Tuesday 29 March 2016

LOW BUDGET LENSES : Wide Angle Adapters

Making low budget narrative films, I'll often find myself on a location that leaves me with very little room to shoot in terms of physical space. Using a long focal length is great and adds a depth to your image, but if you are shooting in an enclosed location then suddenly that becomes an issue unless you want to shoot entirely in close ups. If you're making low budget movies, the chances are that you are not going to be able to build all your sets and so removing walls, ceilings etc to create more room is not usually an option, which usually means that you have to shoot in pre existing environments and not every film is shot in a spacious warehouse or street, more times than not I find myself having to shoot in very tight locations with very little space.
Wide Angle Adapters

This is where your wide angle lens becomes especially useful. Most people using an interchangeable lens system have a 'Kit Lens' which will come out to between 14mm-16mm (depending on brand etc) which is a fairly wide. However not always wide enough. Even at the shortest focal length I've sometimes struggled to have a wide enough angle to get my shot. 

I looked into wide angle options, but trying to find a low budget wide angle lens can be tricky and finding one at a cheap price even harder. The fact is, if you are shooting zero budget movies, which most the time I am, then you will find it tough to drop £150 - £1000 on a wide angle lens. I was in that position a few years ago and so I looked to find another solution. 


I picked up a wide angle adapter on ebay for about £15, its a simple screw on adapter that attaches to your filter thread at the front of your lens and just expands your angle that little bit more. I was dubious when I picked it up, just because it was so cheap, but the results were great and really helped me open out the angle enough to get the kind of shots that I was after in those small spaces.

SLASHER HOUSE 2 : 14mm f/2.5 with Adapter
It comes in fairly handy too when doing tracking and steady cam shots as it just opens the image up a little more and ensures you have something wide enough for full coverage. I used the same adapter for the last 5 years on almost every project I've shot and as a result I never needed to buy a wider lens. When I finally moved to Panasonic cameras last year, the first thing I did was buy a new wide angle adapter for its kit lens. Then later adapted it to a 14mm prime that gives me a great image without having to pick up a wider lens.

When I first look into the adapters I did hear complaints about them distorting images through the glass, but I'm happy to say that I've never had a problem with this at all on shorter focal lengths. I did adapt it to fit a 50mm lens a few years ago and the due to the longer focal length the image become very soft and blurred, but thats about the only issue I've had.  


Oh yeah, not only does this lens open out your wide shots, but it screws in half to become a macro lens. This means that you get right in close to small objects and get some incredibly close shots. I have a little signature shot I try and fit into every film. A close up of an eye opening. In the past, with conventional video cameras I would really struggle to get close enough to get the shot in the way that wanted, but with this lens it makes it a breeze. Its really good for getting in there and just getting some awesome details, especially when it comes to smaller objects. I even used it to shoot a very 'arty' title sequence for a film last year featuring some small creepy dolls, but more on that later.

SLASHER HOSUE 2 : Macro Adapter on LX100


For those who need to go the other way, there are also telephoto adapters that do the opposite and give your existing lens some extra zoom by magnifying the image without you have to use digital zoom and degrade your image. Its not something I've ever had to use, but its just another tool for around the same price that can help add a variety to your existing equipment. 


You will certainly get better result from spending the extra cash on a decent wide angle or zoom lens, but for a low budget solution I have certainly found the results negligible. This works great for me and it is a brilliant cheap option if you can't fork out for an expensive lens. 

As always just remember that a better lens won't make you a better cinematographer in the same way that a cheap lens won't make you a worse one. 


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Monday 21 March 2016


A couple of weeks ago I wrote a blog about a set of low budget Primes for under £50($70), of course they were only suited to mirror-less cameras (You can find it HERE), which came as a bit of a disappointment to those low budget filmmakers still shooting on DSLR's, which are great option for those who can't splash out on something more expensive, but lack some of the cheaper lens options available for MFT (Micro Four Thirds) cameras. A lot of people asked me about options for their Canon EF mount cameras and what options were available to them. 

