Canon FD 300mm 1:4 L Review

This is a review of the Canon FD 4/300 L, a 35 years old professional tele lens which gives really nice results on todays mirrorless cameras.

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Introduction

I think the FD 300mm 1:4 L is a great lens, it’s optical performance is close to excellent, it isn’t that big nor too expensive and the handling on the Sony Alpha 7 is quite good.

Specifications

Size: (diameter x length): 85mm x 207mm
Filter Thread: no front filter thread but 34mm drop in filters
Weight: 1060g
Close Focusing Distance /max. Magnification : 3m/0.11
Number of aperture blades: 9
Price  (Germany May 2014): In the 350-500€ range for good condition. Canon FD 4/300 L at ebay.com or ebay.de

Versions

According to mir.com there are two versions of the lens, the older one with the old breech lock system and the younger the updated  new FD mounting system, as far as I know both versions are optically the same

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Handling

This lens handles quite well on my Sony Alpha 7.

The focusing is internal, so the lens doesn’t extend and it you can focus it with a flick of your little finger which is great for ation shots but it works well for landscape use as well.

The tripod collar is quite big and sturdy, it can be rotated from landscape to portrait orientation and it is detachable.

The lens hood is fixed to the lens and rather small, a larger one would be more effective but would make the lens a lot bigger as well.

I find it easy to use it without support, it weight only a little over 1 kilogram and the weight is well balanced, it get very sharp images at 1/640 sec. when holding it without support.

I prefer to use it on a monopod which makes focusing much easier because it stabilizes the lifeview and also allows me to use about 2 stops slower shutter speeds, I get very good results at 1/160  sec.

Build quality

Not much to tell here, it is as great as you would expect from a professional lens from the 80s.

Optical performance

I tested this lens on a Sony a7.

Vignetting It is quite noticeable at f/4 and basically gone at f/5.6

Distortion didn’t check, sorry

Flare Resistance It is rather sensitive to flare, most problematic are light sources just outside the field of view. Shading it with your hand can help.
fd300L_gegenlicht

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Bokeh I think it is quite pleasing, there is no outlining of highlight discs
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Chromatic Aberrations

at f/4 LoCa can be seen at edges with hard contrast, stopping down to f/5.6 reduces it a lot and it is quite hard to make it show .

LaCa are quite well corrected.

Sharpness

Canon_FD_300mmf4_infinty

f/4 The lens is sharp from corner to corner at f/4 and I don’t hesitate to use it at this aperture.
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100% crop:
CanonFD300mmf4_100crop_f4

f/5.6 Contrast and sharpness improve noticeably and reach an excellent level, this is the optimal aperture.
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100% crop:
CanonFD300mmf4_100crop_f5.6
f/8 I think I see a very minor drop in sharpness.

f/11  Diffraction becomes noticeable but sharpness is still very good in absolute terms.

Compatibility

FD lenses can be used on all mirror-less cameras like Sony Alpha, Fuji-X or MicroFourThirds, all you need is an adapter.

I would recommend a Novoflex Adapter (affiliate link), it is expensive but it will fit better than cheap ones from China. The cheap ones are good enough (in fact all the images in this review were made with a $10 adapter) but after I got that Novoflex adapter I can only recommend it.

Because of the rather high register distance of the FD mount there are no adapters for any DSLR camera, but it is possible to swap the mount for a EF mount developed by EDMika, he lists the compatibility status of his adapter and this lens as unknown so I would ask him if he knows if it will work.

Image Samples in high resolution

just click on the image to download it in full resolution at flickr

Canon nFD 300mm 1:4 L

Canon nFD 300mm 1:4 L

Canon nFD 300mm 1:4 L

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Conclusion

I really enjoy this lens and carry it with me a lot, I can recommend it to everyone who needs a manual, portable high performance tele lens.

Alternatives

The direct competition in it’s time was the Nikon 4.5/300 ED IF, I never used it but from the reports I read aobut it, I think that the Canon is a little bit better.

There is also a Canon FD 4/300 nonL, I haven’t used that either but from the reports I read and because of the lack of low dispersion glass I assume that it will be significantly worse.

Then there is the Canon nFD 2.8/300 L which is at least as good but usually twice as expensive and more than twice as heavy.

