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Why Do We Want Flat Glass?

Leica Summilux C vs Cooke S4

Leica Summilux C vs Cooke S4

You know I love to do camera tests. I shared the numerous tests that we did on Need for Speed. On my newest film, Fathers and Daughters, starring Russell Crowe, Aaron Paul, Diane Kruger and Amanda Seyfried, I knew I wanted to shoot the Canon C500 at 2K, not 4K. I will be writing a new post on what I learned from Need for Speed that is not just about cameras. But let’s stick to the test and post at hand. I just wanted to give you a view into the future. All right, getting back to the lens, I wanted to test lenses to see which would be the best for a very contemporary look for 2014 and a little dated look for 1989 because that is what the story required. My thought process was to use the latest in lens tech for the contemporary scenes and an older lens for 1989 footage. What I uncovered was mind blowing.

“What I Learned”

Leica Summilux C lens set

Cooke S4 Lens Set
 
I decided to do a test with the newest Leica Summilux C lenses vs. the gold standard Cooke S4s. I have shot six films with the S4s and the rest with Panavision Primos. When you view these tests, I think you will be as blown away as I was. These are the things DPs do not usually share.

“Sharing Through the Inner Circle”

While we are talking about sharing, I have some exciting news for our readers. The response on our blog has continued to grow. You have supported me a 180% and I want to thank all of you for the loyalty. I believe that there are two main reasons for the success and popularity of this blog. As a working ASC cinematographer, AMPAS and EOL member who shoots almost every day, I push cinematic limits and pioneer where people tell me it is unadvisable. I have been called a trailblazer, forging the trail that no one wants to travel because they think they will end up like the Donner Party. Yet the end of our trail is a beautiful rainbow, not carnage. The second reason is that I share knowledge and experience that very few others talk about. I share the keys to the castle, the secret sauce, the magic.

Our readers keep telling us that they want more. We hear you and are ready to deliver. In a few months, we will be launching a club that will give all the passionate filmmakers out there a go to resource to create, through my knowledge and over 20 years of experience. This blog post is an example of what you should expect as a member of the club. Stay tuned for details. These are very exciting times.

“Back to the Test”

Let me begin by saying that lens choice is a very personal one. For all of you who went out and dropped a quarter of a million dollars on a Leica Summilux C set, this may shock you. Maybe you like that particular, very one-dimensional flat look. It seems all lens manufacturers are heading towards that. Maybe you are a sheet metal person and lens a ton of cars. When you look at each of these lenses side by side, I feel it is indisputable. In my opinion, the Cooke look is not just in its creamy skin tones, but in the way that it delivers a face, the vitality, the three dimensional quality that is what filmmaking is all about. The ability to make a face and or a body more slender — isn’t this what all actors and actresses want? It is not flat lines that do not bend. If losing distortion and flattening lines on the peripheral are what it is all about, then I do not want any of it. I want a lens that delivers emotion, not straight lines.

“The Test”

I will show you the Leica. Then I will show you the Cookes. I will shoot with a wide lens, then a tight lens. The flatness of the image will be apparent in both lens sizes. The wide lens will flatten the peripheral and straighten the edges.
 
Screen Grab1_sm

Screen Grab2_sm
screen grab #3 corrected_sm

 
I love this distortion. It feels alive and organic, not over engineered and sterile. When you get into the close ups, the Leica turns our model Monette Moio’s face flat and one-dimensional. She blends into the background.
 
Screen Grab 4_sm
 
The Cooke separates her from the background and makes her face three dimensional. This is what blew my Director Gabriele Muccino’s mind.
 
Screen Grab 5_sm

Screen Grab6_sm
 
He loves Cookes and never really knew why until this moment. He just said WOW! This is what we shoot.

“The Bokeh”

The Leica had much nicer bokeh. They were beautifully round and it seemed to bring it out much more, where the Cooke lenses did not. The Cookes only have five blades, which gave us stop sign shaped bokeh at every f stop other than wide open.
 
