Zeiss’ Director of Cinema Sales, Americas, Snehal Patel, manages sales for the entire line of ZEISS cinema lenses in North and South America.  That means making decisions about how they sell, how they educate the market and how they help further the goals and aspirations of cinematography in the Americas.  This includes educational initiatives, creating content with filmmakers, participating at trade shows, film festivals and other events, and providing feedback directly from Cinematographers to Zeiss headquarters for future product development. 

In this episode of OWC RADiO, host Cirina Catania and Snehal take a deep dive into the world of Zeiss Cinema Lenses and reveal some of the solutions available to productions interested in some of the highest quality glass available in the world!

ZEISS is an internationally leading technology enterprise, a pioneer in the field of scientific optics, is headquarted in Oberkochen, Germany and operates in nearly 50 countries around the world. Market segments include, semiconductor manufacturing technology, industrial quality & research, medical technology and consumer markets.

Cirina and Snehal dissect the line of cinema lenses, guide us to more information and give us a look through the looking glass at some of the world’s best glass. ZEISS is truly shaping the future of creative and scientific technology.

You can check out their website: www.zeiss.com

Write to us at OWCRADiO@catania.us or comment below.

For more information about our amazing sponsor, Other World Computing, go to MacSales.com or OWCDigital.com, where you’ll find hardware and software solutions and tutorial videos that will get you up and running in no time.

For more about our host, filmmaker, tech maven and co-founder of the Sundance Film Festival, Cirina Catania, visit cirinacatania.com.

If you enjoy our podcast, please subscribe and tell all your friends about us! We love our listeners. And, if you have ideas for segments, write to OWCRadio@catania.us. Cirina is always up for new ideas!


In This Episode

  • 00:09 – Cirina introduces Snehal Patel, Zeiss’ Director of Cinema Sales.
  • 03:58 – Snehal shares the topics covered under their educational Zeiss cine vlog.
  • 08:12 – Cirina compares flares created through special effects or plug-ins on a computer to mechanically created ones.
  • 13:20 – Snehal shares Zeiss’ less expensive lenses that don’t compromise quality from their cinema line.
  • 18:18 – Snehal explains the benefits of using Supreme Prime Lenses over less expensive lenses in the market.
  • 23:19 – Snehal gives an overview of the various family lenses on Zeiss’ cinema line on their website.
  • 28:42 – Cameras to consider using in doing documentary-style shooting. 
  • 35:11 – Snehal gives tips and advice on how to get access and change your mindset that can make an impact on your cinematography skill development. 
  • 39:02 – Snehal expresses how he loves to share his knowledge and support the art of cinematography to all the people he could reach.
  • 43:05 – Find out more about Zeiss cinema lenses and learn from various people with multiple talents by visiting zeiss.com/cine.

Jump to Links and Resources


Transcript

This is Cirina Catania with OWC radio, and I have Snehal Patel on the line. One of my favorite people from Zeiss. You guys have been so good to me over the years.

Hi, Cirina.

I just wanted to bring you on because there’s a lot to talk about. So you manage the sales of cinema lenses throughout North and South America, correct?

Yeah, for Zeiss Cinema, I handle North and South America, so that’s Canada down through Brazil. We do have a distribution company in Canada. And otherwise, we handle directly with our dealers in our network for sales in the US and countries all over Latin America, including Mexico, Central, and South America. 

Oh my goodness. So you’re awfully busy?

It’s quite a territory.

It’s a huge territory. I know you travel all the time, and now you’re doing more and more educational videos. The other day I noticed one that was up, it’s great stuff, and we all really need it. Can you tell us a little bit more about those activities and what you’re doing there?

Thanks for mentioning that. What we’re doing is we’re trying to adapt because we’re facing the issue with the Coronavirus and the shutdown of the industry worldwide. How do we keep talking to people? Because we do this work in this industry, specifically in this specialized industry for cinematography in the creative arts, to support the artist. And we are really just here to help provide tools that they can use to work on their craft. And if you don’t have that engagement, It’s not very easy to make inroads into the community. Especially if you have some nice new exciting products that solve a problem or do something creative that you want to introduce. It becomes tough when you can’t get it in front of people, bring it to their hands, and talk to them, and have those conversations. 

