Home » Featured » How Cooke miniS4/i Lenses Helped An Award-winning DP Capture Nature’s Beauty

How Cooke miniS4/i Lenses Helped An Award-winning DP Capture Nature’s Beauty


Award-winning DOP/Documentary cameraman, Mark MacEwen

Nature has many sides to it. One of its alluring features is that of the wildlife that offers it so much variety. Capturing such beauty requires more than just a simple camera when effective lenses like the Cooke miniS4/i lenses can make all the more difference. Mark MacEwen is a multi Award-winning DOP/Documentary cameraman. Mark has worked predominantly in natural history, adventure and science documentary programs. Most recently, Mark traveled thousands of miles with a set of Cooke miniS4/i lenses, which he used to shoot selected sequences that were showcased in Seven Worlds, One Planet.


The Focus Of Seven Worlds, One Planet




Seven Worlds, One Planet is the BBC network’s most recent landmark wildlife series. This wildlife series began airing in the UK in October 2019. This program’s focus centered on visiting all seven continents as a means of documenting the various wildlife found in each one. When discussing the highlights of  wildlife filming Mark MacEwen said: “The nature of high-end wildlife filming is a mix of collaboration and individual intuition.” “Because we are filming animals, usually the fewer people present the better; the chance to capture the behavior takes place individually and is down to the DP’s framing eye. The collaborative part is often in the planning and ongoing story discussions. Things develop and change all the time in nature and often the story you set out to film changes, or you find something better or different. And that’s when the collaborative part really takes shape and is a part of the process I really enjoy. Bouncing ideas and building the story is where a lot of the creativity happens.” 


How Mark MacEwen Used Cooke Lenses To Capture Wildlife



Being in the business for over 20 years, Mark MacEwen has sufficient experience in wildlife cinematography, which was further enhanced through his use of the Cooke miniS4/i lenses for his sequences to bring the ‘Cooke Look’ in a smaller, more lightweight form.

When talking about this specific area, Mark said “I’ve used Cooke lenses before and always loved them. The look of the Cooke lenses does it all for me, and the way they separate the subject and background and flare is the way I see the world. I also like the way they work on digital sensors – to me, they just help take some of the digital edge off the camera and help keep it looking more organic and natural,” “The miniS4/i’s were great as the size and weight of them allowed me to use them not only for tripod work, but for hand-held gimbal work with animals where I have to hold the MōVI Pro rig for hours, following the animals waiting for the right moment or bit of behavior. The build quality is also amazing and works so well with the follow focus gear.”

Mark also mentioned how “For me the 40mm and 50mm were the lenses I used the most,” and how “They give me enough of a focal length to create separation from the background and cut easier between the long lens and primes. Also, longer focal lengths are more useful for wildlife filming as often the problem is getting close enough to the subjects.” The Cooke miniS4/i lenses traveling set included the 18mm, 25mm, 40mm, 50mm, and 135mm focal lengths.

Lighting conditions were extremely varied when it came to filming lowland gorillas in the jungles of the Congo to shooting elephant seals in Antarctica. Despite these limitations, Mark was impressed with how the Cooke miniS4/i lenses functioned and he elaborated on how “Heavy use of backlight is frequent. In jungles there is so much contrast and low light, then very strong shadows with bright sun patches – even the modern camera systems struggle with it, so if the lens can help with the contrast or artistically aid in flare, it makes all the difference.”

A lot of Mark’s praise focused on the Cooke miniS4/i lenses’ versatility as well as the Red Helium. This was the camera choice for the series, which he said, “The frame rates, resolution and the size mean we can use it as a long lens camera, put it onto small hand-held gimbals or into larger helicopter systems like the GSS/Shotover/GSS. Also we have the ability to use pre-roll and so on, which is a huge advantage when trying to film things that may only ever happen once.”


Mark’s Special Scene On Seven Worlds, One Planet



In further discussing the aesthetic of the series and his work on it, Mark mentioned how one specific scene from the series affected him. “I filmed elephant seals fighting for the Antarctica episode. I wanted to try and make the sequences feel and look different to others I’d seen shot, but they are a challenge to film – huge behemoths up to 18-ft. long and 8000lbs. Thousands of them turn up in mating season and the males prepare to fight for their right to breed,” MacEwen recalled while further mentioning how “I used the miniS4/i’s on a gimbal to try and get among them, capture the feel of the combat and creatively control the visual scene. But it’s no easy job moving around these monsters. I was frequently having to jump out of the way as one animal charged another, while others charge past you to escape. It’s one of the most amazing places I’ve ever been.”

Naturally, such extensive work in capturing wildlife would have its share of challenges. However, Mark clarified how not all challenges were the result of large animals when he said that “I’ve been charged by lions, elephants, gorillas, and elephants seals all on foot to name a few, but there is one creature that for me tops them all: the sweat bee. It’s tiny but found in huge numbers and is attracted to sweat, so it’s largely unavoidable. It has managed to annoy me for large parts of my career, and it can make even the most hardened person have to drop everything and just run away to get a moment’s respite.” “Outside of the flora and fauna, it’s the huge amounts of time we have to invest and of course the extreme demands we place on the kit, due to the environments we subject them to. I am happy to say that the miniS4/i’s performed flawlessly in every situation.”


Cooke miniS4/i lenses Details 



The Cooke miniS4/i lenses are supplied with /i Technology that helps collect detailed lens data for production, VFX and post-production teams. These lenses are also designed for all PL mounted professional motion picture film and electronic cameras. The /i Technology incorporated in the design of the Cooke miniS4/i lenses helps provide cinematographers and camera operators like Mark MacEwen with vital information on lens setting, focusing distance, aperture and depth-of-field, hyperfocal distance, serial number, owner data, lens type, and focal length in both metric and footage measurements. They also enable inertial tracking data, shading, and distortion data.

For more information on the Cooke miniS4/i lenses, then check out www.cookeoptics.com/l/minis4.html.

For more information on Mark MacEwen and his work as a DOP, then check out www.markmacewen.co.uk/.


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