Tag Archives: music

The Kowa 40mm 35-BE Anamorphic Cine Lens & the Start of a Journey

Luckily for me, I have yet to catch Covid. However, I have spent the latter part of the past two years in and out of clinics and hospitals for other reasons. It has been hard to get any projects done in a reasonable time and even harder to shoot anything for myself. When I felt well, I usually worked for others. I did what I could.

That aside, I have been very lucky over the past two years. A lot has happened. I’m thankful that I continue to improve and hope that I can feel normal for more than a week at a time. It’s not something I want to get into, but let’s just say it gave me a lot of time to be hunting for lenses and not much else.

Earlier this year I was lucky enough to grab a Kowa Anamorphic 35-BE 40mm T 2.3 cine lens. This purchase ended up being overwhelming in more ways than I could ever imagine. It threw me down a rabbit hole of lens mystery, lens design, more luck, and some amazing connections in the industry. Rare glass opens doors and this journey is just beginning.

First off, the obvious visual and important point is that this is NOT a normal Kowa cine anamorphic. There are actually 3 kinda of Kowa Cine anamorphics. The very common Prominar 35-BS, the 35-BR telephotos, and these, the 35-BE cine anamorphics. Unfortunately, there are a lot of things I can’t get into yet, but this lens uses the counter-rotating astigmat design, hence the hump on the side. Unlike the Kowa 35-BS 40mm Prominar anamorphic, there is almost zero edge distortion or breathing. These are the only Kowas ever made with this design, and there is almost nothing known about them. There *are* some famous vintage cine lenses that have the exact same optical design and characteristics, but I am waiting to confirm 100% before I say anything here. I have my hunches and others have said they know, but I want facts. Will hopefully get them soon, but until then I have to be vague but my hint may be obvious to some.

Second, the lens itself is in excellent condition for it’s age. Focus is perfect, aperture is perfect, it’s as sharp as it was new, most likely. And these things are 60 years old. On top of that, my copy hasn’t been used in maybe 30 years. These had to have been built by the great lens masters of the time. It still has a double mount with Arri Standard and nac mount (common in Japan vintage cine lenses). My lens has an aperture of T 2.5 and a close focus of 2.5 feet, with both rotating butter smooth. How did I luck out like this?

And speaking of nac, I visited them a few weeks ago to look at their sets. They have the only known rental 35-BE lenses in the world, and they have two sets of them. I compared my 40mm to theirs, and the lens tech was amazed at the condition of mine. They have the same sharpness and mechanic feeling, but the coating is slightly different. They know of one other set owned by a production house in Hokkaido. I know of one through a friend that may be somewhere in Scandinavia. That means there only 4 sets known previously, and I may have the only privately-owned 40mm 35-BE in the world. Crazy. I would love to be proven wrong. I just want more information on these lenses.

The oddest thing is how little information there is about these on the internet. I found a few movies and music videos shot on nac’s sets. But unless somebody who shot with them states it publicly, we have no clue as to haw much has actually been shot on them. I know that Toei Company used these for some of their films back in the day, but there is no “Shot On What” for Japanese vintage cinema. These lenses are absolutely amazing, so why isn’t there more information about them? Well, I’m working on this. I would appreciate any information the internet masses may have as well. I am still gathering as much as I can. I got a bit from my nac visit and a few friends overseas, but nobody has been able to answer my main questions: Why were these made, who made them, and why is there so little information on them?

As for shooting on the lens, it was a bit of a challenge. Initially, I borrowed RAF Camera Arri Standard to PL mount. It fit and locked OK, but the flange was off. With Anamorphic lenses, the flange has to be perfect to get optimal sharpness and focus. I acquired some spacers and was finally able to get perfect infinity focus. I was absolutely floored with the lens’s sharpness, wide open, on the GH5. It was 100% usable as-is, but I wanted something more stable. I tried a few other adapters but ran into multiple issues, so I will stick with the RAF adapter for now. I am looking into getting it adapted to PL, which will be easier than most other lenses. (more on this later) I am slightly afraid to shoot with this lens, as there is no way to replace it whatsoever. But these were meant to shoot, so shoot I must.

