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Aliens (1986): Panavision or Canon K35?


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Anywhere you look online, it is stated that Canon K35 lenses were used for Aliens, but I recently had a back and forth with someone in the "Anamorphic Shooters" facebook group that piqued my curiosity. I haven't seen any mention of this in the forums, so I'm interested in what info anyone might have aside from this seemingly sensible hearsay:

 

(names removed)

"Aliens was shot on Panavision lenses, most likely rehoused Zeiss HS optics. The K35s story is an internet myth, one that is repeated as gospel by most rehousing and hire companies. The K35s were used simply on the b-camera for cutaways."

Me - "Really? I can’t find any source that says that, how do you know?"

"A guy I know worked with Adrian Biddle on a commercial project before his death. K35s were not highly regarded lenses until 10 years ago... no one wanted them and there is no way 20th Century Fox would ever let an entire blockbuster with a budget of 18 million be shot on them. Adrian Biddle replaced veteran Dick Bush who was fired by James Cameron. Bush was a very old school DP and there's no way on earth he'd not used Panavison lenses. Aliens was Biddles first movie as a DP and he'd never have been able to send back a full Panavision lens set and replace them with K35s. They had a short schedule and since no one wanted the K35s Biddles was able to get them cheap and have them used on the B-camera for additional coverage.

The internet and especially rental houses listings are full of half truths... and myths ... the reality is... a huge number of movies simply used Panavision glass. Panavision were rehousing lenses since the 1950s and still are... and in that time have used Bausch & Lomb, Nikon, Leica and especially Zeiss optics as the basis for their lenses. If you believe the internet: Hitchcocks, "The Birds" was shot on SuperBaltars... even though the movie came out in 1962 and the lenses were released in 1966/67. The Godfather was shot on SuperBaltars... even though a good portion of the lens was shot on Gordon Willis' custom made Panavision 40mm. American Hustle was shot on K35s... well half true, the original casings were so useless they were quickly replaced by Zeiss Superspeeds. Kubrick used K35 on Barry Lyndon... not true... he used an early Canon FD specially rehoused. Aliens being shot on the K35s is yet another one of those myths. In their original unrehoused form they were a pain and in fact 10 years ago a case of lenses would cost you about 5k.

...the K35s are very popular now... but never were at the time... even though they did win an Oscar. All but the 18 and 35mm are basically rehoused FDs (with some improvements to the coatings) which is why they cover a LF sensor. The truth about lens choices pre digital... often it was a lot less sexy and complicated than we think... it was what was there, what worked and what gave the sharpest image on 35mm film. Plus the most reliable mechanics... and that was part of the K35s downfall... and their uneven focus throws.

you might find this piece worth a read. Gregory Irwin who worked on American Hustle also AC'd on Joker, Interstellar... his credits list is huge."

 

 

 

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Hi Frank,

I think you are making a few assumptions here. In 1987 I assisted Ronnie Taylor, BSC on a movie called The Experts.Ronnie who had shared the cinematography Oscar for Gandhi used K35 or Canon lenses as they were referred. Ronnie had his choice of anything and he chose K35 with a BNC mount on Panavision G cameras. Ronnie had used K35 several times and Dick Bush like Ronnie would have had a choice .

In the 1980's the choices of Panavision spherical lenses were either super speeds, ultra speeds or Z series nothing great when compared to the late 1980's release of the Primo series. K35 and other older lenses became popular at the same time digital cinematography was growing. During most of the 1950's Panavision was a manufacturer of projection lenses.

 

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Posted (edited)

A few side notes... Aliens was shot with Moviecam cameras, clearly not rented from Panavision. So that means they would have rented the cameras from Cinefocus and lenses from Panavision and they didn't get any credit? Back then, your rental house was your rental house, you didn't have 2 or 3 places you got camera equipment from, you got it from one place. Also, if you look at the BTS images from the movie, you'll see some pretty long/large barreled lenses, which are trademarks of zoom lenses. In fact, I haven't seen a single BTS shot with a lens that even remotely looks like a K35, which are very stubby. So I don't buy the K35 thing and I for sure don't by the Panavision idea either. If I were to hazard a guess based on the blurry images, I'd say they were using older Cooke glass. Rehoused Superspeeds are also very short and stubby, none of the images show short lenses. 

