Ulanzi DOF Adapter – Create Shallow-Depth-of-Field Videos With Your Smartphone

October 29th, 2019
Ulanzi DOF Adapter - Create Shallow-Depth-of-Field Videos With Your Smartphone

In the search for the “film look” when shooting video with a smartphone, we came across the new Ulanzi DOF Adapter. Portrait mode effects have improved a lot, but if you want to get closer to the “real thing”, you might want to take a look at this adapter. Interested in knowing more? here is my first impression. 

Cats and shallow depth of field. Lovely combination…Image credit: Richard Lackey

Ulanzi have been making various smartphone photography related accessories for some time. Until recently the Beastgrip DOF MK2 was pretty much the only depth of field adapter on the market for smartphones. The new Ulanzi DOF Adapter is the new kid on the block, for half the price.

I’ve been shooting with it for a week so far on a visit to Istanbul, and am still checking footage, editing and compiling my thoughts, so a full review will follow separately. I’ve also never used the Beastgrip, so I can’t directly compare them. I can however introduce the Ulanzi DOF Adapter and share my initial impressions.

Ulanzi DOF and UlanziI iPhone XS Max cage. Image credit: Richard Lackey

The Ulanzi DOF Adapter

All DOF (depth of field) adapters work the same way. A full frame lens projects an image (which is upside down) onto a focusing screen, approximately full frame in size. On the other side of the focusing screen, the smartphone camera lens is focused onto this projected image.

It’s a simple optical adapter, the focusing screen sits between the full frame lens and the smartphone camera lens, as far as I can tell there is one small optical element on the smartphone side. The focusing screen is placed at precisely the right distance from both to ensure the smartphone camera can focus properly on the screen, and the correct flange focal distance is maintained for the lens mount. The quality of the resulting image you can capture is really dependent on the type and quality of focusing screen in the adapter, and the lens you’re using.

The adapter doesn’t accommodate lenses with any kind of electronics, so will only work with fully manual lenses. You need a mechanical aperture ring and mechanical focus ring.

The Ulanzi DOF Adapter is built with a 17mm thread for mounting to Ulanzi’s own all metal smartphone cage, and features a Sony E-Mount for lenses. At first this might seem like an odd choice for a lens mount, especially considering that it requires fully manual lenses. However, the Sony E-Mount makes sense because it’s so easily adapted to almost any other lens mount. It has a short flange focal distance, so can be adapted to Canon EF easily, as well as vintage lens mounts, and even cinema PL. There are plenty of fully manual lenses that will work, both new and old.

Ulanzi DOF Adapter First Impressions

My setup for testing comprised of the Ulanzi Aluminium Smartphone Cage for the iPhone XS Max (the version for 11 Pro Max wasn’t shipping yet), the Ulanzi DOF Adapter, a M42 to Sony E mount adapter, and my Helios 44-2 lens.

I will save my detailed thoughts and feedback for the upcoming review, but here are my first impressions.

Ulanzi DOF on the iPhone XS Max equipped with Ulanzi’s cage. Image credit: Richard Lackey

Practicality

The Ulanzi DOF Adapter is quite compact for what it is, but that doesn’t make it small. By the time you add a lens adapter and lens, the whole package can easily outweigh the phone, especially if you’re using large prime or zoom lenses. The whole rig takes up more space than shooting with just a phone, and will likely need to be mounted using the mounting foot on the DOF adapter itself for better balance and to reduce stress on the DOF adapter’s mounting point to the phone case.

It does mean more stuff to carry around, which negates one of the biggest advantages of shooting with a smartphone in the first place.

Image Quality

I’m not going to sugar coat anything, there is a hit in overall image quality and effective resolution when using the adapter, so having that real shallow depth of field comes at a cost. This isn’t to say the trade off isn’t worth it. For some shoots, I will definitely continue to use the adapter and knowingly sacrifice some image quality because the look, while technically imperfect can be really nice.

A frame grab taken from a video using the Ulanzi DOF adapter. Image credit: Richard Lackey

The main points to be aware of are a limit in resolution determined by the focusing screen itself, and some aberration towards the edges of the frame. However, as you can see in the frame grab above, if you frame a subject in such a way that anything towards the edges of the frame are out of focus anyway, you can hide most if not all of the aberration. So with clever framing and composition, it is totally possible to avoid the most glaring problems, and your audience will probably never know.

As for resolution, I’ve tested the Ulanzi DOF Adapter at both 1080p and 4K, and there’s no perceivable resolution benefit that I can see to recording 4K. The 4K image looks identical in sharpness and definition of detail to the 1080p image, only four times larger. I expect that 1080p upscaled to 4K looks identical to what was recorded in 4K because the limiting factor is the fine texture of the focusing screen. It is after all, working by diffusing the light focused on it.

