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Benjamin Guerrero

Vintage vs Modern + Diffusion filter

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Recently been seeing a lot of videos promoting vintage lenses to take off the edge of digital sensor's sharpness, but after giving it some thought inside my mind I personally believe it provides more flexibility to have a modern lens and attach a diffusion filter in front, so you can have both the sharpness of the lens when you need it, and the diffusion filter to use stylistically to your taste. I mean, vintage lenses have a permanent/fixed pleasing look but can't give the modern lens' qualities when you need them, but modern lenses provides a very sharp image right from the start, kind of like a baseline so you can work over it and shape it however you need it. What are your thoughts?

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Posted (edited)

I don't think they're interchangeable. Every lens is different the same as every type of diffusion is different. The artifacts you're getting from a Speed Panchro, for instance, include edge softness and different types of chromatic aberration and flares that are far more complex than a simple promist filter could ever simulate. Even the MTF characteristics of modern lenses are distinct from older classic designs and those design choices filter down into bokeh and CA and coma, too.

On the other hand, I agree diffusion is given too little consideration and lens choice too much, particularly on Internet forums. A lot of DPs are already doing what you mention, I've liked the look of modern Angenieux zooms with a light Promist filter, for instance, on von Trier's films. If that look works for you, it certainly seems easier. It can look great. It just won't replicate a Cooke Panchro or Super Baltar imo. I have no idea if it's true, but I've heard Game of Thrones is shot with a Hollywood Black Magic filter except during vfx sequences. Could be totally wrong. So the approach you're mentioning is a really good one, it just results in a different kind of softening imo.

I personally miss over the top diffusion like Kaminski and Richardson used in the 90s. The way Kaminski used nets and classic softs is just as (if not more) interesting to me than the way contemporary DPs use vintage lenses... I really love the look of the non-HD classic softs at higher strengths.

Edited by M Joel W
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Thanks for taking the time to comment! You have given me some interesting insights and definetely agree with you in that it is not interchangeable. I was coming more from the flexibility angle, if that makes sense. The thing is I have been saving some money to buy gear and been back and forth between the two options for a long time. I really love the look of vintage lenses, but I understand not every job needs the characteristics of said lenses, as some will require a more "clean" image (say corporate/commercial spot productions).

I think I will end up going with the modern lenses and buy some filters. I realized that at the end it comes down to if I value the flexibility or a particular aesthetic look, and I think its more wise for me right now to go with flexibility, at least where I am at the moment. Still, a part of me wishes to own a vintage kit for personal passion projects.

On another note, I like a lot the look of von Trier's films, so at least that's a little nudge to where I should go for now. Also, had the oportunity to experiment with front nets on a shoot I did a while ago, and both me and the director were very satisfied with the results. Maybe I'll use them as difussion more frequently.

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This is the conundrum of owning gear versus renting per project. You end up losing some freedom to change your look if you're stuck always using the same equipment. I would suggest that if you are going to buy lenses, then they should suit your taste and be something you'll be happy using for most of your work. Flexibility is great, but don't sacrifice your taste and your eye. They might be the thing that attracts your next client.

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I've tried a number vintage lenses on stills. Always disappointed. No great vintage look for me. Waste of $$ All these lenses were sharp. I was looking for interesting bokeh and got very little. 

Here are a few I've tried...

http://vintage-camera-lenses.com/meyer-optik-gorlitz-primoplan-1-9-58/

http://vintage-camera-lenses.com/carl-zeiss-ultron-50mm-1-8/

http://vintage-camera-lenses.com/category/lenses/jupiter/

Check this site out for lenses, it is the holy grail, but you will have to adapt to movie cam.

http://vintage-camera-lenses.com/carl-zeiss-ultron-50mm-1-8/

If you want film look, try shooting at T2.8, T4 to T5.6 max. Then add some digital grain. If you have a monochrome sensor and shoot at 2500 ISO. Higher ISO can have a nice grain look to them. But I don't like it over 2500 ISO, although in emergency will go to 3200 ISO sometimes. Even color sensors at high ISO can offer some grain.

Problem with digital grain in post is that it is not organic grain as film grain is. Digital grain is like a screen of grain put over the image even in the whites. At least that is how it was a few years ago when I tried.  Maybe they have improved it. Note, all my digital cam / software is old. (2012 to 2014) Maybe state of the art gear / software will perform better in areas I've discussed. 

If you want to soft the look, then try very light diffusion. Very cheap $$, just be careful to buy items that can be returned if they don't achieve your look. Some $$ ones are non returnable.

https://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/search?Ntt=soft focus filters&N=0&InitialSearch=yes&sts=ma&Top+Nav-Search=

Good luck!

 

 

 

 

Edited by Daniel D. Teoli Jr.

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I get interesting bokeh on my 58mm Helios 44-2 f2 lens for stills but I'm finding out that it's hard to get as much of an effect when I'm not shooting full-frame because the crop for smaller sensors loses some of the edge distortion.  Plus the wider view on a smaller sensor makes it harder to see the bokeh effects.  Same goes with shorter vintage lenses in the 35mm range.

Not that I think shallow-focus, lens flares, distorted bokeh, etc. is what constitutes a "film look".

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