I find it incredible how I often wander into "new" territory completely unexpectedly. Though some may argue my activities automatically disqualify any notion of "chance". Essentially, my constant perusing of eBay and the local shops and flea markets hardly allows me any room to claim mere good fortune as a factor. I suppose I put myself in the position to "come across" things...This is all beside the point.
I hadn't heard the term "Noctilust" until just the other day but I have certainly become quite familiar with it now. I have always read about fast lenses and even used a couple here and there. But I don't know that I have ever really desired one just because I think I have been more after what I need and can use everyday. Sometimes, though, decisions get made for you.
While exploring the local flea market this past weekend, I came across an old Canon FT. Despite having no real need for film camera, I tend to always check them out because I am still a hardware nut above all. What first caught my eye, and what my attention was now transfixed upon in a closer inspection was the 55mm f/1.2 lens sitting on the front. In all practicality, as a Nikon user, the Canon FL and FD mount lenses are quite useless to me. Because save for a complete re-engineering of the lens mount, I cannot do much in adapting the lens. I figured it was a cool piece but I would pass it up since it would prove some work to use. Then the gentleman told me the price. Sold! That was quick...
Canon FL and FD to Nikon F
If you are looking to adapt either of these archaic Canon mounts to the new Nikon F for use on the digital bodies consider this:
- Canon FL and FD focal flange distance is 42mm while Nikon's is 46.5mm. This means you need to figure out how to reduce the Canon lens' mount by 4.5mm.
- Adapters that contain no optics but merely mate an FD or FL lens to a Nikon body cannot possibly retain focus at infinity. So with this means, you will turn every lens into something of a macro lens.
- Adapters do exist with optics to compensate for the differing focal flange distance however, these typically have a multiplication factor associated with them as well as an inherent reduction of light. So your lens will be slightly more telephoto (often 1.6x or so) and your lens speed will be reduced by the added optics. Not only that, the optics currently in use with these adapters, by most accounts, is inferior and degrades image quality.
My thoughts: No sense in using a straight optic-less adapter since I do not need another macro lens. This lens was made for portraits! Adapters that use optics are also out since what's the use of an f/1.2 lens if it just gets knocked back down to a slower stop. Also, it makes no sense to use all sorts of round-a-bouts like adapters only to wind up with a mediocre image in relation to what that lens may be truly capable of. I just would rather not be limited by some cheap adapter.
A DIY Project - Photographic Blasphemy!
OK, an admittedly exaggerated title considering I know many photographers who shoot Canon and use Nikon glass on their Canon bodies. But it was funny when The Girl asked in a whisper-like voice, "Is that a Canon lens?...on your Nikon?" I have taught her well. Actually I'm quite non-partisan though I do like to continue to egg on the whole Canon/Nikon battle in jest.
I decided the only way to really make this lens worth my while was to convert it to an F-mount. So I first removed the FD mount from the lens via three simple screws located just inside the Breech/Lock mechanism. This exposed some threading, as well as the A/M ring which switches the lens from Auto to Manual stop-down mode. Since this lenses aperture ring is up front by the filter ring, it would prove tough to easily make this lens index with a Nikon so I will most likely be using this in stop-down mode. Considering I bought this lens for its f/1.2 aperture, I don't believe I will need to worry about auto-indexing. As I said before, for this lens to focus to infinity the rear element would actually need to recess back inside the Nikon mount of the camera. Since at this point I'm not prepared to physically alter the lens in any permanent manor that would prohibit it from being returned to its original FD mount, I have chosen to drill a spare F-mount I have to fit the original 3 screw holes used for the FD mount.
So I ended up with that. The rear element protrudes ever so slightly beyond the Nikon F mount but not nearly enough for infinity focus. The most common concern with converting these older f/1.2 lenses is that, typically you run into some tight if not simply unmanageable tolerances between the rear element and the mirror of present-day DSLRs. After some measuring and working out the numbers, this lens, in theory, could achieve infinity focus through a full mount conversion (milling down the rear portion of the lens to the correct length, and then attaching the Nikon F mount). But the numbers of where the rear element must be inside the camera in conjunction with where the mirror swings are nearly dead on. In reality, it's probably too close for safe operation. I actually even found one of these FL 55mm f/1.2 lenses on eBay converted for Nikon. I messaged the seller with some questions but still have not received a response. My guess is infinity focus is not achievable.
Despite that somewhat discouraging information, I managed to get an F mount on the rear of the lens and give it a whirl! I have about 4 feet to work with. Honestly, I am thinking a few more feet may be all I need. This lens, for me, will be a beautiful portrait lens. I am interested in the soft ethereal qualities of the shallow DoF. I most likely would never even need more than 10 feet or so. For now, I will tinker with my 4 ft.
Just off-center Crop
I have to say, judging from my first few test shots, I love this! Noctilust here I come. I didn't think a fast normal lens was up my alley but it truly is a thing of beauty. No one shoots an f/1.2 lens that I know of for sharpness and it is clear why. This lens is not sharp wide open. But then again, I don't believe perfect sharpness was necessarily what the designers were striving for. This optic possess a unique ability to render subjects softly and in a way that is almost boastful. I find myself completely unconcerned with sharpness which is entirely uncharacteristic of me.
Contrast with this lens is great and I don't see a whole lot of CA actually. I do notice this lens is prone to flare. This originally had a uniquely designed hood that I just may pick up since I believe I will be using this lens a lot more in the future.
I can't say a whole lot more on performance at this time save for continue posting more images as I use it. I plan on eventually milling down the back some more and getting as much as I can out of this lens. And I'm sure in the future I will end up with another fast lens to compare it to!