There’s something special about the number 7.
Tribe7, makers of Full Frame, tunable Blackwing7 lenses are especially attuned to sevens. Initially, there were seven focal lengths, each ending in a seven: 27, 37, 47, 57, 77, 107 and 137 mm. An additional focal length, 20.7mm, has been introduced.
And so, on 7/7 (July 7) of this year, Tribe7 announces that Blackwing7 lenses will be distributed exclusively in North America by AbelCine. The news follows on the heels of Tribe7 announcements that Second Reef GmbH is the exclusive distributor of the Blackwing7 lenses in Europe. And, CVP is the exclusive distributor in the UK.
The latest news of AbelCine’s announcement is fitting. AbelCine has been involved in fine lenses since the beginning. Barely out of school, Pete Abel worked as a lens repair technician in New York. He remembered, “AbelCine started in 1989. My brother Rich was a camera assistant and provided Aaton camera along with Cooke and Angenieux lens repairs on the side. He met with clients, picked up their cameras, took the cameras home, and maintained them. That was in my old bedroom, set up as a shop. I later joined him. We turned our garage into a machine shop, then added a second bench. That’s how it started.”
Pete, CEO and Co-Founder of AbelCine was ebullient in describing the back-story of the Tribe7 partnership and Blackwing7 distribution. He said, “I see many similarities in Tribe7 to Aaton, who was the rebel innovator of their day: in-camera time code, video assist, Super 16—they really were out there, pushing technology to give documentary filmmakers greater intimacy with their subjects. There was a certain personality type among the early Aaton adopters, like Al Maysles, Ricky Leacock, D.A. Pennebaker, Haskell Wexler. They were innovators in their own right, constantly modifying their tools.
“These days, that desire for cinematographers to adapt their tools continues, and it’s the lenses that have become the area of creative exploration. The wonderful thing about Blackwing7 lenses is how they can be tuned to one’s personal aesthetic, at a price point that filmmakers at all stages of their career can afford. What’s exciting about AbelCine’s role is not just distributing and servicing Blackwing7 lenses, but enabling creatives to explore tuning variations and achieve the look they envision.”
Blackwing7 lens tuning allows parameters such as sharpness, contrast, focus roll-off, spherical aberration, field curvature, edge halation and flare to be modified to provide sets of “curated” optics to suit the personality and style of the owner. Many of the design cues for Blackwing7 primes originate in optics manufactured during the 1930 – 1960s.
I had the impression that one of Neil’s origination intentions was to offer amazing yet affordable lenses to a new generation of filmmakers. Of course, few cinematographers adhere to a manufacturer’s original intent. And so, the list is long of DPs around the world — established and new — who have been working with Blackwing7 lenses on major motion pictures.
Tribe7 Co-Founder Neil Fanthom elaborated, “There are three basic lens options: S (Standard), T (Transient) and X (eXpressive). Custom-tuned variants are possible, enabling some proprietary deviation from the three standard tunings, and the ability to mix the variants.
“As a baseline, S lens optics are multi-coated to suit a 1970s style with controlled pupil (rainbow) flare and higher contrast.
“T lens optics are single coated to suit a 1950s style, and are tuned with a higher degree of Blackwing7 pupil flare (most notably on 37mm, 57mm and 77mm focal lengths).
“X lens optics are vintage single coated with peripheral element un-coating to help reduce contrast and create milkier flares. The pupil flare is further exaggerated on X-tuned lenses to create “percussive” rainbow flares and distortion when wide open on each focal length — akin to a Marshall valve guitar amp dialed up to 11.”
Indeed—Neil and Tribe7 co-founder Bradford Young ASC are profoundly into music as well as visuals.
Neil continued, “During 2021, Tribe7 expects to announce further tuning capability, allowing Blackwing7 primes to take on additional characteristics which will be field-retrofittable, and reversible back to the manufactured state.
“We’re highly aware that our current policy of returning lenses to the factory for re-tuning is not ideal, and we have the pandemic to blame for delaying our plans to roll out a field tuning program. That said, the tuning process is proprietary, requires significant skill, process control and specialized equipment. So, the factory is absolutely the best place to achieve that and to preserve warranty.
“But it’s time to plan for change, to the point where later this year our three manufactured variants will be able to be modified on the fly to suit project-by-project needs. Initially, our new distributor network will shake down this process to control the quality. But ultimately, with the right training and spares stocks, we’ll open up the field tuning program to rental houses, and even owner-operators who have access to a competent lens technician with the right equipment.
