VA – LOMO – EPISODE 01
Episode 01 is a very bright chapter, with lots of sunlight, exterior shots and well-lit environments. Taking advantage of all this available light, we went with LOMOs, real cinema lenses, but that require lots of light for optimal performance. The plan was to start early and shoot until sunset so we didn’t waste one single precious light moment. LOMOs bring a low-contrast look and very distinct from any other optics I’ve came across so far. When comparing the results, I think the first chapter is way more cinematic than the second and a great deal of this feeling comes from the lenses character.
After the whole crew agreed to go anamorphic I started doing real tests using an OCT-19 (LOMO’s mount) to EF adapter. The first problem came up where I wouldn’t expect it: sensor coverage. Since these are cine lenses, they’re designed for 35mm film, without much extra image falling to the sides. As the 5D Mark III has a full frame sensor – almost double the size of 35mm film – the lenses just projected images on the central part of the sensor, creating huge black edges around that area.
These black edges were way heavier than what I was ready to commit, so I decided to swap to a camera with a proper sensor size. The chosen one was the Canon 50D, released in 2008, quite cheap on the used market. Its sensor is almost exactly the same dimensions as a 35mm film frame. Through MagicLantern and raw recording we were able to set a 4:3 recording window that, when stretched back to the correct values would give us a 2.66:1 aspect ratio.
After picking the camera – and solving the vignetting issue – it was time to grab the lenses and go for real-world testing. Opposed to the various fast taking lenses used in Episode 02, here I used only two big anamorphic zooms, manufactured twenty years apart.
The oldest one, made in 1969, is a LOMO Foton-A 37-140mm T/4.4. It’s not a fast lens, but its large zoom range allows for very distinct framings. The anamorphic block goes in front of the spherical lens and focus is synchronized between both through bolts and screws that hold both pieces together.
Minimum focus sits 1.6m away, but we also had a +1 diopter available, made specifically for this lens which solved focusing issues in tight spaces and close ups, increasing the anamorphic bokeh as a bonus.
Buying, modding, servicing and shipping this lens could be a movie on its own, going through Lithuania, Ukraine, Spain and finally Brazil, over a time span of five months – between March and August of 2013.
For the first step, I needed to provide the seller a bunch of hand written documents assuring him I would be responsible for any problems with shipping the package to an address that wasn’t my default address. That was a key part of the route, making it cross the border to Ukraine in order to reach Olex’s very capable hands.
Once delivered, Olex swapped the original OCT-18 mount to OCT-19, declicked the aperture ring, installed standard focus and zoom gears, serviced both spherical and anamorphic blocks separately and then together. He also improved the connection between both blocks and developed a new support system for 15mm rails instead of the russian Konvas stanrdard. After all this was done, the lens waited around his office while I looked for someone going through Europe and then returning to Brazil that could bring the briefcase along safely. My sister did that.
The second lens, much newer, made in 1989, goes for the name of 35OPF18-1, and covers focal range between 20mm and 120mm, with a T/3 aperture, which is considerably faster than its older sister. This lens uses a rear anamorphic adapter, which kills every beautiful imperfection introduced by the bent glass (flares and bokeh, mostly), keeping only the stretch.
The acronym OPF in russian stands for “lens with variable focal length”, which means it’s a zoom lens. This 20-120mm in particular is an identical copy of a Cooke lens design, but made in the Soviet Union.
One of its unique features is a macro ring embedded at the back of the lens, with strength from 1 to 5, 1 being standard operation, without any macro capabilities. As the strength increases, the maximum focusing distance becomes shorter and shorter, killing the need for any diopters and allowing sharp focus less than one inch away from the front glass (I was able to focus on my fingerprint touching the glass).