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Tiago Pimentel

Lenses with character

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Hi guys,

 

I'm looking for a set of lenses (not really sure I want primes or zooms) for my narrative projects. I'm looking for lenses that have character, a distinctive look to them. I have a Ursa Mini 4.6k camera (EF mount) and vintage lenses often work great with these newer sensors.

 

I've been thinking if I should buy a few lenses or just use the money to rent some classics like the cooke mini s4 ef mount. I've never used them and I'm one of those that's unsure a prime lens is worth 10.000eur each... (is it worth it?)

 

if I decide to buy, I've read great things about the Mamiyas 645 Sekor C and the Zeiss Contax. I have a Tokina 28-70 2.6 which has the angenieux formula. That's the kind of lens I like. Something with a distinctive look. I'm not looking for lenses that cost 3000eur each. I think for that money, I prefer to rent. Any suggestions?

 

Thanks

Edited by Tiago Pimentel

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The idea of lenses having a distinctive 'look' is often exaggerated. Generally speaking, older lenses are softer and less well corrected than modern glass, but often the differences are so subtle that you'd have to A/B the lenses to see it. Most 'character' will be visible when the lens is wide open, and therefore performing at its worst. As soon as you start to stop down, the aberrations that give a lens its look become less obvious, and by the time you get to f5.6, most lenses look pretty similar.

 

The Mamiya 645 Sekor lenses were designed for medium format, so they won't be quite as sharp as FF lenses, and they're slow (at least by 35mm standards). I don't think they made anything wider than a 35mm.

 

Zeiss Contax are supposedly a very similar design to Zeiss Superspeeds/Standard speeds. It could cost you a couple of thousand dollars to put a set together.

 

If you just want individual lenses with some quirks, try some of the old Russian lenses like Helios and Mir. There is a company called IronGlass who sell sets of 6 'anamorphic look' Russian lenses for about $1100 on eBay.

 

Meyer-Gorlitz (Pentacon) lenses can be interesting too. The 50mm f1.8 has some unusual soap bubble bokeh when wide open.

 

Old Asahi Takumar (Pentax) lenses can be found pretty cheap online or in pawn shops. They date back to the 1960s and have a nice look to them. Built like tanks, too. The 50mm f1.4, 35mm f2 and 85mm f1.9 are all really good.

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Thanks guys. I probably need to elaborate a bit more when I say distinctive look. For example, I remember a test Shane Hurlbutt did between the Cookes mini S4 and the Leica Summicron and it was quite clear that the Leicas were much more flat than the cookes. The Cookes had this 3 dimension quality, a depth to the image that the Leicas simply didn't have. As if the subject was more separated from the background. And they are priced similarly. My goal here is to find a set of lenses that have this 3 dimension, that you can almost feel the textures and volumes. Of course the camera has something to do with, but that test was shot using the same camera for both lenses.

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a test Shane Hurlbutt did between the Cookes mini S4 and the Leica Summicron and it was quite clear that the Leicas were much more flat than the cookes. The Cookes had this 3 dimension quality, a depth to the image that the Leicas simply didn't have. As if the subject was more separated from the background.

I remember that test. I also remember not being able to see much of a difference. Your mileage may vary.

 

As Phil says, much of this discussion is just shades of opinion, and what you find characterful may be dealbreaker for someone else.

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Thanks Stuart. I know this discussion is always very subjective. I can speak from experience that my Tokina 28-70 renders a very different image from my Sigma 18-35 which is much more analytical (flat looking).

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I think the problem you'll come up against is that older lenses, which tend to be less well corrected, and therefore have 'character', probably don't match very well as a set. There are always individual lenses that people rave about, such as the Asahi Takumar 50mm f1.4, but whatever magic that lens has does not necessarily travel to the other Asahi Takumars. More modern lenses will be more likely to match, but less likely to have a distinctive look.

 

If it was me, I'd look into assembling a set of Zeiss Contax C/Y lenses. They're high quality, color matched, and have that older Zeiss look, which I happen to like. The AE series may have more of a look than the newer MM.

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I've never compared Rokinons with Zeiss, although I've shot movies with both brands. I've found Rokinons to be perfectly adequate, but fairly anonymous.

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Stuart, I've never understood the contax designation. I own a Zeiss 50mm Planar f1.4 AIs. Is this matched to the 28mm distagon?