Frame grab from the timeline using the Ulanzi DOF adapter. Image credit: Richard Lackey

I will say the look isn’t bad. It has a slightly soft, organic, textured feeling that is quite pleasing when combined with selective focus and bokeh. The result can be quite pretty, but imperfect, and not identical to what you’d get exposing a full frame sensor directly.

Light

There is a loss of light using the adapter, so this isn’t a low light, or night time option. During the day outside in any light from overcast to full sun will be just fine, in fact you may want to use ND’s if you want a slow shutter speed.

Loss of light when using the Ulanzi DOF adapter. Image credit: Richard Lackey

The darkest conditions I could get acceptable results was during the late afternoon in the full shade of a small street contained by high walls and a full overhead screen of intertwined grape vines. Not much light was penetrating to the street from above, but just enough.

Stabilization

There is no stabilization when using the DOF Adapter. In my experience shooting from a tripod is an absolute must. Handheld is not an option. I haven’t yet tried to mount the whole rig on a gimbal so I’m not sure if that’s a workable solution.

Initial Conclusions

If you’re a film photographer, a fan of vintage lenses, and love the analog imperfections of a lomo camera, then I think you’ll enjoy using the Ulanzi DOF Adapter. I for one definitely fall into this category and will use it because I quite like what the adapter does to the image. The result has a ton of character, but is far from perfect.

If you’re looking for a clinically clean, high resolution, sharp, edge to edge perfect full frame image, this adapter will not give you what you’re looking for.

It is however a lot of fun, and for the price, I think it’s great. I enjoyed using it to shoot photos just as much as video (if not more), and will continue to have fun making images with it.

Stay tuned for a more in depth review with a video.

Are you a smartphone videographer or photographer? Have you used a DOF adapter already? Let us know what you think of the Ulanzi DOF Adapter in the comments.

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Soderberg bjorn
Soderberg bjorn
Guest
June 18th, 2020

hi .. can you use a speed booster / focal reducer to get it faster ? im pretty new to all this so this might be a dumb question

Jeremy
Jeremy
Guest
June 8th, 2020

Dumb question perhaps, but what happens with focal length using a DOF adapter and compatible lens in front of an iphone ?
Say I was using an Iphone 11 ( Not the pro ), used the standard wide angle lens which has a focal length on the phone of 26mm ( 35mm Equivalent ), and used a 50mm in front with the DOF adapter. What would that give me on the phone in terms of a 35mm equivalent?
Thanks in advance ?

Dutt
Dutt
Guest
February 3rd, 2020

Will this work with manual aps-c lens or full frame lens only

Sonny Félix Ravelo
Sonny Félix Ravelo
Guest
March 6th, 2020
Reply to  Dutt

Thank you for this question, I ask myself too

Scott
Guest
December 15th, 2019

I’m curious if you’ve noticed a crop factor or minimum focusing issue with your adapter.

The Ulanzi adapter I bought seems to crop significantly at about a 1.5x which was a surprise. That would make sense if the focus screen were APS-C sized but it is a full frame 35mm screen. Removing the rear unit does reveal the full image being projected on the focus screen however neither my iPhone X nor my iPhone SE capture the full frame projected on it. I’m not sure if this is a limitation of the macro unit’s field of view or my phone’s or possibly a calibration error in the unit because…

I also have an issue with minimum focus distance, do you? It is significantly different from the lens marking suggesting the focal flange distance is not correct. For example, one lens has a minimum marking of 4 feet but the lens will not focus closer than roughly double that at ~8ft. I have to space my lens roughly 1-2mm away from the flange to achieve the lens’s marked minimum focus distance. I have tried this with three different lenses each using a different mounting system (Canon FD, Nikon F, L39) and all require extra spacing to achieve minimum focus.

Otherwise the adapter works very well and I agree it has its place. I find the image degradation to be acceptable however the softening of left/right sides is a bummer. Top/bottom still seem relatively sharp compared to center, however.

Thanks for your review! Your video compelled me to give the Ulanzi unit a try.

 Wayne S
Wayne S
Member
October 30th, 2019

I looked around at the different DOF adaptors and didn’t want this one, or the best grip, because of the type of focusing screen used here. I think this was the one using a Canon focusing screen, probably from a viewfinder, which might explain the loss of resolution, it is not the best, and harsh.

It is hard to make a good focusing screen. A lot suffer resolution loss, and you really need to vibrate them around to even out grain etc and get a bit more resolution in. With a speed booster like condenser system, you can preserve the resolution.

However, I did find this more original system:

https://www.turnikit.com/

You should compare the two.

As you the beastgrip system, it will probably do better on a phone using the Samsung 16 stop sensor technology. The 108mp 5x optical zoom mi cc9pro is one.

 Wayne S
Wayne S
Member
October 31st, 2019
Reply to  Richard Lackey

I think it was around 2010. I’m interested in getting one to fit to phones of my choice. But that e-mount thing is interesting to mount different lenses. I have a collection of old ones

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