Jun 22, 2010
Letus Ultimate review
Ever since the introduction of the DVX100 by Panasonic and the XL1 from Canon independent filmmakers worldwide have been searching for the best methods of replicating the "film look" in their video cameras. Widely considered to be the "holy grail" of the film look is having a shallow depth-of-field created in-camera by using 35mm lens adapters to mount film lenses to their cameras. (See my page about how to create the "film look" and how lens adapters are a key component in this process).
However one of there have always been two major stumbling blocks in using 35mm lens adapters on video cameras:
1) Most of them "flip" the image upside down in-camera forcing the camera operator to either use an external monitor that can be "flipped" or; get used to seeing an up-side down image in the viewfinder/LCD flip-out or; some have even modified their flip-out LCD's to "flip" the image electronically to compensate for this problem. (Some newer handheld HD camcorders like the HVX170 now incorporate image-flip options eliminating this problem).
2) Cost. Until recently the best lens adapters that didn't have an image flip were extraordinarily expensive, costing more than $12,000, which is often more than double the cost of the camera it's supposed to be used on!
Then a company called, LETUS came onto the indie scene and started making a lens adapter called the Letus Extreme, which was the first 35mm lens adapter made to a high-quality standard that brought the image into the camera right-side up and, was less than $1500 new. It used a vibrating ground-glass as it's transmission point and was an all-metal construction with various mounts to fit different cameras and various lens adapter mounts for the 35mm lenses such as Canon, Zeiss, Nikon, Pentax etc.
The Extreme was followed by the Elite, which was based around the same model but with an improved achromat lens for HD cameras such as the HVX200 and also a back-focus adjustment to fine-tune the critical focal-plane.
Today the most current and advanced model from Letus is the "Ultimate" which takes the feature set of the Letus lineup to a whole new level. Gone is the vibrating ground-glass replaced by a variable-speed spinning ground glass with improved light-transmission and grain characteristics. The back-focus adjustment remains and the achromat lens has been improved once again with a total light-loss back to the camera of less than 1 full f-stop.
But the capabilities don't stop there. The Ultimate also has companion products, a set of relay lenses which allow for connecting the Ultimate to any 1/2" inch or 2/3" inch mount camcorders making it the most versatile lens adapter available today.
When paired up with the B4 adapter for a 2/3" inch camera for example, give the camera operator an almost unknown but extremely powerful tool, a secondary iris in front of the focal plane. Why is this capability so important? One very simple reason: The secondary iris acts as a completely variable ND filter which does NOT affect depth-of-field! (Click here to see my section about aperture and depth of field.) That means the director or DP can now setup a shot exactly as desired with the right amount of DOF and the camera operator can adjust for proper exposure without affecting the overall look of the image. That one feature alone will pay dividends you can't imagine until you start using it.
And because all this weight on the front-end of the camera does require a lot of extra stability Letus makes it's own rail system which is highly configurable and works directly with all their lens adapters.
CONCLUSION: HIGHLY RECOMMENDED
Currently, there is no other 35mm lens adapter available that has less light loss, better light transmission quality, configurability, build quality and overall usability than the Letus Ultimate. There are a handful of competitive products on the market claiming to do a similar or better job - and some of these are also much less expensive - but in point of fact the Letus Ultimate has no equal in the world of 35mm lens adapters for video, period.
(See my post about the real benefits of using a lens adapter here.)