Over at my PVC channel I wrote an article wrapping up what I saw at Cine Gear this year. Check it out here.
In my Part I article, I discussed cost and feasability considerations in regards to these lenses, and offered a few tips on how to shop for a set of your own Zeiss Contax lenses. In this Part II article, I’ll discuss resolution charts and my notes on how the lenses perform at various apertures. I’ll also discuss about the handling and aesthetic reasons why I chose to build my lens set around Contax.
My forthcoming Part III article will delve a little more into the look of a Zeiss/Contax lens, the aesthetic it lends to the image. I will include a few examples of bokeh and flare characteristics at certain apertures. Onward…
Here is a ZIP file of full-quality PNG framegrabs of a DSC Labs resolution chart, that show the performance of these Zeiss/Contax lenses on a Canon C300 camera. For comparison, I have included resolution frames of the Canon 85/1.8 and 50/1.4.
Some observations on resolution performance:
* Wide open at f/2.8, the 21mm is nearly as sharp in the corners as it is in the center. It carries this peformance all the way up through f/5.6. It’s clear why this 21mm lens has a good reputation for sharpness…sharp wide lenses are hard to find. For comparison, look at how the 28mm corners are obviously more soft than the center of the chart, at f/2.8. On the 28mm this improves as you stop down the lens to f/4.0, and looks significantly better by the time you reach f/5.6. This is typical behavior for any lens…wide open tends to be least sharp, and the middle of the aperture range tends to offer the best performance. And the 28mm is no exception.
* The 50mm looks quite sharp edge to edge, even at f/2.0 and surprisingly quite good when wide open at f/1.4. At 2.0 it’s nearly as sharp as f/2.8, but you can see the contrast drop a bit (don’t forget that contrast contributes to how sharp an image appears). F/2.8 is more contrasty. f/1.4 seems to drop contrast a bit more across the entire image, but it nearly holds the same sharpness as f/2.0.
* Wide open at f/1.4, the 85mm shows sharpness falloff in the corners, and edge to edge has lowered contrast. It doesn’t appear to be as sharp wide open as the 50mm. Corner sharpness gradually improves as you would expect as you stop the lens down to f/5.6, but even at that stop the corners are not as crisp as the center of the image.
* The 135mm at f/5.6 appears almost as sharp at the edges as it does in the center. Corner sharpness fades a bit, but doesn’t really drop off as the aperture is opened, until around f/2.8. Not at all surprisingly, contrast at f/2.8 is lowered, vs f/5.6.
* I have just recently purchased the Zeiss/Contax 100mm f/2.0, as well as the 35mm f/1.4. I do not yet have those lenses converted, so I unfortunately don’t have data for this writeup. However, from what I hear, both should perform very well. In fact, the 100/2.0 may be one of the best optical performers in the Contax line. I’m very keen to put them both in to use as soon as possible.
Physical Performance & Considerations
I have modified my Contax lenses with the Duclos Cine-Mod, but I’ve shot with them bone stock and Cine-modded. So I’ll be talking about both versions in this section.
Contax lenses are really well-built, with all metal construction, and a weighty, solid feel. They have a textured exterior that is very easy to grip. The iris is fully manual, and has click-stops at every full aperture stop. The focus is also fully manual, and rotates roughly 180-degrees on most of the lenses. This long focus rotation is really helpful for focus pullers, because you can actually make marks that aren’t millimeters away from each other. On a Canon stills lens, for instance, the distance between close focus and infinity might only be an inch on the lens barrel. That makes focus marks very difficult to mark and hit…being off just a hair on the lens barrel might mean that you are a foot or more off in terms of depth of field. Even stock Contax lenses solve this issue by providing a nice long focus pull. It’s not as long of a focus pull as your average cine lens…one thing that you’ll often see on a cine lens is that the first few feet of focus movement are a very long distance apart on the lens barrel. Contax lenses don’t offer that much travel, but they are a good compromise for an affordable stills lens.
If you simply want to add a basic focus gear to a stock Contax lens, I recommend the Wide Open Camera lens gears…they are cheap, and the universal multi-size works very well on these lenses. Just make sure that you position the zip tie bump on the opposite side of the lens from where you’d normally mount your follow focus. There are other models out there that don’t have a bump and can be used 360-degrees…Cinevate is one manufacturer that offers a 360-degree usable gear. I chose to have my Contax lenses cine-modded to add a (semi) permanent lens gear. This is a solid hard plastic gear that is locked tightly to the lens and gives you a standard cine pitch (.08) gear for your follow focus. It also is nice to grab when running lightweight without a follow focus.
Most of these lenses have very limited or no forward travel when you are racking focus. The 21mm and 28mm have no travel. The 50mm has very limited forward travel. I’d recommend using the lenses with a mattebox that either clips/threads right onto the lens itself, or has a rubber donut or mount that can give a few millimeters in either direction. In my experience, the lenses that have some forward travel are not a concern with your average mattebox, so long as there is a little play in the mattebox. And of course it’s not a concern at all for clip-on matteboxes. If I just need ND filters and the occasional grad, something like the Formatt Hitech filter tray is a nice pairing.
Another thing to be aware of when building your camera, is the difference in length for the various lenses. You’ll want to make sure that there is enough rods in front to accomodate the longer lenses (and your mattebox, if you are using one), as well as make sure that your follow focus can be positioned to accomodate each lens. Something that I’ve found helpful with the short lenses like the 50mm and the 28mm, is a follow focus with a gear that can be placed on either side of the gearbox. If the base of your camera protrudes forward (like the C300), or your baseplate is forward of the lens mount, you might need to position the follow focus gear on the rear side of the gearbox, so that it can reach over that protrusion to the lens gear. One follow focus that I shot with recently was the Genus Bravo system, and it allows you to swap the gear to either side of the gearbox in seconds, and without tools. It’s a lovely low-profile follow focus option for lenses like these.