Support

You found my blog helpful? Please consider use one of these affiliate links when looking for the 4/300 at ebay: Canon FD 4/300 L at ebay.com or ebay.de.

For the right adapter check out our Adapter Guide.

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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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53 thoughts on “Canon FD 300mm 1:4 L Review”

  1. Phillip – thank you for another very useful review. On the strength of this and your images on FM, I just ordered one from Japan for my A7. I tried a Nikon version and was not that impressed (& I otherwise like most Nikon stuff)

  2. I own a lot of FD lenses but not this one.
    Some of them are really a joy to use with the Sony Nex 7 or A7R.

    As for tele lenses, I own the Canon FD 400mm f/4.5 and the Canon FD 500mm f/8.0 Reflex. I also own the Canon FD 300mm f/5.6.
    The best of those is the 400mm but there is still a lot of CA.
    This is to be expected since they have no low-dispersion element – while the Canon FD 300mm f/4.0 L has some.

    As of alternatives, my personnal favorite is the Canon EF 400mm f/5.6L, which weights about the same. This lens is really crazy sharp and has almost no CA. It works very well with the 1.4x II too.
    With Nex 7, you’d better use a tripod, since you get 840mm f/8.0 equivalent then.
    And with 24MP, you have plenty of room to crop… which means zoom even more. 😉

    But I’m sure this Canon FD 300mm f/4.0L is a pleasure to use and delivers really a very good image quality.

    Thanks for this review !
    and have a good day
    Raoul

    1. Hi Raoul,

      Could you share some photos you have taken with Sony A7 Canon 400mm combo? I am looking for a good telephoto combo with my Sony A7, and any advice on this will be really appreciated.

      Thanks

  3. Hey Philip,

    I’m quite interested in a tele lens for my Nex 5n, primarily for wildlife shooting. As I understand that the 300 L 4.0 works great on FF A7, i wonder if it works on the crop sensor of Nex 5n just as good – can you recommend this lens for 5n?
    How would you rate the price-quality ratio of the 300 L 4.0 in general? I might upgrade to A7 when I’ve saved enough money 😉

    Thanks a lot + brgrds

    Florian

    1. Hi Florian,

      I think it would deliver a good performance at f/4 and a great performance at f/5.6. I own a Nex-5n myself and it isn’t easy to handle the lens without an EVF, but it is possible.
      I think the price-performance ratio is pretty good, at least compared to other Tele lenses with the same level of CA correction.
      A Minolta or Canon 4/200 is much better value though ;-).

      1. Thanks for the swift reply, Phillip!
        Regarding the Canon FD 200 4: incl. NEX crop factor, I’d like to “arrive” at some length around 400mm – you got any experience in combining this lens with a Canon teleconverter (F/4 might be too slow, right)?
        I’m aware that you pay extra for the “L”-lenses but I thought they’d be worth it (not from first hand experience though). All in all I’m looking for a better quality tele than the Tamron 18200 for NEX that i’d like to sell if i can get a decent lens that covers the longer end.

        btw I could get the Canon fdn 4.0 for EUR 60 – sounds like a bargain

        All the best
        Cheers

  4. Phillip, I like your photographs.

    I have a question. I own a Canon FD 55mm F1.2, and a Canon FD 100mm F2.8, which I use on a Sony A7R. Both lenses are SSC, and have the old style silver FD mounts. I like these lenses, have high hopes for them, but find they are annoyingly grainy in the out of focus areas, and in the areas of fine detail. When I look at your photographs taken with Canon lenses, I see a very slight coarseness there too—but not so much as with my own photographs. Have you experienced the same thing with Canon lenses on your Sony camera? And if so, how have you learned to mitigated the issue?

  5. At the old analogue days, I had made an comparable test with an FD 4/300mm L owner, with an Meyer-Goerlitz PENTACON MF 4/300mm lens, both using an KODACHROME 25 slide film. Results were projected with two LEICA projectors, and watched by 20 people. Both lenses where equaly sharp, the Pentacon 300mm was more brillant and a little länger in his focal length! The frustrated CANON lens owner, sold his glass immediately. The “L” at the Canon lenses seems to be not alway’s the case, the lens must also be assembled precisely!

