A great part of my motivation to experiment with affordable manual glass on the X-Pro 1 stems from the fact that I feel a connection with the old. With the outdated. The fact is, I enjoy being entirely responsible for the images I capture. From composition to exposure, metering to focus, post processing to being my own harshest critic. For good or ill, the photographs I decide to share are mine from start to finish. As a photographic tool, nothing has given me the feeling of control and satisfaction over both process and result like shooting with the X-Pro 1 and a manual focus lens.
There is no autofocus to curse at. No ‘shutter lag.’ There are end stops when focusing manually and the focus ring feels like a proper focus ring because it IS a proper focus ring.
How long is it?
I’m a fan of the 35mm full frame equivalent focal length. There, I said it.
I bought my X-Pro 1 with just the 35mm/1.4 prime lens (~53mm equivalent on the X-Pro 1’s 1.5x crop factor sensor). While it is is a fantastic piece of glass that creates beautiful, near-perfect images with lovely bokeh, sharpness corner to corner and great color rendition, it frequently feels too long for my taste. I looked at the 18mm/f2 prime for the X System and thought that that was too wide.
To my eye and for what I’m trying to convey with the images I capture – mainly architecture, landscape, street photography and the occasional 10-stop ND daytime exposure – I wanted something wider than 50mm. While many will point out that there is no one lens that is appropriate for every circumstance, I simply contend that the ~35mm length offers consistency the look of my images.
At this time there is no X-System 23mm lens available – Fuji’s 23/1.4 is due next year, but I can’t really see myself buying it – so those of us who want a wide prime lens at this focal length are compelled to look at what already exists and experiment. So far I’ve owned and set aside a Tokina 24mm/2.8 RMC that leaked light like a sieve (returned), Voigtländer Color Skopar 21mm/f4 (performs fairly well but smears corners and is presently for sale) and the subject of this blog entry, a Canon FD mount 24mm/2.8 SSC.
Manual Lens Purchasing Landscape
When it comes to old glass, Micro 4/3 and mirrorless camera shooters have an incredible selection of focal lengths across virtually every lens manufacturer’s (retired) product lines from which to choose. The absence of demand from Canon shooters seems to have left the FD and nFD mount glass relatively out of favor and therefore somewhat less expensive than similar offerings from Nikon, etc. Regardless, as more people migrate to the mirrorless/M43 systems, prices on all of the ‘obsolete’ glass move higher by the month as people experiment and rediscover the charm and utility of these great old pieces. Still, for the price of a new OEM battery for your camera, you can frequently add a very capable prime lens and the required adapter to your bag.
FD lenses have remained affordable in large part because they require an adapter to be used on EF mount cameras. Because of the difference in register distance between the FD and EF cameras, an optical element is required to retain infinity focus on EF bodies. This element degrades image quality fairly significantly, so many Canon users look elsewhere for throwback primes.
I managed to pick this lens up for next to nothing as it was in less than pristine cosmetic condition and had at some point been ‘repaired’ (read: reassembled improperly resulting in some longitudinal slop in the moving part of the front end of the lens). I was happy to take on the challenge of troubleshooting and repairing the problem and was successful in doing so. The thing is built like a truck and the glass is outstanding. While it adds some heft to the X-Pro 1, it’s totally manageable and does not detract from the shooting experience.
Following are some of the images I’ve made with the X-Pro 1 and the Canon 24. The photo below of the tree branch on a picnic table was taken in pre-dawn near darkness, handheld at ISO 6400, f2.8 in Portland last month. Hope you enjoy.