I think that's valid... I don't have a problem with an artist falling in love with a particular tool with its own character, I just get uncomfortable with it seems that a personal preference is being turned into some objective evaluation of worthiness. One man's "character" in a lens might be a defect to another. But ultimately you have to do whatever you have to do, whatever works for you. Coming from low-budget filmmaking but not owning any personal gear, I try to not get too emotionally invested in one type of technology because it might be taken away from me at some point.
Favorite lens packages
Posted 05 January 2016 - 05:42 AM
So a combination of all of them are the ones which give character to the story and if you are forced to use a set of lenses that you don't particularly like or agree with, then you have the other tools to create something great.
Because of that I never understood the reason as to why a cinematographer would choose the same tools over and over to shoot different projects with different narrative tones, shouldn't be that choice a more creative and deep one? One which makes sense for the aesthetics of the project?
I own a set of Schneider lenses (Adam, you are welcome to use them anytime! I'm going to post some frames soon from a project shot with them ) but I don't particularly use them for everything, that wouldn't make sense artistically (although it might make sense economically but that's another story).
Different stories need different tools and you might want to use a clean and characterless set of lenses if your project is going to go through a lot of post production or you might want to use a set of Vantage T1 or a set of anamorphic ones if your project is a very intimate one.
Nowadays there are endless possibilities and it is a fantastic moment to become a cinematographer.
Regarding finding your own voice, although it has to do with a chosen set of lenses, I think that it is more about how you use them and how you light / frame a given character / location.
At the end of the day, if you shoot at T2.8 or closer, any spherical lens is virtually the same, you have to go wide open if you want to see the "character" (which I suppose is what a lot of people do), again that "wide open" aesthetic might not be good all the times!
Have a good day!
Posted 05 January 2016 - 06:30 AM
I totally agree that we sometimes need perspective in the matter. Way too much emphasis is being put on equipment in general as opposed to what we do in front of the lens. The choice of focal length, angel, color, time of day, actors and scripts it always going to have a bigger impact on a project than a lens brand.
But still, regardless of all that its just so much fun, for me at least. I mean, what else are we going to do with our days of than discuss lenses and cameras
To answer the original question though, I too like the Zeiss Standards, they have a beautiful rendition and the flare is amazing on some of the lenses, there is something magic about them wide open.
My experience with the Cookes is limited, but I do have a problem with the star-shaped bokeh. Its something thats not that subtle in my eyes and it feels very distracting to me. I've always wondered why Cooke didn't make an alternative set with round aperture blades since the current blades are so very pronounced. But I have seen it work as well, so again, its all about the project.
For the cleaner look prefer to shoot with the Schneiders over Ultras, cant say why exactly but they look nicer to me for some reason. Maybe its one of those unmeasurable things, but I feel that they have more of a "3d-pop" compared to the Ultras. Never shot with the Masters though.
Posted 05 January 2016 - 09:04 AM
Haris I am in agreement with you about the S4 iris shape. I personally really find it a distraction.
I think the strong interest in finding and using lenses with "character" is a reaction to the very clean and sometimes clinical or digital look of video cameras. There is an element of "human-ness" that lens aberrations such as flare, chromatic aberration, field curvature, spherical aberration and geometric distortion can impart to an image. Hand crafted versus machine made. Filters can help but they produce an effect far less complex that a lens with "character".
The argument for and against 'sharpness' or 'softness' in a photographic image is as old as photography itself. As early as the 1860's there were photographers that resisted the scientific aspect of photography and worked with soft-focus lenses to create images that were strongly influenced by the impressionist paintings popular at the time. Anglo-American Pictorialism was a very popular school of photography that from about 1890 to the 1920's produced very stylized photographs that looked much like impressionist paintings. Lenses like the Pinkham and Smith portrait lens and the Cooke Portrait lenses were used to introduce very strong spherical aberration to the image creating a strong sharp focus with a soft OOF image overlaid to make the image quite 'painterly' or 'artistic' and much less scientific looking.
Around 1925 there was a revolt against the Pictorial School that produced the F64 school of photography which advocated photography as its own art form and strongly rebelled against the soft-focus movement. I think it is fair to say that for the most part the F64 school was the winner in a sometimes vitriolic debate about what photography should be. From the 1920's to today the Pictorial School has been mostly seen as old fashioned.
With the move away from film based cinematography and into the present world of digital cinematography I think it is very useful to explore the use of lens 'flaws' as a way to produce images with a more craftsman like look. Of course if the story demands a crystal sharp and clean image then there are many lenses capable of the job.
Director of Photography
Posted 05 January 2016 - 11:21 AM
To be honest I find the discussion a bit esoteric, and this is me saying this.
This is all a concern for the top one percent of film and TV people. That's fine, have the discussion, but most of us are just happy to get anything approaching a real motion picture lens. The differences are often microscopically small and I think anyone who claims otherwise is at risk of sophistry. Yes, I can claim to be able to hear the difference between SACD and a normal compact disc, but I'd be lucky to make that claim stick in a side-by-side test. I'm not sure that any objective study has been made of lens-tasting, but I do know that the field of wine-tasting have been more or less completely discredited and I suspect the results might be alarmingly similar.
Similarly, I'm not sure how useful some of this characterfulness really is. What it seems to mean is "mushy at the edges," in most cases. Or "orangey-yellow glowing highlights," in one case of a company selling lenses, a set of which cost as much as a house.
I'm not blind to these characteristics nor do I question their usefulness in some circumstances, but in general I'm with Mr. Mullen. In most cases, other things will make vastly, vastly more difference.
Posted 05 January 2016 - 03:36 PM
Posted 08 March 2018 - 11:25 AM
I'm glad I found this thread as I've been thinking these things for quite some time now. I couldn't agree more with David Mullen in that a movie is not made by the lens choice. I've felt for way too long that too much emphasis is put on the tools/equipment/sensor/lenses while far less discussion is focused on the art and what is actually being captured. I think this is because its much easier and quantifiable to measure lens sharpness/CA/distortion/warmv.cool etc...
I think this is a fault that happens in cinematography, because the very nature of DP work is to blend artistic visuals with technical camera work. The debate becomes more obvious and ridiculous when you compare to other mediums.
Is a carpenter that much better because he uses Dewalt over Makita?
Is a chef that much better if he chooses a Bosch stove over Kitchenaid?
Is a painter that much better if he chooses hogshair brushes over acrylic?
Is a guitarist that much better if he chooses Gibson over Fender?
the tools have to be good enough (cant make gorgeous work out of nothing), but I do feel there is a threshold where it caps out.
For a while I've wanted to shoot a spoof scene with an imaginary Picasso and Monet arguing over which bristle brush is superior.
I agree with David that Emmanuel Lubeszki will be equally effective with Ultra Primes or Zeiss Standard Speeds or Hawk Vantage '74s.
Just my 2 cents...
Edited by David Grauberger, 08 March 2018 - 11:29 AM.