Ultimate guide to lenses
The glass that filmmakers should look to own – and why
Words Adam Duckworth
Cameras come and go, but lenses last for ever – so always invest in glass. Those old maxims have been trotted out by image-makers for years, from stills shooters to moviemakers. Like all good clichés, there is a lot of truth in it. But it’s not totally accurate, as clearly a 50-year-old lens with old-school coatings and no autofocus might give a vintage look, but will hardly squeeze the last big of quality and capability from your 6K wonder-camera, shooting in Raw for viewing on a 55-inch mega TV.
And where once the lens and film stock were pretty much the only ways of affecting the final look of your movies, in modern times the image sensor, codecs and editing are crucial, too.
But buy the right lens and it will give years of faithful service, and make a massive difference to your films. With considerations such as ultimate quality, cost, real-world usability and communication with your camera and editing software, the right lens is a crucial purchasing decision.
To help you through the minefield of different lenses, our guide looks at lots of different types of optics to suit all budgets and users.
If you demand the ultimate quality above all else, then a dedicated cinema prime lens should be top of your shopping list. It’s no coincidence that virtually all big-production movies, from Hollywood blockbusters to Netflix series dramas, are shot on matched sets of primes chosen for their light-gathering qualities and the distinctive look they can give to a film.
The very top-end manufacturers like Cooke offer their primes with different ‘looks’ they can give, from crisp and contrasty to flarey and vintage. Even Sigma has got in on the act with its new range of Classic primes. Then of course there are expensive, anamorphic lenses to give that Cinemascope super-wide look, unique oval bokeh and long horizontal flare streaks. If you have very deep pockets, then many manufacturers offer very pricey options that appease every creative whim.
Images Mounting a prime cinema lens like a Teen (below) or a Sigma (above) opens up a world of amazing bokeh, shallow depth-of-field and ultimate quality
But for the majority of independent filmmakers who are considering a set of primes, then the best are neutral, multi-purposes lenses with good control of flare. And there are lots of options at lots of difference price points. Some even have mounts that can be changed if you swap systems, which is a very real benefit for future-proofing your purchase.
The benefits of cinema primes are that they usually have fast, large T-stops rather than the f-stop apertures of stills photo lenses. An f-stop is a theoretical number calculated from focal length and the size of the aperture opening, where as a T-stop is an actual measure of light transmission. So one lens set at f/2.8 might not let the same amount of light through as another that’s also rated at f/2.8 – but a T2.8 setting is consistent across brands and focal lengths.
Cine primes have a lot of aperture blades to give smooth bokeh
Cine primes tend to have a lot of aperture blades to give smooth bokeh, rather than the more jagged look of lesser lenses with fewer blades.
And the aperture rings are often clickless, so you can change T-stop smoothly rather than in set half- or third-stop settings, for the perfect exposure. If you plan to change aperture during a shot, then it’s the only way to avoid the obvious stepped changes in exposure.
The majority of cine primes have fast maximum apertures to allow in a lot of light, and give a correspondingly shallow depth-of-field. This can give a lovely cinematic look, but means getting your scene in focus is crucial and more difficult. To help you control focus, cine lenses have geared rings that are married up to external accessories, such as a follow focus rig. Sets of lenses are typically the same size, so it’s easy and quick to change accessories like rigs, matte boxes and follow focus systems. Of course, this does take time, so using primes isn’t as quick as using zoom lenses.
A huge benefit of a manual cine prime is the long throw of the focus ring, and the very precise, tactile control it gives to the filmmaker. Compared to lenses designed for DSLR photo use, which have a much shorter throw or are often fly-by-wire rather than having a direct mechanical connection, they are much easier to accurately control either with your hand or via a follow focus rig. But for shooting 4K at wide apertures, realistically you need to use an external monitor with accurate focus peaking or other focus tools, to get everything sharp. That’s the price you pay for a cinematic look.
A final benefit of cinema lenses is that they are designed to minimise or eliminate the phenomenon of focus breathing. This is when you change focus and get a change in angle of view – almost like you are zooming. It’s especially noticeable when racking focus from very near to very far subjects, or vice versa. Cinema lenses are designed to avoid this by using different internal focus systems, compared to those typically used on stills lenses.
