Testing the Canon FD 35-105mm lens with sample pictures

I don’t usually use zoom lenses with 35mm film cameras and instead I prefer to carry a selection of prime lenses and change as I go. I prefer primes because the image quality is usually better and the aperture is usually faster. My kit bag would usually contain the FD 50mm f/1.4, 35mm f/2.8 and 85mm f/1.8. Maybe the 24mm or 28mm f/2.8 and the 135mm f/2.8 too on a good day.

Zooms have just never interested me and dabbling with the cheaper FD zooms like the New FD 35-70 f/3.5-4.5 showed that they are mediocre. Then I heard about the Canon New FD 35-105mm f/3.5 from 1981 which is said to be the best of Canon’s non-L zoom lenses. It has a fast continuous maximum aperture and a useful range of focal lengths, so I was suddenly interested. They tend to be quite expensive but I watched eBay for a while and got one for a bargain price. It’s taken me a while to get round to it, but I’ve now taken it out for its first run and processed the film.

Canon FD 35-105mm
Canon FD 35-105mm

The build quality is great. It’s a heavy lens but it feels solid. Unlike many manual-focus zooms, this one is two-touch – it has separate rings for zoom and focus. The cheaper one-touch lenses have a single ring that twists for focus and slides for zoom, and I hate them. This lens has a larger front element than I expected, and takes a 72mm filter. It also has a macro mode. While this isn’t a true macro mode, it could be pretty handy out and about.

I wasn’t sure how much use I’d get out of it but actually I really enjoyed using it. I don’t really do much street photography but a sunny, spring day in Bristol floating harbour was the ideal opportunity to try it. With the lens mounted on my Canon T90 and a roll of Ilford FP4+ inside, I found I used the longer focal lengths (especially around 80mm) quite a lot.

I can’t think of a sensible order to present these photos from the test roll so I’ll go through them in chronological order and make a few comments.

Ivy
Ivy

This shot of some ivy on a concrete wall was taken using the macro mode. There’s something strange about the image that I can’t place my finger on. It looks somehow “swirly” which could indicate curvature of field or astigmatism. You don’t expect amazing results from the macro feature on a zoom lens, but this is acceptable.

Bud
Bud

This was also taken with the macro mode. While the background still looks a little odd to me, the detail on the bud itself is pin-sharp.

College Green
College Green

This is a fairly unremarkable picture of some people lunching on College Green, but you can see a nasty lens flare in the flower area. The sun was high in the sky but I was shooting generally towards it, and it it’s well known that older zoom lenses suffer more badly from flare than modern designs.

Fountain
Fountain

Nothing special about this image in terms of testing the lens – I just like it. It’s the fountains in Millennium Square.

St Augustine's Reach
St Augustine’s Reach

I don’t usually use longer focal lengths for “out and about” photography in the city, because you often can’t get far away enough from your subject to fit it all in. Here, looking up St Augustine’s Reach I was able to crank in the zoom almost all the way to 100mm and achieve the typical telephoto compressed perspective. I like this one.

Bordeaux Quay
Bordeaux Quay

Another example of compressed perspective but more importantly, a Gromit on the front of the Brigantia. Very Bristol.

Sailing ship
Sailing ship

I wish I’d taken notice which sailing ship this was. I like the contrast with the small rowing boat. This image was taken zoomed almost all the way out to 40mm, and the lens still performs well.

Rebecca
Rebecca

Last but not least, a portrait of my daughter. This was taken at 100mm and f/8, although with hindsight I would have opened up the aperture a bit more to blur the background more. It works well on portraits, and it did well not to flare on her white clothes in sunlight.

So in summary: other than the increased risk of flare when using an old zoom lens, this lens performs really well at all focal lengths. The macro mode compromises image quality, but that’s to be expected. I don’t think this lens will replace my fondness for primes, but if I’m travelling light I would certainly consider taking just this lens.

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