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Using "vintage" lenses (or "lenses with character") (8 replies and 29 comments)

Jacob Sacks-Jones
5 years ago
Jacob Sacks-Jones 5 years ago

I'm working on a project at the moment and the director has just come to me and said he'd really like to take a look at some 'vintage' lenses, or lenses with a 'bit of character'. We're shooting a film that isn't set in the 1970s, but is meant to have a distinctively period feel - our main character is a bit of a throwback, so the director wants to go for a somewhat claustrophobic 70s aesthetic. The director thought it might be interesting to shoot something in camera - they were mentioning vignettes and soft focus and so on.

I haven't done a huge amount (in cinematography) with vintage lenses. I've worked with a fair bit of Nikon AI and much older glass for stills work, but not in film. I wonder if anyone has any suggestions or experiences? Roger have you worked with lenses for their distinctive character? Does anyone have ideas or tips on what glass to look at?

(I also suggested using some filtration to help with the effect - apart from the old BPM, does anyone have any thoughts on anything that might fit the bill?)

Thanks very much for your help!

Morris
5 years ago
Morris 5 years ago

I like the Arri superspeeds and the Hawk C series, both totally different, but both "Vintage" in look.
I recently used PVintage and liked them.
On a budget you could of course use netting your lens...

Jacob Sacks-Jones
5 years ago

Hawk C look great - but we're not looking to shoot anamorphic on this. When you say Arri superspeeds, do you just mean the CP2 Super Speed lenses?

We're shooting on an Alexa, so PL mount. Given the PVintage are obviously Panasonic, can you get them in PL mount? (I assume yes?)

Jacob Sacks-Jones
5 years ago

Was thinking about going with K35s, but then read some bad things about them with the Preston motors from American Hustle.... they're apparently very sticky and prone to being very unresponsive.

Morris
5 years ago

No I meant the old superspeeds. I'm afraid Panavision lenses don't work with PL. K35s are beautiful too, if you can get a hold of a good set; go and test them !

Jacob Sacks-Jones
5 years ago

Ahh the old ones, these ones - http://www.cinematechnic.com/resources/zeiss_super_speed_f1,2_lenses.html» ? Don't think I'd ever properly come across these before (weirdly), I'll have to see if I can find a rental set of them somewhere.

The one rental house I work with a lot have a decent set of K35s I think, so I may well go in and test them.

Morris
5 years ago

Yep. That are the ones. Most rental houses have them. They're quite "hot". It seems that in this perfect digital age, a lot of directors look for an element of imperfection, these vintage lenses provide. And they can be had for small budgets as well.

Jacob Sacks-Jones
5 years ago

Ideally I'll line all these lenses up for a side-by-side test. Have you ever come across the TLS rehoused Speed-Panchros? Been doing some digging and they seem like another potential.... Although tests at rental houses are great it's not always the best indication of the final look or how the lenses will perform 'in the field', so am a big fan of getting personal recommendations where possible.

Morris
5 years ago

That's a very nice option as well ! I've used them once and was very impressed with the TLS rehousing. Very sturdy. They did give us some issues with follow focus and Mattebox setup, but nothing a good AC couldn't handle. Which is, now I come to think of it, always an extra concern I have when working with vintage glass.

Jacob Sacks-Jones
5 years ago

This is one thing I'm slightly hesitant about, I don't want to unnecessarily make life a nightmare for my 1st. What exactly were the issues you had? This is going to be a two day shoot, we're going to be need to be moving very quickly and one of my concerns is the vintage lenses holding us back a bit.

Morris
5 years ago

No big problems, but they were all a different size in length. Which sometimes meant my AC had to switch gears on the follow focus and move the mattebox.

Jacob Sacks-Jones
5 years ago

Ahh okay, that's not too bad. Thanks for all your advice Morris!

