IndieWire reached out to the cinematographers whose films are in awards contention and among the most critically acclaimed films of the year to find out which cameras and lenses they used and, more importantly, why these were the right tools to create the visual language of their films
(Films are alphabetical order by title.)
Director of photography Rob Hardy on the set of “Annihilation”
Format and Camera: Sony F65 at 4K, for the shimmer we switched to RED weapon 6K.
Lens: We started with Primo anamorphic, then for the shimmer we switched to the G-Series anamorphic.
Rob Hardy: I wanted a subtle shift in the look of the film as Lena’s character (Natalie Portman) moves through the story and things get progressively more and more hallucinogenic. So by switching out camera and lens systems we introduced a much more heightened look. Additionally, we generated the color shimmer effect in camera by creating a shimmer library — this was achieved by shooting color projectors against black, fired into a large format Panatar Anamorphic lens. The resulting color aberrations were then added as layering in the DI to achieve an organic look for the shimmer itself.
“At Eternity’s Gate”
“At Eternity’s Gate” cinematographer Benoît Delhomme
Format: Digital, 2.35 aspect ratio, 8k and the post production was done in 4k
Camera: Red Helium 8K
Lens: Vintage Kowa spherical lenses
Benoît Delhomme: I chose the Red Helium because I had never used a Red Camera before on a feature film and I liked the idea of working with a camera that I could not control and understand completely. I knew it would affect my photography but I was interested in taking that risk. I wanted to find new textures. I wanted to get surprised by my own images. I found that the Red was giving me more saturated colors than what I was used to and that was good for capturing Van Gogh’s territory. I also wanted to shoot in 8K to get very precise details in the landscapes and the trees.
I never thought of shooting this movie on film because of the way I wanted to be able to operate. I needed a camera as small as an old Hasselblad. I reduced the Red Helium to the smallest box possible with two big wooden grips to hold and I was able to run in the fields like a war photographer. I could follow Willem Dafoe everywhere and improvise complex shots. I wanted the hand-held operating to be very alive, like if the camera was a character in the movie. The Kowas lenses were very special and dangerous to use because they had nearly no anti-flare coating. So when I was framing the sun I was getting very interesting ghost circles around it. It looked very similar to the way Vincent Van Gogh was painting the sun. These lenses were far from perfect and this is why I loved them. I often added split diopters on them to blur the bottom of the frame when we were shooting subjective shots of Vincent having a crisis.
“Bad Times at the El Royale”
“Bad Times at the El Royale” cinematographer Seamus McGarvey
Format: 35mm Film (Kodak 5219), Anamorphic with 1:2.39 Aspect Ratio
Camera: Panaflex XL
Lens: Panavision C Series and E series Anamorphic lenses
Seamus McGarvey: From my very first discussions with director Drew Goddard about the cinematographic look of the film we always talked about shooting on film using anamorphic lenses. We chose anamorphic because I love the natural inherent distortions of squeezing and un-squeezing an image and what that does to the “real.” It torques with the real in an interesting way and distances you from the theatricality of the set. You can throw the background out of focus more effectively. It is also a beautiful format for portraiture. We had extreme wides in our set, but also a lot of key moments play in close-up. There’s nothing more beautiful than an anamorphic close-up, with the way it focuses on the eyes and drops off. You really get a sense of being inside someone’s head, which was a critical thing for the psychological aspect of this film.
The older C series lenses bring in a bit of personality. Many cinematographers are very keen on the glass lending something that isn’t pristine clarity, contrast, and sharpness edge-to-edge. Sometimes people want a bit of distance and a gauze between you and the set and the actor. It somehow brings in a little bit of the essence and magic of cinema. Shooting with film as our medium lent the movie texture in color, contrast and grain. I love how film depicts the profundity of the darkness and the detail in highlights (especially in flames) which were crucial elements in our story. Shooting on film demands a discipline which I have witnessed disappearing on some of the digital productions I have shot. With film there is a respect for the actual take… it almost makes the set a more holy place!
“The Ballad of Buster Scruggs”
“The Ballad of Buster Scruggs” cinematographer Bruno Delbonnel
Alison Cohen Rosa / Netflix
Format: ARRIRAW 3.4K OPEN GATE
Camera: Arri Alexa Studio XT and Mini
Lens: Zeiss Master Primes. zoom lenses Arri Alura 15.5-45 and 30-80
Bruno Delbonnel: I was trying to keep things as simple as possible since it was the first time Joel and Ethan Coen were using a digital camera. I’ve never been interested in the new technologies, I always tried to keep thing very simple. Light and framing are more important than the new toys. For years I was using the same package: a set of Cooke S4 lenses, an Arricam and Kodak 5219. For this project, the closest to this set on digital was the Alexa studio and its optical finder and a set of master primes because of the extra stop I would need on remote locations with a very limited access to big generators. The main challenge for “Buster Scruggs” was to find a different “look” for the six short stories while keeping the visual idea of an “Illustration book.”
