The biggest shortcoming for both Panasonic and Sony’s entry-level HD cameras (namely the Panasonic HVX200 and Sony FX1/Z1) is their fixed lenses.
This isn’t to say that their lenses aren’t any good. Quite the contrary, the HVX200 sports a 13x Leica and the Sony FX1 a similar 12X Zeiss glass.
The filmmaker’s dream, however, is to achieve filmlike video and that means some filmlike depth of field. Because of the size of their 1/3″ CCDs, prosumer HD cams have several times the DOF of a 35mm film camera at identical f-stops.
Throwing the technical mumbo-jumbo away, this means that bringing a single face in focus while keeping the foreground/background nicely blurred (e.g. when shooing an over-the-shoulder dialog) is times more challenging when using a HVX200.
Enter the 35mm adapter. These are not manufactured by Sony, Panasonic, or any other company you’ve heard of. They are totally indie in that they’re produced by guys in their garages or workshops.
The price of a 35mm adapter starts at a few hundred for DIY adapter and goes to several thousand for a professional one.
How do 35mm adapters work? Let’s turn to Wikipedia:
A shallow DOF (a.k.a. 35mm) adapter looks to take the place of the camera’s CCD and use a larger focusing plate (in many cases, 35 millimeters) to capture an image. Since this image is focused onto a translucent screen, the camcorder is able to focus on it and record it. The lens attached to the adapter now takes the job of the camcorder’s focusing and aperture mechanisms, as the camcorder’s only responsibility at this point is to record what is being projected onto the focusing screen (called backfocus).
Here’s the shortlist of 35mm adapters:
- Mini35 by P+S Technik (Munich, Germany)
- Guerilla35 by Cinemek
- Micro35 by Redrock Microsystems
I’ll spend more time with these in the several few posts. You might also want to check out the anamorphic adapter for minicam post.