Canon's CN-E Cine Prime and Sumire Prime lenses are engineered to deliver exceptional 4K optical quality, whether the image is captured on a Super 35mm or Full Frame 35mm sensor. All of Canon's cinema primes produce a full-frame image circle, but moving to the larger sensor format brings a number of potential benefits.
Stuttgart-based filmmaker Nicolai Deutsch has a diverse back catalogue, which includes shooting commercials, documentaries and music videos, while also specialising in underwater shooting. He was one of the first filmmakers in Europe to test the full-frame capabilities of the Canon EOS C500 Mark II when he filmed two of Germany's best rock climbers, the Hans brothers.
Here he shares his experience teaming full-frame sensors with Canon cinema prime lenses, while Canon Europe's Ryuhei Kamata, Pro AV European Product Marketing Manager, offers additional insight into this formidable combination.
The most profound difference between Super 35mm and Full Frame is, of course, the latter's wider angle of view. Freed from the smaller sensor's crop factor, the full potential of a full-frame lens can be realised, and this has benefits that are both practical and creative.
"The Canon EOS C100 [now succeeded by the Canon EOS C100 Mark II] was the first Cinema EOS camera I owned, and back then Super 35mm certainly felt cinematic enough to me," says Nicolai. "I still shoot a lot on the Canon EOS C200, but moving to full-frame with the Canon EOS C500 Mark II made a huge difference."
Nicolai was working with a small crew on the Canon EOS C500 Mark II shoot, taking on the DoP and production duties himself and working with just a director and a sound recordist. "I've known Philipp and Moritz Hans for a while," he says, "and we decided to film them in Fontainebleau, France, a popular area for bouldering," a form of rock climbing without ropes or harnesses.
Nicolai's first experience with Canon's cinema prime lenses was about four years ago, when shooting the surface scenes for Listen Close, a short film with free-diver Timo Niessner. But the Hans brothers promo was the first time he'd used them with a full-frame camera. "If I'd had a choice, I would have shot it all on Cine Primes," he says. "But as we were a team of just three, with no focus puller or camera assistant, I ended up using photographic EF lenses and the camera's Dual Pixel CMOS autofocus for shots where we were walking or needed to pull focus. For everything else, we tried to stick with Cine Primes and Sumire Primes.
"We shot a lot of the film using a Canon CN-E24mm T1.5 L F and a Canon CN-E35mm T1.5 L F lens – my go-to focal lengths for full frame. They give such a dramatic perspective when you get close to your subjects. When you're shooting with a full-frame camera, you can get close to someone's face with a 35mm lens, but it's not distorted as it would be if you were using a wider lens to achieve the same angle of view with a Super 35mm sensor."
Another of the key reasons for choosing to use a full-frame camera is to achieve a cinematic shallow depth of field, separating in-focus areas from the background more than would be usual at the same angle of view using a Super 35mm sensor.
Nicolai had a few scenes where he wanted to use a wide angle but also separate the foreground and background. "With the Canon CN-E24mm T1.5 L F lens on the Canon EOS C500 Mark II, I could shoot wide open and achieve a really nice separation, even when focusing on a subject two or three metres away," he says. "That's something that would be harder to do when trying to get the equivalent view on a Super 35mm camera using a 17mm lens."
Canon Cine Primes feature very fast T-stops with carefully-designed out-of-focus characteristics to further enhance this separation when desired. In turn, however, a shallower depth of field makes focusing trickier, but Canon’s Dual Pixel Focus Guide function helps cinematographers meet this challenge. Available on both Full Frame and Super 35mm Cinema EOS camera bodies, Canon's Dual Pixel Focus Guide continues to be active even with a manual focus Cine Prime lens attached – a feature that Nicolai enthuses about. "Getting this green confirmation that you're in focus is so handy, especially when you're shooting hand-held with a Cine Prime lens, in bright locations where so much is going on."
In addition to EF Cine Primes, full-frame Cinema EOS bodies fitted with EF lens mounts are compatible with the extensive catalogue of Canon EF prime lenses designed for still photography. The diverse range of sharp, fast-focusing, image-stabilised EF primes – not to mention the advanced construction and weather-sealing of Canon's professional L-series lenses – ensures excellent results, but there are specific features of Cine Primes that make them more suited to the needs of cinematographers.
"The biggest difference between Cine Prime and EF photographic prime lenses is the way they are built, particularly with regard to the manual operability of the Cine Primes," says Ryuhei Kamata. "These lenses offer very precise manual focusing, which is essential for many filmmakers. You don't always have the opportunity to reshoot, so being able to position the focus ring with absolute precision is vital. Repeatability is also very important. No matter how many times you go back and forth on the ring, you can be sure the focus distance will always match the scale on the lens. This level of accuracy requires both design excellence and manufacturing capability."
The consistency in design extends to other aspects of the Canon Cine Prime lens family, ensuring a cohesive look for a project regardless of the mix of focal lengths. "Canon Cine lenses are perfectly aligned in terms of their character," explains Ryuhei. "Not only does this include aspects of image quality such as colour, sharpness and the transition from in-focus to blurred areas, but also the mechanical features of the lenses – especially the prime lenses that are designed to be repeatedly switched back and forth.
"For example, the diameter of each Canon Cine Prime lens is identical, so that film crews don't have to bring multiple front filters or matte boxes on a shoot. The rotation angle and the build quality of the focus ring are also critical. If the torque of the gear were different from one lens to another then the focus puller would have to recalibrate their adjustments each time the lens was changed."
Although Canon Cine Prime lenses share the same character, the size of the camera's sensor does have an effect on the overall look of the image. As well as the change in angle of view that can dramatically alter the perspective, moving from Super 35mm to Full Frame can produce a slight drop-off in brightness in the corners of the image – especially at the maximum T-stop.
In-camera digital processing can compensate for this effect, although it can instead be exploited to draw viewers' attention towards the centre of the frame. Some DoPs may opt to use vintage lenses for some scenes, as they exhibit this effect to a far larger degree than modern lenses. This decision can, however, have repercussions for dynamic range.
"One thing that often gets overlooked is the essential role a lens plays in an HDR production," says Ryuhei. "HDR is about acquiring as much detail as possible in both bright and dark areas at the same time. But if you're using an older lens which has a lot of internal light reflections then bright areas can cause a haze effect within the picture, resulting in lost detail in the darker areas.
"Our latest Full Frame Cinema EOS camera, the Canon EOS C500 Mark II, has a lot of HDR capabilities on board, but if the right lens isn't attached then you won't achieve that HDR output. The optical design of Canon's Cine Primes ensures they are extremely capable in terms of HDR. But if you don't necessarily need or want that level of clarity, you always have the option of creating a more 'vintage' look using filtration."