ARRI Ultra Wide Zoom test shoot

Cinematographer Tom Faehrmann was given the prototype ARRI Ultra Wide Zoom UWZ 9.5-18/T2.9 for a quick test shoot before the lens' debut at IBC this year. Hailed as the first super wide-angle zoom for the professional cine market, the UWZ has a large image circle of 33.7 mm and will accommodate both existing and future generations of large-sensor digital cameras. With a unique, telecentric optical design that minimizes distortion, it is ideal for VFX plate shots or any other situation where pristine image quality is vital. What follows is Tom's test shoot report.

Ultra Wide Zoom 9.5-18/T2.9 test shoot

Cinematographer Tom Faehrmann puts the new ARRI UWZ 9.5-18/T2.9 super wide-angle zoom through its paces, taking the prototype out for a test shoot around Munich.

The prototype UWZ came in just a short while before it was due to leave for IBC in Amsterdam with the ARRI team, so I only had one day to get the lens on a camera body and go out to find some locations where we could test its quality. I decided to focus on just a few locations -- the sorts of places you might use a wide-angle lens on a real shoot. Everything had to be in or around Munich, so we wound up going to an abandoned factory, down into the metro system, and to Schleissheim Palace, which is a sort of Bavarian castle.

 

When I first saw the lens I was slightly surprised because it looks like a normal zoom and it's quite long. That takes a bit of getting used to and I suspect that if you had this lens on a big feature film you would still want wide-angle primes as well, for very space-constrained situations. On the other hand, the UWZ is of really stunning quality, with none of the distortion you would expect from such wide focal lengths. The image stays rock solid and I immediately realized that this lens would be great for shooting architecture or any other situation where you need to maintain those straight lines in the frame. 

Another thing I noticed very quickly was that, although you normally have a brighter hot spot in the middle of a lens and towards the edges it becomes darker, you don't see that in the UWZ. We did a few shots with a car and I can imagine that on a car commercial it would be great to have this lens on a Russian Arm because you could do driving shots with extreme wide angles, using the zoom to adjust the composition when you need to, and getting images that are distortion-free and of consistent quality, corner-to-corner.

In my view, the Ultra Wide Zoom is perfect for commercials, car shoots, VFX work and architecture.

In order to test the degree to which the lens 'breathes' with focus pulls, I did a shot through a broken window at the factory, with the shards of glass creating a frame within my own viewfinder frame. I focused on the broken glass and then pulled focus to infinity, through the hole in the window. You would normally expect to see the shards of glass moving within the composition when you pull focus like that, but there was almost nothing -- it was really fantastic.

 

Down in the metro we positioned the camera on the ground, to capture the architecture of the station. There was a lot of fluorescent lighting in shot, but we didn't pick up any flaring or stray light, and the image stayed perfectly clean. 

I was happy that ARRI thought of the detachable lens hoods and matte box interfaces, because with wide-angle optics you sometimes position things very close to the lens; the close focus distance of the UWZ is 55 cm, but of course that is measured from the sensor, so you can actually focus around 20 cm from the front element. If you need to get a light in close as well, then a protruding lens hood would create shadow. But on the other hand you need a hood because the front element sticks out from the housing and you have to be able to put the lens down on a surface, like a table, without damaging it. A lens hood that can be removed is the ideal solution: it protects the glass but won't get in the way of your lighting for very close shots. 

At Schleissheim Palace I wanted to try out some architecture shots. The building has a very long façade, so I was panning from one side to the other in order to see how the straight lines behaved, and I didn't encounter any distortion. Obviously things on the sides of the image get stretched out a bit with such a wide-angle lens because they are falling away so quickly -- that's just the physics of the focal length -- but even in these areas the straight lines remain straight and the image appears very natural.

In conclusion I would say that, in my view, the Ultra Wide Zoom is perfect for commercials, car shoots, VFX work and architecture. ARRI also sells the Ultra Prime 8R, which is a very well-made lens, and this zoom seemed quite similar to me in terms of the image quality. To be honest I was extremely surprised by the UWZ because although I expected a good lens (it being from ARRI), I didn't expect it to be this good. I work with ARRI a lot, but quite aside from my relationship with the company, it was a genuine surprise to me that it's possible to construct a super wide-angle zoom with this kind of quality.