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Why Do We Want Flat Glass?

written by Shane Hurlbut, ASC

Leica Summilux C vs Cooke S4

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”

Leica Summilux C lens set

Cooke S4 Lens Set

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.

“The Test”

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.

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screen grab #3 corrected_sm
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.

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The Cooke separates her from the background and makes her face three dimensional. This is what blew my Director Gabriele Muccino’s mind.

Screen Grab 5_sm

Screen Grab6_sm

He loves Cookes and never really knew why until this moment. He just said WOW! This is what we shoot.

“The Bokeh”

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.

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Screen Grab 8 corrected_sm

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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.

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Screen Grab #5 copy corrected

“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?


All videos were edited on HP Z840 workstations using HP Z24x DreamColor monitors.

Watch the video in 1080p on Vimeo.

Buy the Leica Summilux C lens set:

Buy the Cooke S4 Lens Set:

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Laurence Zankowski March 27, 2014 at 10:55 AM


Just a FYI for Cooke lens tech docs.


Scorsese / HUGO DP Richardson used the Cooke Family of lenses. I have to watch HUGO again and look for the stop sign bokeh.

Be well,


Shane April 8, 2014 at 6:17 PM

Thanks for the comment and the links.

Eric Macey October 4, 2014 at 11:14 AM

This is interesting. I just had a chance to run a test between the Cooke s4’s, Cooke Panchro’s (rehoused by Koerner Camera), Uncoated Cooke Mini S4’s, Zeiss Super Speeds, and the Leica Summicron C series. Mostly we tested the 25mm range. With the Summicrons, the DP and myself found them to be much more three dimensional than any of the other lenses tested. They also, while retain dimension, didn’t distort in any noticeable way. The front element on the Summicron C’s is also noticeable more convex than any of the above mentioned lenses too.
Just to add to the discussion.

mike brennan October 24, 2014 at 3:10 PM

I do not believe the lens is the (sole) reason for an apparent more roundness portrayal of the models face, for two reasons.

1/The models face is not orientated to each camera at the same angle.
In the Lecia shot her face is slightly squarer to camera.

2/ The models hair is different in each shot.
In the Leica shot her hair falls more forward around her face, cropping her face. This reduces the look of roundness of her face because the clues to create in our head, a 3d from a 2d image are less informative.

Combine the two and the subtle effect is that one face appears more 3d.

The (over) use of the word “organic” is often been used to categorise artefacts in a technical process but it does nothing more to enlighten the reader than suggest that the image is not pristine.
Whilst we understand the effects of non pristine camera movement and non pristine focus the concept of lens distortion as being a positive is new.
(aside from the perspective effects of ultra wide and fisheye lenses)

So what effect does, what I would call a lens “ripple” have on the viewer?

Mike Brennan

Will March 27, 2014 at 11:21 AM

Super interesting. Thanks for sharing. I gotta admit I didn’t see it in the stills but when I saw the video, it was definitely apparent.

If you only had $1000 to spend on one lens, what would it be?

Shane April 8, 2014 at 6:17 PM

What camera?

Shane May 26, 2014 at 9:47 PM

Will, copy that. That is a tough one.

Dillon Oberhansli March 27, 2014 at 11:22 AM

this is my first time posting on the blog, and I just wonted to say as a young cinematographer I’m always looking for things to learn about Cinematography, and really on the Internet this blog is the only one that I have found that really shows me things that can really help every cinematographer. So thank you for giving us young Cinematographer some of your vast knowledge.
Thank you

Shane April 8, 2014 at 6:18 PM

You are very welcome and thank you for your wonderful words. These are the comments that keep me going. Yes, the HurlBlog is a very different blog. Its subject matters no one else talks about. We feel that mentoring and sharing has gone to the wayside and we understand, we deliver and we care.

Shane May 26, 2014 at 9:44 PM

Dillon Oberhansli, I am so sorry it has taken me so long to answer your comment. You are very welcome and thank you for your wonderful words. I love these comments because it continues to inspire me to do what we do best on the HurlBlog.

Robert Demers March 27, 2014 at 1:17 PM

This is awesome good stuff. Straight is static; distortion equals diagonal lines of action equals dynamic. Always aware of the compositional aspects, but now the optical…eye opener!

