FD & FL Lenses on your EF Body

I met Jakub a few months ago through my other business, Lens Rentals Canada. We talked for a good length of time about gear and his adaptors for FL and FD lenses. I thought it was really cool that someone was still out there trying to make these lenses work on todays crop of DSLR bodies.

I asked Jakub to write an article about the “EdMika” adaptors and give an insight into the process of building adaptors.

He oblidged.

The following was written by Jakub, and all support for the adaptors should go to him, not me! I have also provided the links to the adaptors for purchase.

Article written by: Jakub Edward Mika (EdMika)
Location: Collingwood, Ontario, Canada
Contact Jakub: Here

Buy the adaptors below (Compatibility list at the bottom of the article)
EdMika Canon FL 55mm 1:1.2 EF/EOS Conversion Kit 

EdMika EF- FD 0.75mm Adapter for FD800mm 5.6L, FD600mm+

A big white FD 600mm f/4.5 lens in beautiful condition for a seemingly reasonable $1,450 Canadian appeared on my computer screen during an eBay search in late 2009.  It immediately reminded me of the lenses “real pros” used as heavily advertised on the backs of National Geographic magazines I read while growing up in the 70s and 80s.  With barely any research into FD lenses I hit buy-it-now and within a week I was affectionately holding the rocket launcher like beast of a lens.

Mounting my new Canon 7D on to it by way of a typical low cost EF-FD adapter with a corrective optic I was quickly taken aback by how I could not resolve much more detail than I was already getting with my EF 100-400 zoom lens.  Yes the image was bigger but the detail was missing and the level of purple fringing was very noticeable. Stopping the aperture down beyond f/11 helped but the IQ remained disappointing.  At this point I decided to start doing some research into what was going on and why.  A quick history lesson for those of us who were not around or perhaps not paying attention to all things Canon in the late eighties is likely in order.

The BIG FD Family

Electronics technology improved to the point where a new capability called “Autofocus”, comically pronounced as “laser” in a Dr. Evil voice, was being rolled out by all major camera manufacturers.  The majority of SLR makers including Nikon worked within the confines and limitations of their existing lens mounts to integrate this new “autofocus” feature allowing people with expensive lens investments to keep using them on new bodies.  Canon, after two failed design tries in the FD 35-70mm f/4 AF -AKA the “Frankenlens” seen mounted on a NEX-5 in one of the pictures below, and later the family of 3 AF lenses usable only on the T80 body they went back to the drawing board and in 1987 came out with the very modern and capable large diameter EF mount.  By doing so, the entire Canon lens population in existence was orphaned, never to be usable on bodies newer than the FD mount 1990 T60 body – or so it seemed at the time at least.

 

The reason corrective optics were needed at all is that on top of the actual EF mount being physically different, the lens registration distance was increased from 42mm in FD to 44mm in the new EF mount.  This means that even when held up directly lens flange to camera flange, the FD lens would render the proper image 2mm short of the film /sensor plane.  You would have to mount the lens inside the camera to have it work properly. This huge technological hurdle is what has dropped the value of the vintage FL/FD/nFD lines of pre EF Canon lenses to levels much below vintage lenses from the likes of Nikon.  Unlike Canon, an old Nikon lens will fit new Nikon digital cameras.  Obviously the desire to fit the high quality FD and even older Canon FL lens families persisted and aftermarket manufacturers came out with more affordable adapters with corrective optics to do so but none that I tried could retain the good speed and sharpness of the bare lenses. Since I could not justify spending over a grand on the real Canon adapter I decided to make my own high quality optical adapter by combining a 70-dollar FD 1.4x-a extender and a Kenko extension tube.   With this setup finally I was seeing some real resolving power with my big lens and my instructions for building the adapter continue to be a popular destination on my flickr photostream http://flic.kr/p/7jkpgA. I tried the same concept with an FD 2x-a extender but I did not resolve any more effective detail and I lost 2 stops of light with this 2x version instead of just one. Shooting tests at closer distances comparing my 1.4x FD/kenko adapter to the bare lens using the standard common 10mm eBay adapter with the lens elements unscrewed made it clear that the IQ was still better in some shooting situations with the bare lens but the focus distance was limited to backyard subjects with the moon or horizon or even just down the street shooting being out of reach.  This shooting distance limitation was understandable because the 42mm lens registration design was being put 54mm away from the sensor.  Naturally an adapter putting the lens closer would be expected to let me focus on subjects farther away.  A 5mm thick adapter sold out of India looked promising at a 10 dollar price but it dropped the ability to engage the aperture lever and the fit to both lens and camera was surprisingly loose allowing over 8 degrees of sloppy rotation when engaged.  I was able to overcome the aperture control issue by jamming the lever with a piece of plastic and I did get about 30% more focusing distance but nowhere near infinity.

