On February 9, 2015, Vantage Film announced three new sets of lenses for 65mm format.
• Hawk65 Anamorphic: prime lenses from 35 mm to 250 mm and front anamorphic zooms.
• Hawk65 Anamorphic Vintage’74: a version of the Hawk65 Anamorphics with lower contrast, flares, and creamy skin tones that create the signature aesthetic of the 1970s for 65mm large format sensors.
• Hawk65 MAX: wide and medium angle lenses developed for IMAX format and other giant screen applications
Since then, other products and pieces of the puzzle have come together. RED introduced the RED Weapon 8K camera, with its 21.60 x 40.96 mm sensor at NAB. ARRI announced an alliance of Alexa 65 with IMAX.
I met with Peter Martin in Los Angeles. Peter is CEO of Vantage Film and leads technical development along with CEO Wolfgang Baumler.
JON FAUER: Please explain the background and concept of your new lenses.
PETER MARTIN: First of all, congratulations to RED for making the new RED Weapon 8K and to ARRI for making the Alexa 65, which are both wonderful cameras. Concerning the Alexa 65, it was a bold decision to make such a unique camera system, and it was one of the reasons behind our push to work on these lenses. 65mm is such a wonderful format. It has been a part of cinematography since the early days of widescreen. The format belongs to our industry. And it’s very good that ARRI rediscovered it.
Anamorphic 65 mm widescreen is even more compelling. I think it’s fair to say that we are a leading company in anamorphic, and we felt it was our obligation to provide anamorphic 65 mm lenses. Now that ARRI and RED have both presented new large format cameras, cinematographers need lenses for these cameras, and lenses are what we do best.
If you can back up for a minute, please give us a refresher course on widescreen history.
Television arrived as a competitor to 35mm 1.33:1 cinema projection. In reaction to that, Hollywood developed widescreen processes beginning in 1953. Anamorphic 35mm negative was one system. And 70mm was the other system, the “mega” format with specially equipped cinemas. It was, of course, a very expensive process because the negative was so large. The negative running through the camera was 65 mm wide. For projection, it was printed on 70mm stock. The additional 5mm were for 4 magnetic strips onto which six tracks of sound were recorded.
Robert Gottschalk, a very important person in our industry who founded Panavision and its anamorphic processes, introduced Ultra Panavision 70. It was based on anamorphic lenses using the entire negative. The aspect ratio was 2.76:1, although it was often cropped to 2.50:1 because not every cinema could spend more money for a wider screen.
When we talk about 70mm, films like “Ben Hur,” “Mutiny on the Bounty,” “The Fall of the Roman Empire,” and “Khartoum” come to mind. They were anamorphic, Ultra Panavision 70. These films weren’t just 70mm prints. They were shot with 70mm anamorphic lenses. That’s often forgotten.
ARRI developed their 765 camera in the 1985. It only used spherical lenses. I suppose anamorphic was forgotten a little bit. But that was before Vantage, I would say. [chuckles.]
Why was the format wider than 2.40:1?
There was no standard at the time. There was a lot of competition in the format. Robert Gottschalk was good not only at designing lenses, but he was also good at introducing them, making things happen. There were a lot of competing formats, like Arnoldscope, Franscope, and so on.
In the last 30 or 40 years, we have seen a standardization of formats: 1.85, 1.78, 1.66, and 2.40 for widescreen. Those achievements came from discussions at SMPTE and other influential industry-related boards with the purpose of establishing common formats for all of us, which is good.
What was the anamorphic squeeze factor of Ultra Panavision?
It was 1.25x.
Are we going to see 2.75:1 aspect ratio again?
No. Our new system will support the existing standards.
Will it make 35mm obsolete?
I think 35mm is a very good standard, with its range of lenses, depth of field, handling of focus issues, size of equipment. It’s here to stay.
What is it about anamorphic that is so interesting for all of us?
I think anamorphic is a way of interpreting reality; whereas, spherical lenses are just recording reality. Most of us don’t want to see reality. We want to see stories. I think anamorphic is an abstraction of that which is built on the set or photographed on location. It’s an abstraction that actually enhances storytelling possibilities. It’s the distortion, the depth of field that isolates the subject, and the unique bokeh that impresses audiences.
Do audiences really notice the aberrations or just us DPs?
The audience sees it as a good picture. I went to a public screening of “The Lives of Others” recently. It was shot on Hawk lenses. One person in the audience who was over 80-years old came up to me and said, “You know, the actors were so present, you could feel their emotions.” And he was not even in the business.
Some camera assistants are worried about 65mm with its shallower depth of field. What will you say to them?
Yes, it’s a challenge. But as with many new processes, there will be ways to manage it.
Please explain to us the differences between your three new sets of 65mm Anamorphics.
