Cheapish setup: Camcorder with adapted lens

This set-up is basically adding to the Cheapest Set-up in order to improve the quality of your image.  To understand why you might want to do this, compare your camcorder footage that you’ve taken so far to the images that you see in your favourite movie.  Pretty different right?  Do you notice some of the differences?  For one, there’s the colour.  Often your camcorder footage is going to look a lot more washed out, where as the film will be warm and full.  The other is what’s called the ‘depth of field’ – this refers to how much of the depth of the image is in the field of focus.  The shallower the depth of field, the more particular is the point of focus, and everything else gets blurrier and blurrier.  Now some of these things can be helped along by lighting, filming distance/zoom, and post-production effects, but your main problem is really the lens on your camcorder.  It’s simply not cut out to make anything even close to the images you see in the movies.

“But how can I even come close to getting this kind of image on a budget?!” you may ask.  Well, here’s an answer: get a better lens!  The next three set-ups are really about trying to keep improving that image by improving the lens (and capturing format) that you are able to use.

First things first.  Ever had a go of an SLR camera?  They have lots of versatility with lenses.  I love the photos that are taken with lenses that achieve a really shallow depth of field – I feel like I get caught up into the image.  Nowadays, the digital SLR cameras can also take full HD video – this means you can take video at a reasonable quality while at the same time achieving that brilliant footage!  But you may not yet be able to afford this kind of camera yet, or you might find them a bit awkward to shoot video on.  So what can you do?  Convert an old SLR lens onto your camcorder!  Lots of indie film makers went this way before SLR cameras got the HD video capability.

There’s some things you need to know though.  First, you want to get the right lens.  You want one that’s going to give you a good depth of field.  I got a 50mm 1.4f lens for mine (see picture above), and it has worked a treat.  You’re generally going to get a much shallower depth of field on a fixed lens (as in, no zoom).  I think it also forces you to frame your shot better than you would if you simply zoomed.  You can get an old one of these lenses for around $200 – they will usually be of great solid material, but might not fit a modern SLR (so if you were to end up getting an SLR, it wouldn’t be much good to you without another adapter – unless it’s a Nikon lens).  New lenses like this retail for around $450.

Next, you need a lens adapter.  This needs to both fit the lens and the camcorder thread – you may need to get an extra piece to fit these together.  The lens adapter is basically a tube with a focussing screen – so the image from the lens gets projected onto the screen, and the camcorder then focusses on the image on the screen.  Unfortunately this means that the image will be upside down, but you can work around this.  It is helpful to get an adapter that has a vibrating focussing screen.  This will blur out any specs of dust on the screen that would otherwise appear as tiny black dots on your final image.

Lots of people make these adapters themselves (search Vimeo for DIY lens adapter tutorials if you want to give it a go), but you could also buy one – they can be really expensive, but you should be able to pick a basic one up off ebay or a manufacturer for around $200.

So, the moral of the above?  If you’re going to improve your video footage, you need a good lens, and the cheapest way to do this will probably be to get a lens and a lens adapter for your camcorder.  This will end up costing you about $400 on top of what you already spent on the Cheapest Set-up of Camcorder and Mic.

PS.  Do not make this upgrade if you have not got an external mic.  The vibrating focussing screen will create noise for your camera mic, and will be way to0 distracting.  Audio over visual!

Update 29/6/11: a video on 35mm lens adapters – cheesy, and a bit long, but helpful visual of the mechanism.

Not for you?
Check out other setups in this series:
Cheapest setup: Camcorder and Mic
Not-so-cheap setup: DSLR + digital-audio-recorder
Necessories: tripod, mic, headphones, (audio recorder)

3 responses

  1. Pingback: Cheapest Set-up: Camcorder and Mic « Making Better Video

  2. Vic

    Dear Mike,

    Thanks for your information.

    I own a 60D and a Canon 50mm f. 1.4 lens. I intend to add some good lenses to my kit, but I’m really confused. In your opinion, if I use different brands of lenses, does my visual characteristic change from shot to shot?

    I appreciate your reply.


    April 7, 2012 at 8:28 am

    • Hi Vic,
      I’m not an expert on lenses by any measure, but I know that every lens is different. That’s why a lens of one brand can seemingly have the same stats as another (eg same zoom type and focal length possibilities) and yet produce a different image and be of a considerably different price. So, I think the bottom line is to do your research well, and look for a lens that will complement your other lenses. I think a number of other brands can be good. So if you’re wondering about a particular lens from a particular brand, check out to see if other people are using it and what they think of it. Let me know what you’re thinking of getting when you decide on it. I’m always interested on what lenses people think are best to have for the purposes of video.

      April 30, 2012 at 10:31 pm

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