The world of cinema filters is positively booming, and with the appearance of full-frame large-format cameras, sensors’ sensitivity and color control performance have improved, so now users are looking for filters whose specs are on par with the latest in digital cinema.
Venerable companies like Tiffen and Schneider have been beloved since the film era, and more recently the members of Mitomo’s TRUE ND and ARRI FSND product line are building a following. But now among these greats, a new wind is blowing.
If you already own a Marumi Optical Co.’s DSLR camera, you might be familiar with this brand. That’s right, “marumi” is a company specializing in filters.
Marumi launched their high-end cinema filter “marumi CINE & TV” series in the fall of 2018, introducing the series during InterBEE2018 in November. It finally went on sale in February 2019. The latest in the product line-up to take on the challenge of competing in this category is the NF filter WSND. So what is the motive behind this domestic filter manufacturer entering the cinema industry, and can their product compete?
A filter manufacturer emerges in the cinema industry
In the photography world, Marumi Optical Co. is well known for their brand “marumi”. The head office is located in Tabata, in Kita ward in Tokyo, and their factory is in the Suwa/Tatsuno area of Nagano. The company is billed as the sole domestic integrated manufacturer among filter manufacturers. Already back in 2002-2003 (or maybe I should say around the time of the EOS 10D and Nikon’s D100), they released an affordable filter meant for “digital use” that incorporated coating and reflection rate reduction. As soon as consumers purchased new lenses, many immediately bought the DHG series Lens Protect Filters.
Nearly 20 years have passed since that time, the early 2000s, and in the camera industry the boundary between still cameras and video equipment has blurred and blended. Cinema lenses can be mounted on DSLR and mirrorless cameras, producing cinema-like video, and DSMCs (digital still & motion cameras) and cinema cameras can have DSLR lenses attached to them to capture 8K-sized freeze frames. These scenes are now nothing out of the ordinary.
Two years ago, the venerable Japanese lens manufacturer, SIGMA, made sweeping changes to their product concept, which affected the cinema lens industry as well. In response to the high definition era, they were able to provide sharp and beautiful bokeh, a good price, and amazingly, they brought together various elements – for photography and motion pictures – and garnered high praise from abroad.
This time from the filter world, Marumi, which is based in Nagano, is also hinting at great changes to come. Filters aimed at DSLR consumers have been the focal point of their lineup, but they are now working on developing high-end products for the motion picture industry. One such product is the WSND series. Those in the cinema industry will be familiar with the high-end rectangular 4”x5.65” ND filter. Called “marumi CINE & TV”, you can see just how serious Marumi Optical Co. is in driving the brand towards the high-end market.
EOS C700 FF & Cinema Lens + WSND Field Test
For the WSND test, we mounted a 5.9K full-frame sensor Canon EOS C700 FF with a Canon CN-E 20mm T1.5 L F and 35mm T1.5 L F, both suited for a full-frame sensor, as well as a SIGMA 105mm T1.5 FF cinema lens, to test performance. We conducted focus and color chart tests indoors and an IR test outdoors.
The results of the SIGMA 105mm T1.5 FF chart test are as follows:
No ND / ISO 100
WSND 0.3 / ISO 200
WSND 0.6 / ISO 400
WSND 0.9 / ISO 800
WSND 1.2 / ISO 1600
WSND 1.5 / ISO 3200
WSND 1.8 / ISO 6400
WSND 2.1 / ISO 12800
WSND 2.4 / ISO 25600
From 0 (clear), 0.3, 0.6, 0.9, 1.2, 1.5, 1.8, 2.1 to 2.4 there was no discernible shift in density. The results indicated that for a product that was still rough around the edges, at this stage it performed extremely well. As an ND, the most important factor was that in dim lighting conditions, there was very little effect on the colors, and Marumi’s technique of bonding the glass acquired by them places the ND side enclosed within so that it is protected from scratches and dust. This way you can rest assured these will not be a factor during use. The process for bonding the edges and sealing are secure so even if you were to drop it, it could withstand a bit of impact. The 9 levels of density go from clear to 2.4 in 0.3 increments. As if the development team were avid photographers themselves, this product from Marumi was created considering how users will operate the product on location. It makes sense coming from Marumi, who made its name by always keeping their customers’ needs in mind.
Outdoors, we were unable to conduct a skin tone test, but we were able to verify that even under strong sunlight, the IR would have little effect.
However, there are some areas that could still do with improvement. For example, with each density, the way of look seems different because there are 4 different ND coatings for 2 sheets of glass, which depends on how they are combined and the density adjusted. Of course Marumi has proven that there is no color overlay on the final image, and this does not present a performance issue, but from the user’s point of view, you can see that the color varies greatly from filter to filter depending on the reflections. For very discerning DPs in the high-end cinema industry, this might introduce a shade of uncertainty.
Of course the manufacturer is well aware of this, and they are already working to address this issue. The customer service framework and the internal serial numbers provided with a high-end product like this are a response to user requests, and they are working to update their system.
Naturally Marumi, to promote their brand as a filter manufacturer, is venturing forth to create cinema industry-focused filters in the future, including mist, polar, streak, etc. that will showcase the company’s true value as a leader in their field. In any case, nothing will happen unless you give it a try. There is no mistaking the development team’s passion.
As someone who saw other companies that had a strong foothold in the market struggle with similar issues when they were first releasing a new product, I am very much looking forward to the evolution of specialized manufacturers.
