When embarking on a new project, one of the first and perhaps most significant aesthetic decisions any cinematographer can make is their choice of lenses. Everything from flare characteristics, bokeh, distortion, contrast, sharpness all play a crucial part in creating a unique look for any given project. Becoming familiar with the intricate differences between sets of glass (pronounced and subtle) not only helps us select the right tools for the job, but also allow us exploit those qualities while filming.
This lens test in particular was not designed to be an exhaustive examination, but rather like a series of "speed dates". Hopefully it can serve as a quick reference or baseline for DPs and directors looking to familiarize themselves with these lenses. One thing to keep in mind is that vintage lenses vary greatly in quality and no two sets are alike. In any case it's always best to conduct your own tests before filming.
Having myself recently purchased the Epic-W, I was curious to see how all these different lenses held up when filmed at 8K. The reason for choosing the 50mm as the hero was simply because it is the most common focal denominator between lens sets (apart from a few exceptions such as the Hawk V-Lite, ToddAO here). Keeping the focal length consistent between lenses allowed us to better observe the nuanced differences while a perspective change might have been distracting. Since the test was conducted on the Red Epic-W, the vertical field of view is similar for anamorphic and spherical lenses. On the Alexa 4:3 sensor the anamorphic lenses would have appeared wider as the sensor has more vertical real estate than the RED Helium sensor.
You can view the tests at the bottom of this blog. Additionally you can download the "Lens Library" PDF document which includes stills from all of the setups for a quick reference.
With the help of AbelCine, Adorama, Hand Held Films, DuAll Camera, TCS, Scheimpflug, Simply Whang!, Fancy Deli and my fellow cinematographer Ramsey Fendall, I was able to scrounge together 9 anamorphic and 17 spherical lenses for a total of 26:
Arri Master Anamorphic (provided by TCS film)
Cooke Anamorphic (Hand Held Films)
Elite Anamorphic (DuAll Camera)
Lomo Anamorphic Round Front (Adorama)
Lomo Anamorphic Square Front (Ramsey Fendall)
Kowa Anamorphic (Scheimpflug)
Hawk V-Lite (Hand Held Films)
Todd AO (Fancy Deli)
Arri Master Prime (Hand Held Films)
Arri Ultra Prime (AbelCine)
Cooke S4 (Hand Held Films)
Leica Summicron (Simply Whang!)
Leica-R (GL mod) (TCS film)
Zeiss CP2 Makro (AbelCine)
Xenon FF (Adorama)
Celere HS (Adorama)
Canon CN-E (AbelCine)
Rokinon (No Frames)
Zeiss Super Speed Mk3 (Hand Held Films)
Cooke Speed Panchro (DuAll Camera)
Super Baltar (DuAll Camera)
Lomo (Ramsey Fendall)
Takumar 6x7 (Ramsey Fendall)
Dog Schidt (Ramsey Fendall)
The test was divided into two parts:
Part #1 focusing on characteristics like bokeh and flare
Part #2 we map out lens distortion, edge to edge sharpness and breathing
LENS TEST PART #1
Each lens was tested at Wide Open Aperature and T4. We refrained from adding filtration in front of the lens and chose to compensate for the exposure with shutter speed instead of ND. Most lenses fall apart when opened to max aperature, however stopping down 1/2stop - 1stop already improves sharpness and contrast. Also worth noting is that typically the final 1/3 prior to reaching WOA only brightens the very center of the image resulting in some vignetting.
By T4 most lenses have hit their "sweet spot" and perform quite well in terms of sharpness and contrast, however some other characteristics become more pronounced such as the bokeh shape. Bokeh is defined by the shape of the iris design (not by the amount of blades although they do play their part) and a couple stops below wide open it's shape becomes more defined. You can see samples of 3 bokeh shapes below all shot at T4.
To test out the flare characteristics we created three lighting setups:
Flare1 - moving 150W fresnel behind talent
Flare2 - fixed position/angle 750W Source4 Leko
Flare3 - blue tinted LED flash light
Lights for Setups 1 & 2 matched the WB3200 settings so any color seen in the flares (such as the blue streaks with Lomo Round Front) are inherent to the lens. Since the LED flashlight had a blue color, naturally all the flares appear bluish as well.
