Interchangeable Mess

I’ll do my best to articulate what it is I’m trying to get across here, but I’m afraid that not only do I lack some of the necessary expertise, but I also lack some of the crucial data as well.  Anyway, I’ll give it a shot.

I work with a Canon 7D, but would be willing to switch to another camera if and when a better one comes along.  I own three Canon L-Series full sensor lenses — I use the 24-105 IS lens on every single job I do — as well as a bunch of manual AI-S Nikon SLR lenses, namely a 24mm, 28mm, 35mm, and 50mm.  I purchased several Nikon to Canon adapters from Cinevate and Fotoiox to attach these lenses to my 7D, and have been fairly satisfied with the results.

On a separate track, I’ve been following the recent developments surrounding the GH1 firmware hack and its higher available bit-rates.  If the Next Big Thing in HDSLR technology turns out to indeed be a micro four thirds camera, perhaps a yet to be announced GH2 or the upcoming AG-AF100, then my Canon and Nikon lenses will need to be attached using a micro four thirds adapter.

These adapters are longer and bulkier than the Nikon to Canon version — not a deal breaker, but still something to be aware of.  And I’m still not entirely sure what the crop factor of SLR lenses would be when attached to a micro four thirds camera.  Here’s what Camerapedia has to say on the subject:

“The ratio of the image size, combined with the smaller sensor means that Four-Thirds based DSLRs have a ‘crop factor’ of exactly 2 — that is to say, a 50mm film lens used on a Four-Thirds body gives the equivalent field of view to a 100mm lens on a 35mm film camera body. The term ‘crop factor’ is somewhat misleading as the sensor does not crop the image at all — it simply utilises a smaller section of the lens. In essence only the portion of light entering the lens that actually hits the sensor is altered, meaning the field of view is smaller, and thereby effectively doubling the focal length of the lens.”

I’ve never used a GH1 with a Nikon lens and adapter, so I can’t verify this data, but it seems like a potential problem.  Wikipedia also writes that a micro four thirds sensor “is approximately 30–40% [smaller] than the APS-C sensors used in other manufacturers’ DSLRs,” so the 2x crop factor on SLR lenses sounds correct.  It’s been drilled into my head that the 5dmkII is a full sensor camera, and that the 7D has an APS-C sized sensor, with a crop factor of 1.6x.  So a 50mm SLR lens on a 7D is instantly turned into an 80mm lens.  For wide angles, a 24mm SLR lens becomes a barely-wide-enough 38mm on a 7D, whereas on a GH1 it would be a not-wide-at-all 48mm.

Or maybe the Next Big Thing will be an Ikonoskop A-cam dII.

No rolling shutter, and it shoots in what they’re calling 12 bit RAW!  Except when I e-mailed them to ask about using my Nikon lenses, I got a very interesting response.  I could use a C-Mount adapter or an IMS adapter (with backfocus, and very expensive), and the crop factor would be 3x!  Here is what Peter Gustafsson wrote in his reply:

“A normal lens on 35mm still camera is 50mm.  On a 35mm film camera it’s 32mm.  On 16 mm film camera it’s about 16mm.  Our sensor is 10.6 mm wide and a 35mm still negative is 36mm wide.  The field of view is similar to standard 16mm film cameras. The factor is about x3 so the field of view of a 25mm lens on the dll is similar to a 75mm lens on a Nikon 35mm SLR camera.”

On the A-cam, then, if I’m understanding Peter correctly, a 50mm SLR lens would be turned into a 150mm, and a 24mm would become a 72mm!  Apparently the best way to use the A-cam is with Super16 PL mount lenses.  On ebay, I quickly found a couple of Angenieux options, one a Super16 11.5-138mm T2.3 PL Mount and the other a Super16 7-81mm HR T2.4 PL Mount. Each one will cost you $10,350.  Used!

Perhaps the Next Big Thing will be the Red Scarlet.

Who knows if and when this camera will see the light of day, but what I’ve heard about it is that it will be available with two sensor options, a 2/3″ sensor and a full sensor.  The 2/3″ sensor is 10mm wide, approximately the same size as the A-cam sensor.  I’m assuming this will also create a 3x crop factor when used with SLR lenses.  Which means the only real option if I don’t want to spend a zillion dollars on new glass will be the Scarlet with a full sensor, which RED lists at 30mm wide.  But obviously this will have a huge impact on cost.  A word of caution: these specs are now a year old, and based on the most recent delays we’ve all been hearing about, I’m not even sure there are still two versions of the Scarlet in the pipeline.

Who knew interchangeable lenses could be so complicated?  Well, I’m sure a lot of people did, but I wasn’t one of them.

I suppose Canon or even Nikon could swoop in and rescue me by creating an APS-C sensor HDSLR that shoots true 1080P (like a lot of people, I’m concerned that the 7D may simply be upscaling 720P) with a professional quality, high bit-rate codec.  It would need to allow for simultaneous LCD monitor and HDMI-out signals.  We’re probably five years away from a global shutter I can afford, but at least the next great HDSLR from Canon or Nikon could do away with line skipping in favor of something better.  I know some folks wish for more audio controls, but I’ve gotten used to a secondary recording device, and may even prefer it.

Or, the simplest solution of all, I suppose, is to just keeping using what I’m using.  Canon 7D.  Combination of Canon and Nikon glass.  Rolling shutter on quick pans.  Jello effect on shaky handhelds.  13 minute cut-off time on interviews.  For the most part, I’ve been happy with the results.  The more I learn about HDSLR shooting, the more critical of it I become, but for corporate work, which is how I make my living, it’s easily the best technology I’ve ever had access to.

I think that, like many people, I can become susceptible to “gear envy.”  I’ll see what different companies are releasing — a gearless follow focus solution here, a fancy new HDMI monitor there — and I’ll think, hey, that would be the perfect piece of equipment for my kit.  So I’ll save up for it, and then count the days until it arrives in the mail, when I open the box, barely able to contain my excitement, and…

…and my life goes on just as it did before.  I don’t believe a $1,000 matte box can make a person happier anymore than a $1,000 watch can.  If my $150 matte box is still working, there’s no reason to lust after a more expensive model.  And yet, when it comes to camera gear, it’s always about the next technology, the next upgrade, the next lens system.  We eat this stuff up every year at NAB and we visit our favorite HDSLR websites every week, daydreaming about the perfect quick release rod system, the best LCD magnifier, the most stable shoulder support rig, what have you.

It’s easy to rationalize these expenditures by arguing that these are all items needed for work.  We tell ourselves (and our wives) that we can’t afford to risk using cheaper, less dependable gear on jobs.  And that is certainly true for some people, professionals living and working mostly in L.A., who shoot for series television, 30 second broadcast advertising, or mid-range features.  But, in my experience, producers and videographers who make their living shooting corporate interviews, music videos, short films, b-roll, or documentaries don’t necessarily need the latest and greatest equipment.  These folks are being asked over and over again to cut their rates.  For this group — and I count myself as a member — the best gear on the market may be the stuff we already own.

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One response to “Interchangeable Mess

  1. Scarlet & Epic delayed by manufacturing problems (with Foxxcom in China, I think).

    Scarlet 2/3″ w/8x fixed lens and sum accessories $4750
    Scarlet 2/3″ w/interchangeable lens $2750 (5 mini-primes from 6mm to 50mm, $950 each)
    Scarlet S35 $7000

    Full details here:

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