A couple of years ago I put together a little lens test consisting of 13 sets of prime lenses. What I wanted to find out was, what are the differences between lenses in a purely image resolving way. You always hear about differences in lenses, and one might have a certain kind of look or feel, and they're often described like a fine wine, with descriptors that don't always make sense. The purpose of this test is really to see the differences between lenses, the look from one set to another.
This was hardly a scientific test, or in optimal conditions. We shot inside Old School Camera in Burbank, CA. I want to thank Old School Camera for helping with this test, these were all of the lenses they had in house on this particular day. Ultimately I would have love to have tried different lighting and environments, but this test still gets the results across.
We shot all of the lenses wide open, to really show off their individual character and resolving power. The test was shot on a Red Dragon. I've separated the Spherical and Anamorphics, as they're two very different looking categories of lenses.
18mm - does not cover 6K on Red Dragon
25mm - does not cover 6K on Red Dragon
35mm - does not cover 6K on Red Dragon
100mm - flatter and duller color
The set has a non uniform lens size.
The 35mm, 50mm, and 75mm are the best of the set
18mm f/2.8 - Does not cover 6K on Red Dragon, neutral color, very small body
24mm f/1.6 - Does not cover 6K on Red Dragon, neutral color with slight blue shift
35mm f/1.4 - very sharp lens
55mm f/1.4 - minimal breathing
Vintage body style on the set
Overall a great set, great look. Generally expensive to rent.
16mm - Does not cover 6K on Red Dragon, very small body
24mm - Does not cover 6K on Red Dragon, this lens had some play in the focus
32mm - Does not cover 6K on Red Dragon, a medium level of sharpnes
50mm - very pleasing look
85mm - Sharp, slighting warm, very pleasing look
100mm - very pleasing look
18mm - Does not cover 6K on Red Dragon, blue vignette, focus falls off at edge
25mm f/2.2 - Does not cover 6K on Red Dragon, Blue Vignette
32mm f/2.3 - Does not cover 6K on Red Dragon
40mm f/2.3 - Slightly warm color tone, darkening at edge of frame
50mm f/2.3 - medium warm color tone
75mm f/2.3 - little cooler, fairly sharp
100mm f/2.8 - little cooler, very sharp
The 50mm and 75mm are very different then the rest of the set
15mm f/4 - ugly flairs, does not cover 6K
20mm f/2.6 - very soft, does not cover 6K
25mm f/2.3 - major halation, does not cover 6K
32mm f/2.3 -slight vignette and slight blue shift
40mm f/2.3 - bit soft, slight vingnette
50mm f/2.3-1st ok lens of the set, slightly blue, acceptably sharp
75mm f/2.3 -
100mm f/2.3 - acceptable sharpness
The 50mm, 75mm and 100mm all cover 6K on the Red Dragon.
The set as a whole had a fairly similar color uniformity.
Only 250 sets ever made
arri master primes
16mm f/1.3 - slight vignette at 6K, slightly soft
18mm f/1.3 - slight vignette at 6K, slightly soft
21mm f/1.3 - slight vignette at 6K, very very sharp
27mm f/1.3 - slight vignette at 6K
Very Modern and clinical look. Bodies on these are very large and heavy. zero breathing in focusing. The coating on the lenses reduces lens flairs significantly.
Did not have a full set to test*
Cooke mini s/4 (uncoated)
18mm f/2.8 - slight vignette at 6K, very unpleasing flair
32mm f/2.8 - slight vignette, very sharp and vibrant colors
50mm f/2.8 - just as sharp as master primes
These differ from typical mini s/4 lenses in that the coating was removed from the lenses, so they're more likely to flair.
red pro primes
18mm f/1.8 - Does not cover 6K on red Dragon
25mm f/1.8 - slight vignette at 6K, flair is neutral, semi-subdued
35mm f/1.8 - slight vignette at 6K
Larger body size on this set. As sharp as master primes without the color characteristics. Undervalued set.
Zeiss super speeds
18mm f/1.3 - does not cover 6K on Red Dragon
25mm f/1.3 - Does not cover 6K on Red Dragon
Overall this set is very neutral colors. Very sharp lenses, has held up well over time. The tone can be a bit flat or even muddy blending the image together.
50mm f/1.6 - very wide distortion
Cooke s/2 anamorphic
40mm f/2.3 - Huge front element, medium amount of sharpness
50mm - Sharper then the 40mm but the flair isn't as pleasing
75mm - warmer lens, hints of brown in the image, 1/4 stop darker at the same stop, a lot of breathing in the focus
100mm f/2.8 -not sharp at all
Lomo anamorphics - Square front
50mm f/2.8 - medium amount of breathing in focus, not very sharp at f/2.8
75mm - not sharp
100mm f/2.3 -slightly sharper then the 50mm
150mm f/3.8 - Signs on halation, soft lens, chromatic aberration
28mm f/2 - High edge distortion
Complete sets might be hard to find, we only had the single lens to check out
Recently I teamed up with my friend and fellow cinematographer Derek Cohan to test out the new Helium sensor by Red Digital Cinema. The new sensor is in the Red Weapon and Epic-W camera bodies. We put the Helium up against the Dragon sensor side by side to see what differences we could spot.
