Filmmaker Hans von Sonntag directed a film, called Love Us, in the unforgiving light of Tenerife. The shoot tested the capabilities of the Canon Sumire Prime series cine lenses to deliver a classic cinematic look.

It doesn't take a long conversation with filmmaker Hans von Sonntag to discover he's passionate about his art and his kit. He obsesses about all the technical details of every shoot to ensure he's using the right equipment to tell the story. So when he says the Canon EOS C700 FF and Canon Sumire Prime cine lenses delivered exactly the look he wanted to the standard he demanded, on a shoot with particularly challenging lighting conditions, you know Canon's kit hit the spot.

His knowledge and love of lenses, especially – everything from rare and exotic retro glass right through to the latest cinema primes – makes Hans a most particular DOP who knows exactly what he wants. This is thanks to years of experience of shooting and now also lecturing in filmmaking.

He's a mine of information when it comes to bokeh, flare, resolving power, aberrations, colour and everything else a lens has to offer. He also edits many of his own films, to ensure complete control of the look he's after to tell the story. That means any new lenses have to be good to impress him, and Hans was certainly impressed with his time using the Canon Sumire Prime series cine lenses. "They have a distinctive, vintage look that's ideal for certain projects," Hans says.

A cinematographer looks into the viewfinder of a tripod-mounted Canon EOS C700 FF camera with Sumire Prime cine lens.
Hans praised the Canon Sumire Prime series lenses, noting their three-dimensionality, attractive bokeh and freedom from lens distortions.
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Selecting lenses for the look they produce is a far cry from when Hans started out. A momentous occasion in world history was the catalyst that turned him into a filmmaker: he was in Berlin when the wall came down in November 1991, and stayed awake for 48 hours straight to document this historic event.

Although he still shoots some documentaries, Hans is best known in the world of directing, writing and being a DOP of commercials and dramatic, scripted films. Choosing the right lenses to get a look that has a vintage flavour but is still thoroughly modern is key to a beautiful, cinematic film, he says.

Today, Hans most often shoots on the latest Super35 cameras, but he chose the full-frame Canon EOS C700 FF for his shoot with the new Canon Sumire Primes to investigate large-format shooting with the unique new lenses, and to take advantage of the camera's wide dynamic range.

"Full frame is a completely new thing for me – an interesting experience," he says. "The depth of field can be very shallow, so keeping focus can be pretty hard when you're shooting wide open like I was a lot in Tenerife."

Hans's project involved shooting a film called Love Us. In it, a young couple borrow a car and have fun under the blazing hot sun. They visit an old chapel and the majestic landscape of the island, taking photos of each other using a camera that had been left in the car. They then return the car with the camera in it, leaving the owner to discover the photos.

As well as capturing gentle moments of tenderness and fun, Hans had to manage the incredible contrast of the bright midday sun and the dusty, rocky landscape of Tenerife.

"The Sumire Prime lenses have an obvious three-dimensionality," he says, "and great bokeh which is round and colourful. Also, they can do 'cat-eye' bokeh, which is an oval bokeh that sometimes happens at the edge of a frame. I like it – it's very, very nice."

Bokeh is only really noticeable when lenses are used at the maximum aperture, and for the shoot Hans shot the Canon CN-E35mm T1.5 FP X lens wide open for the majority of the shots, to give separation between the subjects and the striking landscape, which could easily have distracted from the scene.

The opening scene sees the couple hitchhiking in front of some of the peaks on the island, and is a real-world demonstration of the unique properties the Canon CN-E35mm T1.5 FP X lens, shot wide open, can offer. "On the long shot there is a distinct difference in depth of field compared to other lenses," Hans says. Many lenses would flatten such a shot, he explains, but the Canon Sumire Primes deliver a distinct three-dimensionality, which directors love because it draws the viewer more into the picture.

Using the camera's built-in ND filters to drop the light levels, Hans fully explored the unique look of the lenses in terms of sharpness, dimensionality and the gentle fall-off of focus.

"Some lenses perform the same at all apertures. But the Sumire Prime lenses change their behaviour according to the aperture," he says. "When you set the iris wide open, the perceived sharpness remains but there is much more forgiveness around skin tones compared to some lenses, which lose all their sharpness.

