Monthly Archives:

February 2018

Anamorphic

Anamorphic on a Budget – MoondogLabs 1.33x Anamorphic Lens for iPhone

February 25, 2018

How strange do you think it is to shoot anamorphic photos and videos on your iPhone? It turns out to be a lot of fun!

USEFUL LINKS:

All the RED links on this post are part of eBay’s Partner Network, so if you purchase anything through them, you’re helping me to keep this project going.

You can support this project on Patreon. Make your contribution and help the Anamorphic Cookbook!

I’m Tito Ferradans and I’m here to talk about the MoondogLabs anamorphic adapter. Just as the GoPro anamorphic, this is an unusual adapter in the sense that most people taking photography and cinematography seriously these days wouldn’t think of shooting with iPhones, no matter how many articles come out praising their cameras and capabilities. That’s also sort of the way I think – or thought. We’re talking about a phone, not a camera.

This is where things get mixed up a bit: One of my favorite parts of experimenting with MoondogLabs’ lens was the reduced amount of control I had over the resulting image. All I could do, literally, was point the camera towards what I wanted to shoot and press record. From this point on, you start exploring the kind of things you wouldn’t (or couldn’t) do with a regular camera. This lack of control permitted me to focus less (pun intended) on the gear porn part of the tests and more on the shots I was trying to get.

I think one of the biggest selling points of this adapter is the feature “Tangerine”, featured at Sundance Festival in 2015, shot entirely on an iPhone and the MoondogLabs’ adapter. I’m not gonna say the shots are incredible and clean but they have a character that matches the film perfectly. They’re gritty, and noisy, and free moving. There is very little subject separation from the background, lots of wide-angle shots – including close ups – and clever use of lighting. Tangerine is not the usual film as well, telling the stories of two transgender women in a busy Christmas eve, with the type of representation we need to see in film today.

Being less political and back to the gear, the adapter is tiny, weighing 48g. They come in several different versions, one for each new iPhone model, since the iPhone 5. The one I used was for the 5/5s and I’m quite curious to see how MoondogLabs is dealing with iPhone’s new dual-camera. Their first production run was funded on Kickstarter and they seem to be doing fine so far. It’s a two element, fixed focus construction that relies on a small sensor in order to keep things in focus and deliver good image quality.

The adapter has 1.33x stretch and fits perfectly around the corner of the phone and over the rear camera. There’s no way to misalign it. It’s not the type of thing you can leave attached and put the phone in your pocket, as the setup has a weird shape and there is nothing made to protect the front of the lens. This little switch on the back loosens/tightens the adapter around the phone, but even with it engaged, it’s still pretty easy to slide it off.

The lens comes with a neat case, which makes it super easy to just carry it around in your pocket until the moment of photo-taking or video-making arises. When it comes to dealing with the squeezed footage, I read good things about the Desqueeze app, that works directly on your phone and allows you to fix the aspect ratio and many more things related to image sizes. The best part: the app is free.

In terms of buying one of these adapters, you can get yours new at MoondogLabs’ website, and the price is the same, no matter the iPhone generation: $175. You can find them for a little less on eBay every here and then, but it’s not much cheaper. I don’t quite understand how their value doesn’t drop. Still, $175 is a good price for a unique product, if you love you phone’s photo capabilities AND the anamorphic format.

I don’t know how to assess resolution here, but check out some charts! I have them with identical lighting, comparing an image with just the iPhone camera and one with the adapter attached. I don’t see much difference.

Testing for vignetting was also confusing, since this is not the standard lens, so I switched through the various camera modes I could find and got no black edges. The adapter clearly covers the lens, and I guess if you know the widest focal length BEFORE making your lens, you can make it in a way that it works fine all the time – and this is what MoondogLabs did.

When it comes to flares, this 1.33x adapter is incredibly similar to the Anamorph-X I used on the GoPro. It’s also similar (but in a lesser scale) to other 1.33x adapters. The flares are not as long and not as prominent, but they are there. They take the color of the light source, which indicates the coatings on this adapter are fairly simple.