Screen Grab 7Corrected_sm

Screen Grab 8 corrected_sm

Screen Grab9_sm
 
Going back to the 100 mm Leica with our beautiful model, Monette, the out of focus bokeh behind her is perfectly round. On the Cooke, it is more like stop signs and saw blades.
 
Screen Grab 4 Corrected_sm
Screen Grab #5 copy corrected

“The Proof is in the Pudding”

I could go on and on analyzing all of this, but I think the proof is in the pudding. Enjoy the tests along with the commentary. These are the keys to the castle that will set you apart as a cinematographer. Get out there and test the lenses that you like to use, side by side. It is a very easy test. It will help you figure out your own preferences, just like I did.

What lenses have you tested?
Do you like flat glass?

 


 
Watch the video in 1080p on Vimeo.

Buy the Leica Summilux C lens set:
B&H

Buy the Cooke S4 Lens Set:
B&H
 

Author: Shane

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68 Comments

  1. Super interesting. Thanks for sharing. I gotta admit I didn’t see it in the stills but when I saw the video, it was definitely apparent.

    If you only had $1000 to spend on one lens, what would it be?

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  2. Hello,
    this is my first time posting on the blog, and I just wonted to say as a young cinematographer I’m always looking for things to learn about Cinematography, and really on the Internet this blog is the only one that I have found that really shows me things that can really help every cinematographer. So thank you for giving us young Cinematographer some of your vast knowledge.
    Thank you

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    • You are very welcome and thank you for your wonderful words. These are the comments that keep me going. Yes, the HurlBlog is a very different blog. Its subject matters no one else talks about. We feel that mentoring and sharing has gone to the wayside and we understand, we deliver and we care.

      Post a Reply
    • Dillon Oberhansli, I am so sorry it has taken me so long to answer your comment. You are very welcome and thank you for your wonderful words. I love these comments because it continues to inspire me to do what we do best on the HurlBlog.

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  3. This is awesome good stuff. Straight is static; distortion equals diagonal lines of action equals dynamic. Always aware of the compositional aspects, but now the optical…eye opener!

    Regarding boca; can we have a set of lenses with drop-in aperture plates? Kinda like the asa plates for the Spectra analog meter…only in a lens. Perfect boca every time.

    Thanks Shane, you’ve inspired again.

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    • Thank you for the kind words and support. That sounds like a cool idea.

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    • Robert Demers, so sorry it has taken me so long to get to your comment. Thank you for your kind words and I like that thought but I do feel that it might not work.

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  4. Thanks for sharing Shane! I’m still trying to educate my eyes when it come to comparing optics. I have a Zeiss ZE makro which I’ve read is also supposed to have a more ’3d’ look than L glass. But I’ve so far been unable to objectively point to what it is that makes it different. Is a more ’3D look’ something that is totally subjective, or is it related to something measurable like like local contrast?

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    • You are very welcome. The 3D quality is how far the background feels away from the subject and how the subject pulls away from that BG. You can see it so clearly in the Cooke vs Leica test. Listen to the commentary again. I describe perfectly what you should be looking for. But you will only notice this if you test two different lens sets.

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  5. As with all of your posts; fantastically good reading material. Just one question, what happened to “bokeh”?

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    • Thanks for catching that. HA HA!!! Thanks for the kind words.

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  6. Seems like the Cooke is creamier at the same time sharper.

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    • Vlad, I found the Leica was sharper to my eye as well on the big screen. Cooke definitely was creamier and more three dimensional.

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  7. Allow me to mention this: Am a young African film student from Kenya, and I must admit that there are no film institutions (East Africa)
    that have intense and detailed information as THIS BLOG has (based on research). Meaning, majority of the Cinematographers we have had to fly abroad to learn. So far, this blog has acted as a Cinematography lecturer to me and my other two colleagues. Through your mentorship Shane, we have learnt to use equipments with a reason and not just for fun or show off. We are grateful. Only God knows how many people you are mentoring each and every day!

