Choosing a cine-camera and lenses for a DCP film

  1. Choose a look.
  2. Choose an aspect ratio and lenses that cover that format.
  3. Choose a cine camera with a high bit rate and bit depth.

Choosing an aspect ratio

Cinemas have two standard settings for aspect ratio: Flat 1.85 and Scope 2.39

There are 4 DCI DCP resolutions used on films in cinemas:

4K Scope 2.39:1 4096 1716
4K Flat 1.85:1 3996 2160
2K Scope 2.39:1 2048 858
2K Flat 1.85:1 1998 1080

Some choose to use another aspect ratio inside one of these containers like 1.33, 1.66:1, 2:1, and 2.2:1. Read more about flat and scope in cinemas here

Example: Choosing 4096×1716 DCI Scope 2.39 in Davinci Resolve when making a 4K DCP

Read more about making a DCP in Resolve here.

High bit rate and bit depth cameras

A digital cine camera usually:

  • Records in a high bitrate raw format like ArriRaw. or semi-raw format like BRAW, or Prores
  • Records in a Log format like C-LOG or Blackmagic film
  • Records in 10-bit or 12-bit. or more
  • Records in DCI 2K or DCI 4K resolutions
  • Has framing lines for 1.85 Flat and 2.39 Scope

Cine-cameras recording in high-bit rate and high bit depth rate preserve:

  • Dynamic Range.
  • Shadow detail.
  • High detail scenery like forests and water.

When delivering a film as a 250 mbit DCP:

  • Film grain and noise can be left as it is or added without problems caused by low-bit-rate compression.
  • Banding caused by low bit rate and bit depth is not a problem.
  • DCPs are shown on big screens where compression artifacts are more visible than on a smaller screen. But even the DCPs JPE200 250 mbit bit rate can have problems with fog and smoke compression artifacts.
  • Each frame is compressed individually in DCPs; a camera shot of a plane flying over the forest will not have problems due to low compression.
  • DCPs are shown in dark rooms on cinema screens with less light intensity (14 fL) than on a normal TV. If the light intensity is closer to a TV ( 28 fL), the dark regions of the picture will look grey.
  • Digital projection has less contrast than a normal OLED TV. Side and top masking improves the perceived contrast but are only required for 2.39 and 1.85. On an OLED TV, you can have almost completely dark scenes where only one character is shown in total darkness. These scenes will not look as dark on a cinema screen, even at cinemas with 14 fL. To give the impression of darkness in a cinema, you would typically have more light sources in the dark scenes to add contrast, so the dark parts are perceived as dark.

Choosing Cine Lenses

Cine prime lenses:

  • are built to handle motorized follow focus systems.
  • come in matched sets
  • are often rented

ARRI LPL mount lenses like ARRI signature primes have a wider diameter and shorter flange distance compared to older PL mount lenses. Because the lens is closer to sensor and the mount is wider it easier to design lenses to be telecentric. Telecentric lenses has rear lens element that are as large as the sensor. This avoid light rays hitting the sensor and OLPF at steep angles. If the lens is not telecentric the sides of the picture can get aberration like blurring.

Cine Zooms

Angenieux Optimo Cine Zooms are an alternative to prime lens sets. These cine-zooms are parfocal, while many photography zoom lenses are not.

Vintage photographic lenses


Vintage photographic lenses from the 60, 70, and 80s are used as an alternative to professional cine lenses. They can add an organic look when used wide open or near wide open. When they are rehoused, they can be used the same way as normal cine lenses with motorized follow focus systems.

Zero optic rehouses Baltars, Canon FD, Canon K35, Canon Rangefinder, Leica, Nikon AI/AI-S, and Olympus OM lenses and has a good description of the different brands.

Old fast glass in LA rents out many sets with rehoused sets from Zero optic and TLS, such as the Kowa Cine Prominar set.

Rehoused vintage Canon K35 cine-lenses are popular because of their organic look, sharp but not clinically sharp look, and flares.

