“The Secrets”

I was given a wonderful opportunity to work with the ZEISS DigiDiopters and the Zeiss CP.3 prime lenses on an experimental film that I shot and directed named “The Secrets”. The set included: 15mm, 28mm, 35mm, 50mm, 85mm and the DigiDiopters in the power of +0.5, +1, +2. We shot on the Red Epic with a Helium Sensor, and our specs were 4K UHD, 23.976, Raw with a 2.40:1 aspect ratio. We used the RED IPP2 image pipeline mode.

Danna Kinsky talks about using the CP.3 primes with the DigiDiopter set

Inquiries from people interested in the details of how we achieved the unique look of this video led me to share my experiences in this article. I was interested in experimenting with the intersection of abstract femininity and natural elements (such as fire, water, earth & air). I wanted to show an alternative perception of reality, providing a new perspective that is not visible to the naked eye. Looking at small details close-up to see the beauty in that which could be considered mundane but are actually profound.

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It started with a detailed visual reference look-book to communicate my ideas with the team. My inspiration was taken from a variety of different mediums: art books, magazines, commercials, experimental and animated films. I wanted to examine the interplay of light on extreme close ups within the experimental world of macro cinematography.

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The macro capabilities of a lens can be described using ratios. A 1:1 macro image means that the lens will project a life-sized image of a subject, meaning the real world size of the subject is represented exactly on the film/sensor. A 2:1 ratio macro captures a small object at double its original size, however the 2:1 is a rare find. More commonly, a lens’ macro capability is measured in the distance the object can be from the imager AKA minimum focusing distance.

Here is a look at my process and technical specs for several of the setups in the film. I decided to geek out and take the time to experiment with different shutter angles, frame rates, f-stops, resolutions and focal lengths. I utilized this opportunity to really dissect and fully understand the flexibility that playing with all those factors creates.

I used 3 Zeiss DigiDiopters in the strength levels of +0.5, +1 and +2. I applied the different diopter combinations with a variety of shutter angles and frame rates, etc. in an attempt to be as scientific as possible within the constraints of a regular shoot day. The constant factors were the RED Epic camera with a Helium sensor, 800 ISO, the Zeiss CP.3 Prime lenses, Gemini Lightpanels, Rosco lights, SmallHD monitor and an optical flat filter from Tiffen.

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As an independent filmmaker, time and challenging budgets are sometimes an issue. I wanted to film a close up of a woman’s eyes with a ring of light around her pupil. Normally, one would have to rent a very long lens and a Briese light but utilizing the Zeiss DigiDiopter “secondary lens.”

I was able to avoid the extra set-up time and expense. The Diopter shortens the close-focusing distance of normal fixed focal length or zoom lenses.This allows the lens to focus closer to the subject and achieves a larger image size on the sensor while bringing out the sharpest details in even the tiniest subjects. Unlike still photo lens with Macro capabilities, the Diopter decreases the minimum focus between the lens and the subject/object. I took a Legacy Litepanels Ring Light and attached it to the camera rods. Then we shot the same thing with different shutter angles, resolutions, etc. Throughout the takes, I used the +0.5 then the +1 then the +2.

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The +1 diopter changes the actual focus distance to 1 meter when the lens is set at infinity. You can get closer as you focus the lens closer. A +2 decreases the distance to a ½ meter when the lens is focused at infinity. Each additional power decreases the focus by the multiple of 1 diopter. It’s not necessarily an easy mental calculation. Then I started stacking them on top of each other, a wonderful feature of the DigiDiopters. 

Note that when stacking you want the highest power closest to the lens. Unless the diopters are high-end achromats, every additional diopter will add aspects of chromatic aberration to your image (also potentially spherical aberration, coma and astigmatism). The addition of glass of any kind (but especially a simple magnifying glass which is basically what a diopter is), will degrade the quality of the image in one way or another.

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I specifically envisioned the close up of a woman’s eyes with a ring of light exactly around her pupils, to zoom into the pupil until the frame is filled with black as the last shot of the film. We ended up using a still image in 8K so that I would have enough resolution to zoom all the way in with no visual effects. We matched the shot before to create a seamless transition.

The eyes symbolize limitless vision, focus and observation. They represent a window to the soul and are associated with intelligence, honesty and truth. The female perspective of reality is different. It gets clearer with presence.

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On the lighter side, I have an attraction to shiny things, new C-stands and Glitter are just a couple examples. Of all things shiny, I chose to concentrate on glitter. It symbolizes happiness, which we all strive for, and fun. On a day of pick-ups, late at night in my living room, I began to experiment. I used a black glass surface, sprinkled the glitter at different distances from the variable diopter lens in a variety of combinations, as I referred to a SmallHD Monitor for reference color and luminosity accuracy.


For lighting, I used a 1x1 Litepanel (that usually lights my living room) and the ROSCO LED Pro Gaffer VariWhite Kit. Fun fact: if you look closely at that shot, you will see the reflection of the light emitting diodes in the glitter.

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I was searching for items that are small yet intricate and thought that soap bubbles would be fascinating. They are shimmering, vivacious and enthusiastic evanescent air filled orbs that symbolize fragility, humility, reflection and joy in one's life. I did not imagine how cool it would end up being until our whole crew was in sync and we were able to blow the right size bubbles, in the right placement in the frame, at the right time. It was very exciting to use the diopters stacked on top of one another to get into the tiniest of details of the bubble energy moving around. It was both colorful and mesmerizing to look at. It was a fun team effort, as well, to make it happen in one frame: to have the bubbles close to each other physically, yet have such shallow depth of field that you can differentiate between a bubble in focus, mid focus and out of focus.