Declicking the aperture is highly recommended for cine purposes…being able to smoothly ramp up and down the scale is hugely useful when setting exposure. Also, the ability to set half stops and smaller increments simplifies things. On a stock Contax lens, you can carefully set the aperture between two stops to get a half-stop, but it’s not going to stay there if you bump it. For personal shoots, it’s an option. I wouldn’t recommend depending on that for a client shoot. One evening I was feeling adventurous, and opened up my 50mm to took out the ball-bearing to de-click it. This made the iris click-less, but the aperture was loose and had no friction at all. I wouldn’t recommend doing the de-click yourself, unless you know how to add the right kind of lens grease to provide that “stiction” feel. I had Duclos de-click my lenses, and love the feel of the iris now. It’s smooth, it has friction, and I have unlimited control over the exposure range now. Highly recommend you do the de-click.
With the stock Contax mount, you can use a simple adapter to get them onto your camera system. Cameras like the FS100, FS700, and NEX-5/7 have good options…there are a number of Contax-to-NEX mount adapters that mount to the Sony e-mount, and then you simply put the Contax lenses on that. Easy. For Canon DSLRs, the C300, or RED Canon mount, you can put adapter rings on the lenses, if you aren’t interested in modding them like I did for the Canon mount. The adapter rings that I’ve used mount onto the Contax mount, and then the lens (with attached adapter) can be used directly on a Canon mount camera. This is fine for small, low key shoots where you aren’t using a follow focus. But I’d strongly recommend against using them on a camera setup where you’ll be using a follow focus…there is a risk that when you torque the lens, it could pop off the clip, or rotate. This is an annoyance, and potentially risky for the lens. It’s not good for a professional application, in my opinion. So, after shooting with the stock lenses and adapters for a short while, I decided that I really wanted a permanent Canon mount on the lenses. Leitax offers a mount replacement, which I’m told can be installed by a careful user. I chose to have my Leitax mount swaps done by Duclos while they were also getting cine-modded. Now that they have a permanent Canon mount, they go directly onto any mechanical Canon mount, no fuss and no adapters.
As part of my cine-mod, I had common front elements put on my lenses. So they all now have a standard 80mm exterior (which goes directly into many matteboxes), and 77mm interior filter threads (which is a very common thread size). This makes it very easy to change lenses when shooting with a mattebox, and avoids using step rings. If you want to do a DIY version of this, you can buy the appropriate step rings for each lens and build them up to the size you want. There is also a company called Cordvision that makes common step ring kits for Contax lenses, these are relatively cheap and a good way to accomplish this if you aren’t interested in doing the Duclos Cine-mod. In any case, I would recommend a common front element, it greatly simplifies things when shooting in the field. Simple is better…it means that you don’t have to reconfigure your rig every time you change a lens.
Filter Thread Table
The size of the front element/filter threads of Contax lenses vary based on the lens. Here’s a list of filter thread sizes that fit these prime lenses. Some Contax lenses are not listed because I don’t have that info or I’m not certain of the filter spec:
18/4.0 – 67mm
21/2.8 – 82mm
25/2.8 – 55mm
28/2.0 – 55mm
28/2.8 – 55mm
35/1.4 – 67mm
35/2.8 – 55mm
45/2.8 – 55mm
50/1.4 – 55mm
50/1.7 – 55mm
85/1.4 – 67mm
85/2.8 – 55mm
100/2.0 – 67mm
100/2.8 – 67mm
135/2.8 – 55mm
135/2.0 – 72mm
180/2.8 – 72mm
300/4.0 – 82mm
Next up, in Part III of this review I’ll discuss the flare characteristics and image aesthetic of these lenses. Stay tuned.
There are a number of tools that I bring in my gear kit for almost every shoot. One of these is the Formatt Hitech Modular Holder. This is a screw-on filter tray for 4×4 filters, and I use it most often with Formatt’s lightweight resin filters.
This is a great combo for lightweight cameras that lack built-in Neutral Density filters…cameras like DSLRs and the Sony FS100 come to mind. It allows me to clip on a filter tray and resin ND that weigh just a few ounces. And with several stages in the tray, I can stack NDs, or add grad filters to hold a bright skyline. I like the resin filters, as they weigh less than glass filters, as well as being thinner and less fragile when dropped. In my opinion, Formatt offers the perfect filter solution for shooters on the go. Here’s a Gear in 60 Seconds video that shows the system…watch the video and check out pictures below.
A few notes that I didn’t cover in the short video above…
* I show it with a 77mm adapter; with the right ring it will work with any lens front thread from 49-100mm.
* The filter tray is available in an aluminum version (I’d probably still choose the plastic model…very sturdy).
* This tray can work with 4×4 glass filters as well as the lightweight resin variety I show it with.
* The tray can also accept 4×5.65 and 4×6 filters in their vertical orientation.
* Stage extensions can be added with longer screws from Formatt.
Below are a few pictures I’ve taken in the field of the system in use on various cameras. One of my favorite documentary shooting setups is this Formatt tray on the end of a Canon 24-105mm lens mounted on a DSLR. With an LCD loupe, you can easily run-n-gun both photos and short video clips, without the need for even a monopod…the loupe provides stability, and the IS lens soaks up any remaining small vibrations. You can see this setup in the middle image on the first row below. Another quick note…on the picture below of the C300, it’s being used with an ND grad for a sunset shot (the C300 has built-in NDs).
I have flown and traveled with it on every domestic and international work trip taken since then. I take it on local overnight trips. I use it to carry a small stills kit for photo assignment day trips. It’s been everywhere with me since last summer…I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve traveled with this bag. And I love it.
15″ Macbook Pro, power cable
(2) USB bus-powered hard drives
CF/SD card reader
Canon 5D Mark III
(4) Canon batteries, charger
Media wallet, (4) CF cards, (4) SD cards
Contax 21mm, 135mm lenses
Canon 50mm, 85mm, 24-105mm lenses
Rode Stereo VideoMic
Formatt Hi-Tech filter tray, (3) resin filters
Spare quick-release plate, spare screws
Misc audio cables
Chapstick, ibuprofen, eye drops
(2) LED Flashlights
(6) AA batteries
Pen, Sharpie, stylus
External iPhone battery
Tenba rain cover
The backpack is not overloaded, and fits fully and comfortably under the seat in front of me. This fact is critical…it means that it qualifies as a “personal item” and doesn’t count towards my carryon allowance. I have another carryon in the overhead compartment, containing a second camera package and accessories. This is how I flew internationally today, and was able to carry on two complete camera packages. Additionally, there are still a few inches of cubic space in the top compartment of the backpack, as well as a free side elastic pocket. I could easily carry an additional DSLR body or zoom lens.
