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Modern vs. Old Glass on 35mm Film Camera


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I recently had my eyes set on a single (shooting the entire project on a single lens) TLS-rehoused Cooke Speed Panchro for a small, low-profile shoot on 35mm film. However, I noticed that the majority of films that I drew references from were shot with modern glass (mostly Arri Master and Ultra) on 35mm film cameras. Budget won't allow us to go for the top line, so I'm looking at the Sigma Cine FFs in particular. With all the fuss (for good reason) about vintage glass being used on digital cameras, what are your thoughts on modern vs. vintage glass on 35mm film cameras? I'm aware that it's comparing apples to oranges, but still curious to hear your thoughts. Main criteria, apart from image quality, is size and weight. 

Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

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From f/5.6 on upwards the differences among lenses dwindle. It was the low key fashion of the past 40 years that spurred the manufacture and sale of complicated lenses. Had high key prevailed since the 1960s we might be using simple and cheap glass. The rest is laziness and bragging.

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Posted (edited)

There's an interview somewhere on YouTube (can't find it now) that implies that OLPF on digital cameras actually sharpen up vintage lenses but make Master Primes, for instance, feel "over sharp." I think the vintage crazy is largely in response to digital, taking the edge off.

On the other hand, I remember comparing cibachrome prints to digital prints from 135 and 6x7 slides and the cibachromes were so much softer. I think you can get away with shooting softer lenses on digitally scanned film because you can add contrast back in the DI and I suspect scanners sharpen a bit too in post (I don't know), regardless I think digital scans are usually a lot sharper than film prints. So S16 or vintage lenses on S35 or 2-perf etc. become viable again.

I think you're good... the only thing I didn't like about Sigma Art is the green flare.

Edited by M Joel W
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I don’t think any optical low-pass filter could optically sharpen a lens, old or new. I think it’s just that any lens looks sharper on a digital camera, partly because the contrast of the lens was designed for film.

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36 minutes ago, David Mullen ASC said:

I don’t think any optical low-pass filter could optically sharpen a lens, old or new. I think it’s just that any lens looks sharper on a digital camera, partly because the contrast of the lens was designed for film.

You might be right. I heard or read this somewhere, but it doesn't make much sense. Maybe it was in this video, but what he says is closer to what you said, the mtf (contrast) feels too high for digital whereas it's perfect for film:

 

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9 hours ago, David Mullen ASC said:

I don’t think any optical low-pass filter could optically sharpen a lens, old or new. I think it’s just that any lens looks sharper on a digital camera, partly because the contrast of the lens was designed for film.

The only thing I can think is that some older lenses with over-corrected spherical aberration can improve slightly when placed on a camera with a chunk of glass in the light path (ie the OLPF block) because it negates some of the over-correction. Most of the time it makes them a little worse, though. 

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On 7/5/2021 at 12:31 AM, Alexander Boyd said:

I recently had my eyes set on a single (shooting the entire project on a single lens) TLS-rehoused Cooke Speed Panchro for a small, low-profile shoot on 35mm film. However, I noticed that the majority of films that I drew references from were shot with modern glass (mostly Arri Master and Ultra) on 35mm film cameras. Budget won't allow us to go for the top line, so I'm looking at the Sigma Cine FFs in particular. With all the fuss (for good reason) about vintage glass being used on digital cameras, what are your thoughts on modern vs. vintage glass on 35mm film cameras? I'm aware that it's comparing apples to oranges, but still curious to hear your thoughts. Main criteria, apart from image quality, is size and weight. 

Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

As others have said, I think vintage lenses are often used on digital sensors to negate the cleanness and add texture or character, whereas on film people often want the sharpest lenses available. But there are plenty of examples of vintage lenses used on film, particularly things like Panavision C series anamorphics on recent films like Uncut Gems, La La Land, A Quiet Place, Once Upon A Time In Hollywood, etc. A Quiet place also used Panavision's 55mm T1.1 Super Speed for all the POV shots of the mute daughter, which is a very funky vintage look when used wide open.  BlacKKKlansman and I am The Night used Panavision's  PVintage lenses, Inherent Vice used Cooke Speed Panchros.  

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