Cine primes do have some disadvantages, though. Many do not communicate with the camera, so there will be no automatic corrections for aberrations or vignetting. Of course, you need to invest a lot to have a complete set, and it takes time and resource to be carrying the whole kit and switching focal lengths all the time.
And unlike a zoom, where you can set the precise focal length you want for the perfect framing, your prime might not be the exact length you want. They are also not made in the most extreme focal lengths, like fisheye-wide or super-telephoto. For those extremes, you will need DSLR glass.
Premium cine primes
It’s possible to drop ten grand on big-name primes from the likes of Arri, Angenieux, Cooke, Leica or Zeiss, but these are out of the reach of most filmmakers. Of the major camera manufacturers, Canon has the widest range of cine primes. The company offers a full set of stunning EF-mount CN-E prime cine lenses, from 14mm to 135mm in focal length, that are 4K quality for Super35 size sensors in the C-range of cine cameras. Canon also offers a vintage or classic look with its new Sumire primes, but these are vastly expensive so largely a rental option, and they only come in PL mount. A set of seven Canon CN-E primes costs around £18,000/ $24,960, so is a serious investment.
Images The high-end lenses tend to offer the widest focal lengths yet retain optical quality, like the 14mm Sigma (below) or 18mm Zeiss CP .3 (above)
Legendary German lens maker Zeiss does have vastly expensive lenses but also has a range of more affordable glass called Compact Primes. The popular CP.2 range was recently redesigned, and these newer CP.3 lenses are smaller, lighter, more consistent in size and even more high-tech, all without a huge increase in price.
There is a ten-strong range comprising 15mm, 18mm, 21mm, 25mm, 28mm, 35mm, 50mm, 85mm, 100mm and 135mm lenses. All the CP.3 series have a 95mm front diameter and are now all the same size, apart from the 100mm and 135mm telephoto lenses, which are slightly longer.
There are improved lens coatings for sharper images with less ghosting and flare
There are improved lens coatings for sharper images with less ghosting and flare. It’s in the body of the lenses and the internal mechanics that the engineers have spent the majority of their time. The focus ring is very smooth and light-feeling. This means focus motors need less power to operate. Zeiss has fitted the CP.3s with the advanced mechanical focusing design from its Ultra Primes and the ball bearing system from the Master Primes, hence the smoothness. Like the CP.2 range, the CP.3s have user-interchangeable lens mounts available in PL, Nikon F, Micro Four Thirds and Sony E mount.
The CP.3 range comes in standard or XD versions (the latter stands for extended data). The XD lenses cost more – a 50mm version costs £5214/$5790 compared to the £3654/$4390 standard version.
This buys you Cooke/i data connections and an extra Lemo socket that can output extended lens data on distortion and shading characteristics. Zeiss provides a plug-in software so you can automatically adjust the images in DaVinci Resolve.
Firmly in the premium category are the cinema lenses from Sigma, with the High Speed 50mm T1.5 full-frame prime costing £3299/$3499. Coming soon is a range of these lenses with i/Technology, for communication with the camera.
The lenses are all-metal and the 50mm has 13 elements in eight groups, with one aspherical and three FLD elements. These are made from Sigma’s high-end coated glass. As the optical design is shared with Sigma’s range of Art prime lenses designed for DSLR use, it means the glass is produced in higher numbers and the optical development has already been paid for by the stills department. Hence Sigma being able to offer such high-end glass at a price that serious filmmakers can afford.
Unlike the Art lenses, the cine range is housed in a traditional, all-manual metal body with a clickless aperture ring. The focus ring has a 180° rotation for precise control, and both rings use standard 0.8M gearing for use on rigs and follow focus systems.
The other lenses in the Sigma range also share the same position and sizes for the controls, so it’s fast and easy to change lenses between shots – there’s no messing around with changing rigs. The iris has nine rounded blades for a smooth, circular bokeh and it certainly works, as out-of-focus highlights are pleasingly smooth.
There is no discernible focus breathing, so as you change focus the image stays the same size in the frame – a key bonus of a true cinema lens. Other high-end cine primes to consider include the Schneider-Kreuznach Xenon series.
Budget cine primes
A major consideration when buying cine lenses is the sensor size they will cover. Some, like the very affordable Veydra or Kowa ranges, are for Micro Four Thirds sensors such as those in the Panasonic GH5S and Olympus OM-D series. They are small and compact, ideal for the smaller MFT cameras.