All of the tests were shot with the same lenses, the Sigma Art 50-100 zooms. To light we used a 500w china ball and a Lightmat 4. We used both the Low Light and skin tone optical low pass filters. The Helium was shot at 8K full frame and the Dragon was shot at 6K full frame. Both of these cameras were shot with with older color science Red Gamma 4 and Dragon Color 2. I expect more impressive results with the new IPP2 color science and workflow.
In the following images the Helium sensor is on the top and the Dragon is below.
What did this show us?
The first thing I noticed was just how similar these two sensors really are. The differences are there but very subtle.
The Helium appears to be a little more saturated then the Dragon sensor. It also appears that the Helium comes across with a slight green tint. Sharpness is also a little more apparent in the Helium coming down from 8K, but almost identical when down sampled to 2k. The Dragon held up really well but fell short with it's signal to noise ratio. The Helium is just so clean in it's noise.
I really think that these two cameras could be cut side by side on most projects. A difference in lenses would be more apparent then a difference between these two looks. I will mention that the Helium will hold up it's image longer, when shooting in a low light environment or for visual effects work.
How do you light 360... underground... at night?
Recently I was presented with that interesting challenge on the set of Landfill, to light the inside of an underground tunnel of trash. The first challenge is just what do you imagine when you read in the script about a tunnel built completely of trash? How can you start to conceptualize a lighting style when you can't even imagine all the textures and limitations of a tunnel made out of garbage?
The tunnel in the script was written a very dark, with light beams. The way to get light into beams is to have a very powerful and focused source, along with something in the air to make it volumetric. That is to say, something for the light to grab onto. For these small beams I would need holes in the tunnel, and I couldn't fill in the space too much without loosing the beams.
Designing the tunnel
This is where the help an amazing production designer and art department really show their talents. Within the first week of pre-production we had some easy to follow diagrams for the tunnel, something to get the conversation started. We knew our goals, we had three children who had to fall into this tunnel and find a dead body. Sounds simple enough, right? It had to be large enough for all of the children along with the camera and crew to fit inside. I worked along side our production designer Burns to make sure his plans would work for the lighting I was going after.
Fill to taste
To start with I added in a fill layer of ambient lighting. I used five kinoflo image 80s, which are eight 4' kino tubes in a studio style fixture. We went with tungsten to match the rest of our lighting kit. The really unique thing about this setup is that the garbage material we used was translucent. By making an array of these large kinoflo sources we were able to introduce our ambient fill and let the light bleed through the ceiling garbage.
Light beams and bounce
For the light beams I used eight source-4 lights with 19° lenses. While we could leave the fill lights covered and let them light through the ceiling garbage, only making them softer, the little spot lights needed gaps created in the ceiling and sides. Lighting and Grip teams worked with art to find the right areas to open, we would point the light through, then cover as needed to make it look good for camera and hide any holes.
Source-4's and lekos are some of the most versatile tools in lighting. I always include a few of them in any lighting order. Think of them like little spot lights. We filled in the gaps between the image 80's with these lekos. Sometimes the lekos would move around depending on the shot and talent. Light beams are at their most pronounced when aiming towards the camera. We tried not to move them as much as we could get away with it as this is like threading a needle, trying to get a beam of light through a small gap in the garbage.
I used a DF-50 hazer to create the haze that the light was able to catch. These are sometimes referred to as god rays, but that's more in the context of when beams of light break through clouds.
Once the lights were up I would have my Key Grip Sean McQueen bring in a small pizza box bounce card to fill in any remaining spots or to act as an eye light.
We shot Landfill on the Red Dragon with Zeiss cp.2 lenses. The CP.2 line of lenses tends to lean a bit on the cooler side. That cooler bias was used to our advantage and we shot with a lower color temperature of 2000k. This was a very moon lighting style approach to the color temperature and tone of the scene. I also desaturated the image in camera slightly.
We shot in R3D format and the intention is to refine this look in the final color grade, because these settings are recorded nondestructively in the camera. All of the images in this blog post are straight from the camera with no additional grading or processing.
Shooting with a look in camera or a LUT on the monitor gives everyone working on the project a very strong idea of what the final will look relatively like. You're better able to make creative decisions on the fly and as you see things happening.
Behind the scenes walk through of the set.
Bonus for Audio
Going into this setup I thought that audio would have a really hard time. Turns out they were able to use the scissor lift to easily boom over the set.