where vintage lenses live on.

Canon FL 58mm f1.2 - Yellow front element
Home » Canon FL 58mm f1.2 Review

Canon FL 58mm f1.2 Review

Canon FL 58mm f1.2 is an early fast lens from the 1960s. It is relatively soft at f1.2, exhibits many aberrations, and is radioactive – just how I like it. Nonetheless, it delivers sharp images when stopped down even a small amount, has lovely colours, and produces artistic vintage-looking pictures. I got more out of this lens than I expected.

History

Canon FL 58mm f1.2 is only the fourth Canon ~50mm lens faster than f1.4 — only R58mm f/1.2 from 1962, 50mm f/0.95 from 1961, and 50mm f/1.2 LTM from 1956 predate it. In 1964, camera lens evolution was blazing fast – coating technology was still young, but new chemistries and technologies were being invented. Optics were still simple, and no aspherics were used; however, manufacturers were already experimenting with different glass materials, such as thorium. It is only logical why this lens did not have a long run, and by 1968, Canon FL 55mm f1.2 had already replaced it – and so the thorium was gone. Subsequent mainstream Canon f1.2 lenses did not utilize thoriated glass, which was reserved for only for the best of the best – Canon FD 55mm f1.2 S.S.C. Aspherical.

Handling and usage

Canon FL 58mm f1.2 is slightly more complex to use due to the preset aperture. I spent half a day shooting wide open until I realized that I had a preset aperture ring, which I needed to turn to stop down the aperture. I was shooting wide open when I thought the lens was at f4. It will become second nature with some time, but keep this in mind if you are switching from an auto aperture vintage lens that does not have the preset aperture ring.

Apart from that, the lens is sturdy and handles well – it does not wobble or make any sound when shaken. The focus ring is smooth, and the aperture ring clicks nicely into position – this is quite an achievement, considering the age of this lens. 

The markings on the lens are clear, and the engravings are crisp and legible.

Can you spot the two ‘dimples’ in the front ring? I believe this lens may have been serviced, or at least opened up to clean it.

Artistic use and image quality

I had so much fun with this lens today. It was a spring evening, and the sun was low in the sky. I took it to the children’s playground, where there were a lot of colours and interesting objects. Canon FL 58mm f1.2 was sharp when I needed to focus on the city views and soft and pleasing when taking portraits or later in the evening when there was little light.

The more vintage lenses I try, the more I realize that most share similar properties and are generally sufficient — even the early ones. Stop them down, and they will be sharp enough to get great images even on a modern 30-megapixel camera. The only way to differentiate these lenses is to explore their other properties – such as flaring, ghosting, and spherical aberrations – all of which have been fixed by modern computer-aided lens design and exotic glass and coatings, so modern lenses do not have these attributes. That is why vintage lenses are special.

Canon FL 58mm f1.2 is a lens with so many facets that it could be an excellent lens for one person but can let down another. Objectively, it is soft when wide open, flares a lot, and has many aberrations. Stop it down, and you get a sharp lens, which you can use to achieve great photos. Yet, in good hands, even at f1.2, it can deliver stunning images under the right circumstances. 

It exhibits a lot of flare – but you can use it to create authentic vintage-looking images. I love how these low-contrast images came out.

Radioactivity of the Canon FL 58mm f1.2

I love radioactive lenses like this Canon FL 58mm f1.2. They are relics from the past, when radiation was not as feared and worker safety did not matter that much. Since the 1970s, thoriated glass has been phased out of the consumer market and only remains in use by the military today. 

Some people wrongly believe that thoriated lenses only emit alpha radiation, which supposedly can’t penetrate the outermost layer of the human skin. Here is some solid proof that is not the case: When measuring Canon FL 58mm f1.2 through the Canon EOS R, this radiation has passed through the sensor, magnesium alloy camera back, plastic camera screen back, and screen itself and arrives at the detection chamber of my Geiger counter to display a solid 1.5 µSv/h. That is not alpha radiation, which could not pierce the sensor – this is Beta and Gamma, which will penetrate your body. 

Canon FL 58mm f1.2 has an extensive, imposing front element coated in yellow material, which could lead you to believe it is radioactive. On the contrary – the radiation is way stronger from the rear of the lens — reaching almost nine µSv/h. Canon FL 58mm f1.2 was my most radioactive lens until I bought the Konica Hexanon 57mm f1.2, which set a new radioactivity record. 

Learn more about radioactive lenses to learn more about them.

TL;DR – This lens is safe, but don’t sleep next to it and don’t smash it up. 

Versions

According to Canon Museum, this lens has two versions: version I (1964) and version II (1966). However, the specifications are the same for both, and I could not see any differences between the photos. If anyone knows more, please let me know.

Specifications

Lens Construction – 7 elements in 5 groups
No. of Diaphragm Blades – 8
Closest Focusing Distance (m) – 0.6
Filter Diameter (mm) – 58mm
Weight (g) – 410
Radioactive – Yes

Pros

Very capable of creating artistic photos
Easy to find
Not costly
Sharp stopped down

Cons

Flares easily
Quite soft at f1.2

Conclusion

Canon FL 58mm f1.2 is a capable artistic lens. However, it is not without flaws — it is prone to flare and quite soft wide-open, which would limit its use to portraits or dreamy photographs at f1.2. Those deficiencies allow this lens to portray dreamy, interesting, vintage-looking photos. I would rate this lens as 4 out of 5 due to the objective deficiencies. However, it can easily be a 5 to someone who loves and knows how to utilize its flaws.

If you liked this review, please leave a comment. Maybe you own this lens? What do you think?

Sample images


Posted

in

by

Comments

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *