Depth of field (DoF), in basic terms, is the distance in front of and beyond the subject which is in focus in any given shot. Therefore, having a shallow DoF allows you to put your subject in focus and at the same time blur out the background and foreground. In event video environments, this is a desirable effect because we not only want our brides or other subjects to stand out, but we often find them in messy hotel rooms or other areas with undesirable backgrounds that we cannot always control.
Therefore, having a shallow DoF affords us the luxury of precisely controlling what the viewer will focus on, which can be a powerful storytelling tool.
Of course, controlling DoF is easier said than done, which is one reason so few videographers use the technique effectively in their work. Enter in the 35mm adapter. Used in conjunction with your existing camera, a 35mm adapter allows you to take full control of the amount of DoF in your shots. I bought a Letus Flip Enhanced (FE) in November 2006 because it was relatively cheap and, according to reviews, did a good job.
One of the things I liked from the start with the Letus FE is that it flips the image upright for you. Most other adapters do not, which leaves your image upside down in your viewfinder. Soon after my purchase, I began slowly trying to work it into my weddings and other productions using it on my Sony FX1 and V1 cameras with a variety of Canon FD mount lenses I bought on eBay.
While I loved the images the Letus FE produced, it wasn’t exactly the pinnacle of engineering design and felt jury-rigged in a lot of ways.
When Letus recently announced a much-improved version of their product, the Letus Extreme, I was one of the first to put my order in. The new design retains all of the best aspects of the FE, improves on them, and also adds a ton of new features and enhancements. It is built very solidly, flips the image for you (like all Letus products have from day one), and you only lose one half-stop of light.
It’s powered by two AA batteries that fit inside the body of the Extreme, and it easily screws on to your lens apparatus with 72, 77, or 82mm threads, depending on which threads you order when you purchase the adapter.
In my opinion, the Letus Extreme (left) is the best sub-$1,500 adapter on the market today. (Even though Letus still sells the Flip Module as an add-on for users of other adapters that don’t give you a right-side-up image, the full line of Letus adapters now flip the image so it’s right-side-up automatically.)
As much as I loved the unique images my Letus 35mm adapter was giving me, I quickly realized that it requires a lot more care and attention to get good images than your typical video camera setup. The adapters attach to the front of your camera, increasing its weight and throwing off its balance quite a bit, and thus making it very front-heavy. If you are someone like me who primarily shoots handheld, focusing can be a challenge because you basically have to put your video camera in full auto and use your 35mm lenses to set exposure and pull focus.
Focusing can be difficult because with the adapter and 35mm lens attached at the end of it, your focusing ring is a lot farther out in front of you than you are typically used to. Needless to say, in the run-and-gun environment that we most often work in, it can be stressful at times to use the adapter effectively.
However, any difficulties I experienced were far outweighed by the payoff of the imagery I was getting with the adapter attached. When you combine the elements of the higher resolution and progressive image of HD cameras, and the shallow DoF afforded by 35mm adapters, you have the closest thing to a legit film look I’ve seen, and once I got it, I wanted to start working it into all of my productions.
I decided one of the best ways to utilize the adapter at weddings was to have a dedicated camera for it, so I designated my FX1 as my "Letus cam." So now, much like a photographer, I switch back and forth between cameras depending on the shot. This allows me to get the DoF shots I want quickly and without any hassles so I can use the other cam for the rest of my shots without tying it up.
If you are willing to make the investment, 35mm adapters can yield outstanding results and really set your videos apart. Be warned, the look they achieve can be addicting, making it hard to not use it all of the time. However, DoF effects are like any other specialty shot (i.e., Glidecam and Fisheye); they are most effective when used in moderation.
Daniel Boswell (daniel at dvartistry.com), a Menifee, Calif.-based wedding videographer, was named to the 2007 EventDV 25.