Here's Why It Is a Great Time to Rethink Lens Choices

Published on in Equipment / Tech Reviews

By Mark Foley, Technology Editor ProductionHUB

As we gear up for 2017 NAB, I could not think of a better time to step back and look at the incredible amount of choices (zoom or prime) when it comes to selecting what you deem as the best lens or group of lenses for your next shoot. But there are some really important considerations to think about when lining up your next project. Before we delve into lens heaven and look at some current models, let’s hit pause and look at few thinking points that might make for some good food for thought. 

The Look

If you shoot a lot or even fairly often, we all have our own personal take on what we perceive as the perfect lens. So for this part of the story, it is not about the money to rent or buy, or the specific lens mount, (we’ll get there) but more specifically “the look.” So there are the typical questions like “What emotion am I trying to convey?” Especially in my close up work. I want to wring every last drop of feeling out of that shot. Yes, I know (that you know) all of the other stuff matters. Lighting, composition, framing, and the rest of it. But the lens IS where it all starts. So you can be shooting Red Epic, Arri Alexa, Panasonic Varicam, Canon C700, and Sony FS7. Doesn't matter. If you have a crappy lens you are wasting your time and money and your clients time and money. So, determining the emotional need really does matter. So once you know the look you are going for, then it does come back to your style of shooting and yes the money. Run n’ gun? Zoom. Cinema? Prime. Reality or semi-reality television? Zoom. Maybe even a combination of both. Here is my take. Myself I’m a zoom lens guy. Since I shoot a lot of sports and documentary work I really don’t have time for primes. (I know that sounds crazy because I love beautiful glass.) Plus my locations aren’t always that easy. So here is a good example. For a recent shoot with multiple locations, I used the Canon CN-E 18-80mm T4.4 COMPACT-SERVO. Loved it. It did what I needed it to do. I could follow the race boats and follow focus and get what I needed to get without killing my limited budget. The lens made for some very pretty pictures. So that's my preference and comfort factor. Getting it right plays a big part in the lens selection process as it would for a lot of (but not all) shooters. Besides, I am saving my pennies for a set of primes and still working on it! 

So Not Fair

As my daughter Lissie would say, it is so not fair that we can’t talk about the all of the great lens (both zoom and primes) that are out there right now. Like as in a lot! With that said I am also sure in a few months, we will be revisiting the lens scene a lot in post-NAB follow-ups. So as to keep with impartiality and some fairness, the lens and manufactures we mention here are not in any particular order.

Xenon FF-Prime Lenses


Schneider Optics has a family of prime lenses specially designed and built for digital cinematography with full-frame sensor HDSLR and other professional cameras. These lenses are built in Germany by Schneider-Kreuznach, the Schneider-Kreuznach Xenon FF-Prime Lenses are the latest addition. The set currently includes 25mm, 35mm, 50mm, 75mm, and 100mm focal lengths and the 18mm. Each of these T2.1 primes is available in changeable Nikon F, Canon EOS or PL mounts. The 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.The FF-Primes share the same external dimensions and weigh 2.6 lbs. except for the 100mm which is 3.1 lbs.  The circular 14-blade aperture 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 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.

FUJIFILM MK Series of Cinema Lenses

The Optical Devices Division of FUJIFILM has unveiled the MK Series of cinema lenses for E-mount cameras, which boast advanced optical performance, ultra-compact, and lightweight design, as well as superb cost performance. The first in this series to be introduced, the FUJINON MK18-55mm T2.9, is a standard zoom with an 18-55mm focal length. It will be available in early March for $3,799. The entire “MK” series is designed with the ‘emerging’ cinematographer in mind, whether shooting a live event, online programming, documentary, corporate video, wedding, independent or short film production.

The next in the series, the FUJINON MK50-135mm T2.9*1, will be available this summer. With a combined focal length range of 18mm-135mm in the Super 35mm format, together the first two “MK” lenses cover the most frequently used range utilized by emerging cinematographers. 

The series offers fast lenses with T2.9 speed across the entire zoom range, enabling a shallow depth-of-field “The rapid growth in popularity of content produced by emerging cinematographers has expanded the use of cinema and digital photographic cameras,” said Tom Fletcher, Director of Sales, Optical Devices Division of FUJIFILM. “And the heightened need for programming has, in turn, boosted demand for high-performance cinema lenses, which are ideal to achieve a shallow depth-of-field and a beautiful bokeh.

The “MK” lenses are designed to maintain consistent color temperature with all FUJINON cinema lenses, which simplifies color grading*2. The series also inherits the FUJINON cine lenses’ advanced edge-to-edge optical performance and low distortion*3, while boasting compact and lightweight design as well as outstanding cost/performance. The MK18-55 and MK50-135mm weigh in at a light 980 grams/2.16 lbs with front diameters of 85mm and lengths of 206mm. The MK18-55mm’s minimum object distance (MOD) is .85 meters/2.78 feet, while the MK 50-135mm’s MOD is 1.2m/3.93 feet. 

Only one matte box and one filter size are needed between the lenses. Features include a macro function that allows for a broader range of close-up shooting, and gears for the three rings are positioned in the exact same place, which eliminates the need to re-position accessories when switching lenses.

The lenses each contain a Flange Focal Distance adjustment function*4 to achieve optimal camera and lens matching. The short flange focal distance contributes to the lenses’ compact size and lightweight.  Distances are listed in feet and meters.

The iris supports seamless adjustment that is free of clicking. This enables precise exposure adjustment without any sound from clicking between T-stops.The lenses also feature three rings for manual and independent adjustment of focus, zoom, and iris (aperture), with the gear pitch*5 of 0.8M (module). The focus ring can rotate fully up to 200 degrees to facilitate precise focusing. 

Canon CN-E 18-80mm T4.4 COMPACT-SERVO 

The Canon CN-E 18-80mm T4.4 COMPACT-SERVO Lens combines the functionality of Canon's EF lenses with the features and performance of their CN-E lineup. Designed for use with EF-mount cameras featuring Super 35 or APS-C sized sensors, the lens covers an incredibly useful 18 to 80mm focal range while maintaining a constant T-stop of T4.4 (f/4) throughout. Measuring 7.2" long and weighing only 2.65 lb, the lens presents itself as a compact, lightweight option suitable for a variety of productions, from narrative work to run-and-gun documentaries. Notably, the lens is Canon's first cine-style option to incorporate image stabilization and auto focus functionality when paired with Cinema EOS cameras.

Further enhancing the versatility of this lens, Canon has equipped it with a servo drive unit compatible with industry-standard lens controllers, including Canon's broadcast ZSD-300D and FPD-400D, for full zoom, focus, and iris control. Alternatively, you can outfit the lens with the optional ZSG-C10 Control Grip for ENG-style lens control and operation. Power is provided to the grip from compatible cameras via the EF mount. For non-servo zoom control, the lens features cine-standard 0.8 mod gears, as well as a rubberized grip on the focus ring enabling comfortable manual operation.

Lens Design
Covers Super 35 / APS-C formats
18 to 80mm focal range (4.4x zoom ratio)
Constant T4.4 (f/4) aperture
Parfocal design to maintain focus during zoom
Minimized focus breathing
Cine-standard 0.8 MOD focus gear ring
0.5 MOD iris and zoom gear rings
Focus ring rotates 180°
Matching color characteristics to existing CN-E lenses
9-blade iris
Iris closing
Compact and lightweight design
Servo Control
Servo Control Capability for all zoom, focus and iris
Power provided via camera mount (from compatible cameras)
Optional ZSG-C10 Grip for ENG-style control and shoulder-mount applications
Functionality with Cinema EOS Cameras
Autofocus function (Continuous AF, One-Shot AF, Focus Guide)
Image Stabilization
Remote control of zoom, focus and iris via camera
REC start/stop from ZSG-C10 Grip
Peripheral illumination correction
Chromatic aberration correction
Lens metadata record
T-stop/F-stop number display select

ARRI/Zeiss Master Primes

The Master Primes are a complete set of 16 lenses born of a close collaboration between ARRI and Zeiss, are a generation of high-speed prime lenses with unprecedented resolution, incredible contrast, and virtually no breathing. The Master Primes open up new creative opportunities since they maintain their optical performance across the whole extended T-stop range from T1.3 to T22. Whether you shoot a day/exterior commercial with vibrant colors and high contrast, or a night/interior romantic candlelit dinner for a feature, the Master Primes are a truly universal set of lenses with just the right focal length for any situation.

Additional features that were previously considered contradictory are good close focus performance and reduced breathing (an unwanted shift in image size when the focus is changed). In the past, the close focus performance of a lens could be improved by utilizing a floating element. However, this made it more difficult to control breathing, so lens designers always had to compromise. By using the unique and patented Dual Floating ElementsTM technology, Zeiss virtually eliminated breathing in the Master Primes while at the same time keeping the excellent close focus performance already established with the Ultra Primes. This unique combination of features allows for fresh angles and focus pulls that would have previously been impossible, creating new ways to block a scene and new image sequences for cinematographers to explore.

Rokinon's Xeen 24mm T1.5 Lens

Rokinon's Xeen 24mm T1.5 Lens for Canon EF Mount is built specifically for use as a cinema lens. It features an internal focus design so that the lens does not change size while focusing, this minimizes the appearance of breathing when changing focus. Each lens in the set is multi-coated for good contrast, glare prevention, and are color matched to a factory standard, allowing you to assemble a set over time with minimal color shift. This 24mm lens provides what is considered a wide angle of view on full-frame cameras, and a tighter angle of view on smaller formats.

The lens features dual sided focus scales marked in feet, with dual sided iris scales. The 11-bladed iris provides a rounded aperture for a natural looking highlight and Bokeh. The lens is a manual focus and iris lens and does not have auto focus or auto-iris capability. It incorporates cinema-style focus and iris gears that share the same position across the lenses in the Xeen set. The common 114mm front diameter allows for quick lens changes when using a matte box and focus accessories. The focus ring rotates 200° from close focus to infinity; this gives you a high degree of precision when adjusting focus.
This is a 24mm lens that has an image circle that covers a full-frame sensor. When mounted on a camera with a full-frame sensor it provides you with a wide angle of view.

The lens features metal construction to withstand the rigors of daily production and comes with a support foot that can help take strain off your camera's lens port.

Dual right and left side focus and T-stop scales allow your focus puller to work from either side of the lens, without having to flip the lens in the mount or facing upside numerals. Each lens in the XEEN series shares a common focus and iris gear ring positions, which speeds up lens changes as accessories such as follow focus units or iris motors don't have to be re-positioned.

The common 114mm front diameter allows for quick lens changes as you don't have to swap out anti-reflection donuts or adapters to use the same matte box. The non-rotating front allows you to use optional clip-on matte boxes. There's also a "clickless" aperture ring for smooth iris pulls.

Lastly, we got some really great feedback from Les Zellan, Chairman and Owner of Cooke Lens. Always insightful and an unabashed technologist Les shared some thoughts on the lens business and maybe a little snippet of what we can expect at 2017 NAB.

    

ProductionHUB: What is new/trending in the lens world? Why do you think that is happening?

Les Zellan: As digital cameras continue to get better, cinematographers continue to look for ways to bring character to sterile digital images. This may be via vintage lenses or the ongoing trend for shooting anamorphically. In response to this demand, we have launched the Panchro/i Classics, a modern redesign of the beloved original Speed Panchros from the 1920s; the new range achieves the same look and feel as the originals, with newly designed housing and PL mounts. We have also built on the success of our classic Anamorphic/i set with the Anamorphic/i SF range, which kick the flares and aberrations up a notch to bring something new and exciting to the cinematographer’s arsenal. 

ProductionHUB: If people are just starting out, what kinds of questions should they be asking before they rent/buy a lens either zoom or primes?

Les Zellan: While we’d love everyone to use our lenses all the time, the choice really comes down to the story and the look that best tells that story, whether it is warm and organic or cold and clinical.

ProductionHUB: What do you think has been the biggest development in the last few years for lens design?

Les Zellan: Significant improvements in the computer-based software tools that help us to design the lenses. They enable us to work faster, which in turn helps us to produce the lenses that cinematographers are asking for in a timelier manner.

ProductionHUB: What cool projects have you been involved with over the last year?

Les Zellan: Recent films include The Odyssey, Pete’s Dragon, Swiss Army Man, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children and Inferno; TV shows featuring the ‘Cooke Look’ include Westworld, Game of Thrones, Poldark, Fleabag and the upcoming Valkyrien; as well as many commercials, promos, and documentaries.

We are also very proud of the videos that we have produced for Cooke Optics TV - shot with Cooke lenses, of course! The videos feature some of the most respected cinematographers and directors working today, including Antony Dod Mantle, Sean Bobbitt, Ed Lachman, Haris Zambarloukos and Michael Apted, who have generously taken the time to share their on-set experiences and advice. 

We don’t confine our films to those that shoot with Cooke lenses, it’s all about good filmmaking and technique. Topics range from the dissection of how a classic scene was shot, to masterclasses on lighting, to how to work with directors. We are continually adding to this invaluable archive, so make sure to check back regularly for new films. 

ProductionHUB: What should we expect from Cooke at NAB this year? 

Les Zellan: As well as presenting the first lenses from our highly anticipated Panchro/i Classic range, Cooke will also reveal our second front Anamorphic/i zoom lens, with preliminary specifications featuring 9x zoom front anamorphic, 45-405mm T4.5-22, 5’10” MOD from image plane and 3’11” close focus from the front of the lens. 

Final Food for Thought

As stated throughout, the lens or set of lens you choose all comes down to what works best for you, your project, oh yeah and your budget. Gotta do your homework! Talk to professionals at places like BandPro, AbelCine, Duclos, or your own local rental house.  Smart guys with not only lens knowledge but a deep understanding of the entire digital cinematic workplace. Ask a ton of questions and go look! Get to really know the lens and your camera and success (well-shooting success) will be sure to follow. See you on the floor at NAB!

About the Writer - Mark Foley

Mark Foley is Technology Editor, ProductionHUB. When he is not writing he is out shooting his next adventure All About the Wine, A Love Story. 

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