NFL Films has dropped a short documentary about an amazing and rare lens that it uses to capture the jaw-dropping shots regularly seen by fans.
The Optex 33 to 1 is a Canon broadcast lens that has been rehoused and converted into a cinema lens with T stops. There were only 15 of the lenses ever sold worldwide and the NFL owns two of them.
— NFL Films (@NFLFilms) November 21, 2023
‘The Best Sports Cinematography Lens’
The 33 to 1 name relates to its zooming capabilities: it can zoom in 33 times longer than the widest point of the lens allowing camera operators to get a broad shot of the stadium while also cropping close in on a player’s face, all on the same piece of gear.
In the film, it’s revealed that the head of camera tech, a man called Steve Richer, was the person who had the idea to use the lens which was being reengineered by Optex, a company from the U.K.
“There were no companies like Optex at the time,” says Mike Tapa, a former design engineer at Optex. “The lens was obviously designed for broadcast but we had the idea of converting it so it can be used more cinematically.”
The Optex 33 to 1 was first used in the 2000 season and was an instant hit. The lens is operated from just six inches off the ground, the low-angle view making the players look even more heroic.
The classic shot on the lens starts with a tight crop on the quarterback; when he makes his throw the camera tracks the ball and zooms out as the receiver, hopefully, catches it for a touchdown.
The lens is attached to an Arri camera and this amazing setup can cover 45-yard passes.
“There are no limitations with this lens,” says NFL Films cinematographer Ben Johnson. “We can follow the huddle break, follow the feet walking up to the line, you can get their hand grabbing the ball, snapping it.”
“I don’t think there will be another lens that can do what this lens does,” he adds.
Image credits: NFL Films