As it was the case with the GoPro Anamorph-X, this lens is an attempt to expand the reach of our beloved format into different devices, and not restrain it to the complex systems we have when using DSLRs, mirrorless cameras or real cine cameras. This type of setup eliminates issues such as double focus, trains of lenses and heavy fronts. True, you have less control and the image quality is capped by not-so-great cameras, but at the same time it all becomes a lot simpler and you just shoot. My only criticism to this adapter is that putting the lens on and off constantly to shoot made me feel uneasy and afraid to drop it.

What do you think of shooting anamorphic on your phone? Do you think it’s a valid option, or would you stick to just using a full camera? Let me know in the comments below. I shouldn’t have to remind you to subscribe, since anamorphic is all I talk about here, and if you have any questions, shoot them below! You can help support my lens research through Patreon, getting awesome rewards and, lastly, I have a new batch of this cool t-shirt I’m wearing. If you want one, you can find the link in the description! See you next week!

Anamorphic

Anamorphic on a Budget – Iscomorphot 8/1.5x

February 18, 2018

This is the baby Iscorama. Tiny lens with a punch of performance!

USEFUL LINKS:

All the RED links on this post are part of eBay’s Partner Network, so if you purchase anything through them, you’re helping me to keep this project going.

You can support this project on Patreon. Make your contribution and help the Anamorphic Cookbook!

I swear, this is probably the last time I’m talking about lenses in the Isco family. The baby Iscorama, or Iscomorphot 8/1.5x is a tiny lens that will give you single focus and work pretty well with smaller sensors. It delivers a dreamy look and I’d say it’s only sharp past f/5.6 on the taking lens.

Remember when I talked about this lens and called it Iscomorphot 8/1.5x? I was wrong. That is the Isco Anamorphot 8/1.5x and THIS ONE is the Iscomorphot 8/1.5x, or Baby Iscorama. This tiny lens weighs 170g, less than half a pound and is one of the most desired baby anamorphics, trailing right after the baby Hypergonar and baby Bolex.

As an official member of the Iscorama family, this adapter has 1.5x stretch and it is single focus, meaning you only set your taking lens to infinity and do the rest of the work on the Iscomorphot’s focus ring. Focus comes down to 0.5m, or 1.7ft, which is much better than all the other Iscoramas, pretty much killing the need for diopters. It also features focus markings in both meters and feet and a focus throw of roughly 180 degrees.

If you still want diopters and other filters, the front threads are 39mm. The rear threads are standard size at 24mm, so you can make a clamp out of step rings. Unlike other Iscoramas, this one doesn’t have an alignment mechanism, just a red dot and the focus marker pointing which direction should be facing up for proper alignment – so I recommend getting a Rapido Clamp for it.

When it comes to availability and prices, this one comes in waves. They’re either abundant on eBay or impossible to find. Prices vary widely between $400-700 with some off-the-curve auctions for a little less or a lot more (as high as $1000).

In terms of resolution and sharpness, this is definitely the weakest member of the family, with super soft and blurry images unless you really stop down the taking lens.

Flares are more neutral than other Iscos, showing up as white or the light-source’s color___, which I think that adds to its dreamy feel.

Vignetting is when this lens takes hard hits. On the A7s2 I had to use the 2.2x crop mode, and then I got vignette clear images from 40mm and up. This matches around 90mm on full frame.

MORE ABOUT SHOOTING WITH THE LENS

If you liked this video, be sure to hit the like button and subscribe to the channel! Shoot any questions you have in the comments below and if you need more of these videos in your life and more information about anamorphic in general, you can help me out on Patreon. Making these videos takes an incredible amount of effort and time and your help is deeply appreciated. Tito Ferradans, out.

Anamorphic

Anamorphic Chop Shop – Anamorfake Canon EF 50mm f/1.4 USM

February 11, 2018

Time to diversify my lens mods to more modern glass and autofocus. My first choice was the Canon EF 50mm f/1.4. Super simple process and impressive results!

USEFUL LINKS:

All the RED links on this post are part of eBay’s Partner Network, so if you purchase anything through them, you’re helping me to keep this project going.

You can support this project on Patreon. Make your contribution and help the Anamorphic Cookbook!

