2m (0.44m in macro mode)
Minimum Aperture: f/32
Maximum Aperture: f/4
Date Purchased: 1983
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