I was recently doing a long term evaluation on Sony's awesome PXW-FS7 video camera and wanted to see how using my Canon L series glass on the camera would work out. There are many mount converters available to mount alternate brand lenses on the Sony E mount, but the only one that said it would provide both complete aperture control as well as Autofocus was the Speedbooster Ultra from Metabones.
I arranged for an evaluation unit with a local reseller of Metabones products. The unit comes in a nice hard case, and includes a tripod mount foot. I see the value of this for heavier glass when used on a lightweight E mount body. The foot was not needed and in the way with the FS7 so I removed it for the evaluation.
One of the benefits of the Speedbooster is that it returns the expected focal length to pretty much what you expect by manipulating the image circle size. It does a good job at this and the images created are sharp and have good contrast overall, with some minor suffering at the edges. Unlike generic mount adapters, even those that do auto aperture, there is a lens set inside the Speedbooster and this also helps reduce any light loss, and in fact makes the claim to make the lens optically brighter.
Please bear in mind that Metabones make a number of different adapters, My review is based solely on a single unit used to mount Canon EF lenses on Sony E mount. This adapter only works with full frame lenses, as the image circle from EF-S lenses is not sufficient.
In The Field
Shooting with the lenses in manual focus was quite easy. Primes were easier than zooms, and for my skill level I was not able to shoot the FS7 with a large zoom on the Speedbooster Pro off the shoulder with consistency. When mounted to the Sachtler tripod that I use for video, all worked very well. That's not a criticism of Metabones products, it's more about having only two hands and a relatively heavy bit of kit as a single person crew.
When I went to use autofocus, is where things got a little silly. At first, no matter what I did, I could not get the Sony's excellent autofocus to engage with the lens. I spent a fair bit of time on the Metabones site and in third party forums. There was a fair bit of difficult to follow instruction on holdinga button while mounting the lens and then to the camera, making sure that the camera was on etc. I finally got the AF to work a few times, but I really felt like I needed to be boiling eye of newt and toe of frog to even get the AF to engage. I had hoped that mounting EF lenses and getting autofocus out of the FS7 would be as simple as mounting Sony native glass. For my testing, it was not.
Having shot the Sony FS7 with both Sony Cinema glass as well as regular E mount camera lenses, I was very impressed by the speed of autofocus and while I can pull focus myself, the AF is very convenient for the times that I do not need to pull focus manually. Using my Canon L glass was not nearly as good an experience from the AF perspective as the native glass. I mentioned it was difficult to get the AF to work at all, and when it did, I found it was slow. Metabones is open that AF is not optimal on some lenses and do provide a listing, but I still found the AF to be slow on lenses not on the list. I give them full marks for effort with the 85/1.2L II, a lovely lens, but one that is slow to autofocus all the time on any body. Still some of the other lenses that are screaming fast on Canon bodies were too slow to be really usable with the Speedbooster Ultra. Metabones states clearly that Continuous AF is not a supported structure and that it can take two presses to get the AF to lock, with the third for the shot. This could work in a static situation, but for run and gun, it's less usable.
The product is well built, and I respect the challenges faced by Metabones as they are not supported by either Sony or Canon. That said, given a street price of $999.99 $CAD here in Canada, there is no way I could make the justification for the purchase. I asked my friend, established documentary filmmaker, Joseph Akrami, to have a look as well. Joseph has had to work efficiently and with a variety of different gear for years as documentaries attract less funding than some other films. Joseph confirmed my findings completely independently and his position is that the premium for the AF is not worth the investment. He also challenged the whole speedboost argument, taking the position that most true video camera sensors were so good in low light that the boost, while useful, put the price too high.
I can certainly see the value of a Metabones Speedbooster Ultra if I were shooting on a Sony ILC body such as an a7R II or the like. There the speed boosting, the image circle adjustment and the reduced likelihood of swapping primes as often as I do for video would make the use more viable. From the perspective of professional videography in the field, I have to question the investment. If I were shooting solely in studio from fixed or limited position, I would likely take a different perspective.
I think it's a decent product, but it didn't address my use cases well enough to warrant a buy. Your mileage may vary and the product should still warrant a look. The challenge you will have, as I did, is finding a retailer that actually stocks the item. It's an industry challenge to look at higher end products with a capable seller before dropping coin. There is this prevailing opinion that buyers are happy to drop over a thousand dollars on a web order for something that they have never seen and endure the pain of return if things don't work out. I think that's a truly crappy attitude but what do I know?
Thanks for reading and until next time, peace.