What is your favourite lens?

Deep down, every filmmaker has a favourite lens, just like every parent has a favourite child. There’s no use denying it. We are humans, and we are shipped from the factory with inbuilt biases. We can’t help it. It’s in our DNA. We develop dominant hands, political affiliations and focal length preferences. It’s just the way we are.

While preparing to shoot our feature film Love is Now on Nikon cameras and Nikkor lenses, I have been asked quite frequently what lenses I want to use. Of course, I’m tempted to say “All of them.” Yep. Just give me every one. “Do they make a 5mm? A 4000mm? Throw it in.” What about the anamorphic Kubrick candlelight lens replica, ground from moon glass? “Sure. Why not? Might need it.”

In fact, why not throw in the entire Nikkor set created for shooting Wilfred in the US? The lens set used by Janusz Kaminski, the cinematographer of Saving Private Ryan, and Schindler’s List and a bunch of other Academy Award Nominated films. How could we go wrong?

Nikon - Nikkor Lenses from Wilfred

Nikkor lenses used for the filming of Wilfred

But then again, Wes Anderson shot much of Rushmore and The Royal Tennenbaums on a single, 40mm anamorphic lens. Yep. Pretty much one lens for the entire film. And he shot Bottle Rocket on a 27mm. lens.

The Robe was also shot using only one 50mm anamorphic lens, mainly because that was all they had to work with, and if you haven’t seen it, you should. It’s epic.

So I suppose that raises the old question about limitations and creativity. Is an endless amount of choices actually a good thing, or does it overload the circuitboard of the brain with too many possibilities?

Perhaps I’ll shoot the entire film on a Nikkor 35mm f1.4 lens (which is my favourite, thanks for asking) and embrace the notion that limiting choices will open the mind to other visual possibilities.

Why is the 35mm my favourite?

As a filmmaker, I like to treat the camera as a human eye, which means to say I try to capture everything in the same way as the eye sees the world. Even though the eye has a natural focal length of about 22mm, a camera lens has a perceivable distortion at that focal length, which is why people say that a 50mm lens is the closest representation of how the human eye sees the world (it’s actually 43mm to be precise). I feel the 35mm splits the difference, and allows a cinematographer to feature a wider and more cinematic field of view that more closely represents how our eye sees the world, without distorting the image. That’s why I think the 35mm is the perfect lens for both portraits and landscapes, and naturally lends itself to a more classical style of composition.

Actually, after that rather exhaustive soul searching explanation of why I desperately love this lens, I have almost talked myself into shooting the entire film on the Nikkor 35mm f.1.4… as long as I have the armada of Janusz Kaminski lenses as a backup.

Coming Soon

In the next few weeks, we will post a gear list for Love is Now, including cameras, lenses, accessories and any other tech we will be using to make the film. Make sure to sign up for our newsletter so we can send you more filmmaking tips and exciting updates along the way.

Published by jimlounsbury Feb 27, 2014