All the features of a premium prime cinema lens but at less than half the price: this is the promise Korean lens brand Samyang makes of the Xeen range of super-fast glass for full-frame cameras.
Xeen’s range of cine primes are at the opposite end of the scale to servo-assisted, electronically remote-controlled, parfocal design zooms with built-in image stabilisation and metadata communication. They don’t have any of this, which leaves them with the simple task of completely focusing on offering a pure cinema lens at an affordable price.
All the features of a premium prime cine lens but all at less than half the price
The range is 14mm, 16mm, 20mm, 24mm, 35mm, 50mm, 85mm and 135mm in a family that’s designed for consistency in size and optical performance, in terms of look and colour.
The lens housings are made of aluminium with standard 0.8M ring gearing, but unfortunately there is no weather sealing. Every lens has the same front diameter of 114mm and the gear rings are in the same place, so it’s fast and easy to switch lenses without having to adjust follow focus rigs.
The fast apertures are controlled by a de-clicked ring, and the lenses are available marked in metric or imperial distance scales to suit your preference. They also come in Canon EF, Sony E, Micro Four Thirds, PL and Nikon F fittings.
These may be a budget offering – the Xeen 50mm is £1554/$1445, for example – but feel like a quality bit of kit. The bayonet fit is precise with no play, the focus ring has a large, 200° movement that allows for ultra-precise and smooth focusing, with a lovely mechanical feel.
There is some drop-off in resolution at the edge of the frames, as you’d expect, a tiny bit of chromatic aberration and some slight barrel distortion. But in a lens at this price point, the optical performance is very, very good. The bokeh is smooth, although as you open up the lens aperture it does change from circular to slightly egg-shaped. But it’s nothing that would worry most users.
The Xeen’s colours do tend towards a very slight green cast, but this is easily sorted in post production so is not of any real concern. Flare is well controlled.
For a more affordable option, they are great performers.
Images Samyang’s Xeen range fits full-frame cameras, whereas the smaller Kowa and Veydra MFT lenses are smaller and even more affordable
Samyang recently revealed a new series of smaller, lighter Xeen primes called the CF range, made with carbon fibre composite in the lens barrel. A Sony E mount version will cost £1999/$2495 when they hit the market.
Swiss brand Irix has also recently hit the market with a small but growing range of cine primes that are affordable and good quality. Only three lenses are currently available, but this will expand soon as filmmakers demand a whole set of matching optics.
If you want all the handling advantages of a cine prime such as T-stops, long-throw focusing rings and de-clicked iris rings, but don’t want to carry a bagful of lenses around, the latest cine zooms might be just what your filmmaking needs.
But there are some disadvantages – the lenses are larger and more pricey than a single cine prime, for example. They also require larger rigs as there is an additional control needed for the zoom ring. Optical quality is slightly compromised as the lens has to perform at various focal length settings, and the maximum aperture is far less than a prime, so super-shallow depth-of-field is far less easy to attain.
Of course, they do offer the advantages of more precise framing, no time wasted changing lenses between shots, and are significantly less expensive than a full set of primes.
Compared to DSLR-type zoom lenses, cine zooms are designed to minimise focus breathing and zoom shift. When zooming a conventional DSLR lens, the focal point shifts so you have to refocus, and often the image skews slightly off centre. This makes reframing slower, and zooming during shooting impossible.
Cine zooms are built to minimise focus shifts and off-axis changes by driving the front focus group and the zoom group independently, either optically or mechanically. Thanks to this, there is no lag of the type you’ll often find with fly-by-wire lenses.
Most cine zooms have a large, 200° focus rotation angle, more than double most DSLR lenses; three mechanical lens rings control the focus, zoom and iris. The iris ring is stepless for greater precision when changing exposure, and as it’s clickless, there is no vibration or noise as you alter settings. Standard cine lenses like follow focus rigs all fit easily due to the 0.8M standard-sized gear pitch on the focus, zoom and iris rings.
At the top end of the cine zoom market is the Zeiss LWZ, which stands for Light Weight Zoom. It’s for Super35 sensors, has a 21-100mm range, weighs 2kg/4.4lb and costs £8484/$10,400 – so it’s not really light or cheap. However, it is around half the price of Zeiss’ premium cine zooms. It uses all of the legendary Zeiss know-how and build quality, just in a lighter package.
