Michel Amathieu, AFC, on the Leitz Prime lenses

par Ernst Leitz Wetzlar Contre-Champ AFC n°316

[English] [français]

Since Leitz, in 2011, released the complete range of Summilux-C lenses – which, four years later, was given the Scientific and Engineering Award® by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences – cinematographer Michel Amathieu, AFC, has practically always used them whenever possible. Consequently, when he got involved with the Netflix series "Gone for Good", he immediately offered director Juan Carlos Medina to test the new Leitz Prime wide-format lenses which open at T : 1.8. Both men were so enthralled by those first tests that they did not even try other lenses.

"Gone for Good" is a thriller adapted from a book written by Harlan Coben in which the hero, Finnegan Oldfield, while investigating a drug traffic case, searches for his missing lover and must face the ghosts from his past, most prominently his brother and his first love who died ten years ago (actors Nicolas Duvauchelle and Garance Marillier, respectively.)
The 12-week shoot has just been completed in Nice. The legendarily beautiful light of the French Riviera contrasting and clashing with its stormy winter skies served as a backdrop to “magic hour” (dusk) scenes in which the heroes chase each other and clash.

Michel Amathieu likes to place the actors with lights in the frame, be they those of the Promenade des Anglais in the distance or those, closer, of a garland of light bulbs forced to knock against each other by the wind. That is when he fully appreciates the Leitz Prime lenses’ perfectly round bokeh, whatever the diaphragm, which provides a type of blur that preserves the geometry of the light source. “That is something unique and specific to the Leitz Prime lenses.”

Michel Amathieu decided not to use any filter. For at least two reasons. One, “there is no need to filter, these lenses are so beautiful”. And two, “When you get to the color-grading stage, it is much easier to bring effects back into the image than remove them”. Besides, as a cinematographer, he favors an "committed" light that defines the frame and serves the purpose of the film.

For the "Gone for Good" series, he chose to focus on two main hues – cyan and amber – and to stick to that choice throughout the five episodes.
The amber, predominant Indoors, was brought in by undercharged lamps used as set design items rather than light sources, as Michel Amathieu lit both the actors and the sets with LEDs. As for the cyan, it was provided by neons and the turquoise hue of the walls or the buildings’ façades.
Throughout principal photography, this precise work on the color palette allowed him to appreciate how close the colorimetric rendering of the Leitz Prime lenses was to what the eye sees. “With these lenses, I am not betrayed by one dominant hue.”

Indoors, he rarely shot below T : 2.8, in order to give the sets their due, not to make them too blurry and thus isolating the actors from their environment. Evening and night scenes were shot at full T : 1.8 aperture, allowing to keep the brightness, bursts of light and flares under control.

Apart from coming up with the light scheme, Michel Amathieu manned one of the two Arri Alexa LF cameras because he likes to frame and has always done it with directors as different as Volker Schlöndorff or Abdel Raouf Dafri – regretting, however, not to have added Agnieszka Holland or Emir Kusturica to that prestigious roster.

Leitz Prime 50 mm T:1,8
Leitz Prime 50 mm T:1,8
Photo Ariane Damain-Vergallo - Leica M (monture PL) et 100 mm Leitz Summicron-C

Among the thirteen focal lengths of the Leitz Prime series (including the 350mm), all having the same weight and the same size, Michel Amathieu privileged three focal lengths : the 29mm, the 40mm and, above all, the 65mm Leitz Prime for which he has an unabashed predilection. “With the 65mm Leitz Prime, I like the way the background appears, almost like a drawing – and, above all, I particularly like the soft and silky rendering of the skin”.

Michel Amathieu was also able to use the new Leitz 55-125mm large format zoom lens with an aperture of T : 2.8, which he appreciated immensely, particularly because it blends harmoniously with the Leitz Prime fixed focal lengths.

"Gone for Good" will be released on Netflix platform in September 2021.

NOTE : The brand new Leitz Prime large format lens set as well as the two Leitz 25-75mm and 55-125mm zooms (T : 2.8) were released worldwide at the end of 2019 and are available for rental in France, most notably at Transpacam.

Translated from French by Henri Béhar.

A few films shot with Leitz Primes
- The Prom (USA)

- "A Royal Secret" (Sweden)

- "Anatomy of a Scandal" (UK)
- Cyrano (USA/UK)

- Dos vacas y una burra (Spain)

- Live is Life (Spain)

- On sourit pour la photo (France)

- "Only Murders in the Building" (USA)

- "The Flower of Evil" (South Korea)

- "Ultra Violet & Blue Demon" (USA).

- Technical documentation about the Leitz Prime and Leitz Zoom lenses is available for download below.