An easy do it yourself solution

A eureka moment ultimately came for me when in frustration I basically duct taped my camera to the lens on a clear night and found the moon in apparent perfect focus.  From what I can gather, Canon had included excessive focus travel to allow for lens length variation caused by temperature changes.  This excess was enough to accommodate the 2mm shift caused by the different mount.  From that point I just had to find something better than duct tape. No less than 5 prototype design iterations were developed starting with grinding down and crazy gluing FD body mounts from the common EF-FD adapters to ground down EF lens mounts from the previously butchered kenko extension tube set.  Grinding was changed to using a lathe and flat-gluing surfaces became recessed and embedded for geometric reinforcement.  Finally with the help of my Father-In Law with access to a vertical mill it was decided to skip gluing existing purchased components together and instead machining one from scratch out of a single piece of material.  I developed an adapter version that was 100% internal putting the FD lens flange directly in contact with the EF camera flange.  The problem with this design was that the aperture lever would come into contact with and actually dig a groove into the plastic adjacent to the electrical contacts on EF but not EF-S bodies.  Through experimentation we found that a 0.75mm thick adapter flange would prevent this contact yet still retain infinity focus on the long lenses. The 0.75mm design still digs a shallow groove in EF 1.4x ii and EF 2x ii extenders but really the point of the adapter is to allow the long lenses to be used bare. Also, if the adapter is first attached to the camera, the aperture lever will not be able to score a mark into the EF extender, it will simply depress a single contact area and probably will not leave a mark but its hard for me to test since my extenders all have deep grooves in them from trying various prototype adapters and longer lever non-Canon FD mount lenses. If the adapter flange were to be increased to 1mm this extender damage would likely be eliminated completely but infinity focus would be lost. My own testing shows that on FD super telephoto lenses the only really worthwhile extender to use is the FD 1.4x-a, all others, the FD 2x-a and 2x-b, EF 1.4xii and EF 2xii, do not resolve any more effective detail than just the bare lens. For material, 360 Brass was chosen over stainless steel or aluminum because brass was softer than camera and lens flanges ensuring no surface damage yet it was still strong enough to hold on through even heavy abuse.   It also allowed us to skip coatings so we could maintain higher tolerances because of the variability of a coating process and because glue holding af-confirm chips held well to bare metal but bonded poorly to coatings

......just what my wife wanted, another line of camera lenses to buy.

Since most modern Canon DSLRs do not have focus screens, having an autofocus confirmation chip to trick the camera into thinking you have an autofocus lens attached allowing the contrast detection system to kick in is very useful.  Furthermore, Many Canon DSLR cameras for some reason meter very inconsistently without a reporting chip telling them a lens is attached effectively forcing use in full manual mode when no chip is present.  Of the many chips I tried, the Generation 4 Dandelion chip manufactured in Belarus gave me the best form and function. A small but enthusiastic group of people on flickr were following the development of this adapter solution for the roughly 8 months it took me to get to the point of a working and safe-meaning not glued together and thus with the very real risk of a falling camera design.  When it was ready I sent out a handful of parts to people with FD 800mm 5.6L and FD 600mm 4.5 lenses for beta testing. Based on this feedback we added an aperture lever engagement feature allowing the lens to be stopped down without having to jam it open with a plastic wedge. I found that due to some variation in the lenses that some had trouble reaching infinity focus on some samples.  After taking one of my now 3 large lenses apart I figured out a way to squeeze an additional few degrees of focus knob turning with the easy and reversible removal of a focus stop screw.  With further lens disassembly I confirmed that the new focus hard stop area was not damaging or fatiguing the lens in any way.   I also learned that infinity focus was achievable without focus stop screw removal on the older SSC versions of both lenses and that with the removal of a focus stop screw under the rubber focus grip on the FD 500mm mirror lens also allows it to reach infinity focus. Competition came quickly with people on photography forums informing me that a Chinese company was coming out with a low cost 1mm thick EF-FD adapter version made from powder-coated aluminum.  I was both honoured and disappointed at my solution’s adaptation but quickly realized that the value of my 25% thinner flange and thus likely challenging to mass produce from aluminum, was in the infinity focus capability it generated.  With the weaker aluminum base material, a 0.75mm flange would be easy to bend by hand and would quickly deform the hole for the lens lock feature.  Beyond this glaring lack of infinity shortcoming the current 1mm adapter does not have design provisions for mounting an AF-confirm chip. I’m almost certain that at some point these china copy issues will be at least partially addressed but I’ve seen notable worldwide support for rewarding the originality and superior quality of my 100% Canadian photography enthusiast developed and manufactured product.

