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Canon CN-E Cinema Primes vs. Still Lenses on the C300, 5D Mark III, RED SCARLET, and AF100

Up until recently, there wasn’t much competition for PL style lenses at the lower budget level. If you were lucky, some used Super Speeds or Standard Speeds would be a good catch. Now we’ve got brand new cinema lenses from Canon right in this range, the CN-E lenses, and even though they aren’t PL mount, they cross off the other checkboxes in regards to giving you a professional solution. The team over at Magnanimous Media got a hold of the CN-E 24mm T/1.5, 50mm T/1.3, and 85mm T/1.3 primes from Canon, and compared them in a brief, unscientific test against the equivalent still lenses from Canon, the 24mm F/1.4, 50mm F/1.2, and 85mm F/1.2. Click through to watch their results.

Here is what they had to say about the non-scientific testing:

Scott Regan of Scott Regan Photo and Magnanimous Media’s Jonah Rubash have some fun with Canon’s CN-E 24mm, 50mm and 85mm Cine lenses while comparing them to their EF counterparts from the still world as well as a Lumix zoom. We shot on the Scarlet-X, 5D Mk II and the AF100.

No color grading or clean up (with the exception of tweaking LOOK on the Scarlet before shooting).

Here is their review:

A breathing test (watching the edges of the screen will tell you how much a lens is breathing):

Right off the bat one of the big reasons that these lenses are special is that they cover the entire full frame of the 5D Mark III, Mark II, etc. The only other professional lenses that are still currently being manufactured that do the same are the Zeiss CP.2 and Super Speed lenses — which have the advantage of an interchangeable mount to any other major mount currently in use. With the introduction of the new Super Speeds, Zeiss actually has a lens set that can match the Canons in speed, except they are still missing a fast 24mm or 25mm lens at the wide end — something Canon is already doing right now.

If you’re wondering why these would be compared, as they said above, the cinema lenses are more or less rehoused and reengineered still lenses (just like the ZF/ZE lenses and the CP.2s). They may not use exactly the same glass, but the optics are not very far apart. So why do they cost so much more money? Build quality. These lenses will stand the test of time, much longer than still lenses (which take can a beating in their own right). Not only that, but the lenses have smooth operating aperture and focus rings, and are all the same size and share the same front diameter. This makes using them on a film set that much easier, since you just pop one out and attach the new one, and you’re good to go.

As far as performance, it’s a little too early to judge definitively, but they look great — and they should, since they are some of the very same lenses all of you are already using. I think the cinema primes had a slight edge in overall definition, and in addition to this being attributable to build quality, they may also be using much higher quality handpicked glass in these lenses — similar to the way Zeiss designs their lenses. The cinema primes will also have an advantage when it comes to matching exposure since they have T stops. As far as the breathing, it was an interesting test, but as they say on Vimeo, the breathing is less noticeable on Super 35mm rather than on the Full Frame Mark III.

These are cinema lenses, no question. If you’re going to be shooting video, that are going to be leagues better in terms of usability. Trying to use Canon autofocus lenses on a movie is miserable, especially since they don’t have hard stops and are only electronically controlled (that means not iris pulls during shooting), but these lenses have everything you’d want in a cinema lens, except for the missing PL mount. You also get full frame coverage, so these lenses can be switched out easily between a 5D and a C300, especially if you’re on a multi-camera shoot, or you’d like to use the DSLR for extra coverage. Before long, we will also be getting a wider range for these lenses, a 14mm T/3.1 and a 135mm T/2.2.

At around $5,000 each for the three lenses, it may not be something you run out and buy today, but with so many cameras now featuring a Canon mount (like RED) or having the ability to mount EF with an adapter (like Sony), having PL isn’t nearly as important as it used to be in higher-end digital cinema. These could be good lenses for an owner/operator investing in a C500, or maybe someone putting together a nice SCARLET package. In terms of rental, these should pair perfectly with Canon’s own cameras, and will most likely rent for a similar price as the CP.2s.

What do you guys think? Would you rent these out to use on a shoot as opposed to Zeiss? If you are in the market for cinema primes, do these interest you?