Edited by Tyler Purcell
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@Timothy SpencerThanks for sharing!! If there's any confusion for anyone reading, the long post was made by someone else in the group, in response to my saying that Aliens was shot with K35 glass, based on what I've read everywhere.

 

@Tyler PurcellVery interesting. So strange how this type of minutia can be lost and become misrepresented this way. It's also said an Arri 3 was used but I've only seen still featuring the Moviecam

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Definitely not Panavision lenses, as there are no Panavision credits. Cameras and lenses were supplied by Cinefocus according to the credits. While your Facebook friend is correct about some things, he makes a lot of assumptions that are far from certain.

Here’s an interesting thread from Reduser back in 2010 when a set of K35s were being sold for $24,500 (they now go for around $200,000):

http://www.reduser.net/forum/archive/index.php/t-51718.html
 

The relevant post:

11-10-2010, 04:06 PM
In Fact up to 4 sets like these were used on Aliens 2 with Moviecam,s and Arri 35/3 cameras.Second unit was Mitchell S35 and Fries conversions also useing K35 lenses. All cameras were in BNCR Mount.
How do I know? I was the Moviecam agent [ Cinefocus Ltd ] at that time and we supplied all the equipment for this movie, shot at Pinewood Studios. I also have a set of these lenses available NOW in BNCR mount. Cheers Tonycovell@talktalk.net
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4 hours ago, Tyler Purcell said:

Also, if you look at the BTS images from the movie, you'll see some pretty long/large barreled lenses, which are trademarks of zoom lenses. In fact, I haven't seen a single BTS shot with a lens that even remotely looks like a K35, which are very stubby. So I don't buy the K35 thing and I for sure don't by the Panavision idea either. If I were to hazard a guess based on the blurry images, I'd say they were using older Cooke glass. Rehoused Superspeeds are also very short and stubby, none of the images show short lenses. 

It’s hard to tell from BTS photos as there is often a matte box in the way. A couple of shots look like they used a telephoto or maybe a short zoom, but nothing as big as a Cooke 25-250 or 20-100. 

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1 hour ago, Dom Jaeger said:

Here’s an interesting thread from Reduser back in 2010 when a set of K35s were being sold for $24,500 (they now go for around $200,000):

Is this in any sense sane?

My observation is that most lenses look extremely similar beyond about f/4 and that even when they aren't identical, no lens is... that amazing...

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15 minutes ago, Phil Rhodes said:

Is this in any sense sane?

My observation is that most lenses look extremely similar beyond about f/4 and that even when they aren't identical, no lens is... that amazing...

There's an interview on YouTube where a lens rental shop owner praises K35s for a number of reasons, but he also praises b speeds, which are like 1/10th the price. He does mention that something about newer lenses renders poorly or harshly on digital cameras, hence the sudden spike in popularity with S2/S3s and K35s. 

They probably are overpriced relatively to standard speeds and b speeds, for instance, but I guess if you're renting that's less of an issue.

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1 hour ago, Phil Rhodes said:

Is this in any sense sane?

My observation is that most lenses look extremely similar beyond about f/4 and that even when they aren't identical, no lens is... that amazing...

Not sane, no. But these last few years have disabused me of any belief I used to have in human rationality.. 

I think the price jump is because they are the only vintage cine lens series outside of Panavision that is high speed and also covers full frame/large format cameras. You can degrade an image in post or use filters or remove coatings, but certain vintage lenses have a particular look and response to light when wide open that is very hard to replicate, subtle though it may be. And a series like the K-35s more or less retains the same image characteristics across the range. But I agree, they're not $200,000 amazing.

