Tuesday, January 15, 2013

The World Has Changed: The Metabones Image Reducer

Changing the world.
I spend most of my time on this site complaining about the intransigence of the camera companies. They grew so fat and dumb on their old business model that they were dead-set against any sort of change.

Obviously, that change has been coming whether they wanted it or not. The compact market has been destroyed by cell phones; a few groundbreaking cameras have altered the landscape; and now smaller companies are stepping in to fill the gap left by the arrogance of the larger companies.

One of the (many) things about 4/3 and Micro 4/3 that has always pissed me off was the prices they tried to charge for their good lenses. Don't get me wrong, 4/3 has some of the best cheap lenses available, but the instant they try to make pro-thusiast lenses, that greed took over — the very same greed we see at Canon and Nikon.

Look at Panasonic's laughably-priced X lenses. One of the advantages of small sensors is that it is easier and cheaper to design optics for them. $1,300 and $1,500 were money grabs. And while many lens fanatics were aware of this, there wasn't anything motivating the discussion. No product that made people think about lenses in a different light, no pun intended.

All that changes now.

Metabones has released for the Sony NEX system what's called an image reducer. Basically, you put a full frame lens on this adapter and the element in the adapter squeezes all of the light from the full frame lens down into a smaller image circle that perfectly fits the smaller NEX sensor. Obviously, this makes the image brighter while also taking all of the light from that larger image circle that provides the rich bokeh and shallow depth of field.

If you are someone who regularly works with FF lenses on smaller sensors, be they APS-C or 4/3, this means that you no longer have to worry about crop factor. That is fucking incredible.

For those who are simply curious about lenses and lens design, this provides the motivation we needed to criticize companies' lenses on some sort of even ground. No longer will Panasonic be able to claim that their 12-35mm lens is just like Canon's 24-70mm lens, since we can now attach them to the same camera and see that Panasonic is full of shit.

For comparison's sake, let's take Canon's lenses. The 12-35mm Panasonic X has a constant aperture of f/2.8. Now let's look at what Canon has for the same, $1,300 price. Ok. They have nothing. But they do have a 24-70mm f/4.0 for $1,500. That's close enough.

With a 4/3-specific adapter (which Metabones is not yet making but probably will), that gives the Canon lens the same field of view but gives it an aperture of f/2.0! For $200 more than the Panny lens, the canon lens provides a full stop more light. And remember, everything Canon makes is overpriced because they are milking people who bought into their system, so Panasonic's price is really outside the realm of reason.

Or what about the Panasonic 35-100mm? That means we need to find a Canon lens that is 70-200mm. Well, that's only Canon's most popular focal range, like, evah, so we have quite a selection. For $2,000 we can have one with a constant aperture of f/1.4. If we are willing to ditch IS, we can have that lens for $1,500. $1,349 will net us a constant aperture of f/2.0. All of these lenses will be far brighter, possibly sharper, and undoubtedly have lower distortion than Panasonic's lenses.

I recommend going to Nikon's site, or Sigma and Tamron if you really want to save some money. Make your own comparisons. Take their FF lenses and simply double the brightness. F/4 becomes f/2. F/2 becomes f/1. To be fair, Panasonic's lenses are smaller than the Canon lenses, but when a $500 Canon zoom transforms from a mediocre f/3.5-5.6 to an excellent f/1.75-2.8, I don't care. Only a lunatic would care. Moreover, Olympus Zuiko glass has no excuse. Oly's top-pro lenses are quite large, meaning that in every way, they are competing with the FF lenses in this example.

This is going to be a seismic event, it's just not apparent yet. That is the reason why this technology — something that seems so obvious — has taken until now to be implemented. Camera companies didn't want this technology to exist. They liked having people trapped in their systems, unable to move between cameras and lenses. They liked that the entire thing was a confusing train wreck of standards and crop factors.

No longer.

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