  6. Hi! Beautiful pics!
    You seem to cope well with focusing (of course, you don’t have to spare film 🙂
    … but how difficult it is to focus A7 with manual lenses?
    On focusing screens of the old film cameras it has always been a bliss.

    Does the A7 show on screen in any way “well there you have the focus”?
    I think (with some trials on m4/3) it’s difficult to trust your own eye.

  7. I’ve owned the 300mm f4L and used it a lot with my A6000 with great results. The only drawback for me was that it could only focus down to 3.1m, which during the summer is not really close enough for dragonflies and other interesting subjects. I used an extension tube, but then you lose infinity focus and that can be frustrating when you’re using the lens as a ‘walkaround’.

    I sold the 300mm f4L for a little profit and picked up a very cheap Tamron SP 300mm f5.6 (54B) which is a flatfield macro lens that focuses down to 1.4m (1:3.3) and so far it seems very sharp wide open and is beautifully built. The only drawback – as with all of the Adaptall lenses – is huge amounts of colour fringing, some of which cannot be easily corrected in Lightroom.

    However, I’m sure when used in the right lighting (as a summer walkaround lens) it’ll be fine.

    I also own the Tamron SP 300mm f2.8 LD IF (60B) which has two LD elements and suffers less from colour fringing. Focuses to 2.5m and I think it is a great lens – one of the best value fast 300s around as well.

  8. Hello!
    Thanks for this review. After reading this article:
    http://www.kenrockwell.com/tech/portrait-lenses.htm
    I decided to look for a 300mm F4 lens.
    I was going to go with the FD 300mm F4 as it can be found cheaper but I noticed some F4L selling for less than $400 so looks to me that if I want to get serious about Portrait (headshots) that will be the best lens..right?
    I currently have the following Canon FD lenses I could use for portrait based on that:

    FD 50mm 1.4

    FL 135mm 2.5

    FD 100mm F2.0

    FD 200mm F2.8

    FD 400mm F4.5

      1. True…i think I’m better off getting some lighting gear but the allure of that red ring is hard to explain. Plus i think for a near mint copy just a bit over $300 is good, don’t you agree?

  9. Do you have a Flickr with maybe some wide open Portrait shots with the 300mm full size? I would like to see some to get an idea how much better it can be compared to my 200mm and 400mm
    Thanks

  10. Pesonally I demm 300mm for Portrait as very long 🙂 … however beauty is in the eye of the beholder …
    You´ve got the 200/2.8, a 135 and the 100/2 for standard protrait work in your arsenal … one could argue to replace the 135/2.5 with the more current 135/2 (IF, new calculation) and maybe add the 85/1.8 (however if you are a long guy you could use the 100/2) …

  11. Actually Markus, I think it is not bad at all, in fact, from a post I did in two forums the 400mm and 300mm(simulated with a 70-200mm zoom with a 2x adapter) were top picks along with the 200 and to a lesser extent the 135mm FL. Nobody thought the 100 and 50mm where good choices but then again, this was for pretty close headshots.
    Of course for a fully body etc things differ.
    You can check the images here 🙂 I was surprised myself.
    http://www.talkemount.com/threads/13102/#post-94689

  12. Nice photos!

    I have an a6000 and have been collecting a few adaptable lenses, mostly Minolta and also my legacy Nikons. I just picked up off auction a Canon 300 f4 , not the ‘L’ model but from your post, externally it appears the same. This is my first Canon lens, and I suspect I may have got a bit of a pig in a poke, but I’ll ask anyway. The aperture diaphragm is a real bear to operate, it’s basically stuck. It arrived closed down (f22), and when I mounted my adapter for the Sony I was able to move the diaphram. I set it at f5.6, shot a few frames and tried to adjust the aperture again and it’s locked again. Am I missing something or does this lens have problems? There’s an “A” button on the aperture selector ring but it doesn’t seem to do anything. The aperture control lever at the back of the lens is, as you’re probably guessed, also stuck.

    1. The aperture mechanism for Canon FD lenses is a bit complicated. Does your lens have ring you can turn from off to on? You really need to mount the lens when it is set to off and then turn it to on.

        1. I have the “New FD 300mm f/4 Lens” from my analog era.
          I agree with the review.
          The green A mark is (was) used on the film camera’s like Canon F1(n) and T90 etc, …in automatic function.

