This post is part of a series of upcoming reviews of camera-lens mounts and their pros and cons. Quite possibly the most common camera-lens mount on the market today is the Canon EF and EF-S mount. Introduced in 1987 and updated in 2003, the EF-S mount added several features that improved on the original FD Mount including focus motors placed inside the lens to enable auto-focus. Step forward 2.5 decades and the Canon EF and EF-S mount are the reigning champion of still photography and quickly gaining popularity in the world of cinema. For the sake of simplicity, I’ll simply refer to the Canon mount as EF instead of EF or EF-S. If you need more clarification on the difference between EF and EF-S, google it. 😉
Canon, being the leader in professional and consumer grade cameras, boasts a sheer mass of lenses produced to accommodate all of their Eos cameras. There are a slew of other lens manufacturers that subscribe to the Canon EF way of life. To name a few: Tamron, Tokina, Sigma, Schneider, Samyang, Rokinon, and of course Zeiss. Third-party lens manufacturers began using the Canon EF mount standard just as readily as the Nikon F mount considering Canon and Nikon were the two biggest players in the photographic world. So now the arsenal of lenses available for the Canon EF mount is quadrupled in numbers, the Canon EF mount is the dominant stage by a large margin. It’s no wonder camera manufacturers began using the standard just as willingly as lens manufacturers. We’ll go over a few of those now.
The Red Epic was originally offered with a PL mount and the promise of a Canon EF mount shortly thereafter. Red released the Titanium and Aluminum Canon EF mounts in typical Red fashion, a bit late but worth the wait, with many shooters eagerly waiting to mount their army of Canon EF lenses to their Epic. The mount worked great with a positive lock feature similar to that of the traditional cinema PL mount. The electronics utilized by all Canon EF lenses to control the focus and aperture motors as well as transfer EXIF data such as focus length, aperture, and lens model were all put to good use in the new Canon mounts for the Epic camera. There were still a few snags in the implementation of such features. A fine tool for still photography, the Canon EF mount is a bastard child to it’s cinematic parents. The resolution of the focus control is determined by the lens motors and other components that have nothing to do with the camera. The aperture can only be adjusted in 1/4 stop increments and cannot be pulled smooth for transition shots. Nothing devastating, but certainly isn’t helping the fight for the Canon EF mount to be the go-to motion picture lens mount. These drawbacks aren’t a simple firmware update away from salvation, they’re electro-mechanical features built into the lenses that utilize the Canon EF mount.
But Red is old news now. The newest big, actually really small, player is the Blackmagic Cinema Camera (BMCC). With it’s small albeit awkward form factor and even smaller format sensor, the guys over at Blackmagic Design made the obvious choice and fitted their BMCC with, you guessed it… A Canon EF mount. Given the details we just went over determining the Canon EF mount the reigning champion of the photo-cine world it’s clear why Blackmagic Design went with the Canon EF mount. Personally I would have preferred a PL mount option or better yet, an interchangeable mount system but examining the logic a little closer reveals a perfectly reasonable decision. The BMCC is one of the cheapest motion picture cameras currently available at a petty $2,995 compared to a Red Epic at $40,000 or an Arri Alexa at $90,000. The Epic and the Alexa both came standard when introduced with a PL mount. While the PL mount is still the standard for professional motion picture lenses and cameras, it wasn’t the obvious choice for Blackmagic. Anyone who is aiming to shoot with a $3,000 BMC camera probably isn’t going to reach for a $70,000 cinema zoom lens. Blackmagic needed a mount with a certain feature set; modern, lightweight, relatively cheap, easily accessible, and pre-loaded with a little more than 50 million lenses already in the hands of users.