The way we engage is going to be very different now. And since our previous engagement methods involved trade shows and events, we need to be more creative with our communication. Click To Tweet

And our conversations have different ranges. Like, we don’t necessarily just do stuff at trade shows. We get involved a lot with film festivals, local events, and educational opportunities where you would at a trade show. We’re always trying to help people learn new things or give access to information, ideas, and equipment. So if you don’t get to do that, what do you do? Well, we’re sitting at home, we’re thinking about stuff like this. Let’s keep communicating, let’s put education out there. Now people have time so they can sit down and look at stuff. 

Like, if you’re so busy as a cinematographer, you’re working all the time. You work way more than people realize. You’re always on the road, you’re always picking up gigs, whatever level you are, you’re always hustling at some point. So now’s the chance to sit down and go, “Okay, well, all that new stuff that came out, let’s learn about it. What is it all about?” “What are the things that people are making with it?” “What are the qualities of it that I might like?” Here’s a chance to do research, which is also part of the craft anyway, right? Anytime you do a new project, you want to create a new look or help for the story. You’re going to do this research, but usually have a very truncated amount of time to do that. So now you have some time to do research. Why not put some information out there for the community to access while they have time at home?

Yeah, so tell us about some of the things you’ve been teaching in these new courses.

This is a cool one because this is a presentation that we’ve only done before at Camera Image Film Festival, and it’s regarding flare characteristics, and how optically it’s created. That’s a really exciting topic because people want to know, and they want to demystify. Like, “Well, how does this stuff work? How do I know when something’s going to work for me or against me?” “How do I recognize good traits and bad traits that are not going to hurt me later on when we’re in post and looking at stuff going, ‘Oh, man, that just doesn’t look the way I wanted it to.'” Now is the time to learn about how this is done. So we’re going to dive deep but in an interesting and very accessible way into how lens flares are created. So it should be a great topic, and that’s going to be just a vlog type of format, so it’s easily accessible on Facebook and YouTube. But the cool thing is that it gives people a chance that didn’t get to see you at all these trade shows that are getting canceled and didn’t get to see you at the South by Southwest. Because I mean, we had robust activities at South by Southwest and NAB, of course. Hopefully, we’ll be able to access and get in front of people on other shows in the future again, but at least you have a chance to take a look.

Generally, in any product line, the more expensive cinema lenses have an uncompromised performance from center to edge, especially in the Primes.

Give us a hint, give us one little tip right now about how to get a better flare.

Well, the first to know is flares’ cause, and what it is. In your optical design of your lens, you have made different layers of glass inside in a typical cinema lens, and it doesn’t matter what manufacturer who’s making it. There’s a lot of work and engineering and science that goes into it. Many people spent many years studying how each glass does- with the formula of the glasses and things like that- but then there are very important aspects of putting a lens together as the coatings that you use. Because you want to stop or control reflections. Different coatings transmitting or blocking light from reflection are among the things that can cause flares. Other things that can cause flares are mechanical things like shiny surfaces and the lens interior or things like that. Another aspect of the flare is the low pass filter, or whatever optical filter you have in front of your digital sensor before it hits the sensor itself. There’s sometimes a piece of glass most of the time in digital cinema cameras. That adds a piece of flare too. 

In this presentation, we’re going to break down the different pieces of these flares and how this is caused. Then, we know how to recognize it, then say, “Okay, now I can make a better informed choice about what I want. If I want this look, what is it that I have to do to get that look?” and we’ll talk about our new radiance lenses designed to give flare characteristics and why and how they do it. So it’s demystified, so you get a deeper understanding.

It’s so funny I grew up being taught that flare was bad. You have to do everything you can to avoid it. Watch the angle of the light, keep your lenses clean, all four sides of the matte box, everything to avoid flare. And then in the last few years, it’s become kind of a thing a lot of people liked. But I have to say I have a slight aversion to the flares that you get through special effects. That you can buy these plugins to create flare, I can tell the difference. There’s a difference, right? 

Yes, there’s a big difference between the mechanical- what’s created in analog and optical elements itself- and what you create on a computer. The computer will never be able to map exactly how your lenses are going to behave in the real world because it’s always a little different. So yes, this is a very good point as to what is going on.

Computers will never map precisely the way your lenses are going to behave in the real world. Whether it's big or small, there's always a difference between the manual and the computer-generated. Click To Tweet

Yeah, you can see those little circles with the rainbow colors in them. They all look alike, so you’d know, “Aha! They added that in.” And there’s always something about the angle that’s just slightly off. I don’t know. I believe flares can be a real benefit to pushing a story along if they’re used properly. You put too many of them in for no reason. Then you’re thinking more about what the cinematographer tried to create in terms of a look. And then you’ve lost the story. I mean, one of the things I love about the Zeiss lenses is that they’re alive. They are so much a part of what we as DPs are trying to create for the people watching. So that’s my little rant about fake flares.

