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Here Are the Cameras and Lenses that Shot the Year’s Best TV Shows

17 Emmy-nominated cinematographers on how they created their shows’ unique looks, and the gear they chose to pull it off.

Behind the scenes of THE MANDALORIAN, exclsuively on Disney+

“The Mandalorian” Cinematographer Greig Fraser

Melinda Sue Gordon /Lucasfilm Lt

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IndieWire reached out to this year’s nominees for Outstanding Cinematography for a Single-Camera Series (One Hour), Single-Camera Series (Half-Hour), and Limited Series or Movie, and asked them which cameras and lenses they used — but even more important: Why were these these the right tools to create the look of their series? The nominees answers are aggregated below:

Outstanding Cinematography for a Single-Camera Series (Half-Hour)

“The End of the F***ing World” Cinematographer Benedict Spence

“The End of the F***ing World” cinematographer Benedict Spence

“The End of the F***ing World”

Nominated Episode: Episode 2

Format: 4.5K Pro-Res 4444 XQ 16:9 crop
Camera: Arri Alexa LF
Lens: Zeiss Supreme Primes. 99% of the show was on 35mm, 50mm, 65mm. Zeiss CPZ Zooms.

Benedict Spence: From the beginning, director Lucy Forbes and I wanted the show to have an honest, minimalist, but very filmic aesthetic. Season 1, shot on Red, had a strong look but we wanted to push it further. We wanted a mixture of the starkness of the original graphic novel, and the filmic honesty of a ’90s Coen brothers-esque indie movie!

During prep Lucy and I created a 20-page rulebook, with everything from framing guidelines, to exposure rules, to white balance rules. And we stuck strictly to those rules throughout the shoot! The rules created limitations, which forced us to creatively approach situations in unusual ways.

I love the ARRI Alexa sensor, so I was immediately drawn to that. After testing, I realized the newer LF sensor allowed us to shoot at 1600 ISO as a base, giving an extra stop in the highlights without an increase in noise compared to the normal Alexa sensor. This allowed colorist Toby Tomkins to roll off the highlights in a fantastically filmic way.

The Supreme Primes have a lovely texture to them, not too sharp but absolutely not soft. Again exceptionally filmic, which was key for “TEOTFW2.” They have a gentle vignette wide open, which worked well with our centrally-frame everything rule. Being T1.5 and full frame gives an incredibly shallow depth of field, meaning I could pop our cast out from the background, even on the “nipples and up” MCU, which is as close as we ever go.

The show is relatively low budget, but the combination of fast camera and fast lenses meant that night exteriors could be shot with a tiny lighting package. I was happy as I could use RGB LED instead of HMI, and the line producer was happy as it didn’t cost them as much.

"Homecoming" Cinematographer Jas Shelton

“Homecoming” cinematographer Jas Shelton

Ali Goldstein/Amazon Studios

“Homecoming”

Nominated Episode: “Giant”

Format: Redcode 8K Raw
Camera: Panavision Millenium DXL 2
Lens: G series anamorphic primes

Jas Shelton: Our camera package was guided by Season 1, but that was not the only reason for continuity with the Millennium DXL2.

We wanted to visually underscore the instability of Jackie as she goes on her literal journey of self discovery. The large sensor and shallow depth of field allowed us to photograph Jackie in a very subjective way…. Pulling the audience in with wider lenses very close to Jackie and with strong focus fall off.

In support of Jackie’s paranoia, The G series anamorphic aesthetic was heavily embellished, yielding a much stronger curvature of the field and additional obliqueness in the bokeh. Also, the contrast was lowered, the sharpness reduced, and the gradation of focus from sharp to soft enhanced.

