A Tour of Stanley Kubrick’s Prized Lens Collection

One of the many rea­sons Stan­ley Kubrick was such a for­mi­da­ble film­mak­er was that he came to cin­e­ma after many years as a pho­tog­ra­ph­er for pub­li­ca­tions like Look mag­a­zine. Not only did that give him the kind of eye that knew how to tell (and sell) visu­al­ly and with max­i­mum effi­cien­cy, it meant that he real­ly knew his cam­era and by exten­sion his lens­es. He knew what each lens could do, its strengths and weak­ness­es, and–as in those days, all were hand-ground–their indi­vid­ual per­son­al­i­ties.

Very few direc­tors keep up with cam­era tech–that’s usu­al­ly the job of the cinematographer–but Kubrick did. Although he was­n’t the first direc­tor to use Steadicam, he was the first (on The Shin­ing) to get the rig mod­i­fied so it could coast close to the ground.

In this video, Joe Dun­ton, who owned one of the major cam­era rental facil­i­ties in Lon­don and worked very close­ly with Kubrick, takes us on a tour of Kubrick’s lens col­lec­tion. For those who went to the trav­el­ing Kubrick exhib­it two to three years ago, a selec­tion of these were on dis­play, and Dunton’s inter­view seems to have been part of a sim­i­lar show in Frank­furt.

Kubrick was a tin­ker­er, and many of the lens­es here he mod­i­fied him­self, com­bin­ing bod­ies, or chang­ing a still cam­era lens so that it could mount onto his favorite film cam­era, the Arri­flex IIc, a rel­a­tive­ly small hand­held movie cam­era that he often oper­at­ed him­self.

The direc­tor rarely rent­ed, pre­fer­ring to buy his own lens­es to keep. He was also a big fan of using nat­ur­al light when he could–further evi­dence of the influ­ence of his pho­to­jour­nal­ism career. Nat­ur­al light could be as dim as the flick­er of a can­dle, which led to the use of a Zeiss lens designed for NASA as a way of pho­tograph­ing space–Kubrick used it for the evening shots in Bar­ry Lyn­don in order to cap­ture can­dle­light.

Also shown, the high­ly cov­et­ed Ange­nieux 10-to‑1 zoom lens, and what would a Kubrick film be with­out those icon­ic slow zooms.

If there is an unsung hero in all this, it’s a man named George Hill, who was Kubrick’s go-to-guy when he need­ed a lens cre­at­ed. It was the only guy he trust­ed to clean his lens­es.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Stan­ley Kubrick’s List of Top 10 Films (The First and Only List He Ever Cre­at­ed)

Stan­ley Kubrick’s Rare 1965 Inter­view with The New York­er

In 1968, Stan­ley Kubrick Makes Pre­dic­tions for 2001: Human­i­ty Will Con­quer Old Age, Watch 3D TV & Learn Ger­man in 20 Min­utes

Ted Mills is a free­lance writer on the arts who cur­rent­ly hosts the FunkZone Pod­cast. You can also fol­low him on Twit­ter at @tedmills, read his oth­er arts writ­ing at tedmills.com and/or watch his films here.

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