Get Hands On with the Canon CN-E 20mm Prime Lens
We test drive the Canon CN-E Primes with the Canon EOS C300 Mark II.
When Canon introduced the EOS C700 FF into its cinema ecosystem, the company also brought with it the new CN-E 20mm prime lens. The addition makes it the seventh in the series accompanying the 14, 24, 35, 50, 85, and 135mm.
While the CN-E Primes have been out for a while (now with positive reactions from those in documentary and narrative genres), we wanted to take a closer look ourselves. Canon supplied an EOS C300 Mark II and a full set of lenses to review.
Below is what we learned from the one day we had with them.
In hand, the lenses weren’t cumbersome. They have a solid build and feel thanks to a metal construction that’s dust and water resistant. Besides the 14 and 135mm, there’s a consistent 111.15mm length across the set. They all have the same 114mm front diameter, gear position, 300° of rotation from close focus to infinity, markings on both sides, phosphorescent markings on the front of the barrel that glow, rear markings, 36° iris rotation, and can accommodate 105mm screw on filters.
Optically, the lenses support full frame and Super 35 sized sensors and vary in speed. The 14mm is T3.1. The 20, 24, and 35mm are T1.5 while the 50 and 85mm are T1.3. The 135mm is T2.2.
The one drawback is the limitation of EF mount. However, when using Canon cinema cameras, the lenses can pass metadata to the viewfinder or have the lens name and position recorded into the image. You can also take advantage of things like Dual Pixel Auto Focus using compatible autofocus lenses as well as fix chromatic aberration and peripheral illumination.
In the Field
The CN-E Primes paired naturally with the C300 Mark II, which has a Super 35mm sensor (24.6 mm x 13.8 mm) and offers 4096 x 2160px recording. For our tests, we kept the majority of settings at factory default using a BT.709 color space Wide DR gamma at ISO 800 recording internally at 4096 x 2160px YUV 4:2:2 10-bit, 410 MBps intraframe, and 23.98 fps. We also took advantage of recording an HD proxy onto SD. (Below are some frame pulls—no correction).
For our testing, we went to The Jesus Wall, a studio in downtown Los Angeles and did some exterior shooting in the area as well. With the 20mm, framing close up at T2 was our favorite. It produced a nice, clean look that separates the subject and background quite well. The 20, 24, and 35mm all share the same minimum focusing distance of 12 inches (0.3m) but produce a noticeably wider field of view. There's only a 4mm difference between the 20 and 24mm, but again, the field of view was noticeably wider on the 20mm.
With the aperture at T4, we saw no distortion or chromatic aberration. At T2, the results were similar with a little chromatic aberration being introduced. Wide open at T1.5, the chromatic aberration became more noticeable.
Focus breathing was nearly absent. The focus throw is buttery smooth and much better when comparing it to the Sigma FF High Speed Primes which has a short throw. Since we’ve mentioned Sigma, it’s worth noting the FF High Speed Prime line offers the same focal lengths but the 14 and 135mm are T2 which is quite outstanding.
Sun flares had a unique blue-green flavor and somewhat varied through the set. What jumped out to us was the quality of the bokeh. The 11-blade iris created a beautifully rounded bokeh that was constant through the entire line. It’s probably one of the big draws of the lenses.
What Canon has going for them is color consistency and its bokeh. When moving from one focal length to the next, the images were identical, producing a fairly neutral color but adding natural warmth to skin tones. It’s going to simplify your color grading process, something that you want in a lens today.
The CN-E 20mm produced impressive results. It gives you familiar Canon lens characteristics and provides a nice wide angle view while keeping you close to the subject. The addition will be great for documentary work and narrative as well. The CN-E 20mm alone has a price tag of $4,220 and the other six focal lengths in kit form come in at around $22,000.