"Insecure" Cinematographer Kira Kelly

“Insecure” cinematographer Kira Kelly

Merie W. Wallace

“Insecure”

Nominated Episode: “Lowkey Happy”

Format: Arri 3.2k ProRes 4444
Camera: Arri Alexa Mini
Lens: Cooke S5/i

Kira Kelly: This was the only episode of the season I shot, so when I arrived the camera package was already established. We tried to shoot wide open as often as possible with the Cooke S5’s. We didn’t need to use any filtration because the S5’s perform so beautifully at 1.4. The 40mm and the 65mm are two of my favorites.

This episode is about an unfinished relationship getting a second chance so we really wanted to include the two of them in the same frame whenever possible. I love to use a 40mm and back it away from the cast enough to get a wide shot instead of going wider for the lens. It does something beautiful to the backgrounds.

"Insecure" Cinematographer Ava Berkofsky

“Insecure” cinematographer Ava Berkofsky

“Insecure”

Nominated Episode: “Lowkey Lost”

Format: ProRes 4444 UHD
Camera: Arri Alexa Mini
Lens: Cooke s5i

Ava Berkofsky: Cooke S5i’s are beautiful soft modern primes that help me ride the line of beauty and realism. They have enough of the right character that I don’t have to use diffusion. And as for the Alexa mini, it’s just got the best dynamic range, especially in the bottom of the curve, of any Super 35 sensor camera. Part of our look is to underexpose by a stop or so and push the ISO, and with the Alexa we could push it way further if we wanted to. That’s just the sweet spot we found where we can make our look pop. Committing to it on set feels great, and having our LUTs from our colorist (Dave Hussey at Co3) that were built for it makes it easy.

Also, with the Mini specifically, we have stuck with that sensor size because it lends itself well to how we play with compressing space and finding graphic framings — even though there are Alexas with bigger sensors and more “K’s” out there now. We shoot about 75% on location and having the dynamic range of the Alexa as well as the small form factor is great. It’s like we’re part down and dirty and part more traditional, and with the lens/camera combo we can stretch creatively into both and keep the looks married. They’re just great tools and they’ve built themselves into how the show has evolved up to now.

"The Mandalorian" Cinematographer Greig Fraser

The Mandalorian” director Dave Filoni (left) with cinematographer Greig Fraser (center)

François Duhamel /Lucasfilm L

“The Mandalorian”

Nominated Episode: “Chapter 7”

Format: Full frame 4.5k
Camera: Arri Alexa LF
Lens: Panavision Ultra Vistas 1.65x squeeze anamorphics

Greig Fraser: Traditionally, Star Wars films have mostly been shot 2.40. Add to that, our reference films from the past [were] westerns and samurai films — [and they] often were the same.

Being able to use the large sensor on the Alexa LF, and combine it with the fall off of large-format anamorphics, helped the show feel ‘big.’ This is a very important aspect in the Star Wars universe. The worlds we are creating are larger than life, yet need to feel grounded in reality.

Given also [that] we were shooting a lot of the scenes on our LED volume (with backgrounds we had built and lit initially in the UNREAL engine) it was important that the focus fall off of the lens, combined with the large sensor, to help suspend the audience’s disbelief.

Outstanding Cinematography For A Single-Camera Series (One Hour)

Cinematographer Adriano Goldman, director Stephen Daldry with Harry Hadden-Paton (Charteris) on the set of "The Crown"

Cinematographer Adriano Goldman

Alex Bailey / Netflix

The Crown

Nominated Episode: “Aberfan”

Format: X-OCN ST, Resolution: 4K 4096×2160
Camera: Sony F55
Lens: Zeiss Super Speeds 1.3t

Adriano Goldman: We shot Seasons 1 and 2 on rehoused Cooke Panchros, I wanted to welcome a new cast with different lenses. I love the Super Speeds, they are really soft and fast, really deliver an amazing period look without being too glossy or romantic. We wanted to modernize the look a little bit on Season 3, challenge our own standards, keep evolving. Changing the entire cast is a bold decision and we felt that the show should adapt to a more modern era.

It’s a subtle change, you still recognize “The Crown” look but a little less “period like.” We wanted to stay consistent to our look but at the same time evolve with the story and the period. It’s been such a privilege to be part of this amazing team, sharing experience and knowledge throughout these three seasons.

