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The Panavision Story

In 1954, Robert Gottschalk and his partners saw an opportunity to solve one of the film industry's most urgent challenges. The special lenses necessary to project CinemaScope and other wide-screen films were expensive, difficult to use, and in short supply. The Panavision Super Panatar® –  the "Gottschalk Lens" – featured a variable prism that projectionists could adjust to support any anamorphic 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. This combination of technical superiority and lower cost 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. And 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 wide screen formats existed at the time, MGM partnered with Panavision to develop a system that met MGM's specific requirements. In 1954, 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 Tak Miyagishima, was the very first camera product developed by Panavision. Pairing this camera with lenses producing a 1.25x anamorphic squeeze allowed MGM to extract a high-quality image in any release format, from 3:1 Cinerama to 16mm flat. In 1959 the Ultra Panavision 70 camera earned the Scientific and Engineering Award (Academy Plaque). That same year, the first Super Panavision 70 feature, The Big Fisherman, was captured on 65mm film using spherical lenses with an aspect ratio of 2.20:1. Over the years, Panavision's large format technology has supported the artistry behind many classic films, including Ben HurLawrence of Arabia, and 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Panavision kept pushing the boundaries. The Ultra Panavision 70 technology led to the 1958 unveiling of the 35mm Auto Panatar® camera lens, which eliminated the distortions created by early CinemaScope lenses. Their popularity among filmmakers and actors cemented Panavision's growing reputation as the premier optics innovator for film. With its superior technology and patented optical system developed by Panavision partner Walter Wallin, the Auto Panatar quickly became the industry standard for anamorphic production and earned Panavision the first of its 19 Academy Awards (link) for Technical Achievement. These engineering innovations continued through generations of anamorphic lenses to provide the signature “Panavision look” filmmakers prize right up to the present day G-series.

Never content to rest on past laurels, the 60s found Panavision creating spherical 35mm lenses to complement their first 35mm motion picture camera, the Panavision Silent Reflex (PSR) series. The company introduced the 65HR (a 65mm hand-held motion picture camera) and the crystal-controlled Panaspeed® Motor. From 1966-69, Panavision took home three more Academy Awards for technical achievement.

Just as importantly, Panavision took their creativity 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. Research and development could focus on a known inventory, making product upgrades easy to apply and control. 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.

The technological innovations continued apace. 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 geared heads. (It took 8 crew members to lift the original Ultra Panavision Blimp onto the head!) Even more important – the Panaflex was virtually silent. The Panaflex evolved over several generations 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 cameras, and advanced video assist. The Panaflex also evolved into other models; two high-speed MOS cameras – the Panastar and the Platinum Panastar-II – and the Steadicam-only Lightweight-II.

To keep apace with advances in camera design, Panavision introduced the 35mm Super Speed lenses in 1976 (earning yet another Academy Award), followed closely by the Ultra Speed Primes. The Ultra Speed Primes have enjoyed consistent demand from their inception up to the line's current embodiment in the P-Vintage® series.

In the early 1980’s, Panavision had committed its full resources to developing the Panaflex Platinum camera. To keep up with an increasing demand for modern optics for features and television, Panavision partnered with Carl Zeiss in Germany to produce the Z Series Prime lenses from 1983-1987.

In the late 1980’s, Panavision set another new standard in lens performance with the Primo series, the first completely matched family of primes and zooms designed for the motion picture industry. The Academy Award winning Primo has found its latest expression in the Primo V® series, the first Panavision lenses designed specifically for digital cameras.

Beginning with the Panaflex revolution, filmmakers have intensified their demands for ever smaller, lighter-weight film cameras. In 1997, Panavision responded with the Millennium®, a camera that re-examined every aspect of the existing 35mm technology. The Millennium XL followed quickly, further shrinking the camera body by using two film sprockets in place of the single sprocket design. The XL series uses three motors to allow for additional features such as precision motorized shutter control. Both models offer integrated video assist and modular optics to enable quick conversion from studio mode to hand-held, and operators can easily remove the entire viewing system to reduce more weight for Steadicam or remote head operation. (The XL was the first product in Panavision history to win both an Academy Award and a Primetime Emmy Award within the first year of official release.) Panavision’s commitment to film continues today as we continue to service and support industry demand for 35 and 65mm.

With its deep roots in film, some wondered whether the digital age would leave Panavision behind. Once again demonstrating its commitment to innovation and meeting the demands of the creative community, Panavision partnered with Sony to raise HD digital video to the standards of big screen film quality. The Panavized HD-900F and Panavision Primo Digital lenses powered the first digital major feature film, George Lucas' Star Wars: Attack of the Clones. This partnership yielded more dividends with the Genesis® HD camera, designed for focal compatibility with 35mm Panavision lenses to deliver true 35mm depth of field. The Genesis uses many of the same accessories and support familiar to camera crews in the film world.

More advances in Panavision HD technology followed, like smaller digital recorders that emulated the balance and feel of traditional film magazines – a welcome advance to hand-held and Steadicam operators. Dual viewfinder outputs that gave assistants more flexibility; integrated lens control for focus, zoom and iris; user-definable shutter angle, shutter speed, and camera control via remote digital controller – all typify Panavision's commitment to HD. And for artists who want to use a Panavision lens with another manufacturer's HD camera, the in-house R&D team have Panavised many non-Panavision cameras to ensure that Panavision has the right tool for the job.

With the recent introduction of the Millennium DXL and DXL2 8K digital cameras, Panavision has fully arrived in the digital age. Panavision’s DXL2 camera offers 16bits of color across 35 million pixels at up to 60 frames per second. One of the quietest signal-to-noise ratios on the market, DXL2 delivers unprecedented dynamic range and color with unmatched sensitivity. 

Panavision’s wide selection of vintage and modern large format glass offers artists the optimum system for creating the unmatched aesthetic of large format cinematography. Attributes such as a shallower depth of field, greater magnification and a wider field of view produce a softer, pleasing, more natural image—an aesthetic closely attuned to the way the eye sees.
As Panavision begins its seventh decade serving the film and television industry, our long commitment to innovation has made Panavision a trusted partner to the industry's creative community.