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How wide do you go?


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#1 M Joel W

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Posted 21 January 2012 - 02:24 PM

I might try directing something (for fun and practice) and need some advice...

For narrative video I don't know if I've used a lens wider than 17mm or the format equivalent. Space starts to feel very distorted beyond that point and I hate the "ultra wide HDR" look in landscape photography. But I shot a music video with a very wide lens and it was a lot of fun, very dynamic...

For the purposes of this short video, I'm a big fan of Spielberg and Michael Bay. Maybe Ridley Scott (Alien and Blade Runner). Also enjoyed Star Trek and Hellboy 2/Pan's Labyrinth and even Avatar a whole lot. I figure I'm going to have to shoot 2.35:1. Going for an anamorphic feel but shooting spherical and cropping... I was wondering what kind of focal lengths I'm looking at. I've heard Spielberg is big on the 20-30mm range, I assume that's in terms of cropped super35. Does that sound about right? So would I be all set with 17mm as my widest lens or do I have an excuse to buy this 11-16mm zoom?

Narrative DPs, how wide do you go and how do you get away with it? I feel like an ultra wide could be really fun for some action scenes.
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#2 Adam Brown

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Posted 21 January 2012 - 09:12 PM

If you don't mind adding, what size sensor are you exposing to? A 14mm lens produces a very different field of view on a Micro Four Thirds, an APS-C/Super35, APS-H or Full Frame 35/VistaVision size sensor. So, this would vary greatly on preference.

And, of course I think it varies greatly on the nature of the specific shot and if it adds to the telling of the story. Very few, if any, films are shot with wide lenses only. "Soy Cuba" being the only one coming to mind.
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#3 Leo Anthony Vale

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Posted 21 January 2012 - 11:00 PM

And, of course I think it varies greatly on the nature of the specific shot and if it adds to the telling of the story. Very few, if any, films are shot with wide lenses only. "Soy Cuba" being the only one coming to mind.


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#4 Adrian Sierkowski

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Posted 22 January 2012 - 10:09 AM

I am often of the Gilliam school of thought; really liking wide lenses, but it depends on the picture. Often I'll shoot with a 18mm (on Super 35) for a close up when I want the character to feel a bit out of sorts. Or, if I want them Gentler I'll throw on a 75mm or something similar. But; when it comes to just my "standard lens," as in I was shooting a movie and only allowed 1 lens, I'd probably go for a 32 or 35mm. That's just how I see things; I suppose.
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#5 M Joel W

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Posted 22 January 2012 - 12:04 PM

Super 35. Well, t2i. Same thing.

I'd probably go for a 32 or 35mm. That's just how I see things; I suppose.


It's amazing to me how many directors and DPs (particularly capable ones) pick that as their go-to lens. Sometimes the 40mm.

I was just thinking Brazil as an example of wide lenses used well when you brought up Gilliam. But he goes pretty extreme and makes the distortion visible. I've heard Spielberg's favorite lens is the 27mm, but that's not too wide and I don't know the source of that information. I didn't realize until I looked it up that there was a 10mm Primo (still t1.9!). I had the chance to try the 14.5 but didn't take it.

Partially I'm just wondering how to approach 2.35:1. I rarely go beyond 17mm at 1.85:1. Do people who shoot wide screen find themselves going to 14mm or wider?
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#6 Leo Anthony Vale

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Posted 23 January 2012 - 11:22 PM

Super 35. Well, t2i. Same thing.



It's amazing to me how many directors and DPs (particularly capable ones) pick that as their go-to lens. Sometimes the 40mm.


'Chinatown' mostly used a 40mm anamorphic. Alonzo and Polanski considered the equivalent of a 25mm in 1.85/1. This is based on the height rather than the width. They considered these lenses the closest to human vision, which of course so few agree upon. this was from a talk by Alonzo after an AFI screening of 'Chinatown'.

Most of 'Excalibur' was shot on the 20mm end of a Cooke zoom in 1.66/1.

Partially I'm just wondering how to approach 2.35:1. I rarely go beyond 17mm at 1.85:1. Do people who shoot wide screen find themselves going to 14mm or wider?


David had mentioned that a 35mm lens was the one used most often in '2001'. Heightwise, that would be equivalent to an 18mm in 1.85/1. the 19mm fish eye would be equivalent to a 10mm.
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#7 M Joel W

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Posted 24 January 2012 - 03:48 AM

Thank you, that's very helpful. And it gives me an excuse to watch/rewatch some good movies. Since I'll be cropping to 2.35:1 (or maybe 2:1) I'd want to go even wider than the equivalences you've indicated, I think? So maybe super wide isn't crazy anymore.

The human vision thing is a ridiculous argument to get into, but I'm starting to wonder if there isn't a good reason why my favorite lenses (28mm or 35mm on Super35, 135mm on 4x5, 35mm on 135) hover around the same focal length as the diagonal of the format. I've tried directing and any shot that's longer than 50mm and isn't meant to feel distanced feels...weird too tight or too alienating for the most part.
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