I have come across mention of the “Hollywood 28” cinema prime lens a few times lately in Fujifilm websites and online fora discussing what lenses need to be added to Fujifilm’s XF lens roadmap now that the company is taking video production more seriously, so I began investigating this legendary lens.
Vintage manual focus lenses remain popular in video production and less so amongst stills photographers, with the available pool steadily drying up resulting in prices continuing to rise.
The most popular and common vintage manual lenses remain those made made for 35mm analog film cameras, though prime and zoom lenses made for medium format roll film cameras are no longer the relatively affordable sleeping giants they were a few years ago.
Bargains could still be found in flea markets throughout Europe until the COVID-19 pandemic, but eBay now seems to be destination number one for buyers and sellers, accompanied by an increase in asking prices.
Chinese lens companies continue to release more manual focus lenses in common focal lengths but are slowly turning their attention to less common focal lengths and quirkier lens designs, following the fine lead set by Venus Optics and its Laowa brand some years ago.
It may only be a matter of time that the supply of great vintage lenses dries up or becomes affordable only for professional movie production, and Chinese lens makers may then be poised to became the new default for lens affordability, character and quirkiness.
Character and quirkiness have been proposed as key features of at least one consumer version of the Hollywood 28, the Zeiss Contax Zeiss T* Distagon 28mm f/2.0 with Contax/Yashica mount that was made in Germany with the designation of AEG.
Later versions of this lens were made in Japan with the designation MMJ, reportedly without the same 6-blade iris that resulted in “ninja star” bokeh at f/2.8 and with the smallest f-stop painted white instead of green.
Views of the desirability of this ninja-star feature, or bug, are mixed and online fora such as FM Forums are good places to read the pros and cons.
My interest in this lens
Accounts by users of the Zeiss Contax and the Pentax Hollywood 28 lenses suggest that their character and quirks such as ninja star bokeh can be beneficial in narrative-style documentary video and photographic portraiture.
Event documentary photography and video relies more on plenty of well-depicted detail right across the frame, foreground to background, left to right, which is why I swapped 35mm cameras for Micro Four Thirds as well as APS-C/Super 35.
For me, the documentary photography sweet spot is in the latter two sensor formats with non-quirky lenses though I would love to make portraits in digital medium format had I the means right now.
Given that, the alternative is to enlarge images made with smaller formats with Topaz Labs’ Gigapixel AI for print and exhibition work and hope it is effective enough.
Wikipedia’s ‘Normal lens‘ page defines one as “a lens that reproduces a field of view that appears ‘natural’ to a human observer. In contrast, depth compression and expansion with shorter or longer focal lengths introduces noticeable, and sometimes disturbing, distortion.”
Wikipedia later states that “for a 35mm camera with a diagonal of 43mm, the most commonly used normal lens is 50mm, but focal lengths between about 40 and 58mm are also considered normal.”
Due to the decades-long standardization of 50mm as normal for 35mm, I prefer to refer to it as “standard normal”.
Perfect normal in documentary photography
Given a choice between the two normals, I always choose perfect over standard as 50mm and its equivalents feel just a little too like a short telephoto for my up-close and personal approach to documentary photography and portraiture.
I currently have two perfect normal near-40mm equivalent lenses, Fujifilm’s Fujinon XF 27mm f/2.8 and an adapted vintage manual-focus Panagor PMC Auto 28mm f/2.8 M42-mount lens and each has its pros and cons.
I approach documentary and portrait photography partly as exercises in helping viewers feel as if they are standing in the same place as I was, seeing an feeling the same things, and I choose lenses on that basis.
“Perfect normal” lenses work well when I can choose my subject-to-camera distance and am not constrained by dense crowds.
Dense crowds are when I choose a 28mm-equivalent medium wide-angle as my standard, though I have been known to pick a 21mm-equivalent lens when I need my viewers to feel as if they are right in the middle of a mass of people.
I am really looking forward to Fujifilm releasing its coming Fujilux-style Fujinon XF 18mm f/1.4 lens sometime early in 2021, making my new core set of documentary focal lengths 14mm, 18mm, 27mm and 50mm in APs-C/Super 35, or 21mm, 28mm, 40mm and 75mm in 35mm sensor format aka “full frame” or “full format”.
I do not use either “full frame” or “full format”, though, as they are the product of marketing men and not fact-based, and instead will refer to 35mm from here on in.