At far more affordable price points are zooms from Sigma and Fujifilm. Sigma has the High Speed Zoom Line to cover the Super35 frames and the full-frame FF Zoom Line, which has a £4800/$4999 24-35mm T2.2 in EF and E mounts. The Super35 High Speed Zoom Line comprises an 18-35mm T2 and a 50-100mm T2 at £3899/$3999 each.
The Sigma bodies are all metal construction, with standard 0.8M ring gearing, and are splash and dust resistant – including a weather seal on the EF lens mount. The body is reasonably compact, given the speed of the lens.
Colour balance has been standardised across the range of lenses, as has the 95mm front diameter and the 82mm filter size, plus the ring gear positions.
The focus ring has 180° of travel, the zoom 320°, and the iris has a constant angle between stops. On some versions, the aperture setting is fed to the mount so on suitably equipped cameras you can see the value set in the viewfinder, and it will be recorded, along with zoom and focus information, in metadata.
Compared to DSLR-type zooms, cine zooms minimise focus breathing and zoom shift
Also making a big impact on the market has been Fujifilm, with its two manual cine zooms available in Sony E, Fujifilm X and MFT mounts. Fujifilm’s MK zooms use technology from the firm’s broadcast cine lenses, retaining the optical quality but at lower weight, cost and size.
The lenses are the £3558/$3299 MK18-55mm and £4088/$3499 MK50-135mm, which both feature a consistent and very fast T2.9 speed right through the whole zoom range. The MK lenses are an ideal match for cameras like the popular Sony FS7 and FS5, and can be used on the full-frame A7 series if the camera is used in crop sensor mode. Optional extras from after-market manufacturers include motorised zoom and wireless focusing kits.
Fujifilm have focused on the new lenses, retaining the cine lenses’ famed low distortion and excellent optical performance right across the whole image through the zoom range.
Both of the lenses have a macro function that lets you focus as close as 0.38m with the MK18-55mm, and 0.85m with the MK50-135mm at the wide end. They come bundled with a zoom lever for fast adjustment of focal length, too, and a dedicated lens hood. There is also a backfocus adjustment to match the lens to your specific camera.
Images All-manual cine zooms – such as those by Fujifilm, Zeiss and Sigma – are loved by purists. But servo zooms like the Canon offer advantages for ENG use
Manufacturers Sony and Canon mix advanced electronics with the style and feel of a cinema zoom lens. Sony’s full-frame 28-135mm f/4 G PZ OSS and Super35 18-110mm f/4 G OSS PZ lenses have the standard triple ring set-up but use advanced electronics to counter focus breathing and zoom shift as well as drive the focus and zoom rings, rather than a purely mechanical system.
Canon has a lightweight cine servo zoom lens in EF mount, the 18-80mm T4.4 at £4699/$5225, plus another £429/ $474 for zoom grip, which is a must-buy for the functionality it adds. And it’s been followed up by a 70-200mm T4.4, which retails for £6053/$6542.
What Canon has done with the new T4.4 zooms is borrow the optical technology from Canon’s top-of-the-range L lenses and house them in a cinema-style body. They come complete with a servo zoom that takes an optional handgrip, which is ideal for the ENG-style, run-and-gun operator. Of course, to get the lens down in price there has to be some compromises, and that’s in the relatively modest maximum aperture of T4.4.
The Canon 18-80mm T4.4 is an ideal, do-all lens for the majority of shots required by documentary makers using Canon’s cinema cameras. It works seamlessly with the functionality of these cameras, making it even easier to use.
DSLR manual focus lenses
Not all of the latest lenses designed for DSLR or mirrorless cameras are autofocus. Some offer old-school manual focusing so are very suitable for use as filmmaking optics. Perhaps it’s no surprise that the brand leading this movement is Zeiss, which has very different manual focus lenses for DSLR use.
The Zeiss Otus series is about the best you can get in terms of quality. Offering a fast f/1.4 aperture and a solid build quality, they are large and heavy lenses – and pricey. The 85mm Otus is £3399/$4491.
The Otus is Zeiss’ attempt at a no-compromise lens purely focused on image quality. It has 11 lens elements in nine groups, in the legendary Planar design. There are six special glass elements and five aspheric lenses. At 1140g, with an 86mm front filter thread, it’s a big lens that oozes quality and will last for years. When you get it right the quality is amazing, with superb detail and contrast, accurate colours and no distortion.
The Zeiss Otus is a stunning performer in terms of optical quality, but trying to shoot manual focus on DSLRs with a shallow depth-of-field is a huge challenge. Get it right and you are rewarded, though.
Trying to shoot manual focus on a DSLR with a shallow depth-of-field is a huge challenge
At a fraction of the cost and size, Zeiss also offers manual focus lenses like the Milvus and Classic series for Canon and Nikon, and the Loxia range for full-frame Sony E mount.
Compared to the monster-sized cinema lenses, the Zeiss Loxia looks like a toy. You’d be forgiven for thinking a lens that costs just £669/$949 and is a fraction of the size of the cinema lenses, with even fewer lens elements and no aspherical lenses, would give an optical performance that would be nowhere near as good. And you’d be wrong. The Loxia performs incredibly well, with sharpness, colours and contrast right across the frame that is just superb.
It’s not quite got the ultimate resolving power and biting edge sharpness of cine prime lenses that costs almost five times as much, but it’s not that far off at all. The bokeh is relatively pleasing, too, thanks to the 11-bladed iris, but it can appear a tiny bit jagged at times if you look really closely.
But it’s the sharpness that is impressive for such a small and relatively simple lens. At f/5.6 it’s a stunner, and wide open it’s softer but not too bad. For a lens that’s so small, light and affordable, the optical performance is fantastic. The manual focus ring has a 180° throw and the aperture ring can be de-clicked for use on video cameras. All you do is use a small screwdriver on a slotted screw on the lens mount, and the clicks are gone.
Samyang, which sells the lenses as Rokinon in certain markets like the USA, already has a full range of DSLR lenses specifically for video use. These lenses – sometimes branded Rokinon Cine DS or Samyang VDSLR – use the lens elements and technology of the very affordable DSLR range, which are then rehoused in very compact, manual-focus bodies with de-clicked aperture rings. They are a half-way house between DSLR lenses and proper cine primes, and are a compact lens solution popular for Super35-sensor cameras. They make an ideal pairing for the new Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera 6K, which uses a Canon EF mount and a Super35 sensor. And with the 35mm T1.5 costing just £458/$449, they are very affordable, too – ideal for filmmakers on a budget.
Images The Samyang VDSLR lens is a hybrid; Zeiss has lots of options, from no-compromise Otus to the compact Loxia
DSLR autofocus zooms
If you want the ultimate in versatility, light weight, complete integration with your camera system and ultimate affordability, then an autofocus zoom lens designed for DSLR or mirrorless cameras is the way to go. All the camera manufacturers have their own extensive ranges, which can go from super-small and light to super-long or ultra-wide at a higher price.
Often, camera manufacturers will have at least a couple of versions of a zoom lens. Typically, one range will be the high-end, professional version that usually has a faster maximum aperture, better build quality, faster AF motors and better weather sealing, although they are usually bigger, heavier and more expensive.
Images DSLR lenses are perfect when matched to the same manufacturer’s body, such as this Olympus set-up (above), but can also work on cine cams like this Red (below)
For example, Canon has its professional-dedicated range of L lenses, and Sony has its G Master series – many of which are built in collaboration with Zeiss. Canon also offers its EF-mount lenses in the EF-S series for crop-sensor cameras, and Sony has E and FE lenses. Both have the same mount but only FE lenses cover the image circle of a full-frame sensor.
Many own-brand manufacturer zoom lenses have built-in image stabilisation, and often work in tandem with the camera body to bring amazing levels of stability to your shooting. Olympus, for example, mates its pro-level zooms to its built-in image stabilisation on its professional cameras like the OM-D E-M1 Mark II, to bring incredible levels of shake-free shooting. Similarly, Panasonic’s MFT cameras like the GH5 match up with the 12-60mm f/2.8-4 Leica-branded zoom to offer incredible anti-shake properties.
If image stabilisation is important to you, it’s crucial you pick the right lens and camera combo
If image stabilisation is important to you, it’s crucial to do your research and pick the right lens and camera combo. For example, the filmmaking-focused Panasonic GH5S and Fujifilm X-H1 don’t have any image stabilisation built in, so you must buy a lens with it if you want anti-shake correction.
Two of the most popular do-all lenses are from Canon in the shape of the 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM or 24-105mm f/4L IS USM II lenses. Matched up with a 70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM III telephoto zoom, it gives a hugely wide range with a relatively fast speed, great optical quality and solid build. Many filmmakers started with Canon DSLRs – such as the EOS 5D Mark II – and bought these lenses to match. Now, they also fit the Canon C-series of cinema cameras as well as the Panasonic EVA1, Blackmagic Ursa series and Pocket Cinema Camera 6K (plus high-end Red cameras). They are often used on Sony cameras with an adapter, too.
Sony’s range of E-mount lenses are impossible to convert to other mounts, so if you invest in Sony glass then you’re committed to their system. However, one of the benefits of using dedicated lenses rather than via adapters is that it unlocks the potential of the camera’s autofocus system, such as in the case of the Sony A7 series.
Until recently, that has meant you were locked into buying Sony’s own range of lenses, which are excellent but often pricey. However, now some independent lens brands are muscling in on the action and offering more affordable alternatives to Sony-brand zooms in the full-frame FE mount.
Tamron and Sigma are two of the first manufacturers to offer FE-mount zooms at prices to undercut Sony. The cheapest and lightest by far is the £700/$799 Tamron 28-75mm f/2.8 Di III RXD. Its build quality isn’t in the same league as the Sony and Sigma versions, but optically it’s not far off and works just as well in most shooting situations. It’s a mid-range, mid-price standard f/2.8 zoom for Sony full-frame, which is what many have been crying out for.
In terms of autofocus speed, the Tamron cooperates beautifully with the Sony system – thanks to its newly-developed AF drive system specifically for Sony. It feels every bit as fast as a native Sony lens.
Sigma’s new 24-70mm f/2,8 AF DG DN Art lens for Sony E mount is from the company’s high-end Art series, and costs £1049/$1099 compared to the £1699/ $2198 Sony 24-70mm f/2.8 G Master version. It’s slightly smaller and lighter, and we test it in this issue.
Sigma also offers a full range of AF lenses in the new full-frame L-Mount, to suit cameras like the Panasonic S1, Leica SL and Sigma fp full-frame mirrorless cameras.
DSLR autofocus primes
For those who want autofocus lenses and love the wafer-thin depth-of-field of a fast prime, or if you want a super-long telephoto or super-wide fisheye lens, then autofocus prime lenses designed for DSLR or the latest breed of mirrorless cameras are your only choice.
Many of the fast, medium focal length primes don’t offer image stabilisation but do offer super quality and the smooth bokeh beloved of portrait photographers, which translates very well to filmmaking.
And with the new range of full-frame mirrorless cameras such as the Panasonic S-series and Canon EOS R cameras, there have been some incredible new lenses on sale. One of the fastest and most spectacular is the Canon RF50mm f/1.2L USM lens at £1899/$2099, ideal for early adopters of the new Canon system. And for users of Panasonic S cameras, Leica SL or Sigma fp, then the Panasonic Lumix Pro 50mm f/1.4 is a fast professional lens (but is pricey at £2299/$2297).
For users of more established systems such as the Canon EF mount or Sony E mount, there is a far greater choice – and at different price points. Canon and Sony both offer a wide range of AF primes at different budgets and focal lengths to suit most needs. But there are also lenses from lots of independent makers.
Zeiss is a well-known collaborator of Sony, and there are Zeiss-branded Sony lenses as well as Zeiss’ own range of lenses (such as the AF Batis range) to fit full-frame Sony E mount cameras. Of course, these work just as well on Super35 cameras like Sony A6300 mirrorless or FS5/FS7 camcorders, with a corresponding increase in equivalent focal length due to the Super35 size crop sensor.
Many fast primes don’t offer image stabilisation but do offer amazing quality and smooth bokeh
Sigma’s Art series of photo lenses offer incredible quality at a relatively affordable price, and in a very wide range of focal lengths. The latest £1299/$1522 105mm f/1.4 Art lens is the longest in the range, and Sigma specifically says this lens is the master of bokeh and perfect for portraits, as the extra focal length gives a little more compression, bringing the background even closer. And at f/1.4, to make it spectacularly out of focus, put it on an APS-C or Super35-size camera and it becomes roughly the equivalent of a 160mm lens, but with a staggering f/1.4 maximum aperture.
Images Canon and Panasonic make lenses for the EF and Leica L-Mount, but Zeiss makes glass in a range of different fittings to suite lots of marques
The 105mm really delivers on Sigma’s pledge to make premium lenses that can out-perform manufacturer’s own, as there is no competition. The Sigma has an advanced design with 17 optical elements in 12 groups, which is a huge amount for a prime lens, and why it’s no lightweight. There are a total of five, special low-dispersion elements and one aspherical lens element, plus a rounded nine-bladed diaphragm for smooth, out-of-focus areas. And this is housed in a sturdy metal body, which at 1645g and 131.5mm long is very big for a 105mm lens. It is heavy, and takes up a lot of room in your bag, especially with the detachable mammoth lens hood. It also comes with a tripod mount that makes it useful for balancing on a variety of camera bodies – from mirrorless to cinema cams.
With more affordable lenses from the likes of Tokina coming on the market, the range of AF primes for E-mount shows no signs of slowing down as the Sony cameras continue to grow in the market.
Special use lenses
By taking the premium Schneider-Kreuznach Xenon lenses and adding a tilt facility, you’ve got two lenses in one. Going from normal prime to tilt is as easy as turning a dial. It doesn’t add much weight or bulk to the lens overall, and lets you get results you just can’t with other lenses.
It takes some setting up and understanding how to use the tilt facility, but once you’ve got the hang of it, it’s fantastic. There is nothing you can do in post to get anything close to the effect of being able to tilt mid-shot.
It’s a feature that actually lets you do something very different and immediately noticeable in your work, rather than just being a detail tweak of something like colour rendition or micro contrast. Turning a dial angles the lens to the camera body by up to four degrees either way from the standard zero setting. That allows the plane of focus itself to be altered by up to 80°, depending on focal length and aperture, which is huge.
It’s a feature that lets you do something immediately noticeable
By tilting the lens, for example, so that a product is in line with the plane of focus, it can be kept 100% sharp even at wide apertures. And anything out of that plane drops off in sharpness very quickly. It’s this effect used at wide apertures that gives the popular ‘miniature world’ look.
The big issue is the price. The 50mm lens is around £4999/$5598, which compares to £3069/$3360 for the non-tilt version. But if you can afford it, there are very few reasons why you wouldn’t go for the tilt versions over the standard Xenons.
Images From a tilting lens like the Scheinder to macro lenses such as Voigtlander and Irix, some lenses have more than one use so can be a great buy
Another type of lens that has two uses is a dedicated macro lens. It means you can get in really close for detail shots, and at such close distances the depth-of-field can be wafer-thin, opening another creative opportunity. At more normal distances, macro lenses produce a well-defined, neutral image.
Most camera manufacturers offer a macro lens among their regular AF offerings, but for filmmaking, there are two stand-out optics.
The first is a real cine prime lens, the new full-frame Irix 150mm T3.0 Macro, which offers 1:1 reproduction. The lens oozes quality, from its weather proof and solid build to clever accessories like the included magnetically-attached lens hood. It’s a photo-style, petal-shaped hood that does a great job in stopping unwanted flare, and you can reverse it for safe storage. But if you want to use a cinema-style matte box and flag-style hood, the front of the lens is the standard 95mm size for easy fitting.
The aperture ring is smooth and has a 75° throw, while the focus ring is also silky-smooth and has a long, 270° movement. Both have standardised 0.8 pitch cine gears for rigs.
There is no noticeable vignetting, and the 11-bladed rounded aperture gives a smooth and attractive bokeh. What the macro capability does is allow you to get in really close, right up to 35cm/13.78in. This is a reasonable distance so the lens doesn’t cast a shadow on your subject, yet allows 1:1 reproduction of the subject on the sensor. A UK price has yet to be set, but the US price is just $1295.
Even more affordable is the Voigtlander 110mm f/2.5 MACRO APO-Lanthar at £875/$1099. It’s not a cine lens but a manual focus DSLR-style lens and, like the Irix, comes in a range of fitments.
The APO-Lanthar focuses as close as 35cm to give life-size magnification without any extra accessories. The longer focal length allows a comfortable working distance when shooting close up, and also gives a flattering perspective for portrait and general work.
This lens is a top quality piece of engineering with an all-metal body.