How do they shoot binocular scenes? Do they put two cameras in binoculars?

See this binocular vision from Ronin (1998):

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  • 33
    They use big cut-outs.
    – LarsTech
    Commented Aug 16, 2016 at 18:11
  • 1
    I don't think they would use actual binoculars...
    – nelomad
    Commented Aug 16, 2016 at 22:49
  • 4
    Obligatory TV Tropes link: tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/BinocularShot Commented Aug 18, 2016 at 7:30
  • 1
    Interesting to contrast with the former prevalence of looking-through-the-camera scenes that overlaid a 35mm SLR-type groundglass. Today they'd just show an external shot of someone taking the picture
    – user40212
    Commented Aug 18, 2016 at 17:44

4 Answers 4


As has been mentioned, the binocular "look" is just a mask.

It's also worth noting that if you're looking through binoculars properly you will only see one circle.

  • 34
    +1 for that second sentence alone. The double-circle-in-focus view is a big pet-peeve of mine. I've noticed that films will often use scopes or monoculars to avoid the ridiculous binocular split.
    – zzzzBov
    Commented Aug 16, 2016 at 18:48
  • 14
    Sure -- but it clearly tells you that you're looking through binoculars, and the view fills up more of the screen than it would with a more accurate circular mask. Commented Aug 16, 2016 at 20:18
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    Correction: you see one circle. I always see two, but a lot closer together than that.
    – Joshua
    Commented Aug 16, 2016 at 23:05
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    @Joshua You probably have the binoculars split too far apart. Ideally the 2 circles should overlap exactly, giving you 3D vision. If you see individual circles you are missing out on that effect. Commented Aug 17, 2016 at 13:15
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    @zzzzBov: It's a hint (I'm sure someone can provide the correct term here) to the viewer. Just like hearing a harp tells the audience that the hero will soon be standing in a lot of low-lying fog. The binocular view is steady because theaters don't want even more cleaning work between shows than they already have.
    – JS.
    Commented Aug 17, 2016 at 16:38

They don't, it's a fixed matte applied in post, these days with a simple 2D mask and some mild edge blurring. I'm reasonably certain nobody ever in the history of film and TV ever used anything optical to do that kind of shot.

  • 16
    They usually shoot with a long lens, to get the perspective compression. For a 3D film, they might use two long lenses or fake the second eye perspective digitally in post-production. Commented Aug 16, 2016 at 18:10
  • Would it traditionally have been done in post or via matte box? It could be done in post without an optical printer by double-exposing a negative of the binocular view, but if the production process would involve printing off the original camera negatives such an approach would require either double-exposing every print or adding an extra couple generations to the binocular scenes [the quality degradation and contrast mismatch may be acceptable, but that might still be more work than simply slipping a piece of cardboard in the matte box].
    – supercat
    Commented Aug 18, 2016 at 14:39
  • 2
    "nobody ever" - see the binocular scene in Top Secret! with the cow climbing over the mask Commented Aug 18, 2016 at 17:23
  • We did in "Two Minute Warning" for Universal in 1975 or so. The bad guy was a crazed killer shooting into the crowd from the peristyle in the L.A. Coliseum. His POV was through what I would normally call a 'bino-matte' for binocular matte. Only this was a rifle scope pov. So panavision built a rig with a scope and hinge . that would lever up in front of a 40mm and show the normal view with a scoped view rising up into the frame. Very cool. Commented Feb 15, 2017 at 8:21

"Binocular scenes" are shot as normal camera scenes. Then a "matte" or mask is added during post-production editing to simulate looking through binoculars.

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    Except that it doesn't simulate looking through binoculars. It just simulates looking-through-binoculars-in-the-movies. Commented Aug 17, 2016 at 11:38
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    Right, it signifies binoculars, it doesn't simulate them in any serious way. Although you might see an effect a little like that just as you're seating the binoculars on your face, so maybe an argumentative director would try to claim that a "binoculars" cutout expanding to fill the screen is a good-faith (albeit very loose) "simulation". It's a bit like the way a crash zoom can "simulate"/signify suddenly focusing on one part of your field of view. Your view doesn't actually narrow in any optical sense, it's just a visual effect to give the general idea. Commented Aug 18, 2016 at 14:29

Scenes where a character is looking something at the distance through binoculars are often enhanced by matting the screen with a double-circular frame. Recently, these scenes are filmed using a matte frame and a tint that is reminiscent of looking through a sniper scope.

Mattes cut holes in one clip to allow portions of another clip to show through. Mattes are used to create binocular and telescope point of view shots that were common in older movies and TV shows.


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