A quality product made by people who care. It's becoming a rare thing.

Alternative to other EF-FD adapters, another way to bring this ghost fleet of lenses into the modern digital age is with EVIL (Electronic Viewfinder, Interchangeable Lens) mirrorless camera bodies.  By dropping the mirror these bodies can have a lens registration distance under 20mm.  Because of this a simple adapter can place just about any lens ever made at whatever its respective proper design distance is from the sensor.  I tested performance between my adapter on a 7D and a 1D4 against the in my opinion best EVIL camera today, the Sony NEX-5 with a 1.5 crop factor, the largest sensor yet in this type of camera. Though both Canon DSLRs beat the NEX in every measurable metric using the 800mm lens, the performance of the Sony was exceptional considering the price point.  I have since built quite the FD lens collection for use on the NEX and a nice nF1 film body when I am in the mood for a more compact manual focus shooting experience.  When Canon or Nikon release a full frame EVIL body it will effectively make my adapter obsolete.  Since sadly we may be in for a long wait for that, my solution may remain top of the game for some time.

 

After listing the EdMika EF-FD 0.75mm brass adapter on eBay even though priced much higher than the next most expensive EF-FD adapter due to the high material and machining costs and significant hand finishing and assembly requirements, the design has proven to be popular.  I expect this is due to it being the only EF-FD adapter to allow glassless / optics free infinity focus on FD 500, 600 and 800mm lenses with infinity focus on the long end of the very sharp FD 85-300mm 4.5 zoom lens as well.  Surprisingly I also found that many of my customers were not buying the adapter for the intended long lenses but as a way of getting the longest possible focus distance from the shorter lenses such as the much loved FD 85mm 1.2L as well even if the best one could expect is a tight portrait shot.

On top of being pleased that I am quickly recovering my investment in the development of this adapter I am thrilled that these majestic purely mechanical lenses are being dusted off and successfully brought into the digital age as an affordable alternative to the modern equivalents.  Lycaon Productions, now seemingly called Chrisp Films, a company filming nature shorts summer of 2010 for the Ontario Government in Algonquin Park bought two of my adapted FD lenses for HD video shooting using 7D cameras claimed to prefer the knob focus design over the barrel focus EF lenses they were previously renting (sorry about that lensrentalscanada.com).  They are actually currently trying to find a better way to put cameras on turtles if anyone out there has any good ideas.  As a mechanical Engineer with an emotional affinity for these works of mechanical lens art I am glad to have provided a solution that will prevent the destructive permanent modification of the lenses that is becoming more common.  In my view, original vintage gear should stay original.

This is a great way to get you into inexpensive super telephoto lenses. The current Canon 800 is $12000 or so.

Original does not have to mean not tricked out however.  My exceptionally innovative Father-In-Law apparently had too much time on his hands so he took a broken remote control helicopter, a cell phone battery, a broken printer stepper motor and integrated them into a remote focusing unit for my 800mm lens though I came up with the final part that made it all work, a properly sized rubber band.  I don’t even have to be outside anymore to shoot the moon on those cold but clear winter nights.  The important thing is my vintage distance shooting workhorse remains original and unharmed.  For anyone interested the latest Gen6 Universal EF-nFD/FD/FL EdMika 0.75mm brass adapter is listed on eBay here.

