Stanley Kubrick Films Natural Candlelight With Insane f/0.7 Lens

Stanley Kubrick was one of the most acclaimed producers and directors in American cinematography (the Shining is one of my all time favorites). Back in 1975, Stanley directed the three hour masterpiece Barry Lyndon. From a photography standpoint, the film is most noted for Stanley's use of Mitchell BNC cameras mounted with NASA Zeiss f/0.7 50mm lenses.
the Zeiss prime lenses have some of the fastest apertures ever created. The difference between a f/1.2 lens and a f/0.7 is almost 2 full stops! These lenses allowed many of the scenes in Barry Lyndon to be filmed with as little as 3 candela which is about 45 times less bright than a 25 watt compact light bulb. If you thought the Canon f1.0 Lens had great bokeh, one could only imagine what these lenses could do mounted to a Canon 5D!

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Every story I have heard about Stanley Kubrick borders the most intimate line between pure genius and absolute insanity. Which side your opinion falls on depends on your ability to understand his drive and vision.

Patrick, it really bugs me that you seem to be thinking that large aperture equals shallow DOF and thus equals great bokeh. This is not necessarily the case, IMO. One of the greatest bokeh-contenders is the Minolta 135mm STF, which has a max aperture of 2.8, which is even lowered by its design, which makes it a 4.5. It creates not only very sharp pictures, but renders absolutely smooth bokeh, see

By this logic you could also say that any half decent telephoto lens is also "One of the greatest bokeh-contenders." Of course if you have tons of room you can put some long lens on it and get nice big smooth bokeh, but the look of that will never be the same as a super speed 50mm on a full frame camera. You get so much more in frame and feel so much more of the atmosphere being able to go wider and shallower. You can immerse your subject in a magical world of light, not condense them into it.

You are absolutely right about the field of view and a 135mm being a totally different lens. What I wanted to say is that DOF alone doesn't create great bokeh. And my reply was just as much about this post as it was about the one about the Canon 50mm f1.0 a few days back, whose bokeh isn't very attractive in my eyes. The Minolta lens I mentioned - which is now being manufactured for the Sony mount - is specifically designed to render smooth bokeh.

Patrick Hall's picture

My comment about bokeh was a little tongue in cheek.  What I've found to have the largest effect on blurring the background is actually not aperture or focal length but rather minimum focusing distance.  You can shoot both at 1.4 or 2.8 at 50mm or 200mm and have everything in focus.  It's when you get close to the subject and focus at a relatively short distance and the background is significantly far away from your subject.  Does a wider aperture help?  Sure, but it's really the distance of the subject to your lens that has the largest effect. 

I agree that there is a significant divergence here. "huge out of focus" and "pleasant bokeh" are not one in the same. The Canon TV 50 f/0.95 or M4/3 cameras with F<1 xenon lenses are great cases for this.

If anything, this is more so the reason why such premium lenses as the Nikon DC series and Leica's APO range. Truly apochromatic, neutral bokeh is not easy to make, and it doesn't sound all that impressive on paper when you say you have a 50mm F/2 ASPH APO lens... unless that paper is a print, naturally!

Michael Kormos's picture

Oh wow, that Minolta is a portrait photographer's dream!  That bokeh looks even better than Nikkor 135 f/2DC.  I've heard rumors of an upcoming Nikkor 135 f/1.8 set to replace it, but I may just have to look into this Minolta first.  Thanks!

That's because a lot of people think bokeh means "amount of background separation" or even "smallness of depth of field", when bokeh is actually just a subjective measure of the smoothness of the out-of-focus areas. In other words: quality, not quantity.

Depth of field is a mathematical function of aperture size,  sensor size, focal length and focus distance. Bokeh is independent of all of these, it just depends on glass type, design and quality.

The REAL props here goes to the 1st AC who had to pull focus with that shallow DOF. He must have been sweating bullets during dailies.

That's exactly what I thought. I'm going to keep this one for next time someone complains about pulling DSLR focus! 

Ok people ... can someone explain me HOW COME can exist a aperture .90 or even a .75???|
IT'S AGAINST THE LAWS OF PHYSICS!!! It's like a Black hole here, in the earth!!!
How come an Circle of Aperture (in a lens that IS NOT A FISH EYE) able to be larger than the Circle of the hole that contains the Aperture ..... pleeeaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaase!
Anyone? Someone?

Aperture is the relationship between the lens diaphragm opening and the focal length of the lens, not the diameter of the lens (ie, filter ring size).

Carlos, by wikipedia:
the f-number (sometimes called focal ratio, f-ratio, f-stop, or relative aperture) of an optical system is the ratio of the lens's focal length to the diameter of the entrance pupil
so for this lens would be:
50mm (focal lenght) / 71.42mm (diameter of the entrance pupil) = 0.7
What laws of phisics are you talking about?

RUSS's picture

The equipment is neat.
But that man concieving the idea and then executing it in such a wonderful way is AWESOME!

So, I have a f1.2 50mm lens and I find the fov very limited already, you can sometimes see blur around the focus plan. I can't imagine how a f0.7 would look in focus, I need to see that movie again

If Barry Lyndon was shot on normal 35mm cine film, then the image size is closer to a crop-sensor APS-C. Still razor thin, but 1.6x better than a full-frame still camera!

W van de Kletersteeg's picture

In a close-up, sure. But in the film the lens is mostly used for wider scenes so the focus is way back, probably even infinite, which gives it a bigger DOF naturally.

is there any more than just the youtube clip to this documentary? i'd love to watch the whole thing being a cinephile. :)

I, also, would like to learn more about the production of this movie... Allthough it is motionpicture, to me it seems in large parts to be a flow of steady shots, zoomed in and out, filmed left to right, up and down, but constructed and lightned as one big photograph, a snapshot of the time.