The same applies to the equally silly marketing-man term of “crop sensor” – if we are talking about sensors smaller than 35mm such as APS-C or Micro Four Thirds then let’s call them by those names.
The Fujinon XF 27mm f/2.8 pancake lens for documentary photography
Patrick DiVino’s excellent Fuji Rumors website tells us that Fujifilm will be releasing an updated version of the Fujinon XF 27mm f/2.8 alongside the Fujifilm X-E4 rangefinder-style camera sometime in the first half of 2021.
It remains to be seen what the new 27mm lens will look like, but it is likely that it will be similar to the current version but with the addition of an aperture ring.
I acquired a copy of the current 27mm f/2.8 lens over a year ago and have used it to document events and make portrait photographs most often in conjunction with other Fujinon lenses as well as using it as the only lens on my camera when appropriate.
The following events were shot entirely on the 27mm lens:
- Unititled.Net – Global Strike for Future by Extinction Rebellion in Sydney on May 24, 2019
- Unititled.Net – Women’s March Sydney at Hyde Park in Sydney on January 20, 2019
Although I have yet to purchase one for myself, I recommend the SquareHood lens hood for the Fujinon XF 27mm f/2.8 in order to provide physical protection and to reduce lens flare and halation when pointing toward light sources.
At present I am using a couple of other brands of screw-in 39mm diameter lens hoods but a SquareHood is well overdue for my XF 27mm f/2.8 given I am now carrying it every day.
I have yet to use the XF 27mm f/2.8 for video due to:
- 39mm filter diameter – I have standardized on 82mm diameter fixed and variable neutral density and other filters for video, and stacking step-up rings from 39mm to 82mm risks damaging the lens due to their weight.
- Lack of clicking/declicked aperture ring – Apertures on the current 27mm lens must be set via command dial but a built-in aperture ring is optimal for “riding” exposure while shooting, especially in available light and darkness.
- Narrow fly-by-wire focusing ring – Although I have used the current 27mm lens’ focusing ring for critical manual focus when making portraits with the aperture almost wide open, pulling focus is difficult and using focus pulling devices is impossible.
The Fujinon 27mm f/2.8 lens’ 40.5mm equivalent focal length is near as damn it to the “perfect normal” 40mm focal length that should have been adopted by Oskar Barnack of Leitz when he developed the Ur-Leica, the very first Leica 35mm film camera.
Instead he picked up a 50mm that was already lying around in his workshop and so 50mm “standard normal” lenses became the accidental defacto prime lenses supplied with most new 35mm cameras.
Leica finally produced a 40mm lens for the Leica CL, Leitz Minolta CL and later Minolta CLE compact analog film rangefinder cameras, the former often described as “the most Leica-ish of Leica cameras” and the latter as “the best rangefinder camera Leica never made”.
Special 28mm and 90mm lenses were also made for the CL and CLE which could also use most other M-Series lenses, and vice versa.
An excellent companion focal length: the Minolta Rokkor-M 40mm f/2.0 for Leica CL, Leitz Minolta CL & Minolta CLE
Leica Summicron-C 40mm f/2.0 and Minolta Rokkor-M 40mm f/2.0 lenses remain in demand in the online secondhand market and I would love one for myself for adapting to a range of mirrorless lenses.
No version of the lens or its intended cameras, Leica CL, Leitz Minolta CL or Minolta CLE, were available locally where I was living when relying on Leica rangefinder cameras for my professional work, but had I known about them I most likely would have added a Minolta CLE plus its 28mm, 40mm and 90mm three-lens set to my kit for discrete documentary photography.
The 40mm focal length seems to have been mostly forgotten about by manufacturers these days but Cosina makes a number of different 40mm lenses in several different lens mounts under the Voigtländer brand name while Sigma recently released its Sigma 40mm f/1.4 DG HSM | Art prime for several mounts alongside the Sigma 28mm f/1.4 DG HSM | Art prime for the same lens mounts.
The contrast in size between Cosina, Leica and Minolta’s 28mm and 40mm lenses compared to Sigma’s could not be bigger, attributable in part to Sigma’s two lenses being autofocusing DSLR-style designs rather than native mirrorless lenses.
There is something about the matching up and the spacing in focal lengths of the three lens set that Leica then Minolta specially made for the CL then CLE that really speaks to me for documentary photography especially for documentary video.
