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Cameras and lenses used on best cinematography contenders

Dom Jaeger

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A round-up of the cameras and lenses used for 42 contenders for cinematography Oscars. 

Despite Steve Yedlin's assertion that "we are truly post-format these days, meaning our primary leverage point for designing a photographic look (the rendering of tones and colors) is the color pipeline, not the selection of camera", I still find it interesting to hear what people chose and why.

Unsurprisingly, Alexa Mini is by far the most popular choice of camera, with nearly 40% of the films using it. The next most popular choice, at nearly 20%, is 35mm film, which should warm the hearts of our many member film enthusiasts. Panavision's DXL2 and the Alexa 65 both come in at around 10%, reflecting the shift to larger format shooting, and various shades of RED also make a solid appearance, while Sony barely gets a peep in with only one film using the Venice. It's actually quite a limited field, when you think about it.

With lens choice, the overwhelming favourite is Panavision, with nearly half the films using the rental house behemoth to supply their glass. No doubt some of that is attributable to Panavision's dominance in the US film industry, which tends to be where most Oscar favourites come from, but I'd like to think it's also because of Panavision's excellent service personnel. 😁

A lot of the Panavision lenses are detuned, with the Primo Artistes (permanently detuned versions of the Primo 70 large format lenses) turning up quite often. It's an interesting development with modern lenses introducing aberrations and flaws rather than marching towards perfection, and evoking vintage lens qualities while incorporating modern and reliable mechanics. 

Quite a few films used actual vintage lenses like Panavision C series or Ultra Panavision 70s, Lomo anamorphics, JDC Xtal Express anamorphics, Zeiss Super Speeds or Cooke Speed Panchros. One film even used Bausch and Lomb Baltars from the 40s and late 19th century designed Petzvals and such - take a bow Jarin Blaschke!

Master Primes were the next most used lenses, followed by the usual Angenieux zoom and Cooke prime standards, but the trend away from super sharp lenses meant very few appearances by Leicas or Arri's Signature Primes, and sometimes Master Primes being detuned, as was the case with Ad Astra.

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Thanks Dom, how interesting. The article is a surprise to me and very encouraging for all film enthusiasts. I hadn't thought film was quite as popular amongst cinematographers as it actually is. Interesting to read the comments of these experts - they are as one voice in naming the unique quality of celluloid film.

Which of course is not to say that digital doesn't have unique qualities, too. It is simply a medium or format I've no particular interest in.

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