The Canon New FD 500mm f4.5L is a high performance super telephoto lens utilising artificial crystal fluorite and UD (Ultra-low Dispersion) glass lens elements in the optical system, rear internal focusing and a vari-pitch focusing system that makes focusing easier at long distances. It is relatively lightweight and compact for its focal length and maximum aperture – weighing just 2.6kg.
|List Price when new||¥460,000|
|Angle of view||5°|
|Optical Construction (Groups / Elements)||6 / 7|
|Maximum Macro Magnification||0.14x|
|Filter Size||48mm (rear)|
The lens has a dedicated aluminium flight case and an additional hood extension that adds significant shading above that offered by the built-in sliding hood.
Background and availability
Canon have always had popular long telephotos so quite a few of these lenses exist and they crop up on Ebay a few times a year for reasonable prices – they seem less desirable than the 300mm f2.8L and often go for the lower end of the price bracket of that lens – and are often in much better condition as well. Expect to find quite a few with their original aluminium flight case, and some with the extended hood as well – but 90% of the time I have always used the built-in sliding hood without any issues. Expect to pay from between £600-800 for a lens in good condition – depending on how patient you can be.
Performance and handling
This lens is fairly compact for the focal length, perhaps reflecting the rather modest maximum aperture of f4.5 as opposed to f4 of the modern EF 500mm L and the Nikon AIS ED 500mm f4 (all manual). At 2.6kg you are going to notice this lens in the field, but you can use it handheld and focus well due to the light focus ring, which can be turned with one finger. It is infinitely more useable than the Sigma APO 500mm f4.5, which was completely front-heavy and you couldn’t use it handheld at all due to that. You simply could not hold it and focus it at the same time.
Like the best Canon FD L glass, the fluorite element works absolute wonders in controlling CA and purple fringing is almost entirely absent, even under really challenging conditions (read an in-depth review of the FD 300mm f2.8L to see just how effective these elements are). It is very sharp wide-open, but the focus is difficult to nail as the depth-of-field is so thin – I mainly use this lens on the Sony A6000 which makes it a 750mm lens. Nature rarely sits still long enough to magnify and check, so it is useful to shoot bursts and tweak focus slightly as you do. If you have the light then stopping down to f5.6 or f6.3 can really help here.
I have used it with my full frame Sony A7ii and the built in stabilisation – while it can’t work wonders at such an extreme focal length – does certainly help to get sharp images and to steady the viewfinder somewhat. The results with either camera are superb, albeit you will find Lightroom adding contrast, particularly when shooting wide-open. You also will want to play with the white balance, old Canon FD lenses are often very cold and blue when shot on Sony cameras with auto white balance, setting it to daylight in camera can really help boost the warmth of the photos – and this helps to make focusing easier as well as the image has much more contrast (also saves time messing about in Lightroom after).
I have had good images handheld, and good images on a tripod, or resting on anything nearby. It all comes down to how steady you can hold it, and whether you can nail focus. A lot of this comes down to practice and it is difficult to really rate the sharpness of a lens if you don’t find much to shoot with it. Luckily I have a garden that attracts a lot of wildlife and my bedroom – downstairs, the house is upside down – provides a very effective hide. This means I have been able to take tripod supported shots, with a gimbal, and have been able to zoom in to check focus on static(ish) subjects and stop down when light allows.
The results are, in short, superb. At a bird hide in Cardiff I have also used the Canon FD 1.4x Extender – wide open – with excellent results as well. I’ve even used the Canon FD 2x Extender, which works well enough when stopped down – providing incredible reach on the crop sensor A6000.
The images below are all taken with this lens and my A6000 and A7ii, some with extenders – if you go to the Flickr site you will have full details of the shot.