The Death of the 35mm Adapter

HD camcorders gave us the freedom to shoot without the expense of film and development cost. The drawback was the inability to achieve shallow depth of field. With a fixed lens HD camcorder, everything is in focus down to the smallest detail. In the late 90s, filmmakers using HD video, were forced to use tricks such as lighting in layers with the subject lit the brightest.

Without these creative but limited solutions, the audience can become distracted by a pretty extra in background or billboard that is part of the set. The result: your scene loses its impact due to lack of control over the image. The advent of the DOF or 35mm adapter gave us the ability to achieve a shallow depth of field giving you more artistic control of the image. For those who don’t know, the device works like a telecine using the macro focus of the camcorder to capture the image on a ground glass screen. The glass is spun using a miniature motor.

The shear weight of these devices and their components can be in excess of 20 pounds. This paved the way for an entire industry of camera support systems to redistribute the weight of the device, the lens, the follow focus and the HD monitor, which is critical to ensure clear, sharp focus.

Enter the 1080P Full Frame DSLR The Canon 5D and now the 7D have only been on the scene for a short while, and now video shooters everywhere are ditching their EX1s, HVX200s and even their XHA1s for the affordable full frame DSLR. Indeed, many fortunes have been made by those manufacturers of the 35mm adapter, but I’m afraid it’s all over now. Prices are falling, and it’s no secret why.

You can buy a Sony EX1 for $6.5k with a Letus Ultimate for $4k, totaling more than $10k without support railings, lenses or an HD monitor. Those accessories could easily jack up the price another $10k depending what you get. However, I can buy a 5D Mark II and a good lens with an ikan monitor for under $5k. If you’re still convinced you have to have a traditional video camera with a 35mm adapter, but your on a budget, you can buy the Panasonic DVX100 for $2.7k and get a Redrock Micro M2 Encore DOP Adapter and support system for $2k bringing you in just under $5k with no lens or monitor.

On the other hand, you can go to B&H and get a 7D with a lens for under $2k. That leaves some extra cash to get the V5600 from ikan for $630, and then you’re ready to shoot for under $3k. Final Analysis The Canon 5D Mark II ushered in a new era of video production that has left Sony, Panasonic, JVC and even Canon’s Video division standing on the sidelines to make way for the multitudes who are literally grabbing them from stores before they can be shelved.

In the meantime, the DOF Adapters are not moving, and the prices are dropping. Some are 50% cheaper then they were just six months ago. How low will the prices go in the coming months? Who knows. One thing is certain; the full frame DSLR revolution has rendered the 35mm adapter irrelevant and obsolete. The question isn’t, “Will they stop manufacturing,” but “When.”

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~ by Clint Milby on December 2, 2009.

9 Responses to “The Death of the 35mm Adapter”

  1. Nice Clint! While it’s clear DSLR video is going to knock a huge dent into the DV-HDV/Adapter market, there are a few areas (like sound, manual control, gamma, matting, etc.) where – as you’ve said – grabbing a ‘cheaper’ DV/35mm adapter rig may still pay. If you look at the spat of recent commercials (like the Canon/NFL spot) and 35mm adapter makers’ websites (Redrock, etc.), there IS some fear that they’ve/we’ve been digging in the wrong money pit with regard to achieving that illusive film look.

    Gone, yes, is the need to shell out $20K to achieve DoF (amog other cinematic desires). Still, fact is, beyond all the hype there are plenty of shortcomings/downward adjustments a DSLR operator has to make in an apples-to-apples face-off with a more ”traditional dv/adapter rig.

  2. Guys, a still camera with video recording ability doesn’t have nearly the latitude that an HVX200 or EX1 with a lens adapter has. I won’t get into the specifics here, but a simple search on DVXuser or other forums will pull up the details. Sure a 7d will be cheaper…and as any professional video production company will tell you; you get what you pay for!

    On a side note I own your 8″ HD monitor and love it. You have good stuff, and I understand you wanting to convice people that your products coupled with a still camera is equal to professional video cameras…but that’s just plain not true. A good option for many…but definately NOT a “lens adapter killer.”

    • Thanks for the comments. Trust me when I say this article has nothing to do with monitor sales. The DSLR revolution caught ikan totally by surprise, but because we embraced the change, it kept our monitors relevant in the market. It could have easily gone the other way for us. Anyone will tell you that you CAN’T shoot with a DOF adapter without a monitor. Actually you can, but it’s like jumping out of a plane without a backup shoot. Yea sure it might work, but what if it doesn’t??? Depending on the cost of the shoot, it could be bad.