Six different very remote landscapes were shot during a very bad summer weather-wise. I guess the Alexa and its wide latitude helped me to get the contrast I needed when going from a sunny morning to an overcast afternoon. With this latitude and knowing I couldn’t relight big landscapes, I knew that while grading I would have enough information in the high and low part of the image to match grade and find six different “looks.”
“Beautiful Boy” cinematographer Ruben Impens and director Felix van Groeningen
Format: ARRIRAW 2.8K
Camera: Arri Alexa SXT
Lens: HAWK anamorphic V-lite 1.3x squeeze get a 1:85 aspect ratio
Ruben Impens: We wanted the film in a 1:85 aspect ratio and a look that feels not too modern, the movie takes place in 2002. At the same time it shouldn’t feel too romantic, so we tested a bunch of spherical lenses and the Alexa 65 camera. When analyzing the test footage we very quickly feel in love with the hawk look. I had never used this 1.3x squeeze lenses, but it felt like it was the perfect balance. We had a lot of sunny exterior locations and the anamorphic bokeh felt just right. The Alexa 65 was interesting but too clean and the lens choices rather limited, plus because we only had a couple of weeks left in prep I was uncomfortable going down that path. I needed more time.
About the camera movements. We wanted a solid simple use of camera, rather wide lenses with ‘slow imperceptible‘ tracking moves. The pace of the movie is rather slow and so is the camera, it creeps on you. That was the idea and it worked out very well.
Director Ryan Coogler and dinematographer Rachel Morrison on the set of “Black Panther”
Format: 3.4K Open Gate Arriraw
Camera: Alexa SXT and Alexa Mini
Lens: Panavision Primo primes and zooms. We shot the majority of the film on the 27mm, 30mm and the 35mm
Rachel Morrison: We ultimately chose spherical 35mm sensor over 65mm or anamorphic because [director] Ryan [Coogler] really wanted a naturalistic feel and wanted a deeper depth of field so that the audience could see and experience the world of Wakanda. We needed glass that was sharp enough for compositing, which eliminated some of the older “funkier” optics. That said, I wasn’t interested in Master Primes, which can feel too perfect and even clinical at times. We tested a number of lenses but it ultimately came down to Cooke S4s or Panavision Primos and we chose the Primos because we liked the quality of their flare. Additionally, and importantly, we were exploring the theme of a circle for Wakanda and the Cookes have an octagonal bokeh, whereas the Primos have a much rounder bokeh — at the same shooting stop. The Arri Alexa with Primo lenses helped us to balance epic scope with humanity and intimacy.
Cinematographer Chayse Irvin on the set of “Blackkklansman”
David Lee/Focus Features
Format: Kodak 35mm Film
Camera: Panavision XL2, Arricam LT, Aaton Penelope
Lens: Panavision PVintage Lenses
Chayse Irvin: It wasn’t really that I chose these tools, they chose us. I experimented with many ideas in pre-production, video, 16mm, 35mm, Ektachrome, anamorphic lenses, spherical lenses, modern lenses, vintage lenses. Then I viewed the footage naked, free of an obstructed view about a format or practice. I was really hypnotized by the 35mm images, and additionally when it was flashed with a Panaflasher 3. Somehow it felt fresh to me, it challenged me. Kodak had just opened a new Lab in NYC and I interpreted all these signs as the film telling us this is what it needed to be. It’s a very Wu Wei approach to filmmaking, but I never want the images to feel contrived and symbolic, to avoid that I have to let it all grow from within the process.
“Bohemian Rhapsody” cinematographer Newton Thomas Sigel
Format: Arriraw, 16mm and 35mm film
Camera: Arri Alexa SXT, Alexa 65, 35 Arri BL
Lens: Arri DNA lenses, vintage Cooke Speed Panchros
Newton Thomas Sigel: The beginning days of immigrant Freddie arriving in London and meeting the other boys in the band was photographed with the Alexa SXT and vintage Cooke Speed Panchros. As Queen formed and hit the national stage, a transition was made to the Alexa 65 with specially designed Arri DNA lenses – all recorded in Arriraw. I also used some 16mm and 35mm film, particularly on the iconic “I Want To Break Free” video, which was shot on a 35 Arri BL. Fun fact: We found the actual camera that photographed Freddie’s very last video, just before he passed away!
