I was once again fortunate enough to be invited by Art Adams, Cinema Lens Specialist at ARRI to participate in a lens comparison test. The idea of the test was to show the similarity between the Signature Primes and new Signature Zooms and to demonstrate that the zooms were indeed of the same quality as the primes. It's always fun to be a part of a "secret project" and get your hands on gear before anyone else has a chance to look at it ... ;-)
Personally, I was very impressed with the zooms, they are a Fast T2.8 and have a very beautiful warm look, pleasing bokeh and beautiful contrast. If I was asked to suggest lenses for a FF show that had a small budget and needed to move fast I would immediately recommend these zooms.
While on the face of it, this is a simple job, the technicality and the repetitiveness are the dangers. Especially the repetitiveness, this is where one can make a mistake out of sheer monotony! In all we ended up doing close to 50 lens changes and the entire time the camera had to stay absolutely locked off or we would have to start all over again. This was probably the most tense part of the job, but our key grip Greg did an amazing job of locking off the camera and we used an ARRI Gear head 2 for extra security.
But locking off the camera was only one part of it. The other part was preparing a spreadsheet that had all the various lens comparisons and shots we needed to cover so we could tick them off one by one and ensure that we got each shot that we needed as it would be near impossible to come back to the lock off and duplicate it. Unfortunately, I cannot share the spreadsheet for legal reasons, but it is simple enough to make and go through each setup with the DoP.
Yes, I took the picture before I secured the bridge clamp to the lens. I know. Ooops ...
The plan was to put up the long zoom 65-300, shoot several variations that had two prime lenses in it. For example we would shoot 85-95, so 10 seconds at 85, zoom to 95 shoot 10 seconds then cut. We had 10 of these variations. Later we would shoot the 85 and 95 prime on the exact same frame for 20 seconds each and then in the film they would cut the zoom and primes side by side to show the similarity. We repeated this for several times like 65-75, 75-150, 150-180, 80-95 etc. Then we did a few takes of the full zoom range and a few variations.
The pixelation is obviously my phone resolving the monitor's pixels ...
Then we would do the same with the 45-135, shooting 5 zoom variations, then a full zoom range.
After all of these we shot the primes.
Then we used the 1.7x extender on each zoom and did a few shots. I was EXTREMELY impressed with the extender. Somehow it maintained the warmth and beauty of the lens and even though it is supposed to take 1.7 stops, it seemed like it took a few points less, but I’m not that technical so don’t take my word for it …
The Camera Setup
Since this was an ARRI inhouse secret project, the zooms were officially announced the day after this test, we used ARRI’s inhouse gear. ARRI LF with CLM4 motors, WCU4. This was great for me because the moment I put the zoom, or primes up, they were immediately seen by the camera and after a quick calibration I had all the info on my screen and was able to make all adjustments via the handset, like setting zoom limits for each setup.
Because ARRI calibrates their system at 0.1mm on the zooms, it was slightly tricky to get the zoom range to be exact. For example, if I was trying to set up the 80-95 zoom range. It would jump from 79.9 to 80.1 because the pressure on the zoom stick was enough to move it .2mm . I did figure it out eventually, but the first hour was a bit of a learning curve. Think of it like this, when you pump gas/petrol and the dial stops at $24.93 and you try to finesse the pump to get to exactly $25 and you go over by .01cents … Except in my case, I could bump it back… Don’t you wish they had that function at gas pumps? LOL
This is also where, due to their similarity and repetitiveness, it was very important to stay alert, focused (HAHA) and on point, because this is exactly the place where it is easy to either miss a lens variation, or move the camera while doing a lens change or magazine reload.
Finally, after we did all of these shots and triple checked our shot list, we broke the lock off and did some close focus shots. Both zooms have a surprisingly close focus and even with the extender look gorgeous.
I am always excited and honored to work on prototype tests with ARRI and this was another great adventure that I’m glad I got to be a part of! Thank you Art and ARRI!
Let me know if you'd like any other info about the test or more articles on how to do tests of different kinds! Thanks for reading!