There are other new cameras recently introduced to the market such as the Sony F3 which, surprisingly, comes with a PL mount. It’s not in Sony’s character to use a standard other than their own. Still, the Sony F3 does have a proprietary Sony sub-mount that the PL mount attaches to. I would imagine that a Canon EF mount would be possible with all of the electronic contacts available in the Sony mount. One of the solutions for using Canon EF mount lenses on an F3 or even an FS100/700 is a sort of Mickey Mouse setup using old parts from RedRock Micro and new parts from a company called Smart System that I wouldn’t recommend for anyone looking for a reliable solution. You can read all about that setup over at PhillipBloom.com. There is another potential solution for the Sony F3 as well as other cameras such as the Panasonic AF100 for those looking to use Canon EF lenses. Birger Engineering has announced several products that look excellent on paper and in testing. As far as I know, they’re all still in testing and not yet available to purchase. I may be wrong in their delivery status… The feature set of the Canon EF mount that Birger is working on include auto focus, wireless follow focus, iris control, complete lens data, and the ability to pair up with other external motors to control the zoom or any other mechanics of the lens. This would be the most complete system to date beating even Canon Eos cameras in terms of features for motion picture application. Let’s keep our fingers crossed. One more product is from MTF Services and is quite similar to the Birger solution. This solution is for those using a Sony E-mount camera that want to utilize EF mount lenses with electronics. Looks promising, can’t speak for build quality though.
So we’ve covered the electronic “smart” mounts that will handle your Canon EF mount lenses with motors to drive the focus and iris. What if you don’t want to deal with all that wanky fly-by-wire garbage. What if you just want a plain old mechanical EF mount adapter to go to your F3 or AF100 or FS700. You’re in luck. There are plenty of new companies making these “dumb” mounts. By dumb I mean they lack the electronics to transfer data back and fourth between the camera, similar to a traditional PL mount. There are a ton of these dumb mounts all over eBay and the interwebs. I simply haven’t been able to review all of them so I can’t recommend one particular brand. Try them out, see what works best for your needs. If Canon EF mount lenses like their L series aren’t your cup of tea, which is the case with a lot of experienced shooters, then you might want to look at some other brands to consider. The primary difference is the manual features provided by third party lens makers. For example, the Rokinon, Samyang, and Bower lenses that feature fully manual focus and iris components. This means that you can control the lens exactly the way you want to by hand and not have to deal with the electronics throughout the lens. Not only are the lenses cheaper, but you also don’t need to invest in an electronic EF mount. These lenses can be mounted directly to any EF mount and function just fine including the previously mentioned “dumb” mounts.
Another third party lens manufacturer that stands a cut above the rest is Zeiss. They offer a few options of Canon EF shooters such as their Zeiss ZE lenses. The ZE lenses are great because they have a superb manual focus barrel comprised of high quality materials that will last a lifetime. They still use an electronic aperture controlled by the camera which means they can only be used with a “smart” EF mount. The next best solution is the Zeiss ZF.2 lenses with a Canon EF adapter placed on the Nikon mount that the Zeiss ZF.2 lenses come with. Once adapted to Canon EF, the Ziess ZF.2 lenses feature fully manual controls in a robust, high quality housing. A few drawbacks to the ZF.2 lenses is their “backward” focus rotation which is inherited from it’s Nikon mount roots, and it’s small form factor. The solution to this would be adding focus gears and mounting components such as the Duclos Lenses Cine-Mod (shameless plug)… Quite possibly the best solution for Zeiss is their Compact Prime CP.2 series. Basically, these are the same optics that are in the ZF.2 and ZE lenses, but in a full cinema housing which means nice, expanded focus barrels, smooth clickless T-stop rings, large robust constant volume housings, and you guessed it… A Canon EF mount with options for Nikon, PL, and Micro 4/3. Quite possibly the most versatile set of lenses out there.
Shooting with a Canon EF mount camera, be it a C300 or an F3 with an adapter, can be a tricky setup. Canon has earned it’s sea legs in the world of home video but is still the new guy in town when it comes to cinema. Everyone, including Canon, is still learning how to adapt to a rapidly changing industry. There is no right or wrong way to setup a new motion picture rig as there are limitless possibilities that all depend on a number of factors. Consider shooting style, environment, weight, budget, etc. and then decide what will work best for you. Try everything and discount nothing. I’ll go more in-depth with specific cameras such as the Blackmagic Camera in upcoming posts. Stay tuned!