I have to get something off my chest. When I first started learning about lenses and cameras, all I had was Google and Ask Jeeves. Kids these days have so much more.

If I sound salty, that’s because I am, but I’m also over the moon to know that young creatives (and those young at heart) have so much more tools at their disposal. Not only to learn about the trade but to create with. 

Which brings me to The Cine Lens Manual, written by Jay Holben and cinematographer Christopher Probst, ASC.

cinelensmanual-writer_portraitsJay Holben and Christopher Probst, ASC

To call this a book would be an understatement. The Cine Lens Manual is practically the size of the Gutenberg Bible at around 800 pages. It’s filled with everything you need to know about lenses. And I mean everything. All for $175. 

But why is this tome so important for creatives? Well, I spoke with Jay and Chris about just that. I also got a copy, which I’ve been reading for the better part of a month.

Did I finish it? Read on to find out, my friends. 

What Is The Cine Lens Manual?

The Cine Lens Manual is pretty much the same thing you get with your car, but it’s also a history book, a how-to guide, and a reference manual.

Imagine going to Toyota to get a manual for your 98’ Corolla, and they give you a book on the history of sedans, how to fix them, mod them, and how they all compare up to each other.

kenny-eliason-2k_-pg95qli-unsplashNiceCredit: Kenny Eliason

This is what reading The Cine Lens Manual feels like. Officially released in March 2022, Holben and Probst wrote this book over eight years and included everything from “history of format(s), repairs and maintenance, screwing up and modifying and detuning” lenses.

Conceptually, the manual is all about the fundamentals of lenses and how they all interconnect.

“You can’t understand exposure without understanding the film speed and shutter, or frame rate and shutter angle,” Probst said. “So it’s the same thing with lenses—the book is designed for whatever people's understanding of optics is,” and builds on top of that. 

Probst even mentioned the manual has “concepts in there that we haven’t found in any other book on optics, and we looked.”

Okay, I know you’re itching to ask.

What’s In It?

No matter where your knowledge lies, there’s a perfect place for you to start. If you’re a total newbie, how about chapter one? This is where Holben and Probst define the lens, as they call it. But that’s easy, right? Glass in tube shine light onto sensor, then get picture?

No. Not even close. In "Chapter 1: Defining the Lens," the gang covers things like different markings, manufacturers, image formats, lens types, angle of view vs. field of view, aperture, depth of field, focusing, back focal length, lens mounts—and I have to stop here before I start to ramble.

The Cine Lens Manual Chapter 1Sample Page from Chapter 1Credit: cinelensmanual.com

This one chapter encompasses not only what makes a lens, but the fundamentals and concepts that are used to help you create that perfect image.

Chapter 2 goes on to explore optical concepts such as what type of literal glass is used in lenses and why, how it’s all shaped, how to deal with diffraction and aberrations, and what it takes to get those sweet, sweet flares. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Further chapters go on to talk about how lenses are designed and made, not only from an optical point of view but also from a mechanical one. Then you have a chapter on how lenses have affected film formats, as well as the origin of the cine lens design.

The latter is probably the longest section of the book and encompasses almost every cine lens ever made between the 1930s and the 2010s. There are also some sections on photo and ENG lenses.

Sample Page from Chapter 4Sample Page from Chapter 4Credit: cinelensmanual.com

Finally, the book ends with several chapters on evaluating, servicing, and modifying lenses. The former is helpful when you’re buying new or used glass, while the latter two are great for learning how to break lenses and put them back together!

Okay, this is all super cool stuff to learn. But…

Why Should Filmmakers Care?

I thought about this section for a while, and I came to this conclusion—if you work with lenses in any way, shape, or form, The Cine Lens Manual is an absolutely necessary read. It’s a masterclass on glass. However, it’s hard to justify buying a 10-pound book that’s 800 pages when you could just look up what you want online, right?

Maybe. Until Buster comes to mind.

Look, I’m not saying everyone online is a liar. I live online just like everyone else. But, I’ve been at this internet game for some time now, and while most online resources are great (if you know where to look), a single comprehensive source is impossible to find.

While this generation of YouTube filmmakers and content creators has opened a huge door for people to learn about filmmaking and lens concepts...

Some of these folks are still learning themselves. And they get things wrong. Like, all the time. 

I’m not blaming them. We all learn from mistakes. But the unfortunate thing is that those errors compound as false information spreads across the internet. Go far enough away from the source, and you’ll be completely off base when you tell your buddy that his focal length will change when he starts shooting full-frame. 

This brings me back to The Cine Manual. Over eight years, Holben and Probst did their research. They had editors check their work, and they’re also pretty knowledgeable in their own right. 

Jay Holben is an independent director and producer based in Los Angeles. He is also an associate member of the American Society of Cinematographers, the chair of the ASC's Motion Imaging Technology Council's Lens Committee, and a technical contributing editor for American Cinematographer magazine. He has authored over 500 articles on the art and science of cinematography and is an international lecturer on the subject as well as serving as a faculty instructor for the Global Cinematography Institute, a school started by the late Academy Award-winning cinematographer, Vilmos Zsigmond, ASC.

He also wrote two other books on cinematography titled A Shot in the Dark: A Creative DIY Guide to Cinematic Lighting on (Almost) No Budget and Behind the Lens: Dispatches from the Cinematographic Trenches.

Mindhunter-season-2-release-date-700x321'Mindhunter'Credit: Netflix

Christopher Probst, ASC is a working cinematographer and an active member of the American Society of Cinematographers. He served as the technical editor of American Cinematographer magazine for over 20 years and has taught/lectured about cinematography for the AC's Masterclass, the Camerimage festival, and the Global Cinematography Institute. You might also know him from his ASC Award-nominated work on director David Fincher's Netflix series Mindhunter, and his extensive body of work in music videos for artists such as Ariana Grande, Taylor Swift, Eminem, Billie Eilish, Shakira, Lana Del Rey, Kelly Clarkson, Black Eyed Peas, Katy Perry, Pussycat Dolls, Jay-Z, and Muse. He has also shot thousands of commercial ads and is well-versed in narrative filmmaking, shooting the feature films Detention for Sony Pictures, Fire With Fire, and the sci-fi actioner, Beyond Skyline.

That’s quite a pair of resumes. If these two don’t know what they’re talking about, then I’ll eat my shoe.

To elaborate further on my initial point, if you’re going to learn about lenses, how they work, and how they affect the medium of cinema, this book is the best and most trusted source I’ve found so far. And just like Probst, I’ve also looked.  

There’s also talk of getting these books into the USC classrooms. But I heard that whispered from across the room, so take that with a grain of salt. 

So, Am I Finished with the Book?

After a month of reading, have I finished this massive book? Not even close.

I don’t think this is the kind of book you ever “finish.” I keep jumping back and forth, referencing different manufacturers and lens brands every time a new lens comes out. I even used the book to take apart an old Soviet lens to see how it worked and tried to fix a broken Nikon AI-s 24mm. 

The Cine Lens Manual by Jay Holben & Christopher Probst

  • By Jay Holben & Christopher Probst, ASC
  • Hardcover, 836 Pages
  • Published by Adakin Press
  • Released March 2022
  • The Art and Science of the Cinema Lens
  • Easy to Understand Concepts
  • Extensively Illustrated
Hardcover Version

For what it’s offering, The Cine Lens Manual is a steal at $175. That’s like two tanks of gas these days. If you want to snag your own copy, the manual is available now via B&H or cinelensmanual.com.

Oh, and if you’re wondering about the Nikon lens, it’s working now. I fixed it.