Definition May 2021 - Web


With the push for higher-resolution cameras, using vintage optics seems counterintuitive. But there are many advantages to rehousing older optics – not least their unique character and flare

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from ancient Asahi Takumars, Soviet-era Russian lenses with all their optical extravagance, and Canon and Nikon’s greats of the pre- automation era, to current designs. Rehousing, though, is not cheap; often not cheaper than a good PL mount lens. Anyone contemplating it needs to make careful decisions. Matthew Duclos, of the eponymous Los Angeles lens company, suggests that the drive for old, quirky lenses is because people want to be noticed. “Digital cinematography has really lowered the point of entry for so many, it’s difficult to stand out when you don’t necessarily have a unique paintbrush. The lenses have become those paintbrushes.” Duclos’ company has been helping to provide those defining characteristics for a while. “One of the earliest rehousings was the Tokina 11-16mm,” he recalls. “The customer just wanted to be able to use it, full manual, for cinema. We did the conversion, designing all the bits. Then we realised there might be a market. We made 20 more and they sold like hot cakes... 50 more. There have been projects that start as a one-off and snowball.” Since then, Duclos has rehoused lenses including the Zeiss Contax, Leica R and Nikon Ai-S, as well as a huge amount of custom work.” If there’s an incumbent on the eastern side of the Atlantic, it is True Lens Services, based in Leicester. Managing director, Gavin Whitehurst, echoes Duclos’ comments about the search for something unique, but is keen to highlight the drive for large,

built for stills could work quite well for movies, too. There’s long been some crossover between the two – though for much of filmmaking history, it wasn’t particularly easy to try. Before the current popularity of modifying and rebuilding, lenses for popular stills mounts – such as Canon FD or EF, Pentax K and Nikon F – could not be easily adapted to fit most movie cameras. It was certainly done in special- purpose applications. At least some of the motion-control camerawork for the original Star Wars used remounted Leica glass, because it could cover the large VistaVision negative – an engineering feat that’s recently become more convenient than ever. Lens manufacturers repackaged their own stills designs at source, too. Sigma has done well with that approach recently, and Canon’s K35 range, renowned for films as prominent as Aliens , famously used glass elements identical to those in some of its FD mount stills lenses. Even so, the idea of rebuilding stills lenses for movie work has exploded over the past few years. Almost everything’s been rehoused, “IF YOU BUY A VINTAGE LENS, YOU’VE GOT DIFFERENT QUALITIES”


BELOW Vintage lenses can offer cinematographers an unusual style, thanks to their aberrations and vignetting

18 DEF I N I T ION | MAY 202 1

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