The great thing about this craft is that everyone’s going to have a different take on it, right? So the idea is, as a manufacturer, having choices is important. Because if I was to have five different DPs all going into prep tomorrow to work on five different shows, they’re going to have five different ideas about what they want to create. Like you’re going to have someone that’s going to have a certain type of look, and someone else is going to have a newer look. Maybe someone’s going for high contrast beauty, and someone else is doing a low contrast gritty nightmare horror show, who knows? So having the tools to be able to choose from is always really important. 

So we have with the Supreme Primes and the Supreme Prime Radiance, for example, there are two different lens lines. The Supreme Prime being the clean-looking, anti-reflective coating that reflects all of the light transmits and different wavelengths of light so that you have a very neutral look. It’s not warm, it’s not cool, it’s just right there in the middle. What you see is what you get; it has a nice cinematic feel to it. And then you also have on the other end of it, the Radiance, which is the same lens, just with the modifications of the coatings. And the coatings that are modified are causing those flare characteristics to happen. So you can mess with formulations of your coatings to not transmit certain spectrums of light. So what we’ve done is, we’ve chosen chunks of the blue spectrum of light and left that so that it reflects quite a bit more than what is transmitted, so that means that the blue light is reflected. 

Just imagine inside a lens, there are many elements inside, right? I have a photo lens here, and I’m going to grab it. In this lens, even if you look in front of it, you can see that there’s all kinds of elements inside of it, right? It’s not just one piece of glass. So all those elements inside, let’s say they have a type of anti-reflective coating, which is good at transmitting all the light in. Just like this, this has a 2-star coating. You can almost see right into the lens, right? Light doesn’t reflect. I’m pointing at a light source, and it doesn’t glow white, right? it’s pushing all the light through the barrel. Now, if I had an anti-reflective coating that didn’t push blue light all the way through but reflected it, it would bounce around inside. And when it bounces around, it illuminates and ghosts. And that is what is happening in the Radiance lenses. They’re ghosting because of this formulation of the coating. It’s a very interesting trick. It takes some doing to make it work right in tweaking. You got to figure out which of the multiple glass elements inside your lens you want to do treatment to, because it will illuminate other pieces of glass, right? Because it’ll keep bouncing around. So you got to figure out what is the combination that works. So it took doing some R&D to create a lens set that looks similar, if you have from 21 to 100 all seven lenses in the series have similar looking flare characteristics

From your lips to God’s ears, one day, I will have all those lenses.

There you go. Well, you can rent them now, so that’s good.

Yeah, BorrowLenses has made a lot of money off of me over the years. The kind of things you’re talking about bring to mind something that I want to ask you about. A lot of people just swear by these cheaper lenses, and they love them, and they love the looks, but I can tell the difference. And I know this is like a five-hour subject, but can you give us just a headline of what Zeiss does in R&D and what they do to these lenses to make them so much better than a lot of the cheaper ones that you find on the market. I mean, you’re spending money, but you’re spending it for a reason. My baddest 85, I don’t go anywhere without it. It goes with me everywhere, everywhere, everywhere. And people comment about the almost 3D quality of my images. And I’d like to think it’s because I’m the world’s greatest photographer, it’s not. 

There’s no other way to look at it. What are you talking about? 

Haha. So talk to us about some of the manufacturing that goes into these lenses, do you mind?

Absolutely. Well, first of all, it’s a combination of the tools themselves and the fact that you’re well versed in your craft. So there’s that. That’s why your images have 3D pop because you’re good at what you do. There’s no doubt about that, right? So, on top of that, you have a tool that gives you certain optical qualities, which goes up through the line. The interesting thing is that you mentioned less expensive lenses, but Zeiss does have less expensive lenses, even in the cinema line. We have, for example, more affordable CP.3s. Now, what are the limitations of CP.3s? First of all, they’re T2.1, so a little bit slower, and there’s a reason why. If you try to mess with opening the iris, they’re not going to hold together as much as the four times more expensive, more robust Supreme Prime line, which is using different optical designs, different types of glass, and a lot more of it. That’s why they’re bigger and heavier lenses. 

CZ.2 lens Supreme Prime and Supreme Prime Radiance are meant to be used for situations that can let you present in a theater-sized screen.

