Jump to content
Jaime Marin III

Favorite lens packages

Recommended Posts

I'm not against using every trick in the toolbox to create a look, it's just that sometimes I think people give too much emphasis to something that is not the icing on the cake, but the sprinkles on the icing on the cake.

 

I guess it's just a perspective thing, when I start obsessing over a 1/8 Black Satin versus a 1/8 Hollywood Black Magic, or an Ultra Prime versus a Primo, I think about whether I am missing the big picture, or relying on tricks, or making too much out of the tools and not thinking enough about the real image basics: lighting, composition, movement, etc.

 

I remember years ago doing some 35mm feature with a budget of only $100,000 and we had to use stock that Kodak had just obsoleted with newer stocks, 5247 instead of the new 5248 and 5294 instead of the new 5296. But as I was thinking "I can't believe I have to use this older, softer, grainier stock"... I then read that "Legends of the Fall", which had come out the year before, had been shot on these two stocks. I felt a little foolish thinking that these stocks weren't good enough for me. Same goes for an Ultra Prime, one might think "hell, this is a boring lens" and then remember that movies shot on it like "Ida" and "Amelie" were anything but boring-looking. I guess what it boils down to is wondering whether I'm over-thinking things, tool-wise.

 

We all get passionate about the tools of our trade, that's part of the mentality of a crafts person, but it doesn't hurt to now and then step back and remember the relative importance of these tools in the overall picture. Ultimately, what makes a great piece of cinematography isn't the bokeh of an anamorphic lens or the flare from a Cooke Panchro, it's more likely to center on the basics of the subject, lighting, composition, focal length, etc. The shot is probably not going to succeed or fail because an Ultra Prime was chosen instead of a Cooke S4.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Is it not anyway better to go with a "clean boring" lens and add "character" with way more control in post.. if character is a lens being warmer or less "perfect" I presume meaning less optically sharp.. all this can be done in post .. as presumably it was in the non boring films mentioned shot on boring lenses.. ?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Adrian, this is exactly how I'm feeling right now. Maybe that has to do with being journeymen working on a lot of low budget projects where we're often asked to make up for the shortcomings of other departments instead of being equal collaborators on a strong team. I feel like this is much less of an issue once you are shooting projects beyond a certain budget level. Of course, David is right that memorable images are made by a collaboration of talented people, not the tools. But when you have to pull a rabbit out of your hat on a regular basis, having the right hat can make that a lot easier.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I'm just trying to imagine a scenario where a shot would fail or not work or look bad because it was shot on a Ultra Prime but suddenly work and look great when you switched to a Cooke S4. I didn't sit through "Amelie" thinking "what's wrong with this picture? I know, it was shot on Ultra Primes!" There are shots in Emmanuel Lubezki's movies like "Tree of Life" that used Ultra Primes. Darius Wolkski uses Ultra Primes, are all of these guys -- and me -- blind because they can't see what's so wrong with these lenses?

 

Really we are talking about a difference more subtle than the lightest diffusion filter ever made would create, more subtle than the differences between two film stocks, and more subtle than the difference between a prime and a zoom.

 

So what rabbit would be pulled out, what problem would be solved, by a Cooke S4 that an Ultra Prime would fail at? I'm all for tools that solve problems on sets... Are you saying, for example, that you couldn't make an actress look good if you had an Ultra Prime? That you couldn't pull off some Steadicam move?

 

Again, I'm just suggesting a little perspective here on the relative level of effect that these choices make. I'm not saying that there aren't differences in look but I'm suggesting that they are relatively subtle.

 

I'm speaking as someone who deliberately would switch things up from project to project, alternating between Kodak, Fuji, and Agfa, between Panavision and ARRI, etc. I know there are differences in look that all these choices make, but some decisions are bigger than others.

 

Anyway, I just don't get the hostility towards a workhorse lens like an Ultra Prime. I guess I'm not very emotional about lenses, to me they are just tools.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

It's not necessarily hostility, it's just not liking the images it produces out of the box, on it's own and being more moved and attracted to another lens out of the box on it's own. In a world of choices, why wouldn't you want to go with what you, yourself like? Why the need to embrace what you don't value? This isn't to say one person's or another person's values should be the same, but it is to say that while it might not mean a thing to anyone else, that you are a craftsman have stood up and said, when it comes to my own work, this is what I value.
That's voice and as we DPs are increasingly muted by technology and politics, it is very important, I think, to use that voice as best you can.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I don't think there is anything wrong with the Ultra Primes at all, to me they are just as you say, great workhorse lenses. Maybe others here will disagree. Hell, they looked great on 'The Fellowship of the Ring'.