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Description image 39 COMMENTS

  • This is the kind of comparison vid I like! I’m in the market to invest at the moment but have no idea what the real difference is between Cine glass and normal stills lenses as I don’t have the kind of money to try these out and I’m simply not at the level yet to be using crazy expensive lenses on the shoots I do. For those of you who inevitably will hate on this video and say it’s pointless (you know who you are ;) ) there are always people like me who are just about to take the plunge and would like to see if the money’s worth it. Keep it up Magnanimous

  • Except for the slight amount of breathing, it doesn’t seem your extra money for the cine lenses are in the picture. I paused the image a few times and couldn’t notice any significant difference other then the color shift. And certainly not something most people watching my videos would notice.

    As he said in the review, the benefit is using the lens is in production: better mechanics, build quality, hard stops, aperture control, etc.
    I guess it’s nice to know that some EF lenses produce an image on par with $5,000 glass.

    • Yeah it’s the same with Zeiss ZF/ZE vs. CP.2 – practically identical, but the cine lenses are $3,000 or so more expensive because they are built better and should work better in a film set environment.

      • These videos to me say that it may not be worth buying cine lenses over the stills lenses… but definitely proves the point that (if you have the budget) you should rent nice cine lenses for sets. The small price difference on the rental is enough to take that step in order to have more control and crisper images.

      • I’d just add that if you are videographer who does a variety of jobs and are one-man-banding it sometimes, the cp.2s have quite a focus pull, at least 200 degrees, I think. The operator can’t do it alone with just his hand. You need to regrip. The ze/zfs still have a good amount of rotation (way further than most auto-focus photo lenses) but the camera operator can rack focus him/herself. I went to the store to buy a cp.2 a year ago and left with zfs instead.

        • I agree. CP2s a nightmare if you’re 1 man banding it, unless you’re only doing very small pulls. However, although they are rehoused optics, in my experience they breathe less than the original versions. These Canon lenses look nice, but that breathing put me off at that price. Better to have a set you live with, then rent REALLY good glass when you need it. I have become a bit of a lens ‘breathing’ nazi lately, so feel free to ignore. :-)

          • I’ve seen enormous lens breathing in multi-million dollar movies – if it’s not crucial for VFX shots, I couldn’t care less about lens breathing. I mean, really.

          • Daniel Mimura on 01.5.13 @ 7:53AM

            Yeah, there are plenty of big budget movies where the breathing is really apparent—anamorphic lenses tend to breathe more. The trick is to disguise the breathing with good timing (on both the operator and AC’s part). When it is particularly bad, planning it with a pan or tilt can avoid it being noticed. This is usually on the operator, but but its one of those situations where I bring it up with the director if it’s really bad. Then it’s up to them if they want the locked off symmetry, or if a move will be okay with them. It’s not telling them “how to direct”, it’s just pointing out potential flaws and letting them have options.

      • With the CP.2 lenses, Zeiss claims that the CP.2 versions have more light traps, etc. inside the barrel to reduce flare. Maybe CN-E has similar stuff that would show under an extreme lighting situation.

  • Another thing to keep in mind is that these lenses are sharp edge to edge at more aperature settings. Stills lenses are sharp in the center and only really sharp at 4-5.6. Most stills lenses are crap at 2.0 The cn-e are tac sharp at 1.5 edge to edge, also the lack of chromatic aberration in high contrast is great, way better than cp2s. Cp2s you have to close the iris to 4 to prevent purple halos in bright condition, you can be more wide open on cn-e, they are great lenses. Stills are not the same.

    • Load of bull

      • Or more specifically, it depends on the lens.

        • what depends on the lens?

          • He means your statement “Stills lenses are sharp in the center and only really sharp at 4-5.6. Most stills lenses are crap at 2.0″ is a gross generalization that does not apply to “all” still lenses. Perhaps for Canon. But for example, Leica glass is designed to be sharp edge to edge at all apertures (one reason they are so expensive…).

    • As they say on the Internet – cool story bro.