Is this the perfect backpack? I can’t say if it’s perfect for you…but right now, it suits me. Have I mentioned that I love this thing?
* Over at PVC, Scott Simmons has a list for editors: Christmas Gift Ideas for the Editor – 2012 Edition. Great stuff, and a lot of variety. Good for editors and filmmakers of all kinds.
* The Black and Blue has a list of 20 last-minute ideas: 20 Last Minute Gifts for Filmmakers for Under $20 It’s a nice roundup with some ideas you may not have considered. Filmmaking books are the gift that keep on giving!
* And, of course, we here at FreshDV recommend Della Luce filmmaker tees! Here’s a last-minute shopping coupon, good this week only: 15% off orders placed December 12-18th with promo code “HELPME”
Happy shopping, and enjoy your holiday break!
Last April at NAB, we got a look at the Induro Hi-Hat (technically called the Induro LFB100S DR), and I was really intrigued. It’s more like a tripod/hi-hat combo, and that looked really useful to me. A couple months ago, Induro sent me a unit to play with, and I’ve been using it heavily ever since. I absolutely love it. Here’s a short Gear in 60 Seconds video that will give you a good overview of the Induro Hi-hat system.
Because the Induro LFB100S is not just a high-hat, I am finding it very useful. It’s just low enough to get that on-the-ground level shot, but can extend up to almost baby-sticks level. It’s incredibly strong, rated to 220lb payload, and surprisingly light at just 4.6 lbs. It feels very well-built, and is modular…with a 100mm bowl and a 3/8″ flat-head adapter, you can use it with pretty much any tripod head you already own. Or if the shot is a lock-off, simply add a tiny plate and put the camera right onto the flat-mount. It travels with me often, because I can stuff it into a carryon. I’ve used it with DSLRs and RED cameras, for timelapse and live-action, you name it. If it’s not already clear to you by now, let me state it more clearly; I really like this thing.
The bowl is a standard size, intended for standard 100mm tripod heads. There is a leveling bubble on the tripod, and another bubble level on the half-ball flat-mount adapter that goes into the 100mm bowl. The flat-mount adapter has a standard 3/8″ screw for tripod heads. The legs of the Induro are lightweight aluminum, and the twist-lock for raising and lowering them is solid and quick. It will adjust in height from 3.9 inches off the deck to 11.4 inches high. Everything feels really nice, fit and finish is lovely. The feet of the Induro articulate to stay level on the ground as you raise and lower it. They are rubbery, and have holes for tie-downs or to simply screw it down to a platform if you needed a little more security on a driving shot, for instance.
The Induro Hi-hat retails at most photo/video stores for around $280 US. At that price, I think it’s an excellent value, and it’s a welcome addition to my toolkit.
I had the opportunity to work with DP Brian Weed during our Cine Gear 2012 coverage. Brian operated the FS100 that we shot all our interviews with, and he did a great job. Recently, Brian shared some excellent CP picture profiles for the Canon C300. He’s taken the stock Canon CINE, LOG, and EOS STD picture settings, and tweaked them to better retain color.
The result are image settings for the C300 that accomplish much of what the stock picture profiles do (very good things like low contrast and good highlight retention in the case of the CINE and LOG profiles), but with an improved color palette that requires less massaging in the color grading process. Brian has dubbed these TRUvid2, TRUcine, and TRUlog. He posted a couple examples in a gallery here, and he’s given us permission to host an archive of the three profiles in a zip archive here. If you wish to give them a try, here’s how you load them onto a C300:
* Download and extract the .CPF files.
* Copy to a SD card that has been freshly formatted in the C300. CPF files go into the C_PICT folder, which is under the master private folder. (You’ll see this directory structure after you format the SD card in the C300 and plug it into your computer…if you don’t see it, you can manually create the folder structure).
* Insert the SD card into the camera, and either use the CP’s directly from the SD card, or copy them onto your camera under the OTHERS menu.
I recently shot a spot with director Jesse Rosten on location in Mexico. It was a doco-style commercial shot on the C300, and after some testing we decided on using Brian’s TRUlog CP for everything. It worked great. I really like the look of it, and I’ll likely use that profile again in the future. After we wrapped the shoot, I took a few minutes to shoot some quick & dirty comparison frames with a color chart, so you can quickly see how the different settings affect the image on the C300. I’m embedding a short video clip of those frames below. Since this is hosted on Vimeo and has been compressed, please consider it only a rough comparison of how the colors differ for each setting. You can also download the original source files (531MB), if you wish to view them at original quality and push and pull on them a bit in your grading tool of choice.
These DSC Labs Chroma Du Monde 28 color chart frames were all shot on the same lens (a Contax 50/1.4) at the C300′s baseline 850 ISO setting and 180-degree shutter. The chart was lit with a daylight-balanced fluorescent soft light, the camera was set to the Daylight white balance preset, and the light level on the chart remained constant throughout the test. The stop on the lens varied from f/4 to a f/5.6-f/8 split, as each color profile significantly affects how the camera responds to light. I exposed “to the right” in all cases, pushing the highlights up to their max level, just below clipping on a 100% zebra. This is not necessarily the only way to test these profiles, but works reasonably well for my purposes assuming a somewhat uncontrolled shooting environment. For more reading, Adam Wilt has some standard gamma comparisons done a little differently here. I have also included quick-n-dirty snapshots of the C300′s waveform display for each chart frame, to show roughly where each CP sits on the scale. The original source files linked above are XF files straight off the C300 CF card. The Vimeo video was output by Compressor, and originated from ProRes 422 files created via FCP7 Log & Transfer of the original source files.
Over the last year or so, I’ve been building a set of lenses for my work as a DoP. For a number of reasons, I arrived on the classic Zeiss/Contax still lenses as my prime set of choice. I rent them out here (at quite a reasonable rate), and use them often for my film & video production work in Northwest Arkansas. A good example would be this piece for CIY, shot on the Sony FS100 with my Contax primes.