The first is a regular anamorphic system designed for a large image circle, covering the area of a 65mm camera, or other cameras we might see in the near future like the RED Weapon 8K. It’s built like our 35 mm anamorphic lens range. There will be wide angle, medium, telephoto, zooms, macros–everything for 65mm. It’s a future-proof system, to go side-by-side with our established 35 mm system which we will continue to grow with new products as well.
The second set will use a technique that we developed over the last four years. It’s called Vintage’74: a special treatment of all the glass elements in the lens allowing us to achieve less contrast and less sharpness. It’s very natural, and quite different from the effect of a filter or simply changing front and rear glass elements. The lens provides the photographic performance of the ‘70s, while having the mechanical performance of 2015. Since it’s very popular in 35 mm, we will bring Vintage’74 to 65mm. We think of 65mm as being not only a high definition format, but also an epic format with massive impact. It’s more than definition or crisp images.
It’s called MAX. This is a different version using the cylinders in a novel way, enabling us to use the full sensor width and height of the camera for giant screen applications, where the IMAX aspect ration is 1.42:1.
What is the great compelling difference between 35mm and 65mm for the audience?
You have less depth. Longer lenses behave differently. You have more “volume.” A good example is that many people truly appreciate medium format photography. The resulting power of that format is enormous.
65 mm is also interesting for production companies and studios, especially when they invest a lot of money in a project. If they record in 65mm anamorphic, then they are future-proof, no matter what the delivery medium is or the size of the screen. An analogy would be driving a Rolls Royce, I imagine. You don’t bother about any other cars any longer. [laugh]
Of course, it’s an expensive process, so the production must have the budget for it. But today, we don’t deal with the enormous cost of film stock and processing of 65 mm negative. Now, we only have data and data handling, which will become easier and less expensive as time goes on and of course, the lenses.
RED announced their 8K 21.60 x 40.96 mm sensor. I imagine other companies will come out with 24×36 mm sensor cine cameras. Your new lenses will be able to be used with those cameras. But what about wide angle?
Our new lenses will cover FF 24×36, RED 21.60 x 40.96, and the Alexa 65 sensor. Of course, they work with sensors that are smaller than 65mm; you will just have a crop factor. We will introduce one or two wide-angle lenses just for that format, which goes with the rest of the set. We did a similar thing with our 16mm anamorphic series. For 16mm format, we have five wide-angle lenses. And then we use the 35mm format lenses for the longer focal lengths.
What do you think is the future for 35mm with all of this?
I think it’s a great future because you have more than 10,000 cameras out there. And now we’re going to equip 35 Alexa 65 cameras with lenses. So, there will be 10,035 cameras.
Do you think that 65mm is still going to stay just in the high end with very limited availability?
I think so at the moment. But you never know with electronic cameras and electronic post production. Another major point is that you can use the large format camera partially on a production. Decisions will be made to shoot in different formats on the same movie. Different tools for different scenes: using the new ALEXA or the existing ALEXA camera. It’s important having access to a larger sensor camera from the same manufacturer, for example, in VFX where they want ultra high-resolution landscapes. A good rental house, like ARRI or us, has the ability to do that. It could also happen with RED products when they’re available.
In a similar way, many big features are shot in anamorphic 35 mm nowadays. Now there is 65mm anamorphic. They can stay with the same anamorphic look, now available in the larger 65mm format.
When we talk about large formats, we also should talk about different projection standards. 4K has almost been attained by ALEXA, and will be surpassed by the next ALEXA and by other products for 65mm. We probably need an 8K projector and larger projectors. The problem is the DCP standard. Because they have the same bandwidth standard for 2K or 4K projectors, you can have 4K but it has the same amount of data as 2K. It has higher compression. The resolution is higher but so is the compression.
When you started the project, what gave you the idea to do it? What was the first spark of the idea?
I think it was a discussion about larger formats. When RED first introduced the Epic in 2009, there was a road map to larger Monstro sensors, including a 24×36 mm Full Frame format.
For anamorphic 35mm, we need a height of 18 mm, which has only been achieved by ARRI. If you think about Sony, maybe they’ll make a 16:9 sensor with that height, but it will be wider. Or consider all the DSLR cameras in our industry, all asking for lenses. So we felt a tendency to possibly bigger formats, and not only at ARRI. ARRI went for the ultimate, 65mm. But we felt there was a need to cover that and all the sizes in between. So we have been involved with this for a long time already. We have been thinking about it for two or three years, and have been working on this project for more than one year.
It was a very nice experience when ARRI launched the Alexa 65 camera at Cinec in September. We were all excited by the reception of this camera. We had already begun working on our own 65mm lens project, and we were gratified when DPs came up to us and said that it was a wonderful camera, but they need anamorphic glass for it. That’s when we knew we were on the right track.
You were thinking about it even before you even knew about an ALEXA 65?
Yes, way before. So our efforts have been confirmed not only by the release of the Alexa 65 camera by ARRI, but also by overwhelming comments of DPs asking for anamorphic lenses for this camera.