There’s nothing more satisfying than finding just the right thing to give your videos a fresh new look. Three types of camcorder lens accessories – lens filters, wide-angle lens adapters and telephoto lens adapters – offer you extra flexibility and creativity when you begin to acquire your footage.
The frustration of not getting everything you want into a shot simply because you can’t physically move any farther back is a common one.
Those clever lens accessory makers provide a wide array of add-on lens adaptors designed to let your camera see more of the horizontal and vertical field of view at a given distance. At some point, wide-angle lenses introduce an unacceptable amount of distortion, which manifests itself as a fish-eye view.
Probably the most flexible type in the category is the "zoom-through" wide-angle adapter. As the name implies, this design lets you increase the viewing angle of your lens, but keeps it’s ability to zoom intact.
Not all wide-angle lenses are of the zoom-through variety. A standard wide-angle diopter provides a larger viewing field, but at a fixed focal length. Once you put it on the camera, you’re restricted to that one wide shot.
Tele-extenders do just the opposite. These screw onto the front of your camcorder’s lens and expand its long-range zoom capabilities.
A 2x extender affixed to the end of your camcorder lens will let you make objects appear twice as close as they appear without the accessory.
However, with that plus comes a minus. Lens extenders typically restrict the amount of light that reaches your camera’s CCD. So, to get a properly exposed picture with a tele-extender in place, you’ll need to arrange for more light to fall on your subject or you’ll need to open up your aperture, thereby reducing your depth of field. These long-lens accessories are most useful when used outdoors and in other situations where you have plenty of available light.
Another challenge with tele-extenders is that at your camcorder’s widest zoom setting, the barrel of the extender will actually mask a portion of the frame, providing a round window effect instead of a full frame.
With an extreme extender, like a 5x lens, you might only get a full field of view at your camcorder’s maximum zoom. And the resulting images will be quite a bit dimmer than your camera would otherwise produce.
At the other end of the lens spectrum are macro units designed for closeup work. These attachments allow you to focus your video camera’s lens nearly on top of an object. Although most camcorders have fantastic default macro capabilities (just see how close you can get to an object with yours), you can use macro attachments to get extreme closeups without getting physically close to the object, which in practice allows you to get more light onto your subject.
These accessories are ideal for videotaping coin or stamp collections, and closeup lenses are often just the ticket for copy-stand work, allowing you to get your camera really close to modest-sized objects so they’ll fill the entire video frame.
The artistic uses of a colored piece of glass (albeit an optical-grade piece of glass) in front of your camera’s lens do not begin to cover the sophisticated applications of lens filters. The most simple and inexpensive is a protective filter, which is a clear piece of glass used to guard the expensive optics of your lens. Glass inherently stops potentially damaging UV radiation, so most protective filters also tout their ability to stop UV light; it can’t hurt and doesn’t cost any more for a UV filter. The next level is a neutral density (ND) filter, which is a gray piece of glass, designed to lower the total amount of light entering the lens without changing its color. This can be useful when you want to open up the aperture for some depth-of-field effects on a bright day. ND filters come in a variety of densities. Another variation on the ND filter is the gradient filter, which you can rotate to diminish the light from the sky for example, allowing you to properly expose two greatly disparate areas of a scene.
Another handy filter for use in the sun is a polarizing filter. It controls reflected light, which comes at the camera in straight, parallel lines. Polarizing filters can reduce glare from water, snow, glass or other non-metal reflective sources and thereby allow you to capture deeper, more saturated colors.
Color correction filters are also available, but camcorders can often do without these filters with careful and intentional manual white balancing techniques. You may find artistic or creative uses for colored filters, however.
Special effects are also a part of the lens accessory toolbox. From special colors, gradient colors, fogs, frosts, stars, multi-image to petroleum jelly, there are many tricks and effects you can perform in-camera without fooling around with capturing and editing your video on a computer. Just remember that the real world doesn’t have any levels of Undo.
There is another whole class of lens accessories designed to work with your filters and help you improve your shots in the field.
Matte boxes, special holders that attach to the front of your camcorder, allow you to mount glass or plastic filters such as polarizers and gradient filters to the front of your lens.
These often provide the same capabilities as screw-on lens filters, but by using a matte-box system, you get the benefits of being able to easily use multiple filters for the same shot, and you have the ability to quickly change filters as your shooting environment changes.
So called "French flags" are shades mounted on special flexible arms that can keep the sun from spoiling your shots with unwanted lens flares.
Two other extremely popular lens accessories that come to the camcorder world from the world of broadcast video cameras are remote zoom and focus controllers.
In the pro world, studio kits are extension handles with controls for zoom and focus that let camera operators control their shots via special connectors and gears that manipulate camera settings.
Modern camcorder equivalents use electronic connections (most often the LANC port on your camcorder) to provide some of the same remote-controlled convenience.
If you’ve ever mounted your camcorder to a jib arm, or tried to use it while your tripod is at it’s maximum height, you’ll understand how useful having remote control of zoom and focus can be.
Wrap it Up
Lens accessories have been around almost as long as the camcorders themselves. And the best of them make our lives easier by providing us with creative options and giving us more control over the images that our camcorders produce. For more information on lens filters and accessories, visit the companies listed in the accompanying sidebar.
Lens Accessory Terms
- Zoom Through – A wide-angle lens type that keeps an image in focus through the range of your camcorder’s zoom.
- Lens Speed – The efficiency of a lens to pass light.
- Multi-Coated – Optical coatings put on lens elements to reduce lens flare or other distortions.
- Barrel Distortion – The effect of the physical length of a lens housing on the image passing through it.
- Vignetting – When a lens doesn’t pass the full picture and essentially "masks" part of the original image.
- Edge Distortion – The effect of lens curvature on the edges and corners of a frame.
- Fisheye – A type of ultra-wide angle lens providing an extremely wide angle of view at the cost of extreme image distortion.
Lens Filters and Accessories Manufacturers Listing
- Century Precision Optics
Screw-on filters, square filters, matte boxes, sunshades, wide-angle and telephoto lenses
Square filters, filter holders
- Cool Contraptions
- Hoya, Kenko, Moose’s Filter
Screw-on filters, wide-angle and telephoto lenses
- Lee Filters
Screw-on filters, square filters
Lens caps, hood covers
Wide-angle and telephoto lenses
- SignVideo, Ltd.
Screw-on filters, stepping rings