In Review: The Cine Lens Manual


Over the course of my career I have seen and read lots of books or manuals that have covered all kinds of equipment and best production practices.

That being said, The Cine Lens Manual by Jay Holben and Christopher Probst, ASC respectively goes right to the front of the line. Clearly a labor of love,The Cine Lens Manual answers most every fundamental and advanced question you might ever have about motion picture optics—history, design, technical specifications, and great insights. Written in a very conversational style, Jay and Christopher have totally nailed it.

We’re going to get some background on the book from one of the books’ authors Jay Holben, ASC.

“After eight long years of work on The Cine Lens Manual, the overwhelmingly positive responses and warm embrace from the cinematographic community has been deeply gratifying. Chris and I set out to create something that didn’t exist and there was a point in the midst of our labors that we realized we had something special that could make a significant impact. It’s truly a relief that as the Manual gets out into the world, the response seems to mirror our own feelings. The reception has been extraordinary from excited students to master cinematographers, we’ve been deeply honored by the responses. We hope that this serves as a powerful tool for the image-making artists and technicians for a very long time.” 

Maybe Jay and Christopher should’ve called their book “Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Lens, but Were Afraid to Ask!” Seriously, they set the book up so well. Starting with some sage advice to just plow ahead through each of the chapters. I have to admit that I am so impatient that I jumped right to Chapter Six! In particular Chapter 6:3 which delves into Anamorphics. Wow! But then it was back to basics.

Each of the nine chapters covers not only the how of everything works , but also the why. In other words, a comprehensive breakdown that reads like a virtual who’s who of the people and of the companies that made and continue to make lens history. As Mr. Spock from Star Trek would say “fascinating”. 

Breaking Down The Cine Lens Manual

Examples of great information included throughout the book are lime green call out boxes with important profiles and blue call out boxes such as the one that explains the real meaning and history “bokeh” in Chapter 2 Page 178. Why is this important? Ask yourself a simple question. Do you think you know the meaning and history of the word “bokeh”?

If you’re going to throw words around with smart technical people shouldn’t you know what those terms mean? Learning your craft takes time, but understanding the lens? Let’s go to another whole level which means asking all kinds of questions and taking good production notes. Yes, I know you can do all kinds of data capture, but sometimes it’s good to make some of your own location and shooting notes too. 

Crunching Away

I have actually heard the amount of information in the book described as “insane” which is pretty close. But as they say “wait there’s more”. The book is chock full of visuals using frame by frame examples and diagrams as well as real side by side shot comparisons from real productions and cutaways. The clincher for me is that Jay and Christopher document what they are using as sources. No guessing or conjecture, unless they are stating their very respected opinions.

Another “go to” in the book is how Jay and Christopher match projects such as movies and television with the people that shot the movie and the lenses utilized. If you want to know what lenses people were shooting with, it’s in the book!

Who/Why You Should Get This Book

  1. No ego from the authors. They talk the talk, and have walked the walk.
  2. No playing favorites with one lens or set of lenses.
  3. Great history of lenses, how lenses and optics are designed and how they actually work.
  4. There’s lots of very interesting inventor and company profiles. So much info on how we got here with lenses today.
  5. This is some doctoral level sh*t. As a matter of fact I would recommend this book/manual as a master reference for any filmmaker new or advanced.
  6. If I was teaching a production class, I would make this one of the first books on my book list. I would also get these guys to do a guest lecture if they had the time. 

Racking Focus

I’m sure you have figured out that I think Jay and Christopher knocked it right out of the park. The Cine Lens Manual is a work of art. In my opinion, there should be a copy in every camera and lens department, along with rental houses, and film schools. This is one manual I plan on using a lot.

Have you read it or are considering grabbing a copy? Let us know in the comments! 


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