D.W. Leitner has more than 50 directing, producing, and cinematography credits in feature-length documentary and dramatic films produced in the U.S. and abroad.

Archive of the Lenses Category

22: Mondo NAB ’10, Large Sensors


Upcoming Sony consumer camcorder with interchangeable E-mount lenses and 14.2 megapixel CMOS sensor.
NAB photos by D. W. Leitner unless otherwise indicated

Announced just yesterday, May 11, half the world already knows about the NEX-5, Sony’s impossibly slim new HDSLR (in-depth review here) and upcoming AVCHD consumer camcorder based on the same sensor and lenses.
Such is the contagion of the Internet that nothing is bottled for long, as Apple recently experienced to its chagrin. Heated rumors of affordable (no bank loan) large-sensor HD camcorders from Canon, Panasonic, and Sony have been circulating for months. While much of this speculation has been dodgy, Panasonic and Sony did fan the flames at NAB with sneak-peaks at nonfunctional mock-ups of large-sensor camcorders.

At its traditional press conference on Sunday prior to the exhibition opening, Panasonic surprised journalists with the AG-AF100 (photo below). It will feature a 12.1 megapixel Micro Four Thirds CMOS sensor and lens mount, with capture to SD cards using AVCHD compression (24mbps max). Available by end of 2010, it’s expected to sell for about $6,000 without a lens. more

21: Mondo NAB ’10, PL-mount Primes


Fast T1.4 Leica Summilux-C 21mm prime lens on a Canon EOS 7D modified for PL mount by BandPro Film & Digital.
All photos by D.W. Leitner

Shrinking in the rearview mirror like a signpost whizzing past at 80 mph, April’s NAB pointed to no less than four approaching upheavals in production technology. You had to have your polarized glasses on backwards at NAB not to see evidence of them everywhere. For those unable or unwilling to attend NAB, I’ll attempt a recap in my next columns.

These four areas of advancement involve not digital compression or recording but first principles of photography and sight itself: the light that falls on a subject, the lens that captures that light, the sensor that registers the image, the binocular experience of spatial depth.

Racing towards mainstream use, for example, LED production lighting is not only cool-running and energy-efficient but durable, lightweight, and compact. Much of it carry-on size in an era of airline luggage-charge gouging.

I’ll devote an entire column to LED lighting, at NAB and beyond, but for now suffice it to say, with the advent of innovative LED fresnels from industry leaders Litepanels and Gekko, LEDs are red hot (so to speak). Hot enough for Chinese manufacturers to festoon their NAB booths with shameless rip-offs of Litepanels 1×1 luminaires… but I’m getting ahead of myself. more

20: Sundancing Part 4, HDSLR Rebellion in Park City

Illya Friedman of Hot Rod Cameras at Sundance, previewing prototype PL-mount adapter for Canon EOS 7D. Dual Grip Hand Held kit is in foreground.

Illya Friedman of Hot Rod Cameras at Sundance, previewing his prototype PL-mount adapter for Canon EOS 7D. Dual Grip Hand Held kit is in foreground.
Photo D.W. Leitner

Before the lights dimmed at each Sundance premiere this year, a ribbon of text resembling a CNN news ticker marched across the lower third of the empty screen: “This is the recharged fight against the establishment of the expected.� “This is cinematic rebellion.� “This is the renewed rebellion.�

Virtually identical ad-speak marked the launch of Red Digital Cinema’s Red One in 2006. Red honcho Ted Schilowitz’s business card even read “Leader of the Rebellion.â€? Which raised eyebrows in an industry skeptical of H. R. Giger design if not pointed abandonment of conventional camera technology.

Calling yourself a rebel is like calling yourself a maverick—an exercise in preening if not brand marketing. Insurrection is serious business. Breaking with convention risks breakdown of convention, revolution sows chaos; both inflict unforeseen consequences. Which brings me to HDSLRs.

With Sundance receding in the rearview mirror and the gravitational pull of NAB upon us, I want to share one last bit of business from Sundance concerning these small cameras with supersized sensors—a topic that will figure prominently in any discussion of new digital cameras at Las Vegas two weeks from now. more

16: Adventures in Auto Back Focus, Part 2


Manual back-focus adjustment on a Sony HVR-Z7U, using a 46in. Samsung LED TV to verify the results. (Click photo to enlarge.)
Photo D.W. Leitner

I began my last column with the question, What is auto back focus?

