Can I recreate this famous shot from Blade Runner using the heaviest and most expensive lens I've ever touched but also this one that costs 20 times less? let's see if the price of a lens makes a big difference.
This might be controversial but while I agreed that a close-up film than a 24 mil looks very different to a close-up filmed with a 50. When I compare a 50 to another 50, it's hard to imagine the viewers noticing any difference. Anamorphic lenses are a bit different though. I'm a sucker for that beautifully stretched bokeh and I have a feeling it affects the audience subconsciously. So I'm curious to know if a high-end anamorphic lens looks very different to one that costs much much less. So let's go to a studio and see how closely we can match that shot from Blade Runner.
We'll start with the $1,500 Sirui lens and an actor so far it looks completely different. But I don't think that's the lens's fault. Let's have the actor change clothes and copy Harrison Ford's wet look. Jackie our production designer then brings out the set she's made from painted foam on plywood. But the lighting looks different, so Naya our gaffer blocks the windows so she can control the light. First there's a light at the back with blue and green gels. And then a soft box that she positioned carefully to cast the same nose Shadow as Harrison Ford's. It also had a black sheet on the top to make the eye reflection a little bit less round. And then the last touch is this bulb for a second highlight. I'm glad we got pretty close to the original already but the moment of truth will be whether switching to some thirty thousand dollar glass will close the gap.
But first I need to show you why it's so important to me that the expensive lens improves my footage. This situation started nine days earlier when I emailed about renting the cook anamorphic 75 millimeter on its own. None of the rental houses I talked to wanted to break up their five lens set which makes sense but for that kind of money. I could rent a spacious apartment in London for a whole month. One of the companies did shave 50 off the cost of renting the full set but that was still too pricey for me and then they offered an even bigger discount. I was surprised that they were lowering the price so easily. So I was tempted until I remembered that I had to ensure the whole set. So I said no thanks and they said they could go even lower. That's a 70 discount. This felt like just too good of an offer to pass up. So I rented them for two days they wouldn't deliver the lenses.
So I hopped on a train to London to collect them and they were much heavier than they looked. I got in a taxi with my luggage that was worth 125 Grand. And then I couldn't stop thinking how this would be an especially bad time to get in a car crash or to get kidnapped. From there it was a long walk through the underground station then stairs up to the train station and one more nervous taxi ride home. I was relieved when I got the lenses home safely. But with transport and insurance I'd spent an eye watering thirteen hundred dollars for the privilege of having these lenses with me for two days and that's after the huge discount. So back to the Blade Runner shoot when I go to attach this whopping lens onto my camera. I'm thinking better be worth it. This better be worth it.
I shot both lenses in full frame 16x9 mode and then I cropped the sides to match super 35 open gate film. Thanks to the cook's two times squeeze factor. I had to crop more from the edges and move the camera a little closer. But both lenses were wide open and the depth of field looks really similar. That said the bokeh in the background is definitely a little taller on the expensive two times lens. I do prefer it that way but paying $1,300 to make the bokeh a little bit taller is kind of absurd to me. Now of course with a high-end Cinema lens you're not just paying for the bokeh. You're also getting the pl Mount the Cinema housing and of course the cohesion between the various lenses in the set. But as far as things we can actually see in this comparison, the cook lens is softer especially the edges which could be a good or bad thing depending on your perspective.
I like a softer look but I can always add similar blur in post. So I think the Sirui win in this area. But let's see which one other people prefer with a blind test on Twitter. And while I wait for the results I'm going to go and do the second day of filming before I have to send these lenses back.
It would be an understatement to say I noticed the weight difference between the lenses when I did a documentary shoot today. Filming handheld with the cook is a workout. I had to take breaks and this 360 orbiting shot probably aged my spine by a few years. I should have had a counter weighted shoulder rig or one of these but I didn't want to spend even more to rent support gear that was beefy enough to handle this massive metal and glass. Whereas the Sirui is much lighter so I can use it just handheld or with a gimbal. Also renting the e-mount version that I could adapt to my Nikon camera cost 10 times less and that's including delivery to my door.
I have to admit I was surprised to see that during this interview the bokeh looked very similar between the two lenses. Outdoors, the Cook's taller bokeh looked noticeably better to my eye and the swirly character towards the edge of the frame was lovely. I just wish the rental cost wasn't so high.
Anyway let's see what people on Twitter thought of our Blade Runner scene. There's a clear winner and it's the cheaper lens the Sirui.
I think I can confidently say that lenses seem to follow the law of diminishing returns. In general I do prefer the two-time squeeze look rather than the Sirui 1.6 times bokeh. But the cost and hassle of renting the cooks would only make sense for a much larger project. If I ever get to the point where I'm spending 25k every day on set with a full crew and expensive location then maybe I could justify spending a thousand dollars a day on the lenses. But for any projects smaller than that it feels like a huge amount of money for such a marginal improvement. For me the cooked look isn't worth the cook cost. So I'm gonna stick with my smaller lenses that suit my smaller projects. What a surprise.