Since 2010 I have shot on Canon entry level DSLR's, I only recently moved over to using Panasonic in fact.  Over 6 years I shot 4 features between a 550d(T2i) and a 600d(T3i) as well as over 35 music videos and promos that aired on TV in the UK and US, so I know just how much a viable tool these cheap cameras can be. But when it came to budget lenses, there are very few cheaper options available. However that doesn't mean that there are none. 

In the 6 years I've been using the cameras I have had a grand total of '3' lenses and the truth is that I only ever really used 2 of them and the good news is, the two I use are the cheapest lenses available. I shoot narrative films and music videos mainly and so the lenses I use are suited to that and, of course, depending on what you're shooting will determine the lenses that you shoot on, but up until November 2015 I shot using just these two pieces of cheap glass. 

Canon Kit Lens 18-55mm f/3.5 - f/5.6

If you're buying your first Canon DSLR, you most certainly will pick it up with what is known as a 'Kit lens' (a lens that comes packaged with the camera). The Canon standard kit lens is pretty well known for being a decent 'all purpose' piece of glass that covers most bases for the average no budget filmmaker.

It has a decent focal range of 18mm - 55mm that means you can get both wide angles and those tighter shots with nice depth of field. Where this lens really falls down is in low light. It works great if your shooting in bright, sunlight spaces and at it widest it opens up to f/3.5 which is decent enough for most low(ish) light scenarios. But anything closer in anything other than great light is going to mean that you need something a little bit faster to get a good clean image. The lens however is great for things like crane shots, steady cam rigs and dolly moves.

Hollower (2016) Canon 18-55mm f/3.5 (Kit Lens)
One thing I did was pick up a wide angle adapter lens, just to open it up a little more for steady-cam shots etc. It cost me around £15 on ebay and its saved my ass more than a few times when the location just hasn't been open enough and saved me dropping a small fortune on wider lenses. The adapter also screws in half to become a macro lens fort shooting extreme close ups, which came in extremely handy in getting those close up eye shots that I love so much.


CANON 50mm f/1.8 (The Nifty Fifty)

The cheapest Canon lens outside of picking up the kit lens is the Canon 50mm f.1.8. Its known in the photography and filmmaking community ads the 'Nifty Fifty' and it is definitely the most bang for your buck when it comes to lenses. I picked this up for a steal of £90 back in 2010, for Slasher House, but since then they can be found on ebay for as little as £50 (not to mention cheaper clones etc).

Being a faster lens, and a prime, the image quality that comes out this lens is amazing and it really goes that shallow depth of field that a lot of filmmakers look for in their image. Along with that, you can shoot in some very dimly lit spaces and still get an amazingly usable image.  Mix that with the fact its the cheapest lens available in Canon's range and you're onto a winner. If I shoot outdoors in available light at night (I do fairly often) then this is my go to lens for sure.

Cleaver : Killer Clown (2015) : Canon 50mm f/1.8
This is my work horse lens, meaning that for 5 years, I used it as much as I could and found unless it was a wide angle shot, or I was in an extremely small space, this lens did everything I needed of it and it performs amazingly in low light. I used this lens mainly for mids and close ups and its gives some stunning results. It is easily my favourite Canon lens and well worth the small price. If you're shooting on Canon SLRs this the lens to you want to have in your collection.


I considered adding a telephoto lens to the article, but in the end I decided not to. I was given a Canon 70 - 300mm f/4 a few years ago (someone had a spare) and over the course of 4 features I have used the lens 4 times and in all honesty I probably didn't need to (although it was helpful to have it), but really, in modern narrative filmmaking, unless you're shooting westerns, sports or car chases, you aren't gonna crack out that telephoto lens all too often.

In reality its probably better just to drop £10 or so on a Telephoto adapter lens if your using it for a shot every now and then, that way your saving your self a few hundred bucks for something that you'll use infrequently unless your shooting sports stuff.


