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Why the Arri Ultra Primes are the best cinema lenses

There are a lot of cinema lenses available on the market, but the Arri Ultra Primes take the cake.

In my early days as a video-maker, I never understood the significance of lens choice. In my head, if there was glass in front of the sensor, everything would look the same; what difference was there between a £200 lens and a £2500 lens other than the price tag? It wasn’t until I used a Canon L series lens my friend had hired for a trip (which I later bought for myself) that I started to understand how critical lens choice was in dictating the look and, consequently, the quality and mood of a video through distortion, sharpness, flaring, aberrations etc.

Back then, I was using photography lenses. As my knowledge of the film industry developed and I gained more of an understanding of cameras and lenses, my attention began to move away from pro-level photography lenses to cinema-grade glass (think Arri, Zeiss, Cooke, Panavision etc). 

When I upgraded from my Canon 70D to the Red Scarlet-W, the catalogue of lenses available to me grew substantially; the only obstacle now between me and the lenses I had dreamed of using was money. With that, the artistic choices I could make for videos also increased. 

Whether I wanted a super sharp, polished look or a cinematic, anamorphic flare-heavy look, the Red gave me the option to use lenses that I could explore different visual styles with that would aid my story-telling and video-making.

Over the last couple of years, we’ve hired in a variety of cinema lenses to explore these different story-supporting styles. For example, we have hired the P+S Technik Evolution anamorphic lenses (optical remakes of the vintage Kowa Anamorphic lenses made in the 70s) on a number of occasions to give the projects we were working on a nostalgic, cinematic, big-budget feel (if you want to read a previous blog post on anamorphic lenses, click here*). 

Similarly, we hired in the Cooke S4i minis for a Christmas video we produced as a company last December. We wanted the video to have a soft, warm feel that the Cooke S4i’s are famous for. Additionally, we hired in the Arri/Zeiss Ultra Primes for a big corporate job towards the end of last year. While I am in love with the P+S Technik anamorphics and would love to own my own set, it was the Master primes that really stood out to me.

SUBJECTIVITY OF LENS CHOICE

Liking certain characteristics of a lens is the same as liking a certain filter on Snapchat or Instagram.

Before I go any further, it’s important to know that lens choice is incredibly subjective. Liking certain characteristics of a lens is the same as liking a certain filter on Snapchat or Instagram – YOU might love it, but someone else might hate it. You might want to achieve a certain look that you like, but that may not be to someone else’s taste. Taste is subjective; lens choice is subjective. 

Case in point: I love super sharp, super crisp images that I feel like I can touch; I love an image that is perfect; detailed from left to right. (Side note: I may have just directly contradicted myself there as the anamorphic lenses I said I loved three sentences ago do not produce a perfect image. Yes, I do also love images that are imperfect with long streaky flares and soft edges – but for the sake of this blog, I will ignore that for now).

THE ULTRA PRIMES

The Ultra primes are a marvellous set of lenses for anyone looking for a super sharp, beautifully clean, undistorted image.

Before hiring the Ultra primes, I had been searching for the perfect set of prime lenses that had all the characteristics I wanted – sharp image, compact and lightweight with a good range of focal lengths. The master primes delivered this. 

First of all, the sharpness of these lenses is crazy. They are by far the sharpest, crispiest lenses I have ever used. The details are razor sharp and look absolutely amazing in 5K. 

Second, they’re strong, sturdy, and seem expensive, yet come in a compact form factor and aren’t overly heavy. One of the issues I found with the Cooke S4i minis was that they were incredibly heavy and made operating handheld difficult. The Ultra primes are a breeze in comparison: they extend a good distance from the body of the camera and feel balanced enough to make operating handheld preferable to gimbal work. 

Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, they come in a wide range of focal lengths. The main gripe I had with the P+S Techniks was how limited they were with focal length – they didn’t have anything wider than a 40mm (at least the hire company I got them from didn’t), and the 100mm was too distorted at times to be useable. The Ultra prime kit we hired came with a – 20mm T1.9; 24mm T1.9; 32mm T1.9; 50mm T1.9 and 85mm T1.9. These were both wide enough and zoomed enough to capture everything we needed, while maintaining the same front diameter and size across the range. We hired them for a corporate job and they were perfect for the project; the client was impressed with how sharp the images looked.

The Ultra primes are a marvellous set of lenses for anyone looking for a super sharp, beautifully clean, undistorted image. They have set the bar for what I look for in cinema lenses, and I’m excited to test more lenses in the future (let’s see if the Arri/Zeiss Master Primes or Supreme primes set a new standard).

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    WHO ARE WE?

    We are McGill Productions, a global video production company based in the UK built around the beauty of visual content. Day in, day out, we elevate some of the most innovative and forward-thinking brands to new heights, growing their conversations and building engaged audiences with captivating, cinematic videos. We aren’t a short-term solution, we are a long term partner.​