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Canon FD 55mm f1.2 S.S.C.
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Canon FD 55mm f1.2 S.S.C. Lens Review

Canon FD 55mm f1.2 S.S.C. is a great performer! I bought this lens along with a few other FD lenses and a Canon A-1 camera. I did not specifically seek it, nor was even aware that such a lens existed before I had it. ‘Best manual lenses’ lists or reviews rarely mention it, so I did not draw attention to it. And boy, was I missing out! This lens delivers contrast, superb saturation, excellent sharpness when stopped down, while the fast f1.2 aperture permits creative photographs in low light, with blurred backgrounds and soft-focus when needed.

This is a large aperture standard lens based on the optical system of the FL 55mm f/1.2. Despite its large aperture lens, it is highly reputed for its high contrast and stabilized image delineation at full aperture opening. Because of its fast f/1.2 lens speed, it provides high image qualities in low light level photography. Its optical performance is similar to but more advanced than the FD 50mm f/1.4 S.S.C. because of its faster lens speed. Moreover, Canon has compensated for various aberrations, i.e., spherical aberration and coma. Its marginal shading performance is outstanding. Canon FD Lenses Brochure CE 1001J 1274D25

Features and details

Fast aperture speed of f1.2 is one of the most defining features of this lens. Like other fast-aperture lenses, it means a few things – mostly soft wide-open performance with dreamy effect, beautiful bokeh, and hefty weight. But unlike the others, this specific one is not going to break the bank – it costs less than other fast lenses of similar performance. Maybe people have not found it yet? Good for us!

The aperture ring is smooth and tactile; however, there are no half stops – f2 is the next selection after f1.2, but I would love to have something like f1.4 there as well.

Along with other Canon FD lenses, it features excellent built quality. It weighs 565 grams (20 oz) – a lot of metal and high-quality glass is inside this lens. On camera, it feels substantial but well-balanced. Nothing moves or makes noises inside when I shake or rotate it. The manual focusing is smooth and well-damped and is a joy to use. The mechanical build is an essential factor when using a manual lens – better quality lenses like Canon FD 55mm f1.2 feel great in use.

S.S.C in the lens title stands for Super Spectra Coating. It was a designation Canon applied to old-FD lenses when they started using multicoating. In 1978 Canon introduced New FD and dropped the S.S.C. label because most New FD lenses had S.S.C. anyway and there was no need to specify it on the lens front.

Image Quality

I love the pictures this lens makes. The best way I can describe them is to say that they look alive and real – they have evident three-dimensionality and clear subject separation. What struck me the first time I saw the pictures on the computer was the contrast and brilliant colours. You almost don’t need to add any contrast in post-processing. Colours pop right at you. 

Canon FD 55mm f1.2 is an excellent lens which performs reliably in most situations – being acceptably sharp from about f2-f2.8 and being pin-sharp from f4, while still producing that vintage look. Contrast improves significantly when the lens is stopped-down. 

At f1.2 it is soft, and excellent for portraits with beautiful effect, but does not throw crazy ghosts, or blown-out highlights and flare like other more ‘artistic’ lenses like the Canon FL 58mm f1.2, which precedes this lens. Later coatings and lens design of the Canon FD 55mm f1.2 corrected the ‘flaws’ which led to those artefacts in the earlier lenses. 

The only drawback is the longish 60cm minimum focus distance, which does not allow to get close to the subjects for macro shots. 

Compatibility

The emergence of mirrorless cameras has again enabled the use of these older Canon FD and FL lenses to their full potential. Previously, on full-frame camera bodies, they could only be adapted using complicated adapters with correction lenses, which slightly decreased the image quality. Due to the smaller register distance, mirrorless cameras can use these lenses without any correction lenses in the adapter.

I have the Novoflex Canon FD to EOS R adapter, which was quite expensive at €119.00, but I would not recommend it – the build quality is outstanding. However, it does not fully lock the early FD lenses and is incompatible with the FL lenses. The cheaper Haoge adapter fits like a glove and fixes into position properly.

The Novoflex, however, does seem to work for some people. One reader corrected me to say, “I currently have 10 FL lenses and all 10(including the 58 1.2) work and mount fine with the Novoflex FD to EOS R adapter.”.

Maybe my adapter had some manufacturing issue, or maybe Novoflex released an improved version.

Radioactivity

Some people (especially me) are curious whether vintage lenses contain radioactive elements. Like all other lenses, I tested the Canon FD 55mm f1.2 and found it was not radioactive. You can read more about radioactive lenses, if you are interested to learn more.

Price

Original Price 50,000 Japanese yen in 1973, which is approximately $1350 when inflation corrected to 2020. 

It’s possible to find this gem on eBay for about £200, or $250, or €250, which is a bargain.

Canon FD 55mm f1.2 S.S.C. Specifications:

Marketed: March 1973
Lens Construction (groups): 5
Lens Construction (elements): 7
No. of Diaphragm Blades: 8
Minimum Aperture: 16
Closest Focusing Distance (m): 0.6
Maximum Magnification (x): 0.109
Filter Diameter (mm): 58
Maximum Diameter x Length (mm): 75.8 x 52.5
Weight (g): 565
Radioactive: No

Pros:

  • Great image quality
  • Versatility
  • Colour reproduction
  • Life-like subject separation
  • Spectacular price / performance ratio
  • Build quality

Cons:

  • The long minimum focus distance of 60cm
  • Can only be used on mirrorless (or original Canon FD) cameras 

Conclusion

Canon FD 55mm f1.2 has truly surprised me by being a very competent lens – fast, sharp, contrasty and full of colour. It used to cost over $1350 (inflation corrected) when new, so why does it only cost so little now, unlike other f1.2 lenses? My guess is not many people have tried it, so they don’t know how good it is. Furthermore, it is not particularly rare, which is a great combination – it is not out of reach of regular photographers. Some people equate price with quality; however, this lens refutes the concept. I could not find many negatives with this lens, and I think it’s worthy of a 5/rating.

Did you like this review? Do you have something to add about this lens? Please leave a comment!

Sample photos

Shot RAW with Canon EOS R mirrorless camera, slightly adjusted in Lightroom, and exported as JPEG. All shots are handheld with various aperture settings on several different days.


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Comments

14 responses to “Canon FD 55mm f1.2 S.S.C. Lens Review”

  1. Aristo Ioannidis Avatar
    Aristo Ioannidis

    Outstanding review on a great F/1.2 lens. One of Canon’s finest vintage lens and liked by every photog who uses it.
    I use my 55mm on my F-1 and Sony A7II with great results.
    Your images are sublime.
    Thanks for featuring this great lens.

    1. Mantas Avatar

      Thank you for your kind words! I’m glad you agree with the review, means a lot to me!

  2. Charlier Luc Avatar
    Charlier Luc

    Mantas, you do annoy me a lot with this lens’ description. I possess all the others you list and test in your category “lens reviews”, except for the Carl Zeiss Sonnar 85 mm, but I do own Voigtländer Color-Dynarex 85 mm (and Jupiter-9, incidentally), which is its cheaper look-alike (and do-alike?). Money is very short for the moment and my hair has been white for many years now so it looks like I will never be able to see whether your description of this very item is as accurate as all the others you wrote. Stick to the good job anyway, and thank you for the enjoyment you deliver.

  3. Denis RT Avatar

    Nice review. This lens is a must. Not only for stills but for cinematography too.

  4. Sergio Bonfrate Avatar
    Sergio Bonfrate

    Ottima recensione di un obiettivo eccezionale. L’obiettivo è “morbido e cremoso” ai diaframmi più aperti, mentre è nitidissimo se si diaframma a f4 o f5,6. Colori splendidi e costruzione impeccabile: un obiettivo imperdibile da utilizzare sulle varie mirrorless. Io lo utilizzo su Nikon Z5 e su Nikon Z6 con il Megadap MTZ11 che lo rende pure autofocus.
    ECCEZIONALE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    1. Anthony Avatar

      Really inspiring.
      I have received my 55 ssc and will be de-clicking it today and so will enjoy the benefits of the complete array of apertures on and between min to max. I will actually be using this on my red komodo camera with an adapter for now and will then convert the fd to an ef mount when the parts arrive as well as anamorphic adaption at some point. I love the qualities this has and the price was fantastic. I always love classic optics over the now clinical and rather sterile modern lenses.

      I hope you continue to enjoy many more lenses.
      Cheers 🍻

      1. Mantas Avatar

        Thanks for posting! Careful – it’s a trap. Once you start – there’s no going back.

  5. JOHAN STISTRUP Avatar
    JOHAN STISTRUP

    Great review. I just got one 55mm f:1.2 – not S.S.C – which have halfsteps on the lens, which I feel is awsome. It makes you laborate more with it.
    I´m using it on a Sony A7ii.

  6. JC Avatar
    JC

    Thanks for this review !
    I use the standard nFD 50mm f1.4 on my AE1program and on the T70.
    This lens is extremely good and i can’t believe the FD 55 mm f1.2 could be better.
    Cheers, Jens

    1. Mantas Avatar

      Hi Jens, thank you for your comment! Better is a strong word! They will be different: f1.2 will have softer look wide open, and have a shallower depth of field. Subjectively, it will depend on the qualities that you seek. If you shoot them both between f4-f11, it would be difficult to tell the difference.

  7. Mark Avatar
    Mark

    I believe it’s worth mentioning that there’s also a “cult” Aspherical version of this lens. Different league really IQ-wise, unfortunately also in financial terms: 7-8 times more expensive.

  8. Robert Avatar
    Robert

    Nice review but
    This statement is incorrect.

    “I have the Novoflex Canon FD to EOS R adapter, which was quite expensive at €119.00, but I would not recommend it – the build quality is outstanding, however, it does not fully lock the early FD lenses, and is not compatible with the FL lenses at all. ”

    I currently have 10 FL lenses and all 10(including the 58 1.2) work and mount fine with the Novoflex FD to EOS R adapter.

    1. Mantas Avatar

      Hi Robert, thank you very much for adding context. Glad it works for you. Maybe there are build tolerances there (I would find it difficult to believe), or Novoflex now have an improved version (much more believable). As otherwise the adapter is great, it does work perfectly with the nFD lenses for me. Just does not like the FL or old FD – the ring of the lens does not rotate all the way to lock the lens in, and it can easily “undo” itself. Maybe it needed just a tiny adjustment to also allow FL lenses to work, too. I will update that part of the review to give your perspective.

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