K.Wasley
5 years ago

The tls are very very warm in their look. Also they have a powerful flare effect wide open kind of like an extremely strong promist. The superspeeds are brighter than other lenses at the same stop, and much more neutral in their colour, more in the master prime family of look which I would describe as neutral but not cold. For example believe it or not an s4mini is much colder (more blue) than a master prime, as are the new Schneider which are the coldest and sharpest lenses I saw in some recent simple tests.

Jacob Sacks-Jones
5 years ago

That's very interesting. Warmth may well work for this shoot because the aesthetic is a particular kind of 1970s, with yellows and browns and tans etc.

K.Wasley
5 years ago

I recent tested leica summilux, Cooke s5, s4, s4 mini, TLS, Schneider, master prime, super speeds. The TLS are waaay up there in the warmth ck
Kate's with the others. I'd say the flaring and warmth would be a great starting point for a 70's look and I would definitely test. For your info they were used in Mr Turner.

Jacob Sacks-Jones
5 years ago

Oh really, I didn't know that. I think they're also being used on the new Fargo TV series.

K.Wasley
5 years ago

Wow thanks for that info, you're right they were used on Fargo. I thought Fargo season 2 looked amazing. Was wondering what lenses etc they used, the panchro's make perfect sense!

rlandry1
5 years ago
rlandry1 5 years ago

If you want interesting vignetting. Why not do it in post. Otherwise (and not sure if this is possible) try to use old lenses made for S16. They are smaller which in theory will give you a natural vignette. I recently bought an old H16RX Bolex and also got an old lens manufactured by a company called Soligor (I think I spelled that right). Anyway, haven't done much research on them yet, but the lens is super sturdy and extremely clear. At least from my first impression. They're built for 35mm film cameras though, so I had to buy an adapter. The important thing is they are very inexpensive (for glass that is).

Also, try not to take too much of this to heart. I'm only spitballing off the top of my head here. I have not tested any of these theories. Maybe something you can research though. Hope all goes well with your filmming and kudos to you for "DOING IT!" -- a little Leboufism there for ya. Lol

Morris
5 years ago

I agree with doing vignetting in post: it's easy to do and more controllable.

Jacob Sacks-Jones
5 years ago

Thanks rlandry! I agree, vignetting in post was pretty much the first thing I suggested to the director. I imagine you can go a pretty long way to the look he's imagining all in post, actually.

The super 16 lenses is an intriguing idea. I'll have a look into this.

Roger Deakins
5 years ago
Roger Deakins 5 years ago

The only issue, that I have found, with doing a vignette in post is that there is no simple way to create those subtle effects you get with a 'bad' lens. Otto Nemenz made some lenses for us on 'The Assassination of Jesse James ...' for this very reason. The soft focus distortion combined with chromatic aberration is hard to replicate digitally unless you are thinking of a full on CGI effect, which could be very expensive and still come up short. 

johandijkstra
5 years ago
johandijkstra 5 years ago

I have a lot of experience with the old SuperSpeeds, I really like them because they are still very 'color correct' but have a very characteristic stained glass look, which creates beautiful, but still controllable flares.  If you want the sharpness and technical quality of a 2015 lens but the flares of the 70's (in case of CGI etc) you can consider the Cooke S4/i mini's Uncoated. 
I never worked with the K35's. But what I've form what I've seen they look beautiful! But are they PL's?

Morris
5 years ago

They're not PL, but can be converted quite easily and thus there are a lot of PL K35s available.

rlandry1
5 years ago
rlandry1 5 years ago

Another spitballer here. Is it possible to just rig up a sort of obstruction in front of the lens to get your vignette? Maybe experiment with Vaseline around the edge of the lens (probably best to protect the lens, maybe put a clear filter over it first).

I'm in the process of developing (visualizing) a film and I was thinking of experimenting with putting cut-out cards in front of the lens to create an oldschool silent-era style iris cropping.

Surely there's a book out there somewhere that explains how these old techniques were executed?

Jacob Sacks-Jones
5 years ago

Interesting. Again probably worth experimenting. Although I'm a little wary about effectively baking in such an extreme look. I normally like to get quite a clean 'vanilla' image that then gives you a lot of flexibility in post, so this whole process should be fun for me!

