REVIEW: Sigma Offers Cinema Zooms for Indie Prices
With the two new sub-$4000 Cine Zooms, Sigma has released extremely well designed glass, with both an ergonomic feel and the capacity to produce stunning images. Who cares if they aren't perfectly parfocal?
Sigma is a dominant force in the mass market still lens universe, and with their new Cine Zooms and Cine Primes they are making a move for the cinema marketplace. While the Cine Zooms are based on their still lens designs and are not custom-designed from scratch for motion work, they are still impressive lenses, and it's clear that the company has taken the needs of filmmakers seriously.
In this review, we looked at the lenses both as a likely affordable rental option, but also a realistic purchase item for many independent filmmakers.
[Editor's Note: Sigma loaned us a set of both zooms for testing and review.]
The Cine Zooms are serious lenses. The building and construction are clearly meant to withstand frequent use, with barrels that feel solid, robust teeth, and an overall quality that inspires confidence.
Labeling throughout is thorough, crisp, and clear. The labels are even more thorough than you see on many high-end competitors, such as front element ring size blazed on the side, which will be particularly useful if you are either a rental house with a lot of glass to keep track of, or if you’ve rented the lenses for a weekend and need to remember which donut to use.
If there is one possible criticism to be made, it’s that they are a little bit heavy. As EF lenses that will be available in a PL mount, they are physically wider than a competitor like the Fujifilm MK zooms, and with that size comes weight. The 18-35MM comes in at 1445g, around 1.5 times the 990-gram weight of the 18-55 Fujifilm. Of course, with that weight comes an extra stop of aperture.
1445 grams isn’t “heavy,” and you can certainly imagine holding the zoom on your body for a long day of shooting, even on a Steadicam. But for gimbal work or other weight-sensitive workflows, it’s a factor to consider. One thing to remember is that, in their high-speed form, these lenses only cover a Super35mm (28.4mm diagonal) image sensor. If you have a full-frame camera like the 5D or the RED Vista Vision sensor, you’ll want the FF zoom, which only opens to a T2.2.
The primary ergonomic consideration of a lens is the feel of focus, iris and zoom rings, and these are stellar. The flow is smooth and definite, with just the right amount of drag so you don’t feel it’ll drift, but it doesn’t fight you.
The lens rings are designed to line up consistently from lens to lens, meaning you can swap back and forth between the long and short zooms with ease. Those using remote systems will need to recalibrate the ends of the rotation on a swap, of course, but not having to move the motors or follow focus around on the rods is a pleasant bonus. As you can see, this involves placing the focus ring further back on the long 50-100 zoom to match the 18-35 zoom, which is a thoughtful and much-appreciated touch.
All text on the lens is glow in the dark, which is great. Having had glow in the dark toys as children that stopped working after a few weeks, we wonder how long it will last, but hopefully technology has improved and several years of glow-in-the-dark service will be offered, because it really is a nice feature.
These lenses are sharp. Not unflatteringly sharp, but you see every little detail, and the roll off between in focus and out of focus is pleasant and quick.
Bokeh is quite nice without being dramatic. It feels relatively diffuse without feeling as “filtered” as something like the Lomo round fronts, and there is no noticeable distortion throughout the zoom range in out of focus areas.
Still zooms breath a lot, because breathing doesn’t really matter in still lens design. The most impressive aspect of Sigma taking a still design and turning it into a motion design is the limited breathing noticeable in these lenses. Neither the wide nor the long zoom breath distractingly at all.
Focus charts showed very little aberration, and neither did night time imagery. We love an angled view of a lens chart since it really pushes a lens to the extreme of its design (close focus, high contrast), and shows whatever aberrations are going to appear. There is some very slight color fringing on the edges of the chart lines, but that's completely within reason for this budget.
Looking at this night scene and examining the streetlight in the relative foreground, fringing is nearly absent.
There has been a lot of ink spilled about Sigma stating that these lenses aren’t parfocal, and of course, they aren’t. However, they are usable. In both our tests and in the field, we could zoom in, get focus, and zoom out, while maintaining acceptable focus in most situations, with both the wide zoom and the long zoom. We found this both in our relatively warm environment using the test chart, and using the lenses outside in cold environments. By "acceptable" we're asking whether, in a run and gun situation where you don't have four seconds to check critical focus, will it be close enough that you should be able to use it with some post sharpening? Yes, we believe it is.
If you have four seconds, should you use focus assist features once you’ve zoomed out to check your critical focus? Yes. But you should probably do that on any lens you use even if it is truly parfocal, or offers back focus adjustment. It’s a marketing risk for Sigma to be so up front about these lenses not being parfocal, but it’s an honest one that we respect, and it doesn’t make them any less useable.
Additionally, if you are accustomed to using still zooms like Canon L-Series zooms, these Cine zooms are far, far, far more parfocal than those zooms. Most of the target market for these lenses are people cross shopping against still zooms, and already in the habit of checking critical focus at every focal length.
Flare is very pleasant. Sky flare doesn’t appear to be an issue in most situations, and point source flare is very nice.
Note: these tests were done with a Fujifilm XT-2 camera, which uses an X-trans sensor instead of a Bayer sensor. Flare interacts with the sensor, thus every sensor flares differently and some of the artifacts you are seeing are the result not of the lens, but the sensor.
The close focus on the wide is 11”, and on the zoom it's 3’ 2”, neither of which gives you a real macro image. If you purchased these two lenses, you should consider throwing at least one additional macro/close-focus lens in your kit for when you need it. Or perhaps a diopter. The 95mm front element diameter makes them a great fit for the MacroLux diopters, though those might cost as much or more than these zooms.
For the indie filmmaker on a budget, these are great lenses. Indie filmmakers don’t always have access to huge lighting budgets, and the Sigma Zooms will be useful for low light night scenes when you are working with smaller sources, or having to match to existing lighting. The build quality appears solid and should last a long time, making the investment worth it.
Their low cost will also make them very cost effective as a rental item, coming in at a price point that might make you seriously consider shooting a film on this pair of zooms instead of primes. The Super35mm coverage will handle the vast majority of cine applications. The 18-35 zoom range feels a hair short as far as zooms go, but the 50-100 feels about right and as a pair they should work out well.
These aren’t just an indie item, so don’t be surprised to see them show up on much bigger productions where their wide aperture, compact size, and clean imagery will make them an asset to a wide variety of productions.
- Amazing build quality at a great price
- Not parfocal, but it doesn’t matter
- Heavier than some competition, but still light and easy to hold
- Clean, crisp image quality with few artifacts
- ”neutral” personality
- 18-35 feels a hair short