I went to my friend’s studio and we did a few basic tests. The lens has a beautiful rainbow halo in strong light. The “X” flare is a result of the focusing mechanism. It will take the color of the strongest light, which looks more natural out on the field. The bokeh is just amazing. I love it. One of the best I have seen in a 40mm lens. Sharpness on these tests are bit off, as I had yet to figure out the proper shim situation then. But trust me, when you get it right it is razor sharp.

I finally arranged a model and I borrowed a S1H to shoot with. I also bought a Polar Pro Basecamp Matte Box, which fits snugly on the front of the Kowa. I was ready to go.


I just wanted to get some basic test shots done that show what the lens can do. I did them all hand held and focused with my wireless follow focus. When doing these kind of test shoots, sometimes I really wish I had a small crew so I could focus more on shooting, but in the end it shows what you can do with the bare minimum of effort. If this is how the lens looks with this kind of test, imagine using it on a proper production.

The bokeh is perfect. The lens is so sharp wide open. The lens takes the flare color of the strongest light. It’s so clean, and yet still has a perfect vintage feel. To me, this is absolutely as good as it gets for anamorphic lenses. I am still in awe that I own this lens. How is this thing 60 years old??? My only issues were all me. I’m still not familiar with the S1H and I forgot a white balance card. This shoot was super fast run-and-gun, but I’m happy with how it came out.

But this is just the beginning of the story. To take a page from Steve Jobs…

“Oh yeah, and one more thing…”

More on this picture soon. That’s all I can say. (Also, none of the lenses here are for sale or will be for sale any time in the near future.)

I would like to thank Alice Iwamoto for helping me out with the shoot. You can find her Instagram here.

Tech Specs:
Panasonic S1H
4K S35 48fps 10 bit
Converted to 24fps
Kowa Anamorphic 35-BE 40mm T 2.5 PL Adapted
PolarPro Basecamp Mattebox
Ikan Life Air Wireless Follow Focus
Atomos Shinobi Monitor

Filmed in Yokohama, Japan
Music made by me in the Launchpad app

JSD LABS: Panasonic GH5 VFR 180fps ver. 2.2 Test – Maihama Skate Park

When the newest GH5 Firmware update came out, it claimed to improve the stability of the VFR. To me, in hope, that was fixing some of the issues that I had earlier with the high speed modes beyond 120fps. We did do a few 120fps shots in Tokyo Dreams and I really didn’t see what everybody was complaining about. I had a few editors not even know it was shot in HD next to the 4K footage. So, with firmware version 2.2 in hand, I set out to Maihama Skate Park in Tokyo to practice skate filming and see if I could break the 180fps mode on the GH5.

I think using the VFR mode well is to know it’s limitations and strengths. Some of the best and cleanest shots were done with a good DoF. I used the 42.5mm f/1.2 Nocticron when I could, and even tried a few shots on my beloved 75mm Cosmicar f/1.4 c-mount lens. I always had the shutter at 180 and used a variable ND until it got too dark. I saw next to no issues with the footage frame wise, but I did not try to push any of the colors in editing. All in all I think I will be doing more slow motion at 180fps and not worry about any problems that seem to keep people from using it. The next step for me is to try and rack focus while filming fast motion. It’s kinda scary, as you could easily end up with nothing in focus, instead of most things in focus.

I am still slowly learning how to film skating properly. I don’t skate, so what I can do filming-wise is limited. I’d love to learn how to be a skate filmer and get to chase on a board, but I can’t risk getting injured or breaking gear right now. Maybe soon?

I was very lucky to get some great skaters for this video. Special thanks to everybody who helped out! And I’m sorry if I filmed you and it’s not in the video. I most likely screwed up the shot somehow.

