Canon FD 50mm 1:1.4 S.S.C. Lens Review

A Special Look; an Affordable Cult-Classic!

8 min read by Dmitri.
Published on . Updated on .

Canon FD 50mm 𝒇1.4 S.S.C.s are the second-generation breech-lock mount “normal” lenses for the popular Canon AE-1 35mm film SLRs and FD-mount cameras. Their glass renders distinct bokeh, comes with decent flare resistance, has plenty of contrast, and is quite sharp when stopped down. This lens has a close focus of .45m or 1½’.

The S.S.C.-marked lenses are relatively rare and typically cost slightly more than the standard “new FD” (sometimes marked as nFD) 50mm 𝒇1.4 lenses. But not all S.S.C. lenses are “chrome nose.”

I’ll go over the differences between all three versions of this glass, review their ergonomics, examine the image quality, and help you decide whether they’re worth the money — below:

Canon FD 50mm 𝒇1.4 S.S.C. with Canon AE-1 Program and Kodak Portra 400.

What’s S.S.C. and how does it compare to other Canon FD lenses?

S.S.C. stands for “Super Spectra Coatings,” which is the new (for the time) lens coating technology Canon developed for their FD-mount SLR lenses.

Coatings are essential for avoiding lens flares and loss of contrast due to light reflections. Canon’s tech was very good for the ‘70s and proves to be effective today as well. S.S.C. lenses will still flare and lose some contrast if you point it at the light source directly or at a certain angle; modern lenses or expensive vintage glass can deal with it better, but FD glass is still significantly better than anything mounted on a smartphone, in my opinion.

The S.S.C. lenses I tried stood out to me for their overall high contrast in normal lighting situations, which is undoubtedly a characteristic the coatings provide. But there’s also something special with how they render images — more on that below.

Canon FD 50mm 𝒇1.4 S.S.C. with Canon AE-1 Program and Kodak Portra 400.

Not all Canon FD-mount SLR lenses have S.S.C. inscribed on them. Some have S.C., which stands for “Spectra Coatings” (minus the “Super”); others show no such characters. However, all Canon FD lenses use this technology; thus, not having the red “S.S.C” on your lens does not mean it lacks optical quality.

Still, S.S.C.-branded lenses are often more desirable and sometimes even pricier than those without the label. Some consider it a mark of quality, though photographers who tested both kinds say there is no practical difference between the two when it comes to image quality. Even the pricier Canon FD 55mm 𝒇1.2 S.S.C. appears to render nearly identical results. This shouldn’t be a surprise, as all those lenses use the same optical formula.

The real difference between the S.S.C. and non-S.S.C. lenses is in the mount, weight, and production date.

The first generation of FD lenses — the “chrome nose” — a silver outer ring for screw-in filters. It had no S.S.C. inscription but used the same optical formula.

The second generation of FD lenses, reviewed in this article, is nearly identical but is all-black in construction, and it sports the cool S.S.C. Both versions use a breech-lock mounting mechanism that requires you to place the lens with all the red dots aligned and then twist the ring to lock the lens in place.

The third generation of FD lenses, “the new FD” or nFD, have a slightly different bayonet mounting mechanism in that you’d twist the entire lens to lock it in place (instead of the outer ring). The simplified mechanics were generally preferred by the photographers; nFD lenses were also significantly lighter as they used fewer metal components. nFD lenses no longer sport S.S.C.

In addition to the bayonet mount upgrade, nFD lenses’ smallest apertures are 𝒇22 — as opposed to S.S.C.’s 𝒇16.

If you like the feel of heft in your hand, you may want an S.S.C. lens. Still, there would be no difference in how either renders your images — other than the variation of quality you could expect from a forty-something-year-old lens.

Canon FD 50mm 𝒇1.4 S.S.C. with Canon AE-1 Program and Kodak Portra 400.

Lens size, weight, and ergonomics.

My Canon FD 50mm 𝒇1.4 S.S.C. lens weighs 304g/10¾oz and protrudes 6cm/2⅓” from the camera body.

Can’t say that I love the breech-lock mechanism as it’s a little fiddly and generally takes both hands to operate. The focus throw is about 200° and is slightly stiff, as is usually the case on the lenses of the era (most use thick lubricants designed to show resistance, even when new). A bit of resistance in the focus ring is better than focus drift.

The distance markings on the lens are in both feet and metres, but there’s no depth of field calculator — its replacement is the DoF preview button on the camera bodies.

The aperture selector ring has hard clicks at full and half-stops. It has a green “A” for aperture priority mode. It’s normally locked but can be engaged by pressing the small back button next to the “A,” which will allow you to set your lens into aperture priority or move back to manual aperture selection.

I’ve had lots of fun with this lens. Though its construction isn’t perfect (I would prefer a bit less resistance and an easier way to operate the aperture), it’s easy and relatively fast in use.

Canon FD 50mm 𝒇1.4 S.S.C. with Canon AE-1 Program and Amber T800.
Canon FD 50mm 𝒇1.4 S.S.C. with Canon AE-1 Program and Kodak Portra 400.
Canon FD 50mm 𝒇1.4 S.S.C. with Canon AE-1 Program and Kodak Portra 400.

Image quality.

Canon FD 50mm 𝒇1.4 S.S.C. has lots of fans, and I think there’s a good reason for that. This lens creates unique renderings with nice-looking bokeh, strong contrast, and sometimes strange depictions of specular highlights.

The S.S.C. is very well corrected for chromatic aberration — I found none in my images. It’s very sharp when stopped down — but so are many other lenses. Its best feature is, in my opinion, the way how it fails to correct lens-based artifacts.

You may find that your S.S.C. will show a strange glow around specular highlights when stopped down to 𝒇16. It’s a little eery and barely noticeable in photos — but it’s a lot of fun to observe through the viewfinder.

The bokeh is also different on this FD. It’s a bit swirly but with well-corrected bokeh balls, which makes it seem almost “modern” — with a twist. Personally, I like undercorrected bokeh (softer edges around the balls), but I can’t deny the fact that this one produces images like no other glass in my collection.

Canon FD 50mm 𝒇1.4 S.S.C. with Canon AE-1 and Agent Shadow 400.
Canon FD 50mm 𝒇1.4 S.S.C. with Canon AE-1 and Agent Shadow 400.

Build quality.

The S.S.C. is a solid lens. It feels good in hand, maybe better than the Olympus-branded lenses from the film days. Some reviewers say that the nFD/non-S.S.C. lenses aren’t as good, but I can’t imagine the difference to be very significant.

The FD lenses aren’t Leica lenses; thus, you shouldn’t expect a Rolls Royce build quality — but that is not to say that these aren’t excellent lenses built to last. The one I’m holding right now is way older than I am and still performs almost as new.

Mounting on digital cameras.

FD lenses are easy to adapt onto digital bodies. There are over 1,000 results on eBay for them and plenty in other shops, too. You can find your Canon FD lens adapter here.

Numbers to keep in mind are the FD lens’ flange distance: 42mm and 24×36mm (full-frame) image circle. It’ll work with most mirrorless cameras, but it won’t work with the modern Canon EF mounts.

Where to buy your 50mm 𝒇1.4 Canon FD S.S.C. lens.

These lenses are easy to find and cheap to buy. I saw them sell for well under $100, with the best-looking copies costing around $250. Though it’s not the best lens I’ve ever used (not sure which one is, actually), I’d buy another if it broke. It’s good.

By the way: Please consider making your 50mm 𝒇1.4 Canon FD S.S.C. lens purchase using this link so that this website may get a small percentage of that sale — at no extra charge for you — thanks!