Tuesday, 28 September 2010

comparing 200mm FD lenses

For some time I've been using an FD 200mm f4 lens on my G1. I bought it back some time ago for not much money (like about US$60). I wrote a blog post comparing it to the native Panasonic 45-200 zoom back here, but this is essentially what it looks like on the camera.

I've really liked the lens as it is is both light and bright. I've taken some very satisfying photographs with it, such as this image while walking along a national park beach

pied oyster catchers and terns

Weighing in at 440g and actually letting more light onto the sensor than the zoom (as mentioned in that above blog post) its really quite nice to have a lens which gives me the same sort of reach that a 400mm lens would give on my full frame stuff but at a tiny fraction of the cost and weight.

There are however times when I'd really like that little bit more light (and perhaps shallower DoF too), such as on this rain forest walk when I came across a Noisy Pitta.

noisy pitta

Even with the lens wide open, to get a safe 125th of a second (and avoid motion blur) I had camera maxed out at 3200 ISO (which looks less than ideal on the 4/3 cameras). It may only be one stop more, but even so I've been eying off the FD 200 f2.8 for some time.

So I finally bought one (well two actually) and thought that I would spend a little time to discuss my findings for anyone else who may be considering the move to the 2.8 in search of more light.

So, here we have the 200's in a lineup. Left to right we have:
New FD 200 f2.8 , New FD 200 f4 and the Older (but still New FD) FD 200 f2.8

Now, why (you may ask) are there two New FD 200 f2.8 lenses? Well the answer is that Canon revised the FD200 f2.8 some time towards the end of the life cycle (as you can see here).

The difference essentially is that the newer lens uses an Inner Focus system (be careful, this is not IS, its IF) which means that the lens does not change length when focusing. The same is also true of the 200 f4 (which does not change length when focusing). So when you focus the older 2.8 the lens extends (quite common, see my blog post on the differences between the FD and OM lenses here) ... to give you some idea of how much it extends, we have the older lens fully extended here:

This has the effect of changing how the lens feels (I mean the mechanical feel) when focusing.

Myself, I prefer the feel of the newer one (that's the one on the left up there).

This is not however the end of the story, because as the extension occurs the image actually enlarges in the viewfinder and you get a slightly tighter frame of view (just like what happens in macro photogrpahy). So if you intend to use this lens to photograph close items it enlarges the image more (gets you in closer) than the newer lens does.

So its swings and roundabouts and (as always) you should consider what you're intended use is before picking one or the other.

Now while the above shot of the lens on the camera may make you feel that it looks big, you need to keep in mind how small the G1 camera is. The lens is only 12cm long (thats under 5 inches for the americans and britts out there still mired in the old imperial measurements), so it really does make for a compact little tool. The 2.8 is not significantly longer but it does feel heavier and bulkier in hand.

At 740g it is around 70% heavier than the f4. So you need to ask yourself if the one extra stop is worth the extra weight and cost?

Don't ask me ... as I'm still working that part out myself.

So, how do they look?

Well after taking a few shots here and there for a few weeks trying to compare the lenses I thought I'd settle on showing these images. I took these in my back yard of an Orchid at about 5 meters distance. I thought it would give a good idea of DoF , contrast and bokeh with some of the out of focus strands of orchid roots.

Here is the overview


All images were photographed in RAW, converted to DNG and opened in (my now quite elderly version of) Photoshop

They were all processed in the same manner.
(for the interested:
<crs:WhiteBalance>As Shot</crs:WhiteBalance>

I present below some screen shapshots at my usual viewing of 50%.

Firstly I thought it would be good to see if there is any difference between the lenses when photographed at f4. As the lens performance usually improves with stopping down it puts the two 2.8 lenses at an advantage over the f4 lens as they will be stopped down a little and the f4 will be wide open.

so the 200 f4
the new series 200 f2.8 at f4

and the older 200 f2.8 also at f4
I recommend you open each of these in their own tab and switch between them just to compare them as I saw them, but already I'm sure you're seeing (as I did) there really isn't much difference between them. Note the detail of the small twin strand falling between the two flowers there ... almost identical from picture to picture.

You would need the largest of enlargements to tell them apart.

Which means that the 200 f4 performs as well wide open as the other two do stopped down to f4: meaning that unless you need or desire that extra stop (for speed or DoF) then the 200 f4 is an excellent performer and streets ahead in value for money and handling.

to be continued ...


LensBubbles said...

I have a love/hate relationship with the FD lenses. They are well made and in some cases, optically better than the modern EF lenses, especially in the consumer grade lenses. But, one can't use them on EOS bodies without sacrificing image quality, and using them on micro 4/3 bodies is ok, but not ideal. With that said, I still have a collection of the FL, FD and nFD lenses. Perhaps, they will work better with Sony NEX.

Noons said...

The older f2.8 seems to have a slightly more creamy bokeh in the three photo series. Might be due to the change in focal length as one focuses?