There are certainly much better and more expensive lenses out there, but if you're looking for something that gives you bang for your buck without changing up your gear or switching to another camera then these are brilliant options and I know literally dozens of filmmakers who have got by for years using this exact same set up and we've shot dozens of commercially released work on these lenses.

Just remember that what you shoot on is not a substitute for talent or skill and no lens is going to make you a better cinematographer or filmmaker the same way that no lens will make you a worse one. 


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Monday 14 March 2016


It's probably not ground breaking information anymore for someone to suggest that you can shoot movies on your iPhone. These days people are doing it all the time and there are some fantastic results out there (Hooked Up and To Jennifer are a couple of great horror examples) that prove that anyone has the power of filmmaking in their pocket and with the newest models shooting 4K, it seems more and more like a legitimate filmmaking tool.


I've been shooting stuff here and there on my iPhone now for a few years, I don't do it all the time as it not usually the tool that best suits what I'm doing, but I made a micro short for some film students a couple of years back on an iPhone 4 just to show that can be done. Of course, like I said, these days that is common knowledge.

My biggest problem with shooting on an iPhone is that its fairly basic when its comes to actually filming with it. There are rigs out there that are fairly inexpensive like 'The Beast Grip' (£150-£300) that allow you to do things like use pro lenses on the camera, but at that point I start to think that maybe you should just go back to your normal camera and just spend that money on a Canon Rebel or GH1. Also I'm not sure about dropping an extra £300 on my already £600 phone. So as usual I started looking for a more low budget solution.

The biggest upside of shooting on an iPhone, as far as I'm concerned, is that its so portable, Mainly because it fits in your pocket. Adding rigs and lenses and such starts to take away from its best function in my eyes, the fact that its almost invisible, this also make its great for guerrilla filmmaking without drawing attention. So I was looking for a way to just make the phone function as a camera without turning into something the size of DLSR.

What I've put together here is a list of add ons that I picked up to helps give me a little more flexibility with phones camera and the whole set should cost you less than £15/$20.

FilmicPRO (£8/$11)

FilmicPRO App for iPhone
This is the foundation of turning your automatic phone camera into a useable camera for shooting. It was available for £2.50($3.99),  but checking whilst I updated this, I found they had raised the price a tad to a whopping £8!. Its fair enough, its a great app that allows control over White Balance, Exposure and Focus and the ability to lock them once you have your image the way you want it. 

Depending on your phone you can shoot up to 4K resolution at 100mbps and its give you greater control over other input like audio and data rates as well as giving guides for various ratio sizes and will even export in your chosen ratio should you wish. Pro seems to work on anything for iPhone 4s and upward and for a HUGE 79p there is FilmicClassic that gives you the same functionally (without the higher resolutions) on older models. 

The app is also available for Android devices too. I got it for Free a couple of years ago during a promotion so its worth watching out when they do something like that again, but if you dont want to wait, £8 isn't much to drop for such an impressive video app.

Check it out FILMICPRO Official Site for more info. 


The PoundShop/DollarStore is a wonderful, magical place. One of the reasons is that they sell things like this. A tiny tripod with a phone mount at the top. Now on its own this thing offers up increased stability just using it as a mini camera handle. It just removes your hands from the actual camera to give you more stability in your shots. 
The main reason to grab this, is for the actual phone grip at the top, this is because it has a 3 1/4 inch screw that fits to most tripods and rigs. This means that I can effectively use the phone camera on my nice tripod, My slider, my crane and even my steady cam if I wanted to. It just makes your Phone camera that much more adaptable if you're shooting on it.


I hate these things, for their intended purpose anyway, I initially picked on up at the Poundshop/DollarStore to use as a quick boom pole for a shoot just to get my on board mic a little closer to the subject. It, again, came with a camera grip and I soon found that I could get some interesting shots using it with the phone, due to how light weight it was.

Since then I've been messing with it and, using two of them, have managed to make a basic shoulder rig and even mimic crane shots. Like I said, its also worth having to get your external mic in closer too, but in all honesty its a fantastically adaptable little tool. 



