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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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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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Thanks everyone! I already brought the Sigma Art 18-35mm f/1.8 for its sharpness and versatility. A fairly decent buy for the moment and already have taken it on a couple of shoots successfully, but seeing David Mullen's pictures made me rethink my decision.

On 9/18/2019 at 11:41 PM, David Mullen ASC said:

An example of the Helios 58mm on a full-frame camera:

helios_night6.jpg

They're both really good and unique looking. The Helios brand is one I have wanted to check out for some time. Great texture.

On 9/16/2019 at 1:23 AM, Satsuki Murashige said:

Flexibility is great, but don't sacrifice your taste and your eye. They might be the thing that attracts your next client.

Words to live by. Hard to remember sometimes when corporate and commercial work surrounds you, but so right. I have to keep on check my art ethic.

On 9/18/2019 at 9:40 PM, Daniel D. Teoli Jr. said:

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

Thanks for the suggestion! Will check it out for future investments.

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Just a personal anecdote that made me realize why I don’t like a lot of the newer ‘clean’ lens choices - 

I shot a project last week where I had the choice of Cooke 5/i’s or Sigma Cine Primes (both client-owned lens sets). The Cookes are much bigger and heavier, practically the same speed (T1.4 vs T1.5), and have a smaller image circle (we were shooting S35, 2.37:1 cropped). There are also fewer focal lengths in this particular set. Despite those shortcomings, I really wanted to use the Cookes.

We had previously shot the last two projects for the same client with the Sigmas (as well as the 15-30 Zeiss Compact Zoom and 20-120 Fujinon Zoom) which were fine. We have always tried to go for a high-key commercial look, with soft modeled lighting, large amounts of negative fill, and shallow depth of field lensing at times.

However, I found the Sigmas lacking in character and struggled occasionally to get the softer cinematic look, especially when shooting wide shots at shallow apertures. I found the bokeh to be harsh in some conditions and distracting from the actors when I tried to shoot near wide open. There was also a flat lifeless quality to the lens character when focused close on faces and in medium shots in the 35-50mm range that I was not in love with. Also, the contrast and color rendition were rather middling - subtle blues would get washed out from veiling glare at the edges of frame, while reds would be eye-wateringly poppy. The overall impression was more of a clean ‘digital still photography look’ that I don’t think filter diffusion would have solved. We wanted a ‘cinema’ look. 

In testing the Cookes at prep, I found a lot of CA wide open and images on the edge of being too soft at times. However, after three days of shooting in a variety of conditions with a similar camera/lighting/grip package as before, the Cookes delivered the look we were going for. Faces looked gorgeous. Backgrounds lush and creamy soft. Rich blacks held when needed, especially on raking insert shots with windows in the background. Warm practical lamps and cool moonlight effects were rich and saturated. Overhead fluorescent tubes in shot glowed ever so slightly. They worked well with our Diopters for macro shots. I used Black Diffusion FX #1/2 and #1 occasionally for CUs, but otherwise didn’t need them. The director was very happy with what we captured.

I think lens choice is the special sauce that goes on top of an already well-prepared meal. The project would have likely looked fine on the Sigmas, but the Cookes in this case really pushed it over the edge. So to me, the lesson is: know what look you are going for; test your equipment; use the best tools you have access to; trust your instincts and just go for the look you want. As a DP, that’s really what you are getting paid for. 

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2 hours ago, Satsuki Murashige said:

Just a personal anecdote that made me realize why I don’t like a lot of the newer ‘clean’ lens choices - 

I shot a project last week where I had the choice of Cooke 5/i’s or Sigma Cine Primes (both client-owned lens sets). The Cookes are much bigger and heavier, practically the same speed (T1.4 vs T1.5), and have a smaller image circle (we were shooting S35, 2.37:1 cropped). There are also fewer focal lengths in this particular set. Despite those shortcomings, I really wanted to use the Cookes.

We had previously shot the last two projects for the same client with the Sigmas (as well as the 15-30 Zeiss Compact Zoom and 20-120 Fujinon Zoom) which were fine. We have always tried to go for a high-key commercial look, with soft modeled lighting, large amounts of negative fill, and shallow depth of field lensing at times.

However, I found the Sigmas lacking in character and struggled occasionally to get the softer cinematic look, especially when shooting wide shots at shallow apertures. I found the bokeh to be harsh in some conditions and distracting from the actors when I tried to shoot near wide open. There was also a flat lifeless quality to the lens character when focused close on faces and in medium shots in the 35-50mm range that I was not in love with. Also, the contrast and color rendition were rather middling - subtle blues would get washed out from veiling glare at the edges of frame, while reds would be eye-wateringly poppy. The overall impression was more of a clean ‘digital still photography look’ that I don’t think filter diffusion would have solved. We wanted a ‘cinema’ look. 

In testing the Cookes at prep, I found a lot of CA wide open and images on the edge of being too soft at times. However, after three days of shooting in a variety of conditions with a similar camera/lighting/grip package as before, the Cookes delivered the look we were going for. Faces looked gorgeous. Backgrounds lush and creamy soft. Rich blacks held when needed, especially on raking insert shots with windows in the background. Warm practical lamps and cool moonlight effects were rich and saturated. Overhead fluorescent tubes in shot glowed ever so slightly. They worked well with our Diopters for macro shots. I used Black Diffusion FX #1/2 and #1 occasionally for CUs, but otherwise didn’t need them. The director was very happy with what we captured.

I think lens choice is the special sauce that goes on top of an already well-prepared meal. The project would have likely looked fine on the Sigmas, but the Cookes in this case really pushed it over the edge. So to me, the lesson is: know what look you are going for; test your equipment; use the best tools you have access to; trust your instincts and just go for the look you want. As a DP, that’s really what you are getting paid for. 

