August 19, 2016

19 Iconic Filmmakers & the Focal Lengths & Lenses They Love to Use

Through what lens do your favorite filmmakers view the world?

Not only do lenses change the aesthetics of a scene, but they also change our emotional response to the hero's journey, our attitudes toward what befalls them, and give us an inside look at what the director sees through his own eyes. In this video, wolfcrow's Sareesh Sudhakaran shares the preferred focal lengths and lenses of 19 of our most beloved filmmakers, including Kubrick, Scorsese, Ozu, Spielberg, and Kurosawa.

Even though many of the director's Sudhakaran mentions in the video use a variety of lenses in their films, it's still interesting to think about why some of them favor certain focal lengths over others. Is that the way they view the world? Do these lenses simply communicate best the kinds of stories they like to tell? Is it because they just like the look? It's most likely all of the above.

If you look at the cinematic styles of different directors, as well as the kinds of lenses they use, you begin to see a pattern. Yasujiro Ozu had a very natural, realistic approach to cinematography, so it makes sense that he would use 50mm lenses for entire films since the 50mm (as well as the 35mm) is often considered to resemble the focal length of the human eye. Wes Anderson alternately has a very quirky style that feels both nostalgic and completely unique, and his use of wide-angle anamorphic lenses helps communicate that look to the audience.

'Good Morning' (Ozu, 1959)

Even if you compare the mise-en-scène of both Ozu and Anderson, the similarity in their approach (stylized compositions, color, and symmetry) still only exists in terms of form, not function, because the realm of their own interpretation of the world is miles apart from each other. In other words, Ozu's 50mm view celebrates realism despite it being stylized, whereas Anderson's wide-angle anamorphic view is stylized because he is critical of the artificial

Philosophical musings aside, it's super interesting to learn about which filmmakers gave preferential treatment to certain focal lengths. Not only can you, yes, learn more about the whys behind the whats, but knowing the tools your favorite filmmakers likes to work with is vital information for film dorks like us—if for no other reason than to pretend like it'll help us make our stuff look like their stuff. (Keep dreamin', buddy.)      

Your Comment

12 Comments

When we say Ozu uses 50mm, is it full frame equivalent ? =)

August 19, 2016 at 8:51AM

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widoprod
Videomaker
74

50mm on 35mm movie film is close to 50mm on an APS-C sensor. An 85mm lens would be closer to that look on a full frame camera.

August 19, 2016 at 4:29PM

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That's wrong, since there are various kinds of movie films (including various kinds of "35mm films".

Super 35 film is close to APS-C size, so 50mm there is more or less the same as50mm on an APS-C sensor.

August 21, 2016 at 9:15PM

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Sort of. He's using a 50mm in Academy, which has an aspect ratio of 1.37:1. If you were to use a 50mm on a full frame camera and crop the sides you'd get the same look. So yeah, in a way I guess you could think of it as a full frame equivalent.

August 24, 2016 at 4:24AM, Edited August 24, 4:24AM

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>>> so it makes sense that he would use 50mm lenses for entire films since the 50mm (as well as the 35mm) is often considered to resemble the focal length of the human eye.

This well known 50mm lens comment is in reference to the 35mm Full Frame still photo format, which would translate to a 35mm lens for the Super35 film format.

Lens focal lengths are largely meaningless unless you also know the the actual camera format the lens is going to be used with.

August 19, 2016 at 12:55PM

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Guy McLoughlin
Video Producer
30322

"Lens focal lengths are largely meaningless unless you also know the the actual camera format the lens is going to be used with."

