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What makes Primo lenses so damn special?


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#1 Luke Allein

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Posted 06 December 2006 - 03:08 AM

I shot something recently on 35mm and used super speeds, which looked great. However, our big seller are of course the Primo lenses. ( "You can have any lenses you want, but if you touch the Primos I'll kill ya...", said the VP of Marketing)

Someone explained to me very quickly what indeed made them so "primo", but it was kind of hard to follow and I didn't want to look like a simpleton, so I just said "oh" and walked away. I thought to myself "I'll ask the boys at cinematography.com later on." Hell, I'm still trying to get an exact handle on spherical and anamorphic and why people decide to go with one or another. But what exactly do Primos do and why are they so superior?

Also, one more question, and as a rookie camera assistant I should know this and am ashamed that I don't: What situations call for these huge lenses like 12:1 and 3:1 lenses? I'm thinking they're for extreme clarity in close up situations, right? My brain tells me that the bigger the lens, the farther away the subject would be and still be in focus, hence the mammoth size required to have such power. But I noticed we used them almost constantly on Mission Impossible III, and I watch that and about 85% of that movie is close ups. (Which bugs the hell out of me, but that's another thread...) So is my assessment of their girth wrong? And one sub-question of this topic: What does the ratio "3:1" stand for? What's it comparing to?

Thanks, hopefully someone will give me a well-informed answer so that when someone asks me about lens properties I can sound smarter than I really am.

Edited by Luke Allein, 06 December 2006 - 03:09 AM.

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#2 Max Jacoby

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Posted 06 December 2006 - 04:39 AM

When the spherical Primos got released at the end of the 80s they had some advantages over existing lenses: they were color-matched, had good optical qualities (very good sharpness and contrast, low distortion) and their mechanics were specifically designed with motion-picture use in mind (big focus markings that were very legible and and a stretched out focus scale that made pulling very precise). On top of all that it was a complete series, going from 10mm to 150mm with identical stops and front sizes all through the range. Their one drawback was the minimum focus of 2 feet, so in the middle of the nineties Panavision designed some close-focus Primos.

People came to really like the look of the Primos and they established themselves very quickly against the existing competition (Zeiss Superspeeds & Standards, Cooke S2/S3) especially in Hollywood. Only at the end of the nineties when Cooke introduced the S4 Series and Zeiss followed with the Ultra Primes did these manufacturers offer lenses with similar characteristics. Of course now Zeiss has set a new standard again with the Master Primes and it'd be interesting to see if Panavision can follow up.
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#3 Patrick Cooper

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Posted 06 December 2006 - 07:36 AM

12:1 and 3:1 refer to the zooming ratio of the lenses. For example, with the 12:1 lens, the telephoto setting would be 12 times more powerful than the wide angle setting. Thus, this particular lens would have a much greater zoom range than the 3:1 lens. In other words, the 12:1 lens would be the equivalent of having a whole set of different focal length lenses. Such a lens would give you an almost infinite number of framing possibilities from the same distance without having to change lenses. The 3:1 lens would be the equivalent of having perhaps two or three lenses of different focal lengths.

Edited by Patrick Cooper, 06 December 2006 - 07:40 AM.

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#4 Patrick Cooper

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Posted 09 December 2006 - 08:29 AM

The reason why a cinematographer may want to use a particularly long lens could be to utilize shallow depth of field - to isolate the subject from the background - in other words to place emphasis on the main subject. Bear in mind that to obtain the least depth of field, the camera and lens must be placed relatively close to the subject rather than distant from it.

Alternatively, a long lens may be used to make the background and foreground appear closer to the main subject for a certain effect. A telephoto lens compresses elements in a photographic image, bringing an almost claustrophobic look to a scene. Objects will also appear shorter when photographed with such a lens (not short as in height but in relation to the apparent distance from the front to the back of a subject.) And a character walking forwards or backwards will not appear to be gaining much ground when filmed with a telephoto lens. So the decision to use a telephoto lens may be determined by any of these things, or simply because the subject is far away and not easily accessible.
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#5 Max Jacoby

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Posted 09 December 2006 - 08:53 AM

I'm currently watching 24 on dvd, which is shot on the Primos and I do notice a fair amount of condom bokeh on the out-of-focus highlights (i.e. the edge of the out-of-focus circle is brighter than the inside).
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#6 Rupe Whiteman

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Posted 09 December 2006 - 12:03 PM

I'm currently watching 24 on dvd, which is shot on the Primos and I do notice a fair amount of condom bokeh on the out-of-focus highlights (i.e. the edge of the out-of-focus circle is brighter than the inside).


