Special note, as my first “review”, I need to point out that this was paid for in full, and not being reviewed in exchange for the use of or receipt of it. All views are my own.
This day has been coming since I bought my F5 back in 2016. I’d been using a Frankenstein’s monster arrangement with my B4 HJ11 lens, which meant shooting in centre scan only… At times I also put an EF lens on it using an Optitek adapter, but for run and gun style shooting it was just clunky and awkward to maintain focus.
As the above pictures show, it was a mess. As an adaptor, MTF did a great job getting the B4 lens to work at all with the F5 & F55. Especially with Sony denying them the ability to use the metadata coming from the camera, rendering their adaptor to be solely optical only, not electronic. A real shame, as it could have been amazing had Sony acquiesced. (Did you know Sony has their own B4 to 35mm adaptor that costs about five times the price? Who knew…)
So, for me, the pictures never looked quite right. I was constantly questioning my back focus and was forever paranoid about checking and re-checking focus as a result. Given it was only operating in centre scan mode, the peaking in-camera never really showed up much unless your subject was almost overlit, meaning I was crash-zooming between takes to check. You also lost 1.8 stops of light using this setup, so at night you had to ramp up the ISO to be usable. (This wasn’t an issue on the F5, which handled that comfortably)
After three years of this, and a helping hand from my bank, I knew it was time. I pulled the trigger and spent a good chunk of money on this great leap forward. About five days later, from the Canon centre in Holland, it arrived.
Getting it out of the box, the first thing you notice is that it is hefty. It comes in at close to three kilograms with the servo attached, which will be 95% of the time with my setup. It feels solid though like a well-engineered device should. One of the first things I noticed through the plastic is that the numbering on the lens is very clear and bright. The numbers for metres (My favourite as a Metric-baby) are in a bright green, and the feet in boring old white. All very visible though.
I removed the B4 jerry-rig setup from the camera and start to install the lens. It took a few tries to get the PL mount onto the adaptor, but that was down to user error more than anything. The lens comes with an adaptor to attach it to your lens support, which for this lens is mandatory. MTF recommended that for my old setup with the B4, that a lens support wasn’t necessary. With this amount of money invested in this setup though, I wasn’t taking any chances, and I bought a Vocas generic lens support kit.
Here’s my tip for installing your support. Take your rods out, put your lens on, install the support then thread the rods through the support into your rods receptacle. Don’t do what I did, and install the lens whilst the rods are firmly in place, then try and slide the lens support down, THEN try and prise it under the support attachment on the lens and tighten. It works, but in hindsight was pretty dumb.
The second tip I have for you is about lens protectors. I ordered a 127mm clear filter to go on the front of the lens on the first day, never to be removed until the day the lens is done. So imagine my surprise that this lens is just like the Canon B4 HJ11 Wide-Angle lens, and the filter goes onto the lens hood, and not onto the front of the lens itself! I had intended to have my Chrosziel matte box on the front of the lens, but that will have to wait now until I get another filter.
The lesson to learn from this: The lens hood filter size is 127mm, but the ACTUAL front of the lens filter size is 112mm. If you intend to do like I do, then make sure you order the right size filter.
One thing I tested when I went to try out this lens, is that my old Canon Digital zoom demand works with this series. Happily, it does. It seems that hasn’t changed from the B4 series of lenses to the CN7 series.
One thing that I found with the lens, is the aperture ring. I’m not sure if it is just me being used to news lenses, but I found the range for the aperture to be smaller if that makes sense. I found the distance required to open the lens from closed, to 2.95 wasn’t as far as the range I was used to on the older B4 lenses. It’s something I’ll just have to get used to when using this I suppose. The focus range, however, is definitely larger than what I’m used to. You can really fine-tune your focus with a much larger throw to go from near to infinity.
I noticed on the zoom ring that they changed the colour of the zoom position from white to orange when it goes from 90 to 120. I presume this is the part of the zoom range that loses light, and it’s a slight warning to the operator. The loss is something I’m used to with servo zoom lenses, so isn’t an issue for me.
One thing that is absent that I’d been used to for the last twenty years… NO DOUBLER! I know as a news-gathering peasant I’d been used to cheaty things like that, whereas the educated film folk would simply move closer to the subject. It’s a loss, but I’ll cope without it. If I’m desperate for extra range, I can always turn on centre scan mode, and effectively digitally zoom in to double the image, with no light loss like an optical doubler does. Could be a win after all, just clunky to enable/disable, and doesn’t have the satisfying “CLUNK” noise that engaging a doubler has.
Now it was all set up and I’d taken it all in, I powered up the camera and saw it in action.
Remember how I mentioned it was heavy? Well using this on your tripod you’re going to have to account for that. Put it on your shoulder, and it was surprising just how heavy it was! It felt like it was pulling forward using it with my CBK shoulder mount. In the past with my B4 setup, I sometimes put an extra PAG pink battery in series on the back, to counterbalance it, and it was comfortable then. I can see myself doing the same again here.
First thing I finally notice is METADATA! I can actually know what my iris level is, focus position and even zoom position in the viewfinder! I’d missed this default position that every news camera I use at TV networks have since I hadn’t had it in ages. Finally feels good to know what’s going on.
Onto some real-world testing/playing. I set up the camera in front of two flange charts and got the back focus setup correctly. FYI, it was out by a substantial order of magnitude out of the box, but none of you would ever presume that not to be the case, right? I shot some test clips between the two points, which are approximately two point five metres and twelve metres away from the camera.
It transitioned between the two points beautifully, and anything that wasn’t in focus was a very pleasant soft image. I believe I was operating at T2.95 at this point, so it was to be expected. The focus movement was smooth, and I felt no interference from the servo grip in moving it.
With a couple of other tests doing similar things, particularly operating at T2.95, I’m noticing just how critical the focus has to be now. Anything that isn’t pin-sharp is a lovely soft texture, but that’s not always what you want. You could get away with it on a news camera operating at fully open and still have many things closer to being in focus due to the 2/3″ sensor, but absolutely no excuses here. Very glad my peaking is actually responding now in the camera to the lens on the front of it because I would die without it.
I didn’t have time to take it out in the field and give it proper testing, but hopefully after President Trump passes through the UK next week, I should get some free time to experiment. First impressions though are fantastic, I’m very impressed, and I fully expect to be using this lens for the next ten years.
This is definitely an investment piece though. The universal PL mount means that this will be something I hang on to for a hell of a long time, and will always have a use. Finally, I have a lens that will intervene in my addiction to shooting everything on my HJ11 workhorse. Take a break HJ11, you’ve earned it.