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How to construct a vintage cine prime lens set

I recently purchased myself a vintage Nikon EL2 35mm film camera — I totally love it — and it came with a Nikkor AI 50mm f/2.0 lens. I decided to revive my lens collecting hobby and finally complete my Nikkor prime set — which I want to cine-mod. A few years ago, I picked up a BlackMagic Pocket Cinema Camera, which came with a few Nikkor primes and a MetaBones BMPCC to Nikon SpeedBooster, and I fell in love with these Nikkor primes. They are absolute tanks, solid metal construction, engraved markings, amazing optical quality and relatively cheap to pick up these days.

Even in Australia, there is a pretty good market for vintage Nikkors, and we are close enough to Japan that I have access to that huge secondhand market for relatively okay shipping. I will have another post going into detail about what lenses from the Nikkor AI/AI-S series you should pick up to put together into a prime set, but for now I want to write about how to construct a set of prime lenses. Starting from a basic 3 lens set to a massive 11+ lens set and specials that cover a wide range focal lengths.

What is a cine prime set?

When someone says the phase “cine prime set”, many filmmakers will immediately think of lenses like the Zeiss Super (Standard) Speeds, or Arri-Zeiss Master Primes, Cooke S4 Primes or maybe Leitz Summilux-C Primes. But what exactly is a cine prime set?

Basically, it’s a set of 3 or more lenses of a fixed focal length (neé prime) that are designed specifically for cinema use. Usually, this means de-clicked and geared aperture rings, geared manual focus, marked T-stops, and usually an absolutely massive price tag. The most notable aspect cine primes or any primes used for cinema, is that they are prime lenses. Which means to get wide and telephoto shots you will need dedicated wide and tele lenses, and if you’re looking for anything in-between you will need a new lens for each focal length you wish to shoot.

Why not just use a zoom?

Zoom lenses have much more complex optical designs than primes, which means they require more optical glass elements — that will typically degrade image quality, reduce light transmission, increase weight, and introduce more optical artefacts. Therefore, traditionally cinema has relied on prime lenses for their superior image quality, simpler design, increased light transmission, and lower weight compared to their zoom counterparts. Zoom lenses of course are still utilised in cinema, but prime lenses are the real workhorses. And unlike in photography, filmmakers are often afforded the time to change a lens to get a different focal length, whereas a photographer may be better equipped with a zoom lens to cover a larger range of focal lengths for wildlife, sports, or street photography.

Creating a set

To cover a wide range of focal lengths and field of views, we need to put together a set of prime lenses, but what lenses to choose? Well it depends on your budget, your field of view requirements, the story requirements, and what focal lengths are available in the lenses that you want.

For example, if we take a look at the Arri-Zeiss Master Primes, there are 15 lenses ranging from focal lengths of 12mm to 150mm. The brand new Arri Signature Primes come in 16 focal lengths from 12mm to 280mm. The Cooke S4/i lenses come in 18 focal lengths from 12mm to 300mm. The Zeiss Super Speeds MK I was a 5 lens set from 18mm to 85mm, similarly the Zeiss Standard Speeds started with 6 lenses from 8mm to 85mm, and later added another 9 lenses from 10mm to 300mm for a full set of 15 lenses, 8mm to 300mm.

We can see here that a fully featured professional set of primes should cover somewhere between 10mm to 280mm. Obviously, a smaller set might not be able to cover these extremes — there’s probably not a lot of need for an 8mm, 10mm, 280mm or 300mm lens.

How many lenses?

How many lenses should you add to your set? Well, each of the Arri Signature Primes are about $25,000 with some of the exotic focal lengths reaching $40,000, resulting in the price for a full 16 lens set will setting you back a cool $462,000. So we really have to ask ourselves: how many focal lengths do I need? Or rather, how many focal lengths can I afford?

If you’re looking at putting together a vintage prime set, with Nikkors, Contax Zeiss, Leica R, Canon FD, Asahi Takumar, Minolta Rokkor, or “Soviet” vintage lenses, your price-per-lens is probably less than $1000 (sometimes much less than this, sometimes a little higher) and you can maybe put together a bigger set. But what is the minimum number of lenses you should have in your prime set?

The absolute minimum prime set

Any prime set starts with 3 lenses — you will need a “Normal” lens, a “Wide” lens, and a “Telephoto” or “Tele” lens. What exactly these focal lengths are, will depend on series of lenses you’re building from but will also depend on your tastes.

Do you gravitate towards really wide lenses? Or are you more prone to tele lenses with lots of background-foreground separation? And importantly, what formats do you want your lenses compatible with? Are you shooting full-frame? Super 35? Super 16? APS-C crop? Micro Four Thirds? Large format 65mm? All of these sensor formats will change your effective focal length depending on the size of the lens’ projection circle.

Are crop-factors useless in cinema?

For the purposes of this post, we will focus on vintage lenses, which are basically all designed for full-frame 35mm film cameras. So if we’re using these lenses on anything smaller than a full-frame sensor we are going to have to deal with crop-factors. Simply put, a crop-factor is a number unique to different sized sensors that we multiply the focal length by, to give us an effective focal length or field of view of a full-frame lens as captured by the crop-sensor. Check out this ShareGrid post for a deep dive into crop-sensors and lens formats.

