On location with the Canon CN7x17
With the current trend in Factual Features and Long Form Docs to shoot S35 not going away anytime soon and channels now wanting programmes with the production values of a Drama but a Current-Affairs turn around I now more than ever need an all-in-one Cine-Zoom.
Cinema Glass vs The Others
A lot of shooters in factual have been making due with stills glass but these lenses were never designed to be used with the moving image and they have a number of limitations, some acceptable and some not. To keep them small but still covering a 35mm sensor the focal range is severely limited, so I was carrying 3 if not 4 lenses on a job and having to change to try and predict what may happen in the next scene (not ideal to say the least).
Focus, focus, focus; little known fact; stills glass, unlike cinema or video glass is not parfocal with very few exceptions. What does this mean, well if you remember back when you were first learning to shoot in school you were taught to zoom in get focus and zoom out, right? Well that is because those lenses are parfocal, once focus is set it stays there throughout the zoom range (unless there is a back focus issue). Stills lenses are designed to be set using the cameras AF at the focal length… kind of the reverse of how we work, combine this with the shallow DOF on s35 and you have a recipe for disaster. This is then compounded by the fact that the travel on stills is 25 degrees or less from macro to infinity, all I can say is good luck.
The last and final nail in the coffin is glass quality. Here is where I geek out a bit, we are all familiar with f-stops, which is only a ratio of aperture size to focal length. But Cinema glass uses T-stops which is a far better unit of measuring optics as it takes in to consideration the light transmission of the glass. That’s why when I get told the virtues of Ronkonon et all primes I have to laugh as it can be the difference between shooting through a clear window and one covered in mud. The CN7 is a T 2.95 so on par with Zeiss or Angineaux.
Love at First Sight
I first used the CN7 when I was brought in on C4’s Hunted, it was a no brainer. The channel wanted to shoot documentary style but wanted the footage to look like a feature film (the Bourne films specifically, so no pressure there). There was talk of shooting on EF stills lenses, I ran though all the options available at the time including TLS’s Aurora (the actual lens used on the Bourn Ultimatum) in the end best option was to go with the then new CN7, and I think the results speak for themselves. After an intense 6 weeks I was in love the CN7 was everything I wanted and more, the only problem was it cost as much as an Audi A3 (reasonably equipped) so I figured I would need to slum it with EF glass again.
So when was offered a C4 Factual Features job for 6 months and Canon dropped the price of the CN7 to 17k in the same week the stars aligned. Now I know what you are thinking “17 grand for a lens, that is insane” but you must remember glass will be with you FAR longer than a camera or any other bit of kit aside from lights, this will be my go to lens for the next 10-15 years with any luck.
I have now been using my new CN7 for almost 2 months day in and day out and it has been nothing short of a life saver. The results are stunning as always but not having to cart a bag-o-lenses across France has made this project a joy to shoot. The 11 blade iris produces the somewhat cliché Bokhe in the shallow shots but more importantly creates a lovely rendition on camera that has an almost sfumato blending even in high contrast scenes. Considering Vilmos Zsigmond opted for the Cn7’s sister lens the 30-300 on Kickstart Theft who am I to argue about the quality.
Now I am not going to lie this is not a small lens but with a little patience and ingenuity (along with some modified parts from the good folks at Vocas) I was even able to achieve some semblance of balance on the ergonomically stupid C300. I cannot wait to hook it up with an Amira on my next job, no doubt a match made in heaven.
PS. I know I wrote about how much I was looking forward to the Fujinon XK6-20 a few months back but since the recent price change and the CN7’s adaptability (I own both EF and PL mounts) I really could not justify the Fuji.