As Video Expands to New Devices, So Have the Accessories for Lenses

Lenses are one of the most ancient technologies still in use today. The earliest known lenses were made from polished crystal, often quartz, and date from as early as 700 BC. Technology has advanced greatly since then and the types of accessories for lenses are now virtually unlimited.

Even the earliest photographic and film cameras needed lenses. In the early 1970s, when small format ENG video technology really took off, there was essentially one key lens accessory for serious videographers. It was a 2x wide angle extender for the standard video lens that enabled wide shots with early ENG cameras.

The mainstream ENG lens makers at the time were CanonFujinon and Angenieux. Buyers of ENG cameras simply specified their favorite lens for the new video camera, and possibly the extender for about an extra $1,000 or so.

Much has changed over the past 40 years. Today, very high-quality 4K video is made with a wide range of camera devices — including inexpensive smart phones. Lens accessories have expanded so dramatically that they alone can now take up the space of an entire retail store.

Because today’s video quality is so demanding, cinematic accessories — including matte boxes, follow focus rings, zoom and focus cables and a variety of lens attachments — are used to turn basic video gear into the equivalent of fully-outfitted motion picture cameras. Such accessories are even available for iPhones and iPads, enabling them to record broadcast quality video.

Today, the oldest lenses, which used to fit only one camera type, can be adapted to modern cameras — especially DSLR models with very flexible sensors. Lenses ranging from old C-mount primes from the 16mm film era to early ENG lenses can now be adapted to modern DSLR cameras equipped to shoot video. Lens experimentation is rampart to achieve a unique look.

A leader on adapting various types and brands of lenses to the mounts of third party cameras is Metabones. In addition to inexpensive conversion mounts, the Metabones Speed Booster is an optical adapter that allows for a full frame lens to be mounted on APS-C or Micro Four Thirds mirrorless video cameras. 

Mounted between a mirrorless camera and a SLR lens, Speed Booster increases maximum aperture by 1 stop (hence its name), increases MTF and makes lens wider by a factor of 0.71x

The speed booster adapter is the opposite of a teleconverter, which spreads out the light leaving the lens so that only the center portion reaches the sensor. The result is the focal length of the lens seems longer (the image is magnified), but at the cost of reducing the amount of light (effective aperture) of the lens.

The Speed Booster compresses the light leaving the lens onto a smaller image circle. This makes the focal length seem shorter and actually increases the amount of light reaching the sensor.

The Metabones booster gives an overall focal length multiplier of around 1.09x, promising a nearly full frame field of view on APS-C sensors. The device increases the lens’s speed by a full stop, turning an F2.8 full frame lens into an F2.0 optic that allows for low light shooting at a lower ISO sensitivity. The device creates a wider-angle, greater aperture lens while retaining resolution and acutance.

The world’s largest maker of camera lenses is Canon. The company makes literally hundreds of lenses that work on both photographic still cameras and video cameras. They range from glass for cinema and large studio cameras to field production cameras used in major sporting events. In 2014, the company celebrated the sale of its 100 millionth autofocus EF series lens, which debuted in 1987.

One of the areas generating the most interest these days are high-definition, 2K and 4K cameras with single Super 35mm-size imagers. These cameras use Canon’s PL or EF-mount motion-picture style lenses, which consist of zoom, compact zoom, cine-servo and prime lenses.

Chuck Westfall, Canon USA’s Technical Advisor, cited a new servo lens for large sensor ENG-style cameras as a popular item. Designed to perform in a shoulder-mounted application or as a traditional cinema lens, the Canon Cine-Servo 17-120mm T2.95 zoom lens has an ENG-style Digital Drive handgrip with zoom rocker switch, which can also be detached to allow for manual cinema operation. 

Chuck Westfall is Canon's Technical Advisor for the company's Consumer Imaging Group. You'll often see him demonstrating products at conventions and shows.

The new lens features 4K optical performance throughout the broad focal length of 17mm to 120mm, a three-group inner focus system to help minimize focus breathing, an 11-blade iris to help achieve creative depth-of-field manipulation and natural “bokeh” backgrounds. The rugged lens has user-friendly design features, support for matte boxes, follow focus and other accessories. It is available in either PL- or EF-mounts.

The Canon CINE-SERVO 17-120mm T2.95 zoom lens features 4K optical performance, a dynamic 17-120mm focal length range, and removable digital drive for cine-style or shoulder-mounted operation.

“You can imagine an operator holding the camera over his shoulder and in his right hand he holds a controller with toggle switch on it,” Westfall said. “He pushes it in one direction for wide and the other for telephoto. It started with the initial small chip camcorders that have been around for years, but we are seeing a big demand for it as we move to the cinema or the large chip camcorders.”

Canon, Westfall said, recently asked owners of its C100 and C300 cinema cameras what accessories they would like to see from the company. As a result of the information, Canon teamed up with Zacuto to introduce new shoulder mounts to enable the “run and gun” handheld use of the cinema cameras. The new mounts are available this fall.

The Zacuto mount for Canon cameras supports a wide variety of accessories while making them accessible and easily adjustable while shooting.

More common accessories for lenses include lens hoods, which help block unwanted light that causes lens flare and sun spots; extenders, which add focal length to lenses; extension tubes, which add magnification to a lens making non macro lenses function like macro lenses; close-up lenses, which allow for a shorter minimum focusing distance; tripod mounts for heavier lenses; and filters for UV protection, adding or changing colors, polarization to help remove glare and neutral density to reduce the amount of light that comes into the camera.

Expanding the field of lens accessories in the era of modern video technology are companies like ProAM USA, a South Carolina-based maker of not only lens accessories but low-cost and often miniature support gear for cameras. Their products range from remote zooms, pan and tilt head controllers, stabilizers and mini jibs, as well as camera cranes, dollies and sliders.

Video accessories for Apple’s iPhone and iPad include The Padcaster and Lens Caster, accessories that turn iPads into pro video shooting platforms, and Makayama’s Movie Mount, Is a mounting accessory that improves the stability of iPads when used as video cameras, even supporting wide angle and macro lenses.

The Padcaster is an rugged aluminum frame with multiple threaded holes and a flexible insert which firmly holds the iPad in place. Provision for microphones and light mounts are included.

Today, virtually every new camera is a “system” model with a myriad of new accessories specifically designed for it. The era of 4K videography is just beginning. The expansion of lenses and other camera accessories for this endless array of new cameras will continue for years to come.

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