I will provide Super 35 effective focal lengths denoted S35 and Super 16 effective focal lengths denoted S16 (I love Super 16 and my BMPCC, and it’s also crazy to see how much smaller a Super 16 sensor is) and my BMPCC with a MetaBones 0.58x focal reducer will be denoted BMPCC.

35mm full-frame versus 35mm motion picture film

When we talk about crop-factors we are using the 35mm film size as the baseline comparison sensor size. This is the 35mm film gauge for still photography, also called 135 film. 135 film has a sensor size of 36x24 mm or a diagonal length, D_135 = D_FF = 43.27 mm.

35mm motion picture film, which we will call “Academy” film, has a smaller sensor size of 22x16 mm or a diagonal length, D_Academy = 27.2mm.

This is a subtle different that is often overlooked in conversations around crop-factors. While both still photography and motion picture photography used the 35mm film gauge they have always had different exposure areas or sensor-sizes. Even with Widescreen, CinemaScope, Super 35, or Techniscope — the motion picture sensor was always smaller or “cropped-in” from full-frame 135 film. The exception is VistaVision which is essential 135 film used for motion picture use, and larger film formats such as 65mm, 70mm, and IMAX film.

To understand this different, you need to simply look at how the film was fed into the camera. For 135 still photography the perforations were along the longer side of the frame, and the film was fed horizontally across the exposure area. While in 35mm motion picture film, the perforations were along the shorter side of the frame, and the film was fed vertically across the exposure area. You see this illustrated in the image below, from WikiMedia Commons.

135 film versus 35mm motion picture film. Drawings courtesy of WikiMedia Commons.

Using the 135 full-frame sensor size as a base-line for cinema focal lengths is a bit of a misnomer. Most cinema lenses were designed to cover 35mm motion picture film, not 135 full-frame.

For example, the legendary Zeiss Super Speeds do not cover full-frame, neither do Arri-Zeiss Master Primes, Cooke S4s or nearly any of the pre-digital cinema primes. The newer cinema primes such as Zeiss Compact Primes, Zeiss Supreme Primes, and Arri Signature Primes are designed to cover full-frame digital sensors with a wider image circle.

What does this all mean?

All of this kind of means that you shouldn’t spend too much worry about crop-factors, especially when looking at cinema use. You’re probably better off converting full-frame focal lengths back to a Super 35 equivalent focal length to match your mental model for cinema prime focal lengths.

For our purposes, where we are looking at using vintage 35mm still photography lenses, the full-frame crop factor translation is useful, as all of these lenses were designed to cover full-frame.

In the risk of confusing things more, I will also convert the 135 focal lengths to equivalent “Academy” 35mm motion picture film focal lengths, so you can compare the focal lengths directly to cinema lenses such as, Arri-Zeiss Master Primes and Zeiss Super Speeds.

Base 135 full-frame

To find the crop-factor, CF, of a crop-sensor we use the following formula, where D denotes the diagonal length of the sensor:

CF_sensor = D_full-frane / D_sensor = 43.27 / D_sensor.

For example, Super 35 has a diagonal length of 31.10mm, that is, D_S35 = 31.10. And so the crop-factor,

CF_S35 = S_FF / D_S35 = 43.27 / 31.10 = 1.39.

So, we can find the effective focal length of a full-frame lens on a Super 35 sensor by multiplying the focal length by 1.39.

For example, a 50mm lens designed for full-frame, such as the Nikkor AI 50mm f/1.2, when put on a Super 35 sensor, effectively has a 70mm focal length in full-frame terms.

f_S35 = f_FF x CF_S35 = 50mm x 1.39 = 69.5mm ~= 70mm.

There is of course is more caveats here, the depth of field is not the same as a 70mm full-frame lens, and SpeedBoosters can complicate this and the ShareGrid article goes into more detail, but for our purposes this simplification will do.

You can think of it like this, a Nikkor AI 50mm f/1.2 on a Super 35 camera, has the same field of view as a 70mm lens on a full-frame camera (if you can find a 70mm prime).

The crop-factor for Super 16, CF_S16, is 3.02.

The crop-factor for 35mm motion picture “Academy” film, CF_Academy, is 1.59.

The crop-factor for my BMPCC with a 0.58x focal reducer, CF_BMPCC, is 1.75.

Base Super 35

To find the equivalent Super 35 focal length of a full-frame lens on a full-frame sensor we basically invert the crop-factor for Super 35 film, that is we multiply by:

1 / C_S35 = 1 / 1.39 = 0.719.

For example, a 50mm lens designed for full-frame, such as the Nikkor AI 50mm f/1.2, when put on a full-frame sensor, is equivalent to 36mm lens that is designed for Super 35.

Equivalent focal length = 50mm x 0.719 = 36mm.

That is, a 50mm full-frame lens on a full-frame sensor, gives the same field of view, as a 36mm Super 35 lens on a Super 35 sensor.

Specifically, the Zeiss Super Speed 35mm T/1.3 on a Super 35 camera has the same field of view as Nikkor AI 50mm f/1.2 on a full-frame camera.

Converting to Base Super 35 allows you to compare how your vintage length focal lengths compare to the “traditional” cinema primes, that is, cinema primes not designed for full-frame digital sensors.

