An Introduction to the Wide World of Lens Adapters for Video Production
Large image sensors are among the most in-demand components of video cameras, and it's easy to see why. Relatively recent advances in image-sensor technology have allowed even advanced hobbyists to produce world-class footage. However, this is only half of the story. The recent popularity of interchangeable-lens camera systems is perhaps the single greatest factor driving our emerging creative freedoms.
"... with lens adapters, your creative options are practically limitless."
When it comes to choosing camera gear, lenses are one of your most important creative choices. This is because lenses are probably the most influential factor in determining the look and feel of your images. The paintbrush metaphor is a cliché but, nonetheless, an appropriate analogy. Choosing a lens is essentially like deciding between finger-painting or airbrushing. Both methods can render pleasing results, but the results will undoubtedly exhibit the distinct characteristics of your chosen tools.
Of course, given the importance of lens choice, it should be no surprise that videographers and photographers the world over have fallen in love with lens adapters. The feeling among many in the creative community is akin to having two birthdays: not only are you no longer stuck with whatever lens the manufacturer permanently fixed to the front of your camera, but you’re also no longer limited to lenses that happen to share your camera’s particular lens mount.
You can put a Nikon lens on a Canon camera. You can put a Leica lens on a Nikon camera. You can put a Canon FD lens on a Micro Four Thirds camera. Then again, you can put a vintage lens manufactured in the former Soviet Union—and just about anything else—on a Micro Four Thirds camera. The point is, with lens adapters, your creative options are practically limitless. Some beginners, though, may find the wide world of lens adapters to be a confounding place. This article will hopefully clear things up.
Vello Lens Adapters
If you’re looking for some solid, entry-level options, you will want to check out lens adapters made by Vello. This company’s Nikon F to Canon EOS Adapter is just about as basic as you can get. Canon EOS cameras and lenses are extraordinarily popular right now. When you shoot with a Canon camera, you have hundreds of native lenses to choose from, and with a simple Nikon F to Canon EOS adapter you can more than double your options. This is an especially attractive prospect if you already happen to own a collection of vintage Nikon F mount lenses.
This would be a good point to stop and discuss some of the important technical considerations regarding lens adapters. For instance, Vello’s Nikon F to Canon EOS adapter is a type of adapter called a “passive adapter.” This means that the adapter is simply a physical connection between the lens and camera body. With a passive adapter, you lose all electronic lens functions, including autofocus, image stabilization, and electronic aperture control. Many professional videographers happily do without these electronic functions, but this is certainly something to keep in mind when you are trying to determine which adapter is right for you.
On the other end of the spectrum is the Vello Canon EF/EF-S to Canon M Adapter. This adapter allows you to mount a Canon EF or EF-S lens to a Canon mirrorless camera and retain all electronic functions. It also has a removable tripod mount, a popular feature among high-end adapters. The tripod mount is designed to mitigate the strain of mounting a heavier lens on a relatively small camera.
The Canon EF mount’s medium-length, flange focal distance is one of the reasons that lens adapters are so popular with Canon users. Flange focal distance is the distance between the sensor and the front of the lens mount. This measurement is the most important factor in determining whether or not a lens adapter will be compatible with your camera. Generally speaking, a given lens can be adapted to any camera that has a sufficiently short flange focal distance.
For example, Nikon F mount lenses are designed for Nikon F mount cameras, which have a flange focal distance of 46.50mm. Canon EF mount cameras have a flange focal distance of 44mm. The 2.50mm disparity leaves just enough room to fit a lens adapter between a Nikon lens and a Canon camera. In essence, the shorter the flange focal distance is, the greater the diversity of potential lenses.
Metabones Speed Booster for Micro Four Thirds
Metabones designs and manufactures some of the finest lens adapters in the world today. Moreover, the Metabones Speed Booster is among the most groundbreaking pieces of photo and video technology in recent memory. Designed primarily for mirrorless systems and other types of cameras with very short flange focal distances, the Speed Booster takes advantage of the extra space to implement a special, optical element that increases brightness, sharpness, and field of view.
Metabones makes Speed Booster adapters for several different camera systems, but for the sake of simplifying the explanation, we’ll discuss the Metabones Nikon G/F to Micro Four Thirds Speed Booster. As the name suggests, this adapter allows users to mount Nikon F or Nikon G lenses to a Micro Four Thirds camera. It’s a passive adapter but it features a mechanism that enables “click-less” manual aperture control for Nikon G lenses. Of course, the Speed Booster optic is what makes this adapter truly special.
Generally speaking, Nikon-mount lenses are designed to cover relatively large sensors, larger than a Micro Four Thirds sensor. Consequently, Nikon lenses produce a larger image circle than a Micro Four Thirds image sensor requires. The Speed Booster optic shrinks the larger Nikon image circle down, optimizing it for the smaller sensor. In the case of the Nikon G/F to MFT Speed Booster adapter, this optimization increases the field of view by 0.71x. In a manner of speaking, the Speed Booster “magically” increases the size of your image sensor. Moreover, since the image circle is concentrated into a smaller area, the Speed Booster increases brightness by one full stop. It’s optical magic, and isn’t that the best kind of magic?
More recently, Metabones has started producing the Canon EF to Micro Four Thirds Speed Booster “S” version. Much like the Nikon Speed Booster, the Canon Speed Booster increases angle of view 0.71x, increases the maximum aperture by one f-stop, and provides the same benefits regarding MFT. In addition, the Canon EF to MFT Speed Booster features an active mount, with electronic connections for aperture control, image stabilization, auto exposure information, and EXIF data; and when you use the “S” version with a compatible camera body, these electronic features are powered by the camera.
