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Using Vintage Canon Lenses to Shoot Video With Canon DSLRs

Updated on November 7, 2015

Why Use Vintage Canon Lenses to Shoot DSLR Video?

Cinema lenses are expensive. Vintage lenses work almost as well, and they cost almost nothing compared to cinema lenses.

Keep in mind that both cinema lenses and vintage lenses are manual focus only, so they are perfectly suited for video use, but not so much for photography.

If you are on a budget, and you want to start shooting video right away, then vintage lenses might be perfect for you.

Using Vintage Canon Lenses With Canon DSLRs

In this article, I'm going to be talking specifically about using vintage Canon lenses with modern Canon DSLRs.

If you're looking for information on using other brands of vintage lenses with modern DSLRs, I recommend that you check out dslrvideoshooter's article on Vintage Manual Lenses for Video, where they cover using vintage Nikkor, Pentax, Olympus, Contax, and Canon lenses.


Every Vintage Lens Needs an Adapter

The only way that you can use your vintage canon lenses on a DSLR is to use an adapter. This is a bit tricky when it comes to mounting vintage FD Canon lenses on new Canon camera bodies.

Different Mount Types

The old Canon FD lenses use a bayonet style mount, while the newer EOS bodies are made for lenses with an EF style mount.

This problem could simply be fixed with the use of a basic adapter, except that the flange focal distance of the lens (distance from the lens to the sensor) would be incorrect because the adapter would add to the focal distance, which would prevent the lens from focusing correctly.

Adapters With Optics

This is where adapters with optics come in. These adapters use a piece of glass to correct the focal distance so that the lens will focus properly. This allows you to use your vintage Canon lenses to shoot video on your Canon DSLR.

Just make sure and double check that the adapter you buy is specifically for mounting Canon FD lenses to EOS bodies, and you should be good to go.

More Information

If you want a more in-depth explanation of flange focal lengths and adapters, there is an excellent post here at that goes into more detail.


Pros for Using Vintage Canon Lenses

There are some good reasons to use old Canon lenses on new Canon DSLR bodies to shoot video.

  • Vintage Canon lenses are cheap. You can find them on eBay or Craigslist for well under $100.
  • Adapters are also fairly cheap. I got mine for around $30 on eBay.
  • These lenses are made of solid, quality glass.
  • they are manual focus only - which is exactly what you want for video/cinematography.
  • Aperture settings are changed by rotating a ring on the lens itself, which makes for quick changes.
  • You can buy attachable gears like these made by Cinematics so that you can use a follow focus with your lens. Not ideal, but it works.


Cons for Using Vintage Canon Lenses

There are also some downsides to using vintage Canon lenses for shooting DSLR video.

  • The quality of the glass that your lens adapter uses is most likely not as good as the glass in your lens, so image quality may suffer a bit.
  • The optical adapters required to use these lenses typically cause you to lose a stop of light. For example, if your lens was originally f/2.8, it would effectively become f/4. This would be something to consider if you want a lens with a wide open aperture.
  • Depending on the quality of the adapter you use, you may not be able to get sharp images with your aperture at its most wide-open settings. this is the case with my $30 adapter.
  • The lens does not "talk" with the camera - there are no electronic contacts connecting the two.
  • The aperture adjustment ring is not de-clicked - you won't be able to move it smoothly during video, and you can only change f-stops in increments.
  • There are no focus or aperture gears built in like there typically are on cinema lenses - if you use a follow focus, take this into consideration.
  • There are companies who will both de-click your aperture and add permanent gear rings to your lenses, but for a sizable fee - you would be better off buying actual third party cinema lenses at that point, as it would cost about the same.

Shooting DSLR Video - Using FD Lenses with DSLRs

Alternatives to Vintage Canon Lenses

If you find that the downsides to using Canon FD lenses for video outweigh the benefits, then there are a couple of alternatives, although they come at a higher cost.

You can buy vintage Nikon lenses and adapt them to your Canon body, or you can buy third party Canon cinema lenses.

Vintage Nikon (Nikkor) Lenses

A slightly better, but also more expensive, option than using vintage Canon lenses is to buy vintage Nikon lenses and adapt them to your Canon DSLR.

These lenses will work better because the flange focal distance for Nikon lenses is slightly longer than that for Canon lenses. This means that an adapter can be used to adapt to the different mount types as well as to extend the focal distance to the correct length - all without using optics to correct anything.

Of course, because of this fact, vintage Nikon lenses are more sought after than vintage Canon lenses are, so they tend to be more expensive. But if you are willing to pay more, you can get better image quality because there is no need to optically correct the focal distance.

Third Party Cinema Lenses

If you have the money, third party cinema lenses are the way to go. Even if you start with vintage Canon or Nikon lenses, keep these in mind for the future. They are a fraction of the cost of true Canon cinema lenses (around $500 vs. $3000 and up), and they perform basically just as well, as far as I have seen.

Cinema lenses are typically made with built in gears for the focus and aperture rings. They also usually have a de-clicked aperture, allowing for smooth aperture changes while you are shooting video.

The quality of the glass in these lenses is very similar to, if not the same as, true Canon cinema lenses. They are already made with the correct lens mount, so you don't need an adapter.

Personally, I am looking at the Rokinon brand of Cinema lenses for Canon. I am looking specifically their DS line, which keeps all the different lenses the same size and shape so that they can be interchanged easily. You can see an example of one below.

Rokinon 85mm Cine vs. Canon 85mm Cine

Decisions, Decisions

Now that you have some information on the ups and downs of using vintage Canon lenses for shooting video on DSLRs, you can make a decision as to whether or not you want to go this route.

  • If you are on a tight budget, and you really want to start using a variety of lenses and focal lengths, then vintage Canon lenses are the way to go.
  • If you can afford it, you might want to go with vintage Nikon lenses and adapt them to your Canon.
  • If you can have the money, though, it would be ideal to go with third party cinema lenses, as they would give you the most for your money in terms of image quality and usability.

Hopefully I was able to help you by giving you some useful information on using vintage Canon lenses for shooting DSLR video. If you have any questions, feel free to ask me in the comments below, and I will do my best to answer them!

Images licensed under Creative Commons.


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