 

That's a particularly good example given the incredible amount of work that went into production design, sets, costumes, locations, miniatures, special and visual effects. On the one hand, perhaps the film would have looked even more lush and otherworldly had it been shot on 'scope lenses like 'The Empire Strikes Back' or 'Legend.' Or it may have just complicated the effects work to the point that certain composite shots between the full-sized and hobbit-sized Bag End sets may not have been possible, lessening the otherworldly quality of the film overall. The film works so well to transport you to another time and place because of the collaboration of excellent craftspeople. The scope lens artifacts would be the sprinkles on top in this case.

 

On the other hand, when you are given a crappy white room or a dull office space to photograph you are relying on the shallow depth with waterfall bokeh to render the art on the back wall in a pleasing way, the odd kick off of the desk lamp practical, and the falloff and curvature of field to spice up an otherwise dull frame. And now the scope lens is more like the cream filling instead of just sprinkles. I think that's all we are saying. When all you afford to eat is cup o'noodle, do what you can to spice it up and hope to move on to bigger and better things where these tricks are no longer necessary because you can afford real food that tastes good on it's own. :)

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

But arnt you all shooting RAW or least Log on drama /commercial,s .. then surely the lens coating etc will make no difference in post when you can dial in what ever you want.. then its just rental cost,size,weight considerations ?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I think since I use some form of diffusion on 70% of what I shoot, what interests me about a lens is mainly that it has enough contrast and sharpness to compensate for the diffusion, which I'm mainly using to get halation.

 

One interesting thing to me is the difference between "The Revenant" versus "The Hateful Eight" in terms of lenses because essentially with "The Revenant" the lenses were picked for not adding character to the image, just for their perspective and lack of flare, otherwise the image is very pristine like you are looking through a clear window. "The Hateful Eight" on the other hand, despite being shot on 65mm film, chose to use 1950/60's anamorphic optics with a lot of character, flare, and some distortion as a mild form of diffusion.

 

I liked both approaches. The thing is, I like variety, and that includes the option of using lenses with character or using boring lenses and adding the character in other ways like diffusion, smoke, etc.

 

But then, I'm not a lens owner, I've never had to make a choice as to which type of lens set I would put my own money down on. I suspect that if money were no object, I'd probably both get a set of super-clean, sharp lenses like Zeiss Master Primes or the Leicas, and a set of old Cooke Panchros, B&L Baltars, Lomos, or something else with a ton of character.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Very interesting discussion.

 

Unfortunately, I don't have a lot of experience with different lenses, but I am a lens owner. I have a set of Zeiss Planars - 16mm, 32mm & 50mm - as well as a 9mm Cooke Kinetal, all with Arriflex standard mounts. Old lenses, but really nice. They have a soft, filmic quality to them and I was lucky to get them in very good condition.

 

I definitely want to get experience with other lenses out there. I remember watching Monster's Ball (2001) and falling in love with the milky circle of confusion those lenses created. I initially thought they used Panavison Primos, but according to IMDb it was shot with Zeiss Standard Speeds and Angenieux HRs.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I like and use the old Schneider Kreuznach Cine Xenon because of how organic they look, the softness and the bokeh, which is beautiful and very special.

 

 

They are great, and probably my favorite vintage lenses. But hard to consistently find at rental houses unless you're in the production hubs.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Certainly Super-Speeds have character at f/2.8 and lower, but stopped down, I don't see much difference with Ultra Primes.

 

Again, why is it always necessary for a lens to have character?

 

It's not about using lenses which are soft, or flare easily, or which have other aberrations, it's more about finding a set of lenses which look subjectively 'good'. It's no different from choosing Kodak stock over Fuji, or deciding that you prefer Sony color to Arri color.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

So it's not about choosing a lens for various image characteristics like flare, contrast, bokeh, sharpness... and yet it's about choosing a lens because it is subjectively "good" but that good cannot be measured or even defined?