Metabones also has Micro Four Thirds-mount Speed Booster adapters for Canon FD, Olympus OM, Minolta MD, Contarex, Contax Yashica, Leica R, and Rollei QBM lenses. All of Metabones’ Speed Booster adapters have a removable tripod foot with a ¼"-20 threaded hole and dovetail cleats that are compatible with Arca Swiss, Markins, and Photo Clam dovetail clamps. This, along with Metabones’ reputation for remarkably solid construction and tight tolerances, ranks the whole Speed Booster lineup among the best lens adapters ever created.
Metabones Speed Booster for Blackmagic Cameras
Metabones also makes lens adapters specifically optimized for the Blackmagic Cinema Camera and the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera. While these cameras make use of the Micro Four Thirds bayonet mount, they have a smaller than Micro Four Thirds-sized sensor. This means that the Blackmagic Speed Boosters can make use of more powerful telecompressors.
The Metabones Canon EF to Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera Speed Booster features a telecompressor that increases the field of view by 0.58x and the maximum effective aperture by 1⅔ stops. For example, this adapter will essentially transform Canon’s 24-70mm f/2.8L lens into a 14-40mm f/1.6 lens or Sigma’s 18-35mm f/1.8 lens into a 10.5-20.3mm f/1 lens. Astonishingly, the Canon 50mm f1.2L lens becomes a 29mm f0.74 lens. This should more or less end any criticisms of the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera’s relatively small Super 16mm-sized image sensor, not to mention the benefit of almost unheard of lens speeds.
The Canon EF to Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera Speed Booster is also an active adapter with built-in electronics for controlling the lens’s aperture setting. Everything is controlled and powered by the camera body. The adapter also supports IS lenses and EXIF data.
Metabones also has Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera-optimized Speed Boosters for use with Nikon G/F and Leica R lenses. The optics are the same as the Canon EF version, but both the Nikon and Leica adapter are passive mounts. The Nikon G/F Blackmagic Speed Booster, however, does have a mechanism for manual aperture control.
At 15.81 x 8.88mm, the Blackmagic Cinema Camera 2.5K image sensor is somewhere between Micro Four Thirds (17.30 x 13mm) and the 1" standard. That is a larger sensor than the BMPCC but it is still small enough for Metabones to make use of a 0.64x telecompressor in its BMCC-optimized Speed Boosters. These adapters are available for Nikon G/F or Leica R lenses. Of course, the Nikon G version has the same excellent, manual aperture control mechanism that all of Metabones’ Nikon G adapters employ.
FotodioX Vizelex ND Throttle Adapters
FotodioX has been making lens adapters since the early days of the HDSLR revolution. The company specializes in relatively simple, passive adapters but, more recently, has introduced a rather unique new design. The Vizelex ND Throttle is a lens adapter with a built-in variable neutral density filter.
The built-in ND filter is adjustable from 1 to 10 stops. Of course, having a filter located inside the lens adapter provides a number of benefits. For one thing, you don’t have to swap out your ND filter every time you change lenses. It also eliminates any unwanted glare or lens flares that might occur with a filter mounted on the front of the lens. Finally, the filter provides some protection for the camera body when you change lenses.
Fotodiox makes Vizelex ND Throttle adapters for the following camera-and-lens combinations.
- Canon EF/EF-S to Sony E-Mount
- Canon EF/EF-S to Micro Four Thirds
- Canon FD to Micro Four Thirds
- Minolta MD to Sony E-Mount
- Minolta MD to Micro Four Thirds
- Nikon F to Micro Four Thirds
Bear in mind, none of the Vizelex ND Throttle adapters allow for aperture control, so you may not want to use these adapters with a lens that has no manual aperture control. Of course, one of the major reasons to use an ND filter is to preserve your ability to shoot at larger apertures, so if your lens defaults to a wide open aperture you should be good to go. You simply shoot wide open and adjust exposure values with the built-in ND filter.
Other Options to Consider
Novoflex makes a Nikon G to Canon EF Lens Adapter that features manual aperture control. This is relatively rare among Nikon to Canon adapters, but it is also an essential feature if you want to use your Nikon G lenses on a Canon camera body. Just be aware that because of the small disparity in Nikon and Canon’s respective focal flange distances, this adapter is a rather thin metal ring. Certainly, it is well made, but you will want to consider using an additional support system if you plan to use some of the heavier Nikon lenses.
As you may know, the Panasonic DMC-GH4 is capable of shooting DCI standard 4K video, and when you have a camera that is capable of cinema-quality 4K, many people will want to use traditional cine-style lenses. Wooden Camera has answered the call with a PL to Micro Four Thirds Adapter. This adapter is compatible with almost any Micro Four Thirds camera, but it also includes a removable support foot that is specifically tailored to the Panasonic GH4. A similar design is also available for the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera.
Finally, the Metabones C-Mount to Micro Four Thirds Adapter is easily the simplest adapter in this whole article. That is, at least on the surface. It’s basically a metal disk made of chrome-plated brass with a male Micro Four Thirds bayonet and a threaded hole. Of course, the C-mount is one of the most widely used lens mounts in the world, and C-mount lenses are designed for dozens of different formats. You will have to do some diligent investigating to determine whether or not the lens you want to use will cover your camera’s sensor, but it’s worth the effort. There are thousands of C-mount lenses available on the used market, and many of them can be a lot of fun to shoot with.
Hopefully, this article has helped you to navigate “the wide world of lens adapters,” but if you would like to learn more about these and many other lens adapters, please visit the B&H SuperStore in New York City or contact our experts online via Live Chat. You can also post questions in the Comments section, below.