With that trio of 28, 40 and 90mm in 35mm, or 18, 28 and 60mm in APS-C/Super 35, I feel as if I could tackle damned near anything well, though I would always have a 21mm in 35mm, that is, a 14mm in APS-C/Super 35, handy for those special shots that get close and personal and try to say it all.
The Panagor PMC Auto 28mm f/2.8 M42-mount manual focus lens for documentary photography
So for me, the perfect normal of 28mm (or 40mm) is the pivot of a perfect set of prime lenses for documentary work.
I bought M42-to-X adapter from Gobe, now renamed Urth, for my Panagor PMC Auto 28mm f/2.8 last year for use in portraiture and documentary stills on my X-Pro2 and a loaner Fujifilm X-H2.
The images above, which are not multiple exposures, are colour versions from the project below, shot with the 28mm and a 50mm plus a Fujinon XF 16mm f/2.8 R WR.
- Unititled.Net – Rule Out Adani GHD Rally in Sydney on October 22, 2019
Can you pick which ones were made with the 28mm lens?
Due to being staged inside and outside the ground floor of a shaded inner city office building, this protest gave me the opportunity to explore multiple layers of reflections of people and scenes both sides of the glass.
I found it easy to rapidly flip through all the possible planes of focus with the Panagor 28 than I have when making the same sort of photographs with autofocus lenses, though it is a little faster and easier with manual clutch focus-equipped lenses than with fly-by-wire only lenses.
I use both lenses for portraiture in narrow-beam, minimal lighting and find it easier to nail perfect focus on, say, just one eye manually than with autofocus lenses.
Other versions of the “Hollywood 28”
All these lenses reportedly have the classic “9 elements in 8 groups with one floating element for close focusing” of Dr Glatzel’s original design in common.
Only one of them is currently in production, the high-priced Zeiss CP.3 XD 28mm T2.1, and the others can only be purchased secondhand with prices for all of them constantly rising due to demand from moviemakers of all backgrounds.
It is becoming even harder to assemble full sets of matched vintage manual-focus primes nowadays, so you may need to look towards the growing band of Chinese, Korean and Japanese lens makers.
Some possible alternatives to the “Hollywood 28” for Super 35/APS-C or 35mm aka “full frame” sensors
Although I have yet to discover the complete optical design, glass and coating recipe that led to the qualities for which the “Hollywood 28” is sp beloved, surely a large part of its success is in its optical formula of 9 elements in 8 groups plus 1 floating element.
None of the lenses above share that formula.
Samples by Paul Leeming from his Contax T* 28mm f/2.0 “Hollywood 28” prime lens with Contax/Yashica lens mount
Screen grabs reduced down to 1920 pixels wide from 4K originals.
Mr Leeming uses this doll’s head to make the footage used to create his celebrated Leeming LUT Pro LUTs due to its accurate skin colour and skin-like translucence.
He tells me that the Contax 28mm f/.20 “does have a very movie-like rendering quality to it, probably more so because it’s wide angle for a movie lens and it has that famed Zeiss 3D ‘pop’ (it’s why I bought most of the fast Contax Zeiss primes).”
“ECU1 is the nicest example I guess, showing how 3D the image is, plus the cool ‘ninja star’ bokeh at f2.8 of the older AE version of the lens (as opposed to the MM version which ditched the ninja stars).”
“ECU1” is the first image in the gallery above, and he is referring to AEG version of the lens that was made in Germany and the MMJ version that was later made in Japan.
I strongly recommend looking into Paul’s Leeming LUT Pro look-up table sets for your cameras so long as you adopt the ETTR – expose to the right – exposure method.
Paul Leeming’s rig used to shoot the Contax T* 28mm f/2.0 “Hollywood 28” samples above
Screen grabs reduced down to 1920 pixels wide from 4K originals.
Paul adapts his set of Zeiss Contax fast primes to a range of cameras, sensor sizes and lens mounts, and has directed and photographed a number of feature films and event videos with them over the years, ample testimony to their suitability as hardy professional-quality optics.
Links: articles & reviews
- 35mmc – Leica 40mm f/2 Summicron Lens Review
- AllPhotoLenses – Carl Zeiss Distagon T* 28 mm f/ 2 C/Y Lens, Nikon Nikkor 28 mm f/ 2 Ai-S Lens, Nikon Nikkor 28 mm f/ 2 Ai Lens, Nikon Nikkor-N.C Auto 28 mm f/ 2 non-Ai Lens
- CineD – How to Cine-Mod old Contax Zeiss Lenses from eBay on a Budget
- DPReview Forums – The Pentax Distagon 28mm f/2
- EOSHD – $60 Pentax that’s actually a $800 Zeiss by designer of Stanley Kubrick’s NASA glass
- Fred Miranda Forums – Zeiss Contax AEJ vs MMJ what’s the difference?
