I’m not much of a large sensor video shooter and prefer to use dedicated professional video cameras for much of my work but I have a couple of projects on the go that I thought I’d try to shoot more S35 (Super 35mm) sized sensor footage with.
One of the biggest issues I’ve had personally with using S35 sensor cameras is that I’m not much of a fan of Canon glass, either in stills or broadcast zoom configurations. I prefer Fujinon in broadcast zooms and Nikon and Zeiss in stills glass, despite the focus direction being “backward” on Nikon stills glass compared to broadcast lenses (where clockwise equals closer). Shooting on Canon dSLRs has never been much fun for me. The limited video shooting I’ve done on a friend’s Nikon D800 was far more interesting but still has all the ergonomic and fit-for-function issues that I struggle with as a broadcast shooter working on a stills camera frame.
My “happy medium”, if you will, is Sony’s NEX series of Super 35-sized sensor cameras, specifically the FS100 and FS700 bodies. I’m not COMPLETELY sold on Sony’s 24 frames per second (24P) motion as being as “filmic” as what you’ll find on Canon dSLR and digital cinema cameras like the C300 but for the majority of my work, which is at 30 fps (29.97 drop frame) the Sony cameras do a great job.
However, up until now, I’ve always been dissatisfied with the lens adaptor options I’ve worked with on the FS series cameras – they all seemed to have too much flex and wiggle, especially when focusing or changing aperture on a Nikon lens, which are typically quite stiff, which I like.
I recently shot a documentary for a client of mine in Winnipeg that is destined to go to air with a national broadcaster this year. Parts of it were shot on my usual stalwart, the ubiquitous Sony EX1 series workhorse. However, a number of scenes and interviews were shot or conducted with the FS700 sporting the original Metabones EF to E mount adaptor (albeit in version 2 configuration).
On set with Sony FS700, Metabones EF-NEX Smart Adaptor, Canon EF L-Series glass, my producer Larry Giesbrecht of CLG Communications and CSC Director of Photography Peter Woeste and his 1st AC.
I was instantly impressed with the overall build quality of the adaptor and the very minimal flex on the mount. The issues I had around the system were part and parcel of mounting Canon L series EF lenses which don’t sport iris rings to allow physical changing of the lens iris from a lens ring – instead, all iris adjustments are made “via software” by a dial or control on the camera body exclusively.
I still wasn’t sold on the system. We also had a couple of “we need to reboot the adaptor” moments when the adaptor wouldn’t pass lens iris control signal from the camera body any more.
Now, just this past week I shot two segments for two separate projects I have going “just for me”, as documented in my previous Blog post, Career In Crisis?
On both of these, I used the brand new Metabones SpeedBooster EF to NEX series adaptor.
What a treat!
Now, to be fair, in both cases, I mounted non-Canon EF lenses. In the first case, I mounted some VERY nice Zeiss glass that was declicked for ciné use. In the second case, I used 24mm and 50mm Nikon primes. All lenses were sourced from Gearhouse Camera Rentals here in Vancouver, as was the SpeedBooster.
With proper planning, I could see myself being a convert now to S35 imaging when appropriate, given a couple of caveats:
- For me, S35 is best served by dedicated prime lenses which have been declicked
- S35 is NOT a run-and-gun friendly format, especially when working at the much requested shallow depth of field end of the spectrum
- Lens choice is absolutely paramount – I’m only interested in matching sets of lenses with long throw focus rings
- I’ll only use an FS100 indoors under controlled lighting, given the lack of intrinsic ND (neutral density) filters in the camera body while I’d use the FS700 indoors or outdoors, again in a controlled environment such as interviews or scenics
The SpeedBooster part of the lens adaptor isn’t the primary reason I love the Metabones, but it is that feature that enables everything I love about it. Without getting into the specifics and the science (which I sort-of understand), the adaptor uses a piece of optical glass in the adaptor itself to create a larger image than would normally fall upon the camera imager on the focal plane that the glass element sits in. That glass then refocuses the image onto the camera’s imager and through the magic of physics, the overall brightness is increased by a factor of 2, so you get a 1 f-stop increase in light transmission.
For wedding and event videographers, that is a godsend.
For my practice, it means I can stop down 1 stop to increase the likelihood of my subject staying in focus during an interview all the while still getting gorgeous bokeh in the background. It ALSO means that I can use lenses stopped down off their “wide open” settings in low light to avoid nasty “wide open” lens artifacts: when mounting the Zeiss lenses, I noted that the 35mm exhibited significant internal refraction of high specularity light sources and reflections which disappeared around f4. Typical f4 exposure without the adaptor would have required either more light in my scenario to compensate for having to stop down, thereby “killing the mood” I was working so hard to cultivate OR adding gain to the camera to compensate.
The Sony FS-series of cameras DO handle gain-up very nicely but I’m a purist – I will ONLY add gain if I ABSOLUTELY need to.
You can already call me impressed. It gets better – in the immortal (or is it immoral… I forget…) words of every television infomercial pitchman:
“But wait! There’s more!”
Because of the use of an internal focusing lens, you get one more added bonus:
Lenses function as if they were mounted on a FF35 (full frame 35mm, as in stills film camera) sensor!
- No crop factor (well… negligible… as in “tiny”).
- No more need to think of your lens field of view in a DX or APS-C format field of view.
- No more talk about “same as a x mm lens”.
A 50mm lens behaves almost EXACTLY as if it was mounted on a FF35 camera – Canon 5D, Nikon FX series such as D800.
Perception of depth due to magnification, field of view… no more compromise for a guy like me who grew up as a photographer first in a film-only world. I know EXACTLY what lens I want to use from years of experience as a stills photographer, albeit as mostly an amateur or enthusiast. No longer do I need to factor depth perception and field of view separately and in conflicting ways!
I’m in awe.
Now, to be fair in calling this a review, I did not try any lenses that communicate with the camera. I used all-manual lenses exclusively – no auto exposure, no camera body iris control, no autofocus.
What I noticed:
- I didn’t see any degradation of image quality in my application, which was moving video recorded to a Long GOP HD format AVC-HD camera
- I saw no fringing or other chromatic aberration artifacts
- I saw very little vignetting at the edges of the frame and the vignetting I did see was very aesthetically pleasing – assuming you aren’t using this set up for medical or engineering imaging you should be quite impressed
- Very sturdy build quality – no flex even with a very stiff lens ring
It takes a lot to impress me and I love this adaptor.
It reminds me a lot of the JVC PL Mount Film Lens Adaptor (HZ-CA13U) I used to own for my JVC GY-HD200ub cameras that has since been sold to a friend and colleague in Norway – sturdy build with excellent tactile feel and attention to detail in the milling of the parts. In fact, the two lenses work on the same principle.
In closing, for those gigs where a S35 camera is the correct choice, I will always choose the Metabones EF to NEX SpeedBooster if it is in stock at the rental house… and if it starts going out when I need it, I’ll buy my own.
I vote with my money and my reputation – I cast my votes for this Metabones adaptor with no regrets!
Disclosure: I received no compensation for this review although the adaptor was provided to me at no charge for my rental periods as part of a contra deal with the rental shop. As well, the Zeiss and Nikon lenses were native Nikon F mount lenses adapted to Canon EF with third party adaptors manufactured from heavy gauge aircraft aluminum.
Thanks for reading!