The Silver Set of six Angénieux Optimo Primes will begin to ship in September. They are right on schedule, as announced at Cannes a year ago.
Three partners in the Optimo Prime project are interviewed here:
- Severine Serrano, Managing Director, Angénieux International Sales and Marketing, located in Saint-Héand, France.
- Amnon Band, CEO of Band Pro, headquartered in Burbank, California.
- Jack Yu, Head of Cinematic & Broadcasting Solutions, Jebsen Industrial, based in Hong Kong.
Thanks to Dominique Rouchon, Deputy Managing Director, Angénieux International Sales-Marketing & Communication, for coordinating and editing the Zoom discussion with Severine.
For managing our interview with Jack, thanks to Teresa Wong, Marketing & Portfolio Manager, Jebsen Industrial.
Optimo Prime Partners: Interviews
Severine Serrano, Managing Director, Angénieux Int’l Sales & Marketing
JON FAUER: Our previous discussion about Optimo Primes was at the introduction a year ago. Can you please provide us with an update on the project since then?
SEVERINE SERRANO: We launched the Angénieux Optimo Prime Silver Set of 6 focal lengths in the middle of May 2020, exactly one year to the day since the announcement at Cannes. These 6 lenses (of a total of 12) in the Silver Set consist of: 21, 28, 40, 50, 75 and 135 mm. Demo sets have been delivered and are undergoing trials by cinematographers and rental houses. The plan is to start deliveries to customers this September. We are very proud that we are right on schedule. It’s a great testimony to the efforts of our engineering team and partners.
Please tell us about this partnership.
Our partnership with Band Pro and Jebsen started with the Type EZ zooms three or four years ago. We were very happy with this partnership, and we decided to continue for the Optimo Prime project.
This partnership unites our energies. Our development teams are in constant communication with our partners in two major markets of the industry–the Americas and China/Asia Pacific. Our sales teams work together hand in hand and share their experience. Financial resources are combined on these specific projects to provide joint success for the three companies. It’s massive but it is what was needed to set out on such an ambitious project. The Optimo Prime Series has been a kind of Mount Everest expedition, as Amnon Band says.
Why has the Optimo Prime project been like Mount Everest? What were the challenges in climbing?
Actually, the ascent was rather fast. The path presented questions. Were we going to continue to be content with our reputation and respected position in high-end zoom lenses only or did we want to be more ambitious and get back into primes? It was a major decision to resume work on prime lenses. We have specialized in the zoom lens business for the past 50 years, even though the company originally started with primes.
We chose the more ambitious route to secure a stronger future for the brand, reinforcing its market footprint and expanding its accessible global market.
Why does a major brand like Angénieux, a company within Thales, need partners?
It helps that Angénieux is part of a big group like Thales that provides stability and strength on a day-to-day basis, including in these difficult pandemic situations. Thales is a big group. When the pandemic started, Thales took strong measures to secure its businesses and activities and make sure that people could continue to develop products and manufacture in good conditions.
We are very fortunate to have the means to ensure an uninterrupted supply chain to secure our production. That’s an advantage of being part of a big group. We worked hard to ensure that all our colleagues would be safe during this time, to be sure that they could produce and work at Angénieux without taking any risks. We know it’s a difficult time for everybody. We are ready and we are trying to help our customers in this climate.
And even though we are part of Thales, a corporation of 85,000 people, we think unity with other companies in the industry is very important. Angénieux always had a strong international distribution network, but we thought that to reach our ambitions, we needed strong commercial and financial partnerships. Those are the reasons why we decided to have commercial partners, Band Pro and Jebsen, for this ambitious Optimo Prime project.
If I remember correctly, you studied and started your career as an optical engineer. Is it more difficult to design a zoom than it is a prime lens?
Yes, it’s more work. A zoom is more complex. Maybe it’s not so difficult when you have the knowledge and the know-how, but the coordinated moving assemblies in the zoom lens are more complicated to develop and design.
What makes the Optimo Primes unique? Certainly we agree it’s the Integrated Optical Palette and the customization.
It probably came from the fact that, since the Optimo Prime Series was such an ambitious undertaking for us, we took even more time to approach the market and listen to cinematographers’ wishes and suggestions about prime lenses.
Also, as Amnon says in his own interview, we are the last ones coming to market, so we had to come up with something different. A me-too product would not have been appropriate. The Integrated Optical Palette, or IOP as we call it, offers real added value and unique features. But we should also point out that the Optimo Primes are also unique in their small size, light weight, Optimo look and Optimo quality.
