ZEISS Cine Lens Day 2010

Two thoughts come into my mind when reflecting on this year’s Cine Lens Day at Carl Zeiss in Oberkochen, Germany.

    1. They sure fed us well.

    2. They sure have a lot of lenses.

But let’s start at the beginning…

The biennial Cine Lens Day takes place at the Carl Zeiss headquarters in Oberkochen, about two hours northwest of Munich. This year about 30 cinematographers, camera assistants, rental house owners, film students, journalists, and bloggers from all over the world attended. Bill Benett, ASC and Denny Clairmont flew in from Hollywood.

After a short bus ride from our hotel, ZEISS took us to a very special restaurant for a warm-up evening event. In the Kochklub Freudenschmaus, you are not only able to watch the cooks doing their work, you become a cook yourself. After drawing numbers, groups were put together for each of the dishes of the 7 course meal.

The menu:

Winter pumpkin soup

Salad of Swabian “Alplinsen” (local lentils) with smoked fillet of trout

Small “Maultaeschchen” (a type of ravioli) stuffed with black pudding on a bed of cabbage dressed with

champagne and cream

“Aalener Spitzaerschle” (pork medallions wrapped in bacon) with root vegetables and hand-made Spaetzle (a type af alpine pasta)

Mango lassi with wings

Hot chocolate cake with caramelised fruits and almond sabayon

Swabian Flammkuchen (a “pizza”, made with onions, cheese and cream)

Assisted by professional cooks, we chopped vegetables, stirred soup, cooked handmade Spaetzle, Maultaschen, baked Flammkuchen and had a real good time. Luckily, despite the presence of lots of very sharp kitchen hardware, no casualties were reported.

As Dr. Winfried Scherle, Senior Vice President and General Manager of the Carl Zeiss Camera Lens Division and our host for this night pointed out, cinematography and cooking have a lot in common. Preparing an excellent seven course meal is as much a product of the best ingredients, devotion and team effort as any good movie.  

After a short night, the next morning started with a welcome by Dieter Kurz, CEO of ZEISS, followed by a presentation by Helmut Lenhof (Project Manager Cine Lenses) and Holger Sehr (Product Manager Cine), who briefly took us through 120 years of Zeiss’ history, technology and, of course, the latest products. We learned that Zeiss products are involved in 60% of the microchip production worldwide. The know-how of this nano lens technology is shared in the production of modern cine lenses, making the manufacture and design of lenses faster, more precise and, in some cases, absolutely essential. As Winfried Scherle told us later on, the idea of a fast 12 mm cine lens for 35 mm like the 12 mm Master Prime has been around for almost 30 years, but only recently, the technology has evolved to be able to design it without compromising quality.

The product range of ZEISS cine lenses is extensive. Currently, they have 4 professional lines of lenses: Master Prime, Ultra Prime, Compact Prime, DigiPrime and DigiZoom lenses.

With the interchangeable lens mounts of the Compact Prime lenses, ZEISS successfully merged professional lenses into the HDSLR world. In addition, they offer still photography lenses (ZE, ZF.2, ZK, ZS) for Canon, Nikon, Pentax and M42, which are also widely used for HDSLR shooting.

Hendrik Voss, product manager at ARRI for the Alexa, continued the lectures with his presentation of the Alexa and the possibilities offered by the combination of ZEISS LDS (Lens Data System) lenses and the new Alexa Plus with integrated lens control and data. Soon, metadata of the lenses will be attached to RAW data streams to be recorded with every frame, providing compositors and post production gurus with complete lens information.

It was interesting to learn that the partnership between ARRI and ZEISS dates back 72 years. We also learned that the all rumors are true: there will be an Alexa OV model with an optical viewfinder, selling for less than 100 K Euro, to be released in 2012.

After all this exciting information, we were in for some breakfast. All you can eat: Pretzels, cake and coffee, accompanied by tech talk and lots of product try-outs. Panasonic presented the AF-101 (AR-100 in USA) with a Micro 4/3rds mount Compact Prime mounted on it. Kinomatik showed their Movietube DSLR rig and handgrips. ZEISS showed an impressive selection of lenses, binoculars and spotting scopes. They also presented the new Cinemizer, which the term “video goggles” is an understatement. The Cinemizer is a consumer product, but the possibilities are interesting for professional production. It presents a virtual image 45 inches wide x 78 inches away and can show 3D content. The model on display at Cine Lens Day was capable of processing side by side, interleaved and top/bottom 3 D signals via an HDMI connection. Think of it as a pocket size video village with impressive image quality.

