Gear & Now: HDV Camcorder Accessories, Part Two--Lenses and Filters
Posted Jan 1, 2006

The creative use of optical filters and interchangeable lenses (where possible) in event videography opens the door to wider, closer, and more colorful video imagery. As the newest camcorders make their way onto the popular HDV stage, they are supported by a growing cast of accessories--among them, cool new super-telephoto lenses, night vision image enhancers, and 35mm film lens adaptors for HDV camcorders.

First, though, let's be clear: filters for fixed or interchangeable lenses serve two roles: creative, and protective. For one example, the new Digital Ultra Clear from Tiffen simply protects a lens against dirt, grime and fingerprints--if not folding, bending and mutilating--without affecting the image. Its size (ranging up to 82mm) and price ($30 to $110) make it pretty hard to resist.

A bit about filter sizes in mm: how many of you know--without looking--the lens filter thread size of your camera? The Z1U, for example, is 72mm; Canon's XL1 and XL2 are 72mm as well. The Sony HC1 is 37mm. Panasonic's DVX100 is 72mm. Any 77s out there? 82s?

Once you find out, a world of possibility opens up, for more than just protection. Hundreds of different threaded screw-on filters are available as single aluminum or plastic rings, in production-specific sets (polarizing kits and "film look" sets, for example), or as pre-cut square sheets for mounting in matte boxes.

Filters can add a special look to your shot (cross-star, halo, center spot, and more) or be used for image correction (color temperature, polarization, diffusion) or both. Color-gradated (grads) filters can do some interesting things, indoors or out. An orange-to-clear filter, for example, can truly dramatize an otherwise weak sunrise or sunset shot. Stripe filters (say, with clear down the middle and blue on the sides) can be used to paint a scene, or do some area-specific color temperature balancing. UV, ND, and polarizers can bring more depth and contrast to hazy, overcast, uni-chrome skies. As well, some observers feel the anti-aliasing filter on CCD and CMOS sensors in some digital cameras are highly reflective on their own. Anti-reflection coatings formulated to counter such artifacts are now available.

The list and possibilities are truly endless, so check out as many companies as you can before making your move. Vendors with offerings in this space include B&W/Schneider, Cokin, Formatt, Kenko, Heliopan, Hoya, Lee, Promaster, Tiffen, and many more. Pricing is all over the map, too, ranging from less than $20 to over $200 per filter, depending on the type, function, and manufacturer.

Some video camcorder owners have another exciting decision to make: on which lens might the filter be mounted? (OK, some interchangeable lenses cost more than the camera itself, but I still love the option! And if you can't or won't get a new lens, a conversion device might work just as well in some cases.)

The Sony HDR-HC1 CMOS Cam, for example, with its Carl Zeiss Sonnar Optical Zoom 10x, has a nice, bit-fixed lens. Available wide- and tele-conversion lenses, priced around $170 and $340 respectively, stretch the camera's angle of view and reach capabilities considerably.

16x9 Inc. is among the makers of wide-angle conversion tools for the HVR-Z1U and HDR-FX1 HDV camcorders. Its new 0.7X Wide Angle Converter threads on to open up the angle of view some 30 percent. It maintains zoom-through capability while doing so, but the original 4.5-54mm lens becomes a 3.2-38.5 mm.

The converter weighs about 23 oz., measures 45mm long, and costs about $700. Its 72mm rear thread is compatible with other camcorders like the Panasonic DVX100/A and Canon XL 1/2. It has a 95mm front thread for filters, and it works with matte box systems.

Century Optics, too, has a complete line of wide angle, wide- and tele-conversion lenses for today's popular camcorders, including the Sony models.

Its .6X Wide Conversion Lens (list $849.95) opens up the image by about 40 percent, and offers "limited" zoom-through (probably best used when zoom isn't needed). Matte boxes or protective shades are also available from Century for many lenses and cameras.  

Century has also just introduced its Xtreme Fisheye, designed for use miniDV camcorders like the Z1U. It provides a 160-degree horizontal image, terrific for dramatic shots in tight spaces, pulling in nearby objects while seeming to push back those more distant. It's priced below $3,000.

The new Red Eye .7x and .5x 72 mm aspheric wide angle adapters are designed for most of the DV/HDV/HDTV cameras (58, 72, 77, and 82mm sizes are available), including the Sony Z1U and FX1, Panasonic 100A and now B, etc. It was developed by Canadian videographer/cinematographer Rene Collins.

The Red Eye is quite thin and light (less than 3.5 oz., or 100 grams), and features a multi-layer anti-reflective coating to increase light transmission to near 100% for the best image clarity, contrast, and sharpness. Its hard coating offers scratch resistance and water repellency.

