The Zen masters of lens conversion – Visiting Technical Farm

By technical editor Matt Allard

Located in a back street in suburban Tokyo, Technical Farm can be likened to a custom car workshop.  There is no fancy signage, just the name in black letters on opaque glass.  Inside, it can be likened to Santa’s workshop.  Employees sit diligently at work benches, each performing a specialized skill.  Lenses, tripods and all sorts of unique creations are strewn on shelves, the floor and anywhere else they can find space.

The brains behind Technical Farm Yoshitaka Kataoka and me
The brains behind Technical Farm Yoshitaka Kataoka and me

Technical Farm is the brain child of Yoshitaka Kataoka, the Executive Director and a former cameraman.  He enthusiastically shows me new creations with the zest of a young child in a toy store.  Each time he has finished showing me a design he runs off to grab something else.  I thought I was into tech, but this guy takes it to a whole new level.

The Technical Farm workshop

Known primarily for lens and tripod repair and servicing, Technical Farm has branched out in recent years and is now doing some truly amazing work.  Yoshitaka  sketches designs by hand in a journal and then makes models of his designs out of wood.  Everything here is custom made by hand and the attention to detail and quality of the products is second to none.  Yoshitaka explains to me that they don’t mass produce camera accessories like other manufacturers.  He is realistic that they could never compete in cost and quantity; but anyway, that’s not what Technical Farm is about.   They are targeting the higher end of the market where people want something that’s unique and specialized.

Yoshitaka shows me one of his latest creations, a converted Canon 70-200mm f2.8 IS II lens.   What is unique about this lens is not just that it has cine lens gears on it, but also that it has full manual aperture.  Yes: this is a Canon EF lens with a manual iris ring!  As far as I’m aware, no one else in the world is doing this.  This may be because it is a very complicated and time consuming procedure which can be likened to open heart surgery in its level of complexity.  I wasn’t allowed to take photos of what they were doing as Yoshitaka tells me it’s Top Secret.  

The Technical Farm modified Canon 70-200mm f2.8L II
Close up of the new aperture mechanism

An elderly gentleman in the back of the workshop is taking apart a customer’s 70-200.  I ask him how long it takes to do one lens and how complicated it is. “It takes me a month to do one lens,  but the more I do the quicker I’m getting,” he says with a tilt of his head and a slight grin.

This is not a cheap conversion: the price is roughly about $4000US.  It may sound like a lot of money – and it is – but then, it is taking a single specialized lens repair man a whole month to do.  What you getting is something unique and done to the highest levels of quality.  They can currently do the same conversions for the Canon 16-35mm f2.8 and 24-70mm f2.8 lenses.  The conversion price for all three lenses is the same.

Details of all 3 Canon L lens conversions (in Japanese)

The complexity of converting the lens does mean you lose a few features.  In the case of the 70-200 you will lose the IS; apparently, due to the lens design and structure, it is not possible to keep it.  You also lose any type of electronic control over your lens if you put it back on a Canon camera.  This applies to all three of the lenses.

Yoshitaka hands me the 70-200 conversion with their own Canon EF to Sony F3 custom mount attached and encourages me to try it out on my camera.  The first thing I’m struck by is how smooth everything is.  The iris ring is perfectly smooth with just the right amount of tension.  It can be adjusted from f2.8 all the way down to f32.  The cine gears for focus and zoom are made out of high quality steel and are also extremely precise and smooth.  Using the cine gear on the zoom I am able to manually zoom the lens quite smoothly for small push in or out shots.  They have also added hard stops to the focus ring which may or may not be to people’s liking.  Everything of course is custom made and can be tailored to your needs.  This conversion is aimed solely at people doing higher end video/film work who still want to use a EF mount lens but have full manual control. I can see this lens being very popular for rentals or owners who want a unique lens for their Canin C300, F3 or Red Epic/Scarlett.  Canon L series lenses are optically superb and this conversion only improves an already great lens.  It’s not aimed at the mass market and that is why Yoshitaka does not expect a flood of orders.  He is a very humble man and is always downplaying his designs and telling me there is always room for improvement.  I also get a sneak peak at the early stages of a Canon 85mm f1.2L conversion.  He tells me it is theoretically possible to convert any Canon lenses but they need to pull them apart to see if it can be done.

The 70-200 mounted on my Sony F3

Apart from lens conversions they also make a large array of rigs for cameras such as the AF100, F3 and C300.  All these rigs are feature-rich and are made of high quality materials and include countless power options.  They also make lots of follow focus motor kits, and tripod base plates to accommodate large PL zoom lenses.  Another conversion they do is lens declicking and adding steel or plastic cine gear rings to Zeiss or any other manufacturers’ lenses.  

Trying out a Technical Farm custom F3 shoulder rig
Technical Farm C300 support rig

Yoshitaka also shows me a custom loupe eyepiece with a super fine diopter adjustment that was designed for a TV Logic monitor.  This can also be custom made to fit on a Small HD DP 6.  This is a very interesting item and could save you from having to use an external monitor as well as an EFV.  It’s super clear and it’s amazing to be able to look into an eye piece that gives you such a big clear view.  My only criticism is that it needs to be removable to make it easier to use.   Yoshitaka also mentions that they are open to creating any product that a customer desires.

The Technical Farm EVF modded TV Logic monitor

I leave all my Zeiss ZF lenses and a couple of Nikon ones to get de-clicked and have steel cine gears fitted.

If anyone has any questions or would like to find out prices or make inquiries I can pass on the details.  Unfortunately no one speaks English at Technical Farm.

Note:  I don’t have any commercial arrangement with Technical Farm.  I am paying full price for the work they are doing for me.  My opinions and views are strictly my own and not those of any company or organization.

About Matthew Allard, Aljazeera Senior Field Cameraman, Kuala Lumpur:
Matt has been a Camera/Editor in TV news for more 20 years, previously working for both Channel 9 and Channel 10 in Australia. Twice Network Ten Australia’s cameraman of the year as well as being a Walkley Finalist for outstanding camerawork in 2006 (for coverage of the Cronulla Race Riots) and a Logie Finalist for outstanding news coverage 2006 (Bali 9). He is a multiple ACS (Australian Cinematographers Society) award winner. His Sword Maker story that was shot on a 7D won the prestigious Neil Davis International News Golden Tripod at the 2011 ACS Awards. He has covered news events in more than 35 countries, from major sporting events to terrorist bombings. Based out of the Kuala Lumpur broadcast centre in Malaysia he is an avid user and follower of new technology, shooting stories on HD broadcast cameras, the Sony F3 as well as new Canon DSLRs.

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