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What lens would I need for these types of shots?

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ryan elder
What lens would I need for these types of shots?
on Aug 21, 2018 at 10:53:34 pm

My DP told me before that for a chase we are going to shoot, we should shoot on long lenses like in Seven Samurai.

However, what focal length were the lenses in that movie? Here are some shot examples:







I am wondering, would a zoom lens that can zoom up to 300mm be good enough, or did they shoot on longer lenses for the more closer up shots? I asked the DP but he says he is not sure how long this would be, as he has never shot on a lens this long before. Does anyone know?


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Aaron Star
Re: What lens would I need for these types of shots?
on Aug 22, 2018 at 7:15:26 pm

Image size is related to your focal plane capture size, which you did not share. Assuming that the clip was shot on 35mm film, the clip looks cropped or "panned and scanned." So the shots are wider than they appear.

The clip was shot before zoom lenses were made, so using a good non-breathing zoom lens would be an easy way to shoot this today. I would just stick with a prime set of lenses, and keep the camera as close as you need to cover the action, based on the lens selection available in the prime set.

When the clip was shot, there were no polarizer filter, or ND, and they likely did not even use color filters for the BW. So the shutter angle and stop can be reversed engineered given that the ISO of film back then was like 25-100 (remember development time can be manipulate the ISO.) The shots are in bright sunlight, so the light source is known.

Depending on how wide your action is, a set of lenses 15,25,35,50,85, and adding a 135 would be good options to have. Since the clips look to be 25mm - 85mm in bright sunlight, the stop would have been pretty high like T8 or more. This would make the depth of field large enough to handle the longer lens work.

When you start shooting long lens work, your 1AC makes a big difference, so keeping the stop high will help bridge a gap in skill.


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ryan elder
Re: What lens would I need for these types of shots?
on Aug 22, 2018 at 7:26:38 pm

Okay thanks, but I cannot shoot it the way you suggested while on a tripod.

Cause if I shoot on a non-telephoto lens like say an 85mm and get close to the actor as they are running, they are going to run to far away and the tripod will not be able keep up with them.

By shooting on a long telephoto lens, you have a more room in tripod panning that you can follow an actor running for an entire football field, and the actor will not get far away, like in Seven Samurai.

If I shoot on a wider lens like an 85, the 85 is not long enough to cover an entire football field of running while panning the camera. So I still need a much longer lens to cover that ground, don't I?


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ryan elder
Re: What lens would I need for these types of shots?
on Aug 22, 2018 at 7:28:06 pm

On a fully frame camera, and say I didn't want to pan and scan, what lens would I need to cove an entire football field of running, while panning with the actor, and the actor not getting too far away?


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ryan elder
Re: What lens would I need for these types of shots?
on Aug 22, 2018 at 7:51:00 pm

Also you say to use a prime lens instead of zoom, but why a prime, since with a zoom, I can adjust the zoom if needed?


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Aaron Star
Re: What lens would I need for these types of shots?
on Aug 22, 2018 at 8:43:37 pm

Action scenes are normally an assembly of a lot of different angles and lens sizes. The clip you posted has a wide variety of angles and distances from the lenses.

The closest shot I see in the clip may have been a 85-135mm, with the actor is riding the horse about 10-20 feet away from the panning camera.

Akira Kurosawa used multiple cameras to film action sequences. So there are cameras hidden inside the huts you see in the wide shot, and then probably angles that needed to be "picked up" better after the action was completed ( like the CU on the horse rider.)

Telephoto is an odd camera term. Generally telephoto means the any lens greater than the following:

16mm standard 4:3 / ~2/3" sensor = 24mm
35mm Academy aperture / 35mm motion picture vertical / DX sensor = 35mm
35mm Full Frame / 35mm still film sideways = 50mm


Your questions are all things your DP should be handling for you. That is why you are outsourcing/delegating your photography to them. As a director, I would just do your storyboard and determine image size there, and let the camera department determine how to achieve that image.

In reference to zoom vs prime, I would do some research as to why you use one over the other.


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ryan elder
Re: What lens would I need for these types of shots?
on Aug 22, 2018 at 9:01:17 pm

Okay thanks. What about the focal length, where the old samurai is running in the clip, at 0:24 into the clip?

My DP has never used lenses this long on a project yet, so he is doesn't know how long these lenses are. What about the one at 0:24 into the clip, is that a 135mm?


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Aaron Star
Re: What lens would I need for these types of shots?
on Aug 22, 2018 at 9:52:24 pm

Depending on the distance from camera, I would say that shot is 100mm+ based on the background compression.


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ryan elder
Re: What lens would I need for these types of shots?
on Aug 22, 2018 at 9:55:35 pm

Okay thanks, that helps a lot. Now you said before that me and my DP should use prime lenses over zooms, right?

However, I don't really see a big difference in quality with primes over zooms in my experience in the past. The only reason why primes look better, is if you open them up to a wide aperture. Otherwise, at a closed aperture, they seem to look the same as zooms in my opinion. Unless I am missing something?


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ryan elder
Re: What lens would I need for these types of shots?
on Aug 24, 2018 at 6:29:11 pm

Actually I may have misunderstood. It was said before that the shots in the movie were pan and scanned. So when you say that it is 100mm plus, do you mean for a full frame camera, or for a pan and scanned image?


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