Ever want to cram more horizon in your viewfinder by zooming out a bit
further–but your camcorder refuses? Or maybe you desire to zoom in tighter to
get a little closer to the action–but your lens just won’t cooperate?
What can you do? Since the majority of camcorders have a permanently affixed
lens, you’re stuck with it, right? Not exactly. There are options. Accessory
lenses offer expanded range for your camcorder’s vision–extended zoom
capabilities and a widened field of view.
In many cases a standard camcorder lens simply won’t cut it. Here we’ll
explore devices that attach to a camcorder’s lens to give the videomaker more
creative control. We’ll take a look at the different types of lens accessories,
describe what they can do for you, and how to shop for them.
Those of you who shoot 35mm SLR (single lens reflex) photography already know
about the advantages of interchangeable lenses. A still photographer might
carry three or more lenses along on a shoot, selecting a different one for
Most professional video cameras don’t even come with a lens; the buyer chooses
one to suit their specific needs. On these cameras, the lens attaches to a
certain type of mount, such as a bayonet mount. This makes it easy for the
professional videomaker to swap lenses in the field.
But the cards seem stacked against the videomaker who is stuck with a
permanently attached lens. Don’t despair–external lens attachments can do the
trick. These devices attach to the lens by screwing or snapping onto the
threads on the front of a camcorder’s permanent lens. Adapters, converters and
other lens accessories can give videomakers some of the creative control of the
interchangeable lens at a fraction of the cost of a professional camcorder.
The Promise of VL Mount
In 1990, engineers from Canon, Hitachi, Matsushita and Sony cooperatively
announced a lens mounting system for consumer camcorders. These major players
in the camcorder industry envisioned a day when a lens that fit, say, a Sony
camcorder could be removed and attached to, say, a Hitachi camcorder.
They dubbed the breakthrough system the VL (Video Lens) mount. It permitted
quick release of a lens and re-attachment to another camcorder body while
retaining auto focus, iris and power zoom capability. Tiny electrical contact
points located on the lens and camcorder body transferred commands for these
vital lens functions. A locking mechanism securely attached the lens to the
The unveiling of the VL mount system signaled a future that held great
promise. The consumer would finally share the lens interchangeability that
video pros took for granted. Unfortunately, that promise has gone largely
unrealized. Only Canon developed a camcorder using this technology. They
included it first on the Canon L1 and now it appears on the new L2 Hi8
camcorder. They currently offer five diverse VL mount lenses plus a 2x adapter.
Other manufacturers, like Electrophysics, are offering VL mount compatible
equipment, and hopefully more will soon follow.
Until more manufacturers embrace the VL mount standard, lens accessories are
the videomaker’s only option.
Before we go on, let’s get some basic terms and concepts out of the way. We’ll
start with the lens itself. It’s one of two essential components of a camera’s
image-gathering system–the other part is the light sensitive CCD
Because lenses play an indispensable role in the quality of the images a
camcorder captures, the quality of your lens has a profound effect on the
quality of your work. If the glass isn’t ground to precise tolerances, or the
setting of the individual elements within the lens is off even slightly, the
image becomes fuzzy and distorted. The same goes for lens accessories. If the
materials or construction of an accessory lens aren’t up to snuff, your image
Typically measured in millimeters, focal length is the distance from
where the light rays converge in the lens to the surface of the camera’s CCD.
This distance determines the width of the field of view. Short focal lengths
provide a broad field of view (wide angle), while long focal lengths offer a
narrow field of view (telephoto). It’s focal length that most lens adapters
There are aesthetic considerations to ponder when you vary the focal length of
your lens. A longer focal length (telephoto setting) allows you to bring a
subject into sharp focus while throwing the background into a blur. This comes
in handy when shooting people against confusing backdrops.
The telephoto lens also compresses distant objects by making them appear
closer together. A telephoto shot down a busy street makes the cars and people
look even more crowded. When making a shot like this, you’d better use a
tripod–a telephoto lens accentuates camera unsteadiness. A telephoto lens
adapter will make the compression–and the unsteadiness–even more dramatic.
A wide angle shot gives the videomaker a reprieve from worrying about holding
the camera still. Small wobbles and bumps shot through a wide angle lens are
barely noticeable. Also, focus is less critical when shooting wide angle,
especially when compared to telephoto shooting.
The only time a wide angle lens imparts a noticeable “look” to your video is
when it’s really wide. Called barrel or fisheye distortion, this effect
makes straight lines on the edges of the image appear curved. It also
dramatically enhances the apparent distance between objects, making anything
close to the lens look comically huge. Attaching a wide angle or fisheye lens
accessory your camcorder will net you these types of effects.
No Free Lunch
There’s an optical price to pay when using lens adapters and accessories. An
additional lens presents the possibility of distorting the image and reducing
light intensity. Unwanted side effects include skewed colors, fuzzy images and
problems shooting in low-light situations.
Look for accessories that use fewer lens elements—they’ll have less chance
of producing unwanted effects (though there are exceptions to this rule).
