Lenses: P+S Technik Mini35 Review

One of the reasons that video tape never looks quite like film is because of the lenses. As important as the actual film itself is, the image will only be as good as the lens it has been shot through. This isn’t to say that all video lenses are low-quality, but they certainly handle the image differently. The reason for this is that a lens for a film camera must present an image onto a 35mm wide piece of film. This is a big image, and it takes a big lens. Most professional video cameras have 2/3″ CCDs, which is quite a bit smaller. Cheaper cameras may have 1/3″ or 1/6″ CCDs, which require even smaller lenses.

Small lenses have several problems. For starters, they are difficult to manipulate precisely, and imperfections can be more obvious. The most obvious difference, however, is in the depth of field; or how much of the image is in focus. A film lens is larger, and has a larger aperture. The wider the iris is, the fuzzier the background will be when the foreground is in focus. A smaller video lens will have a much sharper image. However, it is difficult to simply put a film lens on a video camera; a complex adapter is needed.

DVXuser.com recently reviewed the Mini35, made by P+S Technik, which is a complete system for using 35mm lenses, matte boxes, filters, and tripod heads with a MiniDV camera such as the XL1 and the DVX1000. It works quite simply; the film lens projects and image onto ground glass plate, which the video camera sees. A variable-speed motor spins the plate to that less grain is visible. The whole setup is bolted onto a sleigh that turns that camera and lens into a complete unit.

The results are far more cinematic-looking, but there are a few drawbacks. For example, the weight and bulk of the adapter make it difficult and uncomfortable to shoot handheld, and a lot of light is needed to compensate for the ground glass. Also, the price tag is around $6000, but the Mini35 is the top of its game, and cheaper, similar solutions may be available.