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By Colin Coomber – Technical Director & DoP at Shift 4
To try and answer this, we invited a group of some of the UK’s most talented cinematographers, DoPs, focus pullers and camera operators to do a lens test with our own set of LEITZ PRIMES, which are available for hire in the UK. We also shot a short film to see for ourselves if these lenses really are ‘the best of the best’.
We aim to give you a detailed and expert review by offering a broad range of opinions from cinematographers Chris Ross BSC (Top Boy & Room), Aadel Nodeh-Farahani (Tell Me Everything & Becoming You), Kia Fern Little (Celeste & Parallel) and Beatriz Delgado (Stay With Me & Losing Grace), to DoPs Roy Estabrook (Murder in Successville & King Gary) and Jamie Cairney (Sex Education & Flowers), and camera operator Peter Robertson ACO, SOC, Assoc. BSC (Cyrano & Atonement).
For a break-down of the LEITZ PRIMES technical features, check our Specs 4 Techs
Read on to find out what this group of highly respected filmmakers thought of the LEITZ PRIMES and their:
In short? They were very impressed.
‘The Leitz Primes displayed stunning flare repression and highlight control with no evidence of aberration and solid, uncontaminated blacks.’
You may know Leitz as Leica, but they’re one and the same. Leitz Cine became a branch of Leica in 2008, adopting the name of Leica founder, Ernst Leitz Wetzlar.
The LEITZ PRIMES are full frame, fast and spherical lenses, designed from the ground up and are very different to other Leitz lenses. But still, does this mean they deserve to be called ‘the best of the best’?
Set of 12 Lenses Available to Rent From Shift 4
Optically superior, we can confidently report the LEITZ PRIMES have:
Already making their mark in high-end productions, you may have already seen the LEITZ PRIMES in action. Cinematographer Seamus McGarvey BSC ASC shot the feature, Cyrano (2021) which was a marvel of dramatic and cinematic scope. Elsewhere, Netflix hit Anatomy of a Scandal (2022) by cinematographer Balazs Bolygo BSC HSC proved to be a striking TV series with filmic proportions.
With other productions in line, including the highly anticipated period feature film Mr Malcolm’s List (2022) by cinematographer Tony Miller BSC, and Wonka (2023) (also by Seamus McGarvey), the LEITZ PRIMES are blazing a trail for themselves, setting the bar at an all-time high.
‘I think they’re superb… I’m bored with vintage glass, and I can do all that in post so easily. These are amazing lenses and look softer and warmer than the Summilux which were very clinical. Full Frame is the future.’
Tony Miller BSC (Fleabag & Mr. Malcolm’s List)
Over the course of the demo days, the elegant focus was a key point of discussion.
‘Smooth’ is the word we landed on to describe the detailed rendering of these lenses. The way they produce detail is as close to what the human eye sees as we’ve come across, where objects look more real, more three dimensional.
‘The overall sharpness, resolution and illumination across the frame remained consistent.’
This smooth resolution is consistent across the entire full frame image area as well as having little to no optical distortion even on the widest lenses, which is a feature that makes them particularly suited to high-end production for multiple reasons:
The practical design of the lenses appealed to Roy Estabrook, who noted no significant changes in their performance at T1.8, T2.8 & T4. In comparison, a vintage lens would have a completely different look at various T-stops.
With the LEITZ PRIMES, you can set the T-stop for the desired depth of field for each shot without worrying about the characteristics of the image changing. This is a huge advantage when shooting full frame as typically the overall depth of field can quickly become unworkably shallow.
‘There’s plenty of clarity across all of the focus planes of the image.’
The iris on these lenses makes a circular shape, gifting intriguing aspects to the cinematographer:
Gradual Depth of Field With a Fast Full-Frame
Typically, when shooting full frame in terms of depth of field, T1.8 is an unforgiving f stop. The roll-off on the LEITZ PRIMES, however, is remarkably gradual. They’re fast for full frame with the predominant max T stop of 1.8 across the range (excepting 180mm = T2 & 350mm = T3.6).
When Chris Ross BSC tested them with a 50mm lens, wide open, at 3 feet 6 inches, recording full frame on the Sony Venice he found there was ‘plenty of clarity across all of the focus planes of the image.’
A forgiving focus roll off in a lens creates depth, where objects and environments appear more three dimensional, giving us a feeling of many different, but connected, layers. Other fast full frame lenses with more aggressive roll off give the feeling of a shallow depth of field, expressing a 2D pop-up book where the subject and defocus area appear as two separate, distinct spaces.