Tito Ferradans here for a super quick anamorfake tutorial. This one doesn’t go into great lengths of modding our base lens, the Canon EF 50mm f/1.4. We’ll just add lovely oval bokeh. I got a few requests for an autofocus mod, so I decided to give a go. I got all the info for this mod from Grant Gilmore, a few months ago and only now I was able to put it to the test! Let’s begin.

First off, you’ll need your Canon EF 50mm f/1.4, a lens wrench, the desired aperture disc, some sandpaper black or color sharpies and electrical tape. The streak flare is optional and I won’t include it in this video.

Go to the rear side of the Canon and, with the pointy end of the lens wrench, twist out the rear element. It comes off easily. The element right below it might try to come off too if you turn the lens upside down, so be warned that the concave side is the one pointing up. Put this loose element back in carefully, if you happen to take it off.

For the aperture disc, I recommend getting an acrylic cut, like the ones I used for the Mir, Helios and Jupiter. Files are available in the description! The biggest oval is f/2, then 2.8, 4 and 5.6 as they shrink. Be sure to sand it very carefully to smooth out the laser-cut edges and paint it black with a sharpie. Since the disc is a tiny bit smaller than the diameter of the rear element, add a small piece of electrical tape on each side and cut the excess. This will make your life easier for spinning the disc into alignment.

Past these steps, all you need to do is slot the aperture disc on the empty side of the element we took off. It fits perfectly in there. Then, put the lens back together.

If you wanna get alignment right in your first try, put some marks on the lens so we know how the element screws back in. In order to do that, I’ll put a bright tape triangle on the 50mm mark which faces up. Now I’ll add another triangle on the rear element, pointing directly to the first triangle. This way I know that the major axis of the top of the oval has to align with this triangle on the rear element.

When I put the lens back together, voil√°! It’s perfect! Remember to clean your glass before shooting to wipe out fingerprints and tape residue.

A few notes on this process: unlike the other anamorfake mods, here I’m not putting the oval directly over the aperture mechanism. Not ideal, and if this was a wide angle, it’s very likely the results wouldn’t come without a consequence, as we see here. That being said, this mod works pretty well and takes only a few minutes to execute. The coolest part is that you can use the lens regularly, with the added benefit of anamorphic bokeh!

This episode would not have been possible without Grant’s help! If you have tried something related to the subject and wanna see it featured on the channel, leave a comment or send me a message! What did you think of this mod? Are you gonna try it on a 50/1.4 for some pretty low-light portraits? Let me know what you think in the comments below! Before you go, don’t forget to subscribe and hit the like button, so more people come across this video! See you next week! Ferradans, out.

Anamorphic

Anamorphic Chop Shop – HTN Lock Ring for Kowa 16-H

February 4, 2018

HTN’s Lock Ring is a great alternative for front clamps plus it’s an amazing tool if you use a Rectilux HCDNA!

USEFUL LINKS:

All the RED links on this post are part of eBay’s Partner Network, so if you purchase anything through them, you’re helping me to keep this project going.

You can support this project on Patreon. Make your contribution and help the Anamorphic Cookbook!

Back in July I received a front locking ring for the Kowa 16H, made by Huu-Tuan Nguyen. Unlike a regular clamp, the ring is designed to fit over the Kowa’s original front ring, adding a series of benefits. I think the ring looks great. It fits with the style of the Kowa 16-H with all the silver extrusions, sells for a great price and solves a bunch of pesky issues.

The Kowa’s front ring is super easy to remove, locked in place by three tiny screws. Take them out and unscrew the ring. Now put Huu-Tuan’s ring in place and lock it with these three screws.

The universal advantage of this ring is front 72mm threads for diopters and other filters – or a 72mm Rangefinder. This one is useful for everyone that uses Kowa lenses, since they don’t have front threads at all.

The other bonuses are geared towards Rectilux HCDNA users. The HCDNA is held in place by six pointy screws. After putting it on and taking it off a couple of times, your Kowa’s front ring will show several bites into the metal. Not really pretty, especially if we can solve it. By replacing the Kowa’s original ring we add 75mm male threads that fit the HCDNA’s inner threads! Then we proceed to lock the HCDNA with one single screw, provided with the ring.