 

I know we are artists and there is some emotional gut feeling aspect to what we do, but I also am someone who likes to get at the heart of something, understand it -- like what exactly are the differences between Sony color or Arri color, what are the differences between Kodak and Fuji? I've never been comfortable with the pseudo-science thinking that goes on in the film industry though obviously one can do great artistic work without needing to think scientifically.

 

For example, when I started shooting, one thing that I read was statements by people like John Alonzo and William Fraker that you have to "put light on your blacks if you want them to look black". Like pounding a black-tiled bathroom with light to make the blacks black. This didn't sit well with me because what if your black was truly black and not an object, like a dark hole lined with black velvet, or a moment when the camera lens gets covered with the lens cap, some blackness you couldn't light but you wanted it to be a pure black.

 

The more I thought about it, I realized that there were two different components to achieving good blacks in print, one technical and one perceptual.

 

Technically, a good black was essentially when the print achieved D-max and couldn't get any denser, and that was a function of the print stock and the printer lights used. It had nothing to do with how much light you poured onto a black object.

 

The perceptual aspect was that something looks black relative to something bright, so highlights and points of light will make surrounding blackness look blacker to one's eye.

 

And you could say there was a third aspect, which is that while it might be a good idea to see texture in a black object through lighting, that's really not about achieving pure black, by definition if there are details in the black, those details are lighter than black, that's why you see them!

 

As for the notion that there is something wrong with a boring characterless lens, again, I think the subject matter in front of the lens should be taken into consideration as to whether you need the extra "character" of an interesting lens if the subject is already interesting. A white T-shirt, for example, is rather boring as a piece of wardrobe, but if Scarlett Johansson is wearing that T-shirt, suddenly it seems less boring... So if I'm shooting a spectacular sunset, I might not need or want the lens to add more character to the image.

 

I just have a feeling that if I went to a rental house and borrowed an Alexa and went out into the parking lot and did a wide shot with an Ultra Prime and a Cooke S4 at, let's say, f/5.6 -- same focal length, same composition -- and posted a frame online, most people would say the images look almost identical, they wouldn't label one "good" and the other "bad", or one "interesting" and the other "boring".

 

I also think that some of you should give yourself more credit, if your work is interesting, I wouldn't give a big portion of the credit to your lens, I'd give it your eye and how you handle light, exposure, composition, color, etc.

 

I respect a lot of people in this industry, and some of my heroes prefer Cookes over Zeiss, others prefer Leicas over either, some of the greatest cinematographers working today are using Zeiss Ultra Primes and some other great cinematographers say they would rather never use those lenses. Who is right and who is wrong? If Shane Hurlbut says that Cooke S4's are beautiful and Leicas are boring and then maybe Jeff Cronenweth or Claudio Miranda says that he loves the Leicas over the Cookes... who is right? If you respect someone like Emmanuel Lubezki who uses Zeiss Ultra Primes, then how can you say that he's making a bad choice? I think if you gave Roger Deakins a Cooke or a Zeiss, he'd make a great image with either one.

 

I think with a lot of projects that Lubezki or Deakins shoots, they aren't looking for the lens to add an extra characteristic or texture to the scene, other than the perspective due to the focal length. Look at how Deakins has avoided anamorphic lenses for most of his career, for example.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Another thing is that the lens is one element in the image formation process - there are the filters in front of the lens and the sensor or film stock behind it, and then there is the color-correction step in post. One cinematographer may prefer a film stock with a very accurate, even "boring", representation of reality but use a lens with character as a way of adding texture, and yet another may prefer a film stock that has a lot of character, and maybe is a bit soft and grainy, but then want a very clean, sharp, and accurate "boring" lens in front of that stock. And another cinematographer may use a boring lens but with an interesting filter in front of it. And another may create the "character" or texture to the image in post.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

We are probably just as likely to get distracted from the actual job of storytelling by tools and tricks as producers and directors are. It's just human nature to try and make sense of the world by creating formulas I guess. When I share frame grabs of my work now, I try to avoid listing any tech specs unless asked since the tech shouldn't really matter. There's still a part of my brain that wants to though.

 

I think a lot of us are trying to find ways of introducing an element of magic or mystery back into our craft - that really is at the heart of some of the responses, in my opinion. But it becomes a bit of a grey area, since we also don't want to stifle the spirit of sharing knowledge and experience. It would suck to go back to the old days of every cinematographer being an island unto themselves, jealously guarding their own tricks of the trade.

