Still Lenses That Can Grace The Big Screen
- February 6, 2010
- Shane Hurlbut, ASC
On the still lens front, you have a variety of options. I am addressing this topic from a 40 foot screen digital projection perspective, not a still photography one.
ZEISS ZE PRIMES
Zeiss ZE primes rock. Their resolution is spectacular and they are lightweight. Their focus is a little more cinematic than a Canon or a Nikon, so it gives your focus puller a chance.
The lenses do breathe, which means they zoom in or zoom out when you rack focus. This aesthetic bothers some people so you should see if you like it and or can deal with it.
Buy ZEISS ZE PRIMES:
CANON L SERIES PRIMES
Canon L Series Primes deliver very beautiful, sharp images. They do not resolve as well as the Zeiss primes, so you will lose a little detail and color gradation choices in post. If you are fine with that, then the Canon primes are a great choice. Their zooms are not as sharp as the primes and they don’t hold contrast as well.
Buy CANON L SERIES PRIMES:
The Canon EF lenses cannot hold up on the big screen. I used them on the first two shooting days of the Navy SEAL movie, Act of Valor, and they were just plain soft. When I went into color correction, I was not able to have the full range of detail of the 8 BIT compressed color space that I had with the L series or the Nikons. Canon lenses also have one tricky issue: the endless focus wheel. It is amazing for a still photographer but not a trained focus puller. Companies like Zacuto have put lens stops on their zip gears to try and correct the problem but it is still something to contend with.
NIKON AI SERIES PRIMES
Nikon glass delivers well with the AI series. They were the cream of the crop back in the late 1970s and early 1980s and still are in my book. They deliver images just like the Zeiss in contrast but the glass has a warmer tone. However, their focus range is short like the Canons.
Buy NIKON AI SERIES PRIMES:
LEICA R SERIES PRIMES
I tested Leica and found that they delivered beautiful contrast and color throughout. They felt the closest to the Panavision Primo Primes and had more of a cinema focus throw, even more than the Zeiss ZE primes. These lenses resolve so well on the big screen.
Buy LEICA R SERIES PRIMES:
HASSELBLAD MEDIUM FORMAT ZEISS PRIMES
Hasselblad medium format lenses were very interesting on the 5D. It had the same contrast and color of the Zeiss ZE Primes. You need to check it out. They have an amazing cinema focus throw, but breathe like the Zeiss. I like the large focus markings and the weight. They felt really nice on my Red Rock Micro shoulder rig. As long as you feel comfortable shooting above a 4.0, these lenses are a great choice.
Buy HASSELBLAD MEDIUM FORMAT ZEISS PRIMES:
With all of the lens options out there, these are still just tools. The story and the characters are KING! These players all have a back story that never makes it to the screen, but it is the thread, the tapestry that binds the film. Find that thread, follow it to dream and create your next work of art!!!!