“On the subject of the pandemic, Tribe7 worked every day throughout this difficult period to ship as many Blackwing7 lenses to clients as humanly possible. Our manufacturing partner IB/E provided amazing levels of support to help us fight the fight. But inevitably, component supply chains have been affected during the past 16 months and capacity has been limited to about 30% of where we expected to ramp up to in 2021. We’ve just begun to break the pandemic chains though, and clients will see the business move ahead at a much faster pace as we work through the rest of this year. We really appreciate everyone’s understanding and patience. The strength and support we have seen from the Blackwing7 community has been astonishing.”
“Second reef” is when I start to get nervous at sea as the wind picks up. Reefing means you lower the sail and furl it around the boom or tie reefing lines to reduce surface area. Second reef shortens the sail about 24%. You do this in winds of 20 to 30 knots (25 to 34 mph).
Alexander Schwarz is also a fellow sailor. And so, with co-founder James S. Bouchie, they founded the company Second Reef to distribute, among other things, Blackwing7 lenses.
Alexander has a degree in Computer Science and entered the film business with an innovative Video Assist System. He became a Senior Director of key accounts at a major camera rental house. Jim worked for 7 years in sales and marketing in the business after 16 years of university teaching in Europe and Asia.
When asked why they chose the name, they said, “Our focus is navigation. We want to do things a little bit differently and bring risk-takers and innovators together to create new strategic partnerships. So why Second Reef? We sail when others go home. Our extensive experience working in the film industry with optics, manufacturing and rental houses give us the strategic advantage to see and help our clients get where they are going.
“We have worked with TRIBE7 hand-in-hand from early on and have been pushing sales worldwide since 2019. We were excited about tuned lenses as soon as we heard from Neil Fanthom and Bradford Young what they were planning; we were happy to represent the Blackwing7 lenses. We felt that the newer, sharper camera sensors changed what DPs wanted in a lens. We were already seeing many cinematographers using vintage lenses to break up that image. When combined with the loss of film as a controllable variable, we were sure lenses would gain even more importance as a creative tool. The Blackwing7 lenses provide many new aesthetic choices into a system that can be used in innumerable ways to create emotional, powerful, cinematic images.”
To these intrepid navigators, Second Reef is not a time for apprehension, but rather the enjoyment of a successful journey.
CVP London has been distributing Blackwing7 lenses in the UK.
Aaron George, CVP Creative Space Director, said, “There has been a certain mystery and mystique behind the lenses that has been intriguing. They weren’t advertised. They developed a large and almost underground following of people wanting to know what these lenses were all about and wanting to test them.
“At the last BSC show in January 2020, we had a lens bar with hundreds of lenses. It seemed that people mostly wanted to play with the Blackwing7s. They were by far the most asked-for lenses, in particular with the younger crowd, perhaps influenced by their Instagram fame and reputation.
“Blackwing7 primes sit in a range where few others sit in terms of look, specifications, attractive price and image coverage beyond full frame. DPs are not the only ones seeking them out; producers are even calling us to purchase them. So they’re interesting little beasts.”
I had never heard lenses being referred to as little beasts, but why not? Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Blackwing7s? Lenses of the Dark Arts? Wingardium Leviosa. Meanwhile, back in the land of Muggle filmmaking, I asked how CVP was supporting these wondrous lenses.
CVP Managing Director Jon Fry replied, “In terms of the capability of CVP, as with all the other manufacturers we represent, it is much more than a single item purchase. We offer all the expertise that sits behind it: testing, trying the lens on all the different cameras, repairing, lens projecting, customizing and sitting down with Aaron to work out how they fit a particular project. Customers can come to our showrooms at Charlotte or Newman Streets and get a feel for these lenses on almost any camera available.”
Aaron discussed users and projects in the UK: “The requests for the lenses have all been for high-end projects so far. Independent and lower budget productions would love to have them, but there just are not enough sets in the world right now to supply the demand. Once they become available in greater numbers, they’ll certainly cover a larger range of projects. But currently, the high-end dramas and commercials are taking the lion’s share of the rentals of those lenses for the simple fact that you just can’t get enough of them. So that’s a good situation to be in.
“Never before have I had producers asking to buy a lens set. That is rather interesting. I think it’s because of the reputation that’s going around for the lenses and producers want to have them available for whenever DPs ask for these particular lenses on projects. They realized that there are so few, so far, and they’re putting orders in.”
Is this a new hyphenate? We have owner-operators, producer-directors and now producer-Blackwing7 owners.
Blackwing7 lenses will be distributed worldwide as follows:
- North America: AbelCine (abelcine.com)
- UK: CVP (cvp.com)
- Europe: Second Reef (second-reef.com)
- Elsewhere: Tribe7 (blackwing7.com)