I compared depth of field to depth of focus and described the lens factors that impact both of them. I defined correct back focus as a function of precise lens mounting, accurate to within microns of spec. And I made the case that for any given angle-of-view, the smaller the sensor, the shorter the lens focal length—and therefore the less depth of focus available at the sensor surface.

Less depth of focus always means tighter tolerances in lens mounting, which is why 1/3in. camcorders are far less forgiving of back-focus errors than 2/3in. camcorders.

Ironic, isn’t it, that smaller, consumerish camcorders require tighter tolerances in lens mounting than larger 2/3in. cameras.

So, what is auto back focus? more

15: Adventures in Auto Back Focus, Part 1


The author at DuArt Film Laboratory in New York in the early 1980s, demonstrating the first lens test projector in New York.

The term “back focus� gets thrown around a lot, mostly by people who little understand it. What, then, is auto back focus?

First let’s cover some lens basics.

Lenses are two-way streets. Light can enter or exit either end. That’s what makes lens test projectors possible—the type you encounter in camera rental houses. They’re basically slide projectors, with a super-precise focus chart deposited on a glass slide. The camera lens takes the place of a projection lens.

What’s great about a lens test projector is that you can fiddle with focus, iris, or focal length (in the case of a zoom) and see with your own eyes what sort of optical gremlins reside within.

For instance, stopping down the iris, even slightly, often crispens the image by choking off residual spherical aberration—which you can easily notice as an improvement in contrast and edge sharpness. more

6: When is sharp sharp?


Siemens star of Sharp Max seen through a Carl Zeiss 28mm DigiPrime in viewfinder of a Sony PMW-350.
Photo by D. W. Leitner

For projects requiring high shooting ratios in the early 1980s, you could shoot 16mm or try on for size one of those newfangled "camcorders" from Sony, Panasonic, or Bosch: Betacam, Recam, or Quartercam. (Mid-word capitalization arrived with the dot.com era a decade later.) The first two featured 1/2in. videotape cassettes, the last, 1/4in. (Ampex in the United States, original inventor of video recording, also proposed 1/4in. helical recording, but never became a player.)

Success of 1/4in. videotape, an idea ahead of its time, would await introduction of MiniDV in the late ’90s, but the 1/2in. videotape camcorder took off from the starting gate. (Would you believe "camcorder" had to be coined by a reviewer? David Lachenbruch, longtime editorial director of the newsletter Television Digest, also coined "consumer electronics." Anyone know who came up with "prosumer"?)

1/2in. videotape camcorders, epitomized by Betacam, are the reason many of us first encountered the eccentricities and shortcomings of video zooms designed for electronic newsgathering. (Who came up with ENG? Or EFP, electronic field production, for that matter?) more

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1: Introducing Leitner’s Cinematography Corner

Editor’s note: This is the first of D.W. Leitner’s columns on cinematography. Check back each week for reviews, blogs, notes, and opinions from our longtime contributing editor, who is also an award-winning director, producer, and cinematographer of independent films showcased at film festivals like Sundance and Berlin.

Digital is not a cause. Not the shortcut some have made it out to be. It is a present-day means to innovation, that’s all. Not an end in itself.

The Cinematography Corner will be my ongoing effort to steer discussion of new technology away from starry-eyed worship of all things digital and back to established filmmaking practices. We live in a solid-state world from which there’s no turning back, but with these short entries I intend to build on a century of cinematographic art and craft rather than throw the baby out with the bathwater.

Back in the late 1970s and 1980s when documentaries and indie features were shot on 16mm, it was conventional for an Arri SR or Aaton owner to possess a basic lens package of two zooms plus a fast wide-angle prime lens. Typically this included a wide-angle Angénieux 9.5-57mm zoom, a longer Angénieux 12-120mm zoom, and a 5.9mm T/1.9 Angénieux prime or, later, 9.5mm T/1.3 Carl Zeiss Super Speed. more

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Leitner's Cinematography Corner is a new destination for reviews, blogs, notes, and opinions from longtime millimeter Contributing Editor David Leitner, who also happens to be an award-winning director, producer, and cinematographer of independent films showcased at film festivals like Sundance and Berlin. Leitner argues that since everything's now digital outside of cameras and projectors that shuttle celluloid, "digital" has lost its cachet. Leitner's Cinematography Corner will instead frame innovations in production gear as the latest advances in the long march of motion-picture technology, well over a century old. And never lose sight of the fact that technology is a means to an end, not an end in itself.


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