All About Glass: Why Having the Right Lens Can Make All the Difference

Published on in Equipment / Tech Reviews

By Mark Foley, MBA, BA, Technology Editor, ProductionHUB  

Ask any, I mean ANY cinematographer, videographer, photographer (you get it) who is serious about his or her craft and they all pretty much say the same thing. It’s all about the glass. Never was there a more true statement! Much as the stylus is to a turntable, the lens is to the camera. The better the stylus, the better the sound is going to be. Better glass, better image. Makes sense no? With that said, here are some of the best glass (lenses) either already on the market or soon to be released.

Oh yeah and by the way if you don’t see your favorite glass don’t be offended! There are so many really good lens manufacturers and lenses out there. So if I missed one or more feel free to send it in. Tell me all the particulars. Make, model, what (cool) project you are working on and why it is your “go to” glass.

CANON

Canon COMPACT-SERVO 18-80mm Zoom Lens and ZSG-C10 accessory grip (Model name CN-E18- 80mm T4.4L IS KAS S)

Anticipated List Price: Lens $5500/Grip$499 US

Like a fine wine that just seems to get better and better CANON is always on the hunt with outstanding existing products, and yet still always improving with some of the best new glass out there. Never satisfied with the status quo, Canon introduced the Compact-Servo 18-80mm. This is a lens that professionals have been waiting for. Tough as nails, versatile, very clean, and crisp. This is the “in between” lens from traditional Canon EF photography lenses to CN-E cinema lenses.

Lightweight, compact design, and with the features of photography lenses. The first in a new series of Canon lenses, the COMPACT-SERVO 18-80mm Zoom Lens is a cinema-style lens that includes a newly developed servo drive unit as a standard feature. This lens, (in my opinion) if it lives up to the hype, is the kind of lens “practical” (read me) shooters want. A lens that that I can use every day. Maybe you are just starting out or as a small production house or you can’t just roll out the dough (bad pun sorry) for new (or used) set of primes. I’m thinking sometimes you just need to start out with one really good lens and build your way up. I am thinking for the money this lens should be a no brainer. It’s early but I think this lens and the servo is going to make a lot of people really happy from the time they start shooting and all the way to the bank.

COOKE OPTICS


There is not a cinematographer out there that I know that doesn't want to shoot (some day) with Cooke glass. When I hear others talk about Cooke we are talking almost in a hushed and revered state. Not making that up. Think about it, especially coming off of 2016 NAB and CineGear. The laundry list of cool movies and shows that use Cooke is off the charts. But the question is why? Glad you asked. Why is exciting to me? The brand new true front Anamorphic/i 35-140mm zoom lens that had its first ever showing at NAB earlier this year, really got my attention. So, if I am lucky enough to be shooting and I can stay all in the same family of lens, that's where I want to be. Another main reason is the almost maniacal attention to detail on every part of every lens. It’s also the technology and Cooke reputation. With a 4x true, front anamorphic zoom with the creative flexibility that cinematographers have waited years to have, the Cooke 35–140mm Anamorphic/i zoom could be your go-to lens for the new era of anamorphic filmmaking. The Cooke 35-140mm Anamorphic/i zoom lens is supplied with /i Technology, and is designed for all PL mounted motion picture film and electronic cameras. The /i Technology provides cinematographers and camera operators with 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. But alas, buying or renting Cooke lens is not for the faint of heart. With a list price of 60k for the new Cooke, one better know what they are doing when they sign up. I know what your saying. If they seem expensive why go there. My rationale? You get what you pay for.

You are getting a lens with the impeccable credentials and the Cooke name to boot. Oh yeah, the images look damn pretty remarkable too.

ZEISS


The Master Primes is a complete set of 16 lenses that are the result of a close collaboration between ARRI and Zeiss. They are a generation of high-speed prime lenses with unprecedented resolution, incredible contrast and almost no breathing. Arri/Zeiss created a fast lens with great optical performance, one that has been made possible through new design and manufacturing techniques as well as exotic glass materials. A crucial factor is the use of aspherical glass surfaces, which require ultra-high precision in design and manufacturing. A widest stop of T1.3 allows shooting in low or available light for more natural-looking shots and a reduction of the lighting budget. In addition, a wide-open stop creates the cinematic look of an extremely shallow depth of field.

