While many camera manufacturers like to tout the long reach of their zoom lenses, those of us in event videography who have ever had to get close-quarter shots under a chuppah, in a car, or in any other compact space will tell you we would rather have a good wide-angle then than a telephoto lens. We tend to shoot more at close range, and would rather have more when we do. At $995 and $707, respectively, 16x9’s EX 0.75X and 0.7X Wide Angle Converter lenses are priced within the budget of many event videographers. One thing to keep in mind is that these are both conversion lenses, not adapters. Converters allow you to zoom through them, while with adapters you must refocus every time you zoom in or out. I tried both of these lenses on a number of shoots and here is what I found.
Attaching and Installing the Lenses These new 16x9 lenses are designed for the larger handheld HD/HDV cameras such as the Sony Z1/FX1 and V1/FX7, the Canon H1/G1/A1, and the Panasonic AG-HVX200 (EX 0.75X only). While all of these cameras put out a good image, I’m most comfortable working with a full-size shoulder-mount Panasonic AG-DVC200, and find the smaller HDV less responsive and harder to mount accessories on. By the time I mount my Cool-Lux U3 Tri-Light, Sony ECM-672 shotgun mic, Sennheiser wireless receiver, and BeachTek DXA-4 XLR adapter, the sleek FX1 has grown to twice its usual mass. Adding these wide-angle converters makes the camera even more cumbersome.
Installation is pretty straightforward with both lenses, but should be done carefully and not in a rushed manner. For my Sony FX1, I first had to remove the lens hood, and then my UV protection filter from the camera’s lens. If your protection filter has outer threads, 16x9 recommends that you don’t mount it between the camera lens and converter lens. This changes focal distance between the converter and the camera lens and could cause performance issues. When screwing the lenses on, take great care thread the converter correctly. It can be quite a challenge, so be prepared to spend a few minutes doing it correctly. Failure to do so can cause the lens to strip the camera lens threads, or lead you to believe the lens is on tight when it’s just jammed and could easily fall off. Once you’ve successfully attached the lens, you can slide on and tighten the optional rubber lens shade ($295 MSRP).
Shooting with the Lenses
Once you have either of these lenses on, the coolness factor of the camera goes up and—especially with the giant lens shade (about the size of my SUV’s side-view mirror). It definitely looks like it means business. It doesn’t just look like a heavyweight camera—it is one. With both lenses you’ll notice the camera is a lot more front-heavy. After about 20 or 30 minutes of shooting handheld, my wrist was hurting. By the time I finished a three-hour bar mitzvah reception, I was in some pain. Five days later my wrist was still tender.
The images, however, are great. I shot the early-morning bar mitzvah service with the 0.7X lens. It proved wide enough to capture everyone standing around the Torah scroll and the entire width of the sanctuary, even though I was right up against the Torah-reading table. At the top of Figure 1 (below), you’ll notice a slight barreling of one of the roof support beams. While you may not have noticed it if I didn’t point it out, some purists won’t find it acceptable. This is something you can expect at the extreme wide angle of the zoom lens, though.
For the Saturday night reception, I shot with the EX 0.75X lens. I did a lot more running around at the reception than during the service. Because it was an orthodox event, the dance floor was split for separate men’s and women’s dancing. The women’s section was pretty small, but this lens allowed me to get the entire section from very close up. There, too, I encountered barreling at the extreme wide angle. There are trade-offs for getting the great wide-angle shots, that anomaly being one of them.
As mentioned earlier, you will feel the extra pound and a half (with lens and lens shade) on the front of the camera right away, and the large add-on lens will cost you whatever balance your camera had before. While I was easily able to make adjustments on my tripod, handheld shooting was another story. I found myself holding the camera more like a photographer holding a digital SLR for everything except the speeches, which I shot using a tripod (Figure 2, below). Not surprisingly, given the way I was holding the camera, several people came up to me asking to have their pictures taken while I was walking around the dance floor.
What the camera and converter does to your wrist shouldn’t be taken lightly. I’m not a complainer, but my wrist hurt for days after the reception. If I used this lens on a regular basis, I’m sure it would cause some serious damage to my right wrist. For a professional opinion I visited Dr. Benjamin Lesin, an orthopedic surgeon specializing in the hand and upper extremities, and an associate clinical professor at the Keck School of Medicine at USC. I showed him and the cerified hand therapist who works in his office the camera with and without the wide-angle converter lens (and my light). After handling it for a few minutes, his opinion was that the front-heavy camera could indeed do some serious damage not just to the wrist, but the elbow and shoulder as well. The wrist would be vulnerable to tendonitis and ligament strains. The elbow would invariably develop extensor strains and epicondylitis. The shoulder would be vulnerable to bursitis, tendonitis, and ligament strains. The physical therapist suggested a wrist brace. I’m going to look into look into finding one with a low enough profile to allow me to continue to use the camera’s hand grip.
I asked my colleague and fellow EventDV contributor David Robin of david robin | films how he deals with his Century Optics wide-angle that stays on his camera. He told me that he uses a monopod most of the time. I thought about that option, but it doesn’t work with my style of shooting. So right now I’m looking at shoulder-mount adapters, like Anton/Bauer’s Stasis system, to give my wrist some relief.
The Image Factor
I loved the images I got with these lenses, especially at close range. I don’t believe one needs to own both of the lenses. The 0.7X Wide Angle Converter will probably work well for most people and is slightly wider than the more expensive EX 0.75X lens. The reason for the price difference is that the EX 0.75X has four glass elements as opposed to three in the 0.7X. The EX 0.75X also has slightly less barreling. If you are shooting with the Panasonic HVX200, the EX 0.75X is the only choice as the 0.7X won’t work with that camcorder. Most mortal videographers should be happy with the 0.7X HDV.
Now about that HU-104 lens shade, which will run you close to $300. While the coolness factor is nice advertising on the job, indoors, the shade isn’t doing much. The shade is basically a piece of molded, flexible rubber with a plastic and metal ring clamp. My first thought is that they’ve got to be making at least 90% profit on this one, minimum. But alas, after showing it to a friend in the manufacturing business, he said the mold for the rubber could be over $10,000. So depending on the quantity made and sold, it may be a fair price. The HU-104 is also threaded in front to accept 105 mm screw-in filters.
In addition, the back ring is removable and a Chrosziel clamp ring (originating at 104 mm) can be inserted to work in other instances, making it a bit more universal. If you don’t work outdoors a lot and can live without it, save the $300 and skip it. It does look cool, though.
The Wide-Angle View
In conclusion, 16x9’s 0.7X Wide Angle Converter lens will work for most handheld HDV camcorders. If you own or plan to purchase Panasonic’s HVX200, the EX 0.75X gives you more flexibility (in terms of how many different camcorder models you can use it with) and better quality for another $200. If you shoot with any of the compatible handheld pro HDV/HD camcorders, I highly recommend getting at least one of these wide-angle lenses to widen your shooting horizons. At the same time, keep in mind that you must find something to provide support for your wrist or risk severe carpal tunnel-like pain.
Marc Franklin (marcfvp at yahoo.com) has run Franklin Video Productions since 1992.