Vintage photographic lenses:

  • have an organic look. They are often sharp but not clinically sharp.
  • may have focus breathing when racking focus
  • when not rehoused, they often have few aperture blades and can lose the round bokeh balls when stopped down.
  • can have imperfections like chromatic aberration, field curvature, vignetting, barrel distortion, veiling glare, and other characteristics that have been removed in modern lens designs.

Boutique lenses

Example: Blackwing makes large format lenses based on older designs and tuned to have a more unique look. The Blackwing7 57 mm lens is based on a Biotar construction like the Asahi TAKUMAR 55mm f/1.8

Anamorphic Lenses

Classic anamorphic lenses

Many consider the anamorphic look with horizontal flares, oval bokeh and organic focus fall-off as very cinematic. Many big-budget films and TV shows are shot on rental lenses like the Panavision C-series, which have lots of character and flare

Detuned full-frame anamorphic lenses

The textured Arri Rental Alfa lenses cover LF/full-frame and are made from detuned/modified Arri Master Anamorphic lenses in collaboration with DP Greig Frasier while working on The Batman and DP Nikolaus Summerer working on 1899.

Anamorphic lenses that can be bought

Atlas Orion anamorphic lenses have a vintage look and are possible to buy in 40-65-100 and 32-50-80 sets and cover super-35, 4 perf, and large format with a 1.6 LF extender.

Choosing a look

Indiewire Oscar contenders surveys

Indiewire makes surveys where they ask cinematographers what kind of look they wanted and which cine cameras and lenses they used to get that look. There are more factors than lens and camera when finding a look for a film, and some of the DOPs tell how they use different techniques like shooting handheld and using detuned lenses to get the look they are looking for.

The Oscar cinematography survey for films released in 2019

The winner of Best Cinematography at the 2020 Oscars was 1917 (dir. Sam Mendes). DOP Roger Deakins used an Arri Alexa LF and the ARRI Signature Prime 40mm.

The Oscar cinematography survey for films released in 2020

The winner of Best Cinematography at the 2021 Oscars was Mank (dir. David Fincher). DOP Erik Messerschmidt used RED’s HELIUM 8K S35 Monochrome and Leica Summilux lenses.

The Oscar cinematography survey for films released in 2021

The winner of Best Cinematography at the 2022 Oscars was Dune (dir. Denis Villeneuve). DOP Greig Fraser used ARRI Alexa LF, Panavision Ultra Vista Anamorphics lenses, and Panavision H series spherical lenses. And scanned film-out by Foto-kem.

Large format, Full format, 65 mm

The ARRI ALEXA LF mini cine camera and other large format cameras like the Sony Venice have been popular among the Oscars contenders in recent years. The lens choices are widening for full frame cinematography, and lenses with vintage donor glass like ARRI DNA are used on many films like The Green Knight, which was shot with Alexa 65 (dir. David Lowery, DOP Andrew Droz Palermo)

Large format lenses with a more clean modern look like the Zeiss Supreme are used on some recent films like Titane (dir. Julia Ducournau, DOP Ruben Impens)

A film made with modern cine-lenses withlittle distortion can look similar using a 35 mm lens at F 2.0 on a super-35 camera and a 50 mm lens at F 2.8 on a large format/full-frame camera. The modern cine lenses are well matched, and the look does not change so much when stopped down compared to vintage lenses.

ARRI Rental recently rehoused and started renting out the Moviecam prime lenses that originally were rehoused in the 80s with 70s Olympus and Canon donor lenses. Arri Rental says these lenses shine on full-frame compared to super-35 and are an alternative to ARRI DNA when shooting on full frame. The Moviecam lenses have controlled beautiful organic flares and a characterful but consistent look.

The Zeiss Technical papers on lens depth and mft have technical explanation on the science behind lens design and why vintage lenses can be easier to focus, and why perfect MFT score lenses can look bad.