Hans von Sonntag and film crew at work inside a deserted chapel, with glaring light streaming in through the open windows and doorways.
A key sequence was filmed inside a deserted chapel with glaring sunshine streaming through the windows, testing the dynamic range of the Canon EOS C700 FF as well as the Canon Sumire Prime cine lenses.
A couple stand in an abandoned chapel with deep shadows and bright highlights.
Hans used the Canon CN-E14mm T3.1 FP X lens to capture scenes featuring architecture, such as this deserted chapel. The lens's optical design helps prevent perspective distortion in the straight vertical lines of buildings.
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"Wide open, the CN-E35mm T1.5 FP X lens does show minor vignetting, but this is nice, because this plays into the idea of the vintage lens look. Of course, the CN-E85mm T1.3 FP X naturally doesn't do it that much, and the CN-E14mm T3.1 FP X is for different needs and doesn't show any vignetting. It's a different design," he says. "It's amazing and in terms of distortion, there's nothing to see."

Hans used the Canon CN-E14mm T3.1 FP X lens to capture some of the architecture, such as the deserted chapel the couple visit. The optical design keeps the verticals of the buildings straight rather than bowing, as can happen on non-corrected super-wide lenses. "We shot all the lenses in harsh, challenging conditions, wide open. We took them to the limits, and when you bring a lens to the limits then it will show slight aberrations," Hans explains. However, he adds, "the 14mm has no barrel distortion at all. It's a full rectilinear design."

Hans is also impressed with how the Canon Sumire Prime cine lenses handle flare, especially the Canon CN-E35mm T1.5 FP X and Canon CN-E85mm T1.3 FP X, which were used for many of the mid-length and tight shots. This was particularly apparent on one of the film's most spectacular shots, where the sun-drenched couple are above the clouds on top of one of the mountains.

"The sun is not burning out, thanks to the dynamic range of the Canon EOS C700 FF. And you can see the lovely flares. The shot is tack sharp, even wide open."

A still from the film Love Us shows a couple walking along a mountaintop with clouds below, and sun flare showing.
This still from the film shows "the lovely flares" from the Canon CN-E35mm T1.5 FP X and Canon CN-E85mm T1.3 FP X that Hans adored in the romantic mountaintop scene above the clouds.

"The Sumire Primes don't flare like old lenses, which you have to keep in shadow," he says. "When you point them at a light source, they do exhibit a distinct flare that's quite vintage-y, so it fits with the look."

Hans also praises the light weight of the Sumire Prime cine lenses, their rugged build quality, and their ease of use thanks to the consistent sizing, especially the consistent 300-degree focus throw that proved very smooth, with just the right resistance.

But he keeps coming back to the look they gave. "In some shoots, you want something with a gritty feeling and need lots of flares, rather than specific sharpness," says Hans. "That's brilliant for these kinds of lenses.

"These lenses are kind of a modern interpretation of the best vintage lenses out there. They deliver plenty of sharpness but they still have this, well, vintage personality, and that is what many, many of us are after."

Written by Adam Duckworth


Hans von Sonntag's kitbag

The key kit for pro filmmaking

A Canon EOS C700 FF camera with Sumire Prime cine lens.

Camera

Canon EOS C700 FF

Canon's next generation Full Frame CMOS sensor records 5.9K with oversampling for exceptionally high quality 4K footage. "Full frame is a completely new thing for me,” says Hans, noting that even in bright shots "the sun is not burning out, thanks to the dynamic range of the Canon EOS C700 FF – and you can see the lovely flares. The shot is tack sharp, even wide open."

Lenses

Canon CN-E35mm T1.5 FP X

A Sumire Prime cine lens, offering fast aperture and precise manual control with a crafted focus bokeh aimed at careful creative expression. Hans says: "Wide open, the CN-E35mm T1.5 FP X lens does show some vignetting, which plays into the idea of the vintage lens look."

Canon CN-E85mm T1.3 FP X

A Sumire Prime cine lens with exceptionally beautiful bokeh and impressive low light performance. "These lenses are kind of a modern interpretation of the best vintage lenses out there," says Hans.

CN-E14mm T3.1 FP X

A super-wide lens in the Sumire Prime cine lens range, offering a specially designed cinematic look, subtly modifying textural renderings for pleasing bokeh with superb expressiveness. "It's a totally different design," Hans says. "In terms of distortion, there's nothing to see."

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