Review: Aluras, Primes, and Super Speeds


On the last few shoots I've gotten my hands on a few different types of glass: Zeiss Mark I Super Speeds, Arri Ultra Primes, and a couple of Arri Aluras. I'm not going to waste anybody's time going into technical detail, but as a Camera Assistant, here are some things I noticed and preferred about some over the others.

Zeiss Mark I Super Speeds T/1.4

First off, no doubt that Carl Zeiss is a highly respectable name in the field. Hands down some of the best sets of glass out there. The last feature I AC'd was shot on a set of Zeiss Mk I Super Speeds, great lenses with an aperture that clocks in at T/1.4. Originally released close to 30 years ago, these might as well be one of the founding fathers of super speeds. Them being so old though you run into a few things, some good and some bad.

With age, comes wear. Unless "babied" there is going to be some natural wear and tear from being used for so many years. PL mounts being loose and needing to be reset and having some give in the focus ring were some things we ran into. This may not be for everybody though, I can only speak for the set we had in particular.

Beautiful filmic image. What I loved the most about these bad boys was the film-like appearance it gave our image. Of course we had to be careful with the aperture, opening wider than a T/2 would give sort of a "bloom" effect. This would cause issues with pulling focus, but other than that great image. 

Hold your breath. Those who are familiar with pulling focus or dealing with a variety of lenses, you've heard of a lens "breathing." Well these guys full on inhale, deep sigh, practically snore. What I mean by the lens breathing is this: when you rack focus either direction, if it's a drastic enough pull you can see a change in your frame. Almost looks like a minuscule zoom, but it's noticeable. The actual physical lens breathes with your focus change as well. This can cause some creativity with your matte box, because at the start of your focus it may be right up against the lens, but by the end of your pull you could have gap in between the lens and matte box. This can cause light leaks depending if you have ND filters in or not. Just something to keep in mind.

Arri Ultra Primes T/1.9

Also accompanied with the Carl Zeiss name stamped on the top, great quality lens and a great quality image. Here's how they broke down for me:

Nice and Crispy. No doubt a good look to these primes. Compared to the Mark I Super Speeds it had a little less of a film look for me, but I felt like I could really nail some of my focus points, even as they got closer to infinity. Whereas on the Mk I's I felt like they would almost skip over where I wanted to focus as the talent got further away. Good crisp focus.

Nice and Cozy. In regards to the image, I can't say I noticed any breathing while focusing on these. Physically, there was NO breathing when you focus, which was great. The front of the lens was nice and cozy with the matte box the whole time, right up against the ND's. Kept us from even thinking twice about the possibility of light leaks.

Arri Alura T/2.8

Specifically the two Aluras we had on set were the 15-45mm and the 45-250mm, both with an aperture of T/2.8.

I've worked with these two particular lenses many times and love the image, plus being zooms it's easy to just dial in what lens your DP wants. However when you do have to change lenses, it's a bit of an ordeal. 

Working with primes it's easy to get spoiled to just pop off the matte box, or swing it away depending on the brand you have, change lenses and you're good to go. Going from a 15-45mm to a 45-250mm is a bit more to do. Shown in the images above.

The front of the lenses are differently sized so that'll change the donut/hard matte you have in your matte box. It requires a rod change/extension depending which lens you're switching to. Changing rods causes for pulling the Follow Focus and reattaching it, and if going to the 45-250mm a lens support is needed. Not exactly as quick of a change as the primes.

If that's kept in mind when changing lenses though and you have things organized in a fashion that you can get to what you need quickly it shouldn't take too long.

My Favorite?

Our of these three, I'd choose the Arri Ultra Primes. Quick to change, crisp to focus, and unless you're in super low light the T/1.9 is more than enough speed to get that nice depth of field you want in your shots. #DatBokeh

Beating an undead horse

Mild Spoiler Alert

If there's one thing everyone and their mom can agree on it's that it is a post-apocalyptical obsessed generation. Not just in the aspect that everyone is prepared for the zombie apocalypse, but it has flooded our shows and movies with the foot-dragging, flesh-hungry undead.   I fall right into that target audience. There is something fascinating about the idea that civilization as a whole falls apart with a matter of minutes to months, and humanity is left to survive with nothing but primal instincts and a shred of luck.