 

They were designed for the Yashica built Contax SLR cameras. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Contax

 

I used some on my Aaton. they matched the 16mm Zeiss Super Speed Distagons pretty well, if perhaps not quite as sharp when wide open.

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Stuart, I saw a few stills from the Takumar 50mm and it's magic! That's the kind of lens I'm looking for. I think it's the closest to the Cooke look I ever found. I also read it's a very specific lens and one can easily buy the "wrong" 50mm takumar. Is this true? Btw, will this lens cover the whole 4.6k sensor on my Ursa Mini?

 

Thanks

Tiago Pimentel

Edited by Tiago Pimentel

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Takumars are 35mm. stills lenses, so there's no problem with coverage.

The wiki page has something about a later 80s budget line with different coatings. The giveaway will be the mount- the pre-75 Takumars are M42.

Edited by Mark Dunn

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Btw, those "anamorphics" from Ironglass, are they worth it? I love the anamorphic spatial look. The oval bokehs and the flares are fine as well, but I love that wide space of the image. People tend to say that using a normal spherical lens and cropping to 2.39 is the same but it is not! I know the Ursa Mini has a 3k anamorphic (done by using the 2x desqueeze). Not sure if it's of any use with those russian lenses though.

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It's the Asahi Takumars in M42 mount that have the best reputation. The original Super-Takumars date back to the early/mid 1960s, and are single coated. They look great, but they flare fairly easily. The later Super-Multi-Coated Takumars are from the late 1960s and early 1970s. They are well, Multi-coated, but otherwise very similar optically. Don't confuse Super-Multi-Coated with S-M-C Pentax lenses, which are a later line.

 

They have interesting bokeh, at times showing the kind of soap-bubble bokeh in out of focus highlight when wide open. Some of them (the 50mm f1.4 particularly) are prone to yellowing, due to thorium elements in the glass. It can be removed with a UV treatment.

 

I'm away from home at the moment, but when I get back, I can post some comparison frames from Takumars and some more modern glass.

 

The Pentax Forums are a great source of info on these lenses.

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Btw, those "anamorphics" from Ironglass, are they worth it? I love the anamorphic spatial look. The oval bokehs and the flares are fine as well, but I love that wide space of the image. People tend to say that using a normal spherical lens and cropping to 2.39 is the same but it is not! I know the Ursa Mini has a 3k anamorphic (done by using the 2x desqueeze). Not sure if it's of any use with those russian lenses though.

Those IronGlass lenses are not anamorphic. They are spherical lenses that have been given an oval aperture to create oval bokeh, and painted blue inside. Other than that, they are just old Russian stills lenses, and therefore can be of varying quality.

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You could also use a streak filter or even some monofilament (fishing line) on lenses to get a similar flare effect. Or, these days, sadly, easily do it in post (looking at you Star Trek 2009)

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Thanks Adrian. Actually, the bokeh and the horizontal flares are two cool effects in anamorphic lenses, but what I really love about those lenses is the dimensionality of the image. It's not just about the aspect ratio, it's how the elements in the image have a different presence and are distributed in a way that the whole image looks wider. Hard to explain, but I can tell the difference when I'm watching a real anamorphic. But a real anamorphic is out of my price range, so I was hoping to buy a set of primes that would deliver. I know this is always a subjective discussion, as most of us tend to prefer different things, but if you were looking for a set of lenses for FILMMAKING, that would render beautiful skin tones and make each element feel "textural" and have presence, which would you choose?

 

Zeiss Contax, Asahi Takumar, Helios modded Anamorfake, Mamiyas 645 Sekor C, other? Let me remind you that I'm using a Blackmagic Ursa Mini 4.6k EF Mount.

 

Thanks!

Edited by Tiago Pimentel

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Oh just realized that you mentioned they are painted blue inside. That should make the horizontal flares possible, I guess.

No that wont do it... the horizontal flare happens because the front element in an anamorphic lens is a vertical cylinder shape so light spreads across the curved face of the glass depending on the coatings.

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Would the lenses Darius Khondji shot Magic in the Moonlight be seen as lenses with character?

 

They are:

 

Panavision Primo, C-, D- and E-Series Lenses

 

I don’t know which series in particular produced that lovely (semi-)circular background blur. Or maybe they all did.

Edited by Alexandros Angelopoulos Apostolos

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