APERATURE SIZE & FLARE
Aperature size also plays a role in the shape/intensity of the lens flare. To highlight these differences we slowly closed the iris during the T4 Flare2 test to see how the flare transformed. (As an interesting side note on the Kowa Anamorphic we were actually able to see the iris blades moving around f2-2.8.)
LENS TEST PART #2
The purpose of this test was to map out lens distortion. By pointing the camera at a flat wall we were able see how each lens curved space by using the window frames and brick pattern as a reference.
The top dark corners seen on Lomo Round Front and Powerscope lenses actually belong to the top of the window we were filming through. Theses lenses were much wider than the rest of the bunch and as such we didn't anticipate the window being in the way. In order to preserve consistent framing we opted not to move the camera.
Lenses are sharpest in the middle of the frame, however around the edges there can be significant differences as seen here at the top right corner of the frame between Master Anamorphic and Kowa Anamorphic. Also worth noting is the difference in distortion.
The amount of breathing on the lenses varied significantly. Breathing on the Master Anamorphic was almost non-existent compared to the other anamorphics. With most lenses the background contracts inwards when focusing closer, however strangely enough Lomo Squarefront anamorphic does the opposite: the background stretches outward as the lens is focused closer. Examples of Master Anamorphic, Elite Anamorphic and Lomo Squarefront below.
50mm Cine Lens Shootout - Part #1
Super Baltar @ 29:24
Leica Summicron @ 31:34
Leica-R GL mod @ 33:42
Celere HS @ 35:57
Xenon FF @ 38:19
Zeiss Super Speed Mk3 @ 40:40
Zeiss CP2 @ 42:50
Xeen @ 44:51
Canon CN-E @ 46:51
Rokinon @ 48:57
Lomo Spherical @ 50:44
Takumar 6x7 Medium Format @ 53:23
Dog Schidt @ 54:40
Master Anamorphic @ 0:26
Cooke Anamorphic @ 2:14
Elite Anamorphic @ 4:38
Kowa Anamorphic @ 6:37
Powerscope Anamorphic @ 8.47
Lomo Roundfront @ 11:02 (T4 incorrectly is labeled Squarefront)
Lomo Squarefront @ 13:13
Hawk V-Lite Anamorphic @ 15:37
Todd AO Anamorphic @ 17:53 (T2.8 is actually T4)
Arri Master Prime @ 20:55
Arri Ultra Prime @ 23:00
Cooke S4 @ 25:05
Cooke Speed Panchro @ 27:08
50mm Cine Lens Shootout - Part #2
Cooke S4 @ 5:17
Leica Summicron @ 5:48
Celere HS @ 6:20
Xenon FF @ 6:52
Canon CN-E @ 7:22
Xeen @ 7:46
Rokinon @ 8:12
Cooke Speed Panchro @ 8:38
Super Baltar @ 9:06
Leica-R GL mod @ 9:37
Lomo Spherical @ 10:03
Takumar 6x7 Medium Format @ 10:31
Dog Schidt @ 10:56
Master Anamorphic @ 0:24
Cooke Anamorphic @ 0:44
Elite Anamorphic @ 1:06
Kowa Anamorphic @ 1:28
Powerscope Anamorphic @ 1:59
Lomo Roundfront @ 2:24
Lomo Squarefront @ 2:42
Hawk V-Lite Anamorphic @ 3:06
Todd AO Anamorphic @ 3:28
Arri Master Prime @ 3:45
Arri Ultra Prime @ 4:04
Zeiss Super Speed Mk3 @ 4:25
Zeiss CP2 @ 4:53
You can download the "Lens Library" PDF from here: LENS LIBRARY. This document is a quick reference to 4K screen pulls form the entire lens test.
Many thanks to the crew Chris Aran (IG@coocoobird80), Ramsey Fendall (IG@ramseyfendall) and Matt Jacob (IG@jmjacob) for helping with this crazy test. Never quite planned it would end up being feature length...
Also many thanks to our model Natasha King (IG@bendybombshell) for being willing to tolerate us nerds for the whole day.
Even with all of these lenses there were definitely some of my favorites missing, which we were sadly unable to source: Hawk C-Series, Cooke XTal Express, Canon K35, Kowa Cine Prominar and pretty much all of Panavision lenses. Perhaps something to consider for Episode2...
What's your favorite set of glass and why? Feel free to comment at the bottom of the page by clicking here.