Cine lens question?

Discussion in 'Casual Photo Conversations' started by david_clark|4, Nov 19, 2008.

  1. I've been looking at the B&W photography in John Ford movies, specifically comparing "Stagecoach" with "Grapes of
    Wrath." And I have a question regarding soft focus vs. sharp focus. According to the commentary of the Stagecoach
    movie, it was shot in soft focus, and I gather from the commentary that this was a fashion during the 1930s. The
    reviewer contrasted Stagecoach with Grapes. Grapes was meant to evoke a documentary style, and as a result shot
    in sharp focus.

    Well, I would not have known Stagecoach was shot in soft focus if not informed. My question is: how are these two
    different effects achieved? Both movies were made during a period of time when I think I can assume that the same
    choice in equipment was at hand.

    How was Stagecoach soft focused? Was it the effect of a special lens? a filter? the focusing of the camera? How
    do you fine tune the limits of your sharpness to the point it is exactly where you want it? vs. accepting what
    the lens maker or filter maker gives you. Is this the difference between uncoated Elmar and late model coated

  2. Might hard and soft be other words for deep and shallow? "Deep focus" is high depth-of-field, takes fast film or lots of light. "Shallow focus" is shallow depth-of-field, and was originally required when three-strip Technicolor was so incredibly slow compared to B&W film. From a bit of reading, also popular because it's much harder to keep a background from being distracting when it's in color.
  3. A curious effect of this method often, is when a male and female are having a conversation and the camera(s) switch between the actors, the images go immediately from hard to soft and back again.
  4. Typically cine cameras have a shutter angle, which, as the shutter disc rotates for each frame, represents the
    angle of the cut out of the disc. Many cameras can vary this shutter angle closing it from full open all the way
    down to zero which can achieve fades. (180 degrees, for example, which could be varied down to 0. So called XL
    cameras have a wider opening, 220 degrees for example, to let in more light with slower shutter speeds)This is
    all old film stuff. You will encounter it when using super 8 cameras. 180 degrees means the shutter is open half
    the time a frame is in place, 90 degrees for 1/4 of the time. This means that at 24 FPS with 180 shutter, you
    will have a shutter speed of 1/48. The eye sees motion with about a shutter speed of 1/30, close to this.

    Anyways, back to the point. To open up the lens to get a shallow DOF in daylight to full aperture to get minimum
    depth of field one uses either a neutral density filter or closes the shutter angle. Closing the shutter angle
    will produce sharper images for each frame, which may or may not be desirable.

    A big factor in this is the format. Movies are shot using 35mm film, which has an image area which is much MUCH
    larger than typical CCDs. The so called "soft focus" is really shallow depth of field, FYI. As a result of the
    larger format they use longer focal lengths of lenses which have a shallower DOF. For example, your regular
    miniDV camera has a focal length, say 4mm-40mm. 4 mm may be the wide angle, and 40mm is extremely telephoto. For
    comparison, using the larger film format, the standard lens is 50mm. Often for the shots they might even use
    something more telephoto.You will notice this shallow DOF on 35mm film with a 50mm F1.8 lens, or to a much
    greater extend 4x5 and 8x10 view cameras which need to stop way down to F64 to have wide DOFs.

    Because technicolor used a beam splitter to separate the light into R, G and B for exposure on 3 strips of film,
    it's effective speed was something like 2 stops slower than the already slow filmstock itself ( this made for an
    effective ASA of 5). You can now see why ASA 10 kodachrome one was not that slow. The characters on the Wizard of
    Oz claimed to have suffered permanent eye damage as a result of the bright lights used to expose the film, and
    temperatures frequently reached over 100 degrees.
  5. If you didn't know, F stops, the opening of the lens, changes the Depth of Field. "fine tuning" as you say is accomplished by focusing on your subject, then adjusting the F stop and shutter speed combinations while retaining correct exposure to get the "sharpness" or DOF you want. A larger opening lets in more light and has less in focus. When you shoot with a manual lens it will have a DOF scale, which will give lines saying "at F22, everything between the 22 lines on the focus dial is in focus." It helps to see one.

