4 Stunning Lenses Used On POOR THINGS To Achieve A Gorgeous Art-House Palette

Poor Things is an amazing feature film that achieves beautiful visuals through unconventional lens choices. In this article, we will explore four of the lenses used to create this signature look.

Before we unpack each lens, it’s worth noting that the film benefitted from an array of glass – not just the four lenses we will highlight today.

For instance, Bella’s reanimation sequence was shot on a vintage camera (Beaumont Vista Vision), which required very specific glass. Namely adapted Leica APO Summicron-R and Telyt-R lenses that ranged in focal length from 19mm – 135mm.

The Vista Vision camera was too noisy to use on other parts of the film, but it was used strategically for this one sequence, as it did not have any dialogue.

There were also some other prime and zoom lenses used outside of the main four, which I’ll briefly touch on below. But from my vantage point as a viewer, the most critical lenses to the final look of Poor Things were as follows –

Optex 4mm (Super 16 Lens)

Some of the most striking shots in the movie were captured with an extremely wide angle 4mm Optex Lens, adapted to work with a 35mm camera.

Since the lens is so wide and natively designed for Super 16 cameras, it creates a porthole effect. Essentially, a circular image in the middle of the frame, surrounded by darkness – a very unique look.

This aesthetic could only really be captured with the Optex 4mm, as it is one of the widest S16 lenses available. And it doesn’t really fisheye, which helps keep the images more grounded. It’s known for being sharp in the middle (especially at T4) with gradual falloff at the edges.

The Optex 4mm is also very hands-off to work with, since the lens has a fixed focus and no barrel to pull focus from. At that focal length, basically everything is in focus at all times. That undoubtably would impact the creative process on set just as much as the final creative result.

8mm Oppenheimer / Nikkor

Two of the key wide angle lenses used on Poor Things were the 10mm Arri / Zeiss, and the 8mm Oppenheimer / Nikkor lens. Both of which delivered some stunning shots.

That said, in my opinion it was the 8mm Oppenheimer / Nikkor lens that contributed most to the film’s powerful visual palette.

DP Robbie Ryan has talked about the “distinct bend” of the 8mm lens, which contorts the image in fascinating ways. While many cinematographers shy away from this type of glass, Robbie Ryan and Director Yorgos Lanthimos leaned into its flaws to help better tell their story.

Some of my favorite shots in the film were captured on this lens. I particularly love the look when panning / tracking left and right, which most obviously reveals the warped characteristics of the glass.

Apparently working with these wide angle lenses posed some production challenges, however. It was often a challenge to keep lights, crew, or other gear out of the shot. At those kind of focal lengths you can see almost everything.

58mm / 85mm Lomography Petzvals

As much as I loved all the lens choices in the film, these two Petzval lenses were by far my favorite.

Petzvals were originally developed in the the 1840s, and were the first lenses ever specifically engineered for portraiture. This is what they originally looked like –

In recent years, they have been re-imagined by Lomography. And updated to include modern features like bokeh control, dual aperture, coated glass and much more.

On Poor Things, these updated Petzvals were rehoused for cinema use by True Lens Services Limited in Leicester, U.K. They were used extensively in the film for some of the nicest portrait shots I’ve seen in ages. Perhaps ever.

Robbie Ryan has described the lenses as making you “feel like you are in a vortex”. With swirling intensity on the edges of the frame, but sharp focus in the dead center.

The lenses were tested and fine tuned to achieve the final result. They were also shot at their widest apertures to maximize the effect in camera.

ARRI / Zeiss 16.5 – 110mm Master Zoom

Poor Things executes some gorgeous zoom shots, each more beautifully plotted than the last.

Among the zoom lenses that were used were the Angénieux Optimo 24 – 290mm and the Arri / Zeiss 16.5 – 110mm Master Zoom.

Both of these are incredible lenses in their own right. But the Arri / Zeiss 16.5 – 110mm was used more extensively on the film, and therefore that much more essential to the final look.

It was also a really interesting choice, especially when contrasted against some of the other (more experimental) glass.

The Arri / Zeiss zoom is a legendary, industry standard lens. With an aperture of T2.6, a huge focal range, and virtually no distortion or focus breathing – this lens is nearly flawless.

It creates such a unique dichotomy when intercut with the wildly distorted 8mm Oppenheimer, and many of the other lenses.

The filmmakers also leverage the full zoom range for maximum effect. As a viewer, you can really feel the lens pushing into and out of scenes. Darting around the frame. Searching for a focal point, and acting like its own character. It’s mesmerizing to watch.

Using Each Lens Type For Every Scene

When making Poor Things, an intention was set to use one lens from each category in every scene:

  1. Wide Angle
  2. Portrait
  3. Zoom

According to this ASC article, the specific lenses picked from each category would vary from scene to scene. But there would always be coverage from each of these very different vantage points. This would create the most dynamic edit, while avoiding the trap of traditional coverage.

The filmmakers also did not work from a storyboard or even a shot list. So this construct was surely helpful in creating boundaries on set that could streamline production and unleash creativity all at once. And combined with the 1.66:1 aspect ratio choice, it all made for some of the most distinct cinematography this year.

While this specific methodology may not fit every film, I believe the underlying philosophy does. It’s always important to understand your films palette, and create your own unique structure to achieve your vision.

Mixing & Matching Glass

Oftentimes filmmakers are afraid to mix and match glass. They feel like every shot from every angle needs to match perfectly, at least from a technical level.

And for some productions, that is the right approach. There are certainly films that benefit from less stylized visuals, and in turn draw less attention to themselves.

That said, most films could benefit from being open minded about mixing and matching lenses.

You don’t necessarily need to take it to the extreme of Poor Things. But you also don’t have to avoid using a lens you love, because it has a different brand name on it.

Most Hollywood features are on shot on a variety of cameras, lenses, and formats that are carefully paired with each other.

Vintage lenses might be mixed with modern cinema glass to separate past and present. Just as film might be used for daytime shots, and digital for low light or night exteriors.

The key is always to approach your process as an artist first, not a technician. Think about what will feel the best, not what will look the most technically correct.

Once you have a strong vision for your aesthetic, you can pick the right tools to get there. And you don’t be worried if your choices are outside of the norm.

Let’s all take a page from Poor Things and embrace creative experimentation. It only leads to great things!

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About Author

Noam Kroll is an award-winning Los Angeles based filmmaker, and the founder of the boutique production house, Creative Rebellion. His work can be seen at international film festivals, on network television, and in various publications across the globe. Follow Noam on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook for more content like this!


  • A. Talmage Monroe

    Such a great post. I could read your lens breakdowns all day long. Thanks as always Noam!

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