Stanley Kubrick’s Famous Zeiss Planar 0.7/50mm Lens on Loan to Zeiss Museum

Stanley Kubrick’s Famous Zeiss Planar 0.7/50mm Lens on Loan to Zeiss Museum

Rare Zeiss Planar 0.7/50mm film lens

Thornwood, NY—One of the rare Zeiss Planar 0.7/50mm film lenses that Stanley Kubrick used for his legendary interior shots without artificial light is on view at a special exhibition at the Zeiss Museum of Optics.

The “fastest film lens in history” belongs to the estate of Stanley Kubrick. Jan Harlan, Kubrick’s executive producer who played an instrumental part in creating all Kubrick’s films, handed it over to the museum on loan. The lens is now exactly 50 years old. Only 10 were produced, six of them for NASA.

Jan Harlan, Stanley Kubrick’s executive producer, hands over the Zeiss Planar 0.7/50mm to the Zeiss Museum of Optics. He also provided two original candles from the famous Barry Lyndon film.

“In 1972, I was able to pick up the lens here in Oberkochen directly from the developers,” Harlan said. “And now I’m bringing it back home on loan to the museum to honor the heritage of Stanley Kubrick.”

Zeiss Planar 0.7/50mm Lens History

At the time, it was the world’s fastest lens. It was intended to enable the first interior shots without artificial light in the four-time Oscar-winning film Barry Lyndon. Due to the lens, Kubrick was able to work with just candlelight. As an extra exhibit, Harlan brought two of the candles used for Barry Lyndon to the Zeiss museum.

Harlan recalls how he got the special lens. “Stanley read an article in the American Cinematographer reporting about a Zeiss 0.7/50mm lens and got most excited. He asked me to research this. I called Zeiss and spoke to a Dr. Kämmerer, who explained that this lens could not be used on a motion picture camera since the rear element is only a little more than 5mm from the film plane.

“I told this to Stanley, and typical for him, he was not ready to take no for an answer; he investigated whether there is a camera with this clearance of 5mm. A reflex camera is clearly not possible since there is no room for a reflecting mirror; however, 5mm should still be enough room to allow a rotating disk.

Harlan opened the special exhibit at the Zeiss Museum dedicated to the Zeiss Planar 0.7/50mm lens.

“To make a long story short, I bought one lens and took it to Ed Di Giulio after Stanley had long talks with him. Ed reworked the receiving mount of a Mitchel BNC and made it purely dedicated to this lens. After the tests were successful, I bought two further lenses for potential conversion to other focal lengths. All are installed now in the Stanley Kubrick exhibition except the one which I held back,” added Harlan.

Light Intensity

The Zeiss Planar 0.7/50mm lens’s light intensity earned the lens a place in the Guinness Book of Records. The unusual light intensity corresponds to about four times the amount of light compared to an initial aperture of 1.4. Light intensity levels also played a role in the exploration of the dark side of the moon (1966). In addition, the “space lenses” formed the basis for Zeiss to enter the semiconductor lithography industry more than 50 years ago.

In addition, light intensity was decisive in the choice of the Zeiss Planar 0.7/50mm for Kubrick’s films. The lens’s light intensity is based on a combination of lens design factors. These include optical design; lens material; antireflection technology for higher light transmission and prevention of unwanted light effects; as well as careful matching of the lens with the camera.

The history of the Planar goes back to the 19th century. Today, Planar still forms a base design for modern lenses used for film, photography and mobile imaging.

Currently, Zeiss cine lenses with digital features and technology for visual effects as well as postproduction help master the challenges of difficult lighting situations in film. “The film business is very close to our hearts,” said Jörg Schmitz, head of Zeiss Consumer Products.

“Because with innovation and outstanding products for cinematography, Zeiss helps millions of people to experience emotional moments, to educate and inform themselves and to be excellently entertained in the cinema, on TV and when streaming. We thank Jan Harlan from the bottom of our hearts that we can now show a legendary piece of film and lens history at the Zeiss Museum of Optics.”