Florian Milz has created an amazing tool to see how various lenses cover different sized sensors. I recommend you check it out and play around with it with different sensor sizes and different lenses to get an intuitive understanding of crop-factors, sensor-sizes, and lens coverage. Check out his Lens Coverage Tool.

Hint: Compare the camera “FILM Super 35mm (4-perf)” with “FILM Vista Vision” on various lenses.

Nomenclature

I will write lens specifications in the following format:

(focal-length) (sensor coverage) (lens group)

For example,

50mm FF normal

Means a 50mm focal length designed for a full-frame (135 film) sensor and is what we will call a “normal” lens.

We will use the following lens groups, these are my personal definitions for these lens groups. What I call an ultra-wide might be a super-wide or wide for you, I just find this mental model useful for lens set construction. There are no rules or definitions that everyone will agree on, however, during this article we will stick to this nomenclature.

Lens Group Focal-Length Range (in full-frame terms)
Fish-eye 1mm - 20mm
Special-Wide 1mm - 15mm
Super-Wide 10mm - 24mm
Ultra-Wide 20mm - 35mm
Wide 24mm - 35mm
Mid-Wide 35mm - 50mm
Normal 35mm - 60mm
Mid-Tele 55mm - 85mm
Tele 85mm - 100mm
Ultra-Tele 100mm - 135mm
Super-Tele 120mm - 185mm
Special-Tele 185mm+

You can see that the focal-length range is not exclusive to each group, and that you can have lenses that sit in multiple groups, these are simply a guide not absolute rules.

N.B. the super prefix is more extreme than ultra.

A 3 Lens Set

Our basic 3 lens set comprises of a Wide, a Normal, and a Tele. The choice of focal lengths depend on your choice of normal.

Choose your Normal

Traditionally, a 50mm lens is considered “normal”, however, some people prefer a wider 35mm lens as their normal, and some will choose a 40mm lens. Where you set your centre lens is really a personal choice, and also depends on the look of the project you’re shooting.

We will choose a 50mm lens for our normal, for a few reasons. Number 1, it’s generally considered to be the focal length of the human eye, and that means shots from a 50mm should look pretty natural. The second reason, is a practical reason. Many cameras from the 70s and 80s came with a 50mm kit lens, which means for us, there is an abundance of vintage 50mm lenses. There are millions of them out there, and due to the sheer number of them, it is super easy for find a vintage 50mm lens in good condition for a good price. It is also easier to find faster 50mm lenses for the same reason.

So we have.

Sensor Wide Normal Tele
FF   50mm  
S35   70mm  
S16   151mm  
BMPCC   88mm  
Base S35   36mm  

Add your Wide and Tele

Next, we need to complete our set, by giving us options for our wide shots and our telephoto shots. Again, how wide you want to go is again a very personal choice, but most 3 lens prime sets will go for a 35mm for wide or a 85mm for telephoto.

Some may argue that 35mm is not wide enough and that you should go for a 28mm or 24mm or even a 20mm wide-angle. It is really up to you — we are going to go for a 35mm wide. In vintage lens sets, there is not usually many lenses between 50mm and 85mm. You may get a 58mm or a 60mm, but rarely anything else. For cinema use, a large range of telephotos are not generally needed and cinematographers will generally prefer more granularity in the wider-end of the spectrum. So we will stick with a 85mm.

Sensor Wide Normal Tele
FF 35mm 50mm 85mm
S35 49mm 70mm 118mm
S16 106mm 151mm 257mm
BMPCC 61mm 88mm 149mm
Base S35 25mm 36mm 61mm

You can see here how the different crop-factors affect the focal length of the set. For example, the 35mm FF wide becomes a 49mm S35 normal, essentially a 50mm normal — which is super nice. And on the BMPCC the 50mm FF becomes a 88mm BMPCC tele, essentially a 85mm tele.

A 5 Lens Set

A 3 lens set is a perfect way to start, and if you’re collecting a vintage set of lenses, it is the perfect skeleton to hang the rest of your set on. It allows you to build up a set overtime as the required lenses become available, and also teaches you a lot about focal-length and knowing when to reach for what lens.

Going from a 3 to 5 lens set allows to push the set wider and longer or if you’re happy with the breadth of your set you can use the 2 extra lenses to fill the focal-length gaps.

Going Extreme (Set A)

Sensor Super-Wide Wide Normal Tele Super-Tele
FF 20mm 35mm 50mm 85mm 135mm
S35 28mm 49mm 70mm 118mm 188mm
S16 60mm 106mm 151mm 257mm 544mm
BMPCC 35mm 61mm 88mm 149mm 236mm
Base S35 14mm 25mm 36mm 61mm 97mm

With the addition of a 20mm FF super-wide lens we get a very nice 28mm S35 ultra-wide, a respectable 60mm S16 normal and a 35mm BMPCC wide/mid-wide. The 135mm FF super-tele becomes a useful 188mm S35 special-tele — close to a 180mm special-tele. On the S16 and BMPCC it becomes a little unwieldy.

