ZEISS Supreme Prime, The Dawn of Large Format Era, What large format brings to the world

Cinema cameras are entering a major phase of transformation. With the popularization of the 4K standard shoot, the change in sensor size from super 35mm to 35mm full frame, and to even larger sizes, the technology has ripened to illustrate the images as realistic as ever. As a result, we are seeing the introduction of Sony VENICE, RED WEAPON MONSTRO 8K VV, the ARRI ALEXA LF at the beginning of this year, followed by Canon EOS C700 FF this spring.
In response to the flourishing cameras, there are several cinema lens series coming to the market with over 4K resolution and large format capabilities. The Leica THALIA and Cooke 7/i were announced last year, and ARRI Signature Prime came this February. In addition to above lenses, ZEISS now announced their long anticipated Supreme Prime series, and all these new cameras and lenses are starting to restructure the entire motion picture industry.
There are of course many other lens manufacturers including Japanese brands which claim 4K and large format capabilities. However the difference between those lenses and the professional grade rental lenses are, not only the optical performances of individual lenses but also the possibility of getting professional support and maintenance world wide. Especially on international filming projects which crosses multiple regions or countries, it is expected to rent the best condition lenses at all locations, and there are not many lens brands which can provide trustworthy service globally such as ZEISS has to offer, by means of certified lens technicians and service centers covering the globe.
Such level of precision and versatility may not appear on brochure specs, but the reliability and credibility of the products are the signs of a longtime manufacturer of professional equipment which stood the test of time.
ZEISS already offers wide variety of product families such as CP.2, CP.3, CZ.2, and LWZ.3, but this Supreme Prime is their first high end lens series since the start of the high resolution digital cinema era.
In this issue, we take a closer look at the production behind “TSUNAGERU – The Heritage of Iwami Kagura”, a show reel shot in Japan to promote the Supreme Prime lenses.

Director & Cinematographer Akira SAKO J.S.C.
Executive Producer Katsumi YANAGIJIMA J.S.C.
Assistant Producers Shuji NAGATA(nac) / Arato OGURA(Carl Zeiss)
On-Set Colorist Tetsuji YAMASHITA(IMAGICA)

ZEISS Supreme Prime / show reel
“TSUNAGERU – The Heritage of Iwami Kagura -”


In Iwami region of Shimane prefecture which is located in western Japan, it is still possible to get glimpse of traditional Japanese scenery, such as seaside, mountains and rice fields. This region is known for its sacred ceremony for the gods characterized by live dance performance and music.While the traditional performance is passed down from generation to generation, the traditional crafts behind the performance are also passed down, such as mask and costume making, also the hand made paper making, which becomes materials of masks and costumes.This film illustrates the soul of Iwami Kagura, and the people’s passion to preserve the art and craft, while also spotlighting the Iwami’s great outdoors scenery and nostalgic townscapes.

The benefit of high resolution and high speed

This project was the first attempt in Japan to pair Sony VENICE camera with ZEISS SP lenses. The camera was loaded with a beta V2.0 firmware (official version to be released in summer), had Dual Base ISO function and equipped with large format sensor which shoots 6K in FF mode. With the high speed of T1.5 on ZEISS Supreme Primes, it enabled the crew to shoot ISO2500 and to choose the T-stop very freely regardless of lighting situation or location, and this camera &lens combination was highly regarded among the film crew on set.

The value which 100 years history of cinema lens manufacturing offers

While ZEISS Supreme Prime lenses boasts the latest eXtended Data technology and interchangeable lens mount and much more features, it is also noteworthy to point they have implemented the flange adjustment shims which is the same size as existing Ultra Prime and Master Prime lenses. This means the certified lens technicians in the world can to work on SP lenses with confidence, seamlessly and efficiently to adjust the FFD just as other ZEISS lenses. This is one of the hidden core value of ZEISS cine lenses.

More choices than ever

As mentioned earlier, the cameras now come in many distinctive characters, such as the ARRI ALEXA LF with outstanding skin tones, the RED WEAPON MONSTRO 8KVV with 8K resolution, and the Sony VENICE with high ISO sensitivity, therefore shooting possibilities has expanded than ever.
On the other hand, the ZEISS Supreme Primes sits between Master Primes and Ultra Primes, but also offer new features such as 35FF coverage with flexible mounting options including LPL, very compact yet high speed, and 13 focal lengths.
This means the users now have new choices, in addition to the existing Cooke 7/i and Leica THALIA lenses, and the camera/lens combination has become one step wider – and we look forward to brand new motion picture experiences that these new options delivers.

ZEISS Supreme Prime Round-Table Discussion

Akira SAKO J.S.C.〈 Director & DP 〉
Tetsuji YAMASHITA〈 Colorist / IMAGICA Corp. 〉
Arato OGURA〈 Carl Zeiss Co., Ltd. (Japan) 〉

For this issue, we spoke with three people who worked on the show reel for the ZEISS Supreme Prime Lens, “TSUNAGERU”. They shared their impressions from the point of view of the camera operator, post-production, and as a maker. We asked them to speak about the aim of this product, the usability of the SP lens, and shooting with a large format camera system.