Regarding boca; can we have a set of lenses with drop-in aperture plates? Kinda like the asa plates for the Spectra analog meter…only in a lens. Perfect boca every time.

Thanks Shane, you’ve inspired again.

Shane April 8, 2014 at 6:19 PM

Thank you for the kind words and support. That sounds like a cool idea.

Shane May 26, 2014 at 9:38 PM

Robert Demers, so sorry it has taken me so long to get to your comment. Thank you for your kind words and I like that thought but I do feel that it might not work.

JamesB March 27, 2014 at 2:26 PM

Thanks for sharing Shane! I’m still trying to educate my eyes when it come to comparing optics. I have a Zeiss ZE makro which I’ve read is also supposed to have a more ‘3d’ look than L glass. But I’ve so far been unable to objectively point to what it is that makes it different. Is a more ‘3D look’ something that is totally subjective, or is it related to something measurable like like local contrast?

Shane April 8, 2014 at 6:19 PM

You are very welcome. The 3D quality is how far the background feels away from the subject and how the subject pulls away from that BG. You can see it so clearly in the Cooke vs Leica test. Listen to the commentary again. I describe perfectly what you should be looking for. But you will only notice this if you test two different lens sets.

Birk March 27, 2014 at 3:16 PM

As with all of your posts; fantastically good reading material. Just one question, what happened to “bokeh”?

Shane April 8, 2014 at 6:20 PM

Thanks for catching that. HA HA!!! Thanks for the kind words.

Vlad March 27, 2014 at 6:33 PM

Seems like the Cooke is creamier at the same time sharper.

Shane April 8, 2014 at 6:20 PM

I felt the Leica was sharper.

Shane May 26, 2014 at 9:35 PM

Vlad, I found the Leica was sharper to my eye as well on the big screen. Cooke definitely was creamier and more three dimensional.

Mo'Nique March 27, 2014 at 9:11 PM

Allow me to mention this: Am a young African film student from Kenya, and I must admit that there are no film institutions (East Africa)
that have intense and detailed information as THIS BLOG has (based on research). Meaning, majority of the Cinematographers we have had to fly abroad to learn. So far, this blog has acted as a Cinematography lecturer to me and my other two colleagues. Through your mentorship Shane, we have learnt to use equipments with a reason and not just for fun or show off. We are grateful. Only God knows how many people you are mentoring each and every day!

Shane April 8, 2014 at 6:21 PM

These are the comments that inspires me to do my very best to educate and inspire all of you. Thank you for that. The HurlBlog is very unique. It talks about subject matter that no one else does, gives you the essential building blocks to create, to light, to lens and to DREAM!!!!

Shane May 26, 2014 at 9:33 PM

Mo’Nique, these are the comments that inspire me to continue on doing what we do best on the HurlBlog. Thank you for these incredibly kind words and I am so happy that this Blog has mad the difference in your careers as cinematographers. I hope this finds you well and look forward to hearing from you and your colleagues soon.

Patrick March 28, 2014 at 12:27 AM

This is an AMAZING post, thank you Very much! NOW it makes me realise why locked off shots never look as good on DSLR videos as they do on classic films.

Shane April 8, 2014 at 12:26 PM

Patrick, exactly, thanks for the comments and the kind words

Shane May 26, 2014 at 9:27 PM

Patrick, that is exactly right.

Jernej March 28, 2014 at 1:21 AM

Cookes have edgier bokeh, Leicas are warmer and darker overall… the rest is your imagination.

Brian March 29, 2014 at 11:40 AM

Not true. The differences Shane talks about are subtle, but noticeable. In the shots of the male model, the ladder in the background and the items on the back wall are smaller in the Cooke frame than in the Leica frame, giving the impression they’re further away while being at the same focal length. I know people often see what they want to see but Monette’s face does look slimmer to me in the Cooke shot. In the 100mm closeups of her face, the bokeh at screen right on the Cooke is narrower than it is on the Leica, which coincides with what Shane said about it having a slimming quality. Both qualities of the Cookes I mentioned can easily be measured in Photoshop.

Shane April 8, 2014 at 12:16 PM

Brian, exactly, in two words, Mind blowing, HA HA. thanks for the comment

Shane April 8, 2014 at 12:25 PM

Jernej, well put, but I could care less if the leica does not have a soul.