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    • These are the comments that inspires me to do my very best to educate and inspire all of you. Thank you for that. The HurlBlog is very unique. It talks about subject matter that no one else does, gives you the essential building blocks to create, to light, to lens and to DREAM!!!!

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    • Mo’Nique, these are the comments that inspire me to continue on doing what we do best on the HurlBlog. Thank you for these incredibly kind words and I am so happy that this Blog has mad the difference in your careers as cinematographers. I hope this finds you well and look forward to hearing from you and your colleagues soon.

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  8. This is an AMAZING post, thank you Very much! NOW it makes me realise why locked off shots never look as good on DSLR videos as they do on classic films.

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  9. Cookes have edgier bokeh, Leicas are warmer and darker overall… the rest is your imagination.

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    • Not true. The differences Shane talks about are subtle, but noticeable. In the shots of the male model, the ladder in the background and the items on the back wall are smaller in the Cooke frame than in the Leica frame, giving the impression they’re further away while being at the same focal length. I know people often see what they want to see but Monette’s face does look slimmer to me in the Cooke shot. In the 100mm closeups of her face, the bokeh at screen right on the Cooke is narrower than it is on the Leica, which coincides with what Shane said about it having a slimming quality. Both qualities of the Cookes I mentioned can easily be measured in Photoshop.

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      • Brian, exactly, in two words, Mind blowing, HA HA. thanks for the comment

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    • Jernej, well put, but I could care less if the leica does not have a soul.

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  10. Very interesting post. Thanks for sharing! I can see it in the stills, and definitely see it, I mean, FEEL it in the video. Now I really wish there was a set of S4′s nearby for me to do some testing of my own. :-)

    I’m also very interested to hear your take on 2K vs. 4K.

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  11. Great info, thanks! What did you end up shooting the 1989 footage with? In the video you mention that the director didn’t like the net. How did you achieve the retro look then?
    Thanks!

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    • Jan, we are going to shoot with the Cooke’s and try Hollywood Black magic or Glimmer Glass, then give it a slightly desaturated yellow cast, like an Antique Suede filter

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  12. Let’s consider for a moment that renting is out of the picture. So you decide you have to own the gear for whatever reason. And : you have the exact same amount of work as photographer and as filmmaker, you shoot photos and films in daily basis. Next: you will find that is a much better investment to buy lenses than cameras. So you start looking for lenses and find that Schneider FF, CP2 zeiss and cinema canon are the best in your range of price . All of this are 4k lenses but the sigma 35 1.4 DG HSM you already have gives you 20 Mpixel where the 4k is 11Mpix. I understand cinema lenses gives you workflow and operational benefits in film. But if you don’t care about the size, the focus, the weigh and so. I you only want the best image quality possible in your films and in your photos . Did you invest 11k on the Schneider FF, 20k on zeiss or canon OR invest on set of photo prime lens eventhoug after this article Elmarit, summicron and other Leica lenses are out of the competition but good old canon, Nikon had sigma prime glass are perhaps a good idea What do you think on the matter?

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    • I like the Leica R lenses. I like the old Nikon AI and AIS. I like the Zeiss Jena lenses. These lenses have soul. The Schneider are going to be over engineered and flat, no soul. Got to go back early 90′s, 80′s, late 70′s.

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      • Shane: based almost entirely on an earlier article of yours (and on their local availability) I invested in Leica R glass for my HDSLR & Red use. I’m saddened that their “top end” lenses don’t seem to have held up as well to your testing, but I don’t regret for one moment the decision to make Leica Rs my first set of primes.

        Thanks as always for the insights!

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    • Omar Q, for me glass is an extension of my filmmaking soul, so I look for what the script tells me to shoot. I think you need to shoot tests just like I did and take the time to find your filmmaking soul in the glass that is what makes you create. Rent to test, then project on a large screen. These purchases should not be taken lightly, I think, it is a big investment no matter which way you look at it.