Skaters in order of appearance:
https://www.instagram.com/charlie_fxtrader/
https://www.instagram.com/uhnair/
https://www.instagram.com/manasasaki_/
https://www.instagram.com/harutosk8/
https://www.instagram.com/shinn_nosuke_/
https://www.instagram.com/kaedesk8/
https://www.instagram.com/shimon_mdaskater/
https://www.instagram.com/luismoravids/
Toa Hoshino
https://www.instagram.com/yutohorigome/
https://www.instagram.com/austinnodie/
https://www.instagram.com/ericskateloveg/
https://www.instagram.com/maxkiks/

Video specs:
Panasonic GH5, firmware ver. 2.2
180fps 1080p VFR
42.5mm f/1.2 Leica Nocticron
12-35mm f/2.8 Panasonic
75mm f/1.4 Cosmicar c-mount
Various variable ND filters

JERHELL – KINGDOM HEARTS Music Video, Directed by JSD

My first real music video in awhile, and my first music video as JSD. Pretty excited to get it out there and the reception has been great!

Jerell wanted something quick and gritty, and he was thrilled with the result. After he told me what he wanted, I knew the perfect setting: Minato Mirai in Yokohama. We filmed half the video in Shinjuku and half at Minato Mirai. I had planned to try and film more in the Cosmo World amusement park, but they closed on days we needed to film and closed early the day we were there. It’s all good, as we got plenty of good footage regardless.

I filmed the video with a special setup using special settings on the GH5. I wanted ALL-I 60p 10-bit video, and my camera can only do that in 1080. Didn’t bother me, as I was going to use an anamorphic lens anyway. I used my Aivascope 1.75x anamorphic lens with the Focuser 8 diopter. Normally it’d be really difficult to use this setup at night, but I discovered that if I use my Voightlander 17.5mm f/0.95 lens in ETC Mode on the GH5, I can get much better images at even f/1.2 with the Aivascope. That lens loves small sensors.

I’m glad I got to help him out with his first real music video. I’ll be working with him and his crew more in the future. Next time we’ll take the quality up a notch. Looking forward to it!

Filming the Eupholks Live at the Basement Bar in Shimokitazawa, Tokyo

I have know the singer of the band Eupholks, Koike, for a few years now. He asked me to film some of his live shows, so I decided to give it a shot. The first time I tried to do a 2 camera shoot by myself… and it didn’t go well. More people showed up than expected and my b-camera was blocked partially or fully for most of the show. So, I acquired some help for the next one and figured… why not do it in anamorphic?

At first I was going to try some kind of 2x/1.33 hybrid, with the wide shots being 1.33 and the close up being 2x. I don’t have a good single-focus setup for 2x yet, so I decided just to borrow an SLR Magic Anamorpot and do the full thing in 1.33.

SLR Magic Anamorphot on the Left, my unbranded 1.33x classic adapter on the right.

I couldn’t get anybody with a GH4 or GH5 to help me, so I decided to try using my Panasonic G7 along with my GH5. I set them to the same settings for video, color, and white balance. The G7 was on the Beholder DS2A with the Panasonic 12-35mm 2.8 and the little 1.33x, and on the GH5 I had the Leica Nocticron 42.5mm 1.2 in ETC mode with the Anamorphot. I also got to try out the  Video IS lock on the GH5 for the first time, which works very well once you learn how to use it.

Unfortunately, filming didn’t go off without a hitch. Jesse, who was helping me film, had the G7 on the gimbal in the back. I didn’t show him how to check if it was recording properly and he missed the first 5 minutes of the show. The G7 didn’t like the combo of low light and the anamorphic, and would hunt occasionally when the lighting was low.

Yeah, I decided to do the whole show in auto focus on both cameras. If I’m gonna experiment with weird setups, why not see how far you can push them? If I could have changed anything, I would have put the Near/Far ring of the Anamorphot on a follow focus. When the camera is barely close enough to get focus with the combo, the auto focus can give up sometimes.