If you look at a magnifying glass, if you have a small tiny one, even if it was well-made compared to a big one, the big ones will still have a lot of power and a lot of capabilities, right? So that’s a big difference there. The other thing with the CP.3 lenses is that you’re going to have certain types of aberrations or look to it. It’s a little bit different than what you would have with a more expensive lens. In a more expensive lens, generally in any product or manufacturing, the more expensive cinema lenses have an uncompromised performance from center to edge, especially in the Primes. So that’s the trick, right? 

Like in a CP.3 lens, I would say that you wouldn’t have the same performance center to edges to Supreme Prime, but man that center punch is amazing. Like if you shoot ALEXA Mini or any S35 like a Helium Camera from RED or Sony’s previous FS7, or sensors like that Zeiss. Let me tell you, you’re going to have that image quality where you’re going to say, “Why? I couldn’t believe that this is the lens.” In full-frame, you’re going to love it as well, and you’re going to admire the qualities that this lens and affordable lens will give you because it looks really good. When you close down a little bit to a T2.8 or something like that, the performance just really pops. And people realize in the larger formats when you tend to use longer focal lengths to do the same thing with like, say a 35mm, now you’re using a 50mm instead, to get the same angle of view, you’re going to have a shallow depth of field, so you don’t close down as much or open up as much as you used to. You might have been used to a superspeed opening up all the way. But now, if you tried to do that, with a longer focal length of the lens on a large format, it’s going to be tough.

A lot of us work and edit at home, or we’re post-processing at home if it’s stills, and everything looks great, but the real test is when you shoot something, and you’re standing in a theater, and you’re watching it on a huge screen.

Yes.

I shot one of the ending shots to a documentary I’m working on right now, The Candy Store Doc, with the CZ T2.8 70-200mm. Oh my gosh, I have to tell you, we did a test so I could just see it because it’s really important that it looks good, right? I’m standing in the back of the theater; that thing is on a huge screen. And I was several yards away from him. And it’s a closeup shot, and I could see his eyelashes. I mean, I could see the detail was so clear with that lens that I could see his eyelashes, it’s amazing. So that’s when you see it. You see it when you shoot something on a good camera, and you’re watching it in the theater. And that’s when if you did side by side, you could tell the difference. I’m sorry. I’m sounding like an ad for Zeiss, right? But It’s true.

It’s more of an ad for high-quality cinema glass. Yes, absolutely. With a CZ.2 lens Supreme Prime, Supreme Prime Radiance. This is meant to be used for situations where you could project it in a theater. Or see it on a big TV at home even though it’s high quality, it does make a difference when you have a good piece of glass. To conclude, the benefit of a Supreme Prime versus a less expensive lens is that you can open up more and still retain a lot of your quality. Of course, the center of your frame is always going to be cleaner and has better exposure than your edge, especially if you open up a lens. 

But when you close down even just a little bit, you notice the quality that the Supreme Prime is giving you. It gives you that 3D pop that separates characters in a very nice way. Your talent doesn’t look like it’s a 2D layer on top of the background and looks like you’re part of the background. But it’s just flowing into it with a long gradient of the depth of field, the infocus out of focus, the gradient is very soft. For example, because of the way the iris is built, and because of the optical design, mixed with it, there’s a reason why people want to use high-quality glass. I think the other thing with the less expensive lenses, the affordable stuff is great. Especially eBay finds and things like that, it’s a lot of fun to experiment. 

But you always have to be careful because even in getting an old set of cinema glass, you’re not going to have consistency. A lot of times, mechanically, they’re not built well. They’re not meant to be used with, let’s say, motors, which we use now or follow focus. You can’t live without a motor system. Using a lot of these old lenses is a compromised situation, you throw out the iris and focus all the time it gets repaired all the time, and there’s a lot of work that goes into it. Also, consistency between focal lengths is not always there, you might get an awesome flare on this one lens in the set, but because its set is like 50 years old, and three of the lenses in the six-lens set have been uncoated, and the other haven’t. You’re going to have vastly different looks between them. So there’s always a lot of considerations and testing that goes into whenever using Super 35 because you were pairing it up with older glass. 

So, regardless of whether you clean glass or not, people used a lot of different or still use old glasses to this day. A lot of different vintage lenses have the benefit of a new lens that creates an interesting look. That is mechanically sound, and it’s going to work, you can use it for the next 30 years. It gives you metadata, and on top of that, you have a new optical design. Some new look, right? A new type of focus, a new type of way to look at it. And at the same time, you have coverage for the larger format, which is a full-frame or full-frame plus. Because that’s the thing right now, people want to use full frame and these larger frame formats, but they can’t use the older vintage lenses on these cameras in a smooth way. 

