High performance cinema lenses never come cheap. However, when you add fixed apertures to the equation, even the lowest budget filmmakers can afford world-class optical quality.
I'm talking, of course, about the Kish cinema lenses designed specifically for the Digital Bolex D16. Released to the public last week, the Kish primes, which come in 10mm, 18mm, and 38mm focal lengths, are legitimately one of a kind in a market saturated with various types of stills and cinema lenses. They come with a C-Mount -- which is easily adapted to many other mounting options -- and they can cover sensor areas between 16mm and Micro 4/3 .
What sets the lenses apart from the crowd, however, is the fact that they come with an f/4 fixed-aperture, which not only keeps manufacturing costs way down, but also ensures that these lenses are always in the "sweet spot" in terms of optical performance. Add to that the fact that these lenses are less than $400 apiece, and less than $1000 for the full set of three, and it's clear that the Kish lenses are an interesting and noteworthy proposition for low-budget filmmakers, especially those shooting on cameras like the GH4 and BMPCC.
If you're wondering how the image quality of the Kish/Bolex primes stacks up against sets of cinema lenses costing more than a new car, Joe and Elle over at Digital Bolex recently tested their lenses against four of the biggest names in cinema glass manufacturing. In the image below, you'll see one shot from each of the seven lenses tested - three of which are the Kish primes, and one of which is a zoom tested at two different focal lengths - all under the same lighting conditions. The only variables in this test are lens choice and focal length. Click the image for the full resolution.
On Monday, the fine folks at Digital Bolex will reveal which lenses are which in this blind test, and we'll be able to see how the Kish primes compare to their much more expensive counterparts.
For anybody worrying that fixed aperture lenses would make it practically impossible to shoot in tough lighting conditions, the Digital Bolex team made a quick video to showcase not only that it is possible, but also that their new lenses handle it extremely well. This was, of course, shot with the Digital Bolex D16 and a combination of all three of the Kish lenses.
Of course, fixed apertures mean that exposing properly with these lenses is a function of ISO and lighting manipulation (or maybe shutter speed if absolutely need be). For some cinematographers, this won't be much of an issue since many higher-end narrative productions are shot at one or two aperture values, while the lighting is changed to vary the exposure. Shooters who are working in environments with controlled lighting will want to give these lenses a good long look because the optical quality is unmatched, especially for the price.
For run and gun shooters who need to change exposures on the fly, however, these lenses won't make much sense, as the boost in optical quality won't make up for the extreme drop in practicality.
Ultimately, the Kish lenses are a unique and affordable option for filmmakers using m4/3 and smaller formats. They're definitely not practical for all users, but for folks interested in high optical performance at a reasonable price, they're certainly worth a look. They're on sale now on the Digital Bolex site. Additionally, if you'd like to learn more about the production of the piece above, head on over to the Digital Bolex blog.