Stanley Kubrick, Part 3 – Cameras & Lenses

Published On April 20, 2013 | By Mike Carroll | Stanley Kubrick

When I first heard about the Stanley Kubrick Exhibit when it debuted in Melbourne, Australia, I saw photos of displays of Kubrick’s personal cameras and lenses. As a filmmaker and cameraman, this I was chomping at the bit.

My friend and fellow KCRA news cameraman Mike Williams getting up close with Kubrick’s lenses.

After making 2001: A Space Odessey in the studio for MGM, Kubrick signed with Warner Brothers on a very exclusive arrangement. He could make his own films under his own company with final cut. Out from under corporate oversight, provided he remained within budget, Kubrick was free to make his films any way he liked.

Kubrick started life out as a photographer. Throughout the studio period of his career he always had a Nikon rangefinder close at hand for taking his own snapshots. As a filmmaker, this carried over into an insatiable need for specific camera lenses for his Arriflex 2C and Mitchell BNC.

Part of this was to exert more control. Since Kubrick started out as a photographer and was the cameraman on his first couple of movies, he wanted to resume that position.

Kubrick’s favorite camera, an Arriflex 2C. This was purchased for shooting A Clockwork Orange. All handheld shots in Kubrick’s films from this point on he shot himself. The camera, purchased in 1969, is so clean that it still looks fresh out of the box.

He turned his back on the traditional studio crew size an organization in favor of a smaller, more flexible crew. One day he may have thirty people, another day only fifteen or twenty, on another less than ten. Crew members were hired on an as-needed basis. This allowed him big cost savings. The savings meant that he could take more time.

Kubrick filming one of the final shots of A Clockwork Orange with his Arriflex 2C and an ultra-wide 9mm Kinoptik lens.

Kubrick filming the boxing scene from Barry Lyndon with his beloved Arri 2C.

It’s rather astounding to think that, considering the stature of Kubrick’s films, they were made cheaper than other film productions, and yet he could take five or six times longer to shoot a movie. A Hollywood movie with all of its crew size and girth could be limited to having to shoot a movie in eight to twelve weeks. A Stanley Kubrick movie could take eight to thirteen months to shoot.

Kubrick using the same Arri 2C again on Full Metal Jacket. That’s how you stretch a budget!

Kubrick amassed all types of lenses. He even used a Vivitar, one of the cheapest lenses that you can find in any used camera store. Maybe that’s where he picked this one up at.

This is all the more important reason for Kubrick to no longer rent equipment for his films. Stanley Kubrick bought his equipment. Then he would have this cameras and lenses, which were then paid for, to be used over and over on his subsequent films. Another factor for his lower production costs.

The famous 1-20 zoom lens Kubrick used for his enormously long zoom shots in Barry Lyndon. Amazingly, this was a 16mm lens that Kubrick found, then had modified to be able to use on his 35mm cameras. It’s a CinePro 24-480mm lens.

The legendary Mitchell BNC that was specially modified for lenses Kubrick had found that had been commissioned by NASA from Leitz, who make lenses for Leicas. These lenses have F-stops of O.75 and 0.95, for photographing the dark side of the Moon by astronauts on the Apollo missions.

It’s also worth noting that once he started making his own films from A Clockwork Orange on, they were all shot with a 1.85 aspect ratio. That’s because even up to Eyes Wide Shut, he would be using some of the same lenses that he’d first bought thirty years before.

The ultra-low light lenses were used for shooting the scenes in Barry Lyndon which were only illuminated by candlelight, to be true to the 18th Century period. The lenses, in order to allow in so much light, have very wide rear lens elements — much larger than standard motion picture lenses.
Also, these unique lenses, unlike any other camera lens, do not have an iris in them. The lenses are cylinders and glass and cannot be used outdoors except at night.
In order to use the lenses, a Mitchell BNC had to be purchased and the lens mount and shutter completely re-worked.
Kubrick acquired four different ultra-low light lenses.
This is the only camera used on the candlelight scenes in Barry Lyndon and it will not accept any other lenses except the four low-light lenses.

An amazing thing about the exhibit at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art is that the “Barry Lyndon camera” was standing on its own tripod and was not roped off. You could get your eyes as close to examine it as you wanted to. And yet, the public was so respectful that I never once saw a single person even try to touch it.

Kubrick loved all lenses. These are Nikon and Canon still lenses with low F-stops of F-1.4 that he had modified with Arriflex mounts for use on Barry Lyndon.

Mike Williams eyes one of the longest lenses in the case.

Kilfit Makro-Kilar F-2.8 90mm lens.
This huge lens is not a super-telephoto but a 90mm close-up lens for close in and macro shots.
This would not be used for handholding!




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About The Author

Mike Carroll joined the digital revolution in 1999 with a Sony TRV900 camcorder and Final Cut Pro, when it was only Final Cut Pro and not version 2, 4 or a Suite.

3 Responses to Stanley Kubrick, Part 3 – Cameras & Lenses

  1. Great article Mike! I hope this exhibit get’s within 500 miles of Rochester, NY… I’ll never forget that gorgeous composition in Barry Lyndon of the dueling scene. Perfect composition, perfect light…absolutely unbelievable.

  2. Pingback: DCC024 – Kubrick: The First Naked Filmmaker (feat. Mike Carroll) | digitalCINEMAcafe

  3. Wesly says:

    Great article with some nice pictures, thank you for sharing… 🙂

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