“The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” Cinematographer M. David Mullen

“The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” cinematographer M. David Mullen

Philippe Antonello/Amazon Studios

“The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel”

Nominated Episode: “It’s Comedy Or Cabbage”

Format: 3.2K Apple ProRes 4444 / ARRI Log-C
Camera: Arri Alexa Mini (Panavised)
Lens: Panavision Primos, mostly the 24mm and 30mm.

M. David Mullen: The Alexa image tends to be gentle and film-like, not too harsh nor electronic, which helps us maintain a subtle period look. The Primo lenses also are sharp with minimal flaring, but not too harsh (we use Schneider Hollywood Black Magic diffusion as well.) The Alexa Mini body is light enough to use on a Steadicam and MoVI, and small enough to handle the tight locations or crowded rooms we find ourselves in sometimes.

"Mindhunter" Cinematographer Eri Messerschmidt

“Mindhunter” cinematographer Erik Messerschmidt

Michele K. Short/Netflix

“Mindhunter”

Nominated Episode: “Episode 6”

Format: Redcode RAW .r3d in 8k
Camera: Custom Red Xenomorph Mk2 designed by the team at RED. The camera uses an 8k RED Helium sensor.
Format: Both seasons of “Mindhunter” were shot using Leica Simmulux-C series Prime lenses. The majority of the show was shot using only three focal lengths, the 29mm, 40mm and 65mm.

Erik Messerschmidt: The visual style of “Mindhunter” is really about restraint and nuance. We wanted the storytelling to be very objective and simple with a limited use of POV. I think limiting ourselves to these focal lengths forced us to be meticulous with our coverage. All of our visual choices revolved around camera direction, blocking, and composition. David [Fincher] and I built the visual language around three distinct types of shots; wide masters, overs and singles; we moved the camera very little. This type of methodical camera direction lead to the rhythmic cutting sequence of the interview scenes which is really the visual foundation of the show. Shooting on prime lenses requires a bit more discipline than zooms when you’re lining up a shot, as you have to consider camera placement as it relates and composition.

"Ozark" Cinematographer Ben Kutchins

“Ozark” cinematographer Ben Kutchins

STEVE DIETL/NETFLIX

“Ozark”

Nominated Episode: “Civil Union”

Format: 5.7k 16×9, 2:2.1 aspect ratio
Camera: Sony Venice
Lens: Leica Summicron, Rehoused Leica R and Rehoused Leica Noctilux

Ben Kutchins: This season we leapt headfirst into creating an expansive world for the Byrde family, building something with even more depth and scope than previous seasons. We switched to a full frame camera, where the sensor is essentially the same size as the old vistavision film camera’s negative area. There is some magic there; a great cinematic feel where a medium shot of an actor feels like a wide landscape shot. Every frame has the potential to become a layered tapestry. In switching formats, I also wanted to explore using an extremely shallow depth of field to show how the Byrde family has become so fractured and isolated, from the outside world, but most tragically, from one another. By the end of the season, even Jonah Byrde has lost faith in his parents and who’s safe in a world where you can’t trust your parents? I’ve wanted to use a particular lens for years now; a Noctilux, which is an old Leica still lens rehoused for cinema cameras. It’s a still camera lens with a .95 T aperture, affording the shallowest depth of any cinema lens. I thought this was the perfect use of this lens, to help tell this story of a family falling further and further out of clarity from one another. The rest of the Leicas we used, especially the Leica Rs have a great creamy quality to them, with lots of unique characteristics and imperfections. Since the beginning of the show, we’ve framed and lit every image to bring fear and a sense of dread into the viewer’s homes. All the aesthetic and technical choices we made this season were in service of ratcheting up the tension; driving the story deeper into the fever dream at the heart of “Ozark.”

