Whether professional, hobbyist, or rank perfectionist, any videographer willing to go to the trouble and expense of using lens attachments does it for a reason: Of all the accessories available to videomakers, lens attachments affect the image most directly-with most creative impact.
A tripod will help ensure steady images, an extra mike may yield better sound, lights can certainly improve an indoor shot, but lenses and filters are part of the video camera’s eye!
Dazzling special effects are the popular benefit of lens accessories. But they also offer-conveniently and usually inexpensively-changes in color, contrast, brightness, range, expanse, and intimacy of shots for a variety of more “traditional” videomaking applications.
Lenses Fit for a Videomaker
Unlike 35mm SLR, film, and early broadcast TV cameras, most camcorders are not made for lens changing. They have a built-in zoom lens which is actually many lenses in one.
You can shoot wide-angle or closeup views of a scene (magnified six or eight times) and any variations in between simply by pressing a button. As convenent as It is, though, your camcorder’s
zoom lens can’t always give you the image you want-wide enough or close enough. Then there are times, shooting closeups, when your macro setting won’t allow you to zoom and keep images
A great variety of wide angle, telephoto, and closeup lenses are available for these situations which call for an add-on lens.
Wide-angle lenses are available to increase your camcorder’s wide angle view two orthreefold. (A”fisheye” lens gives you such a wide view that it looks curved.)
Telephoto lenses, also known as tele converters, can increase your closeup view anywhere from one-and-a-half to the “super spy” magnification of five-and-a-half times. Lenses are described by the degree of their multiplication capabilities; “2x,” for example, doubles the focal range of your lens.
As for closeup lenses, most newer camcorders have macro settings-but with no depth of field. So you must keep the distance between the subject and the lens the same; no zooming.
Consider the following important points before investing in an add-on lens:
- Lenses reduce the amount of light entering a camera-not a problem unless you have inadequate light.
- You can’t use them with your camcorder’s automatic focus and power zoom. You’ll need to perform these functions manually.
- They don’t function as a zoom lens does-going from wide angle to telephoto with equally satisfactory results.
For example, if while using an accessory telephoto lens you zoom back to the wide-angle position, you’ll see the image within a circle, as though you’re shooting through a telescope. The greater the magnification of the telephoto attachment, the smaller the circle.
This effect, called “vignetting,” can be effective when used in appropriate circumstances. But when you don’t want a vignette, it can be annoying. A client of mine who shot 10 hours of videotape on an African safari using a telephoto attachment was very disappointed to see this effect whenever at wide angle.
When you shoot a wide angle with a 5x telephoto lens attachment in place, a small circle will enclose the image in the center of a dark background. However, when using the attachment for what it’s designed for, you’ll be amazed at what it can do: closeups of a bird sitting on a branch 50 feet away!
Add-on lenses must be considered prime lenses, having a single function. If our African safari friend had removed his telephoto lens after getting his closeups of animals and used a wide-angle lens attachment for the wide views, he would have been a lot happier with his result.
Fun With Filters
Filters vary from clear to multi-image. You can-and should-place a clear one permanently in front of your camcorder lens to protect it from dust and damage, while the esoteric multi-image filter splits images five, eight, or 12 times for kaleidoscopic effects.
The fact that filters made for 35mm SLR cameras can be used on camcorders makes them especially accessible. For the videographer who wants to create a perfect image, filters can be practical problem-solvers; for the experimenter they’re just plain fun.
For the latter application, be well advised that most video special effects lose their impact when overused. One filter effect per tape is plenty.
Beyond the virtually clear skylight (1A) or haze (IJV) protection filters, the neutral-density
(ND) filter probably has the broadest application: reducing the amount of light reaching the lens.
These filters are available in various densities, to cut light the equivalent of anywhere from one-third to several fstops (exposure units).
A neutral-density filter would be very useful, for example, on a day so bright that your lens is stopped all the way down to minimize the amount of light entering your camcorder. The image is too bright and so sharp that your subject blends into the background.