 

Also, in some ways this is a much bigger issue for younger, less experienced cinematographers like me who have yet to make their stamp on the craft. When you have a large body of work behind you that demonstrates a consistent visual aesthetic and artistic process, then it's easier to avoid talking about tools since the work speaks for itself. The aesthetic attributes ascribed to particular tools stands in as a shorthand for the type of work we hope to make. It's about trying to establish your voice by saying, I like this but I don't like that.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I think that's valid... I don't have a problem with an artist falling in love with a particular tool with its own character, I just get uncomfortable with it seems that a personal preference is being turned into some objective evaluation of worthiness. One man's "character" in a lens might be a defect to another. But ultimately you have to do whatever you have to do, whatever works for you. Coming from low-budget filmmaking but not owning any personal gear, I try to not get too emotionally invested in one type of technology because it might be taken away from me at some point.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I do think that each project needs its own voice and that can be found through the use of lenses, filters, nets, fog, lighting, actors, imagination and such.

 

So a combination of all of them are the ones which give character to the story and if you are forced to use a set of lenses that you don't particularly like or agree with, then you have the other tools to create something great.

 

Because of that I never understood the reason as to why a cinematographer would choose the same tools over and over to shoot different projects with different narrative tones, shouldn't be that choice a more creative and deep one? One which makes sense for the aesthetics of the project?

 

I own a set of Schneider lenses (Adam, you are welcome to use them anytime! I'm going to post some frames soon from a project shot with them ) but I don't particularly use them for everything, that wouldn't make sense artistically (although it might make sense economically but that's another story).

 

Different stories need different tools and you might want to use a clean and characterless set of lenses if your project is going to go through a lot of post production or you might want to use a set of Vantage T1 or a set of anamorphic ones if your project is a very intimate one.

 

Nowadays there are endless possibilities and it is a fantastic moment to become a cinematographer.

 

Regarding finding your own voice, although it has to do with a chosen set of lenses, I think that it is more about how you use them and how you light / frame a given character / location.

 

At the end of the day, if you shoot at T2.8 or closer, any spherical lens is virtually the same, you have to go wide open if you want to see the "character" (which I suppose is what a lot of people do), again that "wide open" aesthetic might not be good all the times!

 

Have a good day!

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I totally agree that we sometimes need perspective in the matter. Way too much emphasis is being put on equipment in general as opposed to what we do in front of the lens. The choice of focal length, angel, color, time of day, actors and scripts it always going to have a bigger impact on a project than a lens brand.

 

But still, regardless of all that its just so much fun, for me at least. I mean, what else are we going to do with our days of than discuss lenses and cameras :D

 

To answer the original question though, I too like the Zeiss Standards, they have a beautiful rendition and the flare is amazing on some of the lenses, there is something magic about them wide open.

My experience with the Cookes is limited, but I do have a problem with the star-shaped bokeh. Its something thats not that subtle in my eyes and it feels very distracting to me. I've always wondered why Cooke didn't make an alternative set with round aperture blades since the current blades are so very pronounced. But I have seen it work as well, so again, its all about the project.

For the cleaner look prefer to shoot with the Schneiders over Ultras, cant say why exactly but they look nicer to me for some reason. Maybe its one of those unmeasurable things, but I feel that they have more of a "3d-pop" compared to the Ultras. Never shot with the Masters though.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Haris I am in agreement with you about the S4 iris shape. I personally really find it a distraction.

 

I think the strong interest in finding and using lenses with "character" is a reaction to the very clean and sometimes clinical or digital look of video cameras. There is an element of "human-ness" that lens aberrations such as flare, chromatic aberration, field curvature, spherical aberration and geometric distortion can impart to an image. Hand crafted versus machine made. Filters can help but they produce an effect far less complex that a lens with "character".

 

The argument for and against 'sharpness' or 'softness' in a photographic image is as old as photography itself. As early as the 1860's there were photographers that resisted the scientific aspect of photography and worked with soft-focus lenses to create images that were strongly influenced by the impressionist paintings popular at the time. Anglo-American Pictorialism was a very popular school of photography that from about 1890 to the 1920's produced very stylized photographs that looked much like impressionist paintings. Lenses like the Pinkham and Smith portrait lens and the Cooke Portrait lenses were used to introduce very strong spherical aberration to the image creating a strong sharp focus with a soft OOF image overlaid to make the image quite 'painterly' or 'artistic' and much less scientific looking.