Brian Bud Dickman March 28, 2014 at 6:21 AM

Very interesting post. Thanks for sharing! I can see it in the stills, and definitely see it, I mean, FEEL it in the video. Now I really wish there was a set of S4’s nearby for me to do some testing of my own. 🙂

I’m also very interested to hear your take on 2K vs. 4K.

Shane April 8, 2014 at 12:24 PM

Brian Bud Dickman, yes it was mind blowing for me. Yes 2K vs 4K will be in the new blog Shane’s Inner Circle. Coming soon sign up for it. http://www.singup.shanesinnercircle.com

Jan March 28, 2014 at 7:45 AM

Great info, thanks! What did you end up shooting the 1989 footage with? In the video you mention that the director didn’t like the net. How did you achieve the retro look then?

Shane April 8, 2014 at 12:23 PM

Jan, we are going to shoot with the Cooke’s and try Hollywood Black magic or Glimmer Glass, then give it a slightly desaturated yellow cast, like an Antique Suede filter

Omar Q March 28, 2014 at 10:49 AM

Let’s consider for a moment that renting is out of the picture. So you decide you have to own the gear for whatever reason. And : you have the exact same amount of work as photographer and as filmmaker, you shoot photos and films in daily basis. Next: you will find that is a much better investment to buy lenses than cameras. So you start looking for lenses and find that Schneider FF, CP2 zeiss and cinema canon are the best in your range of price . All of this are 4k lenses but the sigma 35 1.4 DG HSM you already have gives you 20 Mpixel where the 4k is 11Mpix. I understand cinema lenses gives you workflow and operational benefits in film. But if you don’t care about the size, the focus, the weigh and so. I you only want the best image quality possible in your films and in your photos . Did you invest 11k on the Schneider FF, 20k on zeiss or canon OR invest on set of photo prime lens eventhoug after this article Elmarit, summicron and other Leica lenses are out of the competition but good old canon, Nikon had sigma prime glass are perhaps a good idea What do you think on the matter?

Shane April 8, 2014 at 6:22 PM

I like the Leica R lenses. I like the old Nikon AI and AIS. I like the Zeiss Jena lenses. These lenses have soul. The Schneider are going to be over engineered and flat, no soul. Got to go back early 90’s, 80’s, late 70’s.

Douglas Bischoff May 23, 2014 at 7:41 AM

Shane: based almost entirely on an earlier article of yours (and on their local availability) I invested in Leica R glass for my HDSLR & Red use. I’m saddened that their “top end” lenses don’t seem to have held up as well to your testing, but I don’t regret for one moment the decision to make Leica Rs my first set of primes.

Thanks as always for the insights!

Shane May 26, 2014 at 9:08 AM

Omar Q, for me glass is an extension of my filmmaking soul, so I look for what the script tells me to shoot. I think you need to shoot tests just like I did and take the time to find your filmmaking soul in the glass that is what makes you create. Rent to test, then project on a large screen. These purchases should not be taken lightly, I think, it is a big investment no matter which way you look at it.

Kahleem Poole-Tejada March 28, 2014 at 2:32 PM

I’ve just read an article in AC mag talking about glass now being THE deciding, differing factor with digital emulsions available. This is definitely a great update to your previous blog article on still lenses that grace the big screen.

On that note, I do have a question:
So if you’re working on a smaller scale project, pulling your own focus with still glass, what would you say is the closest equivalent of Cook S4’s? For instance, previously you’ve mentioned that Leica R glass would be more similar to Panavision Primos (I may have the name wrong), as Leica was a manufacturer for Panavision back then. However, what would be a close equivalent to Cooke?

Lastly, I’m very excited to you see you on another fine dramatic film, Shane. It’s been awhile and I find that you can really see what a photographer is capable of when tasked with projects that require heavy emotion above all. Your work in lighting feels super artful in that genre, so you know I’m there premiere night 🙂

Love this, man and gonna share it, of course. 😉


Shane April 8, 2014 at 6:22 PM

It is great to hear from you my friend. How are you? I think the Leica R’s and the Nikon AI and AIS’s are still a great choice as well as the Zeiss Jena. Fathers and Daughters is going very well. Loving the look and feel and yes it is great to light again and not just deal with cars coming at you. HA HA!!!

