Fossils on film: stepping back in time with the versatile Sumire Primes

DoP Clemens Majunke reveals how he used Canon Sumire Prime lenses to create the vintage, cinematic look he needed for Sea Dragon, a short film set in 1812.
A camera crew filming two actors beside the sea: a Victorian gentleman in a top hat and cape leaning over to talk to a young girl.

Sea Dragon tells the story of how young Mary Anning discovered the first Ichthyosaur fossil in the cliffs of the English coastline. "We wanted to have a nice polished look, but still have that character of the time," says DoP Clemens Majunke, explaining why he chose to shoot the film with Sumire Prime lenses. © Christopher Baker

When a 12-year-old girl discovered the first dinosaur fossils in cliffs along the English Channel, no-one believed her. Two centuries later, Mary Anning is celebrated as a pioneering palaeontologist. "This was groundbreaking and changed the way we saw the world," says German director of photography Clemens Majunke, who brought this story to the screen, choosing Canon's Sumire Prime lenses to create the vintage look it required.

Sea Dragon is a short film set in 1812, following the budding palaeontologist as she excavates the skeleton of an Ichthyosaurus, which scientists originally dismissed as the remains of a crocodile. The film focuses on Mary and her brother Joseph, as they break into a manor house to reclaim her mysterious find from a nefarious local auctioneer.

Clemens – whose portfolio spans documentaries, TV dramas and series for Warner Bros, Bavaria Film and ITV, as well as commercials for brands including Nike, Porsche and Mercedes Benz – was asked to join the project by the film's director, James Morgan. "As soon as I heard about the story, I was drawn into it," Clemens says. "Initially nobody paid much attention to Mary's discovery, as she was a young girl from a poor background. She wasn't respected until after her death."

Funded by an educational charity, Sea Dragon is to be screened in schools around the UK, to inspire primary school children, especially girls, to pursue a career in science. For his shoot along Britain's coastline and in a candlelit manor house, Clemens chose Canon's Sumire Prime lenses for their cinematic aesthetic.

Vintage look, modern performance

The production team wanted to capture the character of the film's pre-Victorian setting, without sacrificing any of the detail and refined image that today's lenses and cameras are capable of producing. Vintage lenses wouldn't do the job, as they are not always able to meet the resolution needs of 4K and 8K capture. But Clemens knew that Canon's Sumire Prime lens range would deliver the artistic look that was required.

Sumire Prime lenses have been engineered for a cinematic look, blending beautiful bokeh with a hint of velvety softness that's sympathetic to skin tones. "They have a unique character that you don't see in other modern lenses," says Clemens. "I've always liked the vintage Canon K35 cine lenses, but for this sort of narrative work, you just want a little bit more consistency. We needed modern lenses that would perform well in all circumstances and provide a fast, hassle-free workflow.

"The Sumire Primes offer a superb amount of detail without ever being too sharp. Colours were rendered in a very organic, painterly way, which resulted in fantastic skin tones. They also produce a gentle highlight glow, but we had no problem controlling flares or a loss of contrast in strong backlight."

Clemens mainly used the CN-E35mm T1.5 FP X and CN-E85mm T1.3 FP X lenses during the five-day shoot. "They just work really well on larger sensors and give you a nice field of view," he says. The bright maximum T-stop also made a difference when shooting in the low-light interior of the film's historic manor house location.

"The period in which the film was set had no artificial light sources other than candles and oil lamps," explains Clemens. "So we would create that look by using a lot of practicals, trying to light the scenes with minimal light, so that the candles could do a lot of the illumination. And that's where the Sumire Primes really helped us out. They have a nice halation around the candlelight that helps the overall atmosphere."

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Clemens Majunke shooting the sitting room of an opulent Victorian manor using a Sumire Prime lens.

"I loved the idea of having a compact, lightweight lens that would make it easy to work in the tight cellars of the location and help with the gimbal shots," Clemens says. All the lenses in the range share the same warm colour tone, making it easier to maintain the same colour balance when changing lenses. © Christopher Baker

Kiara Holley-Paliano as Mary Anning in Regency dress in an interior manor set with candles to one side.

Kiara Holley-Paliano plays young Mary Anning. "Because of the period and the historic manor house location that Sea Dragon was set in, I was looking for a slightly softer, painterly look," explains Clemens. He says the Sumire Primes lenses he used at settings between T2.0 and T2.8 performed fantastically, "with a great balance between gentle contrast and resolution."

