Having a complete set of colour-matched lenses that allow a filmmaker to use the latest camera technology is fast becoming a critical part of every modern DoP's arsenal.
With a huge demand for a very cinematic aesthetic in everything from feature films, drama series and documentaries to commercials and music videos – plus the pressure to get it right first time and minimise time spent grading in post, it's vital to choose the right lenses.
Canon has responded to this demand with a range of full-frame cine primes, the Sumire Prime series. Ranging from 14mm to 135mm, with fast maximum apertures from T1.3 to T3.1 depending on the model, they're designed to give a softer, more cinematic look but with the same unified warm colour tone as Canon's other Cinema EOS lenses and a slightly warmer rendition that flatters skin tones. The Sumire Prime lenses all come with an interchangeable PL mount (which can be changed to an EF mount at any authorised service facility) and have an 11-bladed iris for softer and rounder bokeh – a crucial demand for many modern filmmakers.
The PL-mount Sumire Primes are ideal for the latest crop of large-sensor cameras from a variety of major manufacturers, but they make a perfect partner for Canon's Cinema EOS range. The Canon EOS C700 FF is now joined by its full-frame sibling the Canon EOS C500 Mark II, along with the Canon EOS C300 Mark III and Canon EOS C200 Super 35mm cameras, which all make use of not only the unique look and image quality of the Sumire Primes but also the latest Dual Pixel AF technology.
Canon's Sumire Primes have been put through their paces in real-world scenarios by a range of talented cinematographers, shooting short cinematic films through to full-scale commercial productions.
Los Angeles-based cinematographer Steve Holleran was one of the first people to test out the Canon EOS C300 Mark III, putting the Super 35mm camera to work paired with Sumire Primes filming a dynamic ballet sequence in an aeroplane graveyard in the Mojave desert in California.
Advertising filmmaker Brett Danton mixed in footage from the Sumire range with Canon EF and Canon CN-E primes when shooting an action-packed commercial for luxury car maker Jaguar on a Canon EOS C500 Mark II.
Tania Freimuth, a British cinematographer, pushed the low-light ability of the Sumire Prime lenses to the full, shooting dark scenes in east London – indoors in a restaurant as well as in dimly-lit outdoor locations – where the real test was rendering skin tones accurately and smoothly.
Award-winning German DOP Hans von Sonntag shot a short film on the island of Tenerife, where the toughest factor was bright, unforgiving overhead sunshine, testing how the Sumire Prime lenses deal with flare and skin tones.
And Dutch filmmaker Freek Zonderland, one of the latest generation of young and talented creatives, was tasked with telling the story of a professional athlete in a high-paced film where capturing the speed of the subject was crucial.
On the set of a luxury car commercial, Brett Danton needed to employ just about every technique a filmmaker needs for shooting action – from aerial shots with a large drone to fast panning and high-speed car-to-car tracking shots using a camera car mounted with a large Russian arm.
The standout shots were of the Jaguar filmed from the moving camera car, with the Canon EOS C500 Mark II fitted with a Canon CN-E35mm T1.5 FP X lens. "The Sumire Primes bring a filmic feel and give nice flares," explains Brett. "Using a Sumire to shoot the car coming towards you at dusk, with its headlights on, softens the image. The highlights on the metalwork gleam and there are flares from the headlights."
Although Sumire Prime lenses are manual focus, they use Canon's innovative Dual Pixel AF system to give a visual representation of whether the subject is sharp – something Brett quickly learnt to rely on. "I used the focus assist – it's another tool to have in your toolbox," he says.
When Steve Holleran was tasked with putting the new Canon EOS C300 Mark III through its paces, he was quick to fit it with Sumire Primes to film Boneyard Ballet, which he describes as a "magical journey following a ballerina dancing through an abandoned 747 jumbo jet in an airplane boneyard… a visual ode to the art of flight – human and mechanical."
The shoot involved contrasting environments: bright desert sunshine and the gleaming metal of the planes outside, and then low-light conditions inside one of the scrapped airliners. The wide maximum apertures of the Sumires, along with the 11-blade rounded iris for smooth bokeh, gave the film a very special look.
"It was delicately balanced – not too sharp, not too soft," Steve says. "It looked exactly as it did when I conceptualised the piece. That to me is cinematic – and that's why I like Canon glass." He used all seven lenses in the Sumire Prime range, but focused particularly on the 14mm and 35mm focal lengths "to take advantage of the scope of the 747 and the massive boneyard".
As any DOP will verify, picking the right lens is not just about choosing the highest-resolving lenses with the highest contrast. These can be accused of giving a sterile, less natural look to a film.
Equally, a set of vintage lenses may give a unique look but the differences in optical quality and colours across the lens range, as well as potential handling quirks, can often make rehoused lenses (analogue cine lenses converted to work with digital cameras) a risky affair. And as many weren't designed for the resolution of modern digital cameras, or they don't have the image circle to cover full-frame 35mm-size sensors or above, they are far from ideal.
The Sumire Prime lenses all come with an interchangeable PL-mount designed for high-end, PL-mount cinema cameras. Their new optical design ensures a smooth fall-off to out-of-focus areas (as the lens approaches the wider settings), giving DOPs the three-dimensionality of a truly cinematic look.
As Hans von Sonntag said after shooting with the CN-E35mm T1.5 FP X: "The lenses have a distinct vintage look but they bring vintage into Rec. 2020, in high resolution. Everything looks very sharp but when you shoot them wide open they behave like a vintage lens and flare like a vintage one, only much, much nicer."
To assist a smooth workflow for DOPs, the Sumire Prime range offers the same reduced focus breathing as Canon's EF-mount cine primes and are operated manually, allowing for precise change of focus. Operators won't have to adjust gear positions when changing between the lenses, which all offer a 300-degree focus rotation.
The Sumire Prime lenses can be changed from PL mount to EF mount at Canon authorised service centres and are compatible with all Canon Cinema EOS full-frame and Super 35mm 4K cameras, including the Canon EOS C700 FF, Canon EOS C500 Mark II, Canon EOS C300 Mark III, Canon EOS C300 Mark II and Canon EOS C200.
The advantages of the Sumire Prime series are most apparent when used with the latest Canon Cinema EOS cameras. As well as all the mechanical details, such as the consistent 300-degree focus rotation, 114mm front diameter that takes 105mm filters, lack of focus breathing and consistent nuanced, warm look across the range, the Sumires are designed to work alongside Canon's Dual Pixel CMOS AF system. This gives a visual guide as to whether the image is in focus, and an indication of which way to turn the focus ring in order to get it sharp – a powerful tool for camera operators or remote focus pullers. Filmmakers can achieve a soft, cinematic look with the backing of strong optical engineering – Sumire Primes take the classic look of cinema and bring it up to date.