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Academy Certificate of Honorable Mention – For a variable-speed motor for motion-picture cameras.
Academy Citation – For the engineering of the Panahead gearhead for motion-picture cameras.
Academy Certificate – For the concept and development of the Primo series of spherical prime lenses for 35mm cinematography.
Academy Plaque – For the concept and development of the Primo series of spherical prime lenses for 35mm cinematography.
Emmy Statuette – For the Primo lens series.
Academy Plaque – For the conception and development of the groundbreaking Genesis digital motion picture camera.
In 1954, Robert Gottschalk and Richard Moore saw an opportunity to solve one of the film industry’s most urgent challenges. The special lenses necessary to project CinemaScope and other widescreen films were expensive, difficult to use, and in short supply. The Panavision Super Panatar — aka the “Gottschalk Lens” — featured a variable prism that projectionists could adjust to support any format from 2.66:1 to 1.33:1 with a turn of a single knob. This Panavision attachment allowed scores of theaters to adopt CinemaScope projection without costly equipment modifications, and it quickly catapulted Panavision to the top echelon of optical technology for film projection.
Encouraged by rapid success, Panavision introduced the Micro Panatar lens later that year. Before this innovation, studios filming with anamorphic cameras often had to run a second camera to produce a “flat” version for theaters that were not equipped for CinemaScope. The Micro Panatar allowed film labs to easily create non-anamorphic release prints from anamorphic negatives. This process could also create 35mm reductions from 65mm as well as a reverse process to blow up 35mm anamorphic to a 70mm roadshow print. Even though Panavision custom-built each lens to exacting specifications, the ability to work quickly and accurately kept costs low and established the Panavision reputation for technological excellence and individualized service.
With clear victories in projection and post-production technology, Panavision turned their ambition to the production realm. Although several widescreen formats existed at the time, MGM partnered with Panavision to develop a system that met the studio’s specific requirements. In 1955, Panavision introduced the MGM Camera 65 (later known as Ultra Panavision 70), a 65mm Mitchell camera system housed in a Panavision soundproof blimp. The blimp, designed by Panavision’s legendary engineer Takuo “Tak” Miyagishima, was the very first camera product developed by Panavision. Pairing this camera with lenses that produced a 1.25x anamorphic squeeze allowed MGM to extract a high-quality image in any release format. In the years that followed, Panavision’s large-format technology supported the artistry behind classic films including Ben-Hur, Lawrence of Arabia, and 2001: A Space Odyssey.
The Ultra Panavision 70 technology led to the 1958 unveiling of the 35mm-format Auto Panatar camera lenses, which eliminated the distortions created by early CinemaScope optics. Their popularity among filmmakers and actors cemented Panavision’s growing reputation as the motion-picture industry’s premier optics innovator. Incorporating superior technology and a patented optical system developed by Panavision partner Walter Wallin, Auto Panatar lenses quickly became the industry standard for anamorphic production and earned Panavision the first of its Academy Technical Awards.
A New Business Model
The 1960s found Panavision creating spherical 35mm lenses to complement the company’s first 35mm motion-picture camera, the Panavision Silent Reflex (PSR) series. The company also introduced the 65HR (a 65mm handheld motion-picture camera) and the crystal-controlled Panaspeed Motor.
Just as importantly, the 1960s saw Panavision take its creative approach into another realm. In 1964, Gottschalk shifted Panavision to a rental-only business model. By maintaining ownership of the equipment inventory, Panavision could ensure the highest levels of quality for everyone who used a Panavision product. Customer service, long a point of pride for Panavision, was the central support of the model. Because Panavision was responsible for the quality and reliability of every piece of gear, every client received personalized advice and production support to help them achieve their vision.
This new business model also allowed research and development to focus on a known inventory, making product upgrades easy to apply and control while continuing to encourage product innovations that directly addressed the needs of Panavision’s customers. One result was the introduction, in 1968, of C Series anamorphic primes, which immediately became a go-to choice for cinematographers looking for a compact and lightweight anamorphic lens. Panavision also applied its optical expertise to spherical lenses, introducing Panavision Standard Primes in the late ’60s.
Advances in Cameras and Optics
In 1972, the Panavision design team led by Al Mayer Sr. unveiled the Panaflex, the first 35mm, self-blimped, hand-holdable studio reflex camera. Created in direct response to customer feedback — the original and ongoing philosophy of Panavision — the revolutionary Panaflex liberated filmmakers from heavy cameras that were confined to use with geared heads. Just as importantly, the Panaflex was virtually silent.
Over the decades, the Panaflex line evolved to include the Panaflex Gold, Panaflex X, Panaflex Gold II, Panaflex 16 “Elaine,” and Panaflex Platinum. Each model retained the original focal-plane shutter and spinning-mirror design, while advances in electronics and optics led to new features such as improved viewing systems, modern electronics, lighter materials, quieter operation, and advanced video assist. Building on the success of the Panaflex, Panavision would also introduce two high-speed MOS cameras — the Panastar and the Panastar II — and the Steadicam-only Lightweight II.
Keeping pace with the company’s advances in camera design, Panavision introduced the 35mm-format Super Speed lenses in 1976, followed closely by Ultra Speed primes. Both series have enjoyed consistent demand from their inception, and their legacy continues with the PVintage series, which rehouses the original optics in modern mechanics that deliver superior performance while retaining the lenses’ characteristically smooth, organic look.