Subtle rendering of skin tone

Another reason Clemens enjoys the Sumire Prime lenses is that they enable him to shoot in two different styles. "As soon as you open them up wider than about T2.8, the painterly character of the lens really shines," he says. "And if you stop them down a little bit to T8, you get a very crisp, sharp image.

"For a lot of the close-ups and portraits, I like to open up the lens a little bit more to soften the skin even more and to get a nice halation around the fine details and the hair. It gives you a really, really nice look. On a wider shot where there's a lot of detail or things going on, I just stop them down a bit to give me a richer image."

One of the signature characteristics of Sumire Primes is the way in which out-of-focus areas are rendered. Objects beyond the depth of field appear more indistinct than when captured with the equivalent Cine Prime lens, allowing the in-focus subject to pop from the background. The bokeh is slightly different too, particularly towards the edge of the frame, thanks to the 11-blade iris in each lens. "It feels very organic, very natural," says Clemens. "It's very smooth, and it just sort of rolls off. Out-of-focus lights have a nice round quality to them too."

Testing out the Sumire Prime lenses in low light

Filmmaker Tania Freimuth put Canon's PL-mount Sumire Prime cine lenses through their paces on a challenging low-light shoot. Find out what she thought.
Clemens Majunke filming with a Sumire Prime lens in a room lit by candles and a fireplace.

Sumire Prime lenses use a PL mount, giving them wide-ranging compatibility with Full Frame and Super 35mm cameras, but they can also be changed to EF mount for use on Cinema EOS cameras. At the same time, the EOS C300 Mark III and EOS C500 Mark II both provide support for optional interchangeable lens mounts, giving you the option of PL mounts for different project requirements. © Christopher Baker

The Sea Dragon camera crew attaching a Sumire Prime lens to a camera on a beach.

Clemens started out making branded videos and then moved to drama, beginning as a loader and then camera assistant before working his way up. "Developments in technology have made it easier to get into filmmaking – there's really no barrier anymore," he says. © Christopher Baker

Full Frame capture

Since Sea Dragon filming ended, Clemens has used Sumire Primes on a number of other projects, including a character-driven short film about mental health which required a lot of night shoots. "I really like the gloomy look the lenses create when you shoot them wide open at night," he says. "It really helps to create a different sense of reality."

For this more recent shoot, Clemens paired the Sumire Primes with a Canon EOS C500 Mark II, and was impressed by the combination. "It gives you a really nice balance between detail and sharpness, and overall it's a really compact, lightweight package that I can use in a gimbal, handheld or rigged into a car," he says. "It is still not easy to find lenses which cover all the new Full Frame sensors, and using Sumire Primes means I don't have to worry about vignetting."

Curious to see how Sumire Prime lenses would perform in a more contemporary setting, Clemens has also worked with them on a commercial shoot, where he was briefed to create a "neon, dark-futuristic" look. "I stopped them down a little bit this time, and they handled that perfectly, still delivering clean images and a nice level of contrast."

That's the thing with Sumire Primes: their unique optical design makes them extremely versatile. Open them up, and it's possible to produce a beautiful, expressive image. Stop them down, and you can achieve a clean, modern look. You could say that they're the perfect lenses to change the way you see the world.

Marcus Hawkins

Clemens Majunke's kitbag

The key kit pros use to make their films

A Sumire Prime CN-E35mm T1.5 FP X lens being attached to a camera mounted on a gimbal.


Canon EOS C500 Mark II

With a 5.9K Full Frame sensor packed into a newly developed compact and reliable Cinema EOS body, this camera provides new inspiration and great flexibility for all cinematographers. "It's a really compact, lightweight package that I can use in a gimbal, handheld or rigged into a car," says Clemens.


CN-E35mm T1.5 FP X

A Sumire Prime cine lens offering fast aperture and precise manual control, subtly modifying textural renderings for pleasing bokeh with superb expressiveness. "The Sumire Primes offer a superb amount of detail without ever being too sharp," Clemens says.

CN-E85mm T1.3 FP X

A Sumire Prime cine lens designed to produce a delicate and subtle rendering, with a crafted focus bokeh aimed at careful creative expression. According to Clemens: "They have a unique character that you don't see in other modern lenses."

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