Optical equipment creates unique images
The motion picture industry is currently importing various technologies that lead to higher performance and greater automatization. It is clear that from both the shooting and editing sides that it is becoming more and more challenging to create standout images. The most noticeable example is the 8K, already on the market. The 8K, 16K were created with great scope, distilling what AI needs from its high resolution, and outputting images with universally appealing colors. It might seem strange to mention this now, but the opportunities to exercise flexibility in being able to “choose” are diminishing. Putting aside for now the argument about whether this is a good or bad thing, I think what this leaves us with is the optics in front of the camera that will allow people some leeway when it comes to “choice.” Of course this includes lighting and lens quirks as well as filter work that involves making calculations concerning the light that enters your image. The camera’s performance, post pro, effects alone will not do – you need to touch up the atmosphere of the set itself. When it comes to the fundamental expression of the images, it is important to “choose” individuality. It might be a slight exaggeration, but it helps that these filters provide a multitude of variations. I want to support the Marumi development team’s aspirations.
No one starts off in a position of great influence. You mature and develop while paying your dues and facing new challenges on a daily basis. That goes for manufacturers and individuals alike. When I was just a fledgling seeking out how to express myself, I peered out into the world, desperately looking through a Marumi filter on a SIGMA lens. Time passed, and that world I was looking into changed. And when I think that maybe the near future might once again materialize before my eyes, I am filled with a kind of pride for this made-in-Japan “encounter”, and my heart dances in anticipation.
“marumi CINE & TV” Developer Interview
Left: Hiroyuki SEKI (Head of Nagano Plant)
Right: Kaoru TAKAHASHI (Head of Product Development)
The Back Story
TAKAHASHI: Back around 2012 was the peak of the digital camera market before the whole market began to shrink. Our company was also in the middle of a breakthrough, and we had our eye on possibly entering other areas like the industrial, scientific and visual areas, and so that’s where we focused our research. We found that comparatively speaking there was a need in the cinema filter market, which we were familiar with. Regarding the high-end visual market, we felt our glass coating and bonding techniques gave us a competitive edge. So after 4 years in development, we were able to make our announcement.
SEKI: When the coating is on the surface, there’s a chance that it can get scratched in handling on location, and rendering it useless. In the case of our products, we have the coating on the inside, so it’s one less thing to worry about. We built up the know-how we acquired over the years to cultivate the lens’ features, ease of use, and water and dust-repellent attributes, and in some cases they can withstand some heavy-handed treatment.
What are some of the major differences compared to other cinema filters?
TAKAHASHI: Supposing you are using several lenses on location, you will need lots of filters of varying density. Naturally you’ll need to achieve stable color reproduction even when you change densities. We pride ourselves on the ability to support color accuracy even with the full-frame sensor cameras that have appeared on the scene in recent years. If I may go into detail, we improved on the reflection ratio and accuracy of the glass to prevent internal reflections and improve light-blocking capacity that is suited to a high-end series. The glass is selected according to whether it is for still or moving images, and we used “B270i super white” from the German company Schott. A Japanese manufacturer heads the coating process, and regarding the product’s quality assurance level and response, we were able to achieve a high quality Japanese product.
The filters are different colors depending on their density – why is that?
SEKI: The different colors are caused by the reflection made by the ND coating. We combined 4 types of ND coating, bonded them together, and adjusted the density, and it will be noticeable to the naked eye. We have verified that this does not greatly affect the image quality, and in terms of optical numerical value, it is within the acceptable range. However, we have taken into account our users’ opinions in this regard and are working to improve on it.
What arrangements do you have in place for sales and support?
SEKI: Regarding still camera filters, at our company we have distributors worldwide, but we are taking a different approach with our cinema filter distribution. We are working with distributors whose strength is the movie production market. We are looking to expand first in the domestic market and in the US in Hollywood, and then on to Europe and eventually China.
TAKAHASHI: Domestically, we are in discussions with major rental shops and are looking to arrange for maintenance, exchange, and operational support.
Future Product Development
SEKI:This time round we focused on the commercialization of the ND filter, but here on in we intend to improve the ND filter and increase our product lineup such as the mist and soft filter.
Go to the “marumi CINE & TV” product website: Click here
A usable cinema ND filter on set:
This renowned full-spectrum ND filter found internally in the ALEXA Mini and AMIRA has been optically commercialized as an external FSND filter. There are two sizes: 6.6″x6.6″ and 4″x5.65″, using Schott-produced B270i glass. The reflectivity is 1/20th of regular filters used on photo shoots to achieve a reflectivity rating of 0.2%. A unique Direct Product Marking bar code, which most camera bar code readers can read, can be found engraved on the outer rim of the glass surface, making it possible to efficiently track the lens and serve as proof of ownership. It is directly laser etched on the glass and won’t peel off.
mitomo TRUE ND
In response to requests from on-location shoots, Mitomo developed an ND filter for cinema use, the TRUE ND. There is a single layer of coating with a minimal effect on the light, a design concept that allows for accurate transmittance. It has adopted an evaporative formulation, hence there is no color shift and an accurate permeability ratio. For those concerned about infrared light with a high-density ND, this has been taken care of; it will be filtered out by a flat spectral curve up to 750nm. In addition to the existing 6.6″x6.6″ size, there is a new, more compact size, 4″x5.65″, with a strong scratch-resistant coating and 7 stops of density from 0.3 – 2.1.