Sometimes some focal lengths work. Other times it doesn’t cover it well. It’s just a compromise, but a lens that’s made for a full-frame that’s mechanically sound, but still gives you an interesting look, it’s a different type of option. So now you have an option, you can do both. You don’t have to be stuck in just a Super 35 format or smaller to use vintage style lenses or style look, the flares that you were getting the blue flares or the warmer colors, and now you could do that with the modern class. And we’re not the only manufacturer to do this, there’s others, right? So it is something that’s in demand. Looks are important.

Putting a signature on a project and saying that’s my look. It’s very important for some photographers. I go to rental houses all the time, and I now see the Alexa LF or LF Mini, especially, or Sony Venice or RED Monstro. Or if you go to Panavision, you see there are cameras too. The DXL2, for example, that’s also a full-frame plus. All these different camera systems are being tested with lots of different types of optics. This is to see what works and what the cinematographer likes. It’s nice to see that we have a couple of choices that you can put in the mix and try to see if it works for you.

It’s like picking paint, the vintage lenses, a lot of them breathe differently. They’re just different. They function differently; they breathe differently—the bokeh’s different, everything. I think every lens has its personality. So, you can now find a lens that fits what you want for that scene perfectly when you’re shooting something aside from the blocking and all of the aspects that go into directing or shooting. I love it. There are a lot of people who are going to vintage lenses. I’m glad I kept some of mine from the old film days. They’re hard to find, nowadays everybody’s grabbing them up, and people are starting to shoot film, again, which is also kind of nice. But I have a question for you. On the Zeiss website, when someone goes, “Okay, I want to research Zeiss lenses,” there are so many different families of Zeiss lenses. Do you mind giving us an overview, and then we’ll get back to everything else in a minute, but I just want to kind of set people’s expectations about what is available to them and what they were designed for.

Yeah, absolutely. You can just type in zeiss.com/cine, and it’ll take you right here. So this is just an overview of what goes on here. If you look over here, there’s some scrolling images. You can go to some quick chunks, talk about the Radiance Lenses, or go up to the Supreme Primes, or XD technology. Then if you scroll, you can see these choices over here, Lenses for Large Format, Lenses for Super 35, and eXtended Data. So if I do large lenses for large format, I see Supreme Prime Radiance lenses, which is exactly what we were talking about, have special coatings. We have here the Zeiss Supreme Prime lenses. You can get more information on the Zeiss Compact Prime CP.3 and the XD version with the metadata. And then the zoom lenses, which is what you mentioned the Cinema Zooms 15-30, 20-80, 70-200 over here. So let’s go ahead and go up to the Zeiss Supreme Prime Radiance and click More Information. It takes you to a landing page. 

You can see a video here. This is a short film that Rodrigo Prieto created, directed, and was a cinematographer on for R&R. It’s a great piece about a prisoner that’s about to be released at the same time someone else might be coming in. So this is a cool little piece you can see about our flare characteristics that we were talking about. Here is the information about the lens, and you could see it on various camera systems. So you understand that it works well with different sensor sizes, especially cameras like the Venice, RED Monstro, or DXL2 from Panavision and the LF, LF Mini from Alexa, or Arri. And then you can go here, and you can see Overview. You can click on Features so you can go down to Features, and I don’t want to skip through, so let me go back up again. Here’s a behind the scenes interview with Rodrigo’s Metamorphosis it’s a comparison video that was done in Japan with him without flares.

Oh nice! That looks Interesting. 

And All Blood Runs Red is a short film directed by Paul Mignot in France. And that’s a really beautiful one if you want to see the flare characteristics in a dramatic setting in a period piece, so that’s a very good look at it. So you have a lot of sample videos right away on the website. You have some quote, again, from Rodrigo over here, comparison video. So we have a video where you can see a comparison with regular Supreme Primes that don’t have the flare characteristics and the gradients that do, and you can see right here where the blue flares are right there in the picture.

Nice.

And then some explanation about the characteristics. There are downloads too. First of all, there’s technical data that tells you everything about the lens, the close focus distance, the front diameter, so you know what matte box to use for it or matte box rings. And then you can download if you want to change the scale between metric and imperial inches and feet, you can change it here. And then you can just do it yourself. 