‘In all the years of shooting lens tests and viewing new lenses as they’re released, I can honestly say I’ve never been more impressed than I was that day. Particularly the image in a basic low light setting knocked me out.’
We brought along the Leitz Elsie’s and M0.8 lenses to the test days for comparison. Unlike the Elsie’s and the M0.8’s, the LEITZ PRIMES offer some significant characteristics:
The key advantage to having no chromatic aberrations visible in the highlights means that details such as spectral highlights have more clarity to them, and more highlight information can be recovered in a log or RAW recording as the higher exposed information is rendered intact by the lens. Another consideration for this is mastering for HDR. Chromatic aberrations in footage, when mastered and displayed on a HDR monitor, can becoming super bright and saturated making them incredibly distracting compared to the same image in SDR.
‘Organic rainbow-style flare that kicks in due to out of frame highlights reminds me of gate flares when shooting film.’
Characterful flares produced by these lenses give an organic element, perfectly complementing their otherwise high performing optics.
During our lens test days, the flare quality was what the filmmakers commented on the most. While other characteristics of these lenses fall into the category of optically clean lenses, usually meaning minimised and subtle lens flaring, the opposite is true for the LEITZ PRIMES.
The flares we noted were:
In addition, we found:
Cinematographer Aadel Nodeh-Farahani wanted to see how the lenses looked when adding a black pro mist. We discovered it gave the flares a much warmer colour as well as creating interesting, artistic rainbow flares, which Aadel said reminded him of those given from the classic Canon K35 lenses.
‘These lenses are incredibly accurate with no distortion or breathing, making them ideal for VFX work.’
During our lens test, since Peter Robertson ACO, SOC, Assoc. BSC was in the room, the conversation naturally turned to Cyrano as he worked as the A Camera Operator on the shoot.
Regarding Cyrano, Seamus McGarvey said in his interview with Leitz Cine that ‘our VFX supervisor Giles Harding thanked’ him for using the LEITZ PRIMES. He goes on to say:
‘On a few shots he asked us to pull filtration and start with a clean image, later saying it was a godsend to have an image with such edge-to-edge precision.
I know these lenses made the collaboration between 1st AC, DIT and VFX supervisor very easy. All the critical information is transferred, which reduces hours of work of transcribing things manually. It’s all in the footage: focal length, exposure, focus pulls, etc.
Something I’ve noticed in previous grading sessions on other projects is that each lens in a set has its own particular shade and colour. When I was grading this film with colourist Peter Doyle, we found that the LEITZ PRIMES have a wonderful consistency between focal lengths.’
What we know is that it’s common to see some sort of colour cast between the foreground defocus and background defocus which can be easily seen when checking lenses on a projector. This is something that usually needs correcting in post to add visual effects and reintroduced. However, we heard that with these lenses no correction for colour casting is needed at all.
‘The Leitz Primes are a great base sauce when cooking up a look!’
When playing with various diffusion filters Aadel Nodeh-Farahani summed the LEITZ PRIMES up perfectly by describing them as the perfect base cook sauce. They offer such a high quality, optically clean starting point, creating a foundation where other flavours can easily be added. This is where Leitz have been exceptionally smart with the design of these lenses.
‘When testing I found that I was able to use the LEITZ PRIME lenses like three separate sets of lenses by adjusting the lighting and filtration, creating looks from balmy nostalgia to high contrast horror scape with quite minor adjustments.’
Seamus McGarvey (Source)
Seamus McGarvey talks about the cinematography of Cyrano
Certain characteristics, such as sharpness or contrast renditioning, are performed to a high optical level and are easily manipulated with filtration or in the grade. Other aspects are made more interesting by the craft of these lenses, such as cinematic lens flares, which isn’t a quality that’s easily introduced if not already part of the lens. These reasons make the lenses perfect for high-end productions because they can either be left unaltered to produce high-resolution images perfect for visual effects work, or the lenses can be degraded and manipulated from there.
For 100 years, Leitz/Leica have been at the forefront of the optical manufacturing industry. Now cinema is firmly in its digital era, the engineering superiority of the LEITZ PRIMES guarantees a clear aesthetic with stylish characteristics for artistic and technical filmmakers alike.
‘They had a warmth to them. A real roundness and gentle quality, but they’re also edge-to-edge visceral.’
To hire the Shift 4 LEITZ PRIME lenses¸ please send us an email and come down for a lens test: [email protected]
Thursday, May 19th, 2022