With so many lens choices available out there these days, it's really hard to know what you want to shoot on, much less own. Here at NWCC, we try to have some unique options as well as some standard options too.
Most will tell you that you'll get most of your look and texture from the lenses you choose to pair with your camera of choice for your project. And each lens has defining characteristics that can help to tell your story, mood, time period etc. When I choose to shoot, I like to get to know my script, mood, look as early in preproduction as possible to know what I'm up against and how my lens choice can lend to the overall tone we are trying to achieve.
Some defining characteristics of lenses that most cinematographers tend to take into consideration might be, breathing (lens moving in and out as you focus), barrel rotation for focus, color of the coatings, quality of the coatings, overall sharpness, sharpness wide open, iris patterns for bokeh, highlight handling, chromatic aberration, contrast, edge to edge sharpness, vignetting, overall character, flaring, distortion. The list can go on and on. The following list gives a great overview of the lenses we have in stock and a brief breakdown of their characteristics and what they might be good for.
*Side note: of all the characteristics that are important to most, the one I find myself caring the least about is breathing. People usually make such a big deal on this one, but to me, I prefer a bit of breathing. I've always found that under most normal focus pulling procedures, the small amount of breathing more gently takes your eye to where the focus is heading. I wish people would be less critical of this one fact. It can easily make someone skip a great looking set of lenses for a reason, that to me, isn't all that important.
Hanse Inno Tech: CELERE HS PL T1.5 18.5, 25, 36, 50, 85
These lenses are beautiful. They are PL mount or EF mount. They are all weighted the same and center of gravity matched, with same diameter and length across the board. This makes them ideal for gimbal, steadicam, or drone work. At a constant T1.5 aperture across the board, they are quite fast. They flare like angels would flare. They handle highlights very well and have a color that seems very reminiscent of Leica lenses. Warm and pleasing. Also these lenses sit on the lower side of the contrast scale. They are not super low con, but they are definitely lower contrast than most modern lenses, which I'm a big fan of. They have low distortion and are quite sharp. Not Tack sharp, but on todays modern cameras, its a perfect combination. Also they cover full frame cameras, so great for future camera systems. I would choose these lenses for anything narrative or high end where having organic and pleasing skintones is your top priority. Period pieces, fashion, music videos, etc. They are perfectly universal. Its hard for me to choose anything else over these. I would put these on par with several high end lens sets such as Ultra Primes or Cooke S4's. Be prepared to start hearing a ton about these lenses in the near future. What is also great is that they are available in such low numbers right now, Its a guaranteed unique look, you won't find in too many other places.
Canon: CN-E Cinema Primes 24 1.5, 35 1.5, 50 1.3, 85 1.3
These lenses are workhorse lenses and are definitely fast. With a 114mm front diameter they are proper cine lenses minus the PL mount. Currently they are available in EF mount from Canon. They have a 300 degree focus rotation and the marks glow in the dark. They have a coating that is on the warmer side and produces really wonderful skin tones. These lenses are sharp. I mean really sharp. They do a great job at handling most circumstances but because they are so sharp, sometimes you can see a little CA creep in on them if not monitored. They are fairly light lenses and are easy to handle. They tend to flare towards the purple side and quite nicely. In terms of contrast, they are fairly contrasty but not too over the top. I personally choose to shoot a lot corporate or tech stuff on these lenses. Also if the mood is right, I'll do a good amount of doc shooting on these as well.
Canon: Vintage Rehoused PL Primes 24 1.5, 28 2.0, 35 2.0, 50 1.3, 85 1.3, 135 2.0
Using the vintage Canon FD series lenses as base glass, these lenses shine in such a great way. They have a wonderful organic vintage look which is mostly due to their low contrast nature. They are rehoused professionally with 80mm fronts and PL mounts. They have a beautiful warm color to them while exhibiting beautiful flares at almost all aperture settings. They aren't the sharpest lenses, but extremely useable wide open, getting very well behaved and crisp by f2.5 or so. These lenses combined with the Alexa sensor or the Dragon sensor really create beautiful images. They seem to be quite universal in where you can use them from corporate to narrative and everything in between. They breathe slightly like most converted stills lenses, but as I said, not a big issue. They do have a short focus throw though due to that reasoning. all being between 100-220 degrees focus throw. They are small and lightweight and make great lenses for gimbal work or handheld. They handle highlights quite well and don't seem to suffer from CA quite as bad as their modern counterparts.