I'm no expert, but in my experience, the crop factor of a camera will effect depth of field and framing. however, the focal length itself still maintains its emotional impact in terms of image compression regardless of format. An 85mm on MFT or full frame is still going to "feel" like an 85mm in terms of compression. you will just lose or gain depth of field control. So when a director says he likes to use, say, a 50mm over a 24mm, i think they are referring more to the emotional effect that the standard focal length has over the wide focal length, and not so much the depth of field control. What that means for me is that I don't have to fret so much over my sensor size. the control over the level of perspective compression and lens distortion is still available to me regardless of the crop factor.

but that's just me! :)

September 26, 2016 at 11:23AM

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For cinema, a super 35 sensor is "full frame", for that format. For photography, 35mm is considered full frame for that format. So no conversation is needed. A 50mm on a super 35 format is 50mm. If a conversation was needed, then the lenses would be labeled as an 80mm, even tho the f.o.v would be 50mm, but it's not because it's not an 80mm. I would like to see Roger Dekins ask for a 50mm while shooting on a super 35 cinema camera and the 1ac bring him an 80mm because he was "calculating the f.o.v" for a 35mm photo camera.

August 19, 2016 at 6:37PM, Edited August 19, 7:34PM

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Reggie Brown
Cinematographer
157

Exactly. Cinema glass is made specifically for the focal length that's labeled. You don't need to double down on math for a cropped sensor factor. Only with using STILL PHOTO lenses, being made for full-frame 35mm still-photo use, is the math necessary.

35mm lenses for still-photo cameras converts to a psuedo true 50mm, yes. But on cinema glass standards, using a Super35 sensor/film plane, the focal length is customized to BE that set focal length for the sensor/film plane.

August 21, 2016 at 4:01PM

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> For cinema, a super 35 sensor is "full frame", for that format.

Depends on the cinema format. Not all cinema film stock is Super 35 or similar (for which this is true). Add anamorphic conversions to that and it can have totally different "full frame" and/or DoF

August 21, 2016 at 9:17PM, Edited August 21, 9:17PM

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Think of it this way: A 50mm f/2 lens is a 50mm f/2 lens on any system, since these are physical properties of the lens regardless of the camera format they are used with.

Filmmakers who are used to working within a Super 35 world have certain visual expectation of the image that, say, a 50mm lens will produce on an S35 frame with regard to magnification and horizontal angle of view. No one is 'cross-calculating' anything because the common visual system of reference that everyone is working in is S35, not 35mm photography full-frame.

By way of example: If you look at the Zeiss Master Prime lens data http://www.zeiss.com/camera-lenses/en_us/cine_lenses/master_lenses/maste... you'll see for example that the 50mm has an angle of view of 28.26 degrees (last column). Since a 3-perf Super 35 frame is somewhere around the size of the APS-C sensor (vendor differences aside) you'd expect angle of view to be similar - and a quick look at a cross-system equivalency table shows it is:

https://www.bhphotovideo.com/images/Angles-02z.jpg Take a look down the APS-C / Foveo (i.e. 1.6x to 1.7x) columns, and find something similar to 50mm you will see that angle of view is what you'd expect.

So when a DP asks for a 50mm they mean a 50mm and they see exactly what they expect to see on a Super 35 frame.

August 22, 2016 at 10:02AM, Edited August 22, 10:02AM

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Paul Syers
Writer/Director/Producer
11

What in fact is relevant, is the horizontal and vertical angle of view. If this is specified, the size of the sensor/film is irrelevant (and the aspect ratio is defined too).
To specify focal length for a shot is only a fast (and commonly used) way, to get that special angle of view that you want. As soon as you have different sensor/film sizes (and aspect ratios), this way might be misleading.
So it would be imho very interesting, what all these filmmakers use as angle of view for specific shots and what their distance to the objects filmed is. Because that is the other very interesting thing besides the angle of view and form an artists standpoint maybe even more important: the relationship between all the objects, including the viewer.
And btw: Think of Terry Gilliam, iirc he used extremely wide lenses (even fisheye?) or very short distances to the objects filmed and still showing very much of the background.

August 22, 2016 at 1:06PM

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Jens Koenig
Engineer
30

Great article and vid.

May 6, 2017 at 3:54PM, Edited May 6, 3:55PM

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Richard Swearinger
Freelancer
121