Filling the gaps (Set B)

Sensor Super-Wide Ultra-Wide Wide Normal Tele
FF 20mm 28mm 35mm 50mm 85mm
S35 28mm 39mm 49mm 70mm 118mm
S16 60mm 85mm 106mm 151mm 257mm
BMPCC 35mm 49mm 61mm 88mm 149mm
Base S35 14mm 20m 25mm 36mm 61mm

In this instance, we are happy with our 85mm FF tele and decide to add a 20mm FF super-wide and a 28mm FF wide/ultra-wide.

Again, the 28mm FF ultra-wide is a really nice lens for our sensor sizes, the 28mm FF ultra-wide becomes a nice ~50mm BMPCC normal, and 85mm S16 tele, and a very useful ~40mm S35 mid-wide.

A 7 Lens Set

With a 7 lens set we can really start to fill out that focal length range, we will build upon our two 5 lens sets as a base. At 7 lenses you end up with a really well rounded set, and depending how happy you are with your 5 lens set you can start to add special lenses, such as fish-eye lenses, special-wides or special-teles — that go really really wide or long, or perhaps macro lenses if that suits your project.

We wont be touching fish-eyes or macro lenses in these standard sets, however, I would only start to add these exotic lenses once you have a solid 5 lens set. That is, we will also assume the the wide (special, super, ultra, mid) lenses we choose here are rectilinear and telephotos are non-macro.

Set A

For Set A, we are going to have a fill the gaps approach, by adding an ultra-wide and an ultra-tele.

Sensor Super-Wide Ultra-Wide Wide Normal Tele Ultra-Tele Super-Tele
FF 20mm 24mm 35mm 50mm 85mm 100mm 135mm
S35 28mm 33mm 49mm 70mm 118mm 139mm 188mm
S16 60mm 72mm 106mm 151mm 257mm 302mm 544mm
BMPCC 35mm 42mm 61mm 88mm 149mm 175mm 236mm
Base S35 14mm 20mm 25mm 36mm 61mm 72mm 97mm

Again, here the additional 24mm FF ultra-wide is super nice, becoming a ~35mm S35 wide and a nice 40mm BMPCC mid-wide. The 100mm FF ultra-tele is gives a ~135mm S35 tele, a ~300mm S16 special-tele and a ~185mm BMPCC super-tele.

Set B

Set B is our wider focused set, a set designed to cater to smaller sensor sizes — anything smaller than full-frame will benefit from a wider weighted set.

Sensor Special-Wide Super-Wide Ultra-Wide Mid-Wide Wide Normal Tele
FF 15mm 20mm 24mm 28mm 35mm 50mm 85mm
S35 21mm 28mm 33mm 39mm 49mm 70mm 118mm
S16 45mm 60mm 72mm 85mm 106mm 151mm 257mm
BMPCC 26mm 35mm 42mm 49mm 61mm 88mm 149mm
Base S35 11mm 14mm 17mm 20mm 25mm 36mm 61mm

You can see we’ve shifted our the naming of our wide lenses here, we’ve shifted everything along to fit in a 15mm FF special-wide and a 24mm FF ultra-wide shifting the 28mm FF to a wide and 35mm FF to mid-wide.

The special-wide I chose here is 15mm FF because there are rectilinear 15mm lenses in the Nikkor AI/AI-S series, the Contax Zeiss series, Leica R series and Asahi Takumar series. In some cases you may only have a 16mm or 18mm. The Canon FD series has a 14mm rectilinear, the Minolta Rokkor series has a 17mm rectilinear as the widest available.

These sub-20mm FF special-wide lenses are often the most expensive in the series, and are often the widest available lenses in the series. You will need to judge for yourself how wide you can afford to go, and how wide you can go while keeping an acceptable aperture. The Nikkor 13mm AI/AI-S lenses have minimum aperture of f/5.6 and the Nikkor 15mm AI/AI-S has f/5.6 and f/3.5 options. Similarly, the Distagon 15mm and Distagon 16mm from the Contax Zeiss series have f/3.5 and f/4.0 minimum apertures respectively.

9 Lens Set

The 9 lens set is basically combining Set A and B.

Sensor Special-Wide Super-Wide Ultra-Wide Mid-Wide Wide Normal Tele Ultra-Tele Super-Tele
FF 15mm 20mm 24mm 28mm 35mm 50mm 85mm 100mm 135mm
S35 21mm 28mm 33mm 39mm 49mm 70mm 118mm 139mm 188mm
S16 45mm 60mm 72mm 85mm 106mm 151mm 257mm 302mm 408mm
BMPCC 26mm 35mm 42mm 49mm 61mm 88mm 149mm 175mm 236mm
Base S35 11mm 14mm 17mm 20mm 25mm 36mm 61mm 72mm 97mm

11+ Lens Set

The 11 lens set is about as large a set you can manage with vintage lenses, you can keep adding more and more tele lenses (Contax Zeiss goes all the way to a Mirotar 1000mm f/8.0 special-tele), and depending on your series you might have one or two more wider lenses to add or maybe a few more gaps for more-wide and more-tele gaps. However, we will end our journey at 11 lenses, with a special-tele and a mid-tele.