Another common issue working with the HCDNA is that focus occasionally slips from infinity on the anamorphic lens as you rotate the HCDNA’s focus ring. This affects your image drastically and my previous solution was using electrical tape to hold the anamorphic in place. Again, not pretty, especially if it can be solved. The solution with this ring is to focus your Kowa to infinity and tighten the front ring. This will prevent your focus ring from turning!

In terms of pricing, the rings cost $40 and the locking screw costs $5. You can contact Huu-Tuan on facebook and find out how to place your orders. Link in the video description. You can also find some other products there, like clamps. As of now, he offers solutions for the top tier Kowas and the Kowa 16-D. According to Huu-Tuan the ring works for all the 16-H’s sister lenses (Kowa B&H, 8Z and Elmoscope II), but the focus-locking feature may not work as intended. Check with him before purchasing in order to confirm it fits your needs.

My favorite part about these small scale anamorphic upgrades, designed by people in our community is that they don’t set out to fix all the problems at once. If you shoot anamorphic long enough, you’ll know it’s not possible to have all the good parts, We all compromise with some caveats. Huu-Tuan’s rings aim to solve a specific problem without creating additional issues. What else can we ask for?

The anamorphic world has always had a strong community and DIY aspects. The problem is most of the times folks keep their solutions to themselves and no one else can benefit from that. It makes me very happy to see these little solutions coming up because it means people are still determined to solve the issues they face with their scopes, but now they’re open to sharing them with all of us. Honestly, that has always been at the core of this channel and I hope we all keep walking towards a more collaborative community.

If you’re still watching and you agree with what I just said, this is the time to subscribe and like this video! Thanks Huu-Tuan, for sending me the ring and giving me all the info I needed for this episode. If you have any comments about the ring, or suggestions for future episodes, please leave a comment below! I’m Tito Ferradans and I’ll see you next week.

Day-to-Day Specials

Contax Zeiss Cine Tune-Up Guide!

February 1, 2018

This is an endeavor I’ve been working on and off for the last two years and now I can see the finish line.

It all started when I stumbled upon a post on Craigslist from a guy selling his Contax Zeiss set. It had five lenses: 28/2.8, 35/2.8, 50/1.4, 85/1.4 and 135/2.8. The price was pretty good and I’m the type of person that can buy something just because the price is good. Speaking of good prices, many links in this post will take you directly to eBay searches of each specific lens!

So far, I had no previous love for Contax and a little bit of prejudice against Zeiss for making lenses too clean. As a reference, my main set of lenses at this time was a Soviet kit that I put together because of their imperfections and organic look. Also because Soviet glass was super cheap.

Original Contax Zeiss set on the left, Soviet set on the right. Easy to see which one I loved the most back in 2015

After I got the five Contax I went to look for more info and found Nick Morrison’s Contax Zeiss Survival Guide at REDUser. That’s where my obsession started. These lenses thread the fine line between organic and sharp, a line as thin as depth of field on an 85/1.2 wide open, only second to Leica. The main difference being that a normal human can afford Contax Zeiss but not Leicas.

If you wanna follow this path, there’s no way to dodge reading the Survival Guide. It’s been there for quite a while and I have checked up on it countless times to help me make decisions. Here are some things I got from it:

Contax Zeiss lenses were designed for 35mm full frame, which means they’ll cover all the way up to Vistavision sensors on modern cameras and anything smaller. As they were designed for photography, they have clicked stops, which has to be dealt with, but they all feature non-rotating front elements, which is a very valuable feature these days with vari NDs.

The lenses were made in two generations. The first one is AE and the second one is MM. It’s agreed that MM lenses perform better and have cleaner results than AE lenses, they’re also less prone to flaring. AE lenses also show ninja-star bokeh when stopped down, which is a major turnoff for some folks. You can tell them apart because MM have their last aperture number painted green, and they have a small tab on the mount that doesn’t exist on AE’s.