Thank you! Awesome!

You could download it, depth the field tables, mount change instructions because you can go from LPL mount to PL mount and vice versa, both with electronic connections. And then if you just want the brochure itself, you could download it here. So you could print it out and read it at your leisure. You can find a rental and dealer locator. Just look at the website. So each of our pages is very similar for all the different product lines. And so just to recap, if you click on lenses for a large format, you get to the Radiance page, Supreme Prime page which is similar CP.3 page Cinema Zooms, and then we also have lenses for Arri / Zeiss lenses, and Zeiss lenses for Super 35 because these lenses are all still made and available for purchase. So we have the lightweight zoom 21-100mm, a recent lens that came out just a few years back from Zeiss, and it’s a beautiful 21-100 zoom. Very lightweight, only 4 lbs, has an interchangeable mount system like the CP.3s, and it’s quite popular with a lot of doc style shooting and sports and things like that.

I was going to ask you about that next because that’s a whole different genre doc style shooting. You need more zooms. When you’re shooting a scripted film, you have more leeway in time to exchange lenses. And always when you’re out in the field I know a lot of times for me, there’s a lot of dust there or might be water. You don’t want to be changing lenses in hostile environments. So many documentary filmmakers are going to want that 21-100mm. I think that looks like a great lens. I haven’t tried that one.

It’s super lightweight. It has a really beautiful look to it. It is made for those kinds of conditions, to be rough and tumble. And to be out there has an interchangeable mount system so you can just, like a CP.3 lens, you can put it on five different style camera systems: a PL mount, Canon EF, Nikon F, Sony E, and Micro Four Thirds. A lot of choices. It’s a great lens. It is limited by its coverage, so it’s meant for Super 35, but that shouldn’t be a problem for people using that kind of camera system F55, FS7, C300, C500, Mark I. There’s so many camera systems, Blackmagic cameras.

Yeah, I was going to ask you about Blackmagic.

Yeah, it works well. We have quite a few people using this lens with the Blackmagic Ursa Mini Pro, for example. It’s a great combo, and Bill Bennett has a video. They called it the Recipe. And just to recap about the Arri / Zeiss lenses, we still manufacture lenses that Arri sells. So this is an OEM product, meant to be paired up with their camera systems and any camera system quite frankly. But this is a long released relationship since 1935. We’ve had this OEM relationship with them. So we still manufacture that Arri Master Anamorphic lens, in limited quantities. We still sold Master Prime lenses and Ultra Prime lenses. It is true that now, some of that manufacturing might have slowed down in comparison to the demand force, the larger format like the full-frame plus lenses. But it doesn’t mean that these lenses are not in demand; people still use them every day for all kinds of filming, TV shows, movies, online content, and all kinds of stuff. They’re very popular all over the world. 

It makes a huge difference when you have a good piece of glass. The main benefit of a Supreme Prime versus a less expensive lens is that you can open up more and still retain a lot of your quality.

The most interesting thing that has come out recently is not just the optical designs and kind of qualities we have, but eXtended data. EXtended data is pretty cool. We’ve now seen it in the field and people using it. So this is the system that allows you to capture lens metadata that gives you information about lens characteristics. Like shading and distortion characteristics, communicated over Cooke /i* Technology that goes right into the camera systems and gives VFX people a leg up because they give them information that they can use to make a better image at the back end. And we proved this technology, we’ve talked about it quite a bit. We now have quite a few proofs of concepts in the field. TV shows and movies all over the world using this workflow. We have a lot of information on this page about how to record the DSMC2 bodies directly from RED, and Sony Venice, so you don’t have to have a connector and how we have new robust plugins and new […] after-effects to be able to use this system. And we have all these free downloads right now. If you have a smart XD capable lens, that means Zeiss CP.3 XD, a Supreme Prime, Supreme Prime Radiance, and the Fujinon Premista line of lenses, which have Zeiss XC technology as well. Any of these systems will work with our tools and plugins and free products.

That’s awesome. I’m a huge proponent of any kind of metadata. Your post-production department will love you for that. It just makes life so much easier, right?

Absolutely.

Yeah. That’s awesome. Thanks for clarifying some of that. You travel all over the world, but mostly now in North and South America, you do a lot of user group presentations you’re going to. Unfortunately, we won’t see you at NAB. It’s gone this year, but hopefully IBC. When filmmakers come up to you, I’m sure you get a lot of the same questions all the time. What is the question that young filmmakers always seem to have for you? And then what kind of advice can you give to them on how to become better at what they do?