The camera(with FlimicPro) is pretty awesome in terms of functionality. Its not going to give you quite the depth that you get with a more expensive camera and really operates more with the functionality of a Camcorder. One of the biggest sticking points that I came up against was the fact that the camera had limited lens options apart from being able to zoom slightly, or move closer or further away.

For £5 on ebay, I picked up a selection of clip on lenses that simple clip and adapter over your camera  and then allow you ad a variety of different correctional lens over the pre existing camera. With this kit I got, There clip on adapter, A 2x Zoom lens, A Fisheye lens, A Wide Angle Lens and A Macro Lens for extreme close ups. They are a great little collection, especially for the fact that they cost a couple of pounds and they make the functionality of the lens just that little bit better. 

The lenses are great and although, if I have my protective case on I get a little vignetting on the wider lenses, zooming in slightly fixes the problem and they really give me a lot more options when shooting. They also fit in a tiny little bag that comes with them and can fit in your pocket. 

Here are some pictures of a Ninja to give you an idea of the difference they make.

Standard iPhone Lens
Zoom Lens 
Fisheye Lens
WideAngle Lens
Macro Lens

This lot aren't going to turn your camera into a rival for Arri Alexa or even a low end DLSR, but they will give you more functionality and more options when it comes to shooting. The saying goes that 'The best camera is the one you have with you" and in this day and age your smartphone camera is the camera you are most likely to have on you at any given time. 

The camera is till fairly basic and so getting decent professional looking image can be tough going, but the upside is that using your phone forces you to think about things like composition and lighting more, which can only be a good thing. There are some pretty cool apps out there that add different kinds of style to the camera too. We're having a lot of fun at the minute using the VHS app from Rarevision (£2.99) and the Lens+ App (Free) which allow you to recreate old film stocks and video styles which make for some cool and creative shooting. 

Remember, i'm not saying that you should replace your camera with a smart phone, I'm just suggesting ways that you can make a camera that you carry with you everyday more functional, any camera can look bad in the wrong hands and any camera can look great in the hands of an expert, but its worth exploring what you can do to make your smartphone work for you as a filmmaker.


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Monday 7 March 2016


When choosing Lenses a lot of it comes down to personal taste. For me, I'm shooting narrative film or music videos, mostly in dark/enclosed environments and so for me these things are important factors when looking for glass to put on my camera. 

The biggest problem I faced when I first started buying lenses for my Canon t2i 6 years ago was that after I picked up the very affordable Canon 50mm f1.8 for £100 (You can now get clones for around £50 on ebay) the list of affordable lenses ended. As a low budget filmmaker, finding cheap glass for the camera was tough going. Luckily the kit lens and the 50mm are more than enough to cover most narrative situations with the 'Nifty Fifty' acting as my work horse lens. I also picked up a zoom lens eventually, but in all honesty I must have used it about 4 times over the course of 5 features. The main problem I had always came when I needed wide angles at low light.

When I moved to Panasonic, after 5 years of shooting on a Canon, I was spoilt by the LX100's low light lens that was f1.7 wide open. Thats at its widest angle too, which solved a lot of those problems for me. The issues with it came with the form factor, main that it was a compact, fixed lens camera (although you wouldn't think it from the images it can produce) and as a result had a digital focus ring rather than manual. After working with manual focus for the last half decade, I found it a pain. The upside was the camera shoots 4K and so I was reluctant to move back to Canon.

Then Panasonic released the G7. The price was equivalent to upgrading to Canon's newest 'Rebel series' camera, but with the added bonus of shooting 4K and a better FHD Codec. It was a no brainer, except for the fact the camera had a Micro 4/3 mount. A mount that I hadn't used before and of course I thought back to how unaffordable Canon's lenses were for me when I started shooting on DSLR's. I didn't want to have to drop a bunch of money on getting a whole new set of glass for a new mount on top of dropping a chunk of cash on the new camera. So I started looking for a low budget solution. 

