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Jon O'Brien

Stills lenses and breathing

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Is breathing really all that undesirable in cine lenses? Stills lenses are often passed over as having too much breathing, but I've often noticed lens breathing in a movie and actually sometimes really like the look of it. I will think of some examples - I noticed one example a while back on a DVD but at the moment can't remember the movie. Any thoughts on this? There must be occasions presumably where it's irksome or undesirable, or just plain impractical.

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It's normally considered undesirable in cinema, it calls attention to when the focus is being shifted in a very mechanical way, so it is hard to justify as an aesthetic choice. Anamorphic lenses also breathe quite a lot, not just in terms of shifting focal length but also shifting squeeze ratio in the bokeh.  Even as a teenager seeing "Star Wars", I noticed the bokeh squeeze change during a focus rack in a shot of R2D2 rolling up to a console wall in the Death Star and plugging in.

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I believe the 10-100mm t2 Zeiss, while highly regarded, is known to breathe worse than many still lenses. 

It's an interesting question. K35s and FDs are purported to share optical similarities, and my older cinema lenses appear to be unit-focusing. I've heard the Master Primes and other modern designs are designed to avoid breathing–but are older cinema lenses just as bad as old still lenses?

Edited by M Joel W

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On 12/23/2019 at 11:58 AM, David Mullen ASC said:

... Even as a teenager seeing "Star Wars", I noticed the bokeh squeeze change during a focus rack in a shot of R2D2 rolling up to a console wall in the Death Star and plugging in.

I had a look at Star Wars again, flicking through, and found a shot where C-3PO and R2D2 suddenly decide to trundle off back to the Millenium Falcon, when troops get distracted by Obi-Wan, and there's a focus change and you can see the 'circle' thing on the side of the Falcon become slightly more anamorphically 'squeezed'. Yes, I like the look of that. I know it's unintentional but to me it adds a bit of spice to the cinematography. I haven't had time yet to check for signs of other lens breathing in the movies I was thinking of yet, but will ...

These are only subtle things. It doesn't amount to much .... but still. I can't help but think a little 'imperfection' in lenses can be interesting. Van Gogh didn't have perfect brush strokes and thank heavens that he didn't.

When cinematography is too slick and clean and precise I tend to lose interest somewhat. It's just too mathematically sorted-out, as it were.

Edited by Jon O'Brien

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