· Filmmaking,cinema lenses,Vintage lenses

A lens is a lens, right?...No not at all.

Not all lenses are created equally or even made for the same purpose. Yes, all lenses will have some basic features like focal length, T-stop, weight, price, brand, etc., but it doesn’t tell you the whole story.

Generally there are 2 different categories of lenses which includes Cinema and Photography lenses and inside these categories we have two basic types, which are called primes and zooms. You could think, who cares about what lens you use, just pop it on and away you go, but if you take just a little bit more time on which lenses you select can make an enormous difference on your final result. Have look below on how just the focal length of your lens can change an image.

In today's market there are hundreds of lenses for many different platforms. It gets complicated quickly, especially when you add questions like, do I want a wide aperture, which focal length, zoom or prime, manual or automatic focus and a plethora of other specs.

As you see from the title I want to talk about "Cine lenses". This term means that a lens should have certain features that differentiate it from a regular photography lens, including:

  • Long / accurate focus throw
  • Manual focus
  • Manual de-clicked aperture
  • Lens gear (for a follow focus)

For most beginner filmmakers when you search up the term "cine lens" on google we come across lenses costing thousands of pounds/euros each. Like this cine zoom from canon for example, costing over 5000€.

canon cinema lens

Of course this price range is way out of anyone's league except top professionals. So what options do you have if your budget doesn't stretch that far?

welcome to the world of vintage lenses

what are they?

Vintage lenses were originally meant to be used with older film-based single lens reflex cameras. Even a few years ago I had no idea about these types of lenses, relics of time gone by. One day I stumbled across a  facebook group, Youtube channel and website run by Alan Besedin, called Vintage Lens for Video, who analyse and review a vast variety of vintage lenses. He has created a really helpful community that help to answer any questions you have about these fantastic old lenses. which comes in very useful when your not sure about a certain lens and camera combo. There are literally 100s of different, very interesting vintage lenses, most of which offer a lot of benefits for video use over most modern lenses with either DSLRs or Camcorders. All you need is a simple adapter from your camera's mount to the lenses mount.

vintage lens adapter filmmaking luke thomas mccarthy

It blew my mind, with the diversity, quality, features and especially the prices of these lenses.

mind blown gif, funny filmaking

So what do these old lenses got to do with "Cine lenses". Well...these old lenses are actually old photo lenses. But since they were made before autofocus and electronic aperture control was invented. They tend to have very the same features as a cinema lenses such as a long focus (up to 270°), manual apertures with an added bonus of some unique optical properties.

where to start!

Helios 44-2

filmmaking budget lens , helois 44-2

Ebay           Amazon

The Helios 44-2 was one of the most mass produced lenses ever. Production has since stopped, but millions of them are still around making it a very affordable alternative. The Russian Helios 44-2 is a 58mm f2 prime lens. This is a legendary lens in the vintage lens community its interesting bokeh, good sharpness and price, it's one of the best lenses to start experimenting.

helois 44-2 filmaking luke mccarthy

The Helios' unique swirly bokeh.

What does this lens have in common with a cinema lens ?

One of the features that this lens doesn't have that would qualify it as a "cine lens" is a Lens gear. Messing around a lens, sound a good way to waste your money! right? No, due to the basic nature nature of vintage lenses, you can dismantle and put back together with in 20 minutes and is difficult to go wrong or mess it up. This means that they are very easy to modify and experiment with. The helios only has 3 glass elements! Anyways adding a lens gear does not involve opening up the lens is just a simple external modification.

A lens gear is relatively easy to add, the best routes that you can go down is to get 360° seamless lens gear (cheaper ones non-360° available on ebay but are not worth the hassle), there are two options either semi-permanent or permanent. The semi permanent option is from Cool Lux.

lux gear, vintage lens

The Cool-Lux Lux Gears are designed to stretch over the focus barrel of a lens and stay in place with a tight compression fit. Each gear is made from durable silicone. There are 16 gear sizes to choose from, for lenses with a diameter between 60mm and 92mm.

The second, more permanent option is to 3D print the gear, which is actually slightly cheaper but requires more work. A kind person on thingiverse.com has a made a 3d project file that you can download. It allows you to easily customise its parameters so that the size of your gear fit for your lens exactly. Print it out and voila!...wait not so fast you dont have a 3d printer?! Dont worry there are many websites where you can upload your files and get them printed and sent to you, like 3D Hubs. I have used them and they make high quality prints and are extremely helpful if your a 3d printing novice like me.

3d printed lens gear

A little bit of sanding later and you have yourself you own budget Cine lens, and with the price being around 50€ for all of this then you can quickly build up a nice collection.

modified helios 44-2

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