Additional features that were previously considered contradictory are good close focus performance and reduced breathing (an unwanted shift in image size when focus is changed). However, this made it more difficult to control breathing. By using the patented Dual Floating Elements TM technology, Zeiss virtually eliminated breathing in the Master Primes while at the same time keeping the excellent close focus performance. Built-in Lens Data System All 16 lenses have the Lens Data System (LDS) built-in, showing real-time lens status and depth of field information either on the video assist or on a dedicated Lens Data Display. The Lens Data System gives assistants an extra edge to work faster and more securely, especially when the camera is in remote situations like on a crane or Steadicam. Special in-camera effects like speed/iris ramps or shutter/iris ramps can be performed much easier, since the camera already knows where all the T-stops are, and no time-consuming lens tables are necessary.

Schneider Xenon FF-Prime Lenses


Because they are purposely built for digital cinematography with today’s HDSLR and other cameras, the new Xenon full-frame lenses are designed for 4K resolution (4096 × 2304 pixels). They cover the full 45mm image circle that’s usable on Canon 5D Mark III and Nikon D800 cameras. Each lens offers all new optical and mechanical design for outstanding operation. With a circular 14-blade aperture that is specially engineered for a smooth and consistent bokeh. The precision constant volume focusing design ensures that breathing is minimized. And with a 300-degree barrel rotation, the manual focus markings offer dead-on accuracy and repeatability. Additionally all lenses are color-matched for consistency. Engineered for compatibility with industry standard cine-style accessories like follow focus rigs and matte boxes, the Xenon FF-Primes feature identical external dimensions and positioning of focus and gear rings in each focal length. To accommodate filters and other accessories, each lens has a 100mm front diameter and a standard 95mm thread. The Xenon FF primes are available in changeable Nikon F, Canon EOS or PL mounts.

Last on the lens list is CW Sonderoptic.

CW Sonderoptic represents some of the highest quality lens available for the motion picture industry. Summilux-C With innovative optical composition and advanced mechanical designs, the Summilux-C primes from CW Sonderoptic are among the most desirable high-speed prime lenses ever made.

Consisting of a dozen focal lengths ranging from 16mm to 135mm, the Summilux-C primes feature a constant maximum T1.4 aperture. With a unique formula of aspherical elements, proprietary anti-reflective coatings, and exotic materials this lens provide a truly unique look.

Summicron-C

The Summicron C primes also feature color matched optics, advanced optical designs, and a high quality body. The Summicron-C primes incorporate a consistent T2.0 aperture across ten focal lengths, all within a lightweight form factor. Cinematographers using Summicron-C primes also benefit with an excellent imaging circle, perfect for working with sensors slightly larger than Super 35 format.

The Bottom Line

Like I said before, I really believe that if you are serious about image quality, then getting the best glass you can buy or rent should be your top priority. Period. Why shell out thousands of dollars to shoot on an ARRI Alexa or similar camera if you are just going to throw a so-so lens on the it? Here is my unsolicited advice. Figure out what you want to do with the camera and lens beforehand. Not saying a lot of shots just happen...they do but careful thought and planning doesn’t hurt either. Talk to others and see if what they are doing might fit your style. Go to a local rental house. Most really want the best for you and will ask what you are trying to do. Once more look at everything. Again, ask as many questions as you need to. It’s your show after all!

About Mark Foley

Mark J. Foley is the Technology Editor for ProductionHUB. Mark has an extensive production background having produced and directed award-winning live college and professional sports, broadcast and documentaries. In addition to his work at ProductionHUB, Mark is currently in production on his third documentary, The Herreshoff Legacy and The First Family of American Yachting, slated for completion later this year. 

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