Hollywood Cinematographic Approach

- #3 Visit DUCLOS LENSES / Interview with Matthew DUCLOS -

Hiroyuki HAGA / Director of Photography


Choosing a lens and camera would be a key for a cinematographer during a project. As the camera’s performance has been enhanced and the post color grading has easier, lens selection is the most important task especially while a director of photography demonstrates his or her creativity. When I visited Panavision, I heard that some cinematographers even choose a lens by a serial number. It’s because lens’ coating was made differently by manufacturing year, which creates different color rendering and unique flare. The lens is definitely a big factor that you see cinematographer’s preference and insistence.

In 2007, because I didn’t like the look that a camera assigned can capture for a school project, I rented Panasonic AG-HVX200 and Redrock Micro M2 as an adapter attached with still lenses such as Nikon and Canon to get shallower depth of field, and then I learned how to enjoy features of lenses. After that, when Canon 5D Mark 2 was released in November 2008, the DSLR shooting became popular and my attention was drawn to still lenses and vintage lenses while I used different types of adapters. At that time when I wanted to use a still lens for filmmaking, I had to attach plastic focus gear with screws because the still lens doesn’t have gear teeth or the teeth isn’t made for cinema use. There was a problem with that temporary gear and I found out “Cine-Mod” for better gear attachment for cinema use, which let me reach “DUCLOS LENSES” that was a pioneer in the field. As I examined the company, it is involved not only in mount conversion, repair and maintenance, but also on polishing and coating, which is indispensable for lenses that are keys for image creating, and then it has become essential in Hollywood filmmaking.

This time we interviewed with Matthew DUCLOS, who is COO at Duclos Lenses in Chatsworth, California USA (near Hollywood).

※Cine-Mod = Still lens partially modified for cinema use
Matthew DUCLOS

– Company History

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Matthew: We officially started in 2002. Dad was doing pretty much the same thing but he has dreamed to start his own company. He brought me (Matthew) on this. Only two of us were in the office half of size of current office. We took handful customers and offered strict service of repair. In the prior to that, he started working at Angeniux in late 70s. That was a couple years and the location was in the East Coast: New Hampshire. And he moved to California with us and took a job at Clairmont Camera for several years. And he worked with Kish Optics and making specialty motion pictures optical products. He worked there for quite a few years and started his own business.

– What did father start at Angeniux?

Matthew: He started at Angeniux in New Hampshire. He started basically at lowest service at the time: grinding optical blanks (finishing the edges: grind the edge of the lens to make it perfect) for a while. He cut the glass and deliver it to service guys. He offered more services to the boss and he got those.

– How did you (Matthew) learn the technique of service?

Matthew: Everything I know is from my father. When he was at Kish Optics (prior to DUCLOS LENSES), I was 10 years old. He was doing a lot of different projects at that company. The owner of the company and father and another employee were there. During summer break for school, I went for helping it for very basic projects. Kish Optics is famous for a director’s viewfinder, which has several components, and I was making a lever switching Anamorphic to Spherical when I was 12 years old. Once I started that, it became snow balls. My father handed simple and time consuming thing to me. Scrubbing the parts and reapplying new grease. I did it for many years because my father told me to do. At 19 years old, my father asked me to learn more at Keslow Camera for a couple years.

– What type of jobs do you get most?

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Matthew: Business is split into 3 primary sections: Service, Sales and Cine-Mod. Service is most profitable and busiest sections for these 16 years. Sales come and go depend on time of year. For example, people hold until NAB announces a new product. Also toward the end of year we are busy for Sales because people are buying products to avoid some taxes.

– What is the most popular lens brand? What is Cine-Mod?

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Matthew: Angeniux lenses have been used so often on feature movies and commercials and require more maintenance. Let’s say 24-290mm Angeniux is very common. Other than that, recently we have seen Kowa Anamorphic lenses all the time. For Cine-Mod, Leica (Leitz cine) R series, fully manual R system. When we started Cine-Mod, those lenses were very popular periodically and I had never thought about it at that time, but now many cinema people sit and wait thousands of Leica R lenses Cine-Modified. Those are extremely popular.

– What is the trend of Service?

Matthew: Uncoating is very popular but very expensive. So sometimes it’s not cost effective. Instead, vintage lenses are very trendy right now. Kowa, Canon K-35 are extremely. A lot of DPs tell you it’s because Digital cinema cameras are so colean now and you need to take the edge off. But I think it’s not true. Vintage lenses have become a way of applying of your own look and your own signature to your project. Zeiss Mater Primes, for instance, are clean and clear. Everything looks the same but you can tweak some at some post or color grading and apply some filters. But when a DP wants to have unique style that is their own, they are reaching for the vintage lenses because those are different. You can’t necessarily recreate the look at post.

– What’s the most difficult process?

