Old glass: B4 mount lens finds new life

Beautiful sunsets on my iPhone 6
In planning my projects this year, I’ve come to the conclusion that I’ll need a new digital video camera of some sort. I’ve looked into video recorders, DSLRs, Mirrorless cameras, action cameras, iPhone rigs… you name it.

A quick note about iPhone cinematography: It's amazing- but it takes more work than you realize. You can get so much out of the camera that's already in your pocket. You can get a better picture than most 8mm and 16mm film (in terms of sharpness, resolution, and delivery of finished product), but the form factor needs assistance to shoot comfortably and correctly, and it's severely limited with zoom or depth of field. Sure you can get 3rd party accessories, but those costs add up—between the cost of the phone and accessories, you can have a much better dslr or video camera set up. I'll use my iPhone in a pinch, but I want to have better control over my image.

I was seriously looking at three cameras in particular: The Sony A5100, the Black Magic Pocket Cinema Camera (BMPCC), and the Panasonic GH3.

A quick summery on each:
  • The Sony a5100 is an amazing camera that uses the XAVC-S codec. It’s fun with the Redrock Micro Retroflex, but it lacks a good audio input.
  • The BMPCC is an amazing broadcast quality camera, 13 stops of latitude, but it’s dismal power consumption requires more items to keep it running, and the pricepoint is a tad more than I want to pay.
  • The GH3- still available, is at a good price point, the audio can be monitored in camera; it’s micro three-fourths sensor opens it up to a number of lenses- all dslr if they have mounts, cine lenses that are c-mount, AND B4 Mount ENG lenses that offer incredible zoom ability without changing the stop it’s on.
I chose to go with the GH3. I’m saving up the money to get one as soon as possible.

That said, I started doing research. I checked people’s footage with C-mount lenses and was impressed; I was more impressed with the B4 mount footage… then I remembered something.

Ten years ago, the tv station that I was working at had a a raffle at a Christmas party- they were trying to get rid of all their old equipment. I could have had a Grass Valley switcher from the 70s, but I had nowhere to put it. I did, however “win” an old, broken ENG BetaCam. I didn’t care about the camera- it was the lens that I was excited about.

Nikon f1.6/9-117mm B4 ENG lens
The lens is a huge B4 Mount Nikon f1.6/9mm-117mm lens. It doesn’t have power, but it can be worked manually, and the glass is very clean. After looking online, I found that these lenses are fantastic with smaller sensor cameras, particulary Micro 4/3rds. I also found some amazing footage for very high zoom- and I think I can get some fantastic zoom photos with them.

After looking into it, I discovered that people were adapting these old lenses to smaller sensor cameras. Although people have had great luck using them on BMPCC’s, the GH3 is the best bet- especially since it can take these B4 Mount lenses, if you use the 2x doubler. The rocker zoom switch can be powered by a small 12v power supply. The only other thing I’d need is a lens mount adapter.

FUJINON B4 mount on Panasonic Gh3 from Dario Viola on Vimeo.

Star Studded Panasonic GH3 with Canon B4 2/3" Lens from Gan Eden Media on Vimeo.

It’s amazing how dramatic something looks when you have to zoom on it with a long lens… I am already thinking of scenarios where I am able to use it. I will be able to shoot a zoomed image in low light because it’s a f1.6 lens!


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