I don’t believe that equipment, lenses and technical stuff about photography is very important when it comes to the craft but when I come across something new, really can’t help but be fascinated by it. I was recently involved in a project shooting stills for a film in Bombay. And there I was introduced to something amazing, which I didn’t know of before, actually I think it was more like “I never thought of it before”.
Earlier most movies were being shot on totally independent camera systems, but with the recent advancement in the DSLR video technology, things have totally changed. And this camera, becomes a common link between video & stills technology. Now I had assumed that video was being shot with the stock lenses that are available with these DSLR’s but never really knew that there is an independent specialized sector producing lenses specifically for cinema.
So what is different about these lenses? That was my first question too. On the outside, the first thing you notice is the build quality of these lenses, they are all metal. Theoretically plastic lenses motion is dry and rough. It doesn’t matter when it comes to shooting stills as the transition from one focal point to another is not recorded. But for cinema, the change in focal point is crucial.
Secondly, the sharpness of these lenses is far better than the lenses used in photography. Even wide open apertures show very less vignetting and blur on the edges. Contrast values are better (depending on the make of the lens) and so is the color reproduction.
When shooting cinema, there is no autofocus. Basic photography lenses don’t make it easy for the focus to be changed manually because of the small focusing ring. This changes in the cine lenses, with the outer focusing ring made bigger, aperture manual control and extremely precise distance marks. All in all a completely manual lens with 100% control. There are also a lot of other technical errors which occur in photographic lenses like breathing, image shift, distortion which are reduced in cine lenses.
Ok, now when you know that the lens is really awesome and there is no way you can buy it ever, what is the first thing you do? You shoot with it! So I did make some pictures of the crew with the lens to compare the sharpness with my Canon Primes. And here are some results.
Yes I did consider using this lens more often just for photography stills but to be honest it doesn’t really make sense (sigh yes). The focusing system of the lens is not at all handy, its heavy and a little too big when it comes to wandering the streets with a handheld camera. And then once an image (still) goes through a sharpening tool and photoshopping, then a good EF mount Carl Zeiss lens and a Cine lens barely show any difference. So instead of spending 4,000$ on this lens, you might as well buy a nice Leica M9 or a Canon 5DMKII with a great lens for superb results. All in all a fun thing to use. If you’d want to read more, here are some links from NoFilmSchool, Photography Bay (talks about Canon Cine Lenses) & another great blog with the difference between Cine & Still Lenses