As audiences become accustomed to viewing ultra high definition movies and series shot in a cinematic style, increasingly popularised by streaming services, this cinematic aesthetic is also trickling down to everything from commercials to music videos and even corporate films.
This puts new demands on DOPs. It's becoming more and more important to carefully select the ideal set of lenses to get a cinematic look and feel that simply can't be produced by lighting design alone, or replicated in post-production.
Canon has responded to this demand with a new range of full-frame cine primes, the Sumire Prime series. Ranging from 14mm to 135mm, with fast maximum apertures from T1.3 to T3.1 depending on the model, they're designed to give a softer, more cinematic look but with the same unified warm colour tone as Canon's other Cinema EOS lenses and a slightly warmer rendition that flatters skin tones. The Sumire Prime lenses all come with an interchangeable PL mount (which can be changed to an EF mount at any authorised service facility) and have an 11-bladed iris for softer and rounder bokeh – a crucial demand for many modern filmmakers.
To test out the Sumire Primes in real-world scenarios, three gifted cinematographers were tasked with shooting a cinematic short film in the most challenging of environments, in a very short time – just one or two days.
Tania Freimuth, a British cinematographer, pushed the low-light ability of the Sumire Prime lenses to the full, shooting dark scenes in east London – indoors in a restaurant as well as in dimly-lit outdoor locations – where the real test was rendering skin tones accurately and smoothly.
Award-winning German DOP Hans von Sonntag shot a short film on the island of Tenerife, where the toughest factor was bright, unforgiving overhead sunshine, testing how the Sumire Prime lenses deal with flare and skin tones.
He told the story of a young couple in love, largely using the unique look of the Sumire Prime CN-E35mm T1.5 FP X lens shot wide open to highlight the subjects while bringing out the dimensionality of the rugged, dusty landscape.
And Dutch filmmaker Freek Zonderland, one of the latest generation of young and talented creatives, was tasked with telling the story of a professional athlete in a high-paced film where capturing the speed of the subject was crucial.
As any DOP will verify, picking the right lens is not just about choosing the highest-resolving lenses with the highest contrast. These can be accused of giving a sterile, less natural look to a film.
Equally, a set of vintage lenses may give a unique look but the differences in optical quality and colours across the lens range, as well as potential handling quirks, can often make rehoused lenses (analogue cine lenses converted to work with digital cameras) a risky affair. And as many weren't designed for the resolution of modern digital cameras, or they don't have the image circle to cover full-frame 35mm-size sensors or above, they are far from ideal.
The Sumire Prime lenses all come with an interchangeable PL-mount designed for high-end, PL-mount cinema cameras. Their new optical design ensures a smooth fall-off to out-of-focus areas (as the lens approaches the wider settings), giving DOPs the three-dimensionality of a truly cinematic look.
As Hans von Sonntag said after shooting with the CN-E35mm T1.5 FP X: "The lenses have a distinct vintage look but they bring vintage into Rec. 2020, in high resolution. Everything looks very sharp but when you shoot them wide open they behave like a vintage lens and flare like a vintage one, only much, much nicer."
To assist a smooth workflow for DOPs, the Sumire Prime range offers the same reduced focus breathing as Canon's EF-mount cine primes and are operated manually, allowing for precise change of focus. Operators won't have to adjust gear positions when changing between the lenses, which all offer a 300-degree focus rotation.
The Sumire Prime lenses can be changed from PL Mount to EF Mount at Canon authorised service centres and are compatible with all Canon Cinema EOS full-frame and Super 35mm 4K cameras, including the Canon EOS C700FF, Canon EOS C300 Mark II and Canon EOS C200.