Shane May 26, 2014 at 9:02 AM

Kahleem Poole-Tejada, I cannot thank you enough for all your support and amazing words of support. Thank you again for all your teams work in NYC at the DGA event. You rocked it out. Alright, to your questions. I feel the Leica R’s or the Old Nikon AI and AIs’s would be a great fit in the still world. Also the Minolta series is exciting me. I have to say I was born to shoot drama, this action stuff is just a speed bump and I will show you what I got in November of 2015. Thanks again my friend. Give your girl a big hug.

Mark Rossi April 2, 2014 at 2:02 PM

I must be crazy because the Cooke glass looks like crap next to the Leica. The sharpness looks terrible on my screen and the image looks muddy. I’m sure it looks different on a 40ft screen but the opposite seems to be true on my monitor.
Also, the last time I checked, all 100mm glass flattens the image. Some more than others. Am I wrong?
The 21mm from Leica was definitely a little flat for a 21 but the Cooke looked amateur. I also thought the Cooke had a lifeless colour look to it.
If Hugo was shot on Cooke’s they did a lot of post production work to get it to look that good.

Shane April 8, 2014 at 12:03 PM

Mark Rossi, to each his own, sharpness the Leica had in spades, but the lens has no soul, so I do not shoot soulless glass. Thanks for the comment

Shane May 26, 2014 at 8:48 AM

Mark Rossi, to each his own. I am their to assist and tell you what I thought, I love your opinion and go out there and make it your own and blaze your trail

Don April 3, 2014 at 5:56 AM

That was awesome!

I’d love to see an article on Cooke Vs Canon Cinema Primes vs Rokinon Cines. Cover all the price points.


Shane April 8, 2014 at 12:02 PM

Don, coming very soon. Cooke’s vs the Canon Pro Zooms

Shane May 26, 2014 at 8:46 AM

Don, coming your way, Canon Glass vs Cooke very soon

David April 3, 2014 at 8:27 AM

A very interesting comparison, I wonder with the Leica just on the color front if it’s yellow tint could be more of an advantage with 5600k light sources instead of tungsten lights.

Shane April 8, 2014 at 12:01 PM

David, could be, but that still doesn’t correct the fact that the lens is flat and has no soul

Shane May 26, 2014 at 8:46 AM

David, don’t get me wrong, I love the yellow look and feel that I get with Panavision Primos and the old Leica R’s, it was more about how 3 dimensional the image looked with the Cooke’s and the Leica Summilux C’s were uninteresting and pretty boring.

jldp April 5, 2014 at 7:36 AM

are you saying you shot those films on a canon c500???

Shane April 8, 2014 at 11:54 AM

jldp, yes that is correct

Shane May 26, 2014 at 8:39 AM

jldp, yes all on the C500

Tomas Brice April 5, 2014 at 5:46 PM

Hello Shane,
Great post and video. I am about to shoot a short film and am debating on lenses. I will probably use the D21. I am torn between the s4s, th ultra primes and the primos. Any insights? Thank you

Shane April 8, 2014 at 11:52 AM

Tomas Brice, I do not like the Ultra Primes at all, very harsh vicious lens system. Go either S4’s or Primos, that is my advice

Jeremy April 10, 2014 at 12:52 PM

Shane, this is a really enlightening test. I used the S4 minis on my first feature “The Test” due to my partner’s predeliction for the Cooke Look. I had no idea what he meant, but for a rom-com I heard it was the way to go with the “warmer” feel. However now that I see this test I really understand the determining criteria for this choice. If lenses bring out the “humanity” of our characters and makes them pop off the screen then this definitely serves the story and purpose of these types of narratives. Now if only I can gin up the cash to buy a set of these minis then we’re all set. Keep up the good work and best of luck with your new film.

Shane April 20, 2014 at 4:30 PM

Jeremy, thank you for sharing, yes I was blown away with this. Loving how they are performing on F & D. Rent the S4’s, plenty of companies out there to do that for you.

Mitch April 13, 2014 at 5:27 AM

Shane, thanks so much for the time and effort you put into this blog. I’m finding it to be a huge resource as I gear up to shoot my first micro-budget feature. I found this post to be particularly enlightening. Question for you: I was considering building a kit around Zeiss ZF.2s with cinemods but in an above comment I saw you mentioned Zeiss Jena lenses which led to me doing some research on them. They seem like an even more budget friendly than the ZF.2s. Do you think they would hold up as well on the big screen? And if so, do you have any recommendations for 3 or 4 Zeiss Jena lenses to start with? Thanks again for all your great posts!