Matthew: Only a Business. That’s good question. I have never thought about it at prior. I say sometimes getting the finish on the lenses can be very difficult: Reapplying new paint to make it look original or re-anodizing aluminum parts to make it look original. It’s very easy to get the wrong look or not to be satisfied with the result. So we spend a lot of time and resources to get the just right finish on a lens. For example, for some anodizing we use some specific parts that are replacing some old parts or need to match the specific brands. We have dozen shops in our city for anodizing. But we send our parts way up north to Portland for specific finish we need. For the lenses, we don’t accept any Russian at all because it’s a nightmare. It’s built poorly and there is no consistency for the parts. 6 or 7 years ago, we said no more Russian lenses. But I like the look of the Russian lenses.

– How do you do uncoating process?

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Matthew: Not in the house. We do offer that. We can polish it here and remove the coating and scratches if it’s not too deep. Then we ship it out. The machine for coating is very expensive and so huge like almost the size of office. Also you cannot do only one lens but should do butch of parts. Those machines are meant to do coat dozens to hundreds at one time. We have several partnership companies. Depending on type of look we look for and brand.

– Impression of Japanese Lens

Matthew: Very nice. Japanese lenses have come long way past couple years. In the world of motion picture lenses, German lenses used to be the best. Everybody loved German mechanics and optics. France was good like Angeniux. UK was pretty good and a pioneer like optical manufacturing with Cooke and Taylor Hobson. They got a lot of patterns and still bowed. But in the past 5 or 6 years, even German manufactures and French manufactures are having their products designed and built by Japanese companies. So Japanese lens design and manufacturing, in my opinion, are among the best in the world.

– Favorite movie and camera

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Matthew: I do like movies. I don’t have any specific type of movie at all I like. There are a lot of people opinionative about movies that he or she can’t stand a horror movie or western. First of all, I keep the movie-making process in mind. Even some movies have terrible reviews and there is subject that I’m not interested in at all. For my perspective, even that movie has crews and somebody put entire hard soul into making the movie. I give a chance to any movie. I don’t discount to any film by subject or actor whatever. To me the all are equal. I have absolutely no preference to camera. It’s just a tool like lenses. I don’t care what lenses they use but just the result as beautiful or achieving the goal are important. Camera is a paint brush. Picasso painted with a paint blush. The paint doesn’t paint. Camera is just a tool if you can bring your vision to life. You use a camera that allows to get that vision regardless the brand and model and age.

– What lens is the Brand Logo?

Matthew: I can’t say! Haha. There is a story. The old log had thin lines. About 10 years, there was a small movie shot by a very famous cinematographer. We did very special lens conversion. Actually it was an original Super Balter converted to PL mount first time. They put our logo on the movie creid. But the logo’s line was too thin to see. All three of us (me, father and sister) were so sad. You had to squint to see it but couldn’t read it at all. That night I went home and redesigned the logo and came up with that: Bold and one solid color. It will never happen again! About the recent logo? It can be only said Double-Gauss.

– Message to Japanese fans of DUCLOS LENSES

Matthew: Should we open a branch in Japan? Haha. I don’t know. Keep doing what you are doing! That’s tough question. I would say my message to a cinematographer in general, “Use the tool works the best for the project.” Don’t subscribe to one brand or one type of lens. Try as many as lens you can. Test as much as you can. Don’t believe the manufactures. Don’t believe bloggers. Don’t believe me. Do you own test!
Greg REILMAN(Senior Lens Technician)、Paul DUCLOS(CEO)、Matthew DUCLOS(COO)
Throughout the interview with Matthew, I realized DUCLOS LENSES’s history that Paul Duclos, Matthew’s father and experienced at major lens companies, started with a small family company and now has been developed to support Hollywood’s lens creativity, and I learned their respect against motion pictures.

In 2018, competitors announced Large Format sensor cameras as their top model, old medium format lenses were picked up, and then more and more people pay attention to vintage lenses. Anamorphic lens is still popular in Hollywood, and some camera rental houses tied up with DUCLOS LENSES etc. and differentiate from other ones while making uncoating and rehousing lenses. The number of individual camera owners has increased, and it seems that old rental houses try to survive by a special lens that appeals to cinematographer’s own sense and make them to use it.

When I choose the lens before shooting, sometimes I refer to online site and video comparing lenses, but as Matthew says, it is really more important to actually test them. As each sensibility is different, you can find your own evaluation and interest on the lens different from reputation along with the compatibility with a camera. The lens description also changes in combination with each lighting style. As professional painters are picky about tools such as brushes, I think cinematographers are the same with their sense. Technicians like DUCLOS LENSES, which repairs and does maintenance of lens, support image expression and art (further improvement of artistic nature) while they let us use a lens that wasn’t able to be used on a certain camera.

I love vintage lenses and have been impressed in front of a monitor at a chemistry happened in mixing my lighting style with the vintage lens that give its unique texture and beauty beyond period, made by old lens technicians who were born before me.

This time interview at DUCLOS LENSES reminds me of respect to lens technicians such as DUCLOS LENSES that gave me such wonderful moment.

Photo:Seiji TANAKA