As many users have noted, HDV cameras have a very fast auto-focus feature. Interestingly, although the Red Eye is, strictly speaking, a "non-zoom-through" adapter, it can be used as a partial zoom-through with these cameras. The cameras set on auto-focus will allow you to zoom in about 30-40 percent from the wide setting. As the zoom lens tracks past the 30-40 percent range with the Red Eye on, it will then lose focus.

With the .7x aspheric Red Eye adapter, the angle of view on most camera lenses will be increased by 30 percent. Prices start at around $350.

Raynox is another maker of HDV camcorder accessories, too, including fish eye, wide angle, super macro lenses, and protection filters. But its telephoto and super-telephoto lenses are out there.

The DCR-2020PRO lens extends the focal length of the FX1 to 850mm; the DCR-1540PRO lens takes it to 600mm (as a 35mm equivalent). The optical 2-group/4-element formulation performs well, maintaining good resolution at the center of the image, without reducing F-stop exposure values.

Somewhat amazingly, the 1540 is priced at barely over $100! It can be used with camcorders with 52mm mounting threads, but it is heavier than products like the 16x9 Inc. unit described earlier.

JVC's GY-HD100U comes with a detachable bayonet mount lens, probably the Fujinon 5.5-to-88mm 16x Optical Zoom with a 72mm Filter Diameter. The key word here is detachable, meaning all sorts of angle options are available.

Yes, there's the 13x (3.5mm) wide angle ProHD Lens - priced around $12 K (among others). But there's also a lens mount converter, to get a 1/2" lens on the 1/3" mount. For around $700, adapters like this not only open the creativity door, they can knock it off the hinges.

Special Adapters, Lenses, Matte Boxes
The P+S Technik Mini35 Digital Image Converter is a case in point. Newly available for almost all the top DV/HDV camcorders (Canon XLs, Panasonic AG-DVX100/100A, Sony HDR-FX1/HVR-Z1U and PD150/PD170, JVC GY-HD100U), the kit is optimized for motion and still 35mm film lenses, including top-notch glass from Arri, Nikon, Panavision, Zeiss, or Canon.

The digital adapter creates an image on ground glass located in the film plane of the attached lens. By creating a physical image inside the adapter, control over depth of field is preserved. The 35mm format image is then relayed onto the camcorder's CCDs and recorded to tape. It makes for truly astounding imagery, with control and depth not often encountered on video.

Of course, it comes with a price: around $7,500 for Series 400 kits (base unit, mounting rods, camera supports, handles) and about $2,500 for a required camera adapter.

Canon, of course, is both a well-known lens and camera manufacturer, so the popularity and flexibility of the interchangeable-lens XL1/2 DV camcorders is understandable. Its 20x Professional L-Series Fluorite optical zoom lens, with optical image stabilization, is priced around $2,000. Canon's EF Series lens adapter is about $600.

Not only does Canon have its own lenses and conversion tools, the XL platform is target for many third-party manufacturers, as well.

The Electrophysics 9300-XL Astroscope kit, for example, turns the XL2 into a powerful long-range low-light camera. The $6,000 kit incorporates an image intensifier for superior low-light sensitivity, and digital magnification that increases the focal length by 7.2X.

Using the 100-400mm lens with the XL2 20X gives an effective focal length of 720-2880mm (35mm equivalent) allowing this setup to produce an identifiable image greater than a half-mile away, the company says.

Panasonic's AG-DVX100A (and the DVC-80) as well as the eagerly anticipated (should be out by the time you read this) AG-HDX200 have a fixed lens (a 13x optical zoom for the 200) with wide-angle capability (and 82mm filter diameter). Now in stock is Panasonic's 16x9 anamorphic lens, for squeezing a 16:9 image onto its 4:3 chipset. Priced at around $700, most say it's still a better way of maintaining the best possible resolution than letterboxing or digital squeezing.

And if you're ready for the Full Monty of filtering and lens accessories, you can go Hollywood with your camcorder. 16x9 Inc. recently introduced the Chrosziel HDV Matte box Kit and 4x4 Clamp-on Sunshade System for the GY-HD100, with a real 16:9 housing and snap-in 16:9 insert mask. It works with all the lens models offered by JVC--standard 16X, 13X wide-angle zoom, and 0.8X wide angle converter.

Matte boxes such as this Chrosziel can be ordered with rigs for follow focus and focus gear-drive mechanisms. Such systems are also available from companies like Formatt, Vocas, and Cavision for the HD100 and other HDV camcorders. These large and impressive-looking cine-style kits bring complete control over camera filtering and image enhancement, and are clearly seen as one way to more creative videography.

(To see Part 1 of this article, please click here.)

Suggested Resources

16x9 Inc.

Century Optics

Camera Filters

Collinscraft Canada

Electrophysics Corp.

LEE Filters USA

Photographic Research Organization

P+S Technik


The Tiffen Company