Shane April 20, 2014 at 4:27 PM

Mitch, you are very welcome and Thank you so much for your kind words. You really need to get a couple and test them for yourself. You can always return. I never enter a project without testing. I loved the feel of the Jena’s along with their flaring. I am not sure how much they breathe when focusing or their little quirks, so sorry.

Mitch April 22, 2014 at 8:54 PM

Thanks for the advice!

Ron Peterson April 14, 2014 at 9:45 AM

Hello Shane!

I am about to make a major investment on Cooke Lenses. If you had to pick between the Cooke S4i´s and the Cooke S5i´s ? What would it be? and Why? Anything that makes either one stand out over the other? Much appreciated your advice.

Thanks a lot and Keep up the great work. Cheers


Shane April 20, 2014 at 4:21 PM

Ron Peterson, The Cooke’s are amazing lenses. The S5i’s are more expensive, heavier, engineered for digital and a 1.4 which can help. The Cooke S4i’s were made for film, softer, less blades, a 2.0 and lighter. I will stick with the cheaper S4’s.

Ron Peterson April 21, 2014 at 8:37 PM

Thanks so much for the advice…. If I had to pick 6 Lenses to start off my kit.. which 6 would you recommend for maximum coverage. Much Appreciated the help..


D May 21, 2014 at 1:04 PM


This is a fantastic test. These two pieces of glass are worlds apart, and the bokeh makes all the difference in the world when rendering depth and shape.

Abelcine has a great post on bokeh which touches on what you were discussing, that being stripping a lens of its aberrations makes it too sterile and flat in appearance. http://blog.abelcine.com/2012/10/16/lens-bokeh-explained/

Also the January 2013 issue of Film & Digital Times is also a great issue on the Cooke look.

Leica glass is great, and it has its place, but if I’m renting glass I choose Cooke.

A great test! Thank you!

Shane May 25, 2014 at 8:16 AM

D, again another wonderful comment. Thank you so much for sharing of your knowledge. I love when a post takes this direction, because we all learn and that is the point, RIGHT? I will check out the article and blog. Thanks for your kind words as well.

Alex P May 21, 2014 at 10:23 PM

Great test, Shane! I completely agree with you that manufacturers seem to be headed into “sterile land” with their lenses. I’m a 23-year vet of directing (mostly TV shows and commercials) with a heavy techno-geeky side. I don’t do major features, but my 1st does – he works on a lot of M Night’s films (we’re east coasters).

I had been a major fan of Cookes for years (though they have made some questionable zooms), and when I was looking to kit out my own little rig that sits in the office for playing, efx tests and lower budget shoots (an FS700), my 1st and I did countless tests on almost any lens we could get our hands on. These might be of interest to your readers, since we weren’t testing rental lenses, but rather SLR and similar level glass (with the occasional higher end piece thrown in).

Here’s what we found, in broad generalities:

Nikon lenses tended to be the sharpest. They also had the greatest change as you got closer to wide open – most were not useable at apertures greater than 2.0 – for example, 1.4 on the ubiquitous and ancient 50mm f1.4 was unuseable. Over all, they are great glass, but not heavy on character.

Fujis are similar to Nikons, but with maybe a hair more character. Solid glass, all around.

Canons don’t do anything well. They’re generally average and uninspired. I have to believe that Canon DSLRs do a fair amount of correction for these things.

Angie Optimo zooms – Nice, they have some character and a touch of warmth, but are approaching the sterility zone, being newer glass.

An old, long Cooke zoom – I don’t even remember what it was – something like a 50-400 or something. Tons of character, tons of chromatic aberration, built like a weapon.

Various vintage vivitars and other off-brand glass. Some were just garbage, some were neat-o effects type glass. Like a super-cool old Vivitar super-macro zoom. Great for that awesome, hyper CU with loads of CA around the edges. Or a Tamron adapt-all zoom that gave an image that looked like it was straight off a Bolex.

