We are absolutely in the middle of a full frame cinema explosion. Between the Alexa LF, the RED Monstro, and Sony VENICE, (let alone the Panavision DXL2 with its proprietary lens mount), there are more options than ever for full frame and beyond sensors in full-fledged cinema cameras. Those camera bodies remain expensive (the LF comes in around $120K for a package), and the lenses needed to cover that bigger image area remain pricy as well, coming in over $40K a piece for the new LF specific Arri primes.
For this reason, we wanted to take a look at the affordable FF cine primes currently available, since while we might be able to stretch our budget to squeeze in one of those full frame bodies on an upcoming gig, we might not be able to do the same with glass, and knowing if any of the affordable options stack up seemed like a good bit of information to have in our pocket. After all, next time we're trying to convince a producer to bump up to a better camera body, it would be great if we didn't also need to move up to insanely expensive glass as well.
Sigma and Tokina side by side, 85mmCredit: Charles Haine
We did these tests on both an 8K RED Helium and on our XT2, which is what we could get our hands on at the time and what we know best. Yes, those are both roughly Super 35mm sensors, not full frame by any means, but we hoped that by going 8K, we would still be able to get a handle on personality and resolving power of the lens, and that we would trust tools like the Abel Field of View calculator to report back to us on actual coverage of the sensor.
In the "affordable" category of full frame cine primes, there are currently two main competitors: the Sigma FF Primes, coming in around $3,500 a lens give or take; and the slightly pricier Tokina primes, coming in around $5,500 a lens. While the Celere lenses come close to covering the full LF frame, they don't quite cover it (although the Sigma doesn't either, we considered it usable in its coverage), leaving us with two main options that we felt are reasonably priced enough to consider. It should come as no surprise that both of these manufacturers are still lens makers. Still glass is made in more volume, and full frame has been a more common size in that world for longer, so it is an area where they will have expertise. Dedicated cine glass makers like Zeiss and Cooke have full frame options, but they are well out of our price point for the moment.
We tested each lens for close focus, bokeh, aberration, and consistency against a Schneider Xenon and an Angenieux zoom. Before digging into the results, it's important to say that overall, we were incredibly impressed and that either of these sets of glass hold up surprisingly well considering their price point. The Xenon has always had a big problem with chromatic aberration in our testing (especially on the Red), and to get lenses that have so little aberration at this price point was a real surprise. Both the Sigma and the Tokina handled a light barreling right down the lens well without the blue fringing we so often see on the Schneider.
A lot of your final decision on what to use on your big sensor projects will come down on how you feel about breathing. While we were testing, our friend, director David Rosfield, stopped by and took a look at the Tokinas and said, "Oh my god! They don't breathe at all, there's a winner." The man hates breathing at all, and the practically non-existent breathing on the Tokina was the edge for him. However, personally we like a tiny bit of breathing. While the extreme breathing of a square front Lomo racking to close focus can be a distraction, we find that a gentle touch of breathing can lend a certain pleasant organic feeling to an image. Thus, the Sigmas were perfectly usable, even preferable, since sometimes a lens that doesn't breathe at all feels a bit cold to our eye and the Sigma had a very minimal breath.
It is important to note that the image circle on the Tokina is a full 46.7mm, while the Sigma only covers 43.3mm. This means that Tokina will do full, complete coverage on the Alexa LF, while the Sigma comes super close but doesn't quite cover the whole sensor. This means that for most modes (LF 16x9, LF 2.39) you'll be fine, but if you want to shoot LF Open Gate (4448x3096), you'll likely have a very tiny bit of vignetting at the edges with Sigma. Since many filmmakers will likely shoot Open Gate for "look around" and stabilization/reframing, but use an extraction instead of a downscale to preserve resolution, this will likely be fine, but it's important to note that the Tokina does offer a bigger image circle. However, the Sigma lenses tend to weigh around 2.5 lbs or so and the Tokina weigh between 4.5-4.7 lbs. That can be a big weight difference sitting on your shoulder all day.
Sigma long and short
In other areas, the lenses were super close with only small edges in one direction or another. The Sigmas were lighter, creamier, and more consistent lens to lens. The Tokina breathed less and were ever so slightly sharper, but not unpleasantly. The biggest drawback in the Tokina was how much contrast changed from the wide lens to the long—nothing that couldn't be graded away, but a much bigger change than the Tokina. Either set will treat you well if you don't have a chance to test them before an upcoming job and you need to find somewhere to save in the budget. In fact, we wouldn't be surprised if more than a few owners splurged and got the LF but paired it with one of these sets, at least initially, since a full set of the Sigmas will set you back half the price of a single lens in the new line of Arri primes. Honestly, if we had $150K laying around to buy a camera package, that is probably what we would do.
Special thanks to LensRentals.com for the loan of the Sigmas, and B&H for the Tokina loan. Sigma FF Primes are available from LensRentals in a variety of mounts for rent, and both the Sigma and Tokina primes are available for sale at B&H.
Be on the lookout in the future when we'll pair these primes up with the first LF we can get our hands on and compare them to the "costs more than your car" glass from Arri. Though while the Sigma actually costs more than our $1,800 car, that's probably not true for most filmmakers.
- Prime Lenses for PL-Mount Cine Cameras
- 20, 24, 35, 50, and 85mm Focal Lengths
- Covers Full Frame Sensors
- Fast T1.5 Maximum Aperture
- Hard-Shell Lens Case Included
- Geared Focus and Iris Control Rings
- Clickless Iris Ring
- Lens Scales Marked in Feet
- Common 95mm Front Diameter
- 9-Blade Iris
- Covers Full-Frame Sensor Size
- 46.7mm Image Circle
- Suitable for 8K Image Capture
- Internal Focus Design
- Virtually No Lens Breathing
- 300° Focus Barrel Rotation
- T1.5 Aperture, Clickless 9-Bladed Iris
- 35mm lens Weighs 4.3 Pounds, 85mm weights 4.74lbs
- 114 mm Front Lens Diameter, PL Mount
- Integrated Lens Support Foot