A neutral-density filter will cut down the amount of light entering the lens, forcing the iris to a larger f-stop and providing you with a more limited depth of field. You can cut the glare in your image and also have your subject stand out from the slightly blurred background.
Useful when shooting reflective images such as water, snow, sky, and glass, polarizers (a type of neutral-density filter) limit the amount of light reaching the lens from certain directions.
This means you must rotate the lens-while reflections and highlights disappear and reappear-until you see the effect you want. A polarizer has a dot or some othermarking to indicate the plane of polarization. Keep that mark near the top of the lens.
Fog, Sepia, and Starbursts
Like ND and polarizers, diffusion and fog filters affect the amount of light entering the camera, but they do so to a more radical degree.
A diffusion filter’s effect is similar to putting finely-woven material over the lens to reduce the light evenly. Fog filters, made of lightly sandblasted glass, actually can make your image look like it’s immersed in fog even on a very sunny day.
These filters are useful for creating moods, when you want to cut down on glaring reality-demonstrated often in television commercials
There are filters in every color imaginable, but one that’s especially useful for the home videographer has a brownish-orange color to give scenes an antique look, like an an old discolored photograph.
This “sepia” filter would not be one that you would need often, but to use it on, say, a video biography like Francis Ford Coppola did to create that turn-of-the-century look in The Godfather, would be extremely effective.
Like sepia filters, starburst filters are only useful in special situations. By making streaks of light project from bright light sources, starburst filters create spectacular images.
For stage performances, capturing the effect of light shafts beaming out from the stage lights emphasizes the glitter of the occasion. You must, of course, have some bright lights in the scene for the filter to do its thing.
(Caution: Don’t point at the sun or any very bright light if you have a tube camera. A chip camera can handle bright light; a tube camera cannot.)
Other special filters include those with clear centers to focus on the main subject and distort the surroundings, and those with graduating or half colors that can tint a sky, for example, without affecting the rest of the image.
Multi-image filters have different facets to split images various ways. For example, images can be multiplied six times and arranged in a kaleidoscopic circle. And you can, of course, rotate the lens as you would a kaleidoscope to revolve the multiple image.
Hold That Thought
Lens accessories attach to your camcorder by screwing onto the “filter threads” located at the end of most zoom lenses. However, not all camcorders have the same thread sizes. Common diameters of zoom lens faces are 46, 49, and 52mm-usually imprinted near the front and/or included in the camcorder’s instruction manual.
If your camera is a different size, an adapter ring will allow you to add different sized lenses and filters. In fact, most add-on lenses are sold with a set of adapter rings; camera shops will have them since they’re made for 35mm SLR cameras. Be aware that it’s better to “step up” than to “step down,” since add-on lenses smaller than your lens may cause vignetting.
To make changing lenses easier than constant threading and unthreading, a lens mount allows you to snap on lenses. Likewise, filter holders let you mount filters conveniently and inexpensively. Simply fasten the holder to the lens and slip your filters into its slots.
Because filters are designed to thread into each other, you can achieve certain effects by combining several. Combining a sepia with a double fog filter would definitely alter the look of a brightly lit building facade.
Try It or Buy It
Most camcorder manufacturers offer a limited number of lenses and filters as optional accessories. Video accessory companies offer a wide range of filters and add-on lenses, and many filter specialists also sell lenses.
A camera store that also sells video equipment is the place to go to buy these accessories directly. While video camera shops may only be able to show you a catalog, photography stores stock these accessories for their 35mm customers.
An advantage of in-person shopping is the opportunity to try out the various lenses and filters. For mail inquiries, most suppliers do, however, provide color brochures with visuals demonstrating the results of their products.
Think beforehand about what you’d like to accomplish in practical and creative terms with the lens accessories you’ll purchase. An add-on lens may help you capture otherwise impossible shots, while the addition of a few filters to your video kit can make your work sparkle.
Joan Merrill is an independent video producer, freelance writer, and owner of her own California-based production company. She is the author of a book on videomaking to be published by Prentice-Hall later this year.