General impressions on shooting the show reel “Tsunageru”

OGURA: What were your impressions after using our new Supreme Prime (SP) lenses and Sony’s VENICE large format camera for this project?

SAKO: The SPs are very fast T1.5 lenses and I shot these on the latest SONY VENICE full-frame sensor camera, which was a totally new experience for me on both counts. My first impression of the lenses is that you can go very close to the subjects, it allows you to work like you do on a Macro lens which was a great benefit. I’ve been using proxars when shooting close subjects on Super 35mm, but with proxars you have to put on and off all the time and it slows downs the camera work on set. But with SP lenses I didn’t need any accessories but still able to pull focus from very close to far in one go, and I liked that freedom.

OGURA: Will the close focus ability change and expand your shooting possibilities?

SAKO: Certainly. It depends on the project, but I always want to shoot at the same T-stop as much as possible no matter day or night, in order to deliver consistent images and impressions to the viewers.
Because we used the VENICE + SP lenses on this project, I was interested to see how the Dual Base ISO on the camera can allow me to use the same T-stops on both day and night at ISO 2500, and it certainly did a good job.
Another good thing about the lenses is that they are all very compact and light, while being sharp and crisp. I often use Master Primes on ALEXA cameras, these lenses deliver very nice images with no breathing, but large and heavy. However the equipment is about going smaller and lighter now, and I think the new SP lenses of 95mm diameter really fits to this trend. My ACs also mentioned the lenses were small, light and easy to operate.

Creating a sense of depth, in small confined spaces

SAKO: While on set, I was most conscious about how to picture the depth of field. We shot mountains, coast lines, and small indoor spaces which are particular to Japan. It was s challenge to bring out the sense of depth in those narrow or small locations, without suffering the distortions or other optical limitations. We also had to clearly deliver and emphasize the “Japan-ness” in the film as a main theme.No matter you are working on low or high budget, I always look around and search for those perfect moments to get the shot. And when looking for perfect shots, it is crucial that you are working on an authentic subject, as with large format cameras, high quality lenses and higher resolution you reveal everything to the audiences, even to a very tiny detail.So it was a natural decision for me to choose Shimane prefecture as shooting location, and to shoot traditional performances of Iwami Kagura, which is not a prop or studio set but truly an authentic real life subject.If you find authentic subjects and bring a solid combination of high quality camera & lens, the rest is quite easy. We did not use any special equipment or cranes, but just concentrated on how the subjects will look on screen.

OGURA: I remember you were shooting very close to the subjects, especially at the paper makers’ workshop.

SAKO: Because this is a show reel, I paid attention to “show” the technical highlights of the lens. However, while I think many cinematographers agrees with me, there are so many films these days using large apertures, creating unnecessary big bokeh to emphasize the depth in the frame, and eventually annoying the script and ruining the story. So my aim was to illustrate a very natural look and depth, by using the sweet spot aperture of T5.6-8.

OGURA: On this project you were also present on set as a colorist. What are the benefits of being on the set, from a post production perspective?

YAMASHITA: Today’s cinema cameras has great technical potentials, and this leads to limitless possibilities of color correction.
However because of the possibilities, you can often lose the reference point and “create” the colors which maybe be far from actual scenes, if you have never seen the actual location.
It is not often that we colorists can attend the shoot, but this time I could spend time with the camera department, discuss and understand where the DP wants to land by means of colors and tones. These communication enables us to quickly find the best answer in the shortest path, and was really worthwhile.

SAKO: It was our first time to use that particular lens and camera combination, so we had Yamashita san onboard to give us technical advice and suggestions including how to handle the data. I usually communicate with post production like this, but on this project I thought that it would be better to even have him actually attending the shoot, to share the same final landing image and to reduce later discussions. In fact, when I look back we had less discussion but the accuracy and quality of the finished film became very high. I think the colorists role are getting important than ever, when we talk about large format production and HDR finishing.

OGURA: The 35FF sensors has more pixels compared to Super 35mm, especially the width. When we went back to check the images on the monitor, I was surprised to see how capable these 35FF images are when enlarged. I could hardly see loss of detail on any magnification between 150 and 200%.
From now on, I feel that we have less possibilities to cover things up during the shoot or in post – everything is visible.

YAMASHITA: Because the camera and lens performances has drastically improved, the texture and resolution of the final picture now became realistic as ever. We are now in an era when if you carefully prep and shoot the subjects, they will appear exactly as it looks in real life, on screen. Because of today’s technological advancements, the importance of on-set operation (lighting, camera setting and choice of lenses) became very important, even more so when capturing HRD footages. This time I experimented to create an HDR footage from the original data, which resulted quite impressive, but this was only possible because the quality of original footage was very high, such as correct exposure. With modern technologies you get more resolution, more dynamic range and more realism, but only when the footages are shot precisely.