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  13. I’ve just read an article in AC mag talking about glass now being THE deciding, differing factor with digital emulsions available. This is definitely a great update to your previous blog article on still lenses that grace the big screen.

    On that note, I do have a question:
    So if you’re working on a smaller scale project, pulling your own focus with still glass, what would you say is the closest equivalent of Cook S4′s? For instance, previously you’ve mentioned that Leica R glass would be more similar to Panavision Primos (I may have the name wrong), as Leica was a manufacturer for Panavision back then. However, what would be a close equivalent to Cooke?

    Lastly, I’m very excited to you see you on another fine dramatic film, Shane. It’s been awhile and I find that you can really see what a photographer is capable of when tasked with projects that require heavy emotion above all. Your work in lighting feels super artful in that genre, so you know I’m there premiere night :)

    Love this, man and gonna share it, of course. ;-)

    Best,
    Kahl

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    • It is great to hear from you my friend. How are you? I think the Leica R’s and the Nikon AI and AIS’s are still a great choice as well as the Zeiss Jena. Fathers and Daughters is going very well. Loving the look and feel and yes it is great to light again and not just deal with cars coming at you. HA HA!!!

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    • Kahleem Poole-Tejada, I cannot thank you enough for all your support and amazing words of support. Thank you again for all your teams work in NYC at the DGA event. You rocked it out. Alright, to your questions. I feel the Leica R’s or the Old Nikon AI and AIs’s would be a great fit in the still world. Also the Minolta series is exciting me. I have to say I was born to shoot drama, this action stuff is just a speed bump and I will show you what I got in November of 2015. Thanks again my friend. Give your girl a big hug.

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  14. I must be crazy because the Cooke glass looks like crap next to the Leica. The sharpness looks terrible on my screen and the image looks muddy. I’m sure it looks different on a 40ft screen but the opposite seems to be true on my monitor.
    Also, the last time I checked, all 100mm glass flattens the image. Some more than others. Am I wrong?
    The 21mm from Leica was definitely a little flat for a 21 but the Cooke looked amateur. I also thought the Cooke had a lifeless colour look to it.
    If Hugo was shot on Cooke’s they did a lot of post production work to get it to look that good.

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    • Mark Rossi, to each his own, sharpness the Leica had in spades, but the lens has no soul, so I do not shoot soulless glass. Thanks for the comment

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    • Mark Rossi, to each his own. I am their to assist and tell you what I thought, I love your opinion and go out there and make it your own and blaze your trail

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  15. That was awesome!

    I’d love to see an article on Cooke Vs Canon Cinema Primes vs Rokinon Cines. Cover all the price points.

    Thanks,
    Don

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    • Don, coming very soon. Cooke’s vs the Canon Pro Zooms

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    • Don, coming your way, Canon Glass vs Cooke very soon

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  16. A very interesting comparison, I wonder with the Leica just on the color front if it’s yellow tint could be more of an advantage with 5600k light sources instead of tungsten lights.

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    • David, could be, but that still doesn’t correct the fact that the lens is flat and has no soul

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    • David, don’t get me wrong, I love the yellow look and feel that I get with Panavision Primos and the old Leica R’s, it was more about how 3 dimensional the image looked with the Cooke’s and the Leica Summilux C’s were uninteresting and pretty boring.

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  17. are you saying you shot those films on a canon c500???

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  18. Hello Shane,
    Great post and video. I am about to shoot a short film and am debating on lenses. I will probably use the D21. I am torn between the s4s, th ultra primes and the primos. Any insights? Thank you

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    • Tomas Brice, I do not like the Ultra Primes at all, very harsh vicious lens system. Go either S4′s or Primos, that is my advice

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  19. Shane, this is a really enlightening test. I used the S4 minis on my first feature “The Test” due to my partner’s predeliction for the Cooke Look. I had no idea what he meant, but for a rom-com I heard it was the way to go with the “warmer” feel. However now that I see this test I really understand the determining criteria for this choice. If lenses bring out the “humanity” of our characters and makes them pop off the screen then this definitely serves the story and purpose of these types of narratives. Now if only I can gin up the cash to buy a set of these minis then we’re all set. Keep up the good work and best of luck with your new film.