Leica- R: Cinemod EF 19 2.8 v2, 24 2.8, 35 1.4, 50 1.4, 80 1.4, 135 2.8
Its hard to beat the look of the Leica-R lenses. In my opinion, these lenses from the late 80's, which have been wonderfully cared for and converted by Duclos Lenses, have more character, energy and excitement than any of Leica's current high end cinema lenses. They provide exquisite rendition of skin tones and highlight handling. They are only as sharp as you'd ever want a lens to be. Wide open they look fantastic and stopped down they rival high end lenses in terms of sharpness. They are relatively low in contrast compared to their modern counterparts. They are all mechanically sound with 80mm fronts, but have relatively short focus throws due to being stills lenses. They are color matched very well and have flares that could rival some of the best in the world. These lenses provide a texture to footage that is just magical. Similar to the Celeres. They are light and tiny and don't show too many signs of CA unless you are under very very harsh conditions. The 19mm is a thing of splendor. I shot tons of shots in Paralytic on this lens with a grad ND for landscapes and the results were stunning. I would recommend for narrative, fashion, docs, period pieces and more
Pieces of the following trailer were shot on these. Most of the landscapes at the winery setting.
Zeiss: Mark I B-Speeds t1.3 18, 25, 35, 50, 85
The essence of vintage Zeiss lenses. The Mark I Superspeeds are quite unique. They are very fast lenses coming in at a t1.3 and performing very well wide open. They are all pl mount but with relatively short focus throws for being a cine lens. As with most vintage looking lenses, these are quite low contrast and have a color cast that comes in a tad bit on the cooler side compared to Canon and Leica. But even with the cooler tone, it produces very nice skin tones. The rare part of these lenses is that they have a rare 9 blade iris, which produces a very unique bokeh, both in how out of focus is rendered but when stopped down to t3 to t8 out of focus tiny highlights will be seen as triangle shapes. These lenses have an 80mm front diameter and are quite light given the punch they pack. The flares are quite nice coming in more purple, green and blue. These lenses though are slightly more inclined to see some CA under certain circumstances than other lenses. I would recommend these lenses for any music videos, fashion, narrative, period pieces or things of that nature where having a distinct look is part of your aesthetic choice.
The following movie was shot on Epic MX with Zeiss B-Speeds
Zeiss: Contax Cinemod EF 25 2.8, 35 1.4, 50 1.4, 85 1.4, 100 2.0, 100 2.8 macro, 180 2.8, 300 4.0
These lenses are the counterpart to the Mark ii Superspeeds that Zeiss made. They are mostly the same lenses as the B-Speeds in terms of look and performance with the real difference being that they are in a stills lens housing that has been cinemodded similarly to Duclos and they have slower wide lenses. I would recommend these to someone who is on a budget but wants a great vintage Zeiss look and isn't as concerned about mechanics. These were my go to lenses for years. The look is really really wonderful and they are so easy to operate and use. I've shot just about everything on this set and they do great in basically any situation you want to put them in!
Heres a short film that I shot on RED Dragon w/Contax Zeiss
DSO: Trumps 38 2.0, 58 2.0, 88 2.0
These lenses are definitely something special. Based on old Russian Helio lenses, the rehousings and work that have gone into creating these focal lengths is quite special. Richard Gale created these monsters out of a love for really really cool looking imagery. These lenses have so much unique character its ridiculous. They are fairly sharp wide open at t2.0 but seeing more sharpness as you stop down. Edge to edge isn't as great as other lenses, but honestly thats what makes these lenses have a defined look. They are very low contrast and the 38mm and 88mm have built in wide angle and telephoto adapters. Giving their field of view a uniqueness that you won't find in too many other places. They flare insanely cool, with bright orange and colorful tinges across the aperture marks. They are easy to pull focus on but with lack of focus marks, you just need to feel it. Its like driving a manual transmission. Instincts. They have great close focus ability and 95mm fronts. One thing about these lenses is the removable rear element that allows you to drop in aperture inserts. The most common being anamorphic looking ovals. So you can create a feaux anamorphic look in camera, that to be honest has fooled quite a few people. This set is great but the only thing its missing is a wide angle option which should be available soon. I would recommend these lenses on some narrative, music videos, dream sequences, period pieces, commercial work.
And FINALLY here is a lens test showing a few of the lens sets. It quite long and boring but gives a real feel for what these lenses can do in motion. Hopefully some of this information will be useful in making choices for your next project when it comes to lens aesthetics and what to look for when choosing your ideal glass. Happy shooting and all lens rental options can be found at www.nw-camera.com. Thanks for reading :)