Canon FD Resources
Canon FD Zoom Lenses - Index Page


With the immense popularity of zoom lenses today, it may sound a little stupid to tell you why people still selects and accepts zoom lenses even to the level of using them for professional applications. Although it has never been an easy route decades ago, the distinctive advantage of a zoom lens today is clearly evident.

With their instantly variable focal lengths, zoom lenses are extremely flexible. Action-packed scenes such as athletic competitions and the agile movements of wildlife, or stationary photography such as portraits and still lives, can all be photographed with a powerful telephoto zoom. The varied angles of view permit different points of view on the subject and flexible framing also eliminates unnecessary footwork by moving forth and back.

Over the years, it was very much due to the continuous development and refinement aided in the designs of zoom lenses by computers, their optical quality have improved tremendously. However, I would not like to exaggerate to the claims of that such zoom lenses can actually rivals the best of single focal length lenses even though the general perception and users' overwhelming responses to many of today's modern high quality zoom lenses is evident.

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It is a natural market trend for the research and development of lenses to be leaning towards the demand by requested by consumers that continuous effort was focused into the manufacturing of even more refine, exotic and high power zoom ratio lenses.

Today, zoom lenses with such 'high end' specification such as the popular 17-35mm. 20-35mm, 28-200mm, 35-350mm or 100-400mm etc. and the extensive use of rare earth glass like Ultra-Low, or Super-Low Dispersion Glass, High Refractive Index optical elements, molded or polished aspherical elements. In the case of Canon, it even incorporate their in house developed artificial fluorite glass into the lens design where it requires such spec.

Some of the earlier mentioned lenses, including those with fixed focal lengths, from the FD 7.5mm fisheye to the FD 800mm super-telephoto, each of these fixed focal length lenses has its own angle-of-view, magnification and perspective rendition. The zoom lens, however, uses a different approach to lens design. The zoom combines a range of focal lengths rather than just a single one. By simply moving a zoom control ring, you can change the magnifications, angle-of-views and perspectives. But it's not quite correct to describe the zoom as a lens that unites several focal lengths. It does that - and a lot more. Composed of two or more focal lengths, the zoom lens is designated by its minimum and maximum settings. The flexibility inherent in the zoom lens lies in being able to shoot not only at its minimum or maximum focal lengths, but at any intermediate focal lengths as well. Rather than change your location in relation to your subject, you operate the zoom control and move smoothly through the changes in angle-of-views, magnifications and perspectives.

You can referred a zoom lens as a One-Lens-Does-the-Job-of-Many lens. Zoom lenses cover specific ranges, an example is the compact
FD 35-105mm f/3.5 zoom lens. The minimum focal length of this lens is 35mm while the maximum is 105mm. Zoom ratio is the maximum focal length divided by the minimum focal length. The larger this value, the greater the zoom range.

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In our example of the 35-105mm, we're dealing with a three-to-one zoom ratio. Ratio as high as three-to-one or even slightly more are common. Generally, zoom lenses of higher zoom ratio (up to 10-12X) demands great deal of effort to maintain acceptable optical quality and usually that is where some of the finest in optical design comes in with clever use of rare earth glass or technical advancement in glass manufacturing to supplement in order to provide high optical performance. Basically, computers have automated such complex calculation and designing of any zoom lens unimaginable those early days would thought possible and viable to manufacture commercially in a large scale.

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Most of the common or popular zoom lenses incorporate two or more focal lengths. Canon has the largest options in the selection of zoom lenses among all manufacturers. You can safely say they were also the pioneer in that segment and daring to introduce new series of zoom lenses especially in their '
L' Series. There are seventeen FD zoom lenses, covering a range from 20mm to 600mm - these are the focal lengths range that are most commonly used by photographers. If you study carefully within the FD lenses line up, a photographer could cover almost every individual focal length from 20mm to 600mm with no more than four zoom lenses, started from the ultra wide of 20-35mm, the 35-70mm, the 70-210mm and finally an exotic 150-600mm.

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Most people would agreed the most appealing factor of zoom lenses is its ability of substituting many of the prime lenses by just one lens. Well, generally most will also agreed the biggest drawback of zoom lenses is , most of the time, its maximum aperture still stays relatively slow as compared with prime lenses. But some camera manufacturers and third party lens makers have already introduced high speed zoom lenses of f2.8 but still fall short of achieving higher speed like f2.0 or brighter (As of October, 1999). But unless we are referring to the other extreme of the shorter focal length, high speed long tele-zoom lenses is still too bulky for comfort to travel and handling.