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    • Jeremy, thank you for sharing, yes I was blown away with this. Loving how they are performing on F & D. Rent the S4′s, plenty of companies out there to do that for you.

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  20. Shane, thanks so much for the time and effort you put into this blog. I’m finding it to be a huge resource as I gear up to shoot my first micro-budget feature. I found this post to be particularly enlightening. Question for you: I was considering building a kit around Zeiss ZF.2s with cinemods but in an above comment I saw you mentioned Zeiss Jena lenses which led to me doing some research on them. They seem like an even more budget friendly than the ZF.2s. Do you think they would hold up as well on the big screen? And if so, do you have any recommendations for 3 or 4 Zeiss Jena lenses to start with? Thanks again for all your great posts!

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    • Mitch, you are very welcome and Thank you so much for your kind words. You really need to get a couple and test them for yourself. You can always return. I never enter a project without testing. I loved the feel of the Jena’s along with their flaring. I am not sure how much they breathe when focusing or their little quirks, so sorry.

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  21. Hello Shane!

    I am about to make a major investment on Cooke Lenses. If you had to pick between the Cooke S4i´s and the Cooke S5i´s ? What would it be? and Why? Anything that makes either one stand out over the other? Much appreciated your advice.

    Thanks a lot and Keep up the great work. Cheers

    Ron

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    • Ron Peterson, The Cooke’s are amazing lenses. The S5i’s are more expensive, heavier, engineered for digital and a 1.4 which can help. The Cooke S4i’s were made for film, softer, less blades, a 2.0 and lighter. I will stick with the cheaper S4′s.

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      • Thanks so much for the advice…. If I had to pick 6 Lenses to start off my kit.. which 6 would you recommend for maximum coverage. Much Appreciated the help..

        Cheers

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  22. Shane,

    This is a fantastic test. These two pieces of glass are worlds apart, and the bokeh makes all the difference in the world when rendering depth and shape.

    Abelcine has a great post on bokeh which touches on what you were discussing, that being stripping a lens of its aberrations makes it too sterile and flat in appearance. http://blog.abelcine.com/2012/10/16/lens-bokeh-explained/

    Also the January 2013 issue of Film & Digital Times is also a great issue on the Cooke look.

    Leica glass is great, and it has its place, but if I’m renting glass I choose Cooke.

    A great test! Thank you!

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    • D, again another wonderful comment. Thank you so much for sharing of your knowledge. I love when a post takes this direction, because we all learn and that is the point, RIGHT? I will check out the article and blog. Thanks for your kind words as well.

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  23. Great test, Shane! I completely agree with you that manufacturers seem to be headed into “sterile land” with their lenses. I’m a 23-year vet of directing (mostly TV shows and commercials) with a heavy techno-geeky side. I don’t do major features, but my 1st does – he works on a lot of M Night’s films (we’re east coasters).

    I had been a major fan of Cookes for years (though they have made some questionable zooms), and when I was looking to kit out my own little rig that sits in the office for playing, efx tests and lower budget shoots (an FS700), my 1st and I did countless tests on almost any lens we could get our hands on. These might be of interest to your readers, since we weren’t testing rental lenses, but rather SLR and similar level glass (with the occasional higher end piece thrown in).

    Here’s what we found, in broad generalities:

    Nikon lenses tended to be the sharpest. They also had the greatest change as you got closer to wide open – most were not useable at apertures greater than 2.0 – for example, 1.4 on the ubiquitous and ancient 50mm f1.4 was unuseable. Over all, they are great glass, but not heavy on character.

    Fujis are similar to Nikons, but with maybe a hair more character. Solid glass, all around.

    Canons don’t do anything well. They’re generally average and uninspired. I have to believe that Canon DSLRs do a fair amount of correction for these things.

    Angie Optimo zooms – Nice, they have some character and a touch of warmth, but are approaching the sterility zone, being newer glass.

