Tip of the Week: Behold the Frankencam!

Tip of the Week: Behold the Frankencam!
The Frankencam: A Canon 5D Mark II with a Nikon 14-24 f/2.8G lens

The Frankencam: A Canon 5D Mark II with a Nikon 14-24 f/2.8G lens. Image Copyright © Sohail Mamdani

The practice of swapping lenses between platforms via adapters isn’t something new. Back in October 2011, for example, we wrote about using Canon, Nikon, and Leica lenses with Micro 4/3 cameras. Similarly, you can use an adapter to mount Nikon lenses onto Canon cameras, but until recently, this was limited to a smaller subset of Nikon lenses.

The “D” lenses from Nikon, the ones with manual aperture rings like the Nikon 35mm f/2, could be used via an adapter on Canon cameras. You could manipulate the aperture manually on the lens, and set the shutter speed on your camera. DSLR video shooters quickly took to these lenses for this very reason.

However, Nikon’s “G” class of lenses couldn’t be used with those adapters as there was no way to control the aperture on them as they lacked a manual aperture ring. The aperture was controlled electronically from the camera itself, and Canon cameras could not communicate with the lens in order to do so.

Enter the Nikon G Lens to Canon Camera adapter.

Nikon G lens to Canon camera adapter

Nikon G lens to Canon camera adapter

This ingenious little device allows not only the mounting of a Nikon lens to a Canon camera (like the older adapter we carry for “D” lenses), but also lets you mount a “G” lens onto your Canon body – and gives you a way to control the lens’ aperture mechanically.

If you look at the adapter itself, there are two blue tabs attached to it. Once the lens is attached to the adapter, those blue tabs move a small lever on the lens itself that opens and closes the aperture. Looking through the viewfinder on your Canon camera (or at the Live View screen) lets you know which direction to turn that lever in, as the image in the viewfinder darkens and brightens as you move that lever.

With this adapter, the entire crop of Nikon’s lenses are now available to Canon shooters. One nice thing for DSLR video shooters is the fact that this adapter moves the aperture in the lens in a “stepless” manner. Rather than clicking through various aperture stops via a manual ring, the iris can be closed an opened smoothly, allowing fairly seamless transitions from light to dark.

There are, of course, caveats when using this adapter to mate Nikon “G” lenses with your Canon camera.

  1. You will have too shoot in manual mode for the most part. You could shoot in Aperture Priority mode, but in my experience, this isn’t always going to result in an accurate exposure. I found that setting the camera’s exposure compensation to -1 did help in Aperture Priority mode.
  2. Focus is completely manual. There’s no Auto Focus communication happening between this lens and your camera. However, there is something called “focus confirmation,” which works with your center autofocus point. Hold down the shutter button halfway and turn the focus ring on your the Nikon lens. When the object that your center AF point is in focus, you will hear a beep from your camera and the AF point will light up. This is handy for making sure you have critical focus.
  3. In dark scenes, you will have to open up your aperture all the way, set focus, then adjust your aperture to the desired level. Unlike most lenses, where the aperture closes down to the specified setting the instant before the shutter opens, when you use this adapter, the aperture opens and closes as you move the blue tabs on the adapter. The image in your viewfinder darkens or lightens correspondingly, and if you’re shooting with small apertures, the image in your viewfinder may be too dark for you to achieve focus.
  4. Setting the aperture is total guesswork. There’s no measurements on the adapter to help you figure out what’s f/16 vs f/8. You just guess. And hope.
  5. The exposure info in your image’s metadata will be wrong. Since the adapter isn’t communicating aperture info back to the camera, the camera will almost always show the wrong aperture setting for that shot.
  6. You will have to take multiple images to get your exposure right. Since it’s all guesswork, you may not get the exposure right the first time. I tried relying on the camera’s meter, but my results were mixed.
The Golden Gate Bridge. Taken with a Canon 5D Mark II and a Nikon 14-24 f/2.8G lens.

The Golden Gate Bridge. Taken with a Canon 5D Mark II and a Nikon 14-24 f/2.8G lens. Image Copyright © Sohail Mamdani

Now, after all those caveats, you might wonder why would you want to use Nikon lenses with Canon cameras. Well, the Nikon 14-24 f/2.8G lens is a darn good reason, and is, frankly, the only reason you really need to use this adapter. A favorite of landscape photographers, this lens can now be used on your Canon, and the results are pretty darn cool. Canon doesn’t yet have something in this focal range; there’s a great 10-22mm lens, but it’s variable-aperture (which means the minimum aperture changes as you zoom) and it can only be used with crop-sensor cameras like the 7D and 60D.

When you’re using a lens not designed for your camera, there are going to be compromises. Despite the compromises made, however, I got some great results from this combo, and I would heartily recommend it to anyone.

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Sohail Mamdani is a writer, filmmaker, and photographer based in the San Francisco Bay Area. Follow him on Twitter or find him at anymedium.com.

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1 Comment

  1. Your comments regarding focus…

    “In dark scenes, you will have to open up your aperture all the way, set focus, then adjust your aperture to the desired level.”

    I don’t believe this would be very effective. Focusing with a large aperture for a dark scene is meaningless if the aperture is stopped down since the previous focus point applies only to the larger aperture, not the smaller one.
    An alternative approach I use involves manual focusing with Live View where, for instance, if I’m shooting a dark scene with a small aperture but lack enough light to focus, I’ll turn up the ISO and use Live View to focus manually. The higher ISO brightens up the scene enough to focus, after which I’ll turn down the ISO the lower setting for the shot, but the focus point does not change since the aperture did not change.

    I’m considering this lens for my Canon 5D MKII, but these types of manual issues concern me.

    Otherwise, good article!



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