- ILoveHatePhotography – A Comprehensive Guide to Camera Lens Design and Zeiss Nomenclature
- KenRockwell.com – Nikon 28mm f/2 NIKKOR F, AI and AI-s (1970-2005)
- Lens-DB.com – Carl Zeiss Distagon HFT 28mm f/2 – made with QBM mount for Rollei 35mm film cameras. This site is an excellent reference for lenses.
- Light and Sound – Hollywood 28mm: Distagon vs Distagon
- MFlenses.com – Distagon 25/1,4 and a Distagon 18/2,8
- Ming Thein – Long term review: The Carl Zeiss ZF.2 2/28 Distagon T*
- Mir.com – Information on Nikkor 28mm f/2.0 Lens – “Optically, this fast speed Nikkor wideangle lens has a 9 elements in 8 group in its optical composition. This optical arrangement has never been revised since its first phase of development from 1971 all the way through the latest AI-S version.”
- Nikon F Collection and Typology, by Richard de Stoutz – NIKKOR-N·C Auto 1:2 f=28mm 320040
- Noam Kroll – 28mm Lenses: The Secret Ingredient For Achieving A Film Look – “Spielberg, Scorsese, Orson Welles, Malick, and many other A-list directors are have cited the 28mm lens as one of their most frequently used and in some cases a favorite…. a 28mm lens on a Super 35mm sensor is really the sweet spot…”
- Noam Kroll – Many Iconic Directors Have Shot Their Feature Films With Just A Single Prime Lens – Here’s Why.
- Optical Limits – Nikkor Ai-S 28mm f/2 – Review / Lab Test Report
- Optical Limits – Zeiss Distagon T* 28mm f/2 ZF (ZE) (on Canon EOS) – Lab Test / Review
- Pebble Place – Contax T* 28mm F2 Distagon Lens
- Pentax User – FS: Pentax K 28mm f2.0 – the Zeiss designed floating element model
- Peta Pixel – Grandson of Famed Zeiss Designer Owns ‘Holy Grail’ Collection of Glass
- PhillipReeve.net – Review: Contax Zeiss Distagom 2.0/28 T* AEG (C/Y)
- REDUser – The Contax Zeiss Survival Guide
- REDUser – The Contax Lens Guide, 2015 Edition
- SLR Lens Review – Carl Zeiss Distagon T* 28mm f/2 (C/Y) Lens Review
- VintageLenses.com – Zeiss T* 28mm f2 ‘Hollywood’ – “Consisting of 9 elements in 8 groups, the 2/28 design implements a floating element, resulting in better closeup performance.”
- WayBackMachine – page from Zeiss Historica on Dr Erhard Glatzel.
- Wikipedia – Carl Zeiss Planar 50mm f/0.7 – … – “In total there were only 10 lenses made. One was kept by Carl Zeiss, six were sold to NASA, and three were sold to Kubrick.”
- Wikipedia – Erhard Glatzel – German version of Wikipedia.
- Wikipedia – Normal lens
- Wikipedia – Wide-angle lens
- YouTube.com – search results for this lens.
- Zeiss – ZEISS Photography
- B&H – ZEISS CP.3 XD 28mm T2.1 Compact Prime Lens – cinema prime reportedly made with the same optical design as the “Hollywood 28”.
- Camera Warehouse – Zeiss Distagon T* 28mm f2.0 ZF.2 Nikon Mount Lens – although Zeiss has sadly discontinued its legendary ZF.2 and ZE.2 prime lenses, rare examples may still be in stock at retailers around the world, such as this one in Sydney.
- KamLan – 28mm F/1.4 Manual Lens
- Leeming LUT Pro – “Leeming LUT Pro™ is the world’s first unified, corrective Look Up Table ( LUT ) system for supported cameras, designed to maximise dynamic range, fix skin tones, remove unwanted colour casts and provide an accurate Rec709 starting point for further creative colour grading.”
- SquareHood – SquareHood for XF 27mm f/2.8
- Urth, formerly Gobe – eco-friendly Byron Bay-based makers of lens adapters and camera filters.