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The SciTech Award Goes to... ARRI/Zeiss Master Prime Lenses for Motion Picture Photography

COW Library : ARRI : Debra Kaufman : The SciTech Award Goes to... ARRI/Zeiss Master Prime Lenses for Motion Picture Photography
CreativeCOW presents The SciTech Award Goes to... ARRI/Zeiss Master Prime Lenses for Motion Picture Photography -- ARRI Feature


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At the 84th Annual Academy Awards for Technical Achievements, Dr. Jüergen Noffke and Uwe Weber will be honored with a Scientific and Engineering Award for the ARRI Zeiss Master Prime Lenses. Dr. Noffke (now deceased) is recognized for the optical design and Weber for the mechanical design of the lenses. According to the Academy, "The Master Primes have achieved a full stop advance in speed over existing lenses, while maintaining state-of-the-art optical quality. This lens family was also the first to eliminate the magnification change that accompanied extreme focus shift."

"The Master Prime cine lenses are a joint development by Carl Zeiss and camera manufacturer ARRI," says Weber. "For more than 70 years, we and our partner ARRI, the world's largest manufacturer for film and cine cameras, have been working together to develop and manufacture products for the motion picture industry. The vibrant exchange of experiences between our two companies and our customers allows us to develop exceptional products, such as the Master Prime lenses."


Dr. Jüergen Noffke and Uwe Weber. Photo by Andreas Bogenschütz

The ARRI Zeiss Master Prime lenses, which debuted in 2004, have been used in numerous feature films, including The Departed, The King's Speech, Social Network, The Fighter, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Transformers - Dark of the Moon, Tree of Life, Tron: Legacy, Wall Street 2: Money Never Sleeps, and Burn after Reading.

Cinematographer Michael Ballhaus, ASC who used the lenses for shooting Scorsese's The Departed, regularly uses ZEISS Master Prime lenses in his work. "It was when I was filming night shots in The Departed that I began to understand just how good these lenses really are," he said. "The reflections that you normally get from car headlights were nowhere to be seen! That was a real revelation."


Photo by Andreas Bogenschütz
Dutch cameraman Hoyte van Hoytema, NSC who used the lenses for shooting The Fighter, recalls that, "especially for darker scenes, I used lenses with maximum speed so that we didn't constantly have to illuminate them all over again." "I therefore used the Master Prime lenses for these scenes," Hoytema said. "They were really helpful, especially in scenes in which natural light sources determine the image - and particularly those scenes that take place at dusk or at night. For inside shots, I also used outside light, which we fed into the rooms with reflectors. Overall, we filmed many scenes with a maximum aperture; I could do that without losing quality."

The ARRI Zeiss Master Prime Lenses combine super-speed without breathing and distortion. Breathing, a magnification change, happens when the camera fixes an object and the focus changes. During the change of the focus, the size of the object changes at the same time, a disturbing effect that Master Prime lenses have eliminated over all focal lengths.

The Primes Lenses' super speed enables shooting in low light conditions with available light, such as candles. It also enables a reduction of depth of field, which increases the difference between sharp and un-sharp. That means important details or persons can be highlighted much better.

"There was a need for the new professional cine lenses with almost no breathing and super speed, that enables shooting movies in different lighting conditions," says Weber. "Our partner ARRI and its customers demanded such cine lenses. These Master Prime lenses have the patented Dual Floating Elements technology that eliminates breathing and keeps excellent optical performance from infinity to minimum object distance, even at full stop."

The Master Primes also feature the use of "exotic glass material and big aspheres," a specialty of Carl Zeiss. "Such high speed lenses are also challenging regarding stray light," says Weber. "So we are using our improved anti reflex coating T* XP and special light traps. The results are pictures with high contrast and unsurpassed resolution. Another advantage of the optical design is the low distortion."

Regarding the mechanical design, the focusing mechanism needs to be very precise and, for the reduced depth of field, the lens has to be free of backlash. "This means, that changing the turning direction of the focusing ring may not cause a jump in the image," he says. "We developed a mechanism that fits these demands and reduces torque at the same time, keeping that torque even in low temperature conditions. Another advantage of the Master Prime lenses is the distance scale ring, which has metric and imperial values on one ring that can be easily switched. This is an important feature for rental houses. Other lenses require separate rings." Zeiss, which expects these lenses to have a long lifetime, also gave a special surface treatment to the focusing and iris gears.


ARRI Zeiss Master Prime Lens
ARRI's specs state, "Torque (the amount of strength needed to rotate a lens ring) has been temperature stabilized and carefully set for the best combination of easy movement and a secure, smooth feel." Photo by Andreas Bogenschütz


The first ideas and concept studies for the ARRI Zeiss Master Prime Lenses started in 2002. Specifications were fixed and first designs made in 2003, with the launch of the core set in 2004. The company added new focal lengths over time; today the set comprises 16 lenses plus 1 macro lens.

"The challenges from the optical point of view were to fulfill all demands - super speed, no breathing, low distortion -in one lens over a big range of focal lengths," says Weber. "At the same time, we had to keep the lens relatively compact and lightweight. The challenges from the mechanical point of view were to find solutions to hold, adjust and move the elements in the superior precision that the optical design requires. All lenses had to receive the same external interfaces (position and size of lens shade and gears for focus and iris drive) and have the LDS (Lens Data System, for transferring data of the lens to the camera by an electronic interface)."




Weber notes that the creation of such precision lenses relied on the work of many people. "A lot of people from different departments were involved in this project: optical design (lens systems), mechanical design (lens housings and drives, adjustment methods), technology (calculations, surface treatment of mechanical and optical surfaces, bearings), laboratory (measuring methods and devices), prototype construction (assembly, quality and environmental testing), process planning and engineering (preparation for series production)," he says. "They all helped to create a product, that meets the specifications, is producible and mountable and inspires the customer."





Academy Plaque for the Scientific and Engineering Award

This story on ARRI Zeiss Master Prime Lenses is one of a series on the winners of the Scientific and Engineering Awards.

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has awarded The Scientific and Engineering Award® (Academy Plaque) to Dr. Jürgen Noffke for the optical design and Uwe Weber for the mechanical design of the ARRI Zeiss Master Prime Lenses for motion picture photography.

The Master Primes have achieved a full stop advance in speed over existing lenses, while maintaining state-of-the-art optical quality. This lens family was also the first to eliminate the magnification change that accompanied extreme focus shifts.



ACADEMY AWARDS® is the registered trademark and service mark of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. ALL RIGHTS ARE RESERVED.








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