Remember, you get what you pay for. An inexpensive converter will most likely
take more of a toll on your images than a costlier model.
Some autofocus systems get fooled by lens adapters. This is more likely to
happen on older camcorders without inner focus lenses. You may have to resort
to manual focus.
Make sure the lens attachment you purchase will fit your particular
camcorder’s lens. Not all camcorders have threads the same size. (See
accompanying sidebar for a listing of the thread sizes for common
Common lens thread sizes are 34mm, 37mm, 43mm, 46mm, 49mm, 52mm, 55mm and
72mm. Palm-sized camcorders typically have smaller lens thread sizes, and
full-sized camcorders have larger ones. Check for the thread size marked
on the front of the lens. If you can’t find it there, check the specifications
page of your owner’s manual–typically listed under “lens diameter.”
Ideally, you should use lens accessories that directly fit your camcorder’s
lens. But when that’s not possible, a myriad of threaded adapters are available
to solve the problem.
If you must adapt, start with lens accessories that are bigger than your lens.
A smaller accessory might cause undesirable darkening at the corners of the
image, called vignetting. This effect is most noticeable when you zoom
to a wide angle setting. (Vignetting can also be a purposeful, artistic
Now that we have the preliminaries out of the way, let’s take a look at some
lens accessories, starting with the telephoto converter.
The telephoto converter enhances the focal power of your camcorder by boosting
its ability to capture distant objects. It does this by extending your lens’s
focal length and narrowing its field of view.
Kenko’s KVC-20 ($85) 2x telephoto converter lens is one example. The adapter
lens effectively doubles the focal length of your camcorder’s lens–hence the
“2x” designation. With the KVC-20 attached, a 10:1 zoom lens becomes a 20:1
zoom lens. The converter lens is just a bit over two inches long and will fit
49, 52 and 55mm camcorder lenses.
Other converter lenses typically range from 1.4x through a whopping 12x or
more. Typically, the more powerful the converter, the longer and heavier the
Sigma offers a variable focal length telephoto converter. The VZ-2 ($467) zoom
converter provides 1.8x to 4x enhancement through a 16 element zoom lens
The Raynox “Insta-Tele” ($46) is a unique snap-on telephoto adapter that works
with any lens from 34mm to 46mm. This dual-element adapter offers 1.8x
enhancement and high-quality optical glass.
Wide Angle World
The opposite of the telephoto converter is the wide angle converter. This lens
shortens the focal length and broadens the field of view of your camcorder’s
lens. One example is Raynox’s XL505 ($44) 0.5x wide angle adapter, which
reduces the focal length by a factor of 0.5. Like the Insta-Tele, Raynox’s
Insta-Wide XL attaches instantly to your camcorder’s lens and fits any lens
with a thread diameter between 43mm and 52mm.
Want the best of both worlds? Vivitar’s model 058035 ($71.95) offers 0.6x and
1.5x conversion–it’s both a wide angle and a telephoto adapter. The two-inch,
5 element lens fits 46, 49, and 52mm lenses. To switch between the two focal
lengths, you simply remove the lens and turn it around. Ambico’s V-0361
($69.95) is a similar two-in-one design with 0.6x and 1.35x capability.
A “fisheye” lens goes a step beyond a basic wide angle lens by offering an
ultra wide angle view. Here the lens playfully distorts reality, giving the fun
house mirror look described earlier.
Conversion lenses with a rating of less than about 0.5x will give a fisheye
effect. One example is Kenko’s KUW-045 ($110), offering 0.45x focal
Up Close and Personal
If you want to get closer than your stock lens allows, try using a close-up
lens, or diopter. They are available in varying degrees of magnifying
power–the higher the figure, the greater the magnification. With two diopters
attached together, the magnification factors are additive; attaching a +2 to a
+3 is equivalent to using a single lens rated at +5. A +2 will render a
wristwatch the size of a TV screen, while a +4 diopter will do the same to a
dime. Using the two together makes a monster of an ant.
Vivitar offers a wide range of lens diopters, with ratings of +1 to +4. You
can buy these individually, but it is more common to buy them in a set of 3
(+1, +2 and +4). Prices for these sets vary according to the size of the lens,
from $31 for 49mm to $64 for 72mm.
Want to attach a diopter to your zoom lens? With most diopters, you can’t do
this without increasing the chromatic aberration (fuzziness or loss of
resolution–remember?). Fortunately, a high-quality achromatic diopter
can cure this problem. Century Precision Optics offers a full line of these
diopters, from power +1 to +7. At $250 each, they will fit 58mm and smaller
You can achieve amazing–even awe-inspiring–effects with the intimate
perspective that macro shots offer. A macro shot magnifies something very small
to fill the screen. This makes the skin of an orange look like a lunar
landscape, or a common pencil look like the trunk of a towering redwood tree.
