Unless you have a lot of time and are prepared to come to blows. Any member of the camera team will willingly sell their grandmother if it helps prove a point about one lens being better than another. It’s like the football of cinematographers, we all side with a make or generation of lens and will defend it to the last – thinking about it I should get some shirts made up and start cashing in on the merchandising. I’ve always had a split loyalty – which in itself is heresy – between master primes and Cooke S4’s. I love the master primes for their technical genius and the uncompromisingly sharp wide stop, the S4’s for the character that they offer – the romantic feel to the colours and highlights. They’re not soft, just forgiving and pleasing. However there is a new cowboy in town and I liked them so much I bought a set (with my business partner Zoran Veljkovic at Upsidedown Films). They are from a German manufacturer called Hannes Inno Tech and they have come up with a range of lenses called Celere HS.
Every time I get them out I’m asked a hundred questions about them so I thought I’d write up my findings and share them with whoever fancies a nerdy read. Firstly I want to be clear that I am not paid by or in league in any fashion at all with Hannes Inno Tech. Secondly I bought a set rather than hire them as (a) they are hard to get hold of and (b) they are affordable. Buying a set of master primes is not an option!
I’ll start by summarising what I like about them then look at the tests and finally the real world shooting experiences. For me they are a combination of the master prime and the S4’s. They are all T1.5 and sharp wide open (except our 25mm which I’m happier with at T2). They have a nice feel to the highlights with no halo or smearing around extreme bright spots and the drop off of focus feels good. We have a RED Dragon so the fact that they are full frame is important and there are nice little design features like they are all the same weight and size so swinging a lens on Steadicam requires no rebalance. I also like the company’s ambitions. They are developing additional elements to give us even more tools like uncoated interchangeable front elements and there is a clamping plate in the mount so you can stretch a net easily if required. They are just nice touches that help us adapt more easily to different looks. Are they as sharp as the master primes wide open? Probably not although I haven’t tested for this, are they as great as the Cooke S4’s with skin tones? I don’t know but what I do know is that they offer elements of both and I’ve found the combination of these characteristics to give really great pictures. As a disclaimer – all the framegrabs on this page are from prorez transcodes or compressed films not from rushes.
We, I think, had one of the first sets in the UK and spent some time testing before we took them out. We looked at each stop on each lens and tried to use a mix of textures and colours. We did sharpness test etc separately and the lenses passed with flying colours – except as I mentioned the 25mm which was not as sharp as the others – so these tests were purely about the ‘look’ of the lens. To complete the tests at the highest resolution we put the EF mounts on and used a 5Dii. The picture profile was set to the most neutral setting possible and focus set to the teeth on the skull. Here are a selection of the frames from the 36mm. These are high rez jpegs.
I’ll let you draw your own conclusions but for me I like the way the focus drops off, it is not a harsh look but pleasing and gentle. The colours hold nicely in the soft areas and the highlights offer texture without losing contrast. I made these tests primarily with a feature I was about to shoot in mind. The feature was mainly exterior and based in a small village in Spain which is why I was so interested in highlight detail. For me the sweet spot of all the lenses was between 2.8 and 4 and I stuck to this stop range for most of the shoot. (see my previous blog ‘Experience doesn’t buy you perfection’ for more info on that shoot)
But for some of the night scenes where we needed to light a larger area with our slightly under resourced lighting package the speed of the lenses really helped
I must at this point I must also reveal that we have had some build problems with the lenses. I believe that this is in part due to us having some of the very first off the production line. On the feature the 36mm seized up completely. This obviously made life very difficult! Again I must claim no allegiance to a company, this time Cintek. We bought our lenses from Cintek who are the UK distributer for the Celere HS. They reacted very quickly to the problem and despite us shooting in a tiny village in Spain they managed to get us a replacement on set within 48hrs. It is reassuring that when problems occur there is proper backup and Cintek couldn’t have performed better. The same happened to our 85mm a few months later, that was also dealt with very quickly and now all are in good shape. It is a worry that these problems have occurred but I believe that can be the lot for early adopters.
I can fart on for ever about the details and idiosyncrasies of lenses but actually it’s probably not that helpful. Lenses are such a personal thing for a cinematographer, they effect the look more directly than the camera body (which is why I need to start merchandising those T shirts). Ok, so there is an inherent difference between film and digital but I would argue that most serious digital formats that are taken to a decent grade end up being pretty much indistinguishable. You might make a decision based on whether you are mainly low light or in an environment you can’t control but not on how skin tones are rendered or contrast held, these are hewn in the optics. I can more easily distinguish between a film shot on an ARRI lens or a Cooke lens than an Alexa body or a RED body. So as lenses are such a personal choice I’ll talk briefly about why I choose to use the Celere lenses on a few projects and then let you see the results so that you can decide if they work for you.
Virgin Active – Iron Zuu – Camera body Sony FS7.
This was actually the first thing I shot on these lenses. It was a low-mid budget spot and so I would have been hard pressed to get a set of master primes in – come to think of it I don’t even know if an FS7 can take PL lenses? The choices would more likely have been ARRI CP2’s or Cooke minis or maybe Xeens. I’ve not used the minis or Xeens much so can’t really comment on them but the Celeres blow the CP2’s out of the water, I should mention that I hate the CP2’s – they are unwieldy, slow (you always have to light for the slowest lens) and uninteresting – in my humble opinion. It was also a great opportunity to get the Celeres out. I knew we were backlighting with some haze and I wanted a lens that would flare but could be controlled when needed. It’s tempting when you want flare to use some vintage lenses but you can run the risk of losing a lot of time controlling the flare when you don’t want it. I should know! We have a set of 1980’s rehoused Nikkor lenses that are beautiful but pick up flare very easily. If we didn’t have the Celeres I would probably have used the Nikkors on this job but the Celeres did a marvellous job.
Dudley Dog Films – Solo – Camera body RED Dragon.
Solo is a music based feel good coming of age feature film. It’s low budget and set in Spain. If I’m honest with you I originally used the Celeres for budget reasons and if someone had come up to me and offered a set of Cookes I would certainly have taken them. However they didn’t and it was the Celeres that came with us. It gave me 4 weeks to really get to know them and I have to say really enjoy them. I found that even in the intense sun of Spain the contrast levels were pleasing and the colours vibrant. The pictures felt natural and the bright kicks all around never caused us any problems. As I mentioned before the T1.5 helped us out when the proverbial hit the fan and so far everybody has been very complimentary about the pictures. I shot the film mostly in 4K but if I just wanted to get a slightly wider frame and time was short I’d just go to 5 or 6K which uses more of the sensor. This was only possible as the lenses are full frame and was a great benefit. I can’t put any moving image here as the trailer is not cut yet but here are some framegrabs.
Schripps (Travel Channel) – Henry Cole bumpers – Camera body RED Dragon.
As I write this is the most recent thing I’ve shot on the Celeres. It is also standout in the sense that the budget was good and I could have chosen any lens package that I wanted. The bumpers were all based around the light-hearted gag of making the audience think we were on holiday and then revealing we are actually in Henry’s work shed. I would normally have used S4’s for this project but one of the stories required us to shoot in a water tank that was smaller than we really needed.
For this to work I needed to use as shallow a depth of field as possible and the Celeres open to T1.5 versus the T2.1 of the Cookes. Master primes are a little too clinical for this type of shoot, what I needed was something that bridged the two, warm and gentle but fast. The Celeres fit this. Again I’m not claiming that they are as amazing as S4’s for skin tones or as perfect as master primes in engineering but the combination of a bit of both is for me a real winner and I look forward to shooting a lot on them in the future. Here are the bumpers for you to check.