Sensor Special-Wide Super-Wide Ultra-Wide Mid-Wide Wide Normal Mid-Tele Tele Ultra-Tele Super-Tele Special-Tele
FF 15mm 20mm 24mm 28mm 35mm 50mm 60mm 85mm 100mm 135mm 180mm
S35 21mm 28mm 33mm 39mm 49mm 70mm 83mm 118mm 139mm 188mm 250mm
S16 45mm 60mm 72mm 85mm 106mm 151mm 181mm 257mm 302mm 408mm 544mm
BMPCC 26mm 35mm 42mm 49mm 61mm 88mm 105mm 149mm 175mm 236mm 315mm
Base S35 11mm 14mm 17mm 20mm 25mm 36mm 43mm 61mm 72mm 97mm 129mm

Depending on your series, your 60mm FF mid-tele might be a 58mm like the Nikkor 58mm f/1.2 AI/AI-S; Asahi Takumar 58mm f/2.0 (and f/2.4); and the MC Rokkor 58mm f/1.2 (and f/1.4). Or a 55mm like the the Canon FD 55mm f/1.2. Or a macro lens like the Contax Zeiss Makro-Planar 60mm f/2.8 and the Leica Macro-Elmarit-R 60mm f/2.8.

Similarly, a 180mm FF special-tele is probably as long as you need to go in cinema, but you can really go wild here and go as long as you want.

Finally, we will add a fish-eye for a 12 lens set. Most vintage lens series have a 16mm FF fish-eye, but your individual results may vary.

Sensor Fish-Eye Special-Wide Super-Wide Ultra-Wide Mid-Wide Wide Normal Mid-Tele Tele Ultra-Tele Super-Tele Special-Tele
FF 16mm 15mm 20mm 24mm 28mm 35mm 50mm 60mm 85mm 100mm 135mm 180mm
S35 22mm 21mm 28mm 33mm 39mm 49mm 70mm 83mm 118mm 139mm 188mm 250mm
S16 48mm 45mm 60mm 72mm 85mm 106mm 151mm 181mm 257mm 302mm 408mm 544mm
BMPCC 28mm 26mm 35mm 42mm 49mm 61mm 88mm 105mm 149mm 175mm 236mm 315mm
Base S35 12mm 11mm 14mm 17mm 20mm 25mm 36mm 43mm 61mm 72mm 97mm 129mm

Conclusion

That’s it, that’s how we construct a cine prime set. To summarise:

  1. Find your normal. Find a focal length to be the centre of our set.
  2. Add a wide and a tele. Go as wide or as long as your project or aesthetics require.
  3. Fill the gaps or go extreme. Add wider and longer extremes to push the breadth of your set, or fill up the gaps within your set to give yourself more normal-ish options.
  4. Repeat step 3, until you run out of lenses.
  5. Add a fish-eye and/or macro lenses.
  6. Get a sweet pelican case for your lenses.

At the moment, I am starting to fill out my vintage Nikkor AI (not AI-S) vintage prime set, and I have my eyes on creating a nice 5 lens set of Contax Zeiss lenses.

I hope this guide has been useful in your vintage cine prime set construction, in the coming weeks I will be using this guide to construct vintage cine prime sets for Nikkor AI/AI-S, Contax Zeiss, Canon FD, Leica R, Minolta Rokkor, Asahi Takumar, and “Soviets”. I will link back here when they are up.


Don't call it a comeback

After a long break in blogging, I am making a come back. I have spent alot of my newly found Covid-19 free-time finishing off my blog migration from Ghost to Jekyll; and otherwise updating and fixing my website from being a very very boring single page website to something that actually represents me on the web.

In the coming blog posts I will post about various technical points of interest I came across building this website. Additonally, I will be slowly introducing various categories, verticals, columns to write about a broad variety of subjects. In the interium to avoid missing out any of my frequently updated blog posts you can subscribe to my newsletter below.

Subscribe with Buttondown.

Expect an email from me soon, if I don’t I give you permission to bug me over email or Twitter.


September: Multi-disciplinary

This month I will do something I have been talking about for a long time. I am going to start a podcast.

It will be called Multi-disciplinary, an infrequent conversation about diverse and numerous creative fields.

The idea will be that I will talk to and interview—slash—hangout with creatives from different fields — hence multi-disciplinary.

Let’s go.


Slam August

As is becoming a regular event on this blog, it is now August 7 and I am announcing the project for this month.

In the months of August and September Spoken Word SA is holding the heats for the 2017 Poetry Slam, so naturally I am going to enter and hopefully win (I won’t). The first heat is the 18th of August and the last is 15th of September with the final on the 22nd of September.

I have had the tab open for this for pretty much 6-months, and have not started working on anything in that time, which is why I am setting this as a project. For most people (myself included) see slam poetry as probably something like this.

I do find something endearing about slam poetry though. My idea is to do something akin to the dual dialogue you hear a lot in musicals. In particular I really love the song Farmer Refuted by Lin-Manuel Miranda in Hamilton.

Genius annotation for Farmer Refuted

I mean this annotation on Genius says it all.

Yo, pay attention to the sickening amount of sound play that Miranda/Hamilton works into this epic counterpoint takedown. Highlighted words attached to this annotation indicate just about all instances of matched consonance and assonance.

So this is the kind of form I want to write my poem, with two voices that talk at the same time overlapping to create a third meta voice but all performed by one person. Seems hard, maybe impossible and it probably is — but I will try.