The much-hyped 11-16mm Tokina UWA 2.8 zoom. Meh. But I bought it and keep it because it’s an ultrawide. Not optically great, but the flaws don’t lend to a fantastic character. Sometimes the whole is less than the sum of it’s parts. I use it when I need to, not because I want to.

A 35mm f2.8 Ricoh. I found this in some thrift shop for $15. This thing is AMAZING. Such contrast, detail and beauty! Too bad a whole set is unobtainable.

Then, the magic happened. I tested a 50mm f2 Minolta Rokker I found on ebay. It wasn’t as sharp as the Nikons, but it did hold up better WFO. But there was something about it that gave me the same sort of feeling I get from S4’s. Then, I tracked down an 85mm f2. Wow! Beautiful! Then came a whole set, one at a time: 24mm, 35mm, another 50mm, the 85, a couple of 135’s. Clearly, I had made my choice.

I did some research and discovered that Minolta was in partnership with Leica when the Rokkors came out, and they were essentially Leica designs made by Minolta. That’s what brought me here – I want to see what the new Leicas are like. Sad to see them headed towards sterility.

Shane, If you’ll allow, I can post a link and a guide to what was shot with what, so people can have some visual point of reference. Just let me know it that’s ok.

Shane May 25, 2014 at 8:14 AM Reply
Fute July 17, 2014 at 5:48 PM

Hi Shane,
for the life of me I can’t see the difference between the two lenses when it comes to her face being more flat on one than the other. Maybe it’s more apparent in motion, in video format, or maybe I just don’t have the “magic eye”.

Fredrik Bäckar July 20, 2014 at 3:15 PM

I made a very extensive lens test for a movie I shot last year: “Kidnapping Freddie Heineken”. I would love to share those tests if production allows me s soon as the movie is out. I went out of my way to dirty down and texturalize the Alexa and even had a new varicon built for us.
I ended up loving the Leicas and not liking MP UP or S4. Came out the most like 35mm to me.

Gerald July 28, 2014 at 8:54 PM

I think this seems a case of the “Kings New Clothes”. Tell people what to look for and they might see it, whether it exists or not. What I can see is that the Leica lenses are sharper and they have smoother bokeh.

Regarding the main criticism of the Leica lenses being “flat” I really can’t see that in the examples you have given. Certainly not as a consistent trend. In the first test with the 21mm the subject’s face looks brighter and stands out better in the Leica version than the Cooke.

While it appears there is a slight difference in the contrast characteristics of the lenses. In some cases I put this down to the slight differences in the position of the subject relative to lighting.

For example in the first test it’s quite apparent the camera height is not the same and the blacks have moved – which leads one to suspect maybe the lighting has also change a little? I’d also add it’s such a cluttered composition with the stands, that you can’t really judge it as a shot.

Still it’s likely the individual lenses do respond subtly differently under various lighting contrasts. But the way to test this definitively would be to use static subjects so we are not distracted or misled by changes in the position of surfaces relative to the light source.

But reality is – post colour grading will do far more to influence the look – such that subtle differences in lenses can become quite irrelevant.

Budget might also play a role. But I certainly wouldn’t ever kid myself that any given set of lenses is going to make my work magically better.

By the time the audience settles into a film they actually forget what it looks like, so long as it’s fairly consistent and the look is consistent and appropriate to the subject..

Leica Glass and a C500 Sensor Own the Night for Acura | Hurlbut Visuals August 27, 2014 at 10:19 AM

[…] months ago, I wrote a post “Why Do We Want Flat Glass?” that was an example of what power posts would be like for the Inner Circle. It shows you […]

Tim Naylor September 14, 2014 at 9:39 PM


This is my first time posting. I’m currently putting together a package for a film I plan to DP in a month’s time and entertained shooting on Leica’s as I love their R still glass so much. But your tests really put in perspective why I tend to shoot mostly on S4’s. The 3D’s of it all. Stop sign bokeh doesn’t really bother me so much. It’s an artifact that we don’t see in real life, like grain, but a pleasing one to me. Aside from the flatness of the new breed of lenses, I also find the antiglare has gone too far. I still shoot on Mk 3’s for some jobs because they flare with their own theme tune. Sometimes, making it too perfect, makes it boring.

Thanks again for posting such an elucidating test.