Please explain the Integrated Optical Palette.
The IOP, Integrated Optical Palette, is a concept. It’s like the palette of a painter, where each color is similar to what you can change in the lens to paint your own image. The IOP offers users to ability to express their individual creativity, to customize the look. You have three things inside the lens that you can change. You can exchange the rear filter, the iris assembly, and an internal glass element in the middle. These three things can enable cinematographers to explore unique styles, depending on the project.
How much customizing will be left up to the user and the rental house, and how much will only be available from Angénieux?
The rear filter will have a standard diameter and thread (40.5 mm for Super35 format and 46 mm for Full Frame). It can be purchased independently by the rental house or user. For the interchangeable iris assembly, we are looking at several proposals and feedback from users. Currently we have iris assemblies with 3 leaves for triangular bokehs, 6 and 9 blades, as well as an oval iris for anamorphic-style bokeh, and a round iris as well.
We intend to have a choice of internal glass elements that can be exchanged. For example, a blue streak filter combined with the oval iris could provide an approximate anamorphic look. We intend to have vintage looks, diffusion and various distortions. We have started some tests with partners, and we will see which ones are relevant.
Some rental houses have expressed interest in being able to make, buy, or provide their own unique internal optical element. Is that possible?
Yes. We will propose a neutral component inside that could be modified by the rental house. With this neutral element, they could add their own effects that may be different. It should be a possibility, absolutely.
What has been the reaction from DPs, rental houses and users in general?
The market reaction has been fantastic. We have feedback such as “amazing,” “gorgeous,” “the dream of my life,” “so compact” and “beautiful image.” More than ever, the Optimo Primes will allow cinematographers to express their individual creativity. It has always been Angénieux’s part in the cinema industry: to help cinematographers’ dreams come true. That’s what Pierre Angénieux did with the zoom.
As the Managing Director for sales and marketing, I am very optimistic about the success of the Optimo Prime Series because they provide unique qualities. The ability to customize and individualize the lens is very exciting for users and rental houses alike. It’s like spicing up your food with a different flavor for each course.
The EMEA rental companies immediately realized that the Optimo Prime series is essentially like having several series in one. They have already placed orders. The market response is also excellent in the Americas and in China / Asia-Pacific.
How do you coordinate things between the three partners?
It can be a challenge to coordinate partners in Los Angeles, Hong Kong and France, mainly due to the time zone differences. It’s like jet lag for everybody. But we have become accustomed to working with each other, as we did on the EZ Zooms, and we continue to synchronize our sales and marketing teams to ensure good coordination.
It is a synergy. Our sales-marketing team in St.-Héand works in coordination with the teams at Band Pro and Jebsen. We share videos, seminars, brochures and webinars. You can see them on our YouTube channel, by the way. And, now that Jean-Marc Bouchut is at Band Pro, the technical relationship is even stronger than before because he will accompany the arrival of the Optimo Prime series in the Americas as he used to do for the zooms when he worked with us. There are real bridges between our three companies that give us so much strength.
At Angénieux, we place great importance to our partnerships, as described by Emmanuel Sprauel, President of Angénieux, in his recent message to the cinema community. He said, “My ambition is to be and remain the leading optical company for the high-end cinema industry, with a large and comprehensive portfolio of zooms and primes prepared for the Full Frame format.” *
Please expand on that ambition.
The past five years have been very busy for us. The Type-EZ zooms proved Angénieux’s ability to address a completely new market based on a new business model. The Optimo Ultra 12X launch confirmed Angénieux’s commitment to the high-end cinema zoom business since that lens followed the same track as the 24-290 and is becoming the new reference standard of the industry. The Optimo Prime series is a new step in the brand’s strategy to commit to the high-end cinema industry for not only zooms but also primes.
And, I can tell you we will not stop here. As Christophe Remontet told you in a recent interview, there is definitely more to come in Full Frame and many other things. Our ambition is for Angénieux to continue in the avant-garde for years to come.
Amnon Band, CEO of Band Pro
JON FAUER: Your exploits in the lens business could be described as “The Man Who Played with Fire” or “The Guy Who Kicked the Hornets’ Nest.” You may not be the Lisbeth Salander character of Stieg Larsson’s book, but you still seem to enjoy stirring things up and undertaking ventures that many others would detour.
