Canon cinema lenses and me

Multi-award-winning DoP Martin Christ looks back over a career powered by Canon.
Two men stand on a docked wooden boat with a large body of water behind them. One is adjusting a Canon EOS C500 Mark II camera, the other is pointing into the distance.

German cinematographer Martin Christ, pictured on the left of this image with a Canon EOS C500 Mark II, has used Canon cinema lenses throughout his award-winning career and has been consistently thrilled with the results. © Martin Christ

Cinematographer Martin Christ has won numerous awards for his work over his 25-year career. Through his production company, Christ Media Film Production, Martin makes documentaries, news features and reports for television, travelling all around the world in search of new stories to tell.

And from a full-frame DSLR to both Super 35mm and full-frame cinema cameras, along with a wide range of CN-E prime and zoom lenses, Canon has been Martin's go-to brand throughout.

Like many filmmakers, Martin worked his way up into the Director of Photography role. While studying, he got a job as a camera assistant for a prominent DoP in Germany where he was allowed to use the gear for his own projects. "The first Canon camera that I used for video was actually the Canon EOS 5D Mark II [now succeeded by the Canon EOS 5D Mark IV]," says Martin. "It was the first time I started shooting full-frame and my clients loved the new look. However, you needed a lot of additional equipment to use the 5D Mark II as a regular camera for movies. So I was really happy when the Canon EOS C700 FF came out, and I think I was one of the first people in Germany to shoot with it, together with the CN-E primes."

He continued to develop his skills making music videos for friends. When one band landed a record deal, their video production quality needed to go up several notches, and Martin was the man for the job. It propelled his portfolio forward and he consequently started to receive bigger commissions. "Now I mainly shoot features, docudramas and commercials," he says.

Here, Martin talks about some of his career highlights to date and reveals what compels him to use Canon's cinema lenses.

A technician wearing white gloves cleans the sensor of a Canon camera.

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A Canon CN-E18-80mm T4.4 L IS KAS S lens.

Martin used the pictured Canon CN-E18-80mm T4.4 L IS KAS S lens for a 2014 run-and-gun documentary about the German national football team, praising its "excellent" image quality and ease of use. Designed to perform in every environment, the CN-E18-80mm T4.4 L IS KAS S is one of two Compact Cine Servo lenses within Canon's cinema lens range, which also includes Sumire Primes, Top End Cine Zooms, Compact Cine Zooms and Cine Primes.

A Canon CN-E50mm T1.3 FP X Sumire Prime lens.

The Canon CN-E50mm T1.3 FP X is one of seven Sumire Prime lenses in Canon's cine lens line-up. These full-frame lenses offer fast apertures and precise manual control, as well as a specially designed cinematic look.

The right gear for the job

Martin has worked on a wide range of projects over the decades, from solo-shooter documentaries with the German football team to high-end commercials with huge crews for leading car brands. As such, he's needed an approach and camera gear suited to each occasion.

When working alone, his gear is lightweight and versatile. "I was accompanying the German national football team for a documentary and I was on my own without an assistant," Martin recalls. "I bought the Canon C300 [now succeeded by the Canon EOS C300 Mark III] because it was light and easy to handle on its own; on the shoulder or in the hand. For such run-and-gun productions, I often use zoom lenses such as the CN-E18-80mm T4.4 L IS KAS S. The image quality is excellent and it's the right zoom range for handheld work."

A Canon EOS C500 Mark II with a Canon CN-E50mm T1.3 FP X Sumire Prime lens.

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An aerial view of a large truck driving down a long road surrounded by water.

One of Martin's most challenging projects to date was a high-end commercial for a global provider of trailers and superstructures. The huge variety of shots, from driving sequences and aerial imagery to talking heads and water reflection, required multiple lenses and Martin turned to Canon's CN-E prime range. "CN-E prime lenses have a very fast aperture and beautiful bokeh across the aperture range. They also deliver a high contrast from the centre of the image to the edges," he explains. © Martin Christ

A low-angle close-up of the wheels of a large truck as it drives into an industrial yard.

For the trailer commercial's many driving scenes, Martin opted to use the Canon CN-E85mm T1.3 L F and the Canon CN-E135mm T2.2 L F. These longer prime lenses are renowned for their spectacular 4K image quality. Alternative options for those requiring a single lens solution with flexible zoom capabilities include the CN-E30-105mm T2.8 L S/SP, a lightweight Super 35mm lens designed for 2K and 4K production formats, and the CN-E14.5-60mm T2.6 L S, a wide-angle zoom lens with an industry-leading breadth of range. © Martin Christ

Shooting commercials

Weight and easy handling are less of a concern when the camera is mounted to a crane. And this is exactly the kind of scenario you'll find when shooting big-budget commercials, for which Martin prefers to use prime lenses.

For a high-end truck trailer commercial, Martin was equipped with the full-frame Canon EOS C700 FF, and the full-size range of Canon CN-E prime lenses, from the CN-E14mm T3.1 L F to the CN-E135mm T2.2 L F. That's a lot of glass, so what did each lens do and what was his experience of switching between them?

"We had driving shots, talking heads, impressions from the factory, plus some critical conditions such as huge windows in the office scenes and hard sun reflections in the car paint," recalls Martin. Such a range of shots required multiple lenses that could transition well for a consistent look.

"I like the colour consistency of CN-E primes and their smooth bokeh – it was important to have a shallow depth of field for a clear futuristic look. As a DoP you know that a wide-angle lens can distort faces, so we used the Canon CN-E50mm T1.3 L F and CN-E85mm T1.3 L F lenses for talking heads. To get those dynamic shots in the factory, we used the Canon CN-E14mm T3.1 L F to CN-E35mm T1.5 L F lenses with a Primo-Dolly. In the pit we even used the 14mm lens and there were almost no distortions – there is much less distortion using full-frame. For driving shots, we also used the longer primes: 85mm and 135mm."

A man tilts a Canon camera upwards on a dusty film set, while a second man points out something in the distance to him.

In addition to their "buttery smooth" focus throw, "excellent" image quality and "cinematic feel", Martin continues to be impressed with the durability of Canon's CN-E prime lenses. "The CN-E primes are a very solid build, working well in dusty exteriors," he says. © Martin Christ

A close-up of a Canon camera filming a man standing next to a low wall illuminated by strip lights.

Martin likes using Canon's cine primes for the smooth bokeh and cinematic look, but sometimes you want the flexibility of a longer reach. A lightweight option such as the CN-E15.5-47mm T2.8 L S/SP enables you to vary your perspectives, while a large, aspherical telephoto lens, such as the CN-E30-300mm T2.95-3.7 L S, allows you to film in most environments. © Martin Christ

Cinematic look and feel

Canon's CN-E lenses are more expensive than Canon EF lenses, but EF lenses do also work on cinema cameras such as the Canon EOS C300 and EOS C700 FF. So what justifies the extra outlay and why is it so important for Martin to work with cinema lenses?

"For shooting features, it's mostly about brilliant skin tones. The CN-E primes deliver those tones, very soft and well balanced, kept across the aperture range," he says.

That final look is also complemented by the way the lenses handle. "I do a lot of focus pulling, so for me it is important that focus breathing is nearly absent. There's no focus breathing with these lenses, and they have highly accurate markings on both sides, meaning you can easily use any wireless or follow focus with precision. For me and my first AC, it is important that the focus throw is buttery smooth," explains Martin.

And with the latest Canon cinema cameras offering limitless creative control and exceptional 4K full-frame image quality, things are looking good for future productions. "I think if you like to achieve the cinematic feel, CN-E primes should be your choice," Martin says.

Tim Coleman

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