What I found was an extremely cheap and absolutely incredible set of Prime lens made by a company called Fujian (although search C-mount on Ebay for 'off brand' results) that covered almost everything I needed in terms of image and focal range and the amazing thing is I picked them ALL up for just over £50 (although they are available a lot cheaper).  I've broken them down for you all below. The prices are based on what is available this morning on Ebay.

25mm f1.4 CCTV (£12/$17) 
A solid wide angle lens, although the focal length is obviously not as extreme as Panasonic's native 14mm prime, it's wide enough for most situations. The wonderful thing about it is that it creates the most beautiful images of the 3 (which is pretty impressive as its the cheapest) and although it has soft edges at low aperture that only adds to the vintage film look that this lens puts out. 

The 25mm is my go to lens for most situations it's wide enough that it can achieve tracking, dolly and even steady-cam shots whilst giving enough depth of field to maintain that film look. The best part though is the price. I paid just £17 for mine and only because I needed it in a hurry, i've seen these tiny bad boys for as little as £10. If I had to pick just one of these lenses for a shoot, it would be this one.

Take a look HERE

35mm f1.8 CCTV (£14/$20)
This was the first lens I picked up, originally to fit it to a Canon Eos-M. When I moved to Panasonic I tried this out with a 99p adapter on my G7 and was instantly amazed at just how much better than the LUMIX kit lens it looked. It was what instantly inspired me to try the other C-mount lenses. 

It's not quite as durable under low light with it landing at only 1.8 (or 1.7 as is it says on the lens) when fully open, which you wouldn't really notice until you start using the 1.4 lenses more often, but a slight ISO shift should solve most problems in that regard. This is a great medium lens and fantastic for mid shots. I use this mainly for long conversation shots and action stuff where I want a tight image without losing the detail of what is happening in terms of movement. 

Take a look HERE

50mm f1.4 CCTV (£20/$29)
This is very similar to the Canon version in terms of the image it produces. I loved this focal length in my Canon t2i and only really bought the C-mount version to make lens changes faster on set, this is because the lens cost me £27 (once again, only because I needed it in a hurry), I have seen them for £15 at times. This is the most expensive lens out of the set and at £15/£20 that's not a lot.

The upside of trading the Canon 'nifty fifty' for this on was that I found I wasn't switching out adapters when I'm on set, I can just screw the 'Fujian' lens onto my adapter and its ready to go. There is also the fact that this 50mm is 1.4 wide open, making it just that little bit better under darker conditions. Its an incredible close up lens. 

Take a look HERE


I was blown away by the quality of these lenses, like really, really blown away. They can feel a little cheap sometimes, as some parts are made of plastic and they sometime feel a little fragile, although they are more than durable. They are also Manual Iris which means setting the aperture by hand, I found this tricky at first (mainly just knowing if I was getting the right exposure), but in 3 short months its become second nature and I actually prefer it to an electronic one. On top of that any kind of auto focus is also off the table, but thats something I didn't use on my Canon so its not an issue for me here.

I've been shooting a feature using these 3 lenses since December and I love them, they look so filmic and make shooting in low light conditions an absolute breeze. The 25mm is wide enough for most long shots although I do have a 14mm Lumix prime (With wide angle adapter) in case I need and extreme wide, but I use it very rarely. I can say with great ease though that moving to Micro 4/3 has been a great decision for me as a no budget filmmaker.

Obviously this is bad news for anyone not shooting Micro 4/3 as the lens aren't compatible with Canon's standard FD mount, for me this was another reason that justified my move to Panasonic's brand of cameras. Although the Canon Eos-m (On Ebay for just over £100) has a smaller mount and takes them no problem, so if you're intent on sticking with Canon then it is an option and they really are just a mirrorless version of the the 'Rebel series'. 

In the end though, the kind of image you want comes down to several factors and its all about personal taste. This is what works for me and it may not be what your looking for, but at under £50 for 3 great prime lenses it certainly worth a look for anyone shooting on a budget who just wants more options.


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