Regular RedSharkNews readers might be aware of my passion for lenses and filters. I have written extensively that even with today's easy access to post production Grading software, optical elements fitted up front can positively influence your final picture outcome as much if not more than the camera they are attached to and in some circumstances, they might even negate the current fashion for extensive Post Grading. For example, adding a Polarising filter when filming bathers on a sunny Australian beach can be a fast and efficient way of achieving that 'Wow' factor, something which remains elusive and time consuming to successfully achieve in Post.
During my long interest in all things 'multimedia', I've come to appreciate the benefits of working with several legendary SLR 'stills' lenses from yesteryear, especially when they can be adapted to modern digital sensors using popular focal reducers where internal optics offer multiple benefits such as restoring a full frame lens' Angle of View to a Super 35 sized sensor, making sure the light rays approach that sensor in a parallel fashion and of course, reducing and concentrating the image circle to add that magical extra stop of light...
Over the past few years I have built an impressive collection of classic Carl Zeiss 'Contax' full frame prime lenses as well as a couple of the company's constant aperture zooms. I have found these now affordable and so called 'vintage' lenses to be an ideal compliment for modern digital cinematography due to the fact that many are 'low contrast' when compared with modern lenses. These old manual lenses were designed at a time when professional 'stills' photographers (and enthusiastic amateurs who could afford them) spent a considerable amount of time in the Dark Room where the image would be 'massaged' into the final 'look' just as today, where cinematographers will allocate Grading time to manipulate their modern digital images into their final glory.
So it was with some intrigue that I see the equally legendary European optical company of Leica Camera AG release a completely new series of Prime lenses for cinematography in the professional PL mount. What’s more, this set of nine new Leica 'Thalia' spherical lenses are being marketed as having a matched 'analogue' look! That is, the Leica Company acknowledge that cinematographers regularly pair older lenses with modern sensors to achieve a specific 'look' and claim that their all new lenses "offer a clear image without being overly sharp and feature a smooth and forgiving focus which never looks soft".
The image circle on the Thalia series is large enough to cover the ARRI Alexa 65 sensor and also suits Vista Vision and Super 35 sensors too where the classic look is complimented by a multi bladed aperture design which results in a perfectly circular iris at every T stop.
Now another thing I find fascinating is Leica's acknowledgement of a particular lens 'quirk' that I have noticed when shooting through one or two of my old Zeiss lenses. That is, they appear to feature 'added depth and dimensionality'. Leica convincingly explains it thus: "Rather than even, flat layers of focus across the frame, the Thalia lenses have a slight curve that can make an image “pop” because it is simultaneously more consistent with human vision and yet different from most images created with modern lenses." In my case, particularly with my 35-70mm f/3.4 constant aperture Contax zoom, it seemed that the focus and contrast of the lens 'peaked' at one particular f/stop setting to achieve a similar and if I'm honest, very pleasing result.
Leica's new stainless steel PL mount 'Cinematic Set' comes in nine versions from 24mm to 180mm and each has the same image circle of 60mm diameter but they are hardly 'light weights' as even the smallest weighs in at well over a kilo! Each prime lens offers very close focussing from as little as 100mm depending on the model and all have 270 degrees of focus rotation to ensure a very precise, geared 'follow focus'. Each lens offers a matched front screw-in filter thread diameter of 95mm and all Thalias are up right to date with electrical contacts fitted for conveying metadata using /i Technology.
With the latest, ultra low cost URSA Mini Pro Cinema camera from Blackmagic Design now offering a PL lens 'turret' option, more and more people are reaching toward PL mount lenses to give their productions the Cinematic polish they deserve but as seems to be case with nearly all German precision machinery, if you need to ask the price, you probably can't afford it...