I recently took the plunge into DSLR cinematography by purchasing an $800 Canon T2i. If you scoff at the idea that video shot on a consumer grade Rebel can be taken serious by pros, I look forward to showing you some of the video I’ve been shooting. I’ll post a proper review of how this unpretentious game-changer is working for me in my documentary work soon. But today I want to talk about lenses.
Both Lara and I used to be professional photographers, and during those years, we acquired a fair bit of top-notch Nikon glass. So when I was looking for a HD video DSLR, I looked in vain at Nikon – Canon is so far ahead of every other DSLR manufacturer in this regard that it’s not worth discussing. I’d long heard about adapters that allow you to use Nikon lenses on Canon bodies, but I’d always dismissed them mainly because they don’t work with autofocus or other electronics, which is a big deal on modern still cameras.
But video is another matter entirely. Manual focus is the only way to go with video. Furthermore, one of the limitations of the T2i interface is that, if you’re using modern Canon lenses, you have to hold down a button on the back with your right thumb AND AT THE SAME TIME rotate a dial with your right index finger to change the aperture. That’s lame. Wouldn’t it be nice to just rotate the aperture ring instead? Using a lens adapter, you can.
Looking at lens adapters can be confusing: They range in price from a $270 model from Novoflex, to a $79 model from Fotodiox, to a $9.99 model sold by a top-rated Hong Kong ebay member Kawaphoto. I’ve since purchased and used 4 of them, and here’s what I’ve discovered.
I began by ordering the cheapest one from Hong Kong, and it arrived in less than a week via mail. With a little guesswork in how to correctly attach the thing (it comes with no instructions), I figured out how to rotate and lock it into place. Then I gingerly seated it on the Canon, worried that the protruding elements of the old Nikon lenses would hit the mirror or other electronics on the Canon. In fact, I had to remove a protruding element on my Nikon 35mm 1.4 lens in order for it to fit. But once that was done, it clicked into place and was good to go. The video produced was sharp and the lenses focused normally, no problem focusing to infinity (but it does allow you to go beyond infinity, which is slightly annoying if you routinely focus by looking at the focus ring instead of through the viewfinder).
I was so impressed with the fact that I could now use my Nikon glass on the T2i that I initially overlooked the fact that there was a little bit of play between the lens and the camera body. I ordered two more of the same inexpensive adapters, thanking, screw the expensive ones, these are great! But I got a wakeup call when the next batch arrived. One of them seemed to be fine, but one of them was a loose fit, which allowed the lens to rock back and forth when I turned the aperture dial, throwing the image slightly out of focus and jogging the image. At that point, it was clear to me that the cheap adapters, while they work, are not machined to exacting specifications. While not a big deal for only occasional use, I found this highly annoying with heavy use.
So I shelled out for the next cheapest model, sold by Fotodiox on Amazon for $79. It arrived quickly and much to my surprise, I discovered that it was made from plastic on one side, metal on the other. That worried me at first until I rotated it onto my lens and it snapped into place requiring a reassuring amount of force. The fit was like night and day from the all-metal cheaper version. Obviously made to much higher specifications, it holds the lens without any give at all. I can now twist the iris and focus without any fear of slippage.
Because all adapters are a bit of a pain to take on and off of your lenses, it’s a good idea to purchase one for every lens you are planning to use, and simply leave it on all the time. This means buying Canon lens caps for all your Nikon glass (in this business it seems every time you buy something, it means you have to buy yet another thing to support it, followed by yet another thing to carry it in, etc.)
I have not tried the more expensive version from Novoflex, because the $79 Fotodiox model works perfectly for me, and is the one I recommend if you’re shooting video professionally. If you’re only occasionally using Nikon glass on your Canon, buy three of the $9.99 adapters, try them all out when they arrive, and throw away the two that fit the least well.