The Angénieux Optimo Primes are the fifth in your series of escapades with lenses and not for the faint of heart. You were responsible for ZEISS DigiPrimes, Leitz Summilux-C, IB/E Raptors, Angénieux EZ-Zooms and now Optimo Primes.
Why do you do this?
AMNON BAND: I’ll have to refer to my time in first grade. We had a crafts class. The teacher told us to make a backgammon set that was a box with a lid. I said, “No, I don’t want to make that. I want to make paddleball rackets.” I was always a salmon.
OK, then the book title is not fire or hornets, but salmon. “Swimming upstream with Salmon.”
I never thought that my life should be dictated by the flow of a river. And I would never like to be in a rowboat without oars. I like to be early. It doesn’t always work. The lens business is tough. After DigiPrimes, Summilux-C, Raptors and EZ zooms, I thought I was done. It can be a pretty rough ride with delays, design challenges, changing markets, and evolving trends.
When did the Angénieux Optimo Prime project first begin for you? Were you talking to users and manufacturers or did this just appear in a vision one day?
Angénieux was thinking about primes and collecting user data way before they spoke to us. What DPs always wanted in a prime but were afraid to ask. Angénieux had been surveying the market. They were well aware of the terrain. Angénieux lenses are at home on every major movie. They have been building cine lenses for more than 60 years.
For us, the idea had been simmering more than five years ago. I was an early enthusiast of Full Frame cameras and lenses, as were you. I knew I wanted Full Frame lenses that offered more than the others. I was looking for a manufacturing partner with a strong brand name and, at the same time, Angenieux was seeking a strong partner for the Americas, their largest market, and so the timing was excellent.
First, we joined together on the EZ zoom project. The partnership worked well and continues to be successful. The chemistry between the Thales management and us was good. As soon as Angénieux made the decision to build Optimo Primes, we became an integral part of the crew. It’s an honor and quite a humbling experience for us to be part of the team.
By the way, just to remind you, we were the last at the adult table.
What do you mean?
We were the last major company to announce Full Frame Primes. And we knew we were the last. In the beginning, some rental houses held this as a disadvantage. But I told them, “No, I am perfectly fine with where I am because if I’m at a poker table, I know everybody’s hands by now.”
How did Angénieux and you hammer out the specifications? Hammer is probably not a good verb to use with lenses. Shall we say, “Decide on the specs?”
Helmut Lehnhof taught me, in the year 2000, that any lens design is a compromise. When you consider the main parameters of size, weight, speed and price, each directly affects the other, and especially price. So you make a list of all the things you want to have in the lens. Our list had more than 10 ingredients. At the top of the list were Optimo look, small size, light weight, lens metadata and fast T Stop. Further down the list were interchangeable iris mechanism, rear filters and front filters. At the very bottom, almost an afterthought was an interchangeable internal element.
But, after talking to cinematographers and rental houses, by June 2019, the list was flipped. All the items at the bottom of our list were put on top because of the demand and desire to individualize and customize the lens to a particular production or cinematographer’s look. The interchangeable internal element, iris assembly and rear filter advanced to the very top of the list. Even its name evolved. It is called the Integrated Optical Palette.
Tell us more about the Integrated Optical Palette from your perspective.
Traditionally, a DP can manipulate the look of a lens with filters and lighting. You put filters on the front or rear, maybe use a stocking or net. A few, select rental houses can play with air gaps, decoating and recoating. Now, there is a difference between putting a filter at the rear of the lens, in the middle of the lens, or in front of the lens. If you put the same effect filter in those three places, the picture won’t look the same every time. There is a difference. Location matters.
So, with the Optimo Primes, we have front and rear threads and people can buy conventionally available filters.
We also have an internal, exchangeable element. Angénieux, in their wisdom and during our talks, clearly realized that there was a way to build the lens where you can change the internal element, one of the three components of the Palette.
When the lenses will be delivered in September, they will have a neutral Internal Optical Element. In other words, they are styled to match Angénieux Optimo zooms. I must admit, we were apprehensive and disappointed at first that other choices would not be ready by then. Well, guess what? The customers are in heaven. They want clear elements. They want to be able to determine the look themselves.
They can purchase additional clear elements from Angénieux and customize them on their own. We have been doing this experimentally here at Band Pro: diffusing the element with hairspray, adding nets, stockings, monofilament, glitter, all kinds of crazy effects.
