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And the Academy Award Winner Is -- Carl Zeiss

Photonics Spectra
Jul 1999
Robert C. Pini

One award-winning Hollywood star has neither perfect skin nor drop-dead beauty. At the latest gathering of the glitterati, a camera lens was recognized for its performance and given a Scientific and Engineering Award from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

Known as variable prime lenses, the high-speed zoom series was designed by Carl Zeiss in Oberkochen, Germany, in cooperation with Arnold & Richter Cine Technik in Munich, Germany, which makes the Arriflex cameras that use the lenses. The three-lens series has variable focal lengths of 16 to 30 mm, 29 to 60 mm and 55 to 105 mm.

The lenses aim to bridge the gap between the flexibility of zooms and the high speed and optical performance of fixed lenses. According to the judges, they make a great contribution to the arts. The variable primes won kudos for high image quality and lack of peripheral distortion -- characteristics usually associated with lenses of fixed focal length. One of the new features is a design that groups the 16 to 18 separate elements in each lens to minimize internal movement.

Antireflective coatings minimize stray light and barrel flare when filming into oncoming light, such as glaring headlights. That gives directors more freedom to compose scenes without worrying about technical problems.

On Oscar night, Zeiss shared in other accolades. Gwyneth Paltrow received the "Best Actress" award for her starring role in Shakespeare in Love, which used the variable prime lenses in filming and which was named "Best Picture."

The Zeiss-Arriflex team previously won Hollywood's highest award in 1987 for a series of high-speed lenses.

Despite industry's high regard for the zooms, other Zeiss products get far less respect. For a recent Walt Disney film, Zeiss provided microscopes as props for laboratory realism. But the scene direction called for them to be destroyed. "We never expected to get them back," said Irv Toplin, marketing director at Carl Zeiss Inc. in Thornwood, N.Y., who arranges the loaners for Hollywood.

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