I want to spend a few minutes exploring why I chose these particular type of lenses, all the considerations that went into it. Obviously cost is a major factor in any gear decision, but performance certainly has to be a part of that discussion. This will be a short series of blog posts, and in this Part I article, I’ll talk about cost and feasability considerations, and will offer some tips on how to shop for a set of your own Zeiss Contax lenses, if you are so inclined. In my Part II article we’ll discuss resolution charts and my notes on how they perform at given apertures. I’ll also talk about the handling and aesthetic reasons why I chose to build my lens set around Contax. Part III will be a discussion on the look of the lens, the aesthetic it lends to the image, including practical examples of bokeh and flare characteristics at common apertures. So read on, and enjoy…
For the last few years, my client projects and budgets tend to call for DSLRs like the Canon 7D, the 5D Mark II (and now 5D Mark III), or small cameras like the FS100 (and now FS700). Sometimes it’s uncontrolled docu-style coverage requiring a zoom lens, but oftentimes these shoots are cine-style in the sense that things are produced and scripted, and we have crew and time to move carefully and with intent. And of course I’m always shooting talking heads and sit-down interview type footage to provide a narrative backbone for promos and such. For docu-style shoots, we generally work with Canon L-Series zoom lenses on the DSLRs, lenses like the f/2.8 16-35mm, the f/2.8 24-70mm, f/2.8 70-200mm IS, or the f/4 24-105 IS (a great walk-around lens). Budget and the need for portability generally determines if we get to use any cine zooms like the Angenieux DP Rouge series (which can be Canon-mounted, or used on the Sony e-mount with adapters). Rarely do we use PL-mount zooms on these small cameras, due to weight and rental cost. We’ve also rented Zeiss ZF2′s, and the Zeiss CP.2s for projects that required cine-housed primes at an affordable budget.
Somewhere along this evolution of my career as a cinematographer, I saw a real need to own a basic set of prime lenses that offered the following criteria:
Requirement #1. Relatively affordable with good optics.
Generally speaking, the projects that would use these lenses are tight budgets. The lenses would need to be affordable to own, so that I can rent them affordably (and therefore be able to pay them off in a reasonable time period). They needed to be at least on par with the performance of Canon still lenses, as that quality-level of optics was was acceptable for most of my projects.
Requirement #2. Common lens mount
I wanted to invest in a set of lenses that would be broadly useful across a wide range of camera systems. For larger cameras, PL mount would be that choice. In this smaller camera world of DSLRs and their large-sensor camcorder siblings, it’s been a bit wild and wooly for a few years. You’ve got Micro 4/3, Nikon, Canon, and Sony e-mount to name a few. I needed lenses in a mount that would be able to serve a variety of camera systems; it turns out that the Canon mount is a pretty good universal choice. You can use Canon-mount lenses directly on Canon DSLRs, RED Epic and Scarlet (with RED’s Canon mount), and the Canon C300. And with adapters you can use Canon-mount lenses on Sony e-mount and Micro 4/3 mount cameras. That’s a pretty broad range of camera systems, so I settled on Canon mount being a requirement for my lens set.
Requirement #3. Fully manual, solid metal construction.
Canon has some great low-cost primes with solid optics, but their construction and mechanics is simply not built for cinema use. You can put lens gears on them, you can add common fronts, etc, but in the end you’re always still dealing with a very short focus throw and (in many cases) a plastic lens body. It’s usable, but not ideal. In addition to good optics, I wanted a set of lenses with a long focus throw, and metal construction. Making matters worse, until recently, there were not many options for using Canon electronic lenses on the FS100 Sony e-mount. Now that Metabones is beginning to ship in quantity, we do have a viable option for that. I also was thinking forward, knowing that a set of fully-manual lenses offers less potential problems on set with a variety of camera systems. Manual Just Works. There is value in that, and particularly when you’re a DP like me who doesn’t know what camera he’ll be shooting on next week. These things change on a dime these days based on the project and current cameras, and if I was going to invest in glass, I wanted something that would not be unusable in a few years. Manual adapters can be found for almost every mount system, electronic adapters are more expensive and tend to be specialized for a given camera system. Manual was a must.
Water water everywhere, but not a drop to drink:
So whither do I go from here? There are some great old Nikon lenses that have a decent focus throw, but they all focus backwards from standard cine focus rotation. That can be really confusing as an operator or for your AC, and particularly when you’re hopping between different types of lenses. For that reason alone, Nikon wasn’t a great choice for me. That means that I couldn’t go for the relatively affordable Zeiss ZF2 lenses, which are fully manual Nikon mount lenses with respected optics, a long focus throw, and solid metal construction. Canon has some nice old still lenses as well, with a decent amount of focus throw, and these focus the proper direction. So that was an option. A better option would be the Zeiss ZE lenses (which are the Canon-mount versions of the ZF series), they have a long focus throw, metal construction, and are relatively affordable. However, they are not fully manual…the aperture is controlled electronically, which is a major bummer. An even better option would be the Zeiss CP.2 lenses…with interchangeable mounts and a PL option, these are gorgeous lenses and the mount swap option makes them future-proof. They are also nearly $20,000 for a complete set. Leica R is another option…a line of classic stills lenses with highly-respected optics and performance. Leica’s aren’t always easy to find in good condition, however, and the good ones tend to be rather pricey. Another option? Contax C/Y.
Why Contax is the best-kept secret in affordable lenses:
I started researching Zeiss/Contax lenses a few years ago. These are older classic still lenses that Carl Zeiss built with T* (T-Star) anti-reflective coatings and a Contax mount. They are essentially earlier versions of the Zeiss ZF, ZE, and CP.2 lenses. That is not to say they are the same lens, but the optics share a lot of similarities. Zeiss/Contax are fully manual lenses, both iris and focus, and the focus pull is quite long for a still lens…around 180-degrees on some of the lenses. Best of all, the Contax mount is short enough that they can be adapted to just about every other camera mount. For instance, you can purchase a $30 adapter ring from Fotodiox that clicks onto the lens mount, and allows you to use it directly on a Canon mount. This is a usable solution, but it’s not 100% solid, and occasionally these cheap little adapter rings don’t mount properly. I also worried that this would affect the backfocus and sharpness of the lens as the adapters wear over time. But it is certainly a viable budget option. The best solution…a company called Leitax sells a replacement mount kit for Contax lenses, which allows you to adapt them directly to a permanent Canon mount. This was my answer.