There will also be Angénieux branded elements, designed and built in St-Héand. Not a filter. Not all of them flat. Some will have curves. Some will have little bellies. It depends on the effect. There will be Palettes that will change the air gaps and field curvature. This is where Angénieux’s experience comes to play. They know many of the looks that can be achieved. They have already done simulations.
What we don’t know is where cinematographers want to take us next with Optimo Primes.
How do you change the Palette?
Very easily. You take out the front optical group, then the second group, the internal element and the iris mechanism. It is a brilliant design in lens construction. It’s simple. There’s nothing complicated. The groups are all modular. They’re all independent. You don’t need to realign, you don’t need to shim or do anything when you put it back. All the parameters stay the same. You just have a different look. There’s a whole new world of looks that is going to happen.
But don’t change the Palette in the field. Any time you open the lens, you should be in a clean room, or under a laminar flow box. It’s really not that complicated. And by the way, we’re making videos here with Jean-Marc Bouchut on the process. A skilled optical technician, properly trained, can do this with ease. We’re changing Palettes 20 times a day.
Yesterday, Jean-Marc and Randy Wedick put shrink-wrap around the Palette. Unbelievable. They are doing crazy things and this is just a taste of what’s going to start happening in camera prep, when these lenses are about to go out on a job.
It’s what DPs everywhere have been asking for — for more than 100 years. Never accept what the manufacturer gives you without customizing, individualizing, retrofitting. As soon as the Lumiere Brothers provided Cinematographs to their Camera Operators in 1895, there was a collective commotion of sawing, drilling, filing and sanding to make those cameras and lenses their own.
Jon, there are risks. Let’s begin by asking what happens when people who are not qualified try to take the lens apart to change the Palette. Or a rogue camera assistant tries to do it on location. I don’t have control over that. Dust goes inside the lens. An element is scratched. What happens to the warranty? Who is authorized to do it and so forth? What happens if a rental house, or (gasp) we provide a Palette that the DP hates. Well, who takes responsibility? There are pitfalls.
But those things can happen with any lens. I don’t see pitfalls, I see benefits. Users will appreciate proper procedures. As for making your own Palette, it’s like they say in car commercials, professional drivers of lenses on a controlled course in a rental or repair facility, do not attempt at home. And yet, I can see a brisk business in laminar, clean air flow boxes for camera trucks on location, in studios, and Palette classes given by Band Pro for camera assistants.
Yes, there is an aspirational component to this. Optimo Primes let you be adventurous in creating different looks, not in post, but in the lenses themselves.
Optimo Primes will enable cinematographers to essentially develop lenses with their own personality rather than settle on a lens that has its own look already baked in at the factory. What DP would not like their work to be unique and stand out from everyone else? To create something special. This lets them create and craft something special. This is freedom.
What about service?
Knowing that I was doing the Optimo Prime project, I had to enhance our optical services and tools. We made substantial investments in a Clean Room, Full Frame projector, tools, personnel, training and factory certification.
Getting back to the man who stepped on the hornet’s nest. Why is there a partnership between the manufacturer, Angénieux, and the distribution companies, Band Pro and Jebsen, who also invest in the R&D?
It’s a business decision for all of us. If you look at the many crossroads and intersections of my career, clearly there is a pattern of identifying what’s missing in the market and addressing that need. Granted, the Optimo Prime project is, shall we say, the tallest mountain financially that I have climbed. It’s my Mount Everest.
Every lens manufacturer has what I call a personality in their lenses. When you have a me-too product, then the question is why. Why did you just make another lens like all the others? Well, looking at the business side, I don’t think that’s smart.
So, it’s a pleasure to work with a company that, especially on this project, wants to push the envelope. Convincing some lens manufacturers to venture into uncharted territory can be like pushing an elephant sideways. But French cinema has a great legacy of innovation and experimentation. There is a long history of tradition, craftsmanship and art. Now we’ve added a degree of adventure. What Angénieux is doing now is very brave. It’s not a small step; it’s a big leap.
Jack Yu, Head of Cinematic & Broadcasting Solutions, Jebsen Industrial
JON FAUER: When did the Angénieux Optimo Prime project first begin for Jebsen?
JACK YU: The Angénieux Optimo Prime project was officially started in 2018, following the successful collaboration between Angénieux, Band Pro and Jebsen on the Angénieux Type EZ Series. And our strong partnership with Angénieux is also rooted in Jebsen’s effort in building the brand presence of Angénieux in Asia over the decades.
