In this age of nostalgia for the film-stocks of the past while lusting after lenses sharp enough for 4K and more, it is useful to remember that vintage glass has its place in recreating the looks of long-gone eras.
Cinematographer John Brawley recently shared some ungraded Arri Alexa frame grabs from the Puberty Blues television series that he shot a couple of years ago using vintage lenses found gathering dust on the top shelves of rental houses. They make for interesting viewing.
Puberty Blues, the semi-autobiographical 1979 novel written by former Cronulla surfie chicks Kathy Lette and Gabrielle Carey, was originally made into a feature film in 1981 by former Old Toongabbie boy Bruce Beresford
Seventy-nine and eighty-one, a very different era and look for film and for lenses. Color negative film stock of the time, even in 35mm, was soft and grainy and premium lenses whether made for shooting movies or stills were nothing like as sharp as they are now.
Wisely, Brawley let himself be guided by all that and chose a mixture of Zeiss Superspeeds and Panavision PVintage primes using glass debuted in 1976 for his Alexa.
As Mr Brawley relates in an earlier article about how he shot Puberty Blues:
Digital image making with cameras like the Alexa and EPIC have [sic] been great for us as cinematographers, but I do wish though there was a way to introduce imperfections or flaws. Some way of creating randomised image imperfections on set.
What better way of introducing optical imperfection than the lenses listed above as well as other vintage lenses like the old Cooke and Taylor-Hobson zooms and the Leica R-series optics mentioned in his earlier blog post?
Using vintage lenses help [sic] give us a uniquely imperfect look and I have to say I was so surprised at how beautiful these old lenses can be. All their optical faults and imperfections actually give us a very raw look that is totally unique. In other words, they gave us the RAW and un-polished look we were chasing.
The Arri Alexa was the main camera throughout the shoot and it was supplemented with a Canon C300 and the then new Blackmagic Cinema Camera. RED Epics were used for in-water shooting by a specialist surf camera team. All dry land cameras relied on longer focal lengths than usual for a production of this sort.
The stills and movie footage at both blog entries are worth watching for Brawley’s camerawork and choice of lenses. Please bear in mind, though, the attitudes and behaviors of the era in which the story is set. The Shire, as the location of the novel, the movie and now the mini-series is popularly known, was unique then and unique now.
Vintage Lenses on “Puberty Blues” TV Series
Via John Brawley:
In between jobs I get to noodle around. I’ve finally pulled some frames together from Puberty Blues, a television series that I shot using vintage optics.
For any that are interested in vintage lenses I thought I’d throw together a quick gallery of images. These are all frame grabs taken while I was shooting Puberty Blues. As such they haven’t been graded so you’re seeing what was captured using the nifty frame grab function of the Alexa.
Australian TV comes of age – Puberty Blues
Via John Brawley:
For Puberty Blues, we decided to focus on using vintage lenses to create our imperfect and raw look in-camera.
For a while we even toyed and went as far as testing anamorphic lenses. But the Alexa 4×3 cameras were very new and couldn’t be easily had and so the 1.78 crop from the 2X anamorphic on a 1.78 sensor was far too great. Those tests did look glorious and for a while and we wondered if we could convince TEN to put it to air as 2.35 ! I really wish that 1.3x anamorphic lenses were more readily available so we could have 1.78 Anamorphic when shooting on a 4×3 sensor camera like the Alexa.
Instead we searched for the oldest lenses we could find to put on the cameras. We’ve reached to the tops of the shelfs at the camera rental companies and dusted off the oldest lenses we could rent. Old Cooke and Taylor-Hobson zooms as well as Zeiss superspeeds ended up our main lenses of choice. On the Canon C300 and Blackmagic camera we were often using Glendyn’s own Leica R series lenses.
Using vintage lenses help give us a uniquely imperfect look and I have to say I was so surprised at how beautiful these old lenses can be. All their optical faults and imperfections actually give us a very raw look that is totally unique. In other words, they gave us the RAW and un-polished look we were chasing.
See full article at John Brawley's blog “Australian TV comes of age – Puberty Blues”
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(cover photo credit: snap from John Brawley)