I have been a fan of Lensbaby lenses for a number of years now. Prior to “Incident on Marmont Avenue”, I had used Lensbaby lenses only for creating unique, interesting and downright fun stills. However, I had never used any Lensbaby lenses while shooting video. Honestly, I hadn't really even considered it, so when Lensbaby offered to send several lenses we were given the opportunity to consider how to incorporate the lenses into the movie.
Lensbaby Composer Pro
Edge 80 Optic
Having never used a Lensbaby lens for shooting video I wanted to run some tests and see what the results looked like. I wasn't exactly sure how we could use the lens to help visually tell any part of the story.
My initial concerns were the following:
#1- Would the lens be fast enough for our lighting story?
#2- Would the image quality be good enough to cut together with the other lenses we were using?
#3- Would the effect of the lens translate to a moving image and hold up in a movie?
Julien Lasseur, my director of photography, and I did some quick tests to see how the lens and the quality of the video would hold up. I was pleasantly surprised when I saw the video. First off the 80mm tilt was a 2.8 and we were able to match the exposure seamlessly with the other lenses we were shooting with. We then decided cut the footage into some of the test 5D Mark III footage to see how it would play in the final project.The image quality was impressive. There was little to no noise added and the clarity was great. After the tests I had no worries about shooting a scene with the 80mm “tilt shift look” and cutting it into a sequence with scenes shot on different lenses.
As we looked at the tests we started to think about where in the film we could use the lens to tell our story. It became very clear that the unique image we got would be perfect to open the movie. We had been testing several ideas for the opening prior to getting the Lensbaby and hadn't been happy with the feel of the images. Keep in mind that the first images that one sees of your film will create a huge impression on the viewer and how they perceive your film. We wanted an opening that felt cinematic and gave the audience a slightly off-kilter feel without being kitschy or overdone. We had been working on the visuals for these images and when we saw the test footage we knew we had what we were looking for. I was confident enough in the lens and the image to decide that the entire opening title sequence would be shot with the Edge 80mm Optic. These images would be the entire introduction to the film: I am not sure how I could give a better endorsement for Lensbaby lenses than that decision.
An argument that often comes up with specialty lenses that create a “tilt shift look” that it easy to give a tilt-shift look or other effect in post. I believe it is superior to shoot on an actual lens for several reasons. The first is simply practical. When you are on set looking through your camera viewfinder (or monitor) you are able to perfect the shot and see all of the components that are influenced by the lens. Seeing the shot on set as it will be in the final product is incredibly useful, you can tweak the image immediately, change set design, adjust the camera angle and really focus on getting the exact shot you want in camera. Also, if there is camera movement or moving elements within the shot it is important to actual see how the lens is interacting with the movement. When you get the effect from the actual lens you are ensuring that your final project will have a high-quality, low hassle effect that is designed for the shot, this can't be beat by post work.
Even the best post work can't beat the effect of a lens on light. The lens allows you to show a physical effect and a realness that post work can't emulate fully. Post work that gives a sub-par result isn't fair to the filmmaker or the post team. It is best to give your post team the best possible shots in camera to work on and this means using specialty lenses on set. Additionally, post work is often expensive or at the very least, time consuming. Why deal with the hassle when you can get the shot in camera? It also easier to immediately begin editing together your footage with the lens effects done in camera, you will know exactly what the shot looks like and how it works with your project.
Using the lens to get the effect meant that we were able to begin editing immediately without waiting for post work to be done for an effect. It also meant that on set we knew exactly what out shot looked like and we could adjust our lighting to ensure that we were getting exactly what we wanted. This allowed for greater creativity and peace of mind because when we got the shot in camera we knew we had it!
Keep in mind the wide variety of options that Lensbaby lenses can afford you as a filmmaker. See if your film is in need of a unique or different visual element for part or all of your film. If so check out their wide array of lenses and do some tests of your own. I am actually excited to check out some of their prime lenses and see how they stack up. For now check out the opening sequence from Incident on Marmont Avenue- shot entirely on the Lensbaby Edge 80mm Optic.
(cover photo credit: snap from the video)