    An old, long Cooke zoom – I don’t even remember what it was – something like a 50-400 or something. Tons of character, tons of chromatic aberration, built like a weapon.

    Various vintage vivitars and other off-brand glass. Some were just garbage, some were neat-o effects type glass. Like a super-cool old Vivitar super-macro zoom. Great for that awesome, hyper CU with loads of CA around the edges. Or a Tamron adapt-all zoom that gave an image that looked like it was straight off a Bolex.

    The much-hyped 11-16mm Tokina UWA 2.8 zoom. Meh. But I bought it and keep it because it’s an ultrawide. Not optically great, but the flaws don’t lend to a fantastic character. Sometimes the whole is less than the sum of it’s parts. I use it when I need to, not because I want to.

    A 35mm f2.8 Ricoh. I found this in some thrift shop for $15. This thing is AMAZING. Such contrast, detail and beauty! Too bad a whole set is unobtainable.

    Then, the magic happened. I tested a 50mm f2 Minolta Rokker I found on ebay. It wasn’t as sharp as the Nikons, but it did hold up better WFO. But there was something about it that gave me the same sort of feeling I get from S4′s. Then, I tracked down an 85mm f2. Wow! Beautiful! Then came a whole set, one at a time: 24mm, 35mm, another 50mm, the 85, a couple of 135′s. Clearly, I had made my choice.

    I did some research and discovered that Minolta was in partnership with Leica when the Rokkors came out, and they were essentially Leica designs made by Minolta. That’s what brought me here – I want to see what the new Leicas are like. Sad to see them headed towards sterility.

    Shane, If you’ll allow, I can post a link and a guide to what was shot with what, so people can have some visual point of reference. Just let me know it that’s ok.

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    • Alex P, this is the reason for all of you to comment and give back. Thank you so much for sharing Alex. This is what I had hoped generated some comments of lens all of you have used. Thank you for the awesome breakdown and I would love to share your tests, can you reach out to gina@hurlbutvisuals.com and we can see how we can make this happen?

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  24. Hi Shane,
    for the life of me I can’t see the difference between the two lenses when it comes to her face being more flat on one than the other. Maybe it’s more apparent in motion, in video format, or maybe I just don’t have the “magic eye”.

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  25. I made a very extensive lens test for a movie I shot last year: “Kidnapping Freddie Heineken”. I would love to share those tests if production allows me s soon as the movie is out. I went out of my way to dirty down and texturalize the Alexa and even had a new varicon built for us.
    I ended up loving the Leicas and not liking MP UP or S4. Came out the most like 35mm to me.
    Cheers

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  26. I think this seems a case of the “Kings New Clothes”. Tell people what to look for and they might see it, whether it exists or not. What I can see is that the Leica lenses are sharper and they have smoother bokeh.

    Regarding the main criticism of the Leica lenses being “flat” I really can’t see that in the examples you have given. Certainly not as a consistent trend. In the first test with the 21mm the subject’s face looks brighter and stands out better in the Leica version than the Cooke.

    While it appears there is a slight difference in the contrast characteristics of the lenses. In some cases I put this down to the slight differences in the position of the subject relative to lighting.

    For example in the first test it’s quite apparent the camera height is not the same and the blacks have moved – which leads one to suspect maybe the lighting has also change a little? I’d also add it’s such a cluttered composition with the stands, that you can’t really judge it as a shot.

    Still it’s likely the individual lenses do respond subtly differently under various lighting contrasts. But the way to test this definitively would be to use static subjects so we are not distracted or misled by changes in the position of surfaces relative to the light source.

    But reality is – post colour grading will do far more to influence the look – such that subtle differences in lenses can become quite irrelevant.

    Budget might also play a role. But I certainly wouldn’t ever kid myself that any given set of lenses is going to make my work magically better.

    By the time the audience settles into a film they actually forget what it looks like, so long as it’s fairly consistent and the look is consistent and appropriate to the subject..

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