    Some cameras have a depth of field preview, which will stop down the lens, making the image darker, but displaying how the focus will look on the final image. Focusing is done in full aperture to ensure accuracy, and because it's brighter.
  6. Often the soft focus "filter" of choice back then was simply stretching a piece of a silk stocking over the lens. It produces a wonderful diffused effect.
  7. Tiffen Optical has a complete line of "Hollywood Effect" filters that address many special effects including
    varying degrees of soft focus. They used to be know as, "Hollywood's Secret Weapon"
  8. For possibly more authoritative references, you may be able to read part of this book via a Google search:

    "The Classical Hollywood Cinema", by David Bordwell, Janet Staiger, Kristin Thompson

    I read some excerpts that corroborate other information I've read over the years. The simpler effects of the early years of cinematography (gauze or mesh over the lens, petroleum jelly, etc.) soon led to development of more sophisticated optical devices (such as the Zeiss Softar) and special lenses designed specifically to give the cinematographer greater control over spherical aberration and other effects to soften, diffuse and otherwise control focus without completely sacrificing fine detail. Selective focus, split-field focus, etc., have also been used. See this recent discussion:

    Today, some special purpose soft focus lenses designed for cinematography and large format are considered collectibles. (You might also search the terms Cooke and Anastigmat.)
  9. A soft focus lens is designed from the outset to exploit an optical phenomenon known as 'Spherical Aberration'. It is
    NOT the same as stretching a stocking over the lens, or applying vaseline to the edges of a filter (yes, that was and
    still is done), or simply defocusing the lens.
    A soft lens tends to keep edges sharp, while introducing a certain amount of softness to the image.

    The technique of shifting interest by focusing from the near subject to the far subject is called 'pulling focus', and has
    nothing to do with the sharpness or softness of the lens design. Pulling focus is one of the numerous jobs of
    the 'Focus Puller" (no Duh) during filming.

    Bill P.
  10. Its about a given that a still photographer "focuses" on what lenses were used and very little if anything about the lighting that was used to shoot a movie; since lighting is a not worshiped like lenses. Focus pulling has been done for 100 years in film work; andn the out of focus look often important; so the person/thing is often still wanted to ne recogonized and not weird batwings or wild blobs. It took still photographers about a century to "see this"; and thus they coined the B word. Lighting effects how out of focus things look; how in focus things look. A movie lighting master may use some old tricks like focus pulls; split diopter lens; goo grease on a lens or clear filter; screen grid over filters; BUT lighting is still what matters. In still work a master photographer that shoots high end interiors will often have a 2nd Van full of lights; gels for windows; shoot the interior at certain times of the day to get the external light to work. Then when the great shoots appear in a magazine he/she will be asked what camera or lens was used; since most all folks think IF they use the same equipment they will get the same results. One friend that doesnt this type of folks says only 1 in a thousand will ask anything about lighting. <BR><BR>A soft focus lens can just be a simple ancient one; where the object in focus is NOT as sharp as a higher corrected more complex lens. Lighting matters alot but gets little respect with most still shooters who want a canned store bought solution. In movie work one has lights one movies around to get the lighting like one wants. One the mention of tungsten lamps gets folks in a knot; they are obsolete; they are not a goobtron strobe with matrix metering. Still shooters in Food, portrait, jewelery, high end interior, and commerical tend to understand lighting better than snapshooters.
  11. Finally! It's great to see someone besides myself give credit to lighting, which is darn near everything. Composition is
    another thing that can't be bought. You either know this stuff or you don't. Give me great lighting and composition
    and I'll give you great photography with just about any decent camera.
    Give me a great camera and no craft, and I'll just send it back.

    Here's an idea.... Locate a big budget movie or TV location shoot and see the trouble the gaffers are going through to
    make the shot look 'natural'. They're easy to find in Manhattan and other big cities, and the experience is invaluable.
    Better yet, sign on as an intern, and learn from the ground up. That's a big part of how I learned.

    Bill P.
  12. Kelly,

    100% agree with your comments regarding the completely dominant effect of lighting on any shoot (as any fashion photographer knows). (There are some good books on the lighting set-ups for portraits from that time, by the way). Lighting is really the key to any shot.



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