Leica Summilux C vs Cooke S4
You know I love to do camera tests. I shared the numerous tests that we did on Need for Speed. On my film, Fathers and Daughters, starring Russell Crowe, Aaron Paul, Diane Kruger and Amanda Seyfried, I knew I wanted to shoot the Canon C500 at 2K, not 4K. I will be writing a new post on what I learned from Need for Speed that is not just about cameras. But let’s stick to the test and post at hand. I just wanted to give you a view into the future. All right, getting back to the lens. I wanted to test lenses to see which would be the best for a very contemporary look for 2014 and a little dated look for 1989 because that is what the story required. My thought process was to use the latest in lens tech for the contemporary scenes and an older lens for 1989 footage. What I uncovered was mind blowing.
“What I Learned”
I decided to do a test with the newest Leica Summilux C lenses vs. the gold standard Cooke S4s. I have shot six films with the S4s and the rest with Panavision Primos. When you view these tests, I think you will be as blown away as I was. These are the things DPs do not usually share.
“Sharing Through the Inner Circle”
While we are talking about sharing, I have some exciting news for our readers. The response on our blog has continued to grow. You have supported me a 180% and I want to thank all of you for the loyalty. I believe that there are two main reasons for the success and popularity of this blog. As a working ASC cinematographer, AMPAS and EOL member who shoots almost every day, I push cinematic limits and pioneer where people tell me it is unadvisable. I have been called a trailblazer, forging the trail that no one wants to travel because they think they will end up like the Donner Party. Yet the end of our trail is a beautiful rainbow, not carnage. The second reason is that I share knowledge and experience that very few others talk about. I share the keys to the castle, the secret sauce, the magic.
Our readers keep telling us that they want more. We hear you and are ready to deliver. In a few months, we will be launching a club that will give all the passionate filmmakers out there a go to resource to create, through my knowledge and over 20 years of experience. This blog post is an example of what you should expect as a member of the club. Stay tuned for details. These are very exciting times.
“Back to the Test”
Let me begin by saying that lens choice is a very personal one. For all of you who went out and dropped a quarter of a million dollars on a Leica Summilux C set, this may shock you. Maybe you like that particular, very one-dimensional flat look. It seems all lens manufacturers are heading towards that. Maybe you are a sheet metal person and lens a ton of cars. When you look at each of these lenses side by side, I feel it is indisputable. In my opinion, the Cooke look is not just in its creamy skin tones, but in the way that it delivers a face, the vitality, the three dimensional quality that is what filmmaking is all about. The ability to make a face and or a body more slender — isn’t this what all actors and actresses want? It is not flat lines that do not bend. If losing distortion and flattening lines on the peripheral are what it is all about, then I do not want any of it. I want a lens that delivers emotion, not straight lines.
I will show you the Leica. Then I will show you the Cookes. I will shoot with a wide lens, then a tight lens. The flatness of the image will be apparent in both lens sizes. The wide lens will flatten the peripheral and straighten the edges.
I love this distortion. It feels alive and organic, not over engineered and sterile. When you get into the close ups, the Leica turns our model Monette Moio’s face flat and one-dimensional. She blends into the background.
The Cooke separates her from the background and makes her face three dimensional. This is what blew my Director Gabriele Muccino’s mind.
He loves Cookes and never really knew why until this moment. He just said WOW! This is what we shoot.
The Leica had much nicer bokeh. They were beautifully round and it seemed to bring it out much more, where the Cooke lenses did not. The Cookes only have five blades, which gave us stop sign shaped bokeh at every f stop other than wide open.
Going back to the 100 mm Leica with our beautiful model, Monette, the out of focus bokeh behind her is perfectly round. On the Cooke, it is more like stop signs and saw blades.
“The Proof is in the Pudding”
I could go on and on analyzing all of this, but I think the proof is in the pudding. Enjoy the tests along with the commentary. These are the keys to the castle that will set you apart as a cinematographer. Get out there and test the lenses that you like to use, side by side. It is a very easy test. It will help you figure out your own preferences, just like I did.
What lenses have you tested?
Do you like flat glass?
Buy the Leica Summilux C lens set:
Buy the Cooke S4 Lens Set: