First Look: ZEISS Raises the Bar (and Then Some)

A Good Long Look at the ZEISS Supreme 15mm

Published on in Equipment / Tech Reviews

A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to travel to Rule Boston Camera in Boston with renowned industry lens expert Jean-Marc Bouchut from ZEISS to take a closer look at the recently released ZEISS 15mm Supreme Prime lens.

The brochure states that ZEISS Supremes are designed for cinematic large format sensor coverage. After looking at the Supreme 15mm on a lens projector, I can say that the 15mm more than lives up to that fact and completes this stunning array of the Supreme Lens lineup from ZEISS. Of course, ZEISS Supremes have long been known for their excellent design characteristics and for the ability to capture stunning images. I was fortunate enough to spend the day with Jean-Marc Bouchut and John Rule who was gracious enough to lend us some workspace and to step away from his busy day to spend a bit of his time and also provide a Sony Venice to check out the 15mm. Needless to say, I was not disappointed.

Some Important Technical Considerations

One of the first things I noticed was how light the ZEISS 15mm was — only 4.9 lbs. Talk about a lighter daily workload! It'll be much more bearable for handheld operators who are sometimes required to hold some shots (and be steady) for a long time.

As I was holding the 15mm, I also noticed just how well made it was. Light yes, built like you would expect a ZEISS lens to be built, yes. The new 15mm lens provides an extremely wide-angle view and a maximum aperture of T1.8, but here is what I would consider the acid test of any wide-angle lens which is of course the amount of distortion that one might expect.

So, in the Rule facility that is a beautiful converted New England mill, there was a series of pretty old wooden vertical support columns. If there was even the smallest distortion in the imaging, I could barely see it. That is not an exaggeration. The bokeh was as excellent as you would expect with an extremely smooth transition point between in-focus and out of focus areas within the intended image, crucial for work in the HDR space. Additionally, we had the opportunity to get the ZEISS 15mm lens up onto a lens projector (very cool for this tech nerd). The coverage was over the top even way out on the edges. Unsolicited opinions and some very close scrutiny by some very knowledgeable people in the room confirmed both technically and visually that the ZEISS 15mm really did live up to the hype. Charts don’t lie. Again, not hype.

Another key feature of the Supreme 15mm is the eXtended Data

I personally have not had the opportunity to shoot an intensive VFX production (yet) but if when I do, shooting with a ZEISS Supreme and ZEISS eXtended Data will be one of my first priorities. I'll explain why.

ZEISS eXtended Data efficiently transfers shading and distortion data via a hardware/software workflow. ZEISS eXtended Data will get the information you need from your lens in real time. In other words, in the right set of hands, it will save you a boatload of time and maybe money in post. VFX artists need to adjust distortion and shading with extreme accuracy in post. With ZEISS eXtended Data one can export the data directly to a supporting camera, such as the RED DSMC2 (with firmware version 7.1 and above). The camera records the lens data on the video file, and the data can be extracted from the video in post. ZEISS eXtended Data Technology provides a better choice to the previous way which included the time intensive process of making adjustments with grey card and grids. The technology is based on the similar Cooke /i* data technology but additionally provides frame-accurate information about distortion and shading characteristics. (Because it uses Cooke /i* technology, virtually all hardware compatible with Cooke i/* can be used with Zeiss eXtended Data. Cameras such as Sony VENICE, ARRI, and RED DSMC 2 cameras.

The 15mm not only completes the 14-piece high-end cine lens series ranging from 15 to 200mm and a maximum aperture of T1.5 to T2.2, ZEISS covers a full range of focal lengths. The new 15mm lens provides an extremely wide-angle view and a maximum aperture of T1.8.

In demand by cinematographers from around the world, the new 15mm lens rounds out the lineup providing an extremely wide-angle view and a maximum aperture of T1.8. “This 15mm lens is the final piece of the puzzle that many cinematographers have been waiting for,” reported Christophe Casenave, responsible for cinematography products at ZEISS.

The cinematic look provided by the lens family, which features a subtle and gradual focus fall-off and a consistently warm and soft bokeh, comes into its own when used for feature film and high-end episodic production. For example, cinematographers Armin Franzen and David Higgs, BSC, relied on the ZEISS Supreme Prime lens family for the upcoming 3rd season of the Sky series “Das Boot”. Supreme Primes were also used to shoot the science fiction adventure “The Adam Project” (Tobias Schliessler, ASC) and the sequel “Knives Out 2” (Steve Yedlin, ASC) – both Netflix productions. Award-winning cinematographer Dick Pope, BSC also relied on the Supremes for the thriller “The Outfit”.

Some Closing Thoughts

Alas, our time with the ZEISS 15mm was way to short. But as fate would have it, we had the good fortune of having another set of eyes on the 15mm that day. Jill Tufts a very well-known and respected Boston based camera assistant was in the middle of prepping for a big shoot the next day right next to us. Taking a time out from her work Jill came over to look at the lens. I think she might have been a little curious too, but aren’t we all when we see new gear? Being familiar with the Supremes and the Radiances she had this to say about the ZEISS Supreme 15mm.

Tufts stated: ”The 15mm Supreme looks incredible! The lack of distortion at such a wide angle makes a super cheat for shooting in small spaces, and a stunning wide for big open exteriors. With the addition of this rare Full Frame focal length, ZEISS now has a very nimble and creative set of workhorse lenses.”

As for me, I would say without hesitation, if you have the chance to see, feel, or better yet shoot with the ZEISS 15mm or other lengths in the Supreme set, go do it. I would love the challenge of shooting a short with just the 15mm, that’s how impressive it was. Think it’s time to find some funding…

Special Thanks to John Rule, Rule Boston Camera for the use.

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About the Author

Mark Foley
Mark Foley
Mark J. Foley, MBA BA is an award-winning producer and director and the Technology Editor for ProductionHUB.com. He is on a mission to provide the best in new equipment reviews, along with exclusive analysis and interviews with the best, the brightest, and the most creative minds in the entertainment and production business. Have a suggestion for a review? Email Mark at [email protected].

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