      FF lens that is really sharp at the edges is a rarity (it’s very expensive to manufacture). To improve performance of Canon still lenses would mean some serious re-engineering (you can’t just put in “better glass”, lens is a system of elements). Improving quality control (selecting best copies for sale) would help things a bit, but not that much.

      Back to your story – please put some proof behind your words. No pictures/video and your words are just that.

  • you lost me at non-scientific test. I want to see charts, charts and more charts comparison the glass.

  • The Canon Cinema Primes are sold as “4k cinema lenses”, which I’m not sure I understand if they’re close to the DSLR lenses. Could someone explain if it’s a gag or if there really is the “next step up” to 4k-able lenses?

    • antoine serviette on 12.20.12 @ 1:08AM

      typical canon glass is made for stills, i.e 22mp images so thats way more than 4k. They use 4k as a marketing term

      • Not many canon lenses can resolve 3800 lines and most can only resolve it at the center of the frame. The resolving power drops off dramatically on the edges so no they are not 4k ready. You obviously can use them with a 4k camera, but you will not be resolving the full resolution of the image. Megapixels of the camera has nothing to do with resolving power of the lens.

        • That might explain why in the REDucation course I took recently, we were seeing thin lines show up on the 50mm f/1.2 when shooting at 4k all the way open!

        • Like Ryan mentioned above the Canon cinema lens do not resolve to full potential , which is key when you are trying to get sharp and squeeze the most out of your censor on a budget.

          At the end of the day like 80% of people who may read this blog you are either RENTING GLASS, either rent the zeiss primes or if you want to own some sharp decent stills, go and get you some nikon glass, something preferably like the ai-s manuals are very sharp and have a warm contrast.

          YOU can get a set of NIKON old primes with an adapter mount for each glass, never remove the mount from flass, because mount gets weaker with each removal. Nikon primes with a good color grade/correction can get damnnn near the same results as with zeiss.

  • Remember guys these are budget Cine glass, so sure you can call them cine glass but you cant expect a master prime either. Compare these to Ultra Primes, Master Primes, cooke panchros etc. and I would imagine that the traditional PL glass will stand out. But im not sure maybe not, I’d like to see/do some tests.

  • marsupial_4k on 12.19.12 @ 11:40PM

    Mr. Rubash is a stellar actor/presenter in his own right, keeps a straight face, maintains keen concentration, and doesn’t go “uh” after every two words. All this helps to keep the video short, precise, and to the point.

    Diction aside, the test is pretty good for those who have EF-mount bodies and can bode well with the EF BMCC. Being CN-E is all-manual, it does put a damper on PL since non-EF bodies can use a passive adapter. I look forward to the forthcoming comparison, C-NE vs Zeiss CP (presumably Super Speeds). I am considering procuring a lens or two of this caliber.

  • and then compare them to some nice vintage glass :) and you’ll find you are splitting hairs. I just did some tests on a takumar 50 1.4 made in 1965 and it was a nice lens for certain types of shots. sharpness isn’t everything, otherwise no one would sell diffusion filters ! 1/4 black pro mist makes every camera look better.

    bottom line is they are fine lenses if you don’t care about $$$$ or need to impress clients or really need the cine lens form factor. there are plenty of still lenses with manual controls that work as well. I have a meyer optik 50 with a 320 deg focus turn if you want it. perfectly fine lens I’d throw into the mix… cost ? $20.

    I’m over CA. just because you can see it and know what it is… so what. reality check, you see it at F2 but don’t at 2.8 or 4… and guess what aperture you are using on real world paying gigs and not vimeo sample videos ? ya F4 or so… because CYA you aren’t blowing takes because your DoF is 2″ rather than 4″ on a head shot

    • my comments about CA was just pointing out a difference between the lenses. The fact that the cn-e is crisp and lacking CA artifacts wide open is impressive and I didn’t see it mentioned. Choosing the right lens for the project is significant. I was providing some information that distinguishes the lenses so people may make a more informed choice when deciding between CP2 and CN-E. Reality check not needed.