Shane October 1, 2014 at 3:37 PM

Hi Tim,
I personally am a huge fan of Leica R glass. I love their look and feel. I use them quite often when I am shooting material on DSLR, but for larger camera packages I am using larger lens packages as well. I choose the Cooke S4 lenses for multiple reasons, but when I am on a budget as well, the Leica Rs are a great choice.

mike brennan October 24, 2014 at 3:57 PM

Further to my previous post, the field of view of the Cooke is given the context, is significantly wider than the Leica.

It is a common mistake to assume that focal lengths from different manufacturers have the same field of view, especially with wide and ultra wide lenses.

This explains why the model is larger in the Leica.

Also we can see around the subjects shoulder (in 3d world this is termed roundness) more in the Cooke shot than the Leica.
This roundness can create a more 3d effect.
Ignore the front diameter of barrel, the front element of the Cooke is by my estimation, 30%? larger than the Leica.

This results in a subtle increase roundness, ie. you see more around the subject the larger the front diameter of the lens.

Now the “secret” is out:)

Mike Brennan

Sandra January 13, 2015 at 1:14 AM

Hi Shane, can we have this same 3d quality with the Canon cinema primes or other lenses too? Or do we need only Cooke to have it?

Shane January 14, 2015 at 10:07 AM

Yes there are other lenses that bring this quality. The Canon Cinema primes doe not as they are merely re-housed Canon L Series still glass. One way of telling the difference is the circumference of the glass. As I mentioned with the Cooke’s, there is a large glass element versus the Canon Cinema Primes, you have a large plastic element that makes it “look” physically like a cinema lens, but the optics are the same size as a still photography lens.

Sandra January 14, 2015 at 5:13 PM

Can we say the same for the CP2s? Are they re-housed still lenses too?

Richard P January 16, 2015 at 9:08 PM

Hi Shane, whats your take on cooke 5i series lenses?

thanks rp

John Schultz January 28, 2015 at 8:24 PM

Would 2 Leica’s shot about 2.5″ apart produce a more 3D look than the Cooke? 😉

Augusto Silva April 14, 2015 at 5:37 PM

Hi Shane:

Would you ever consider shooting a major movie with Leica R lenses? I found a company that re-houses the Leicas with PL mounts and all the same sized housings. Do you think it is worth re-housing them or just a waist of money? When I DP and choose my own lenses I don´t mind using cine moded still lenses but when I rent them other DP´s don´t want to use different sized lenses…so either I use my CP 2´s or can´t have the Leica look…

Shane July 12, 2015 at 2:56 PM

I love those lenses. I am using a couple on Into the Badlands https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5KyHy4KRvIc I think rehousing them would be awesome and I am going to look into that. Can you share that company with me? Thanks. The Leica look is amazing.

Film School Online | Top 10 Hurlblog Posts of 2014 | Hurlbut Visuals August 5, 2015 at 8:46 AM

[…] 6. Why Do We Want Flat Glass? […]

Shaun T September 15, 2015 at 11:18 PM

Sandra, Yes the CP.2 is a re-housed still lens.

Shaun T September 15, 2015 at 11:25 PM

Shane, These guys in LA look like they rehouse Leica glass: http://cinemaglass.com/

But I know nothing about them.

“G.L. Optics Leica R Super Speed/Standard Speed Prime Lens Set”

Base Lens: Leica R
Standard speed set 19mm T2.8, 28mm T2.8, 35mm T2.0, 50mm T2.0, 90mm T2.0, 135mm T2.8

celestialarts_lee August 23, 2016 at 5:05 PM

The flattening of modern lenses or the death of 3d pop
Seems to me the key is that modern lenses use more glass elements for resolution/sharpness, at the price of color and depth rendition. For example, air or rain is not easily captured by modern lenses, yet easily seen in vintage lenses with lower contrast and fewer elements and less coating. If this assertion is true, the last 30-50 years glass r&d development is just in the drain.
seems duclos is well accepted for leica r rehousing in the red and dslr community. no handson experience with this company.

Jim Cullen November 30, 2016 at 1:27 AM

I like a lenses that doesn’t distort verticals (but I also like lens breathing, particularly in one direction, when focusing f/w with its accompanying zoom in),

Michael February 20, 2017 at 12:44 PM

I read your blog as often as I can. I love what you share. While I agree with you about the slimming effect, I have to wonder why not go with a lens with more blades. It would have improved the bokeh.


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