Here are some guesses why the vintage donor glass used in moviecam lenses changes characteristics when used on full frame (Alexa Mini LF) compared to super-35 (Alexa Mini)

  • Large sensors and high resolution increase the details that are captured. This also helps softer lenses since both sensor size/resolution and lens performance are factors in how much detail are captured. Others factors are which kind of Optical Low Pass Filter (OLPF) and which kind of mount are used in the cine camera.
  • On a large sensor, more of the image circle of the lenses are used, and aberrations like vignetting, field curvature, and barrel distortion are more visible than on smaller super-35 sensors. The imperfections add to the magic of these lenses.
  • T 2.0 on a Super 35 cine-camera has the same depth of field as T 2.8 on full frame. Open aperture (T 2.0 and T 1.5) on these lenses on a full frame sensor have more shallow depth of field and different focus fall-of than when using them wide open on a super-35 sensor.

Super-35

Many DoPs use the Arri Alexa Mini camera and super-35 lenses like Cooke S4, Leica Summilux, Zeiss Super Speeds, and Super Baltars. Canon K35 lenses are also popular and can fit both full-frame and Super-35.

The new 2022 ARRI ALEXA 35 can record in 4K with super-35 lenses like the Leica Summilux. And is an alternative to RED cameras for 4K capture with super-35 lenses on Netflix films and shows.
Read more about 4K sensor sizes and lens coverage in this post:
Choosing sensor size, resolution, and lenses on cine cameras

35 mm film

Some of the Cinematography Oscars contenders in the last years have been shot on film.

On Licorice Pizza (dir. Paul Thomas Anderson), DoP Paul Thomas Anderson and DP Michael Bauman were inspired by 70s movies like American Graffiti. They shot on 35mm film with Panavision C-series anamorphic lenses, custom-made lenses from Panavision, and some of Paul Thomas Anderson lenses.

Super-16 mm film

On Spencer (dir: Pablo Larraín), DoP Claire Mathon used s16 mm film with Leitz Summilux and Zeiss Ultra 16 lenses. The coarse super-16 film grain and large field depth are important parts of the super-16 mm look.

Diopters

On Another round (dir. Thomas Vinterberg) DoP Sturla Brandth Grøvlen used the Arri Alexa Mini and Canon K35 lenses. For some of the drinking sequences, he used close focus diopters to get a very low depth of field.

Black Pro mist filters

To get a 1940s look Black Pro-Mist 1/4 and 1/8 filter were used on Nightmare Alley (dir. Guillermo del Toro, DoP Dan Laustsen). Cameras used was Alexa 65 and Alexa LF Mini, lenses used was ARRI Signature Prime Lenses.

Recommended cine-camera settings and practices

The Netflix list of approved 4K cameras for original content is a good list of 4K cine-cameras. It also has recommended practices like using a framing chart. The list shows which settings are to be used on each camera for Netflix original 4K productions

When making a film for the cinema, you can choose to use other settings than the ones approved for Netflix for original content. But the Netflix settings like using at least 10-bit depth and C-LOG are also recommended for digital cinema.

Choosing sensor size and resolution (2K/4K)

Example: ARRI Alexa 35 with 2X anamorphic recording in 4K DCI SCOPE

The new ARRI Alexa 35 has a Super 35 4/3 sensor with 4.6K resolution.


It has selectable “digital film stocks” called Arri Textures like G733 nostalgic that can burn in an organic 35 mm look.

You can record directly in 4K DCI resolution like c-log4 ProRes 4K 2.39:1 Anamorphic 2x 3328×2790 (20.21 x 16.95 mm) desqueezed to Scope 4K DCI 2.39 (4096×1716).

Because the sensor area is 20.21 x 16.95 mm/26.3 mm image circle, you can use traditional anamorphic lenses like the Atlas Orion anamorphic lenses which cover a 24.89 mm x 18.66 mm sensor area.

Read more about Choosing sensor size, resolution, and lenses on cine cameras


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