  • I have been in the Market for a new camera and will be purchasing a Sony F5. I also am interested in good glass, however it was not the case originally because I believe in high end glass and simply renting lets say Panavision or Older Zeiss super speeds is by far the ticket in indies for me. I have seen the Canon Cinema lenses and they are built very well but I thought the presentation and or testing of them in this artilce could have been done much better. I am going to do tests with the zeiss and canon lenses and would gladly like to share that with NFS. I feel the Canon lenses will offer a good standard package for those who can afford them. Keep the good work up Koo and Joe.

  • Do I understand correctly that, on these Canon lenses, Zeiss CP2′s and Super Speeds, you should figure on a crop factor of 1.5 or 1.6 for Super 35 sensors?

  • Just a reminder – clinical optical perfection is not always desired. For certain projects it may be a plus, but many other projects would actually benefit from lenses that have some ‘character’. Digital image of most cameras does not compare too well to film image. Some camera/lens combinations are too sharp for narrative cinema. The look is not pleasing. There are many tricks DPs use to bring the clinical digital image closer to film look (too bad Hobbit went exactly the opposite way). So why bother with post so much, if a lot can be achieved by using the right glass?

    P.S. Anyone checked some older movies in HD? Noticed the optical imperfections? Did they bother you? Talking about imperfections, did you see some anamorphic movies? Seriously guys, if you can afford to pay 700-3000$ for a lens, sharpness is the last of your worries ;-)

    • Yes…but…they call them ’4K Cinema’ lenses, woohoo!!

    • Daniel Mimura on 01.5.13 @ 8:16AM

      Read Ken Rockwell’s thing about sharpness on his site. It’s awesome, and just re-reading it reminds me how easy it is to lose sight of what really matters—technical forums with technically minded people tend to just exaggerate the perceptions of these problems…

      • Daniel Mimura on 01.5.13 @ 8:19AM

        Yeah, I agree about that overly sharp Hobbit look. Don’t get me started on 48fps, but it exaggerated that perceived sharpness b/c there isn’t that natural and beautiful motion blur that helps keep that overly sharp look at bay a little bit at good old 24fps (1/48th of a second exposures).

  • 90% of the work I do is with PL lenses. My reasons for this is that they were designed for motion picture capture and really make all the world of a difference in a real production environment from everything to pulling focus to lens resolution. Don’t get me wrong, I love the Canon L Series but I mostly use them for still photos on the 5D Mark III. Although I plan to continue using PL lenses from Cooke, Angenieux, Ziess, Red, and Fujion, I hope the independent market finds it in themselves to walk away from cheap feeling plastic still lenses with incredible breathing for motion capture and embrace lenses such as these and the Zeiss CP.2s.

  • Eric Emerick on 03.20.13 @ 7:54PM

    I have a bunch of L series Canon lenses for use with the C300 and RED Scarlet. I rented the Canon CN-e set for a short film and to compare/contrast the lenses. There is a very large difference in the image from these lenses and I will be getting a set soon. The L lenses are sharper to the point of being ultra-contrasty, not as cinematic as the nice luma roll-off in the CN-E series. The bokeh is much more pleasing and gives a real 3-D look to the image. Colors are richer and “rounder” if you will. These videos do not, in my opinion, show the real advantage of the CN-E lenses. I saw the images on my retina MBP in FCPX and later on my 60″ plasma TV and I was simply startled. You can do fine work with still lenses on these cameras but the CN-E’s really take it up a notch. Wether the price is worth it is up to each owner/operator to decide.

  • I find the remarks about CA very attractive. The big difference I’ve found between still lenses ( including the Zeiss ZF’s and the CP’s) is that there is noticeable green and magenta CA around contrasty edges near the focius point when you are wide open. Its pretty much universal on still lenses. Getting rid of that is a real coup.
    Aside form that I agree that not all still lenses are crap below f4 – certainly not Zeiss ZF’s, or even Nikon Zooms at 2.8

  • Can you verify that the new Canon cine lenses (24mm, 35mm, 85mm) are simply rehoused versions of their still lenses?

  • Oout of these set of lenses if I can’t afford all, which ones can and buy to achieve all the Cinematic job? Please advise me