How did Angénieux, Band Pro and Jebsen decide on the specifications of the Optimo Primes?
From the beginning of the Optimo Prime project, Angénieux invited both Band Pro and Jebsen to exchange ideas raised by DPs and rental companies from different regions. It is always critical to ensure that customer feedback is taken into consideration when developing lenses. As we always said, the design of Optimo Primes is based on the industry’s feedback. The decision on specifications was finally made together by all three partners, along with open communication and continuous improvement throughout the design and production phases.
Did you discuss wish-lists from DPs and rental houses?
Yes, we did. The exchange of DPs and rental companies’ feedback did not stop right after the lens design, but also continued after the launch of the first Silver Set.
Did they make suggestions about the Integrated Optical Palette?
Jack: DPs are constantly looking for tools that can create a distinctive look to define their story. It will be a game-changer for the Integrated Optical Palette to achieve quality imaging effects that are difficult to achieve in post-production under time and budget constraints.
Who will manage service of the Optimo Primes in your region?
Jebsen’s JCineCare Service Centre will be the service point for Optimo Prime Series in Asia. It is part of our on-going effort not only to provide the best cine lenses to our customers but also the after-sales, repair and maintenance services to make sure Angénieux lenses are always kept in their best condition.
Is Full Frame gaining in popularity in your regions?
Although many of the films in Asia are still shooting with Super35, there is a rising trend from DPs requesting large format acquisition. The recent pandemic had caused the suspension of film shooting, but we believe the trend will pick up again once productions are back in full swing.
Have you shot tests with the Optimo Primes yet?
Jack: We recently had our Optimo Primes on set in projects of the 14th FIRST International Film Festival in Mainland China. Every year, FIRST invites internationally recognized filmmakers as tutors to mentor the new generation of filmmakers in their FIRST projects. We supported the program by providing Optimo Primes to the young filmmakers to curate their stories.
We received positive feedback from the DPs. They appreciated the engineering, minimized chromatic aberration and distortion, and delivery of a natural-looking image. They are compact and light-weight. All these features allow more flexibility in shooting and ensure greater creativity for DPs to create the image they want.
Who will receive the first deliveries in your market?
Since Angénieux unveiled the Optimo Prime Series at the Cannes Festival, Jebsen has already received inquiries and pre-orders from the market, including Mainland China, Taiwan, Japan and Korea The series generated a lot of buzz in the region. It also showed that our customers have strong trust and confidence with the optical performance and image quality delivered by Angénieux. You will soon hear from us and our customers about the first deliveries as the Silver Set will be ready for shipping in the coming months.
What lens mount are your customers requesting? PL or LPL?
We received both PL and LPL mount requests from customers.
Please tell us about the partnership with Angénieux and Band Pro — beginning with the EZ Zooms and now Optimo Primes.
The launches of the Optimo Prime Series and Type EZ Zoom Series are collaborative efforts by Angénieux, Band Pro and Jebsen. By bringing together the three companies through these projects, we are creating a significant synergy with a strong foothold and extended outreach to the film industry worldwide. The release of Type EZ zooms has proven that we are on the right track, meeting the market demand of an affordable run-and-gun shooting style combined with high optical quality products. Meanwhile, the Optimo Prime Series is also the answer for the gaining popularity of shooting in Full Frame. DPs and rental companies will now have more lens choices to choose from, as well as Primes that beautifully match with their Angénieux Optimo Zooms for high-end production.
Did you sell EZ Zooms mostly in S35 or Full Frame versions? They come in both formats and can be easily converted from one format to the other: EZ-1 in 30-90 T2 (S35), 45-135 T3 (FF) and EZ-2 15-40 T2 S35, 22-60 T3 (FF).
We see there is a shift in demand from S35 to Full Frame format in the Type EZ Zooms. Our market is changing quickly and the demand for Full Frame versions has now reached nearly 90% of our orders.
US Launch of Optimo Prime Silver Set
Register for live stream Zoom event, Wednesday 8/26/2020, 10:30am PST, of Band Pro’s official US unveiling of the new Angenieux Optimo Primes Silver Set moderated by Jon Fauer.
Band Pro Lens Technician Emin Nalbandian will open a lens to show the Integrated Optical Palette and its replacement. Look customization will be demonstrated. Band Pro’s Senior Technical Consultant Randy Wedick and Product Manager Jean-Marc Bouchut will answer questions.