<<< Jacky Cheung in Concert, Kuala Lumpur 1998. Shot with available light and fast speed zoom lens made handheld shooting possible and composition is also more convenient.

: © 1999, Vincent Thian, an AP photographer. (The Associated Press)

Furthermore, the cost of such lenses usually comes with an unrealistic price tag. Up to the days of the discontinuation of Canon's FD line of lenses, there was not even an 80-200mm f2.8 version available but instead, Canon has a trend setting in the form of its FD 24mm-35mm f4.0
L that actually caused many raised eyebrows years ago. It was substituted by the FD 20-35mm f3.5L which has been imitated and copied by many other competitions within the industry. No big deal ? Oh, I have to highlight this fact, Canon's greatest rival in the professional SLR market, Nikon, had only introduced an equivalent version in 1997 with only an autofocus version (AF Zoom-Nikkor 20-35mm f2.8D, which is a stop brighter than the original FD version by Canon), about 10 long years since Canon introduced their FD 20-35mm f3.5 L.

Okay, now you must have a rough idea where the key weakness of a zoom lens is. To use a zoom lens, you must at least conduct your shootings under fairly good lighting conditions While most zoom lenses tend to have a relatively small maximum aperture, but again nothing can surpass their convenience and hence the popularity soared over the years. Another reason attribute to its great success despite its relative weakness is the development of high speed fine grain film which has rightfully supplement and patched the weakness very well.

Anyway, not mean to upset any stomach, let us go to how to choose the right zoom lens for your needs. Well, zoom range is important for sports, for example. With an 80-200mm zoom you're ready for everything from an overall shot to a tight close-up without changing lenses. If you feel the best framing for the image is at 90mm, 105mm, 140mm or 200mm, you have these settings at your fingertips. If for any situation to take in more area, a 28-85mm zoom might be a good choice for such use. Unfortunately, none of us cannot afford to buy all the zoom lenses a manufacturer produces, so you have to carefully plan and ascertain what zoom range would best suit your personal type of photography without overlapping too much on your existing collection of prime lenses (If you are new to photography and has decided to choose Canon FD SLRs to start off camera system , that is very much easier without such hassle).

Zoom or Prime ? Decision is yours..

But even then, set up your priorities before you decide which lens best suits your requirement. there are a few factors to consider:

First and foremost, you must realize despite how good these FD lenses are, they has been discontinued by Canon. You have to make sure these investment of yours will not go down the drain if you cannot assure yourself that you will take good care of them in maintainance It may post some problem in replacement of parts (especially the optical elements). If you have decided Canon is the brand for you and if you have a limited budget, always put the current EOS line of Autofocus SLR cameras on top of your priority list if any of the AF models still falls within your budget. This section may benefit more to a current FD series of SLR users or those who thinks a used and 'abandon' camera system by its manufacturer should be cheaper than the current version - but unfortunately, this is not the case reflected on the used market. In a positive note, one may interpret such 'phenomenon's '..general public appreciate quality of such craftsmanship and the quality of Canon...'. I would rather think it otherwise as these are marketers engineered effort to topping up prices of used items. Whatever it is, it should be selling at too ridiculous of a price as comparable to the current EF lenses or EOS bodies .. frankly, unless you are still a casual user, it need a lot of courage to be a Canon FD system user if you engaged a lot in photography and put your photo gear to real rough and abusive use. Sad to read but fact remains.

Anyway, next on the list is its Weight

A zoom lens may present a solution to those who needs to conserve weight and room in his camera bag. One zoom lens will weigh considerably less than the combined weight of the focal lengths that it incorporates. And it certainly will take up less room. While fixed focal length lenses have grown smaller and lighter, so have zoom lenses. Using the FD 20-35mm f/3.5 L lens as an example, if we combined the weight of the four lenses whose range it covers - 20mm, 24mm, 28mm and 35mm - the zoom proves to be 425 grams lighter!