The tab and the last stop in green that mark MM lenses

One last note on their generations, MM’s were mostly made in Japan, so they’re called MMJ’s, while AE’s were made in Germany and named AEG’s. But Zeiss was so precious about these lenses that some of them were only made in Japan and others in Germany. This means that not all MM lenses are made in Japan. There are MMG lenses out there – I was weary of that for quite a while, since it’s not mentioned clearly anywhere. You can also tell their place of manufacture based on what’s written on the lens! On my set some were MMJ, others AEG. It was not a problem as a starter set.

Back to the story. I started using these lenses casually. It was a time when I didn’t shoot much, but I went on long bike rides. I always took the 135 with me and some of my favorite photos come from that time.

Canon 5D3 + Contax Zeiss 135mm f/2.8

Slowly I fell in love with them. Whenever I started thinking the Soviet lenses were sharp, I’d pop one of the Contax on the camera and stare in awe.

Momentum picked up and I saw myself getting ready to DP a webseries pilot. The Soviets were good enough for my own projects, but I needed something more reliable on this one. So far I had been using adapters on them, and they sucked. That’s when I learned of Leitax and their mount replacements.

Leitax mount on the left, original Contax/Yashica mount on the right

They are made in Spain, cost about 60 euros each and you install them on the back of the lenses using the provided screws. This turns the original C/Y mount into a solid EF mount that won’t budge for nothing.

I’m a fan of DIY, so I decided to install the mounts by myself. That was probably one of the most stressful experiences of my life with lenses. The screws on the back of the lenses are tiny, and if you strip them, you can’t get the new mount into place. Luckily for me, out of the five lenses I only messed up really bad on one (the 85mm, which was also the first one I tried). So I kept using an adapter on that one (the best adapter I had).

Horribly stripped screw on the 85/1.4

Still on the DIY train, a friend and I had just bought a 3d-printer, so I started making my own focus gears. I didn’t think too much about them when designing, they just needed to fit around the ring, and our printer was painfully slow (M3D, I’m looking at you). The process turned out alright and the gears worked great, but later on I learned some useful tricks.

When designing your focus gears, keep the number of teeth constant for all the lenses. This will ensure a constant outside diameter, which means you don’t have to adjust your follow focus every time you change lenses.

To fit the barrel of the lens, use a caliper and be precise about it. I like to add 0.3mm to the measurement to give me a little wiggle room after printing. In my experience, the gears never fit on the first try. So I sand the inside down a bit and try again. Another trick is to heat them up with a blow dryer or even your house heater. They dilate quite a bit and fit much more easily.

Plus, fitting these is never a “one-slip move”. You have to keep wiggling them slowly, side by side, until they are in place. The rubber grip on the focus ring of the lenses is awesome because it prevents the gears from sliding, but it’s also a pain because it makes the fitting a lot harder. Be patient, use heat and sandpaper, and you’ll get there.

Last point on the focus gears: the same way you always want to have a constant outside diameter, you want to place them on the lenses at the same distance from the mount. See the photo below! This is another trick to make lens swaps faster, since you won’t need to adjust your follow focus back and forth on the rig. You know, like a cine lens!

Leveled and equal diameter focus gears

If you don’t have a 3d-printer, I’m selling all the gears I made for my set on eBay! If you do have a printer, I made a tutorial on how to make focus gears!

The last thing I did was add step rings to normalize all their fronts at 58mm, to make my life easier when swapping ND’s and other filters – or anamorphic adapters in my case.

For a little over a year, this was enough. But then work started picking up and I saw that as the perfect opportunity to upgrade. I returned to the guide and started eBay hunting. I went for the fastest lenses and snuffed out the AEG’s I had, in favor of the prettier bokeh of the MMJ’s. Lucky for me my 50 and 85/1.4 were already MMJ.

I started with the 28mm. The f/2.8 never really impressed me, even though it’s regarded as one of the best budget 28mm out there. Every time I had to pick a lens I went for the 35mm f/2.8 instead. After I read stellar reviews about the 28mm f/2.0 “Hollywood”, I went looking for one. These are way more common in AE, but I was lucky enough to find a MM coming straight from Japan. This was a game changer. The Hollywood is indeed a star and the image that comes out of it is much more appealing than the 28/2.8. It’s also a big change in size and weight, almost doubling its predecessor.

