About the Leica M 0.8 lenses

Guillaume Deffontaines, AFC, cinematographer on David Oelhoffen’s "Territories"

par Leitz Cine Wetzlar

[English] [français]

Shot in and around Paris in the dead of winter, David Oelhoffen’s Territoires is a "twilight urban western" that stars Reda Kateb and Matthias Schoenaerts. Long before principal photography was scheduled to start, cinematographer Guillaume Deffontaines, AFC, worked closely with the director to make the (intense) seven-week-long shoot as smooth as possible.

As they detailed the technical, artistic and dramatic aspects of each and every scene, to be set in over forty different locations, the key question became : What equipment do we need for which kind of visuals ?
Guillaume Deffontaines has always had a yen for Leica. So, the moment he heard of the upcoming release of M 0.8 lenses, he rushed to test them.

Originally, the M 0.8s are full-frame still-photography high-speed lenses that made Leica famous in the 1950s and 1960s. CW Sonderoptic decided to come up with a moving-picture version. The T-stop ring was de-clicked, the focus ring given a smoother movement and each lens was rehoused with a gear pitch of 0.8mm (hence the name M 0.8 !), allowing the use of such standard film accessories as follow focus or remote systems. In addition, the front diameter of the lenses was standardized to 80mm, making it usable with a matte box.
Since those lenses have an M and not a standard PL Mount, Arri had to modify the sensor’s protective filter of the Alexa Mini and CW Sonderoptic manufactured a specific M Mount, which comes with the lenses.
The combination of the Alexa mini and the M 0.8 lenses shattered all film-camera records in terms of both lightness and bulk : 26cm high by 28cm long, it weighed a mere 6.5kgs ! (around 14 pounds)

Guillaume Deffontaines
Photo Ariane Damain Vergallo - Leica M, 50 mm Summicron-C

A major breakthrough, for Territories was entirely shot with a "shoulder camera" – a term that is rather inappropriate here, as Deffontaines often held his camera at arm’s length and in all possible positions, loving the "in-[my]- blood" feeling of it.
Case in point : When actor Matthias Schoenaerts slipped under a car, cinematographer Deffontaines instantly followed him, camera firmly in hand, sliding under the car on a wheeled trolley maneuvered by a crew member that carried the camera battery, the HF engines’ battery, the swap - anything that could be safely "exiled" from the camera - in a bag attached to her belt.

Yes, "her". Meet Anna Katia Vincent, Deffontaines’ first assistant camera operator and indispensable "right-hand person", who did everything it took to make the camera (and its M 0.8 lenses) as light and mobile as possible.
Considering the small size of the lenses, the focus range on the ring is - obviously - extremely short, making focus-pulling all the more complex.
Anna Katia Vincent had a wheel added to the focus remote system, so as to give it a longer - and more comfortable - movement.
And it worked ! Except for the 50mm lens : as the focus range of that focal length has a wider angle, adding a wheel made it too long in comparison with the others.
A drawback that Anna Katia will change for her next shoot.

The Noctilux 50mm is the crown jewel of this series of optics : a high speed lens with an incredible F stop 0.95 that gives it an exceptional quality of flare and bokeh. The cinematographer simply deems it "sublime".
The 21mm, 24mm, 28mm and 35mm all have an f/1.4, while the 75mm and 90mm have an f/2 one. And there soon will be a new version of the 50mm with an f/1.4.
However, the key asset for Territoires was undeniably the 28mm lens that ended up quasi permanently affixed to the camera. A quintessential choice for a fast-paced thriller that constantly confronts two characters fully occupying the scope format.
For the 28mm lens distorts neither the vertical lines of the sets, however huge, nor the faces in the foreground. Moreover, it allows the camera to move ever so smoothly, however long the sequence-shots may be.
Since the M 0.8s are basically 24x36mm still-photography lenses, they cover the full frame and Deffontaines was able to work in S-35, 1:2.40 (scope) open gate.

As Territoires was shot in mid-winter, light was scarce and the atmosphere cold, which ideally suited the dark narrative. For the cinematographer, however, it was a challenge to shoot a film mostly outdoors when the days are the shortest of the year.
It became, therefore, a daily race against the clock. Starting with the crack-of-dawn scenes, segueing into daytime scenes (with a strict 30-minute lunch break), all the way to the night scenes from 4 or 5PM onward. A (non-)typical day on a film set.

Three weeks into principal photography, for one specific (and highly dramatic) scene, director David Oelhoffen pulled out his "secret weapon" : the 75mm lens, the minimum focus range of which - 2 feet (60cm) - allowed an unusual (and quite sophisticated) closeness to the faces inside the frame.
Deffontaines deems the 75mm lens "unique" and prone to "accidents" that make it all the more interesting. A flare, a vibrancy that subtly pervades the frame, an "unorthodox" placement of a face within the frame, leading, per the cinematographer, to "absolute - and all too rare - visual bedazzlement."

Ariane Damain Vergallo on behalf of CW Sonderoptic - Leica
(Translated from French by Alexander Baron-Raiffe on behalf of the AFC)