          I use it now on my Fuji X-M1 & T10 with an adapter.
          Manual focussing is ok with the focussing helps on the Fuji’s for not or slow moving objects. A monopod or tripod is a good help.

          The results are fantastic, even with a good 2x teleconvertor the results are still fine.

          Rene

        2. Hey,

          I also suffer from the same problem, as my aperture lever stuck after mounting on mei novoflex-adapter. Anybody there who has an idea. Searched the web, but didnt find any solution?

          By the why, wide open ( ;)) ther is a remarkable difference in CA and sharpness between the “L”-Version and the Non-“L” an a A7rII.

          1. Hast du andere FD-Objektive erfolgreich adaptiert? Das FD-Bajonett ist etwas kompliziert und den Novoflex muss man erst in die eine, dann in die andere Richtung drehen, damit die Blende richtig funktioniert.

            Have you used other FD lenses successfully? The FD-mount is a bit tricky bcause you have to turn it first in one and then in the other direction for the aperture to work.

  13. For this particular lens with clamp attached to tripod, do we change from horizontal position of the camera to vertical position by adjusting this lens clamp?
    Is there a need for an L plate grip for the camera using this tele lens?

  14. Thank you Phillip,
    I own a Samsung NX1, created this thread on DPReview http://www.dpreview.com/forums/post/57968752 and Matt Everglade provided your review. Excellent review!
    Choices, Choices Choices:
    1. Great-condition Canon FD F/4 L
    2. Used great-condition Canon EF F/4 L with Iris based adapter

    Phillip, if money’s not the issue, which what’s your advice regarding choice?
    1.
    2.
    Other

    Very Best Regards,
    Tu Vu

      1. Phillip, just checked the Canon museum site and the EF and FD versions are not the same. FD is 7 elements in 7 groups and EF is 7 elements in 8 groups. FD has 9 blades and EF has 8. Min focus is 3m for FD and 2.5m for EF. That said, looking at the images, IQ looks to be pretty similar.

  15. Hi Phillip,
    Thank your for all the reviews and fantastic pictures you are sharing! I was not aware of this blog until a few days, but I’m already a big fan 🙂

    I’m new to the vintage lenses world; I just purchased my first one: a Canon FDn 50mm 1.4 that I will use with my X-T2 (your review helped me)

    The pictures you made with this 300mm f4 are absolutely amazing. I was planning to get the Fuji 100-400 (but not before next year) to shoot wildlife (fox, moose, bear, etc).

    Do you think this Canon lens could be a serious alternative for the long term?
    How easy it is shooting animals with this lens?
    Are you able to shoot animals in motion (obviously not small birds in flight)
    Do you miss a lot of shots?

    The other option could be to find a cheaper 300mm vintage lens temporarly for this year, then move to Fuji 100-400 later. Did you try such lenses (Takumar, Konica, Minolta, Olympus, etc)?

    Thank you
    Sebastien

    1. Hi Sebastian,

      it is hard to judge from a distance how well the Canon would perform for you. I don’t have many misses but my wildlife shots are usually taken at the local zoo and not too demanding. If you watch the market and get one for a good price you should be able to sell it without a loss so my tip would be to get one and see for yourself 🙂

      Phillip

      1. That was a good suggestion Phillip… and I finally decided to order one from ebay! Can’t wait to play with it.

  16. Hi Phillip,

    I am interested in taking some bird pics, primarily of some osprey which are in telephone pole nest. I can’t get too close to them without changing their behaviour so I need a longer lens. I was thinking of keeping the size down by using it along with a teleconverter.

    I am curious is it better to get a higher quality less mm focal length lens but a faster aperture and use a teleconverter or is it better to get a purpose built longer lens?

    1. I have limited experience with this and only recently got the 1.4 TK with my new FD 2.8/300 but at least on that lens there was a very noticeable image degradation with adapter attached wide open.

      I think a pixel density camera like the a6000/a6500 would be a better option than a TK. I have used the FD 4/300 L with the a6000 and image quality was still very good.

  17. Phillip,
    Thanks for your good reviews and photos you have shared on different sites. I have purchased a couple of lenses off your recommendations and have not been disappointed. My most recent acquisition is the Canon FD 300 f4 L…thanks again for sharing!

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