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Fire symbolizes many different things for different people. I believe it's an element that portrays passion, love, femininity creativity, motivation and determination. It’s our inner light, warm and illuminating.

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Seeing fire burn backwards is something we never get to experience, but it is a marvelous thing. The diopter helped me blur the background because we were so close to the subject that the depth of field was very limited, and the frame was completely embodied by the fire. This saved time in post, since we now only had to reverse the clip. The green color was achieved by an in-camera special effect colored fire by Mystical Fire.

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Water is symbolic of life, motion, renewal and transformation. It conveys the interconnected flow of energy between us. The fish portrays serenity, strength and endurance. Together they represent the deeper awareness of the unconsciousness.

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Tiny moving subjects are unusually difficult and time consuming to capture. My goal was to show with clarity the detail of a live, moving object, like a Betta Fish. The diopter was able to create an effect showing the scales of the fish in focus while keeping the background out of focus (reading as Bokeh, when in reality the Rosco backdrop is very close to the fish tank.)

Color and HDR

I was interested in exploring the different emotions that we subconsciously react to in relationship to different colors. This has to do with the theories and philosophies of Vittorio Storaro, ASC, AIC. My editor Barry Goch and I, were able to brighten and saturate the colors at post production house, The Foundation.  By choosing the order of the clips plus a bit of colorist magic, we created a 4K HDR finished version, which is remarkable in quality. 

As a huge fan of HDR, it’s fascinating to see the difference that an HDR finish can do to elevate an experimental film like this. Using Davinci Resolve and 2 monitors side by side, the differences between the SDR high quality industry standard monitor and the fancy HDR monitor were extremely evident. Following the suggestions of the ASC Motion Imaging Technology Council, we finished the HDR first and adjusted the color to fit into the narrower world of SDR afterwards. 

The “brilliance” of the image is the one word I can use to sum up the differences. The intensity, saturation, brightness, contrast and most importantly, the flooding of emotion, is heightened by the impact of HDR. It becomes larger than life, a new perspective that we are not used to seeing yet with the current display technology. Think of it like the difference would be between seeing the film “Avatar” on your TV at home, versus in 3D at a high-end theatre. 

To recolor and fit the SDR spec, my colorist Phil Azenzer was able to dial down the intensity of any shot that was out of gamut in the 709 color space… probably about half the shots. It was like putting a “dumbing down” filter on top of everything. I was sad that our world is not all HDR yet, but the SDR result still kicks ass.


To see BTS videos,  please watch the credits at the end of the Zeiss YouTube channel version linked above

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This project was made possible with the help of the following wonder crew:


Editor: Barry goch, Kara Stephens 

Color: Phil Azenzer

Motion Graphics: Misa Garcia

Post Services: The Foundation


Sanae Garcia, Gareth Cook, Cliff Dugan, Jimmy Matlosz, Jonathan Sela, Peter Moss, Debra Miller , Jay Holben , Jendra Jarnagin


Litepanels, Rosco, The Foundation, Tiffen


Director / DP: Danna Kinsky

Executive Producer: Snehal Patel 

Producer: Eugenia Aladro  

Gaffer: Cricket Peters 

Grip: Walter Lin, Crystal L. Kelley

1st AC: Leoncio Provoste, Virgina Robin

2nd AC: Catherine Ouellette, Kylie hazzard 

PA: Kim Labick 

AD: Maria Oliva 

Props: Santiago Fierro

Make Up: Yolanda price 

Nails: Shiri Gutman 

Snow Girl: Laura Mong 

Rosco: Emily Stadulis 

Litepanels: Alan Ipachian 

Talent: Janey Nalin Chaiyasit, Mehgan James


Consulted by my favorite lens geek, Jay Holben, ASC associate member, Co-Chair of the ASC Motion Imaging Technology Council Lens Committee. 

* A diopter has several names in the industry. It is a “secondary lens” or “accessory lens” which is a lens designed to be used in conjunction with another lens, called the primary lens (in my case the CP.3). Technically they are “close-up attachments”. Diopter is really a misnomer, but it’s commonly used. A “close-up attachment” is not technically a filter but accessory lens which attaches to a lens like a filter, hence the alternative but misleading term "close-up filter". 

 A “close-up attachment” is a bi-convex single element lens used for close-up cinematography and works in the same way as spectacles used for reading or a magnifying glass. There are also higher-end  dual-element diopters that are achromatic which are used to correct for chromatic aberration imposed by the additional lens element. The DigiPrimes are exactly that. 

The insertion of a converging lens in front of the primary lens does not alter the focal length at all - it alters/reduces the focal distance, for example: It reduces the infinity point of a lens to 1 meter (for a +1 diopter). You can also say it reduces the minimum object distance of the lens - or increases the minimum focus distance to a closer point.

Close-up lenses are usually specified by their optical power, the reciprocal of the focal length in meters. The diopter reduces the infinity focus of the lens to 1 meter for a +1 or ½ meter for a +2 or ¼ meter for a +4… This is the reciprocal relationship. 

Several close-up lenses may be used in combination; the optical power of the combination is the sum of the optical powers of the component lenses; a set of lenses of +1, +2, and +4 diopters can be combined to provide a range from +1 to +7 in steps of one. 

** There is a difference between minimum focus distance or minimum object distance and macro. For a lens to be a true macro, it must have at least 1:1 ratio capability. Some also call longer focal length lenses with good close focus ability “macro” - but it’s not a real macro unless it can provide 1:1 magnification.