What gets cinematographers most excited about working with RED is its ability to work with their very familiar motion-picture lenses in both 35mm and 16mm PL-mount cinema lenses (Figure 4.2). The new and used market for these lenses is large. You can easily spend anywhere from less than $1,000 (for a used 16mm) to upwards of $100,000 (for a new 35mm zoom) on a single PL-mount lens. (Note that 16mm lenses cannot be used to shoot 4K because of their smaller image size.)
Figure 4.2 RED's PL mount. You can also see the MYSTERIUM sensor.
Because every project is different and every shot has different technical and aesthetic requirements, you need a variety of lenses to complete your package. Having the flexibility of a zoom lens combined with the sharpness and sensitivity of prime lenses is ideal—if you can afford to have both. For my tastes, the ultimate RED optics kit includes a full-range zoom lens along with primes covering wide angles down to, say, 14mm and up to at least 85mm or more on the telephoto end (Figure 4.3).
Figure 4.3 A RED lens kit featuring a combination of prime and zoom lenses.
Many filmmakers use Canon and Nikon still camera lenses for their packages. Still lenses are a good way to save a lot of money on optics, but you might find a still lens to be too limited for extensive motion-picture work. Focusing in the middle of a take with a still lens can be very difficult because they are typically not well geared or marked for this purpose. Also, most still lenses exhibit visible breathing (where the image wobbles on the edges) when focusing during a shot. For that reason, we'll look at cinema lenses first.
RED offers very reasonably priced zoom and prime lenses specifically designed for the RED ONE. The zoom lenses include an 18–85mm T2.9 ($9,975) and an 18–50mm T3 ($6,500—see Figure 4.4). RED's Pro Prime Set consists of five lenses ranging from 25mm to 100mm, all at a highly sensitive T1.8 stop and at a package price of around $19,000 (or the cost of a single lens from some of the other brands). The Pro Prime Set is also optically optimized for 5K imagery, meaning you can migrate to an EPIC kit down the road.
Figure 4.4 Lenses from RED's Pro Prime Set.
Third-Party Prime Lenses: ARRI and Cooke
For third-party lenses, many major cinema lens makers have honed their glass throughout the long history of cinema. My personal favorites include ARRI and Cooke, which both manufacture PL-mount prime lenses. Neither is cheap, but the optical quality and sensitivity are unmatched, and I can almost guarantee you've already watched many 35mm Hollywood features shot on ARRI and Cooke lenses. Cooke even offers a combo prime/zoom kit specially selected for the RED, though any of its regular 35mm PL lenses will do the trick.
The Cooke S4/i kit I personally use includes 14mm, 21mm, 25mm, 32mm, 50mm, and 75 mm primes, all at T2. The lenses aren't cheap at about $18,000–20,000 each but these are flawless pieces of glass that reproduce perfect colors and razor-sharp images on-screen.
On the ARRI side, I like to shoot with a similarly outfitted kit of ARRI Ultra Primes at T1.9. The set includes 16mm, 20mm, 24mm, 32mm, 50mm, and 85mm primes. As with the Cookes, these are expensive and very high end in terms of performance. You're paying for speed, smooth focusing throughout the focal range, and freedom from image artifacts (Figure 4.5) such as chromatic aberration (when the colors of the spectrum don't quite align in a lens, producing what appears to be soft rainbows) and vignetting (dark edges around the edges of the frame).
Figure 4.5 Some artifacts like lens flare can add desirable effects to your shots.
The optical quality of a zoom lens is critically important because a low-quality zoom can cause so much softness in an image that it can visually offset the benefits of the RED's 4K frame resolution. In other words, your final image taken with a low-quality zoom may look no sharper than a regular high-definition or even standard-definition image, depending on the lens.
The zoom lens I recommend and use is an Angenieux Optimo T2.8 24–290mm. This lens is pretty fast for a zoom, and its focal range is quite staggering, especially on the telephoto end. Lots of sports networks use this lens for its long reach. Again, at almost $100,000 this is not an inexpensive lens, but it is amazing to shoot with, which is a reason why it can be found on many big movie sets.. The Optimo is not lightweight either, weighing in at 25 pounds. It needs extra support just to keep it steady in the mount, and you need to be pretty strong to consider handheld shooting with it. Remember, this lens is at the very high end of optics; don't feel like you must have this sort expensive gear to make pretty pictures with your RED. Angeniuex and other companies such as Cooke make nice zooms at much lower price points.
16mm lenses are often higher quality than still camera lenses, more suitable for production, and also less expensive than 35mm lenses. You should have no problem finding new, used, and rental 16mm PL-mount lenses.
The chief drawback to 16mm lenses is that they cannot be used to shoot in full 4K resolution because the images they generate don't fill the whole image sensor. The image size for most 16mm lenses, depending on focal length, is more likely to work for 2K or possibly 3K resolution. By checking the amount of coverage on a monitor, you'll quickly see vignetting on the edges of your frame once you've chosen a resolution that's too big for the lens (Figure 4.6). That said, even at 2K you're shooting at a much higher resolution than standard definition and with more control over your depth of field.
Figure 4.6 Lens vignetting appears as dark edges of the frame where the sensor's image area is larger than the lens can cover.
Some good 16mm lens brands to look at include Angenieux, Zeiss (Figure 4.7), Century, and Nikkor. 16mm lenses offer a good compromise between 35mm cinema lenses and still camera lenses.
Figure 4.7 A Zeiss 9.5mm focal length T1.3 16mm Arriflex lens.
Still optics are typically not as sensitive to light as their cinema cousins and, because their focusing mechanics are optimized for still work, can exhibit noticeable breathing. That said, real bargains exist in the still lens market, if you understand the potential limitations. I happen to be a huge fan of Nikon and Canon 35mm still lenses (Figure 4.8). They look great and are certainly affordable compared to cinema lenses. They're also readily available in sufficient quantity worldwide.
Figure 4.8 Canon still lenses work pretty well and cost a lot less than cinematic lenses.
One caveat is that they don't just work out of the box with the RED. You need a lens adaptor to convert the RED's native PL-mount lens to the mount of your Canon or Nikon (covered next).
Lens Mount Adaptors
Many third-party lens mount adaptors are available for the RED because making them is a matter of traditional machining and engineering without a lot of electronics or software development necessary. Birger Engineering (www.birger.com) offers a $1,300 lens adaptor mount for use with Canon EOS still lenses (Figure 4.9). Birger entered into a special arrangement with RED to ensure that the modifications to the camera required by the mount retain RED's full factory warranty. So, you can use this product without any fear of damaging your camera.
Figure 4.9 The Birger Engineering mount with a 50mm Canon EOS still lens.
Nikon mounts are a little more complicated. RED offers a $500 Nikon adaptor mount on its online store (www.red.com/store). This mount is optimized primarily for Nikon lenses with manual aperture control. On newer DX-series and G-series Nikon lenses, the mount can't alter the aperture settings. For more control, you can send the mount to be modified by Long Valley Equipment (www.longvalleyequip.com), makers of the original mount later adopted for sale by RED. For $295 you get a Nikon GDX mount with full aperture control for G and DX series lenses (Figure 4.10).
Figure 4.10 Long Valley Equipment's Nikon GDX mount pictured with a lightweight rod support.