With that non-destructive modification point of view in mind combined with my love of low cost high value gear I have also just now released my second EdMika (I drop the space between Ed and Mika for Google searchability) branded photographic adapter, the FL 55mm 1.2 brass reversible EF-S conversion kit shown in YouTube conversion action here and listed on eBay here.  The FL 55mm 1.2 is a gorgeous all metal manual focus design that is currently the lowest priced f/1.2 lens commonly available with typical prices in the 200-300 dollars range.  Rather than sending your lens away for permanent modification at a cost of around 300 dollars + shipping you can now achieve a more professional result yourself in minutes for dramatically less cost while retaining the ability to bring it back to original condition again in minutes.

The converted lens reaches infinity focus and sports the same great autofocus confirmation chip as my original EF-FD adapter programmed to report a 55mm focal length and a 1.2 aperture to your EXIF data.  It works on all EF-S bodies as well as the 1D/1D-S series cameras but must be shot in live preview on the 5D due to a mirror interference condition with the top of the rear lens element when focusing near infinity. The lens has a very unique colour (that’s how we spell it in Canada), contrast and bokeh signature and I find myself using it much more often than my EF 50 1.2L lens because of the special look of the images it generates and because of joy of the smooth manual lens operation and sleek metal construction.  Furthermore the lens has the most beautiful lens flare I have ever seen when a direct bright light source is present in the shot.

The development road has not always been a smooth one with a seemingly unimportant ridge being removed on a 50 part production run to simplify machining that made the adapter compatible with the 60’s FL and late 70’s nFD mounts but not the early 70’s FD breechlock mounts with the lens being too loose on those versions.  A limited number of the non-universal adapters were sold with full disclosure at discounted prices to try to recover some machining costs.  More recently, limited testing I did using store borrowed 5D and 5DII cameras convinced me that mirror contact was not occurring.  I had put the lens on the camera, twisted focus to infinity and took the shot with the resulting picture seeming fine. Later additional in-store testing showed that when focus was reduced to slightly less than infinity, the mirror frame would brush past the lip of the rear element and get stuck on the return path.

I had to quickly jump on several photographic forums to explain the incorrect proclamation that I had developed a full EF conversion kit but rather an EF-S one.  For the kits already sold I contacted the buyers and offered full or partial refunds as the product was not fully capable of doing what it was advertised to do.  I still have not given up hope on full 5D compatibility with a minor tilted lens approach adapter currently being experimented with.

I do have a “real job” in a non-photographic field but I am really enjoying this tinkering with gear stuff.  Who knows where this will lead, perhaps in a few years I will have adapters for many more lenses and who knows, maybe even non-Canon ones!  I know one thing for sure, I will be striving to keep the good old gear good and unharmed but fully back in regular use now on digital and for a whole lot less money than the best latest modern gear is going for.

Cheers and happy shooting-Ed Mika

P.S.  Ed(ward) is actually my middle name.

Compatibility List

EdMika Canon FL 55mm 1:1.2 EF/EOS Conversion Kit

  • This adaptor is ONLY for the Canon FL 55mm f/1.2.

EdMika EF- FD 0.75mm Adapter for FD800mm 5.6L, FD600mm+

A sample of focusing distances using the EdMika EF- FD 0.75mm Adapter on a Canon DSLR

  • FD 85mm 1.2, 5 feet / 1.5 meters (see self portrait pic, still surprisingly useful for such a short focusable distance)
  • FD 85-300mm 4.5, infinity** between 250-300mm
  • FD 100mm 2.8 macro, unknown
  • FD 200mm 2.8, 25 feet / 7.5 meters
  • FD 300mm 2.8L, 95 feet / 29 meters
  • FD 300mm 4, unknown
  • FD 400mm 2.8, 164 feet / 50 meters
  • FD 400mm 4.5, 277 feet / 85 meters
  • FD 500mm 4.5L, unknown
  • FD 500mm 8 mirror, infinity**
  • FD 600mm 4.5, infinity***
  • FD 800mm 5.6L, infinity***

* See the two pictures in this listing for chip programming instructions.
** With removal of a stop screw under rubber focus grip. Mod is non-damaging and reversible.
*** Removal of stop screw in nFD version gear housing helps maintain infinity in low temp shooting – reportedly not needed in SSC versions. Mod is non-damaging and reversible.