I have been recently hired to shoot a short feature and have been asked for my preference in lens selection. The director wants to shoot on Arri/Zeiss Master Primes (T1.3) on a Sony F5 camera system. Would you have any recommendations on focal lengths? In regard to the production, there will be mostly interiors with a few exterior moments, the story is very personal among the few characters involved, and the director is using Emmanel Lubezki as a primary visual influence. I was personally thinking of just a 35, 50 and 85mm set...
and a very important one. It sounds like the director
has some ideas about what lenses he would like to use,
but you should consider other types of lenses since
those other lenses may be a better choice for the film.
You mentioned Lubezki, but what film in particular?
In Birdman and Tree of Life, Lubezki used much wider
lenses than what you've mentioned. Tree of Life was shot
mostly in the 14mm to 27mm range, which was a major part
of the overall look of the cinematography.
There are a few questions I have for you before the choice
of lenses can be appropriately addressed.
What is the story about?
What is your intention for the style of cinematography?
I'd say that the 18mm Master Prime has been Lubezki's go-to lens for the past few movies, so if your director is enamored with this look, you should carry an 18mm-ish lens at the wide-and of your set.
The Master Primes are excellent lenses so you can't really go wrong with them -- I like them because they are sharp at T/2.0 and they take diffusion filters well, having a lot of snap to them inherently. They are almost too good in the sense that if interesting lens flares are your thing, then these are not the lenses for you. I'd almost consider carrying a 15-40mm Ang. zoom just for when you need some interesting flares...
But if you don't really need a T/1.4 lens, then Zeiss Ultra Primes are nearly as good -- and are a little bit lighter and cheaper to rent.
Without going into too many details, the short film is about a relationship between a father and his terminal daughter. I want the style to feel very personal and intimate, and at the same time very realistic. As for the budget, I am unsure: Essentially, we have our minds set on the Master Primes, but not on the focal lengths.
Did Lubezki primarily use the 18 mm? How versatile do you think this focal length is?
How versatile depends on how much you like wide-angle lenses...
Also depends on if you are cropping to 2.40, since this narrows the vertical view, some people compensate by opening up more on the horizontal.
You should watch "Tree of Life" and decide if that wide-angle approach is what you want.
There is also a 21mm Master Prime, which is nice since most lens sets jump from 18mm to 25mm.
The 35mm is very useful, or the 32mm, for the vast majority of shots... but the question is whether it will be too tight in some interior locations to get a full shot, if that's what you need, so even if the 18mm feels too wide-angle for you, I'd definitely carry a 25mm on your package.
But as far as the 18mm goes for closer coverage, it's very distinctive in that Kubrick / Polanski / Welles sort of way and you and your director have to decide if that's what you want.
On my last film, the director did not like anything wider than 25mm but for a few overhead shots, we had no choice but to use an 18mm lens to get wide enough since the camera was hitting the ceiling. But I only used that lens about three times in the course of two months, all on overhead shots.
Since you mentioned that the director likes Lubezki, you have to find out if he is only referring to the lighting or to the wide-angle camera style too. Sometimes I've found that often what a director is responding to is not the same thing I am when discussing a certain movie, piece of art, or a cinematographer's work. I've done something that I copied from a director's favorite movie only to discover that he hates that sort of shot or lighting or filter, etc. and what he loved about the movie was the colors or something else and he never really thought about the things that I noticed about the movie. It's be like using a 25mm lens and b&w film because the director said "Citizen Kane" was his favorite movie only to find out he hates wide-angle lenses and b&w, but he likes the low-angles or montage sequences or tricky scene transitions, etc. from "Citizen Kane".
Master primes are an expensive rental. Is there are reason why the director wants to use them, or has he just 'heard they're the best'? If you don't need the speed, Ultra Primes are cheaper. Super Speeds are even cheaper, and plenty sharp for most people.
Thank you for the detailed response. The director wants this feature shot in as much natural light as possible and to give it a soft, dreamy feel... that, in combination with the great reputation of the master primes is why he chose them.
The director wants this feature shot in as much natural light as possible and to give it a soft, dreamy feel... that, in combination with the great reputation of the master primes is why he chose them.
Master Primes are probably the sharpest lenses available. If you want a soft dreamy feel, shoot Super Speeds wide open.
Agreed, diffusion filters will get you a soft, dreamy look, but then why go to the expense of renting Master Primes? It seems like the Director is making lens choices based on a faulty understanding of what lenses do. For a dreamy look, you might well put a #1 BPM on the lens, but once you do, it's really a moot point what lenses you are using.
True but what I like about using Master Primes plus diffusion is that I have a lot of control over the degree of sharpness, plus I can shoot at T/1.4...
But it's not critical to get Master Primes if you don't need T/1.4 and if you want a little softness anyway, then I'd say save some money and get Cooke S4's or something. T/2.0 is fast enough for most cameras these days.
I think I might end up going with the Master Prime series at a 18, 35 and 50 mm. Do you guys think it is wise to pay the extra $$ to get a telephoto? I don't envision using one very much. Also, does anyone have a preference over a 32 vs. 35 mm? Lastly, David mentioned using wider lenses on a 2.40:1 aspect ratio to compensate for the narrower vertical view: Any opinions?
If you are really dead set against a 21mm instead of an 18mm or adding a 25mm as a fourth lens to fill the gap between an 18mm and a 35mm... then I'd at least get the 32mm instead of the 35mm to shift the range slightly so that the jumps are more even, in fact, I'd consider getting the 27mm... so that your 3-lens series goes 18mm -- 27mm or 32mm -- 50mm.
It's tough to make three lenses work for everything unless you have a director who is willing to be that precise and work around those focal lengths. It's great if he is. My tendency would be to get the 25mm, 35mm, and 50mm, which is a very practical range to work in. I would have trouble dealing with a jump from 18mm to 35mm.
It would be more common to get a 5-lens set like an 18mm, 25mm, 35mm, 50mm, and 75mm. That's pretty standard.