American Cinematographer - July 2017 - 12

PRESIDENT'S DESK
The Strad and the Classic Lens

Photo by Jacek Laskus, ASC, PSC.

In the past few years an interesting experiment - which has been repeated in various iterations -
caught my attention. Top professional violinists from around the world were blindfolded, given a
number of violins to play, and then asked to give their opinions about which of the instruments they
found to be the best-sounding. What they were not told was that some of the violins were classics,
including famed Stradivarius violins, while the others were of recent manufacture by builders of note.
As you probably know, "Strads" are renowned for being the best-sounding violins in the
world; at auction they can command prices between 15 and 45 million dollars. The violins made in
the present day by well-known builders, on the other hand, cost "mere" thousands. And yet, to everyone's surprise, these experiments have consistently resulted in the modern-built violins receiving the
highest ratings.
This test pops into my mind every time I find myself involved in a discussion about old,
vintage lenses. These uncoated relics and lenses-turned-paperweights are now back in the swing of
things, receiving serious consideration on projects of all scales.
As a result of the ever-increasing detail delivered by modern digital sensors, the need to address "lens patina" has
never been more pressing on our minds. But I have to wonder: In turning to older lenses, do we not sometimes forget what
modern lenses have achieved? It's not just about sharpness. It's about their handling of contrast, distortion, chromatic aberrations, etc. Maybe we haven't given modern lenses a fair shake. Maybe we should look at other means of changing the
patina of our images.
In this matter, I believe we are sometimes driven by assumptions and predispositions. Case in point, my friend Stijn
van der Veken ASC, SBC was asked at Camerimage which classic lenses he had used to shoot his movie; he answered,
"Master Primes - but entirely at T1.3."
Part of the problem, of course, is that we cannot simply blindfold cinematographers in order to distill an unbiased
opinion. Yes, we can do side-by-side tests and shine flashlights into the front of the barrel, but unfortunately that methodology does not sufficiently encapsulate the vagaries and varieties of situations encountered over the course of shooting an
entire picture with any set of lenses.
Violinists have an auditory advantage backed up by centuries of reference, as they can blind-test their instruments by
playing a virtuoso Mozart sonata or a somber Bach prelude, or by working through the complexities of a Shostakovich piece,
to name only a few examples. Unfortunately, it seems we cinematographers are stuck with impressions, hearsay, and the
perhaps misguided conviction that something old and faulty can be used to create a look that is new and trendy.
Without a doubt, feeling is a crucial factor in our creative choices, and this is true of any artistic endeavor. Just this
past April, the violinist Min Kym published her memoir, Gone, in which she recounts the 2010 theft of her Stradivarius.
Devastated by the loss, she couldn't bring herself to play another instrument; as Kym herself said, it was as though she
had "lost an arm." Only much later and after playing many different instruments - including a precise copy of her lost
Stradivarius - was she able to make her way back to the concert stage, this time with an Amati violin.
So then, I suppose that no matter what reason might suggest or dictate, test and shoot with whatever lens inspires
you, whatever lens motivates you to frame and light a shot. Just don't forget to take the lens cap off. Blind testing is not an
option for us!

Kees van Oostrum
ASC President

12

July 2017

American Cinematographer



Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of American Cinematographer - July 2017

Contents
American Cinematographer - July 2017 - Cover1
American Cinematographer - July 2017 - Cover2
American Cinematographer - July 2017 - 1
American Cinematographer - July 2017 - 2
American Cinematographer - July 2017 - Contents
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American Cinematographer - July 2017 - 41A
American Cinematographer - July 2017 - 41B
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American Cinematographer - July 2017 - Cover3
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