28mm comparison: 28/2.8 on the left, 28/2.0 “Hollywood” on the right

Next up was the 35mm, two stops faster at f/1.4. Standard lens, can’t really make a set without a 35mm in it, right? I’m gonna stop saying these lenses are sharp, because at this point it’s just standard! Impressive performance and also the fastest 35mm I ever owned. Also almost twice as big and heavy as the previous one.

The 135mm f/2.8 was a great lens. It’s the one I always took with me and it gave me gorgeous shots. There’s a lot of discussion whether the 135mm f/2.0 has a clear advantage over the f/2.8, especially when you take into account the price difference. I needed the one extra stop of light though, for consistent f/2 or faster through the main set. My favorite lens switched to the 85/1.4 after that, though. Not saying the 135/2 isn’t worth it the investment, it’s just much heavier and harder to carry as a walk-around lens.

I then redesigned and printed new focus gears for these and ordered more Leitax mounts and that was good for another five months. It’s a gradual process, guys.

Then, near the end of last year I decided to round out the set and make it suitable for renting. That meant getting a few more lenses and upgrading various aspects I had neglected so far.

The 21/2.8 was a must. It’s regarded as one of the best 21mm ever made, and to this day they still use the same formula for the 21mm f/2.8 ZF/ZE primes. This one was only made in Japan and it doesn’t exist in AE, just MM. It was the most expensive lens in the set and it shares a lot of the beautiful look of the 28/2 “Hollywood”.

Next came the 60mm f/2.8 Macro. I almost went for the wrong one with my MM obsession, but I was warned by my followers on Instagram about the edge the AE had over the MM. The 60/2.8 AE can do 1:1 magnification, while the MM can only reach 1:2. The downside of such magnification is that the focus ring travels a lot, pretty much doubling the physical length of the lens. For that reason I had to make a super tall focus gear that would not slip off when travelling from infinity to minimum focus.

Contax Zeiss 60mm f/2.8 Macro AEG: Infinity focus on the left, minimum focus on the right

I know I stopped mentioning how sharp these lenses are, but the 60mm is worth highlighting. Yes, it’s one step slower than the its siblings, but it definitely crushes them with razor sharp focus and a beautiful transition into bokeh.

The last decision I had to make was between the 18mm f/4 and the 15mm f/3.5. I took this question to Instagram again and got really good arguments for both sides. The 18mm is almost one fourth of the price and half the weight of the 15mm, plus it fits along with the other MMJ’s in the set. At this point the price argument was adding a lot of weight. These babies were bleeding me dry.

The 15/3.5 took the cake though. 18mm is way too close to 21mm, plus lots of reviews mention its not-impressive performance. The 15mm is a gorgeous rectilinear super wide angle, it shares the same optical formula as the Leica Super-Elmar 15mm f/3.5, with different coatings. It’s also quite similar to the modern 15/2.8 ZF/ZE offered by Zeiss, just a 2/3 stops slower. It also has built-in color filters which I freaked out when I realized how to turn them. I still don’t know when to use them, though!

This wraps the first step in building a set of lenses: getting the glass. Now I’m gonna move into streamlining it for shooting and making it the best possible lenses to handle on set.

I already talked about the mount replacements and focus gears, so I’m left with standard fronts and de-clicking.

Conveniently – for me – as I was finishing the set, SIMMOD Lens came into the picture, with very competitive prices, impressive customer service and super high-quality products. I got all my standard 80mm fronts from him, as well as slip-on lens caps. For a while I didn’t understand the need for 80mm fronts, so I’ll share what I learned so others won’t live too long unknowing like me!

80mm diameter Cine rings by SIMMOD Lens and 77mm filter threads

80mm is the outside diameter of the rings, and that number is so specific because it’s a standard size for clip-on matteboxes. Since the filter threads across the set are wildly different (from 55 to 72mm), standardizing the filter threads to 77mm allows you to own one single set of filters which can quickly switch lenses without the need for tons of step rings. So all you do is get a Cine Ring with the rear thread of your lens and that’s gonna make it standard!

It looked neat, but from my experiences as 2nd Assistant Camera, I was constantly being asked how fast so-and-so lens was, or what’s its minimum focus. That information was usually written in the lens case, and the focal length was on a sticker attached to the lens cap. I was not impressed, so I decided to make my own.