There are many applications for ultra close-up work. You could single out one
tiny person in a huge university graduating class photograph, or pan across the
signatures of the framers of the United States Constitution a few letters at a
time. In the science classroom, a few close-up shots of flora and fauna could
come in handy. Or you could just have fun with it–the possibilities are
To obtain crisp images and the greatest depth of field, macro shots require a
large amount of light. Be careful not to block the light source with your
camcorder. This is not always easy since the camcorder is so close to the
subject. Also, you’ll need to hold the camcorder steady, so use a tripod for
There are many other nifty gadgets that you can attach to your camcorder lens,
including filters, periscopes, microscopes and miniature fiber optic lenses.
The key to shopping for these is the same as with those mentioned above: find
the right tool for the job you want to do, then try before you buy.
This means taking your camcorder along when you shop for lens accessories.
Attach the accessory lens to your camcorder, right there in the store. Be sure
it allows your auto focus to function properly and provides full zoom range
without distorting the image. If you can, view the resulting image on a
And remember: just because you don’t have a detachable lens on your camcorder
doesn’t mean you have to suffer. There are quite enough lens accessories
available for you to exercise your optical options.
Glossary of Terms
Diopter A lens attachment that enhances the close up (macro) capabilities
of a lens.
Field of view The extent of a scene–or vista–that is visible through a
particular lens. Sometimes called angle of view. Most lens adapters affect
field of view.
Flare Bright flashes caused by excessive light striking the camera lens and
reflecting off internal glass elements. Poorly-designed lens adapters can
Focal length The distance from where the light converges in the lens to the
surface of the camera’s CCD. Determines how wide or narrow a vista a particular
lens can “see.” Most lens adapters affect focal length and field of view.
Macro A lens capable of extreme close-ups. Useful for intimate views of
Telephoto A lens with a long focal length and narrow field of view. It
captures magnified images from considerable physical distance. Opposite of
Vignetting Undesirable darkening at the corners of a picture due to
improper matching of accessory lens to camcorder lens. Occurs most frequently
when shooting at a wide angle setting through a telephoto lens adapters.
Sometimes used purposefully for artistic effect.
Wide Angle Lens A camera lens with a short focal length and broad field of
view; it offers a wide vista of a scene. Opposite of telephoto.
Lens Thread Size by Camcorder Model
Manufacturer Model Lens Thread Size Canon UCS3 37mm Canon UCS5 46mm Hitachi 2600A 37mm Hitachi VM-H57A 34mm Hitachi VM-H71A 46mm JVC GR-AX35 43mm JVC GR-AX55 43mm JVC GR-M7 52mm JVC GR-S505 52mm JVC GR-SX90 43mm JVC GR-SZ1 46mm JVC GY-X1TCU 72mm JVC GY-X2U 72mm Minolta 8-912 46mm Nikon VN-720 37mm Nikon VN-760 52mm Panasonic AG-186U 49mm Panasonic AG-195U 49mm Panasonic AG-3 37mm Panasonic AG-455U 49mm Panasonic AG-460U 55mm Panasonic PV-810 49mm Panasonic PV-S372 49mm Panasonic PV-S64 49mm Panasonic PV-S770 49mm RCA Pro833HB 34mm Ricoh R-87H 37mm Sharp VL-HL400U 37mm Sharp VL-L63U 43mm Sony CCD-FX710 37mm Sony CCD-TR500 37mm Sony CCD-TR700 52mm Sony CCD-VX3 52mm
Can’t find your model listed? Check the specifications page of your manual for
Accessory Lens Manufacturers
Not meant to be a comprehensive list.
1900 N. Austin Ave.
Chicago, IL 60610
2950 Lake Emma Road
Lake Mary, FL 32746
147 New Hyde Park Rd.
Franklyn Square, NY 11010
5441 N. Kadzi Ave.
Chicago, IL 60625
2240 15th St.
Rockford, IL 61104
Century Precision Optics
10713 Burbank Blvd.
N. Hollywood, CA 91601
2 Industrial Park Road
Plattsburgh, NY 12901
1318 Second St. Ste 27
Santa Monica, CA 90401
311 NW 122nd
P.O. Box 466
Oklahoma City, OK 73114
622 Goddard Ave.
Chesterfield, MO 63005
17801 Skypark Circle Ste B
Irvine, CA 92714
3-8-6 Nishiochiai Shinjuku-ku
Tokyo, Japan 161
401 E. Old Andrew Johnson Hwy
Jefferson City, TN 37760
2000 Clements Bridge Rd.
Deptford, NJ 08096
36 Bush Ave.
Port Chester, NY 10573
4100 Dahlia St.
P.O. Box 7234
Denver, CO 80207
15 Fleetwood Court
Ronkonoma, NY 11779
1512 Kona Drive
Compton, CA 90220
P.O. Box 429
Woodside, NY 11377
7202 W. Huron River Drive
Dexter, MI 48130
413 Oak Place #3-M
Port Orange, FL 32127
160 Hunts Lane
Chappaqua, NY 10514
9350 DeSoto Ave.
Chatsworth, CA 91311
Yoshida Industry Co.
P.O. Box 194