After reviewing the Iscorama 36, I thought it would be a good idea to talk about the Cine Conversion offered by Van Diemen, making an artillery shell out of amazing anamorphic glass.
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Since the first news about this mod came up, around July, 2011, there’s still very little information around the internet about it – mostly an article written by myself, that served as base for this video.
Real interest came up when filmmaker Andrew Wonder
used his “Wonderscope” to shoot Undercity, a Vimeo Staff Pick (my bad, I’ve mixed information. Andrew Wonder did shoot Undercity and he does have a Wonderscope, but Undercity and the Wonderscope aren’t together). Seems it was only after his posts that Van Diemen decided to officially offer the conversion on their website, probably due to a large number of inquiries and people interested in purchasing the mod.
The first batch of people had to wait several MONTHS to get their lenses back, since I believe there was some prototyping still going on. Later on they got faster, and mine was done in just over 90 days – including shipping times to Brazil, which is a pain in the ass. The price for the Mk I conversion is £850 and it’s identical whether your Iscorama has a 36 or 30mm rear element. The Mk II is specific to each size, and costs – I have to say it – ridiculous £1950. I was barely able to convince myself to pay for the Mk I but definitely wouldn’t pay for Mk II simply because I can’t afford that much on a single lens and also because now we have several other single focus solutions out there, so pumping this much money into an Iscorama doesn’t seem reasonable to me.
THE most common questions is “is it worth the time and money?”, and it’s still a subjective question. My Iscorama was very beaten up and in terrible shape so, instead of hunting for a new one, I decided to tune up the one I already had. Christopher, at Van Diemen, specifies that not all Iscos are eligible for the conversion. If some of the inner workings are too compromised, they will be passed along to the upgraded version. He also contacted me about some damage to my glass, which I was already aware, but I appreciated the attention to every detail, making sure I was aware of everything.
Now, what does the mod do, EXACTLY?
As you’ve seen in the Iscorama 36 review, the lens’ body is made of plastic and it has a minimum focus of 2m. Rear thread is 49mm and you need some spacers to avoid hitting its rear glass onto the taking lens’ front glass. Goes as wide as 50mm on a full-frame sensor and has a simple button feature for alignment.
The Van Diemen conversion weighs 680g (220g lighter than an Iscorama 54, and still much smaller than the beast), because the housing is solid metal. The increased weight raises the problem of lens support, which wasn’t so well thought out for the Mk I conversion.
It has standard 0.8 pitch gears. At some point during assembly Christopher sends you an email confirming if focus engravings should be in feet or meters, and it focuses down to 1.1m (or 3′ 7″) without diopters (it twists a little over 360 degrees and that impresses me every time). Focus throw is 1cm long, making your life really hard if you want a follow focus that is able to spin from infinity to minimum focus.
Rear threads are 58mm, and it does increase vignetting, barely clear at 58mm, on a Helios 44. This is my main issue with the conversion, since I still want those precious millimeters back. Aligning is still very simple, much like 1.33x adapters, where you have a rotating part with a small screw that locks the lens into position. Mine had the alignment buttons in really bad shape, so this new housing made aligning really simple. They’re also kind enough to include front and rear lens caps for safer transport.
There’s a recurring comparison between VD and a 54, but they are very different lenses. First of all, VD isn’t necessarily multi-coated, like most 54’s, it’s still a compact lens (not as small as the original 36 nor as big as the 54) so you still have the stealth factor for run-n-gun. Front thread is 72mm, which is a blessing for finding and using diopters, quite the opposite of the 95mm filter threads on the Isco 54.
The full metal body is nice too since many Iscoramas faced rough times since they left Isco’s factory, 30-40 years ago. Mine had its filter thread broken to small chunks of plastic and was held together by an empty UV ring. This, added to the almost-stuck alignment mechanism, and close-focus mod made sure that I could not EVER rent the lens as it was. VD’s conversion lets you rest assured that your Iscorama will work like any regular professional lens should work: without quirks and secrets.
Also, some other useful information not entirely related to the conversion: You should check in your country’s customs office if there’s a special form or procedure for items that are being sent out for servicing abroad and will return later. This will avoid paying extra taxes over the conversion costs. Plus Christopher is a really nice guy, who replies all messages and addresses every question you might have about the service. A good seller makes a hell of a difference for me.
A few bits of information regarding Mk II: it seems they fixed the vignetting issue by letting the rear element protrude out of the rehousing a little more this time. Also, the lens size doesn’t change during focus and the front element doesn’t rotate. My guess is this is the main reason for the increased cost when comparing both versions. Front thread has been enlarged to 77mm but rear is still 58mm. They also came up with some sort of solution for lens support, which is a good thing.
This is it for this week, I hope you enjoyed this “comparison” and the information about this mod, conversion, rehousing, whatever you wanna call it. Subscribe if you haven’t already, and head on to the blog for extra information, links and all that. Also, I need your help to make the channel better, spread the word about the videos, share them with people you think might be interested in the subject! Thanks for watching, and I’ll see you next week. Ferradans out.