"Ozark" Cinematographer Armando Salas

“Ozark” cinematographer Armando Salas

STEVE DIETL/NETFLIX

“Ozark”

Nominated Episode: “Boss Fight”

Format: RAW at 5.7K resolution
Camera: Sony Venice and Sony Rialto
Lens: Leica glass, including Summicron-C, rehoused Leica R, and a 50mm Noctilux.

Armando Salas: This season of Ozark presented us with opportunities to organically expand the show’s look. The increased ambitions of the Byrde family begged to be captured on the larger canvas of a full frame sensor camera. The form factor and weight of the Venice was an important consideration along with the Rialto accessory since we commonly shot in very difficult, remote, and/or tight locations. The Venice has a cooler sensor with a bit more snap to the blacks, which paired well with the more vintage lenses. The fall-off and imperfections in the older glass up close to the actors made for engaging portraiture that was gentle on the faces while maintaining a sense of dread and mystery in the image.

"Tales from the Loop" Cinematographer Jeff Cronenworth

“Tales from the Loop” cinematographer Jeff Cronenweth

Amazon

“Tales from the Loop”

Nominated Episode: “Loop”

Format: Redcode Raw 6K/Digital Intermediate 4K/Master Format – HDR10
Camera: Panavision Millennium DXL2
Lens: Panavision Panaspeed 70MM Lenses and Panavision Primo 70MM

Jeff Cronenweth: The goal of the visual style was to create a classic feel in texture and tonality to contrast the story line: A grounded and nuanced foundation while reality was questioned. Our story revolves around a little girl who finds herself abandoned and alone in the world, the large format combined with the 70mm glass afforded us the ability to keep her very present while she is absorbed in the vastness of her world, and more importantly, to manipulate depth of field to appreciate her isolation and fear. The bouquet and inherent aberrations in the Panaspeeds were the perfect combination color, speed, and resolution.

"Westworld" Cinematographer Paul Cameron

Jonathan Nolan and “Westworld” cinematographer Paul Cameron

John P. Johnson/HBO

“Westworld”

Nominated Episode: “Parce Domine”

Format: Westworld continues to shoot Kodak 35mm Film as Primary Capture. This year some minimal DIgital Capture on the Sony Venice in 5.7K 16×9 Mode
Camera: Arricam LT, ST Arri 435 + 235 **Although most Drone work done w Arri 235 some shots utilized the Zenmuse X5 CAmera on Inspire 2 Drone**
Lens: Arri Master Primes, Zeiss Supremes, Fuji Zooms, Todd AO Anamorphics

Paul Cameron: This year we explored the idea of Digital Capture to enhance the futuristic visual elements of the show. After significant testing, Jonathan Nolan and I returned again to shoot 35mm Film. Simply put, once you look at side-by-side closeups on the big screen, there is nothing more emotional and powerful than film. We agreed for some night wide shots and aerials in Singapore and Los Angeles we would utilize the 2500 iso mode on Sony Venice. Having depth in night urban landscapes was important for VFX to extend the night hybrid city. We also utilized Sony’s Rialto mode and DJI’s Ronin S mini gimbal to shoot verité style on the streets of Singapore at night. It was expansive to utilize digital capture for the true attributes of the medium but as always “Westworld” shoots 35mm film and will continue to do so.

Outstanding Cinematography for a Limited Series or Movie

"Defending Jacob" Cinematographer Jonathan Freeman

“Defending Jacob” cinematographer Jonathan Freeman

Apple TV+

“Defending Jacob”

Nominated Episode: “After”

Format: (My brilliant 1st AC, Chad Rivetti, did the math) – 8K 6:5 Anamorphic mode Full sensor – Native captured recorded pixels in ‘squeezed’ 2.0:1 Aspect Ratio 4320 x 4320 – 2.0:1 ‘unsqueezed’ pixel count 8640 x 4320 – Then super sampled compressed to 4320 x 2160 deliverable
Camera: Panavision DXL II
Lens: Panavision G-series (2x) with some substitution with T-series

Jonathan Freeman: “Defending Jacob” is a thriller about the splintering of a district attorney’s family after his son is accused of murdering a fellow student. Mark Bomback’s scripts were so dense with intrigue that I read them all in one sitting.