 

Around 1925 there was a revolt against the Pictorial School that produced the F64 school of photography which advocated photography as its own art form and strongly rebelled against the soft-focus movement. I think it is fair to say that for the most part the F64 school was the winner in a sometimes vitriolic debate about what photography should be. From the 1920's to today the Pictorial School has been mostly seen as old fashioned.

 

With the move away from film based cinematography and into the present world of digital cinematography I think it is very useful to explore the use of lens 'flaws' as a way to produce images with a more craftsman like look. Of course if the story demands a crystal sharp and clean image then there are many lenses capable of the job.

 

Neal Norton

Director of Photography

 

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

To be honest I find the discussion a bit esoteric, and this is me saying this.

 

This is all a concern for the top one percent of film and TV people. That's fine, have the discussion, but most of us are just happy to get anything approaching a real motion picture lens. The differences are often microscopically small and I think anyone who claims otherwise is at risk of sophistry. Yes, I can claim to be able to hear the difference between SACD and a normal compact disc, but I'd be lucky to make that claim stick in a side-by-side test. I'm not sure that any objective study has been made of lens-tasting, but I do know that the field of wine-tasting have been more or less completely discredited and I suspect the results might be alarmingly similar.

 

Similarly, I'm not sure how useful some of this characterfulness really is. What it seems to mean is "mushy at the edges," in most cases. Or "orangey-yellow glowing highlights," in one case of a company selling lenses, a set of which cost as much as a house.

 

I'm not blind to these characteristics nor do I question their usefulness in some circumstances, but in general I'm with Mr. Mullen. In most cases, other things will make vastly, vastly more difference.

 

P

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Great post Neal. As someone alluded to earlier, this is a reaction to being surrounded by more and more images 24/7, most of them very trendy and bland, straight out of the machine so to speak. I believe we are nourished by images that are bold, unpredictable, and intentional - whether it's the composition, movement, lighting, use of color, or unusual draw of the lens, something causes us to perk up and latch on to these images. They tickle some deep part of our brain and get the neurons firing. The lens choice is a part of that. And I don't think this is reserved for the top 1 percent of image makers. Christopher Doyle and Janusz Kaminski are not the ones buying up all these old Russian still photo lenses from the 60's on eBay. There has been an awakening across the spectrum. Have you felt it? :)

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I'm glad I found this thread as I've been thinking these things for quite some time now. I couldn't agree more with David Mullen in that a movie is not made by the lens choice. I've felt for way too long that too much emphasis is put on the tools/equipment/sensor/lenses while far less discussion is focused on the art and what is actually being captured. I think this is because its much easier and quantifiable to measure lens sharpness/CA/distortion/warmv.cool etc...

 

I think this is a fault that happens in cinematography, because the very nature of DP work is to blend artistic visuals with technical camera work. The debate becomes more obvious and ridiculous when you compare to other mediums.

 

Is a carpenter that much better because he uses Dewalt over Makita?

 

Is a chef that much better if he chooses a Bosch stove over Kitchenaid?

 

Is a painter that much better if he chooses hogshair brushes over acrylic?

 

Is a guitarist that much better if he chooses Gibson over Fender?

 

the tools have to be good enough (cant make gorgeous work out of nothing), but I do feel there is a threshold where it caps out.

 

For a while I've wanted to shoot a spoof scene with an imaginary Picasso and Monet arguing over which bristle brush is superior.

 

I agree with David that Emmanuel Lubeszki will be equally effective with Ultra Primes or Zeiss Standard Speeds or Hawk Vantage '74s.

 

Just my 2 cents...

Edited by David Grauberger

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Guest
Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.



  • Broadcast Solutions Inc



    Paralinx LLC



    Glidecam



    Metropolis Post



    Tai Audio



    CineLab



    New Pro Video - New and Used Equipment



    Rig Wheels Passport



    Abel Cine



    Gamma Ray Digital Inc



    G-Force Grips



    Media Blackout - Custom Cables and AKS



    Just Cinema Gear



    Wooden Camera



    Ritter Battery



    Visual Products



    FJS International



    Serious Gear


    Cinematography Books and Gear
×
×
  • Create New...