Canon FD 20mm 1:2.8 Review

The Canon FD 20mm 2.8 is an affordable wideangle lens (around $200 mid 2015) which performs well on the Alpha 7. I have owned and used my copy for more than a year now and wanted to share my experience with you.

Canon_FD_20mmmf2p8
Canon FD 20mm 1:2.8 | Novoflex E-mount adapter attached

Sample Images

DSC00767
Sony a7 | f/11
DSC04250_1
Sony a7 | f/2.8
Untitled
Sony a7 | f/5.6
Rursee in Flammen
Sony a7 | f8
Lake District
Sony a7 | f/11

 Specifications

 
CANON FD 20 2.8
Length 62mm
Diameter 78mm
Weight 305g
Filter Thread 72mm
Aperture Blades 6
Short focusing distance 25cm

The Canon FD 2.8/20 at ebay.de | ebay.com (affiliate links)

Versions

As far as I know Canon made two mechanically different 2.8/20 lenses which share the optical design but I have no good source about Canon FD lenses to back this up.

  • The older FD version has the classic silver breech lock mounting system and weights 345g.
  • The newer nFD version is 40g lighter and  has the newer nFD mounting system. I own this version

I would prefer the nFD version because it is 40g lighter than the older version and it might have better coatings.

Size, Weight and Handling

I think the 2.8/20 is well balanced on the  a7.  At 305g it is a little heavier than your typical 1.4/50, it is also a bit longer and has significantly larger diameter at the front.

CanonFD20mmf2p8

The focusing ring turns about 130° from the short focusing distance of 25m to 1m and a further 30° to infinity. Focusing is smooth with a pleasant resistance.

The aperture  ring of the Canon  has a higher resistance than I would prefer and the lens stops down in half steps to f/22.

The barrel of the lens is made from metal and some parts like the aperture ring and the plate around the front of the lens are made from plastics. By todays standards this is a rock solid lens but some older lenses feel a bit more solid.

The front ring rotates as the lens is focused which makes the usage of  polarizers a bit of a pain.

Optical Performance

Flare Resistance

Flare resistance is not a strength of this lens. You can get very obnoxious flare like in this sample:

Canon FD 2.8/20 flare test
shooting directly into the setting sun

This does not mean that any image with a brighter light source shows ugly flares, here is another example:

DSC03917

Sunset II

The lens does not lose much contrast in backlit situations.

Distortion

Some mustache distortion but I think it will rarely be a problem.
CAnon nFD 2.8/20 | distortion

Vignetting

At f/2.8 vignetting is very noticable, by f/8.0 it’s gone for all practical purposes.

Bokeh

For a 20mm lens it’s probably okay but it can be distracting, especially in the corners. Specular highlights have a very defined brighter outer ring.

Untitled
f/4

Coma

The lens has lots of coma, you can even see it in the small image below.

DSC04250
Sony a7 | f/2.8

CA

There is a significant amount of lateral CA and you want to correct that.

Here is a link to is my sharpness test without CA correction.

Sharpness

Canon_nFD_20mmf2p8_infinity_800px_CAremoved

f/2.8: The lens is sharp in the central area covering about 40% of the frame. The cornes are actually not that bad resolved but contrast is very low and there is lot’s of coma and saturation is very low as well. I hardly ever use this aperture.

f/4: Still only the center of the image is usable but the performance is very good there. There is less coma outside of the center but it is still very notable.

f/5.6: very good sharpness across 90% of the frame with a very notable drop in the far corners.

f/8: Very similar to f/5.6 with a small gain in the corners.

At f/11 the Canon is sharp across the frame, only the last few pixels are soft. This is my default setting for this lens.

The lens shows some field curvature but in my experience that works in my favor more often than not. For best corner sharpness I would recommend to focus the edges, not the center.

Other

Canon FD 2.8/20 @f/8
notice the blue blob in the center

From time to time I have noticed a hotspot in images with my Canon FD 2.8/20, it was only in a very few images mostly at sunset but it can be a bit annoying.