I also really like the way the poetry slam is judged.

Five judges chosen by the MC at random from the audience. Judges hold up score cards using a 1 – 10 scale to one decimal point, with 10 being the highest possible score. Of the five scores for each poet, only the middle three scores are counted. The decision of the judges is final.

I think that is really cool and makes you really work to make a connection with the audience on the night.


A not very timely update on the July book

While I waited for the delivery of a book I ordered online — which turned out to be not in-stock, and the company had emailed me a week ago asking if I wanted them to order it from the supplier and apparently took no reply as a “no”, nevertheless 3 weeks later I have the book, Famous Last Lies, An Anthology by Claire Cock-Starkey — I started listing influential people in my life. Massively-long-run-on-sentence notwithstanding, these are “influential dead people” and moreover “influential dead people I have never met”. So when I finally go the book, I could look up their famous last words and start to put together the book.

Close followers of this blog — to which I think there is two, including myself — will remember the original intent of the book would be correct false famous last words, which I would call famous last lies and then list the actual last words. Now it turns out, knowing someones last words is hard enough, but finding someones actual last words is even harder. When I issued myself this project I only had one of these in mind: Oscar Wilde.

My wallpaper and I are fighting a duel to the death. One or other of us has got to go.

Which he had actually said in the weeks leading up to his death and his actual last words were during his Last Sacraments and was the Prayer for Resignations to the Will of God.

Lord, if what I seek be according to our will, then let it come to pass and let success attend the outcome. But if not, my God, let it not come to pass. Do not leave me to my own devices, for you know how unwise I can be. Keep me safe under your protection Lord my God, and in your own gentle way guide me and rule me as you know best. Amen

The book Famous Last Lies, An Anthology does actually point out a couple of this faux last words. However, the list of corrections are not terribly exciting or numerous, so the I decided to change the direction of the book.

New Direction

The book is still titled Famous Last Lies to which one of my friends quickly quipped.

That’s such a Jayden title!

I guess my lust for all things fraudulent is a defining characteristic of myself. And most of the layout and design of the book remains the same, but instead of correcting their last word I just quote the most-often-quoted-and-easily-referencable-and-maybe-not-completly-factually-accurate version of their last words along with an equally millennial and bashfully literary ignorant 140-chacter tweet length biography.

The only thing left to discuss is the length of the book. How many people will I include? Who do I include? I didn’t want to arbitrarily choose a number, I would need to find some meaning behind the choice and relate that back to the work. I first thought 52, for 52-weeks in a year, 52-cards in a deck, etc. But that was too numerous. Next up, is 42, for obvious reasons — for those who don’t find this immediately obvious, Douglas Adams said “42 is the answer to the meaning of life, the universe, and everything.”. All of these are probably too expensive to then print, so I decided on the sickeningly cliche choice of 13.

At some stage I decided to also write a series of 3 essays on Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness which is a horrifically American thing to want to write about, but I found a screenshot of this on my desktop which probably explains the latent thoughts in my brain that made me think this was a good idea.

Pursuit of Happiness by Kid Cudi

Also the constant Hamilton listening over the last year probably contributed.

With the inclusion of the 3-essays I decided to reduce the number of people by 1 and have 12. This way I can weave in the 3-essays in a natural way.

  • 1 x Essay — Life
  • 3 x Famous People
  • 1 x Essay — Liberty
  • 3 x Famous People
  • 1 x Essay — and the Pursuit of Happiness
  • 3 x Famous People

And hence the now complete and ready show title page.

Title page of Famous Last Lies


Saying no to $2000

Most tortured souls spend the day-time pretending to be a starving artist and the on prowl for grants and other large sums of money to fulfil their creative vision that no one else wants to pay for. 11-months out of the year this is me. So why did I turn down a grant of $2000?

I live in the-city-I’m-beginning-not-to-hate of Adelaide in Australia, we are a small microcosm of artistic endeavours and other fun things. Once such organisation which strives to bring “streets and public spaces to life through a series of activations, events and projects” is Splash Adelaide. So you can imagine my surprise when they gave me $2000 to put on an event. I had emailed them at 11:56 PM — for a 12:00 AM deadline — a hastily written, rorted with spelling mistakes, and grammatically questionable proposal for a previously aborted event called MAGIC x WINE. They liked the idea, but didn’t like the wine part, aiming for something a little more PG-13. And so started the journey to today where I finally pulled out of the Splash Adelaide Winter season.

The red herring should have been the breaking down of the original vision when they wanted to get rid of the wine — and when the title consists of two elements and one of them being wine, its not a great place to start. I had a meeting with my frequent collaborator and we came up with some other ideas for the evening including — but not limited to: an infinity cube of mirrors, The Adelaide Festival of Magic, taking over a carpark for a magic show, a gala show and dinner, and some other ideas that I can’t surmise in a handful of words.

Napkin of Ideas The literal back of the napkin sketches.

I email Splash Adelaide back with the revised ideas for the event I want to put on, at this stage quite expanded in its scope. And in the series of the most predicable events that could possibly ever happen, they email back with “this is expanded in its scope” and “may not be appropriate for your first large scale event”. Deflated and defeated I put this project on the back burner as I continued working (and wasting time) on other projects.