... I've not heard the 'condom' bokeh one before! - it's a good one...

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#7 John Holland

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Posted 09 December 2006 - 12:39 PM

For goodness sake ,the punters dont give poop about "bokeh " and to be honest nor do i , just want a great story , great acting and nice well lit pics . john Holland ,London.
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#8 Dan Goulder

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Posted 09 December 2006 - 02:23 PM

For goodness sake ,the punters dont give poop about "bokeh "

That may be true. However, running backs and wide receivers might care.
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#9 Jon Rosenbloom

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Posted 10 December 2006 - 07:15 PM

In all honesty, I have not - in almost 20 years on set in NYC - ever discussed or even overheard a discussion of "bokeh." (Except on this board.) As a sometime cinematographer, I will put more thought into which "Little Giant" ladder I buy than into the iris blades of the lenses I get on my next shoot.
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#10 David Sweetman

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Posted 10 December 2006 - 07:56 PM

For goodness sake ,the punters dont give poop about "bokeh " and to be honest nor do i , just want a great story , great acting and nice well lit pics . john Holland ,London.


But regardless, the information was directly pertinent to the topic of this thread, wheras great stories, great acting, and nice well lit pics have nothing to do with the current discussion. I think the bokeh (Japanese for "blur," as a quick wiki searh will reveal) is a very important characteristic of the lens, and especially in a discussion of the attributes of a lens it is well worth noting.
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#11 Jim Feldspar

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Posted 10 December 2006 - 09:37 PM

"Condom bokeh"?

I'm all for new phrases and avoiding cliches but (and thanks David for the "blur" translation) but I don't
understand this.

Edited by Jim Feldspar, 10 December 2006 - 09:38 PM.

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#12 David Sweetman

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Posted 11 December 2006 - 12:29 AM

He does go on to explain:

(i.e. the edge of the out-of-focus circle is brighter than the inside).

Perhaps a frame grab would help? I'll look for it when I watch season 5. I might avoid doing an internet search for that one though...
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#13 Max Jacoby

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Posted 11 December 2006 - 04:14 AM

"Condom bokeh"?

I'm all for new phrases and avoiding cliches but (and thanks David for the "blur" translation) but I don't
understand this.

You'll understand it when you see it. The name is a very good illustration of what it actually looks like.
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#14 Gavin Greenwalt

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Posted 11 December 2006 - 05:22 AM

http://www.kenrockwe.../tech/bokeh.htm

I direct you to "Poor" Bokeh.

Edited by Gavin Greenwalt, 11 December 2006 - 05:22 AM.

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#15 Jim Feldspar

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Posted 11 December 2006 - 10:55 AM

You'll understand it when you see it. The name is a very good illustration of what it actually looks like.


It makes sense now, particularly from Ken Rockwell's explanations (thanks Gavin for that
and thanks to you all.)
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#16 Paul Bruening

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Posted 11 December 2006 - 10:57 AM

Hello Jon and John,

I understand your points of view. There is so much to be worried about in movie-making that bokeh seems a little obsessive. However, for Max, a cinematographer, it is precisely the kind of thing he should know all about.

It is more commonly a concern for still photographers. I cut my teeth on 35mm still way back, thirty years ago. The same ideas were defined through circles of confusion. Bokeh is a newer term for me. I like it, though. It sounds way cooler in conversation than blur.

Given that much of a movie's imagery is usually out of focus, bokeh should be a concern for any artistically minded director not to mention every cinematographer.
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#17 Jim Feldspar

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Posted 11 December 2006 - 10:58 AM

He does go on to explain:

Perhaps a frame grab would help? I'll look for it when I watch season 5. I might avoid doing an internet search for that one though...


Actually, the internet search doesn't produce as horrible results as you might expect. The
first page is all photographic stuff, some off topic but interesting, some right on topic,
including Ken Rockwell.
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#18 Kim Sargenius

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Posted 25 December 2006 - 11:48 PM

Actually, the internet search doesn't produce as horrible results as you might expect. The
first page is all photographic stuff, some off topic but interesting, some right on topic,
including Ken Rockwell.



I'll try this - I think this attachment is what Max refers to as 'condom' bokeh.


Paul Van Walree's site is also a very, very good companion piece to Ken Rockwell's excellent site:

http://www.pinnipedi...tics/bokeh.html




cheers,

Kim

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