A key element director Morten Tyldum emphasized in our first meeting was point of view. He wanted the audience to experience the story through our protagonists’ eyes. We had a brilliant cast with Chris Evans and Michelle Dockery as the parents, Andy and Laurie, and Jayden Martell as Jacob. Scenes often played out exclusively from either Andy or Laurie’s perspective, with the camera in close, sometimes inches higher than their eyeline. It created a very intimate feeling as if we were sharing the character’s perspective.

A critical difference that Morten wanted to distinguish was how the audience saw Jacob. He wanted to create an enigma around him, that deepened as Andy and Laurie began questioning their son’s innocence. For this, we covered Jacob more objectively from a distance. But when we did come in for a close-up, it was to capture another powerfully ambiguous performance by Jayden.

Since much of the drama would be captured through intimate close-ups, we felt the choice of glass was essential. We were drawn to anamorphic, specifically because its bokeh (the out of focus part of the frame) created a skewed backdrop for their close-ups, subtly depicting their fracturing world. It also softened the digital sharpness, and most importantly, looked cinematic.

After several tests, we chose Panavision’s G-series as the primary lenses, with some T-series rounding out the package. Panavision was instrumental, putting our package together in a short amount of time. And Apple was very supportive, ensuring we kept our vision while also delivering the highest-quality image.

"Devs" Cinematographer Rob Hardy and Alex Garland

“Devs” cinematographer Rob Hardy and Alex Garland

Raymond Liu/FX

“Devs”

Nominated Episode: “Episode 7”

Format: 6K & 4K RAW
Camera: Sony Venice
Lens: C-Series Anamorphics, as well as a small number of E-Series Anamorphics, supported by a set of H-Series Sphericals all from Panavision.

Rob Hardy: Aesthetically speaking, there’s a great deal of purity in the visual palette of “Devs.” It’s controlled, elegant, unpredictable yet intuitive. This approach, informed by the sense that something was always lurking beneath the surface, is a reaction to Alex Garland’s writing, which is economical, intelligent and mysterious without being oblique. To translate his ideas to the screen is a joy, and always begins with an open palette.

Since our collaboration began on “Ex Machina” we have avoided referencing other projects or photographers. It was important to us that “Devs” possessed its own unique identity. Our creative conversations were motivated only by what was on the page and how to translate it.

Alex and I share the same taste. Pre-production was about creating the world with a 360-degree approach, which allowed the actors and the camera widespread freedom. Ultimately, this meant the lighting was integral to the set, takes were long and the camera choreography developed as we shot.

I shot with the Sony Venice because I’ve gravitated toward the Sony sensor for shooting digital and because it reads lenses so accurately. Venice also has the Rialto camera-extension system, which separates the sensor from the body, enabling me to use the Stabileye [gimbal] as a compact, fine-tuned remote head for the long, evolving shots on our “cube” set.

I choose lenses based on how they react to lighting. The C Series lenses are beautiful, elegant and possess a classical look without being distracting. There’s an inherent smokiness to the glass, and they seem to create an aesthetic weight, particularly with interiors. They suit my style of lighting, which predominantly utilizes soft tungsten light. The reaction between the glass and the soft gauze texture of the light is stunning. I also expanded the lenses’ coverage so the aberrations at the edges would appear subtler.

This was my first experience shooting a limited series for television and my approach was no different than when I shoot a movie. My lens, camera and lighting choices are always based on how best to tell the story. FX were incredibly supportive, giving us full creative freedom. It’s how the best work gets made.