A lot of people are getting interested in re-housed Canon FD lenses which are much cheaper and not so different (watch their prices rise), and you can also get fairly high speed re-housed Leica Summilux-Rs or Zeiss Contax etc that also cover large format sensors, but they aren't consistently fast across the main focal lengths like the K-35s.

 

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29 minutes ago, Dom Jaeger said:

Not sane, no. But these last few years have disabused me of any belief I used to have in human rationality.. 

I think the price jump is because they are the only vintage cine lens series outside of Panavision that is high speed and also covers full frame/large format cameras. You can degrade an image in post or use filters or remove coatings, but certain vintage lenses have a particular look and response to light when wide open that is very hard to replicate, subtle though it may be. And a series like the K-35s more or less retains the same image characteristics across the range. But I agree, they're not $200,000 amazing.

A lot of people are getting interested in re-housed Canon FD lenses which are much cheaper and not so different (watch their prices rise), and you can also get fairly high speed re-housed Leica Summilux-Rs or Zeiss Contax etc that also cover large format sensors, but they aren't consistently fast across the main focal lengths like the K-35s.

 

What do you think of old Nikkors? 

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Old Nikkors are fine lenses except for their mechanics. Firstly, focus throw is extremely short and the focus rotation is reversed as well, which is ok but it's still a factor for a lot of people. I suppose if you're shooting by yourself, then sure but, for a proper with a focus puller, they are not the easiest to work with. Surely, you can map it out with a remote follow focus and have a longer throw but still ... 

You could get them properly rehoused but it's neither cheap nor timely. 

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6 hours ago, Phil Rhodes said:

My observation is that most lenses look extremely similar beyond about f/4 and that even when they aren't identical, no lens is... that amazing...

True but I don't think anyone's picking K35s to shoot at f/4...  they want that sweet, low con, WFO look

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3 hours ago, Dan Finlayson said:

True but I don't think anyone's picking K35s to shoot at f/4...  they want that sweet, low con, WFO look

Well, sure, but can't you get that with anything... bad...

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19 hours ago, Phil Rhodes said:

Well, sure, but can't you get that with anything... bad...

How many "bad" lenses check all the boxes the K35s do?  Full frame, decent focus breathing control, limited LoCA for their age... 

The price is inflated but they're definitely unique.

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2 hours ago, Dan Finlayson said:

How many "bad" lenses check all the boxes the K35s do?  Full frame, decent focus breathing control, limited LoCA for their age... 

The price is inflated but they're definitely unique.

I suspect everything is unique, but since you ask, eh, Schneider Xenons?

The emperor has lots of sets of new clothes.

P

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  • 2 months later...
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I really wish I could find something I like better than my set of K35s, because I'm looking for some excuse to sell them.  Unfortunately, I've had no luck finding that excuse and, believe me, I've tried.  A-B'd 'em with everything out there.  I may be stuck with them.  Too bad, because I could use the money. 

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  • 4 weeks later...
On 4/14/2021 at 5:09 PM, Frank Poole said:

Anywhere you look online, it is stated that Canon K35 lenses were used for Aliens, but I recently had a back and forth with someone in the "Anamorphic Shooters" facebook group that piqued my curiosity. I haven't seen any mention of this in the forums, so I'm interested in what info anyone might have aside from this seemingly sensible hearsay:

 

(names removed)

"Aliens was shot on Panavision lenses, most likely rehoused Zeiss HS optics. The K35s story is an internet myth, one that is repeated as gospel by most rehousing and hire companies. The K35s were used simply on the b-camera for cutaways."

Me - "Really? I can’t find any source that says that, how do you know?"