Fast forward to about three-weeks-ago when aforementioned collaborator sent me a bunch of photos from the Fringe earlier this year. And that night I edited some of the photos and put together a website for one of my shows The Expert at the Card Table — How to Cheat at Cards which you can see at the forever long URL www.TheExpertAtTheCardTable.show. Literally that night I got an email from Splash Adelaide “just checking in, haven’t heard from you in a while”, the stars aligned; I had just finished this website and it’s ready, I email it to them for yet another change in direction. At the same time I had secured a venue for a one-or-twice-a-week show that would run indefinitely and I would use the Splash Adelaide funds to get the ball rolling on this, and this would be my event.

Then it all fell apart. Splash Adelaide emailed back saying this new idea was too different to the original idea I got funded for and among other issues was not right for Splash Adelaide. It is now late-July and the Winter season runs until September, so I bit the bullet and withdrew from the Splash Adelaide Winter season. And this morning I got an email from the venue I had secured for my show saying that they are closing down “a quite immediate decision at the breakpoint of one tenancy and the beginning of another, dealing with a pretty gruesome landlord”.

So now I have no Splash Adelaide fund and the spin off show it helped create is dead in the water. As I write this I received yet another email.

Splash Adelaide email

See you in another 6-months for another post-mortem?


An exercise in composition

To anyone who follows me on Instagram — @jden — have probably already noticed a particular style of my photos, and what often follows is,

Why are you all your Insta photos blurry?

To which I frequently reply, “they’re not blurry, they’re out-of-focus”, one of my friends will always quip “the only thing out-of-focus is your head”. The answer to why I my photos are blurry is numerous and many, some of which I will outline here.

1. I like it.

I like the way out of focus photos look. I’ve always been a fan of bokeh and ever since iPhone could show focus I was always trying to push them to the limits of the focal distances. Early versions of iOS — which was called iPhoneOS then — didn’t allow third party applications (or even first-party applications) take manual control of the camera, and hence you can’t hold the focus. You had to do tricks like focus on your finger up-close and then quickly remove the finger from the frame and take a picture before it autofocuses at infinity.

In what is probably my favourite photo I have ever taken I did this exact technique.

Picture from Lunar Park

I was an early convert to Instagram, I signed up for the service before it was really a social network, when it was just an app with cool filters. This is a photo a took at Lunar Park in Sydney with iPhone 4 using Instagram, it is my most favourite photo I’ve taken and am still taken a back at when I took it: the 5th of January 2011. And if you were to pin-point when my obsession with out-of-focus photos started, it’s here.

2. Composition

Details are messy, composition is king.

No ones said that — probably — but I believe it. Details are excruciating, the benefits of the ever expanding number of pixels is to quote Oliver Pendergast from Easy A an “accelerating velocity of terminological inexactitude” or to be terse: a lie. You always get told this by seasoned professionals, or by you teacher that it’s not the camera that’s important, it’s not the number of megapixels, it’s your composition that makes a good photo, and a good photographer can take a masterpiece on a dollar-store disposal camera. It took me a long-time to really understand this — I like fancy equipment — but looking back on my photo library there is a trend to reductionism and composition.

I like classical composition (I’m not sure if this is a real term but’ll suffice) in that I’m not doing anything too fancy except for symmetry and the rule-of-thirds. I also shoot all photo exclusively in 16:9 aspect ratio, I just like the cinematic look and forever lover of widescreen anything. This is the part where I now overlay the rule-of-thirds over some of my Instagram photos to illustrate the point.

Technical point: I use Manual by William Wilkinson & Craig Merchant for the manual control over focus, VSCO for editing (mainly film grain) and finally Whiteagram for posting to Instagram with white 16:9 border.

#arch #arch at University of South Australia

Happy Christmas Ron Happy Christmas Ron

First Blurry Photo of the Year First Blurry Photo of the Year

✌️ ✌️

#chooselife #chooselife at Trainspotting Live

"Look more candid" “Look more candid” at Mr Goodbar

This is Amy This is Amy—a friend I made at the art gallery—staring at a blank wall. Digital photograph transferred to Instagram, 2017. jden redden, 1994-present. at Art Gallery of New South Wales

hashtag art hashtag art at Carclew

 at National War Memorial (South Australia)

A mirror #soedgy A mirror. #soedgy at Her Majesty’s Theatre

Man dates Man dates. at T Bar

🙈 🙈 at NOLA Adelaide

versus Rodin versus Rodin. at Art Gallery of South Australia

And now some that are symmetrical.

Street art not in the street Street art not in the street. at The Art of Banksy Melbourne

⭐ at Adelaide Railway Station

"art" “art” at Art Gallery of New South Wales

Morbid Curiosities Morbid Curiosities. at Peanut Gallery Adelaide

Trainspotting Trainspotting at Ascot Park Train Station

versus 👫 versus 👫 at Art Gallery of South Australia

3. Transient Memory and Moments

Now for the third reason I like to take out-of-focus photos; it lets me remember moments as hazy recollections of being present. Rather than take a picture of all the art in the gallery or document every curiosity I walk past, I take one or two out-of-focus photos that capture the vibe of the moment. Why take a photo of something that has been photographed a thousand times? Someone always has a better camera than you, the documentarian will always observe and report the details — but I will save the moments in perfectly composed out-of-focus frames that blend with the way my brain will remember it, and then spend time remembering it by being there — presently.

