The Lens Doctor: De-clicking in the UK

The work of the lens doctor

Eddie Houston used to be a guitarist playing alongside the likes of Thin Lizzy and Status Quo. Before that he was a technical manager for Canon back in the days of the old FD cameras and lenses. He has now returned to his photographic roots and is running a small family business selling and servicing old stills lenses. Based in Scotland he has gained quite a reputation recently. Manual lenses are often better suited to video than their AF counterparts because they have a smoother, more damped manual focus action along with manual aperture control. The excellent Carl Zeiss ZF range of lenses are probably the most popular and best known examples of manual lenses that are well suited to video. There are however a great range of other older lenses that can be easily adapted to your EOS, Nikon or Micro 4/3 HDDSLR – these are what Eddie specialises in.

I had the opportunity to meet up with Eddie when I was talking at a Canon event in Glasgow. We talked old lenses and got to discussing lens de-clicking of stills lenses for video use. I left a few vintage lenses for Eddie to experiment with and he recently returned them to me after a full service and his own version of de-clicking called the ’fluid variable aperture system’ installed.

Eddie at work measuring a lens iris blade

For those who don’t know about de-clicking, most manual focus stills lenses have an aperture iris that is controlled in click stops as opposed to a continuously variable aperture like those found on Cine lenses. The problem is that these click stops don’t allow you to set a precise aperture in between the marked stops. When you vary it while shooting video the iris will not close smoothly but rather in steps with a clicking noise. This is clearly not ideal for video. A stills lens can de-clicked but care has to be taken and lubrication added to make sure the aperture runs smoothly – a job for a skilled technician.

Below is a little test video I made using an old Tamron 90mm f2.5 SP macro lens that I had lying around. It’s super sharp and now with the ‘fluid variable aperture’ fitted it makes a useful video lens. It’s easy to fit to an EOS camera using a cheap adapter from Ebay.

Tamron 90mm de-clicked by the Lens Doctor from Dan Chung on Vimeo.

Eddie was dissatisfied with how slack the aperture control was on my lenses when he de-clicked them, claiming that they were disturbed by even the slightest movement. He wanted to make the aperture fully variable but still easy to set in a specific position, to do this he made the resistance on the aperture ring more positive and fluid. I am really impressed with the results and plan to have more lenses de-clicked by Eddie asap. He has since opened up this service to everybody, cost varies from lens to lens as not all lenses are the same. You can contact him directly at [email protected] to discuss your specific requirements. You can also buy pre-modified lenses from time to time on Eddie’s Ebay store.

Measuring click stops

One question I am asked a lot is whether older Canon FD lenses can be converted to work on an EOS. Generally the answer till now has been no because of the 42mm flange focal depth of FD bodies being shorter than the 44mm of an EOS body. There are some adapters with an optical element in them to compensate for this difference, but the third party examples of these are generally not high quality and I do not recommend them. Canon used to make such an adapter for their FD Super telephoto lenses but these are super rare and usually expensive secondhand. A few FD lenses have been successfully modified to EOS in the past, I remember Vincent Laforet used to have a FD 35mm Tilt and Shift lens converted for EOS use.

In early 2011 Eddie will be offering a service to permanently convert Canon FD lenses to EOS/EF fitting without the need for corrective glass, this is under development at the moment and he already has a small selection on offer but plans to increase the range over the coming months to include all FD lenses. I predict he is going to be very busy when this service starts.

Vivitar 24mm f2 converted from FD to EOS and variable aperture fitted

Another thing Eddie has on offer is his own special build FD 50mm F1.4 with a ‘chrome nose’. These are specially built, Eddie adds Super Spectra Coatings to the glass and add another iris blade to the system. The regular Canon FD 50mm F1.4 has only seven blades, this special build has eight, creating a much smoother bokeh. I have yet to see one and am very curious indeed.

50mm f1.4 FD lens with improved bokeh

For more information on Eddie and his other services you can check out his website here.

(Note – If you are based in the US then the best place to send your stills lenses to be modified is Duclos lenses. The run an excellent service where a lens can be declicked, a follow focus gear added and a 80mm standard size lens front added. I highly recommend them also.)

Affordable Shoulder Rig

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