I'm not going to point fingers at the bad shows (maybe I'll do that later in another post) but I would like to commend one specific series for how they're doing it, and doing it well: AMC's Fear The Walking Dead. Take a walk with me and let's break the first two episodes down as a whole from story composition to technical aspects and see why this show is killing it, and doing it differently than every other zombie infused network show.

Audiences this day in age have a short attention span, it's not a secret, although I do believe it's getting better and people are starting to look for a more story driven dynamic in what they watch. FTWD does a great job of opening up and basically cutting the crap. Opens up beautifully with a drugged up junkie finding the first infected person eating someone. There is no explanation who this character is, where he's located, or if he's important or not. The opening sequence has just enough "wow factor" and mystery so that by the time the opening titles come up it's a hook, line, and sinker. No one is turning the show off at that point.

A lot of times shows like this are started after the infection has spread to worldwide pandemic, or at least that the governments of the world already know what's going down and they are underway to stop it. Sometimes they start up after the world is destroyed and characters are left trying to rebuild a life or merely just survive. The Walking Dead is a good example of this type of show and again, they kill it. Absolutely love that show but I'm going to stay on topic here and keep talking about the Spinoff Series of that show, Fear The Walking Dead.

Here's why it's different:

FTWD starts with the city of LA thinking that there's just a bad flu virus that's going down. Kids are calling in sick for school and life as they know it is continuing on. Within these first two episodes you see the chaos that starts to ensue as an unaware city witnesses police having to gun "innocent" people down in the streets that are just "sick". Riots start, fires and protests in the street, and the question in the majority of the city "Why are they doing this?" Police at this point don't even know what's happening, they just see sick people walking towards them to attack and are having to load them full of bullets to take one down. It's an extremely realistic representation of how actual people would react if this was happening. Some would start hoarding water and canned goods, some would need a finger to point blame, some would turn violent at protest just demanding answers. We all know the government wouldn't be keen on cluing us in, mainly because they themselves wouldn't know what's going on, but also would want to keep widespread panic from happening.

One thing that shines in The Walking Dead is character development, and I expect nothing less in Fear The Walking Dead. The story centers around a cliche television family with specific roles. The stepfather/teacher who is trying to gain respect of his step children, the wise one from the beginning seeing that something is off with the sickness and shootings. He suspects there's something linking the two. The mother of those children who is guidance counselor at the same school the stepfather teaches at, she also suspects something's off but wants to have faith that everything will be fine and the government will give fair warning if something is wrong. The teenage daughter who rolls her eyes at everything, but still does the right thing when it comes down to it. Lastly, the college age son who has thrown his life away and become a drugged up junkie. All these characters have open doors to grow as far as their development goes, and I can't wait to see where the show takes them.

From a technical aspect, beautiful at every angle.

Shot on a few different cameras but the one I'd like to point out is the Arri Alexa XT Plus. Allowing the base format to be shot 2K and giving the editors and colorists the ability to make these episodes as beautiful as they are.

Scenes are lit and shot based off the mood, giving subtle representation of how you should feel about what's happening. Overall the show starts with things for the most part fully lit, bright and normal, representing all is fine in the world. Then as time goes on, things are revealed that this sickness going around could be something more, scenes become more and more backlit. This causes the foreground to be darker and more ominous. This causes beautiful silhouettes and glowing edges around our characters and scenes, all the while not taking away from the information presented in the scene. The camera moves are tastefully designed and used. Handheld when necessary but not overplayed. Also props to the steadicam operator, smooth and perfect horizon normally, but if it's a high tension moment horizon is broken just a bit. To the viewer this allows the feeling that something isn't right, and that's exactly how they want you to feel. In a nutshell the soundtrack is on point. The opening title and the sound behind it is beautifully terrifying, and throughout the show it's never overplayed but fits the scenes perfectly. Below are some examples:

To sum up, this show is awesome. I love it. AMC sure knows what it's doing with their series lately, and FTWD has all the pieces of a puzzle to create an epic series that will keep viewers crawling back just like The Walking Dead has. Selfishly when it does end I would love for it to lead up to the point that Rick Grimes wakes up in the Pilot of The Walking, I just think that would be the perfect way to end this series as a prequel. But hey, we'll see where it goes from here, can't wait.