The Zoom innovations at Angénieux

The zoom reference of the industry

The Zoom: a Complex Optical and Mechanical Architecture

The introduction of every new lens is prompted by the needs of their users, namely directors of photography. As the paramount users, cinematographers can best indicate the new tools capable of meeting their needs in artistic and ergonomic terms. These requirements are also juxtaposed with the economic constraints of Angénieux customers, primarily film equipment rental companies, production companies and TV channels. The solutions put forward must help ensure the profitability of their investment. The role of a lens designer is to translate all of the needs expressed in terms for technical specifications such as focal length, ratio, aperture, weight, size and acceptable or desired degree of aberration. The final choice of specifications for a new lens is therefore always the result of a long process of study to find the best possible balance and compromise between technical characteristics, optical performance, ergonomics and the constraints of weight, volume and cost. In a zoom each lens—traditionally concave, convex or cylindrical in shape, convergent or divergent—will involve its set of aberrations. The success of a good optical architecture hinges entirely on the various aberrations compensating for one another in the end to obtain a perfectly correct image. The first step in the mechanical design of a zoom is the construction of an architecture compatible with the optical solution envisaged as regards the size and position of lenses, the number, position and arrangement of moving parts, adjustment mechanisms, and type of mounting. Numerous exchanges of views then take place between the optical and mechanical teams to hone this design and arrive at a high-performance article that is viable in terms of production. Once the optical combination has been finalized, all the mechanical components are specified very precisely to develop plans for their manufacture. The different lens elements are housed in barrels, which can be fixed or fitted into sleeves.

The focusing mechanisms are located in the heart of the zoom. The spirally grooved cam shaft ensures that rotation of the outer guide slides the lens groups in the structure of the zoom. This function still employs the basic principle developed by Angénieux. Performance has been greatly improved by the use of new materials and new technologies for the machining of aluminum alloys. The iris or diaphragm is located at the rear of zoom as well as a mount for attachment to the camera. The other mechanical parts include the casing elements that incorporate the marks engraved on the moving parts, namely the focusing and aperture rings.

The 16mm Format sets the Standard for News and Documentaries

Angénieux signed an agreement with the American manufacturers Bell & Howell for the distribution of its 4x zoom for 16mm film cameras in 1957. It was, however, precisely in this period that the amateur film market underwent radical change.

“The first zoom we designed was a 4 to 1 and the idea was to make a zoom lens for Bell & Howell 16mm amateur. They were selling an amazing number of 16mm cameras each month to amateurs, but it was just at that time they came out with the electric eye, so 8mm became the thing for amateurs (there was no Super 8 yet) and within few years 16mm was dead as an amateur format. The result was that our plan to make a great many zoom lenses for the 16mm amateur market was never materialized. However, that was probably the best thing that could have happened to us, because now we are essentially involved in supplying optics for professional.”

Angénieux chief executive Jean Moret, in an interview with Herb Lightman, American Cinematographer, March 1975

The range of zooms produced by Angénieux as from 1957 to meet the demands of this new amateur market comprised of a 4x, a 9-36 f/1.4 and 1.8, a 7.5-35 f/1.8, and a 6.5-52 f/1.8 for 8mm cameras followed by an 8-64 and a 6-90 for Super 8. Bell & Howell then promoted Angénieux 16mm zooms for professional filmmakers.
“The new lens is ideal for achieving special pictorial or compositional effects and for giving impact to the action scenes. In filming baseball game, for example, the wide angle setting can provide overall coverage of most of the playing field enabling the camera to see the plays develop. When the action becomes localized, you instantly zoom in for a dramatic closeup... For the 16mm travel film photographer the zoom lens can be particularly useful. In filming a market place, for example, he can make a wide establishing shot, then quickly zoom to telephoto position for revealing close-ups of people and interesting details within the scene.”

Joseph Henry, on the Bell & Howell/Angenieux 17-68 in American Cinematographer, March 1958

1958, the First 35mm Zoom for Cinema, the 35-140 f/3.5

In the late 1950s, Pierre Angénieux designed a version of his 4x zoom adapted for the 35 mm movie camera. The prototype of the 35-140 mm was first used in 1958 to shoot Claude Boissol’s Julie la Rousse and then Marc Allégret’s Les Affreux, both photographed by Roger Fellous (AFC).

“In some way, the concept of the 35-140 was revolutionary. First, the focusing group was an inverted cemented doublet in order to correct the field aberrations at short focal lengths. Each element of variator and compensator is composed of three lenses: one single lens and a cemented doublet in order to compensate field aberrations at short focal lengths and spherical and chromatic aberrations at long focal lengths. The rear group begins with a thick lens in order to compensate remaining astigmatism and also allowed to reach the necessary back focal distance of the camera. Today we can calculate the MTF of this zoom and we can appreciate the performances reached by Pierre Angénieux. It’s remarkable that this zoom was designed with manual calculations and logarithm tables, not with computers.”