 Alternatives

I have no personal experience with other 20mm lenses but from what I have read online these lenses have a good reputation:

  • Olympus Zuiko 3.5/21: s very small and users report good across the frame sharpness at the expense of a little less sharp center.
  • Voigtländer 3.5/20: another very small lens with good performance at f/8 and because it is a modern lens it seems to be very flare resistant. I plan to test one in the future but it is a bit more expensive  than the FD.
  • Voigtländer Ultron 1.8/21: a M-mount lens which is faster and much better in the f/1.8-f/4 range. Modern coatings will also help with reflections. In the F/5.6-f/11 range performance is very comparable to the FD 2.8/20, only vignetting is still noticeable at f/8 and there is a slight color cast.
  • Zeiss 2.8/21: a legend of a lens with very good across the frame sharpness from f/2.8. It is large heavy and expensive though.
  • Sony FE 4/16-35the Sony is more flare resistant and performs well from f/4. The larger zoom range and OSS are also handy. But it is bigger, heavier and much more expensive.  At f/11 the Zeiss has a little more contrast but less details in the corners.

Conclusion

The Canon FD 20mm 1:2.8 has it’s limitations: You will want to avoid f/2.8 for almost any allpication and you need to stop down at least to f/5.6 for good across the frame sharpness  and the corners are best at f/11. The mediocre flare resistance can be a bit limiting and other 20mm lenses are  smaller.

In the field it usually delivers a very good performance, at f/8 or f/11 my images are very sharp, contrast and colors are nice. The corners are a little sharper even than the much more expensive Sony 4/16-35 ZA OSS.

SoI think it is a very interesting lens for anyone on a budget.

You can buy the Canon FD 2.8/20 at ebay.de or ebay.com (affiliate links).

Sample Images Canon FD 20mm 1:2.8

Canon_FD_20mmf2p8_f11
f/11
Canon FD 2.8/20 @f/11
f/11
CAnon nFD 2.8/20 | f/2.8
f/2.8 | I accidentally forgot to stop down the lens for this image, LR default settings
Canon nFD 2.8/20 | 11
f/11
Canon FD 2.8/20 @f/11
f/11

You can find more full resolution images in this flickr set: Canon FD 20mm 1:2.8

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I like to be outside with my camera and I am also a gear head with a love for manual lenses.

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25 thoughts on “Canon FD 20mm 1:2.8 Review”

  1. I’ll be interested in the results if you manage to find a good copy of the C/V Color-Skopar 20/3.5 SLII Phillip. I’m still searching for a good copy copy! First (Canon) was so poor at 3.5 it was a pain to get it in focus. 2nd copy (Nikon) much better to get focus at 3.5, but left edge soft/smeared, however much closed down! However, the right edge is good enough, that I’m now looking again, as, if I can find a copy with both edges good, it should be a very useful lens! I think manufacturing tolerances and quality control must be lax. Be warned. Mechanically it’s a jewel!

    1. I also had issues with the CV 4.5/15 back in the Nex days, my two copies weren’t well centered. But thanks vor sharing your experience, when I buy one (that won’t ne very soon) I will tray to buy from a shop were I can return it

  2. Thanks for this nice review. I would add the Nikkor 20mm (2.8 and 3.5 versions exist) to the list of alternatives. I use the Nikkor AF-D 2.8 20mm with my A7. This lens has very similar characteristics as the Canon FD. Good center sharpness at f 2.8, edges are rather soft up to f/8. The main difference I see is that the Nikon is very flare resistant, certainly a plus. All in all it is an “ok” lens with limitations, I will replace it by a Loxia as soon it will be available here.

  3. There is also a 20 2.8 and 20 4.0 with m42 mount (both Flektogon).
    Also comparable should be the Minolta Af 20 2.8, but you need at least an la ea1 electronic adapter.

  4. Thanks for educating with your lens choice. I recently purchased a Canon FD 20mm f2.8 for Sony A7r . Could you please send me the details of the Novoflex adapter

    Sam

  5. Just a quick question about a quirky sun star. I have a fdn 20mm 2.8 and have noticed when shooting using the lens wide open at bight objects like the sun it produces a half sun star flare (always on the right side of frame) anyone else noticed this?
    one stop down and the whole flare comes back. Other wise the lens works quite well on a A7s.

  6. I’ve been using this lens with the Fotodiox Pro Fusion adapter and experience, so far, is line with your observations. Compared to my FE 1.8/50 and FE 2/28 lenses, it is HUGE!

    That said, this is my first adapted lens experience, on Sony. The S-AF is impressive.

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