You can see the complete collection and some-other-rare-non-out-of-focus photos on my Instagram @jden.


July: Famous Last Lies

Time for a project that I can actually start and finish in the one month allocated, alas I am posting this on the 9th day of July — the deadline is still within reach. For the months of July I hope to write a book, but rather than 100% original content it will focus of a tried and tested skill of mine and that is desktop publishing and layout.

The premise of the book is a compilation book of famous last words of some famous people, but will focus on how often these last words are actually not really their last words and hence famous last lies. I am not sure how many of these I will be able to uncover in the complete set of; famous last words, the dispute, and finally the actual last words. But nevertheless this will be nice design challenge and editorial challenge as I write very short bio’s of these famous people to go along with their words. Also an exercise in searching WikiMedia for public domain images of famous (dead) people.

The end goal will be to have this available as a hardcopy book and for sale on Amazon, all independently published. I will be using Blurb to have the book printed and distributed, I’ve not used them before but they look pretty cool.


Competiton Research

Unlike most of the projects I have started this year, this one has already been done. Someone has already designed and brought to market (albeit limited) eyewear that is designed from typography.

I first stumbled upon these many years ago probably in 2012 or 2011, and I remember it clearly because I was devastated. There is nothing more crushing than discovering that something thought you came up with in an original and unique way has actually been done before. I’m sure everyone has felt this in some way or another, it is frequent in creative fields, but I also experienced it a lot while completing my degree in mathematics — most of the times it had been done centuries before you were even born.

TYPE.GS

The collection called TYPE by Japanese eyewear company Oh My Glasses — which is an amazing name for a company — and are for sale only in Japan.

They have some pretty cool marketing. TYPE.GS marketing image

The collection covers 14 different typefaces and hits most pet favourites including: Helvetica, Futura, Garamond, Din, Times New Roman, and others. They retail for 27,000 JPY which equates to around $300-350 AUD, which is about what you would pay for designer eyewear.

Why are you doing it then?

It can sometimes easy to feel that just because someone has already done the thing you want to do that it is not longer a virgin idea and therefore no longer worth your time. And well this is how I have felt for many years now, I’ve been waiting for them to open up to international delivery so I could get a pair. The glasses are something I want first, and something I want to design second. If I could get a pair the urge for me to do the project would have subsided somewhat. But if I can’t buy it, well then I might as well make it.

Secondarily, I think I could do a better job at the design. The designs to me look somewhat pedestrian, I would struggle to identify many of them to their derivative fonts without cheating. I don’t think they did a really good job at capturing the character of each typeface and converting that to a piece of eyewear.

Helvetica Regular by TYPE.GS

This is Helvetica Regular, perhaps the most recognised typefaces in the world — one that comes with a cult following — yet I don’t see any of its iconic curves in the glasses. The stroke widths and the relationships between the thick and thin parts bear no resemblance to the regular and idealised glyphs of Helvetica. Two of the most iconic shapes of Helvetica, the leg of the uppercase “R” and the counter of the lowercase “a”, the whitespace in the hole are no where to be found. I’m not sure of the two dots on either side, not quite sure how they tie into the rest of the design.

Din by TYPE.GS

Some are better than others however. The Din design does slightly better, but still is more like a standard modern piece of eyewear than it is an “inspired by” piece.

American Typewriters by TYPE.GS

A monospace serif typeface like American Typewriter to me seems like the perfect starting point for a piece of eyewear, but again we have a pretty stock-standard and uneventful design. The unique serifs so characteristic of American Typewriter are no where, the closet we get is the nose arch resembles them almost.

Times New Roman by TYPE.GS

Perhaps the most disappointing design is the one based on Times New Roman. The default font for Microsoft Word for years and years and in return it gets a Clubmaster clone. It feels like they ran out of eyewear shapes and needed to have a Clubmaster clone in there somewhere and Times New Roman got drew the short stick. The contrasting thick and thin strokes of Times New Roman that gives it the distinctive and iconic look are wasted on a gold chrome finish. It could be better.

Can I do better?

Believe it or not these are the only real commercial versions of this idea — at least that I can find. I believe there is a market for this outside of Japan and particularly in Australia, but also America and Europe. I want to create a character profile for each font I design for and make sure the most characteristic and iconic shapes are reproduced in the eyewear. I think stroke is going to be the most important aspect, glasses are a fixed form designed for a human face, there is only so much you can change and stroke is the most prominent. It is all well and good for be to critique this product that has actually made it to market and has been on sale for years, and another for me to actually do something better. Wish me luck.


June: Is that a font I see?

This month I will do something I have wanted to do for a very long time. I will be designing my own glasses, as in spectacles for the face — but they will be modelled on fonts (or typefaces if you want to be fancy).

There has already been at least one of these glasses been designed before, but there are a number of issues with them — that I will go through another time — nonetheless I am excited.

The plan is to 3D print them at some stage and stealth send them to Bailey Nelson (or anyone else that makes eyewear) and get them instores and make a bunch of money and live happily ever after.

Let’s go.