Jacques Debize

1961, the First 10x Zoom for 16mm Cameras, the 12-120 f/2.2 A new revolution came in 1961, when Angénieux presented the first 10x zoom, an F=12-120mm f/2.2 for 16mm film cameras designed over the period 1958–1960. The launch of the 12-120 coincided with the appearance on the market of lighter 16mm cameras offering more freedom for hand-held shooting. This new equipment made new forms of filming possible. TV channels all over the world for news and documentaries used the 16mm zooms. They were also to triumph in the world of cinema. The documentary genre called Direct Cinema originated in the United States and Canada in the early 1960s. The Canadian Michel Brault, one of its pioneers, stated in an interview with the BBC that 1960 was the year when it all began. In the new world where TV had come to compete with cinema, the practitioners of Direct Cinema took up the zoom to film more quickly and capture the new reality.
1962, the First 10x Zoom for 35mm Movie Cameras, the 25-250mm f/3.2 The 10x version for 35 mm appeared in 1962, a 25-250mm f/3.2 T3.9 that was to become the benchmark for shooting with 35mm film for nearly two decades. Angénieux also brought out a 24-240mm and a 20-120mm. This 10x zoom, a key invention in the history of the cinema, was to have a great influence on the cinematographic style of an entire generation. It was widely used on full-length films and documentaries for nearly 23 years until the improved 25-250 HP version appeared in 1985.

“I’ve been shooting with Angénieux zoom lenses for 35 years. I started in 16mm and owned several. Now I own most of them in 35mm. I’ve always been very fond of Angénieux lenses because of the look and the very useful focal lengths that they have. For example, I used the 9.5-57mm for many years in documentaries, and I thought it was an excellent lens. It was very high speed. The wide-angle coverage and the length was perfect for documentary work. I also liked the 12-120mm. It has become a classic and worked on many productions. When I started to do features, the 25-250 was the only practical zoom lens around. Then it was improved with the HR version, it became one of my all-time favorite lenses, and I still have it 20 or more years later.”

Kees Von Oostrum, President of ASC – American Society of Cinematographers

The Optimo 24-290, aka “the Hollywood Lens”

The Optimo 24-290 was launched in 2001 and enjoyed immediate success on the market. It became the favorite zoom of numerous filmmakers for shooting full-length movies as well as advertisements and TV series. It was soon very popular in Hollywood for filming both inside and outside the studio. With a constant aperture of T2.8, exceptional optical performance, and a very limited degree of breathing, it was approved by directors of photography and used to, not only zoom, but also replace a whole series of lenses with fixed focal length. The popularity of the Optimo 24-290 on sets in Los Angeles was such that it came to be called “the Hollywood lens.” Angénieux followed up this success in 2004 with the new Optimo 17-80 T2.2, a wide-angle studio zoom with a ratio of 4.7x. At 5.5 kg, this lens is much more manageable than the 24-290, which weighs 11kg. Directors of fiction films were particularly pleased by its ability to cover the entire range of the most commonly used primes and adopted it very quickly. The Optimo 17-80 is also the ideal lens for shooting from a crane.

“I was in charge of developing the Optimo 24-290 with my teams in 2000. I had already been with Angénieux for 14 years and this was my first movie camera zoom. To be quite frank, our aim was basically to do as well as the Primo 24-275 T 2.8 just brought out by Panavision, which was establishing itself in the United States. With respect to our own 25-250 HR, the goal was only to improve the vignetting at short focal length, limit or even eliminate ramping at long focal length, and avoid any breathing. We did not confine ourselves to the specifications. In order to achieve our goals, it was necessary to rethink the architecture of the zoom completely, as that of the 25-250 HR did not work. For a ratio of 12x and an aperture of T 2.8, the optical performance of our zoom was exceptional as regards colorimetry, resolution, ramping, breathing, and vignetting, far beyond those of the zoom Panavision and our own hopes. Especially as regards the minimum focal distance. The image quality of the 24-290 at 1.22 m (4ft) was far superior to that of the 25-250 HR at 1.7 m.”

Bruno Coumert, Optical engineer at Angénieux since 1986

The Optimo 15-40, 28-76, and 45-120, the First Ultralight, Compact Zooms

In the mid-2000s, in collaboration with the American distributors Ste-Man Inc., owned by the Manios family, Angénieux began to work on compact lenses for shoulder-mounted filming, Steadicam, and all forms of shooting in which weight is a limiting factor. The result was the Optimo 15-40 and the Optimo 28-76, which appeared respectively in 2006 and 2007, two lightweight lenses of less than 2 kg, similar in size, with very good image quality and a constant aperture of T2.6. While innovative optical design ensures no change of field in focusing, their simultaneously precise and sturdy mechanical elements are perfectly suited to the requirements of shooting films. Their characteristics are ideal for the quick pace of filming TV series. Their success was immediate, especially in the filming of TV series, where their characteristics are perfectly geared to the quick, precise pace of production. These two zooms strengthened the international renown of Angénieux’s compact Optimo range and won their engineer designers a Scientific and Technical award at the Oscars in 2009. The range was completed in 2011 by the Optimo 45-120, once again immediately acclaimed in the world of cinema.

In the continuity of these outstanding cinematographic achievements, Angénieux continues to innovate in zoom design. The Optimo Ultra 12x and the new Optimo Ultra Compact lenses released in the last 5 years, are meant to replace respectively the Optimo 12x from 2001 and the Compact zooms from the mid-2000s. They both carry-on the vision of Pierre Angénieux on zoom design, always at the service of the cinematographers needs.

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