Low Budget Filmmaking
The 4 Best Lenses for Amazing Lens Flare
Love them or hate them…lens flares have been trending non-stop over the last several years. You can find them in every J.J. Abrams movie, car commercial, wedding video, print ad or recent independent film. Lens flares are caused by the scattering of light and the reflection/refraction of light within the various glass elements of the lens. Flares manifest in two ways: visible artifacts of various shapes or a haze across the entire image. Modern lenses have multi-coated glass that remove almost every trace of lens flares…and software/CGI is used to add these analog aberrations back into the image.
I love the visual character of old lenses and have chosen my favorite four low budget lenses that create beautiful and dramatic lens flares. These lenses are inexpensive, readily available and can be mounted on a RED Dragon or a $500 DSLR. Take a look at the striking results possible with a Canon 5Dmkii, these four lenses and the sun…
The 2nd version of this Japanese lens was made from 1966 to 1971. There are three variations of this lens and this was the last one to not have multi coated optics. The Super-Takumar has an orange tint to the glass and creates crazy orange pentagonal flares and a full frame orange haze when pointed into a strong light source.
This lens was produced in the Soviet Union from 1958 to 2001. There were 7 variations but I prefer the 44-2 (8 aperture blades) with the single coating on the front glass that allows for an abundance of flares. This lens used at f2 creates a soft haze across the entire frame that can look very appealing.
This Nikon zoom was made from 1963-1976. It was voted the worst lens ever created by Nikon and I love it. The flares run a long orange stream of shapes when pointed into the sun. I think they are beautiful, distinctive and elegant. To replicate this look in post would take a very long time and never come close to the authentic flavor of this amazing lens. The weird zoom range only makes it more appealing! BTW…$100 on eBay.
Based on the Carl Zeiss Flektogon, this Russian lens won the 1958 Brussels World Fair “Grand Prix” prize. When shot against a bright source in a dark room or low light…it creates a beautiful and huge blue flare that fills the frame. It’s one of the only lenses (short of a Panavision Anamorphic) that brings out this much blue flares. Here is an example of the blue flare in a dark room. In sunlight the blue blends into the sky…but believe me, it’s in there!
My quest of capturing compelling and distinctive images always returns back to finding the right lens. The camera bodies continually change and improve but a lens can be used forever. The Canon 5Dmkii I used to shoot these images just turned 5 years old and is considered by some to be a dinosaur. It still serves me well and will be in my arsenal for years to come.
A demonstration using the 4 lenses mentioned above:
A new cinema lens can cost $40,000…but does that mean it delivers the look you were going after? Only you can answer that question. For each project you will need the right tools. The four lenses above can all be bought for around $100. That’s insane. Some are over 50 years old and are still capable of producing spectacular still and motion images. We use software now to take the edge off the super-sharp digital imagery we capture. Sometimes…the craftsmanship of the past along with their perceived flaws can manifest themselves into beautiful images. Who am I to argue with that? I love the flaws, distortions and the unapologetic chaos of older lenses. To each their own…
To learn more about old lenses and lens flares…a quick list of sites I visit:
Dog Schidt Optiks allows you to customize an old Russian lens to deliver the exact flare color and amount you want.
Vintage Lenses for Video – Alan provides a great resource for low budget lenses.
MkCine has a wonderful Vimeo account that demonstrates the flare on almost a hundred lenses.
Nikon Lens Survey and Subjection Evaluations – Bjorn Rorslett examines almost every Nikon lens in extreme detail.
Timur Civan is a wonderful DP who has an extensive knowledge of lenses and tools for creating stunning images.
Ferling Digital Works – Pete Ferling reviews several lesser known vintage lenses you may not have even heard of.
Matthew Duclos – The Circle of Confusion blog covers higher end lenses and is a wealth of information.
Technology has always and will always be moving forward. We embrace it with open arms…but never forget where it came from. Old School has it’s benefits, it’s distinctions and it’s advantages. “Visual Nostalgia” garnered from using older lenses gives me something I latch onto and enjoy. It helps me tell the stories I want to tell. Maybe it can help you too…
What are your favorite vintage lenses? Do you have a super-flaring lens you want to add to my list? Please let me know in the comments below.
Until next time…