Chasing a legacy: a single prime

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  • #214974

      Mr. Deakins (and all),

      If you may humor and imagine these three fictional conditions & two questions:

      • You are the operator and DP for a minimalist crew, a passion project, an international documentary
      • You are covering an intimate story of a survivor of a mass-scale crisis (say climate or war-related) on location
      • The director wanted to shoot on a single prime
        • Without further context, which S35/FF prime(s) would you consider or choose?
        • What do you think about the 25MM MP as a choice, assuming a budget of about 15K for a single?

      Benjamin Reece & 

      *Very optional, no need to read* Additional context & why these two questions:

      • I direct 1-2 budgeted small crew docs a year. I’m a single-lens shooter. I never travel or shoot with a set or even two lenses.
      • My real weekly use case and reason for owning is documenting my family and my life in the most artistic and aspirational way possible. It’s my legacy & gift- and I want to be inspired as I do it. It’s chasing around my 1-year-old while hand-pulling focus. I love it.
        • Creating mini-docs that feel like Tree of Life would be a fast and loose way of describing what I want to make.
      • I prefer a spherical ~24mm S35 to ~35MM FF, aka 60-70 degree FOV, for z-axis handheld movement & scene storytelling ability.
      • I would go Chivo wider, but I also love 35MM compression/curvature for its realism/complementary balance on the human face- and my most prominent work is at that focal length exclusively. (thus, my compromise is 40mm 2x Anamorphic)
      • I own a variety of 24-28MM still lenses (28/f2 Nikon AIS, 24/1.4 Sony GM, Rokinon 24/1.8), but most often use the Atlas Anamorphic 40mm Orion.
      • I never use the stills because I love my special relationship with the Orion due to its world-class image, weight, manual focus, and distinct look.
      • Now I’m looking for one more entirely different look, distinct from the Orion/anamorphic. Goal: to have the ultimate 1-2 stylistic single punch between the Orion and this new lens.
      • Why a new/expensive lens when I have other stills and an anamorphic I love?
        • To borrow from your recent post about why you would not shoot with Ultra or other vintage lenses, It would be primitive to step back to “less” lenses.
        • I want to be inspired every time I pick up my camera. I don’t want a few lenses I like. I want one or two I adore. One that becomes part of my artistic expression, my little legacy.
        • I have an instinct that the world-class, historical engineering of an Arri/Zeiss collaboration in MP and the distortion-free 25MM would give me the best of both worlds while rendering a cleaner but still gorgeous image that distracts the viewer less with anamorphic artifacts.
        • Over time (months/years), this would allow me to understand and drift toward my true style and inner vision/preference.

      I recently stumbled upon an opportunity to purchase a 25mm Master Prime at a good deal.

      I’ve rented MPs for one project in the past, and while it was a commercial project, I loved the lenses, and I’m considering it for my next single lens purchase.


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    • #214998
      Tyler F

        Master Primes are amazing lenses but they aren’t all that much better than some of the other affordable options out there. The problem I think you’ll face is that once you buy one, you’re likely going to find yourself wanting another.. and another, just to complete a set. If I were you i’d look into a set of Zeiss Super Speeds or even Standard Speeds. Perfect lenses albeit older and finding a decent matching set can be tricky. Sharp but still have a quality that won’t resolve “too much” detail to where it’s a bit sterile. IMO that’s the way to go!


          Have you considered the Zeiss Otus stills lenses. As good as a MP in my opinion.


            After heavily reflecting on it and testing the lenses out in a rental house, the 25MM or 27MM would be my preferred single. The 27mm would be my leaning, but alas I’m getting a deal on a 25MM and can’t justify the extra $$ for the 27MM Master Prime.

            For those who have shot on the whole Master Prime set or MPs extensively:
            – Do you feel there is a notable rendering difference for the human face from the 25MM to 27MM?
            – Do you feel that other more affordable options are better for my use case? For example, I could purchase a 28MM Ultra and Super Speed for the same money.