"The Plot Against America" Cinematographer Martin Ahlgren

“The Plot Against America” cinematographer Martin Ahlgren

Michele K. Short/HBO

“The Plot Against America”

Nominated Episode: “Part 1”

Format: 3K, 4K, and 6K in X-OCN format
Camera: Sony Venice
Lens: Kowa Cine Prominar

Martin Ahlgren: One of the key aesthetic choices we made was the use of deep focus, allowing us to create levels of depth in the frame, and giving the viewer an opportunity to scan the image and find different areas of interest. We achieved this in part by using a smaller portion of the sensor, which increases depth of field for the same field of view. We windowed the sensor to 3K, making it just 18mm across, which is right in between the size of Super35 and Super16.

The other factor in achieving deep focus is using a small aperture on the lens. We were helped in this regard by the camera’s native 2500 base ISO, allowing us to stop down even in scenes with less light.

For certain scenes we took advantage of the camera’s ability to shoot large format, in 6K, for subjective emotional moments. The extremely shallow focus of those images stand in stark contrast to the deep focus look of the rest of the show.

We liked the idea of using vintage glass to add some patina to the images, but many older lenses actually start performing quite normally once you stop them down significantly, like we did. However, the Kowa’s have a nice veiling glare to highlights that stay consistent even when stopped down to a T11 or more. We just had to watch out: in some brightly backlit scenes, with the lens all the way stopped down, we would occasionally see the actual metal iris blades inside the lens reflected onto our image, and in sharp focus.

"Watchmen" Cinematographer Gregory Middleton

Watchmen” cinematographer Gregory Middleton

Mark Hill/HBO

“Watchmen”

Nominated Episode: “This Extraordinary Being”

Format: Arri ProRes 4:4:4 XQ
Camera: Arri Alexa Mini
Lens: Cooke S5 Primes. Additional lenses: Angenieux Zooms, Panavision T series Anamorphic, Arri Shift and Tilt set.

Gregory Middleton: “Watchmen” had a complex number of requirements visually. Several different ‘looks’ for different time periods, as well as several compositional ideas including foreground/background split focus. The majority was shot with the Cooke S5’s which open to T1.4 which would allow for very shallow focus when required. I also like their quality on faces and had used them first on the dark police series “The Killing.” I love Panavision’s T and C series anamorphics and they allowed for shallower depth and very different bokeh. These were very useful for distorting foreground objects. Selective focus and split focus shots were used to echo the ability in graphic novels to compose in depth but with deep focus. The Arri Shift and Tilt set and a set of Sliding Split Diopters were great tools for this. We occasionally used some mirrors and pieces of glass prisms close to the lens to create reflections to add to compositions. The whole camera team really embraced looking for opportunities to add all these as we shot.

"Watchmen" Cinematographer Xavier Grobet

“Watchmen” cinematographer Xavier Grobet

Mark Hill/HBO

“Watchmen”

Nominated Episode: “Little Fear of Lightning”

Format: ARRI RAW 3.2K
Camera: Arri Alexa Mini
Lens: Cook S5’s as our main set, but we had also 40mm C series anamorphic, 50,60,75,100mm anamorphic T series, 24-290mm Angenieux Optimo, 17-80mm Angenieux Optimo, 15-40mm Angenieux Optimo, 28-76mm Angenieux Optimo, 45-120mm Angenieux Optimo. We also had a set of tilt-swing lenses, a version of the Skater scope lens and all these “FX” lenses we used to visually enhance certain scenes or shots.

Xavier Grobet: We used the Alexa Mini for its versatility and size and also had in our gear a Ronin stabilizer. The Mini was the right camera for that kind of rig and the Ronin was used instead of Steadicam for extra stability. We also rigged it on a shock absorbing rig on a Dolly and were able to roll the camera on mostly any kind of surface. The choice of lenses reflected our desire for contrast and color. The Anamorphic and the tilt and swing lenses helped us play with the visuals and be able to enhance certain shots or scenes. We designed the show based on the graphic novel, as a lot of it had to do with perspective and volume in the frame. We wanted to be able to choose the focus in the frame, and use the aberrations and lens flares from the anamorphic lenses.

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