Well, the questions always revolve around one thing a lot of times, which is access. Because you’re never going to understand how a lens can help you or why it’s better or different or more appropriate for what you want to do unless you had a chance to try it out. And you start to understand and learn about what it is about the lens that causes that. Why it’s doing what it’s doing, how is it helping me? How is this making my image closer to what I see in my head? And that only comes through a couple of different things, education and practice, right? So it’s a matter of access.

What I always recommend to up and coming cinematographers is that as long as you’ve put your time and you’re honing your craft, and you’re earnest about what you want to do, there’s no reason why you can’t reach out to rental houses and start relationships early whereas you get access when they have a down day like Thursday’s down. But Friday is going to be busy going on Thursday. Morning early, and schedule a time to do dual-lens testing in the house, you don’t have to worry about being insured because you’re not taking it anywhere, you’re testing in house. Bring your charts or your vision boards or your little labs and flashlights, whatever you want to test up with, and try it out. And then make use of educational opportunities. There’s lots of things like, you mentioned, things online and user groups and training materials and opportunities where you can go listen to a talk or a workshop. Because sometimes it just gives you a clue as to “Okay, well, that’s what I should look for, and that’s what I should look at.” To try to understand it and then try it out yourself. Like there’s nothing better than just practicing. The reason I mentioned access is that many people think, “well, this equipment is so expensive, the price point you’re talking about like I’ll never be able to use that.” You should never say that. As a cinematographer, you should never say, “I’ll never be able to use that.” Why is that? It’s there for you to use.

Don’t wish that on yourself.

You should be thinking about the opposite way. Like “when can I use this? When can I access it? How can I access it? Please let me access it.” This is all stuff that you should be saying. Because that’s what it’s really about, it’s the ones that get access, the ones that find access that learn about it that absorb it. Then become better with that paintbrush, and then understand why they should use a unicorn hair versus a horsehair paintbrush. They don’t know until they see it and try it themselves. So this is what I always encourage us to think positively and to say, “No, let me get access. Let me try it out. Let me see what I can do with it. And then I’ll learn from it.” And I think that’s always better.

I rent equipment from BorrowLenses all the time to try new things I haven’t tried before. And I have learned a lot. I’ve learned what I like, what I don’t like, and you should have been on the set that we had that 70-200mm lens one day. People were carrying around like, “Oh, it’s a baby!” like they were so afraid of it. I didn’t want to damage it, because it’s just pretty special.

Were you able to create the image that you want? Did that happen?

Oh, that’s where I could see his eyelashes. And it’s so important because it’s the one-shot. It was going to be the ending of the film, but his whole life changed. So it’s not probably not going to be the ending of the film anymore, but it’s near the end. And it’s a key moment with the character where you have to show the emotion and determination in his face. I call it the “wolf shot.” Because it’s that moment, he was running track, and he’s looking down, and he very slowly looks up, and you’re focused right on his face close up, close up. I’ll send you a still output from it, you’ll see it was amazing. I could not have done that shot. I don’t think with any other lens I was on the Ursa Mini Pro, Blackmagic is one of the sponsors of that film. 

That’s a great question because I called up one of the people at Zeiss, and I said, “You’ve ruined my life. You’ve just ruined my life.” Because I got so spoiled from that, and yeah, you can access the lenses. A lot of times, I do rent before I buy because I just don’t want to dive in unless I know how it’s going to behave. It’s like adopting a new child. When you do this every day for a living, your equipment is important because it’s an extension of this creativity that lives inside our heads. And it’s the way to help it come out into the world and tell these stories for everybody. You’re doing a great service to everybody when you go around and teach. Do you like teaching? Do you still work on projects of your own on the side?

Yes, absolutely. What’s great is that I got involved a lot with Stucco, which is a short film that we were involved with Zeiss, RED, EFILM, and then we had a lot of other people that helped out to get it done. And Q.Tran was the cinematographer, and she’s amazing. You can go online now, and on the ALTER channel, Alter is a horror channel on YouTube. There’s Stucco short film, it got 2.5 million views on Alter alone, and people liked it. And the engagement is really interesting. You can see the comments. It’s a thought-provoking piece. It’s about an […], whose house is showing signs of coming alive around her, so it’s an interesting look at this phobia mix with her reaction to it and what it creates. And it’s a beautiful little short 17 minutes long. But I get to be involved in that. I help friends all the time. A lot of times even though I have a full-time job and I work all the time like you say I travel. I try to help out filmmakers as much as possible. 