Jacob Sacks-Jones
5 years ago
Jacob Sacks-Jones 5 years ago

Thank you everyone for all the useful responses! I reckon I'm probably going to go to a rental house and test the K35s, TLS Cooke Panchros and the Superspeeds (interesting you say these are the most accurate on colour, Johan, that'll definitely be something to look out for) alongside a modern Zeiss/Arri lens set as a 'control' on an Alexa. Also if anyone else is interested, found this useful set of side-by-side comparisons on Vimeo - https://vimeo.com/100133270»

And Roger - I wish we had the money/ability to have lenses specially designed for us! That sounds like a fantastic opportunity for an unusual level of control control for a cinematographer. Whose idea was it to create new lenses? And presumably you had quite a lot of creative input - what was that process like? (Not sure if you've talked about this elsewhere)

Jacob Sacks-Jones
5 years ago
johandijkstra
5 years ago

Hahaha! 'The Deakinizer'.

Morris
5 years ago

That seems interesting.
Having lenses modified is for the lucky few, Roger being one of them.
I noticed that especially Panavision modifies a lot for DPs.
They even worked with Arri for Hoyte van Hoytema's Spectre.. Can you imagine ?!

Jacob Sacks-Jones
5 years ago

I think Panavision also created customised lenses for the new Star Wars too.

mindscrapper
5 years ago
mindscrapper 5 years ago

Lomo Anamorphic are very useful in terms of creating a vintage look in spite of the fact they are hard to handle with...

Jacob Sacks-Jones
5 years ago

I was 1st AC on a shoot with Lomo Anamorphics. They were a little clunky and had the focus scale on the wrong side, but weren't too bad. I don't think we want to shoot anamorphic on this though. (Although I know that Lomo also produce spherical glass interestingly).

corby
5 years ago
corby 5 years ago

Another couple options to consider are the Super Baltars, Leica R lenses rehoused, and one thing no one has mentioned is older zooms. Angenieux 25-250HR, Cooke 25-250, 18-100 or 30-60. They all give lots of interesting flares due to their more complex optical design and will all vignette slightly on Alexa in open gate mode.

I am a huge fan of the Cooke Speed Pancros but you have to pay attention to color matching through the set because they all differ from focal length and set to set. 

Another filter to consider is the Smoque which gives interesting rainbow flares along with a somewhat strong diffusion.

Jacob Sacks-Jones
5 years ago

Never heard of Smoque, will look at that! The zooms are interesting, but we're shooting lots of long handheld, so may be a little heavy I think?

Jacob Sacks-Jones
5 years ago

Leica R lenses are also an interesting tip, thanks!

CinemaTechnic
5 years ago

Based on my research, the original (T1.4) Carl Zeiss Super Speed primes were introduced in 1975. I think - but can't confirm - that the Canon K35's were introduced slightly before that. In both cases, they would give authentic late 1970's looks. I've extensively updated my Zeiss Super Speeds page:
http://cinematechnic.com/resources/zeiss_super_speed_f1-2_lenses»
And added one about the Canon K35:
http://cinematechnic.com/optics/canon_k35_aspherical_cine»
An important thing to keep in mind about emulating 1970's looks: I think film stock formulas were different then and tended to emphasize the red and brown tones and have somewhat sepia tone blacks.

Jacob Sacks-Jones
5 years ago

Interesting note on the film stock from the 70s, will definitely pass this on to the grade

CinemaTechnic
5 years ago

I don't know what causes it - but I always notice it in material shot in the 1970's. Perhaps the film manufacturers came up with better dyes for the blue and green that gave better saturation for those colors.

Also, consider: If you're trying to shoot something and make it -look- like it could have been shot in a particular time, you must avoid using technology that wasn't available then. For example, you'd use uncoated lenses for anything meant to look like it was shot before 1946. But although anyone shooting in the desired period could not have used unavailable technology, they could have, and most likely used older technology. It's not just today that projects are shot with 20 and 30 year old lenses.

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