My custom made front caps with focal length, f-stop and minimum focus distance

First I measured the slip-on caps I got from SIMMOD and created a Photoshop template with that size. I plugged in the focal length in white so they’re easy to read in dark sets. I also added the f-stop for each lens and its minimum focus in meters and feet. Then I sent that to be printed at StickerYou in vinyl stickers. Each page with eight stickers costed me about $10. You have to admit they look sexy.

The issue that came up from was the stickers were having a hard time sticking to the material of the lens caps and were peeling off on their own. To fix that I took the stickers off, added a thin layer of glue, put the stickers back in place and let it all dry overnight.

If you’re not a DIY spirited person – or you don’t like getting things from a million different places -, I worked with Ron at SIMMOD so he can provide caps with stickers already on them.

I repeated the technique for the rear caps, this time with only the focal length written on them. These I ordered from MOO, because they offered me more variety at a much lower price.

Focal length marked on the rear caps as well

For declicking, I read a lot of posts from people saying it’s a super easy process on Contax Zeiss lenses, but I didn’t have the guts for it. I shipped all of them to SIMMOD for declicking and a quick checkup. Ron also offers the full mod service for great prices, including focus gears and lens mounts. I was just ahead of the game, so it wasn’t necessary on my case. You can use the code CINE at check out for a nifty discount!

After aperture was made smooth and clickless I still had my 3d printer hanging around, so I printed aperture gears as well. I haven’t tested these much yet, and I ended up not doing standard outside diameters. If I have a motor on the iris, it’ll have to be adjusted every time the lens is swapped.

Iris gear on the 35/1.4

This gave me a great set of lenses ready for action, all I missed was a way of getting them to said action. All I ever had so far was a Canon backpack and that is not a safe way to transport this grade of gear everywhere. I needed a proper case!

I reached out to David at Hardcases.ca and got both a Nanuk 918 with padded dividers and a Nanuk 904 with foam to fit these babies. On the 918 I keep the main six lenses of the set plus variable NDs and other filters. The two “specialty” lenses – the 15/3.5 super wide and 60/2.8 macro – go on the smaller 904 case. This makes life easier when grabbing gear to go out and renting it as well. If I know I’m not gonna need either the 15 and the 60, I just don’t take their case with me. Having them separate also gives me versatility on pricing, since the main set can still go out without them for a more accessible price.


The 6-lens set in a Nanuk 918 Case and the two specialty lenses

Building this set was a great experience throughout. I met amazing businesses with folks that really know how to deal with their customers, I did try out mindblowing glass and I was humbled by all the feedback I got when asking questions about what would be my best options in the middle of the process and posting updates of what I was working on.

The only thing I could maybe do later is update the markings on each lens with fluorescent paint like what you see here, by Moritz Schierenbeck on VLFV’s facebook group. I’m still weighing if I need it or not. To check if I did it, just follow me on Instagram as I post all my lens experiments there!

Fluorescent paint to make markings easier to spot in the dark, by Moritz Schierenbeck

TL;DR

Contax Zeiss lenses are the gems for sharp yet vintage glass. They’re fully manual – focus and aperture -, have solid metal construction, long focus throw, and a great feel overall. They’re much cheaper than modern lenses, yet share similar designs and performance. They cover full frame, are super easy to adapt to many other mounts and never lose their value. You have a wide range of lenses to pick from and equally different price tags. You can either build a $1500 set or a $10000 set and you’ll always impress with the results.

They’re killer tools for video, but in order to achieve maximum performance, there’s a number of steps and procedures to tackle. This is a guide for people that love handling gear and tweaking little things here and there. If you want something ready to use from the get-go, I’d say this is not for you.

Lastly, just for curiosity’s sake, Carl Zeiss has a specific nomenclature for his lens designs – and you can see some of them written on the ID ring of these Contax Zeiss lenses. Distagon, Planar, Sonnar, Tessar, Biogon and Hologon. Here’s a very interesting article by Edward T. that summarizes tech papers published on these designs and their differences, pros and cons.