Contax lens optics are well-respected, and there are a number of lenses in the Contax line that are virtually unmatched in terms of sharpness performance (21/2.8 is legendary, as is the 35/1.4, and the 100/2.0). Best of all, if you’re careful with your shopping, you can build a complete set of stock Zeiss Contax lenses for around $5,000. This was right at the price point that I could justify, and with that, I decided that Contax lenses were the right choice for me.
Where to buy:
Contax lenses are not made any more, so the used market is your only option. The first place I’d recommend looking is KEH. They sell used cameras and lenses, and they have an EXTENSIVE inventory. At any given time, you can find a pretty good selection of Contax lenses in the KEH catalog. The best part about KEH is that lenses are rated on condition…the rating scale is specific, accurate, and pricing is adjusted for the condition of the lenses. So if you’re ok with an optically good, but cosmetically beat up lenses, you can pick them up cheaper. KEH tends to carry the more common Contax lenses…the 28/2.8, 50/1.4, 85/1.4, and 135/2.8 are all pretty common. Occasionally you can also find the 25/2.8, and the 100/2.0 and 100/2.8 Makro. I purchased two of my lenses at KEH, the 28mm and the 85mm. I also picked up a Contax 2x Mutar extender at KEH.
Another good place to look for quality Contax lenses is the B&H Used Dept. They don’t carry a very big selection of Contax lenses, but if you watch the Contax used catalog for a few weeks, you can generally see them come through. B&H also has a solid rating system that lets you know what you’re getting. I purchased my 50/1.4 and my 135/2.8 from B&H at a very fair price.
The third place I’ve found Contax lenses was on eBay. Let me be clear, I think that eBay absolutely sucks these days, and their feedback and protection policies are skewed against sellers badly. However, if you are careful about who you purchase from, and use safe forms of payment, it’s still a viable option. I purchased two lenses from eBay, the amazingly sharp and quite rare 21/2.8, and the 100/2.8 Makro. The 21mm was the most expensive lens in the set, and it was somewhat difficult to find at a good price. I paid a little more than $2,100 for my 21mm, that was the best deal I could find after looking for weeks. I often see that lens going for upwards of $2600.
Please note that I am NOT talking about “Contax G” lenses. You don’t want those, you want “regular” Contax lenses. The lenses I’m talking about are black in color, not silver like the G-series.
I purchased my Contax lenses over the course of about six weeks, shopping the deals and doing my best to keep the cost down. I ended up with a set that consisted of the 21/2.8, 28/2.8, 50/1.4, 85/1.4, 100/2.8 macro, 135/2.8, and the 2x Mutar extender. I picked up Fotodiox Canon adapters for each of the lenses, and mounted on some WOC zip-tie lens gears. Boom, budget lens set complete. Total cost with el-cheapo Fotodiox Contax-to-Canon mount adapters, zip-tie lens gears, and a Pelican 1510 hard case was around $5,500. You could probably build a similar set slightly cheaper if you purchased cosmetically beat up lenses, or just happened to find better deals. And of course, if time is a more important consideration to you, I’m sure that shooters (like myself) are also willing to part with full Contax lens sets of lenses at a premium price point.
Duclos Cine-Mod and Leitax Canon Mounts:
If you’re so inclined, Duclos Lenses offers an affordable Cine-mod for Contax that de-clicks the iris, adds common 80mm fronts and caps, and mounts a seamless industry standard focus gear on the lens. The aperture is smooth and dampened, and the focus gear is a significant upgrade from DIY lens gears. For those (like myself) who are a little afraid to crack open their glass, Duclos can install those Leitax Canon mounts for you. They’ll also cine-mod the Leica R lenses I mentioned above, as well as ZF.2 lenses. I knew that I would want to cine-mod my Contax set. There are other shops that can do similar lens service, but in the end I chose Duclos based on recommendations from friends.
Leitax is a small company that makes obscure adapter mounts for a wide variety of lenses. One of those offered is Canon mounts for the Contax line of lenses. The product is a high-quality machined mount that completely replaces your stock Contax mount. The mount preserves proper lens backfocus and is a permanent, 100% solid way to make your Contax lenses work directly on Canon mounts.
With a little care, you can install them yourself. I chose to have them installed professionally by Duclos, at the same time that they were getting Cine-modded. Duclos doesn’t stock the Leitax mounts, because there are three different types of mount, to accomodate the differences in Contax lenses. You’ll need to read the Leitax instructions that identify the type of lenses you have, and then order the appropriate mount for each. They take about 10-12 days to ship overseas, so plan accordingly.
Another consideration is that not all Contax lenses can be modded with Leitax mounts. For instance, the 100mm f/2.8 Makro cannot take a Leitax mount. I learned this after the fact, and have since sold that lens. I believe the 100mm f/2.0 (non-macro) can be Leitaxed. I also believe that some variations of the 85mm and 50mm lenses are also not Leitax-compatible, but I know that my f/1.4 models are are fine. Again, you’ll want to consult the Leitax website for lens compatibility notes. One of the Leitax-compatible lenses that’s on my list to buy is the legendary 35mm f/1.4, it is incredibly sharp, and that’s a nice medium focal length I’d like to have in a fast lens. That one commonly goes for upwards of $2,000.
My Contax lens set is complete at this point. It consists of the 21mm f/2.8, 28mm f/2.8, 50mm f/1.4, 85mm f/1.4, and the 135mm f/2.8. Every lens has a permanent Canon mount, de-clicked aperture ring, cine lens gear, and common 80mm front (with a 77mm internal filter thread). They’ll go right onto any Canon-mount or EOS camera system, and the set includes a solid MTF Equipment Canon-to-Sony NEX adapter for use on the FS100/FS700. I’m very happy with the set, my only additions in the future may include the 35/1.5, the 60/Makro, and perhaps the 180/2.8 or the 300/4.0.