"A guy I know worked with Adrian Biddle on a commercial project before his death. K35s were not highly regarded lenses until 10 years ago... no one wanted them and there is no way 20th Century Fox would ever let an entire blockbuster with a budget of 18 million be shot on them. Adrian Biddle replaced veteran Dick Bush who was fired by James Cameron. Bush was a very old school DP and there's no way on earth he'd not used Panavison lenses. Aliens was Biddles first movie as a DP and he'd never have been able to send back a full Panavision lens set and replace them with K35s. They had a short schedule and since no one wanted the K35s Biddles was able to get them cheap and have them used on the B-camera for additional coverage.

The internet and especially rental houses listings are full of half truths... and myths ... the reality is... a huge number of movies simply used Panavision glass. Panavision were rehousing lenses since the 1950s and still are... and in that time have used Bausch & Lomb, Nikon, Leica and especially Zeiss optics as the basis for their lenses. If you believe the internet: Hitchcocks, "The Birds" was shot on SuperBaltars... even though the movie came out in 1962 and the lenses were released in 1966/67. The Godfather was shot on SuperBaltars... even though a good portion of the lens was shot on Gordon Willis' custom made Panavision 40mm. American Hustle was shot on K35s... well half true, the original casings were so useless they were quickly replaced by Zeiss Superspeeds. Kubrick used K35 on Barry Lyndon... not true... he used an early Canon FD specially rehoused. Aliens being shot on the K35s is yet another one of those myths. In their original unrehoused form they were a pain and in fact 10 years ago a case of lenses would cost you about 5k.

...the K35s are very popular now... but never were at the time... even though they did win an Oscar. All but the 18 and 35mm are basically rehoused FDs (with some improvements to the coatings) which is why they cover a LF sensor. The truth about lens choices pre digital... often it was a lot less sexy and complicated than we think... it was what was there, what worked and what gave the sharpest image on 35mm film. Plus the most reliable mechanics... and that was part of the K35s downfall... and their uneven focus throws.

you might find this piece worth a read. Gregory Irwin who worked on American Hustle also AC'd on Joker, Interstellar... his credits list is huge."

 

 

 

That looks like my original post on the K35s Frank 😉

A lot of research since that post was made - and yes my friend was mistaken about Panavision glass, but research has revealed information closer to what appears in this thread and in fact from some of the same sources.

Aliens main lens set appears to have been MovieCam BNCR primes, which were a mix of Canon FDs (most likely the slower lenses) with additional focal lengths made using Olympus Zuiko OM F2 prime lenses. It's easy to work out which primes must have been OMs, as they don't exist in the FD range.

One of the confusing factors appear to be that the name "K35" was used interchangeable (or possible as a catch all term), for both the MovieCam lenses and the Canon high speeds. The K35s were Cinema Products housings, while the Moviecam lenses were rehoused in Austria for Moviecam, using a mix of Canon FD and Olympus OM glass.

Rental listings from the 1980s place the K35 Canon lenses into the "high speed" category alongside the Zeiss Superspeeds. While these Moviecam lenses were considered standard lenses, alongside Zeiss, Kowa, Super Baltars etc.

When DPs refer to using "Canon" glass it is unclear if they are referring the K35s (high speed FD glass), or these much larger, but slower lens sets made by Moviecam. Additional FDs were rehoused to be used alongside the Canon HS glass by Optex etc

The listing for the Alien lens package I've seen is:

14mm T2.8

17mm T2.0 (21mm Olympus Zuiko OM modified)

20mm T2.0 (21mm Olympus Zuiko OM)

24mm T2.0

28mm T2.0

35mm T2.0

50mm T2.0

85mm T2.0

100mm T2.8

135mm T2.8

180mm T2.8 (180mm Olympus Zuiko OM)

Some Moviecam lens kits also included a 40mm F2 Olympus Zuiko OM. This appears to have been a popular photography lens for rehousing as it featured in the Cineovision spherical set, alongside mainly Contax Zeiss lenses, with additional lenses using OM, Leica, FD and Jena glass.