SAKO: I went 16:9 on this project to fully use the frame. I had no issue cropping the frame because the original data was high resolution 6K, but in fact the actual handling on set requires a lot of experience and skill. High resolution cameras and lenses can’t hide anything, so it is becoming crucial to train ourselves and the assistants to properly prepare and shoot.

The lenses which responds to the needs of an era

OGURA: Generally, products are the responses to the needs of an age or era. For instance during the film camera era, we launched Ultra Prime series, and when the first generation ALEXA came, we had Master Primes. This time we have this new series named ZEISS Supreme Prime, and we created this lens to be in the core of the industry for the next 10 years. I think these lenses will do very well in the international market.
Fortunately, lenses have longer product lives compared to cameras, and the value does not depreciate. So even after many years of use, we are hoping our lenses will serve the users for yet another extended period of time. These days we are seeing many people who are shooting with older lenses, and also the optical character differences between lens manufacturers are becoming even more noticeable. With SP lenses we created yet another paint brush for the artists, and we are hoping the users will enjoy to choose from a greater selection than ever.

SAKO: Yes it’s true we have more choices now. I had a chat with an AC the other day and he told me there are cinematographers who loves the looks you get from early generation RED sensors, but as the technology advancements are so quick, the short lifespan of electronic parts prevents us from holding onto old cameras.
In that sense, lenses have significantly longer lives, and they can produce subtle nuances that cameras cannot achieve with grading alone. And when you have a lens set that can create a nuance that other lenses can’t, even though after many years, that lens set will still continue to hold its attraction and value.

OGURA: Looking at the currently flourishing large format cameras and lenses, do you feel that you’ll have more technical options on future projects?

SAKO: When it comes to shooting at domestic locations, space is often limited so we need to use wider lenses to broaden the field of view. However it is a dilemma of choosing a wider field of view and get unwanted DoF, therefore shooting on 35FF gives me new options (of using high aperture on wide angle lenses to control the DoF).
I personally like the distance and distortion of the 35mm lens on Super 35mm, but I enjoyed similar angle yet the fresh feel of shooting SP 25mm on 35FF.

The benefit which large format camera and lenses brings to the picture

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SAKO: Talking about compositions, I do not like to adjust Super 35mm to Cinema Scope, as I always feel the presence of the lens and can’t concentrate on the story.
When I’m shooting, I want to use the entire area from corner to corner. Some cameramen decide the field of view based on the frame, but we cinematographers shoot according to the focal length (mm), with the lens’ optical character in mind.
The distance to the subject, depth, texture and the angle – these are all decision factors. Once you decide those factors, the original composition will stay valid even when you close up, and I can accept cropping. However I can’t take it when they crop and chop my compositions by decisions made on a small picture monitor at post productions (laughs)
Now that we have high quality lenses like the SP and 35FF 4:3 sensors, I recon we will be soon seeing 4:3 projects using the entire picture frame and even creating a black and white film out of 4:3.

YAMASHITA: This is the first time to hear such things from you, and I realized the importance of the relation between framing and focal lengths. I also understand that unbalanced feel when watching a heavily cropped image, and I agree with you that there is an absolute stability in a picture which was meticulously composed and calculated. These things are maybe understood only among cinematographers, like the comfortable distance to the actors and the atmosphere on set, for instance.

SAKO: We didn’t use any filters apart from camera’s internal NDs to bring the most out of the lenses, and the entire shoot was quite simple. If we have good characters with genuine quality doing good performances, we really don’t need any tricks and not necessary to do close ups shots either. So with this show reel “Tsunageru” we had actual Iwami Kagura performers doing their art, so all we had to do was to point the lens and shoot. Thanks to the actors, cameras and lenses, we didn’t have to alter or manipulate any image, and all I did was to carry the equipment to the location (laughs).

OGURA: From a manufacturers perspective, I can’t help from staring at the lens performance.
For example, I particularly liked the scene of straight beams on the shrine ceiling. When I saw this slider sequence on set, I was amazed by how clean and straight the lines were. It was such an eye-pleasing moment (laughs).

YAMASHITA: Through this production, I really sensed that we were able to achieve an elegant and high quality image which is unseen before even with 4K. Currently on movies and TV dramas, they sometimes tend to avoid the hyperreal quality of the 4K, and the production team often purposely degrade the image quality.
There is nothing wrong about altering the image and it all depends on what you’re trying to achieve, but when you experience something like this (high quality show reel), you realize that you could create true high-definition, high-quality images.
SP座談会 3人

BTS Photo: Kozo TAKAHASHI〈 e-motion photographers 〉
Studio Photo:Yuji NUKUI