Also on display: the new Compact Prime 50 mm/T2.1 Macro with a minimum object distance of 24 cm, allowing a magnification ratio of 1:2, and the Compact Prime 100 mm /T2.1 CF with a MOD of 70 cm. Both lenses also feature the interchangeable lens mount.

First shown at IBC 2010, the Micro4/3rds mount for the Compact Primes is now ready for production.

The day continued with a company tour through the camera lens assembly and the service department. The precision in engineering, assembly, and servicing were impressive.

Hendrik Voss had a nice play on words for this. It’s “Pre-Zeiss.”

We learned that Kan Ban, a key principle of assembly lines for automobiles, first introduced in 1947 by Taiichi Ohno at Toyota Motor Corporation in Japan, has also been a key principle for improving the cine lens assembly. Kan Ban, which translates to signboard (or billboard) is a concept of supply chain management allowing lean, efficient and fast production. The Kan Ban card is the key component of a Kan Ban system, signaling the need to move materials within a manufacturing process.

Another interesting concept is Poka-Yoke, a Japanese term for fail-safing. Or as Helmut Lenhof puts it, idiot-proofing. This concept is omnipresent at ZEISS. In the lens assembly, every tool has its place. Color or symbol coded tools make sure each tool is only used for its designated task. Furthermore, Poka-Yoke is a design rule. A good example for this is the interchangeable lens mount of the Compact Primes. The orientation of the lens mount rings is hardcoded by slot and key and screw positions, so it is very clear that there must be something wrong if screws are left over after a lens mount conversion.

The tour continued to the service department. All service jobs are put on a big whiteboard (remember Kan Ban?). Every morning, the service department crew talks about their schedule to get repairs done as fast as possible and if a repair is really urgent, it will be marked with a red dot for everyone in the service department to see. Simple repairs are usually done within three days. If a repair will take longer, the customer will be notified. A cost estimate takes no more than 24 hours from receiving the lens. To achieve this, coworkers from the assembly line can be drafted to the service department if needed, or if this is not possible, the service department works overtime or even on Saturdays.

Impressed by this we went to lunch on the 11th floor of the ZEISS tower. Some tasty fingerfood later, we were taken to the Kino am Kocher, a small cinema in Aalen, a town near Oberkochen.

This cinema is the first co-op cinema in Germany. Run by volunteers, without any government funding, it shows independent films to a small yet enthusiastic audience. In their third year in “business,” they have already collected two awards for their programs. Juergen Schwarz, projectionist and (very important), barkeeper of the cinema, reported that they show all their films with a break to change spools on their 65 year old Bauer B-11 35 mm projector. The coop has collected quite a few different seating possibilities, from a regular cinema chair to leather sofas (my favorite) and deck chairs. You can see the compassion and the love for movies in every corner of this cinema.

So we took seats and sofas and were treated to a presentation of footage that Bill Bennett, ASC shot with the ARRI Alexa and ZEISS lenses. Afterwards, Bill answered questions and shared some anecdotes from his 35+ year career.

What was next on the agenda ? You guessed right: coffee break. In the pretty cinema bar, we had coffee and delicious cake, got to go to the projection room and waited for the next presentation by Josef Kluger of KUK (pronounced like Cooke, to the amusement of the crowd) Film from Munich, who showed us 3D footage of a concert by the German HipHop band Die Fantastischen Vier, which was shot with ZEISS DigiPrimes and transmitted live to 91 cinemas in Europe. Afterwards, he also answered questions and explained 3D terminology.

After another short break, Dr. Hubert Nasse from ZEISS and Natascha Reichert, former student of the Stuttgart Media University, presented a very well-made short movie about a violin maker, shot exclusively on Compact Prime lenses (with a Red One), which was very well received by the audience.

For the last presentation of the day Pascal Fetzer and Max von Matthiessen, two students of the Baden Wuerttemberg Film Academy impressed the audience with their short film Tango Eterno, shot on a Canon 5 D Mk2 and again, Compact Primes lenses, the secret stars of the event.

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