  3. I have to say that when I read Clint’s latest post, it gave me a little bit of pause. While I can’t say that I believe 35mm adaptors will be completely dead, I can definitely say that I see us being in the midst of an enormous paradigm shift. I would echo what Clint said and go even further to say that Canon was shocked by the reception the 5D, 7D and now 1D received.

    The next logical step, if I was Canon, would be to go ahead and adapt the ‘guts’ of the 5D family and transplant those into a new, more video-friendly body, while keeping the full frame sensor and multi-lens capability.

    While I certainly agree that you get a lot of bang for your buck with the 5D series, it still lacks major features necessary for true, flawless digital cinema production. Audio, rolling shutter, lack of variable frame rates and a limiting form factor all leave room for 35mm adaptor rigs, though no one can argue that their sales have taken a huge hit.

    The thing that excites me the most, is that smaller and cheaper cameras are moving further and further into the territory of quality lens interchangeability, which opens the doors to continued quality from those who are creating the next generation of moving pictures.

  4. Tape is dead. Film is dead.
    He said. “Lets put the This is dead, That is dead to bed.”
    Technology never dies it just becomes irrelevant, too expensive or unsupported. The horse drawn carriage never died, it became less convenient and reliable than the auto mobile. There was a time period during the transition from where the bodies of cars were built by the same guys that made carriages. Remember Sony’s digital 8mm format. It was a temporary transitional tape format that existed just to bridge the gap until Sony could build new factories to produce DV tape mechanisms. The phenomenon of 35mm adapters were a bridge technology. When the HD cameras became affordable for the indie filmmaker they for the first time in video format had technology decent enough for capturing cinema quality images. The drawback was the lens sensor combination. #%mm adpaters were a fix for that problem…. a permanent solution is on its way. Is the new technology a viable alternative yet … I say so. Having shot with a RedRock for commercials and an indie feature, I can say coming from a video back ground the process was a PITA. A lot of the PITA goes away with a DSLR. Is the final image perfect with a DSLR … NO … but neither was the 35mm adapter route. The light loss was a real drag, the back focus was a constant source of hassle. The size of the package was an abomination, it cost a lot more than you would think, and monitoring became an issue…. Was it worth it?? Most of the time yes. The 35mm adapter route sure made some pretty pictures. The DOF effect was nicein many instances, but shallow DOF somewhere became the end all be all effect somewhere along the way. The softness and grain the ground glass did add some really nice unvideo like characteristics ti the image. But it was still a PITA to shoot with and I think it could really get in the way of the filmmaking process. Is the digital SLR route easy and fail proof … NO. It IS cheaper, lighter, and faster, the big thing is: it’s the future. The versions we see now are the first generation of the technology. The big guys never listened to us when we asked for the technology 5 or 6 years ago, that and the core technologies were not ready. The next few generations will improve in all of the areas that lack. Funny thing is they will too be obsolete in 5 years.

  5. Nice Article. True in many ways.

  6. You don’t just need a monitor for lens adapter work…you need an HD monitor – and IKAN’s are great for that! And OF COURSE the reason for your post if not your entire blog would be to support IKAN sales…why wouldn’t it? But what I’m saying is the DSLR is far from a lens adapter killer. If you and your readers would like to see why, here’s a great detailed article on this very subject:

    http://philipbloom.co.uk/2009/05/24/video-dslrs-the-death-of-35mm-adaptors/

    If you posted a topic called “THE DSLR: A GOOD ALTERNATIVE TO THOSE BULKY LENS ADAPTERS” I would be right on board with you. But that’s just not true. Read the article.

    • Thanks for the link Richard. Phillip Bloom’s one of the modern greats. But whether it’s adapter or DSLR, someone’s gonna make a monitor sale regardless. So in my book, given IKAN’s lights-out quality and price-point, it might as well be them.

      Clin’s post did just what it was supposed to: Spark meaningful discussion on worthy topic. If that promote his product, then it was time well spent for us all.

  7. M2 ENCORE wins.
    DSLR needs far to many accessories. You forgot about audio as well. HUGE. No XLR inputs.
    and try showing up to capture a special event with a little DSLR..
    you’ll be laughed out of there.

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