Sharp Sharper Sharpest : Cine Lenses For DSLRs

I don’t believe that equipment, lenses and technical stuff about photography is very important when it comes to the craft but when I come across something new, really can’t help but be fascinated by it. I was recently involved in a project shooting stills for a film in Bombay. And there I was introduced to something amazing, which I didn’t know of before, actually I think it was more like “I never thought of it before”.

Earlier most movies were being shot on totally independent camera systems, but with the recent advancement in the DSLR video technology, things have totally changed. And this camera, becomes a common link between video & stills technology. Now I had assumed that video was being shot with the stock lenses that are available with these DSLR’s but never really knew that there is an independent specialized sector producing lenses specifically for cinema.

DSLR’s have been able to reach a stage where their video quality is good enough to be used for cinema. And considering they are much cheaper than the other cinema camera systems like RED and show a lot of adaptability in terms of lenses, they have become the preferred gear for small or independent cinema.
Here is a Canon 5D MKII mounted with a Carl Zeiss Compact Prime CP.2 25mm/T2.9

So what is different about these lenses? That was my first question too. On the outside, the first thing you notice is the build quality of these lenses, they are all metal. Theoretically plastic lenses motion is dry and rough. It doesn’t matter when it comes to shooting stills as the transition from one focal point to another is not recorded. But for cinema, the change in focal point is crucial.

Secondly, the sharpness of these lenses is far better than the lenses used in photography. Even wide open apertures show very less vignetting and blur on the edges. Contrast values are better (depending on the make of the lens) and so is the color reproduction.

When shooting cinema, there is no autofocus. Basic photography lenses don’t make it easy for the focus to be changed manually because of the small focusing ring. This changes in the cine lenses, with the outer focusing ring made bigger, aperture manual control and extremely precise distance marks. All in all a completely manual lens with 100% control. There are also a lot of other technical errors which occur in photographic lenses like breathing, image shift, distortion which are reduced in cine lenses.

These babies are extremely awesome but then they come with a cost too. This lens shown here costs about 3,900$ with the EF mount an additional 400$.

Ok, now when you know that the lens is really awesome and there is no way you can buy it ever, what is the first thing you do? You shoot with it! So I did make some pictures of the crew with the lens to compare the sharpness with my Canon Primes. And here are some results.

Shot with Zeiss Compact Prime CP.2 85mm T2.1

Yes I did consider using this lens more often just for photography stills but to be honest it doesn’t really make sense (sigh yes). The focusing system of the lens is not at all handy, its heavy and a little too big when it comes to wandering the streets with a handheld camera. And then once an image (still) goes through a sharpening tool and photoshopping, then a good EF mount Carl Zeiss lens and a Cine lens barely show any difference. So instead of spending 4,000$ on this lens, you might as well buy a nice Leica M9 or a Canon 5DMKII with a great lens for superb results. All in all a fun thing to use. If you’d want to read more, here are some links from NoFilmSchool, Photography Bay (talks about Canon Cine Lenses) & another great blog with the difference between Cine & Still Lenses

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6 thoughts on “Sharp Sharper Sharpest : Cine Lenses For DSLRs

  1. This is like an intro course into movie lenses. Thanks! And I really like the sample picture a lot.

  2. Had got a chance to use the Compact Primes at an exhibition : ) There is this set of 3 lenses for CPs. Brilliant Brilliant lenses. The amazing thing is they also fit on RED.

    Actually, focussing is a lot easier when the camera is mounted on the rig specially made for movie making.

    1. Parth, yes the focusing is easy for cinema work, not do dilly dally around on the street with this lens 🙂

      The rig involves a focus puller which helps focus much better and with more precision (as also seen in the images) but only on a rig.

  3. Hi folks, the weight of these lenses also adds a lot to the motion balance while handling a dslr for cine purposes/ as opposed to normal lenses for still photography. And as akshay mentions, the large focus ring is actually usually operated with an adaptor for “pulling” focus, which is done by an additional person, and not by the person ‘operating’ the camera.

    Impractical for sans tripod stills.

    Nice post akshay 🙂

  4. Nice read buddy. You also can rent out a 3 cine lens kit with a converter for around 4000 bucks a day in Bombay. Also the rig here seems to be a very stripped down version. Were they using the 5DMKII inbuilt mic’s for audio. Cant see an external mic.

    1. Alistair, they were using a independent audio recording system. Also I don’t think that the cine lenses kit was as cheap, 5 lenses for about 15k. But the production team was handling that, so no idea on the real costs.

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