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Should You Use Vintage Lenses on Your Next Project?

Tanner Shinnick

Considering a signature look for your next project? Let’s take a look at why the perfect set of vintage cinema lenses may be just the thing you need.

Cover image via Shutterstock.

Vintage Lenses are a hot ticket among cinematographers. The way these vintage lenses complement digital sensors has made them invaluable, and the characteristics behind these lenses — as well as how they resolve today’s digital images — means the resurgence in popularity won’t decline anytime soon.

Digital camera sensors today are nearly flawless. They can capture immense detail at extremely high resolutions. However, this degree of detail and resolution can, in some cases, create less-than-flattering images. As a result, cinematographers have gone looking for ways to soften the edges of their digital images. Some, for example, rely on camera diffusion. (I’ve seen many cinematographers use ⅛ Blackmagic filtration to get the look they want out of digital equipment.)

However, vintage lenses have risen to the surface as the best tool to complement digital sensors. The characteristics they bring to today’s digital sensors have been a perfect marriage of digital and analog technology. This lens test by The Vintage Cinema Camera Lens Library goes into detail about what you can expect from a vintage lens — and how they differ from each other.

Shows That Use Vintage Glass

Should You Use Vintage Lenses on Your Next Project? — Atlanta
Image via FX.

Vintage lenses have made their way into everything from independent films to TV Shows to commercials to Hollywood blockbusters. Many of today’s best DPs are relying on the image qualities and characteristics that vintage glass creates for digital sensors. One of the most prominent and critically well-received shows using vintage glass is Atlanta, which combines an ARRI Amira with Kowa Cine Prominar lenses. Also, the FX show Baskets used vintage Cooke Speed Panchros to create a unique look, and Spike Jonze used vintage Canon K35s on HER.

Manufacturer’s Approach

Lens manufacturers have even been embracing this unique market shift toward vintage lenses. A notable example is the ARRI Alexa 65, which the company pairs with a set of vintage 765 lenses to complement the camera’s sensor.

Should You Use Vintage Lenses on Your Next Project? — ARRI Alexa 65
Image via ARRI.

Further, due to a very sharp increase of demand, Cooke has recently started remanufacturing their well-known and well-respected Cooke Speed Panchro Lenses. These lenses first appeared in the 1920s, and at one point, were shooting 90 percent of all 16mm films.

As images become increasingly sharper with ever-higher degrees of detail and resolution, vintage lenses will continue to lend more filmic and cinematic looks to digital images. So, if you need a unique look for your next project, vintage glass may be the perfect solution.

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