A bit out of context in the thread but answering to your last post, Satsuki, I have to say that I hate the Cooke S2, S3, S4 and Panchro look in all its variations.. and I LOVE the Cooke S5 and the S7! lenses. 

The way they render faces and add tridimensionality to the image is fabulous. 

You might want to check the Supreme Primes Satsuki, 😉 I found that they are the perfect mix between the Leica Summilux and the Panavision Primos. 

@David Mullen ASC, it seems to me that the bokeh that your Helios is delivering looks quite similar to that of the Canon K35s!

Have a lovely day. 

Edited by Miguel Angel

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27 minutes ago, Miguel Angel said:

A bit out of context in the thread but answering to your last post, Satsuki, I have to say that I hate the Cooke S2, S3, S4 and Panchro look in all its variations.. and I LOVE the Cooke S5 and the S7! lenses. 

The way they render faces and add tridimensionality to the image is fabulous. 

You might want to check the Supreme Primes Satsuki, 😉 I found that they are the perfect mix between the Leica Summilux and the Panavision Primos.

Hi Miguel, 

I guess we will have to agree to disagree, as I love the look of Cooke Speed Panchros! 🙂

Not for everything of course, but so beautiful on faces in the right context. Can’t get that look with filtration. The problem is not having a consistent look and color in the set, lens to lens. But there are the new Classics for that, I guess. 

Wish I could have used the S4’s more but they were too expensive for my budgets when I was coming up, so we always had Super Speeds and Ultra Primes instead. 

Will have to check out the Supremes, there is only one set in the SF Bay Area, as far as I know. I like that they are not meant to be ‘perfect lenses.’ I also like the Signature Primes for the ‘clean modern look’ (just playing around with them at the rental house), though I haven’t been able to take them out on a job yet. 

I had a close look at the prototype 40mm Angenieux Optimo Prime and it is wonderful. It has a very slight halation on hot windows and that Cooke-like roundness on faces. Hope the rest of the set will be just as good. 

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7 minutes ago, Satsuki Murashige said:

Hi Miguel, 

I guess we will have to agree to disagree, as I love the look of Cooke Speed Panchros! 🙂

Not for everything of course, but so beautiful on faces in the right context. Can’t get that look with filtration. The problem is not having a consistent look and color in the set, lens to lens. But there are the new Classics for that, I guess. 

Wish I could have used the S4’s more but they were too expensive for my budgets when I was coming up, so we always had Super Speeds and Ultra Primes instead. 

Will have to check out the Supremes, there is only one set in the SF Bay Area, as far as I know. I like that they are not meant to be ‘perfect lenses.’ I also like the Signature Primes for the ‘clean modern look’ (just playing around with them at the rental house), though I haven’t been able to take them out on a job yet. 

I had a close look at the prototype 40mm Angenieux Optimo Prime and it is wonderful. It has a very slight halation on hot windows and that Cooke-like roundness on faces. Hope the rest of the set will be just as good. 

I know! I might be one of the few who doesn't like the Panchros or the other Cooke series. 😄

There is a reason though, I don't like the bokeh because I usually see the shape that the iris blades make!. 

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2 hours ago, Satsuki Murashige said:

Beautiful stuff Miguel!

What ISO are you using on Venice? Underrating the camera like the Alexa? 

Thanks Satsuki.

2500ASA + underexposing faces in camera around 2 stops 🙂

 

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 I think it is not like one technique versus the other, the best approach would be to use both when needed.

Diffusion filters are best for halation effects, while vintage lenses produce lower contrast and more artistic bokeh, giving a better background/foreground separation and a more three-dimensional look.

On modern lenses, the bokeh often looks like a Gaussian blur filter, and on vintage lenses it is more painterly. Also, vintage lenses are inexpensive and can be very useful for us indie filmmakers. Even on a small sensor of the original Black Magic Pocket camera, the magic of Helios 44-2 is noticeable, especially when used with diopters:

Ravendark.00_03_02_23.Still024-.jpg.5f1f27bde3ae3aa2f49fea9109f32740.jpg 

heart_1.13.jpg

Ravendark.00_04_15_04.Still021-.jpg

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On 9/18/2019 at 8:41 PM, David Mullen ASC said:

An example of the Helios 58mm on a full-frame camera:

helios_night6.jpg

Yes, this is nice, but nothing sharp in it. Or is it motion blur as well? I am looking for interesting bokeh along with at least some decent sharpness. 

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As I mentioned before, you budget minded filmmakers can easily make a diffusion filter of varying degrees with a UV filter and some clear spray. The more coats of clear coat, the higher the diffusion.

https://danieldteolijrarchivalcollection.wordpress.com/2019/12/30/creating-your-own-diffusion-filter/

 

 

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It is a very common misconception that using an old lens would automatically and magically turn the image technically inferior but nice looking and interesting at the same time. It is almost like saying that shooting with an old camera body would automatically turn the image old looking even when the lens and the film are modern.(I know lots of these people too...)

Most of the lenses manufactured in the last 100 years are surprisingly high performing and will most often be a disappointment for persons who expect very clearly visible "vintage look"(whatever that means) by just attaching a random old lens to the camera and keeping everything else the same.

There is differences of course but if not talking about coating performance you will generally need to shoot wide open to see enough difference to justify the use of a "vintage lens" instead of a higher performing more modern one. This limits their use to certain type of scenes and effect style shots.

As always, there is some exceptions. For example I have shot some stuff with oct18-mounted Lomo 28/T2.3 on a slightly larger than S35 sensor and the weird focus curvature cannot be replicated easily with any other equipment and one can also easily see it stopped down. Basically your focus point and depth of field changes from center to edges very clearly because the retrofocus front elements are originally designed for Academy format and the edges are thus not corrected all the way. 

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