When you do film and videography every day for a living, your equipment is essential because it's an extension of the creativity that lives inside our heads. Click To Tweet

There’s a lot of things Zeiss does in terms of loaning out to filmmakers through school programs like pieces, programs, and also through personal loans. When it is a well-known cinematographer with a passion project they want to work out over the weekend, we consider those as well. But essentially, we try to help out filmmakers. We try to create avenues for them to celebrate their craft. We’re the ones that created the Zeiss Cinematography Award at South by Southwest. There was never a Cinematography Award at South by Southwest Film Festival until last year. So for two years running. This year as well, even though there was no festival. We did present those Cinematography Awards to a film. So we try to create forums, we try to give information. I get involved in a lot of projects and try to help out, connect people, and help produce things, write my stuff, and stay creative. I don’t do as much as I wanted to, but I have been playing around with the Super 8 camera while we’ve been locked in the last few weeks.

Oh, I love it.

Shooting some stuff with that, I’m trying to figure out if a pro 8mm is still going to process it right now or not. But yeah, playing around and always trying to be creative. Just support the art because it’s a lot of fun. I mean, we all consume it, right? We all consume stuff all day, all the time. 

We’re so blessed that we can make it. You talk about Super 8, I kept all of my cameras over the years, and I had a Super 8 camera and a Super 8 projector, a lot of the vintage stuff was absconded with during one of the moves. But Super 8 is fun to play with. 

Absolutely. Because it’s organic and you don’t know if they’re right or not. Until it’s been processed and scanned, like when I was taking out the camera, I was worried. I was like, “well, am I supposed to put a bag over?” and I’m like, “no, it’s a cartridge.” But you’re still worried about it. 

Yeah. I’ll show you my little projector I got recently on eBay. So yeah, it’s so much fun. I have a couple of Kodak cameras that are over 100 years old. They’re one of the first original ones, and I have to go into a dark closet and wind the film onto the spool. But all this stuff is getting a little bit harder to find. Snehal, thank you so much. I know you’re really busy, and I could keep you on here for hours, and if people are going to love hearing what you have to say, where do you want people to go to find out more about you and Zeiss?

Well, you can go to zeiss.com/cine to learn about all this stuff that I just told you about. But we do have a showroom in Los Angeles. So in the neighborhood Sherman Oaks, we have the Zeiss Cinema Lens Demo Center, which is a great place for you to come in and just learn stuff. If you’re ever in the city or you’re based out of Los Angeles, and everything clears up in some time, whenever business is back to usual, we have a theater to watch your material. We have a prep area, and you can check out multiple camera systems. We have a lens projection room so you can check out our projector. There’s a lot to do, so you can come learn over there. And you can always reach out to me and email me if you have any questions, so it’s snehal.patel@zeiss.com.

All right, Snehal, thank you so much. And to everyone listening, remember what I was telling you, get up off your chair and go do something wonderful today, and today it’s probably in your own house, but there’s something wonderful for you to do there. Thanks for listening. Take care. 


Important Links


Checklist

  1. Keep sharing new knowledge to be a reliable source of information for those seeking ways to improve their skills and solutions to their problems.
  2. Spark creativity and resourcefulness during this uncertain time. The film industry may be significantly affected by the pandemic, but there are many inventive ways to produce videos nowadays.
  3. Find more avenues for communication. Be more accessible on the internet and utilize social media, learning platforms, and several apps to your advantage.
  4. Keep engagement going. Respond to your customers/clients promptly. Attend to feedback, whether good or bad, to make your customers or prospects feel heard and cared for.
  5. Don’t give up on your passion. The world might be changing, but the need for stories remains. Let this motivate you and spark new ideas in the world of film.
  6. Improve your videography skills and learn more about acquiring the best lighting for video. When you understand how lighting serves a purpose in making scenes, you’ll be able to play with it more effectively.
  7. Use flares wisely. Sometimes they’re used in filmmaking for artistic purposes, but they can ruin a scene if not used properly. Watch your angle, keep your lenses clean, and utilize all four sides of the matte box.  
  8. Help your customers make informed choices. Create or direct them to a website that gives out detailed information on specific camera specs. 
  9. Invest in quality equipment. Cameras and accessories can be quite pricey, but in this industry, you always get what you pay for.
  10. Check out Zeiss’s website to learn more about their products and services.

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