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First use of the zoom


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#1 Brian Rose

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Posted 01 March 2008 - 12:32 AM

This is rather random, but I was getting ready for bed, and I got to thinking about the use of the zoom lens. Actually, it's nagged me for a while. We all think of the zoom as being something of the sixties, something the French used (along with wheelchair dollies), and later the enfants terribles of the New Hollywood. But I've spotted it earlier, here and there. Lawrence of Arabia for one, and I'm pretty sure in The Wages of Fear, back in 53. I just watched "Treasure of the Sierra Madre," and I'm almost certain the last shot is a zoom shot (rather than a process shot). That's 1948. Can anyone go further? Anyone know for a fact (or at least, reasonable certainty) what was the first film to use a zoom lens?

Well, I'm off to bed. Got a shoot in the morning. I always have jitters before hand!

Best,
Brian Rose
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#2 Jonathan Bowerbank

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Posted 01 March 2008 - 01:55 AM

Hello wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia....om_lens#History

"The first industrial production was the Bell and Howell Cooke "Varo" 40?120 mm lens for 35mm movie cameras introduced in 1932."

I'm guessing there were some especially machined ones for films before then, can't think of anything to evidence that though.
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#3 Leo Anthony Vale

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Posted 01 March 2008 - 02:44 PM

That's 1948. Can anyone go further? Anyone know for a fact (or at least, reasonable certainty) what was the first film to use a zoom lens?


The Golden Turkey Awards has a photo of B.Mussolini peering through the finder of a B&H 2709 which has a Cooke Varo on it on the harbor set of 'Scipio Africanus' 1937.

The scene of scipio's fleet departing has at least 3 zoom shots.

http://imdb.com/titl...029526/combined

'The Road to Morocco' 1942 has at least one zoom in to a tent walking across the desert.

'Strangers on a Train' has zooms at the tennis match, but that's already 1951.

That would've used the Zoomar which came out in the mid 40s.

The question as posed is feature-centric. In the 30s and 40s, zooms would have been used mostly for newsreels, rather than features.
The zoomar paper in SMPTE Journal, has a photo of the lens mounted on an Audio Akeley newsreel camera.
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#4 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 01 March 2008 - 05:02 PM

The zoom didn't really take off on Hollywood productions, despite being invented earlier, until reflex viewfinders took off -- hard for an operator to execute a zoom with a side finder.
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#5 Mike Williamson

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Posted 01 March 2008 - 05:51 PM

I remember reading the "The Light On Her Face" by Joseph Walker, ASC where he talked briefly about inventing the first production model zoom lens. I think he licensed his patent to whoever was making the early television cameras, perhaps it was Bell and Howell?

Besides being a great cinematographer, Walker invented a number of things in his career, I remember also a variable diffusion filter that he wrote about.
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#6 Jon Kukla

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Posted 02 March 2008 - 06:21 AM

The first experimental models of what was to be called the "zoom" lens appeared in this period. These had a number of shortcomings, in particular that their maximum aperture was only about f11, which made them difficult to use for studio work, or even for exterior shooting under poor light. As well as that, their focus had to be adjusted at the same time as the focal length was changed with the "zoom" control. Although these experimental zoom lenses were not taken up for general film-making, there are a number of American films from 1926 onwards which contain one or two zoom shots, nearly all made at Paramount Studios, such as "The Grand Duchess and the Waiter". The exception is "After Midnight" (1926) made at MGM, but since the director, Monta Bell, had Paramount connections, the same lens may have been used. Most of these examples don't do anything special with the zoom effect, but in "It" (Clarence Badger, 1927), there is a striking zoom out from a sign on the top of a department store, followed by a tilt down and zoom in on the front entrance.

Excerpted from Film Style and Technology: History and Analysis, 2nd edition, pp. 185-186 by Barry Salt.
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#7 Leo Anthony Vale

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Posted 02 March 2008 - 02:08 PM

The zoom didn't really take off on Hollywood productions, despite being invented earlier, until reflex viewfinders took off -- hard for an operator to execute a zoom with a side finder.


The 2709 with the Cooke zoom Il Duce is examining on his son's grand epic is set up for through the film viewing. That type of viewing was common in preWar European cameras.

The Zoomar had a linked side finder which also zoomed.
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#8 Leo Anthony Vale

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Posted 02 March 2008 - 02:26 PM

I remember reading the "The Light On Her Face" by Joseph Walker, ASC where he talked briefly about inventing the first production model zoom lens. I think he licensed his patent to whoever was making the early television cameras, perhaps it was Bell and Howell?


http://www.google.co...2984154#PPP6,M1

I think this is the one for the electro-zoom which was licensed to RCA and Zeiss, like RCA actually makes its lenses.

http://www.rouge.com.au/1/zoom.html

This is from an overly academic article. Why else would it seem to take Jesus Franco seriously.

"Approached from this angle, the zoom, as a rhetorical procedure, a narrative gesture, or rather a marker, a signifier of narratorial performance, presents an interesting problem. The use in cinema of a variable focal lens has been noted since Paramount deployed a zoomar lens in the late ?20s and zooms were detected in films ranging from the first Oscar winner, William Wellman?s Wings (1927), to the deservedly forgotten H.P. Carver film The Silent Enemy (1930) as well as in Rouben Mamoulian?s Love Me Tonight (1932). The development of the zoom was associated with the name of Joseph Walker who constructed a prototype in the ?20s. However, it wasn?t until after World War II and the considerable investment in the technology of aerial photography reinforced by the emergence of television in the USA that the zoom lens became integrated into cinematographic technology.

One report claims that the first professional demonstration of the zoomar lens was in 1946; NBC TV in New York demonstrated its camera equipped with a zoom lens in 1947. The multinational giant RCA acquired the services of Joseph Walker in the ?50s and the zoom lens developed into a standard rhetorical resource, although, at this time, prominent in television and in the making of advertising spots. Its labour saving aspects, avoiding the costs of laying tracks, employing grips and electricians to adjust elaborate lighting plans and so on, caused the zoom to become a more prominent rhetorical feature in the cheaper productions. In the late ?60s and early ?70s, the zoom was a constant and rhetorical feature in films by the likes of Jesús Franco and Mario Bava."
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