Overall I think they came out good. I kinda like the slow creep into focus the Nocticron did for a few shots, and I think it fits the overall show anyway.

I am looking forward to doing more stuff with Eupholks and other bands. I would love to somehow do a 3-camera anamorphic shoot if I can find the right people and gear.

Anyway, check the videos above for the show!

Eupholks
Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCWvE_UroEu9Q7vzR0oMfI6A
tumblr: https://eupholks.tumblr.com/
bandcamp: https://eupholks.bandcamp.com/
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/eupholks/
Twitter: https://twitter.com/hiroyuki_koike_

Special thanks to Jesse for helping me shoot!
http://iceblock.tv/

https://www.instagram.com/iceblocktv/

JSD Labs: Zhiyun Smooth II, iPhone 7 Plus, and Mavis in Yoyogi Park

A few weeks ago I got a deal on a new Zhiyun Smooth II, the updated version. I had read, though I forget where, that it has really strong motors that let you use clip-on lenses on big phones. While the DJI phone gimbal seems to have good features, I had also heard that people had issues adding extras on their phone. I jumped on this one while I had the chance.

That said, the Smooth II does not lack in features at all. In fact, in this video I only used a small fraction of them, the main being the basic stabilization modes. I’ll try to do some more tests on it when I get a chance, but overall I am very impressed with this gimbal. It’s super solid and takes the same batteries as my Beholder, which is a bonus. The only issue I have with it is that it’s almost too light. For added stability (and more shooting options) I had it attached to a monopod for most of this video.

The big test for this video, however, was Mavis. I wanted to see how hard I could push it during touch and go shooting. Some of the shots pulled out of this session are absolutely amazing. However, there is still a learning curve and process that must be followed to use it correctly. Sometimes you forget that you have a fully manual control and that you have to change the settings manually for each shot. I tried to use the auto settings a few times, or had it set on target mode by mistake, leading to fluctuations of shutter speed or whatever. It was also kind of hard to see the screen in bright light sometimes. I think that with a polarizer filter and slowing down a bit I could consistently get clean shots with this rig. The Smooth II is nice and stiff when using the screen, so working with settings on the fly is easy.

Only issues I encountered overall were using the zoom lens with having the gimbal on the monopod and leaving some setting on Mavis in target mode. The vibrations are too much for the zoom OIS and it was hard to get a clean, steady shot while moving and using the zoom. No issues otherwise. I hope to see how far I can push this setup. Editing and color grading was surprisingly easy for most shots. The 100 MB/s files Mavis gives you have plenty of information to work with. Don’t let your shots get too dark, though. But I think that goes without saying for any kind of mobile video.

Big shoutout once again to Jesse of Ice Block, who let me tag along as he shot some b-roll for his upcoming feature, The Library. Here is the video he shot that day:

Finally, once again the music was made in the Novation Launchpad app. It’s a fantastic app for making worry-free music on the fly.  I have built up a cache of clips to use for future videos and even went and bought some of the sound packs. It’s fun and easy until I can get around to making more 100% original music.

 

Hello Yokohama.

Wasn’t planning for this to be my first upload, but all my main projects are taking more time than I planned for various reasons.

I never get tired of city visuals in Japan.

This was mainly practice using the 1080p  120 fps feature on my Sony RX100IV. I wandered into main areas of Yokohama with the camera on my Beholder DS1 and just filmed whatever. It has no post stabilization and no additional time warping or remapping. Just re-interpolate the 120 fps to 24 fps and this is what you get. Aside some issues with color correcting (something I really need to practice more) I’m about 75% happy with how it came out.

Music was thrown together from something else I was working on rather quickly, so it’s not the best mix. No soundcloud until I make something I’m at LEAST 60% happy with.

Also available on vimeo.