More information on the lens set and some informed discussion about the differences between the K35s and Moviecam primes.

https://www.reduser.net/forum/showthread.php?36886-FS-Set-(11)-Canon-K35-Primes-w-Extras

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  • 4 months later...
On 4/14/2021 at 8:19 PM, Frank Poole said:

@Tyler PurcellVery interesting. So strange how this type of minutia can be lost and become misrepresented this way. It's also said an Arri 3 was used but I've only seen still featuring the Moviecam

Sorry if I brought this topic back from the dead, but I recently had a discussion with a colleague of mine about what lenses were actually used on "Aliens" and I was most certainly sure they were not Panavision lenses (as someone pointed out, not only there is no Panavision logo on the closing credits, but the main cameras were by Moviecam, a brand that was never "Panavised" to my knowledge).

Anyhow, the Arriflex III was indeed used - if you watch the following video at 51:20, you can see James Cameron looking through a 35-3 to test the Facehugger prop https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V--gH9ayR-o&t=7716s - it's hard to tell what lens is mounted on it though. 

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2 hours ago, Emiliano Ranzani said:

Anyhow, the Arriflex III was indeed used - if you watch the following video at 51:20, you can see James Cameron looking through a 35-3 to test the Facehugger prop https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V--gH9ayR-o&t=7716s - it's hard to tell what lens is mounted on it though. 

Panavision and PL look identical outside of the little pin that holds the lens in place on PL. The biggest difference is the flange distance, which is a lot deeper on the Panavision mounts, making it pretty difficult to convert for PL use sadly. But looking at the mount from a distance, to tell which one you have, you'd have to see that little pin and that's hard unless it's close up. 

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1 hour ago, Tyler Purcell said:

Panavision and PL look identical outside of the little pin that holds the lens in place on PL.  ..looking at the mount from a distance, to tell which one you have, you'd have to see that little pin and that's hard unless it's close up. 

Why would there be a Panavised Arri 35-3 on a movie that didn’t rent from Panavision? I think we’ve ascertained there were no Panavision lenses on this film. 

1 hour ago, Tyler Purcell said:

The biggest difference is the flange distance, which is a lot deeper on the Panavision mounts, making it pretty difficult to convert for PL use sadly. 

Arri film cameras like the 35-3 came with an Arri mount. To make them compatible with PV glass they were modified to PV mount (“Panavised”) by Panavision. To convert them back to their original PL mount is therefore not so difficult. No sadness required.

To use PV lenses on a PL mount camera is also not a big deal, since there are PL to PV adapters.

The only time you might get sad is if you wanted to use PL lenses on a Panaflex, but most people would just rent an Arricam.

Panavision’s current camera, the DXL2, uses a PV70 mount which can be easily adapted to either PL or PV. Other modern cameras like LFs or Venice’s can also be easily modified to PV70, allowing any Panavision lens to be used. Happy days!

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42 minutes ago, Dom Jaeger said:

Why would there be a Panavised Arri 35-3 on a movie that didn’t rent from Panavision? I think we’ve ascertained there were no Panavision lenses on this film. 

I was just responding to the question on how you can identify PV mounts. 

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3 hours ago, Tyler Purcell said:

I was just responding to the question on how you can identify PV mounts. 

 

I don’t think anybody actually asked that question, but I guess it explains your response.

10 hours ago, Emiliano Ranzani said:

Anyhow, the Arriflex III was indeed used .. it's hard to tell what lens is mounted on it though. 

I can’t tell either, just that it had a soft rubber hood. And was tough enough to withstand a leaping face-hugger attack. 😉

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11 hours ago, Dom Jaeger said:

I don’t think anybody actually asked that question, but I guess it explains your response.

Yep, I just mis read. I thought he said "lens mount" not "lens mount(ed)" Whoops. 

21 hours ago, Emiliano Ranzani said:

Anyhow, the Arriflex III was indeed used - if you watch the following video at 51:20, you can see James Cameron looking through a 35-3 to test the Facehugger prop https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V--gH9ayR-o&t=7716s - it's hard to tell what lens is mounted on it though. 

 

Edited by Tyler Purcell
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