After using my Zeiss Contax lenses for quite a while on a wide variety of shoots, I’ve been really pleased with them. They are not perfect, but for the price point and features, they’re an amazing value in my opinion. They’re quite sharp, which I’ll show with resolution charts in Part II, and they appear to have a nice slightly lowered-contrast look to them that “feels” nice, arguably slightly more organic than the look of some modern Canon glass. This low-contrast look is enhanced beautifully when they flare from the sun or back-light, which I’ll show with some real-world examples in Part III of this series.
Contax C/Y and Leica R were two of the only lens options that met my personal criteria for a glass investment, and I’m delighted that I was able to build a fully cinemized set of Contax lenses for around $6800 total investment. I can use these lenses on a wide variety of camera systems, and most importantly, I can AFFORD to own them. If you’re looking for a set of lenses and have similar requirements, I encourage you to look into these two lens options. Perhaps they’ll be right for you as well. Happy shopping!
Update: Part II posted here.
The following is a guest post by filmmaker Ryan E. Hoffman.
“Never work with animals or children,” is a phrase that’s somewhat of a cliché in the film world. On my upcoming pilot, we have to do both. Although animals are always tricky, working with kids doesn’t have to be. When I’m not making content, I coach little league baseball. It’s been a great day job for the past ten years, but I never thought I’d be able to apply its lessons to my career in film. This past week, we had to do an action sequence with a six year old boy where he had to run down the hall with a toy shotgun, post up on the wall, then run into the kitchen and shoot me in the neck. Here are five tips that I’ve put together from that experience and my decade plus of practice teaching kids baseball technique.
1. Work around their schedule
We have load-ins, lighting set ups, and the camera crew needs to set up their equipment. Art department sometimes has to build the set on sight, and often times it can be six hours on set before we’re ready to shoot. Problem is, kids don’t know anything about what it takes to make movies, how much work it is, or why it takes so long in between setting up shots. If you have to work with a kid on your set, give them a call time that places their arrival as close to rolling the camera on the first shot as you possibly can. You have their primo attention for two hours. It’s worth it to be completely set up, waiting for 15 minutes for them to arrive, than have them waiting for an hour or two while you set up equipment. Adults understand the concept of patience. Kids do not, or at least, not as well, and you’re more likely to get what you need quicker if you push them through quickly from one department to the next, right up until filming.
2. Monkey See Monkey Do
At their age, kids learn best by watching you do it and imitating you. In baseball, we exaggerate the proper throwing motion, so that they imitate and repeat. Same thing in film. If you want them to do something, it’s your responsibility to step out from behind the camera, and take them through it slowly and clearly. Act it out for them, and they’ll get it. Trying to explain the motion, or emotion is pointless and will only frustrate you.
3. One Voice
If you’re not up to the task of showing what you want done, that’s fine. Pick someone on your staff (your AD, their parents or a special kid handler) that you trust and let them do it. But don’t change your mind and start telling the actor what to do. Tell your handler, and let them act it out for the kid.
If it is you, make sure you let everybody know that you are the only person whose voice is going to the kid. Their attention span cannot handle four or five voices telling them what to do. They’ll forget half of what is said, and will be frustrated about not doing it right. One voice to the child.
4. The Compliment Sandwich
This one is straight from baseball and I’ve found it works, not only with kids, but anyone with whom you find yourself working. When giving direction, see if you can isolate parts of things they did correctly, what you want improved, and then encouragement going forward. For example, “Hey, I really liked how you made the mean face before you turned the corner. This time, make the mean face and show the ChemCorp logo so the camera can see it. I know you can do it. You’re doing awesome.” And so forth.
5. Upbeat and Excited
An addendum to number four; kids will respond to your energy. Everything is great. They’re doing great, even if they’re not. This one seems self-explanatory, but I know how stressful film sets can be. Maintaining a calm, positive demeanor is one of the most important things you can do in order to keep their attention on the task at hand. Remember, you have a shot to do, and having a great, friendly attitude is what’s going to get them to give it to you.
Eliminate, “One more time” from your vocabulary. After the third “One more time,” kids stop believing it, and start to think it’s their fault you didn’t get the shot (when it may have been something completely unrelated i.e. boom in the frame, shot not in focus, etc.) and will begin to get discouraged. Instead, try “That was great! Let’s do it again!” Said with the upmost enthusiasm.
Having kids on set can make a big difference in terms of delivering comedic potential. There is something riotously funny about having actual young kids say mean things, or doing something somewhat inappropriate. Perhaps it’s the implicit knowledge that an adult is secretly pulling their strings behind the camera, or a warmness of their innocence that makes their social breach jarring and endearing. My hope is that if you find yourself being considered for, or working on, a job with kids, you’ll be able to communicate effectively, and one or two of these tips help you with your shoot.
Ryan E. Hoffman is a New York City native filmmaker. He has appeared on HBO, NBC, ESPN, and in various independent films as a recurring guest star and character actor. His first film, Venice Love Story, was distributed in Urban Outfitters around the country as part of their Potty Mouth Film Festival in a Box. He is the co-founder of Temple Horses, featured on the front page of Funny or Die. Ryan is a graduate of NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts. www.templehorses.com
Watch our coverage of Cine Gear Expo LA here: www.freshdv.com/cinegear
In the technological Xanadu we storytellers know as the present day it is easy for outsiders, and some insiders, to forget the person telling the story and somehow think that the camera being used impacts the quality of the story being told. I can’t tell you how many times someone has watched something I’ve shot or directed, and really only had one pressing question at the end. Did they want to know who shot it? No. Did they want to know more about the creative inspiration and vision of the piece? No.
They wanted to know what camera we used.
If you think what camera you shoot on is the answer to great storytelling, then I challenge you with this… Go make a big pile of money doing whatever you want; like a brilliant new app or an alternative energy source. Once you have the cash, you can buy the very best camera. Then you’ll be able to tell the best story, right?
Cameras don’t tell stories, people do. Since we can all agree this is the case, there is really only one thing you need to tell great stories… YOU. However, none of us are born knowing anything about the tools of the trade. In an effort to improve the one tool all storytellers have in common, their mind, a must-have addition to their library is Joseph V. Mascelli’s The Five C’s of Cinematography. I picked this book up a few years ago, and I have learned more from it than any other resource on the subject. I’ve been to courses, classes, looked to chat rooms online, and experimented by trial and error; but none of those things have come close to the pure undistilled story driven explanation of cinematography found in Mascelli’s classic book. In his own words from the introduction:
“On many occasions during the years devoted to preparation and writing of this book, I have felt that defining, explaining, clarifying and graphically illustrating motion picture filming techniques in an easy-to-understand way – is impossible – but not quite. Most professionals instinctively know the right way to film the subject – but seem unable to explain just how they do it.”
Almost 50 years after the publishing of these words, I want to reassure Joseph V. Mascelli that he succeeded in explaining cinematography in an easy-to-understand way. He did this by explaining everything about cinematography in five categories that have one common thread; cinematography functions at its peak performance when it serves the story.
So what are the Five C’s? They are Camera Angles, Continuity, Cutting, Close-ups, and Composition. I want to share with you some of my favorite quotes from each one of the Five C’s. Consider this article the CliffsNotes version of the book; and, just like your English teacher, I strongly encourage you to read The Five C’s of Cinematography in it’s entirety in addition to this summary.
1. Camera Angles
“Camera placement is determined by narrative significance.”This is very important. Why are you looking at what you are looking at? Is it because it looks good, or because we need to see it to move the story along? It should always be to move the story along and never solely because it looks good.
“Good continuity encourages the viewer to become absorbed in the story-telling, without bothersome distractions. The prime purpose of a motion picture, whether theatrical fiction feature or documentary fact film, is to capture and hold audience attention – from opening shot to final fade-out.” This entire chapter breaks down the nuts and bolts of photographing action in such a way that it makes sense on screen. I haven’t come across a better explanation of “the line” (action axis/maintaining dynamic and static screen direction) in any other book.
“Always move players into and out of close-ups to allow cutting on action.” Cut on the action. This simple axiom of editing works every time. “It is possible to cut away to anything happening anywhere at any time.” Remember this. You are in the driver’s seat. You are the one putting one shot after the other. What do you want the specific series of sights and sounds you’re placing in order to mean? “Each shot should make a point. All scenes should be linked together so that their combined effect, rather than their individual contents, produces the desired audience reactions.”
Close-ups should be made to count. The stronger the motive for using a close-up, the more the close-up can help make the story-telling truly effective! The consistent emphasis throughout the five sections of the book is this; every shot must serve the story.
“Good composition is arrangement of pictorial elements to form a unified harmonious whole.” Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. However, when you are telling stories for an audience you are not the beholder, they are. The most important set of eyes belong to the audience. Make sure you are making images that look good to your audience, and above all else, serve the story.
6. The Sixth C
In closing, there is a sixth C of Cinematography I would like to mention: Compliment. When you are in the process of shooting or have just finished watching a story you think looked great, make sure you tell the person or group of people who created it. After all, none of us are telling stories just for ourselves. As you continue to strive to be the best you can be take the time to compliment others on their own successes along the way.
Oscar Wilde said it best, “Anybody can sympathize with the sufferings of a friend, but it requires a very fine nature to sympathize with a friend’s success”. The sixth C of Cinematography may just be the most important. Make sure you compliment others whenever you can. After all, we’re all creating for others, and we want to know if we succeeded in communicating our story.
Remember that time when you were filming, and some moron forgot to bring the important thing that the other important thing won’t work properly without? Me too. Sometimes I’m that moron. Sometimes it’s not your mistake, but you’ve got to solve the issue. Here’s a few stories of how we’ve worked around these challenges on-set.
In pre-production, everything is all rosy and beautiful. Every piece of gear works perfectly, cables function flawlessly, and batteries last for hours. “Yeah, that shot setup is no problem, I could build that rig in my sleep.” Once you arrive on set, reality bites. Tripod screws and plates vanish into the ether. Cables commit harakiri. You quickly burn through your camera and accessory batteries, only to find that someone forgot to charge the spares. You forgot to bring an essential screwdriver, or TSA confiscated it before your flight last night. Shit happens. And when it does, and you’re burning through your shoot day, you have to suck it up and find a way to get the shot.
#1 – It’s a Bird, it’s a Plane, it’s Zuperman!
On this project, I was brought in to shoot Steadicam for a live stage event. The client had also hired a crane operator to get some over-crowd shots. Due to a miscommunication between the crane op and whoever was providing the camera package, the crane operator didn’t have the appropriate remote zoom/focus controller for the EX3 camera. He did have a spare external zoom motor and gear, but it had the wrong size rod to mount to his baseplate. He could make sweeping crane moves with the lens at pre-set focus, but had no way to pull off complex compound moves with the zoom motor, or even change focal lengths without docking the crane and making a manual adjustment. This wasn’t really my issue, but during a break at the event, I started digging through my gear bags to try to find a way to help this dude out. After a little trial and error, here’s what we came up with.
It’s ugly as hell, but it worked. Here’s what you’re looking at; I screwed a Zacuto Gorilla Plate underneath the back of his camera baseplate, and then hung a Zamerican arm from the 15mm port in the plate. On the other end of the Zamerican arm is a Zaffer, which is basically just a Bogen Manfrotto Superclamp with a 15mm Zicromount attached to it. The Zaffer is clamped around the zoom motor arm, holding the zoom gear in place below the lens. We then held everything tight to the lens using a zip tie. Like I said, it looks terrible, but it allowed him to change focal lengths and limp throughout the rest of the shoot. There’s a case for carrying spare arms and grip bits.
#2 – The Case of the Missing KinoFlo Parts
We had a sit-down interview shoot scheduled with a prominent Congressman in his Washington, DC office, and about 30-45 minutes of setup time scheduled before he was to arrive. I called ahead to the rental house a week in advance, reserving two daylight balanced KinoFlo fixtures, stands, stingers, and two tripods. I would fly with the camera package (2x DSLRs), and also my Road Rags diffusion and modifiers kit. We flew in the night prior to the shoot, picked up our rental items first thing in the morning, and went straight to the Congressman’s office. As our soundie was setting up his boom and audio gear, I built cameras and started to light the set. Our producer paced around nervously. This was a crucial interview piece we needed for a larger project, and it was a sensitive subject. We needed to be on-point.