“Bohemian Rhapsody” opens with a tease of Live Aid, then dives back to 1970 when Freddie first came to London. In those days he, and his future bandmates, had a beautifully idealistic energy. I used the old Speed Panchros and a special LUT to express this period. It is very golden and romantic, but also a little raw: hand-held and grainy. Then comes “Top Of The Pops,” their American tour and they skyrocket. This was done with the 65/DNA combo, and has a cleaner, more desaturated feel. It grows as we approach the 80s and Freddie transforms his look as well. It culminates in the massive Live Aid concert.
“Boy Erased” cinematographer Eduard Grau
Kyle Kaplan/Focus Features
Format: 35mm for the exterior scenes, Alexa Arriraw 2.8K the rest.
Camera: Arri Alexa and Arri Lt.
Lens: Zeiss Superspeed t1.3 coated and uncoated sets depending on the scene.
Eduard Grau: When we talked about the movie with [director] Joel [Edgerton] we were looking to be honest to the characters and after testing it felt right to shoot spherical with an 1:1.85 [aspect ratio], because it is less fancy and made the characters more real and likable. But also we wanted to have a shallow depth of field so that Jared (Lucas Hedges) is in his own personal world. We also liked the zeiss superspeed lenses because they had a pastel look and helped us on the softness of the images. Nothing is black or white in the image, because our characters are not good or bad.
We shot on 35mm because it gave us the base texture of the film, but it was more beneficial for the performances on the movie to shoot digital, so that’s what we did on the main scenes. At the end of the day, we should help telling stories with our decisions.
“Can You Ever Forgive Me?”
Cinematographer Brandon Trost and director Marielle Heller on the set of “Can You Ever Forgive Me?”
Format: REDCode RAW 8K
Camera: Panavision Millennium DXL
Lens: Panavison Primo 70 series lenses with a custom optical design by Dan Sasaki that became the genesis for the Panavision Primo Artiste T1.8 lenses.
Brandon Trost: Director Marielle Heller and I had always planned to shoot “Can You Ever Forgive Me?” with anamorphic lenses, but at the last moment we tested the DXL and instantly felt that large format was the right choice for the story. Traditionally large format is used for a grand sense of scale and scope, but we wanted a smaller scale, so it wasn’t on our radar. We were after an intimate portrait of early 90s NYC and we were surprised to find that the large sensor could allow a more personal sense of depth. We could use wider lenses for closeups without a distorted effect, which felt like we were allowing the audience to experience this intimacy in a real personal way.
I also wanted a very soft and analog tone for this film, so initially I was concerned that shooting 8k would have too much resolution and look to sharp for my taste. This ultimately wasn’t the case, and I found various techniques of “softening” that worked well. I wanted to use vintage lenses at first since they’re usually softer by nature, but they proved unavailable so I had the Primo 70s lenses re-optimized. This gave an analog quality that was very soft and almost creamy feeling while maintaining the perfect amount of resolution. We also shot most of this film wide open, and the shallow depth of field we could achieve with this system was really quite beautiful, even with wide lenses. The camera was rated at 3200 ISO for the entire film which induced an additional layer of softer texture while allowing to shoot with very low light. On top of that we added a grain effect in the DI that really tied the whole thing together.
We were also the very first film to use this camera and lens system, so it was a bit of a gamble heading into this, but it delivered marvelously and the result was well worth it. I wanted this film to look like a nostalgic NYC winter photograph printed on matte paper and I think we got just that.
“Cold War” cinematographer Lukasz Zal
Format: 2.8 ARRIRAW
Camera: ARRI ALEXA SXT
Lens: Zeiss Ultra Prime series, Angénieux Optimo zooms 24-290mm, 19,5-90mm and 45-120 Lightweight
Lukasz Zal: The equipment is important to a certain extent, but it does not influence the way the story is told through the image. For Paweł, the image is an integral part of the story and is as important as the actors, music and the narrative. During the long preparation process we were looking for the best formal solutions to tell the story. We spent huge amount of time preparing ourselves, but once the shoot started, we allowed for some space to literally sculpt the image – we constantly reframed and refined each shot in order to find the best one. We didn’t do typical coverage, mostly we’d do the scene with just one or two shots. We took all these elements – actors, extras, props, camera movement and lighting that all needed to coincide in one go, at the same time. This magical moment when all these things come together is for me the most exciting part of being a cinematographer.
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