Through the 1980s, Panavision continued to make significant advances across its proprietary camera and optics offerings, introducing the Panaflex Platinum camera as well as two now-iconic lens series: E Series anamorphic and Primo spherical lenses. Building on the success of the C Series, the E Series offered more sophisticated coatings, newer components, and a refined optical formula that results in fewer aberrations. Meanwhile, the Primo optics set a new standard for spherical lens performance as the first completely matched family of primes and zooms designed for the motion-picture industry. The superior imaging characteristics of the Primo spherical lenses were eventually adapted into Panavision’s Primo Anamorphic primes.
The New Millennium
Continuing to meet filmmaker demand for smaller, lighter-weight film cameras, Panavision re-examined every aspect of existing 35mm technology and introduced the Millennium camera system in 1997. The Millennium XL, which offered an even smaller camera body, followed soon after and was the first product in Panavision history to win both an Academy Award and a Primetime Emmy Award within its first year of official release.
Again demonstrating its commitment to innovation and meeting the evolving demands of the creative community, Panavision partnered with Sony to elevate HD digital video to the standards of big-screen quality. The Panavised Sony HDW-F900 camera and Panavision’s Primo Digital lenses — designed to offer double the resolving power of 35mm-format optics so that the 2/3” HD image would hold up on cinema screens — powered the first digitally captured major feature, George Lucas’ Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones, released in 2002.
The collaboration with Sony also led to the creation of the Panavision Genesis HD camera, designed for focal compatibility with 35mm Panavision lenses to deliver true 35mm depth of field. Introduced in 2005, the Genesis used many of the same accessories and supports with which camera crews in the film world were long familiar, streamlining their experience and easing their transition into digital production.
The Panavision Millennium 35mm camera system, introduced in 1997.
The Panavised Sony HDW-F900, fitted with a Primo Digital zoom lens.
The Panavision Genesis digital camera, introduced in 2005.
The following year, 2006, Panavision acquired lighting company AFM and its affiliated stage facilities, Island Studios. As part of the Panavision group, AFM became Panalux, which today provides the full spectrum of lighting solutions for features, series, commercials, live events, and more. Panalux’s offerings include cutting-edge proprietary fixtures and power solutions as well as a vast inventory of the best equipment from other manufacturers.
Previously, in 1992, LEE Filters had become a Panavision company. The premier global manufacturer of professional lighting gels and photographic filters was founded in 1967 by cinematographer David Holmes, BSC and brothers John and Benny Lee. Alongside Panavision’s camera and optics offerings and Grip and Remote Systems rental service, LEE Filters, Panalux, and Island Studios allowed filmmakers to collaborate with Panavision throughout more of the imaging chain.
Panavision’s creative offerings became truly end-to-end in 2015 with the acquisition of post-production company Light Iron. Founded in 2009 by brothers Michael and Peter Cioni and Katie Fellion, Paul Geffre, and Ian Vertovec, Light Iron established a business model that caters to creatives embracing evolving filmmaking techniques. The company helped pioneer file-based post production and on- and near-set dailies, and its innovations continue today with cutting-edge remote and cloud-based collaborative capabilities.
Light Iron’s color and workflow knowledge joined Panavision’s camera and optics expertise in the development of the Millennium DXL large-format camera system, which featured a new 8K sensor developed by RED Digital Cinema. Released in 2016, the modular camera was followed up in 2018 by the DXL2, which incorporated RED’s updated Monstro 8K VV sensor. With one of the quietest signal-to-noise ratios on the market, DXL2 delivers unprecedented dynamic range and color with unmatched sensitivity. Additionally, the camera system includes field-swappable lens mounts for compatibility with any Panavision lens for any format, enabling filmmakers to change formats creatively with the ease of a single camera.
Recent decades have also seen a significant expansion of Panavision’s industry-leading optics offerings. Introduced in 2007, G Series anamorphics combined the compact convenience of the C Series with the optical innovations of Primo Anamorphic lenses. Alongside the G Series primes and in direct response to filmmakers’ creative needs, the company also introduced two new anamorphic zooms, the wide‐angle AWZ2 40‐80mm T2.8 and the telephoto ATZ 70‐200 T3.5. The AWZ2 is also known as the “Bailey zoom” after John Bailey, ASC, who was among the first cinematographers to ask Panavision to develop a wide‐angle anamorphic zoom.
In 2012, the vintage B Series was given a new life with updated mechanics after cinematographer Bill Pope, ASC asked for one of the original lenses to be pulled from a display shelf. The next year, the Primo family welcomed a new addition, the Primo V lenses, which take advantage of specific design adaptations to work in harmony with digital cameras, maximizing image quality while delivering Primo quality and character.
2016 brought the introduction of Panavision’s T Series anamorphic lenses, which combine new optical layouts with mechanical advances from the G Series while offering a larger sweet spot and closer focusing than some of their predecessors. The lenses are also tuned to be compatible with digital sensors without losing any of the imaging characteristics that have become part of the anamorphic grammar. The T Series is named after the late design engineer Tak Miyagishima, who began his career with Panavision in 1954 and remained with the company until he retired, as senior vice president of engineering, in 2009.
2016 also witnessed the introduction of Primo 70 lenses, which are specifically designed for large-format digital cameras and feature internal motors and full lens metadata capabilities. Panavision’s large-format optics offerings continued to expand in 2017 with the Primo Artiste series and in 2018 with the introduction of Ultra Vista, Primo X, H Series, and Panaspeed lenses.
Taken together, the Panavision group’s inventory represents the largest and most varied selection of optics, cameras, supports, lighting equipment, accessories, and creative services the industry has to offer, providing filmmakers with unequaled choices and unrivaled support to craft their creative vision.