As I grabbed a Kino Flo fixture to attach it to the c-stand, I realized in a flash of horror that we had an issue. The Kino didn’t have any parts that would attach to my standard C-stands. Normally you’d have some way to attach the Kino to a stand, either with what’s called a lollipop (which you then secure in a gobo/grip head), or they have a lollipop with standard receiver for a baby head. These Kinos just had the curved part that grip the lollipop, nothing that would interface with our stands. I had overlooked this issue when I quickly checked the kit at the rental house. Meanwhile my producer is still pacing, and the secretary sticks her head in to let us know that the Congressman is on his way. So we had to find a way to get the Kinos on the stands. Here’s a few pics that show how we rigged the fixtures directly to the c-stands.
As you can see, I was able to clamp the fixtures directly to one of the stand stages. It wasn’t super-secure, but it held. This kept me from placing the lights exactly how I would have preferred, but at least now we had lights. I was limited in how I could place my key light, but the Road Rags and Mini Grip Kit allowed me to angle my diffusion and shape & flag the key light nicely. The end result (frame grab above) turned out well, and we nailed the interview content we needed.
#3 – Inversion Therapy
A client hired me to shoot a couple VFX plates. It was a very straightforward shoot…they needed two shots of a 1980′s era cabinet-style television. The kind that sits on the floor. They needed one long dolly push shot in towards the screen, and one lateral slide parallel to the screen. There were of course lots of little details with the location and set-dressing, but that was the crux of this project. My client wanted to use their dolly for the shots, and I would be providing the camera package, lenses and accessories. The camera package was a Sony FS100 with my Zeiss Contax prime lens set. They provided an Indie Dolly, one of those skateboard-type dolly setups, with a portable lightweight track system. It’s a pretty solid dolly system, and the way you get the camera onto the dolly is to put a tripod on the dolly, one leg in each of the dolly’s three arms. I brought my tripod, and also brought along some appleboxes, in case we needed to get low and strap the camera directly to the dolly platform. I neglected, however, to bring straps.
On the day of the shoot while building our dolly, we determined that the lens height needed to be at around 19.5 inches. This was so that we could center the lens height on the middle of the television screen. 19.5″ happens to be far below the lowest height of my tripod, once it was mounted on the dolly. We could have gotten to 19″ with appleboxes, but some moron forgot the tie-down straps! And we had to have straps, since this dolly has a freaking bolt head right smack-dab in the center of the platform. After mulling over this challenge for a bit, I decided to try inverting my tripod head. The tripod was a Libec RS-350 with a 75mm ball head. I hung the ball head upside down between the legs, and tightened down the screw from the top of the ball. After hanging the camera upside down, I was surprised to find that it was quite solid!
There was no way to pan the head, but these were simple lock-off shots so that wasn’t a concern. To level the head, we had to get creative with the length of each tripod leg, but after some careful adjustments we were in business. I ran some rods out the back of my FS100 baseplate, and used a short Zamerican arm to suspend a SmallHD DP6 monitor, and then a short Letus articulating arm to attach a Atomos Ninja recorder to the SmallHD monitor. This is a slightly ridiculous stack of gear, and HDMI cables were all over the place…but it worked. The SmallHD has an option to flip the image, so we were able to monitor right-side-up, and we would simply have to flip the image in post. Most importantly, we were able to get our shots without busting our shoot day. Here’s a few more behind the scenes pics of this setup.
What are some issues you’ve run into on-set, and how did you creatively solve them?
While at NAB last week, I sat down to do a short live streaming interview with the Pulse Network. We spent a few minutes talking about the announcements at NAB 2012, my production work as a “one man show” in the midwest, my evolution as a filmmaker from when I started FreshDV in 2005, and also about the new line of filmmaker apparel we just launched, Della Luce. You can watch an archive of that interview below…
Here’s another episode of GearIn60 on an underwater housing from Nauticam. Nauticam has a ton of housings for all sorts of DSLR cameras, this particular housing is the NA-60D which is specific to the Canon 60D DSLR camera. In this short review, I show how the housing enabled us to get a dynamic waterfall jump shot, a reverse of this shot from below (that was shot in a pool with scuba gear), and also another shot that required splashing the camera lens. Watch this Gear in 60 Seconds video below, and detail pictures follow…
The story is a narrative short adventure film for Christ In Youth, for their “Believe” youth tour event. In this scene, the main characters are being chased by “sandmen,” and are forced to jump off the waterfall to escape. We figured the best way to add drama to the jump would be to follow our characters off the falls, similar to what has been done in the Bourne series of films. The film was directed by CIY’s MD Neely, gaffed by Kendal Miller, and myself Matt Jeppsen was the Director of Photography and operator on these shots.
This was shot on a Canon 60D at 720/60p, with the Canon L-series 14mm prime lens. The slow-motion shot from the side angle was a FS100 using the stock 18-200 lens, at 1080/60p. The Nauticam NA-60D housing was equipped with a beautiful DP-230 port by Zen Underwater, and delivered perfect clarity and controls. It’s the best underwater housing I’ve had the pleasure of shooting with to-date, with a plethora of hard buttons that control every feature of the DSLR. It’s also built like a tank, and rated to 100 meters. It retails for around $3,000 USD.
NY Resolutions For Filmmakers
Okay guys it’s 2012 and time to set those new business goals, and establish new game plans that will allow you to rock it out harder than ever this year. All the past projects that failed or never got off the ground are behind you, and there is no going back. That’s right 2011 is dead and gone for forever. Now is the time for moving onward. Here are my ten top resolutions for filmmakers in 2012 that will help you increase your potential and hopefully your bottom line.
Continue reading ’10 Resolutions For Filmmakers in 2012′
- trey t on NAB 2013 – Schneider Full Frame Lenses
- Wilson Laidlaw on Zeiss Contax Lenses – Part II: Resolution and Physical Characteristics
- Wilson Laidlaw on Zeiss Contax Lenses – Part II: Resolution and Physical Characteristics
- alan on Zeiss Contax Lenses – Part II: Resolution and Physical Characteristics
- alan on Zeiss Contax Lenses – Part II: Resolution and Physical Characteristics