            Tyler, given my style of shooting, I really do believe I drift towards one horizontal FOV/focal length type of look. I don’t see myself ever owning a set. I’d much rather on one S4 & one Super Speed, & one Ultra vs a Full set of Super Speeds for example.

            I love the idea of the character and nuance of the lenses handling/feel bending my style from piece to piece rather than options of focal length. Again, it’s also due to the fact I shoot very personal pieces mostly and I won’t be carrying any cases or bags with me.

            Gregg, absolutely and the 28mm would be a phenomenal option. But, I want to collect/own only cinema lenses going forward. I could expand on why, but thats just a rule I’m sticking with.

            Thank you for the responses!


              If I wanted a single prime lens for documentary work on a Super 35 sensor I would probably gravitate to something like the 25mm or 27mm Master Prime as well. The focal length would be suited to a variety of compositions from close-up to wide shot, the wide aperture & the lack of flaring would be good if I didn’t know exactly what lighting conditions would be encountered, close focus is 14″, etc. I’m still not sure if I would buy one though. I might try to find an f/1.4 lens around the same focal length that was at least half as expensive and put the rest of the budget elsewhere. Another user mentioned the Zeiss Otus and I think the 28mm would be a good compromise. You could buy a brand new one and get it cine-converted through Duclos for half of the price of the 25mm MP.

              Roger Deakins

                Interesting comments. I would have said a 32mm but I see the trend is towards wider lenses. Shooting a close up on a 25mm or a 27mm is something I have done in. the past and would do again in the right circumstances but I doubt that often.


                  If limited to a single prime for a documentary, a lot of what would make me go wider would simply be that I couldn’t anticipate how close I’d ever end up to the subject, or if I’d constantly be closing and then gaining distance, or trying to hold multiple subjects in frame. In that situation I would rather be somewhat wide even if it could end up unflattering in certain compositions.

                  Shooting digitally, you would always have the option of magnifying the image if you found that what you really needed at a certain moment was a telephoto lens and you didn’t have one, but the opposite isn’t true. If you were on a longer lens than you needed to be you’d either have to physically move away or settle for a composition that felt too tight, and then maybe pan back-and-forth depending on what was happening.

                  Roger Deakins

                    Ahh! We have different ways of working. I would in the past never considered blowing up an image and I still only look at that as an option as a last resort. You say you can make a telephoto shot from a wide angle but you are loosing definition whatever your capture system. Besides, there is a different feel to a blown up shot when there is movement in the frame. But I get what you are saying. You want the flexibility.


                      Mr. Deakins,

                      Could you attempt to describe in words what a 25mm vs 32mm close-up means when conveying emotion?

                      Of course it will depend on the lighting, elements, and context of each story or scene- but if the variables were 1-1, how would the focal length flavor the recipe?

                      For example, perhaps a 25mm with a single subject at 2 feet, feels like I’m leaning into a realism that increases intimacy with the subject, where a 35mm might feel more idealized and idolized with my gaze.

                      Or another way of framing the question:

                      Janusz Kaminski is known for utilizing a ~27mm for many close ups, while you may be known for 32/40mm – what do you think that leaning says about an artist’s eye and instincts for leveraging these tools to elicit their vision, and our collective emotions?

                      Thank you for sharing your preference for 32MM. Honored to have you weigh in. My 25MM Master Prime arrives in the morning. You make me doubt my decision, but inspired all the same. 😉

                      P.S. Here are the reasons I have evolved to 24/28mm over the years:

                      • The portraits sweet spot, to my eye, is about 3-4 feet out- and the way the subject fills the frame at this depth, allows a variety of layering and storytelling to fill the frame
                      • Frankly, it also I think forces to push the subject back a bit to where a lot of 70s/80s anamorphic that I grew up on, also places the subject. But that’s just a guess
                      • The handheld movement is much more smooth going from a 35 to a 28/25
                      • And most importantly, it allows me to feel intimate with my subject by physically moving in close to them, while telling a story in the frame- this is likely the most influential reason, given my personal usage of the lens (documentary & personal)


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