Naturally with additional lens elements incorporated in its optical construction, a zoom lens should weighs more than most of the fixed focal length lenses which means in actual shooting it is heavier and generally larger. However, while a
100-200mm zoom, for example, weighs 610 grams and the 200mm f/4 weighs 440 grams, the difference is not overly significant. But weight should not be the primary factor in choosing a zoom lens. There is no other way that you are going to have a range of focal lengths so readily available. With fixed focal lengths, you would have to constantly change lenses thereby taking your attention away from shooting. The zoom permits the freedom to select various magnifications and angles of view without taking your eye from the finder.

<<<---- The Secretary of States at the drama filled and eventful APEC summit at Kuala Lumpur, 1998. Obviously, the lady was not in a mean mood after some sword fighting during a press conference with the local iron lady, Trade Minister, Rafidah Aziz over differences on differing political opinion.

High speed film helps a lot in the course of development and popularity zoom lenses. Grains ? Who cares ? especially to a photojournalist where at times, essence in a photograph is more important.

: © 1999, Vincent Thian, an AP photographer. (The Associated Press)

The usually comparable Smaller Maximum Apertures

here is no arguing with the convenience and creative potential of the zoom lens. But when it comes to maximum aperture, the comparable fixed focal length lenses are faster. For example, the FD 85mm f/1.2 L is considerably four times faster than the 70-150mm f/4.5 zoom lens hence a better choice for low light shooting. The FD 24mm f/1.4 L and the FD 50mm f1.2 L are miles ahead of zooms with those focal lengths. The closest you can come to a really fast zoom is the FD 35-70mm f/2.8-3.5. However, the f/2.8 aperture is only possible at the 35mm focal length while at 70mm the lens is half a stop slower. Thus, if your type of photography demands a lot to work under poor lighting conditions, a zoom lens may not be your best choice unless you can live with the extent of using high speed color and black-and-white films to make up for the lack of speed.

Special optical Effects it presents

Used to be an amazing optical characteristic when zoom in or out while tripping the shutter release at a moderate speed to portray a strong sense of movement. But it has been over used and I have long been looking for a more creative use with such technique. If you still wanted to try it out, just by using the zooming mechanism during exposure, you can produce compelling images attainable only with a zoom lens. Known as "racking", it is an unusual technique is to change focal length during exposure. Another possibility is taking a series of multiple exposures on one frame, shooting the subject at a variety of focal lengths. The results obtained with either technique depend on subject, lighting and exposure. The following tells how each technique works.

  • Zooming during Exposure. First, you would be required to use a steady camera and accurate focusing on the main subject. In fact, framing the first impression is more important. Use of tripod if you want a clearer image in the blur. Focus with the lens at the longest focal length. Then decide whether you want to zoom from the shortest to longest focal length or vice versa. Choose a relative fairly long shutter speed but try not to exceed slow speed of one second (You may require some form of exposure compensation especially when using less exposure-forgiving slide films). Why slow speed ? Because the slower the shutter speed, the easier it is to zoom during exposure and has less error for 'uncompleted zoom blur'.
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This technique can be used with a static subject and creates an exploding effect when zooming from the maximum to the minimum focal length. You can also use it with a panning action for a moving subject to create a surrealistic blur of speed in the finished photograph. The possibilities are virtually endless. And each subject and exposure could results in a unique image.

You may not be achieving a best result using such technique for the first few initial trials. Both of these zoom lens techniques require planning and experimentation to ensure success. Also, please note NOT all Canon SLR camera models have a provision for multiple exposures.

20-35mm f3.5 L; FD 28-50mm f/3.5 S.S.C. 28-55mm f3.5-4.5; 28-85mm f4.0;
f2.8-3.5; 35-70mm f3.5-4.5; FD 35-70 AF zoom
35-105mm f3.5 (
Old & New) ; 50-135mm f3.5; 50-300mm f4.5 L
70-150mm f4.5; 70-210mm f4.0; 75-200mm f4.5
80-200mm f4.0 L; 80-200mm f4.0
85-300mm f4.5; 100-200mm f5.6
100-300mm f5.6 L; 100-300mm f5.6 (Old & New);

Canon FD mount Camera Bodies:
A Series:
AE-1 | AT-1 | A-1 | AV-1 | AE-1 Program | AL-1
T- Series:
T50 | T60 | T70 | T80 | T90
F-1 | New F-1
Canon FL Resources
Pellix | FTQL
FL |

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