When it comes to lenses, there's no shortage of options, whether it's for a preferred sensor or native mount. When creating cinematic images, more up-and-coming filmmakers and creators are beginning to realize that it's not necessarily the camera choice that matters but it's the lens that you put in front of it, and more importantly, the lighting you create for that lens and camera to capture.
This year there was a plethora of lenses released. Everything from the low-budget prime to the high-end zoom. While many creators use still lenses for video, cine lenses are in a class by themselves. They're designed specifically for film and video production. They're workhorses made to record the moving image.
Several features of a cine lens separate it from a still lens. A cine lens will generally have a T-stop aperture, which is a measurement of the light that's transmitted through the lens, whereas an F-stop is a ratio based on the focal length and the opening of the lens. F-stops are essentially a geometry calculation, while T-stops are more accurate when gauging how much light is transmitted through the lens. That in itself is why cine lenses catch a higher price point.
Cine lenses normally also have focal lengths and aperture markings on two separate rings. The focus, aperture, and zoom rings tend to have standard 0.8m gears designed for follow focus systems. The glass inside the lens is usually made differently, which generally makes them more expensive than still lenses. In terms of quality, cine lenses aim to keep focus breathing, distortion, and aberrations down to a minimum, even more so than a still lens.
Even with that understanding, we're not suggesting that cine lenses are better than still lenses. They are just different optical tools that you can use to tell your visual story. Many filmmakers looking to keep cash in the bank use still lenses for video with great success. Still lenses do have their advantages over cine lenses, which are generally manual focus lenses.
So when it comes to features like autofocus, optical image stabilization, size, and weight, a still lens is going to have an edge.
Let's take a look at the cine lenses that stood out this year.
Laowa OOOM 25-100mm T2.9
Venus Optics is the company behind the brand Laowa and they have a knack for creating unique focal lengths in the wide-angle and macro world in both still and cine lenses. The OOOM 25-100mm T2.9 is their first cine zoom lens, and we're quite impressed by the release.
With Super 35 coverage and a 9-blade aperture design, the lens provides a 300° focus throw with minimal breathing for a smooth, buttery rack focus. The T2.9 aperture is quite fast too and stays constant throughout the focal range.
Even more impressive is its minimum focusing distance of 1.97 feet (60 cm) which makes it comparable to the Fujinon Premista 28-100mm T2.9, a fantastic yet pricey lens that covers full-frame sensors.
With a $5,000 price tag, the OOOM 25-100mm T2.9 is one of the more affordable cine zoom lenses for Super 35 available.
Sony FE C 16-35mm T3.1 G
This is Sony's first jump into a full-frame zoom lens. Part of the G Master series, the FE C 16-35mm T3.1 G has all the optical features you want to repress aberrations, distortion, field curvature, and astigmatism. There's also nano AR coating to reduce ghosting and flare.
Something unique about the cine lens is that it is compatible with Sony's autofocus system found on Alpha cameras and larger camcorders like the FX9 and FX6. The barrel features an iris click/de-click switch for quiet video, an iris lock, and a custom focus hold button. The zoom is switchable from manual to servo allowing you to attach the included servo unit when needed. Focus throw is 120° and there are distance scale markers for easy viewing.
The lens touts an 11-blade aperture design with a beautifully round bokeh at all apertures. The T3.1 lens (F2.8) is respectable for its focal range, and as you'd expect in a cinema lens, it has standard 0.8m gears for focus, iris, and zoom.
The lens is priced around $5,400.
The 65mm T2 1.8x follows a similar optical design to the other Micro Four Third lenses in the lineup, touting a signature blue but not overly saturated image, horizontal flare, and widescreen cinematic look.
The 1.8x squeeze will produce a 2.39:1 aspect ratio when used with MFT sensors like the Pocket 4K cinema or Panasonic GH cameras. The lenses are sharp when wide open and the T2.0 aperture is going to get you by shooting in low light. As you'd expect with cine lenses, the series has standard 0.8 mod gears for both focus and aperture rings making it focus system friendly.
While camera manufacturers are looking to perfect their full-frame offering, MFT is still a viable format to shoot in. The Blackmagic Pocket and Panasonic GH series are very popular among the indie crowd and content creators. And there's no doubt the GH series will receive ProRes RAW capabilities at some point.
Anamorphic lenses can create unique looks and are especially worth considering when shooting low-budget music videos. There are few affordable anamorphic lenses available for Micro Four Thirds, and with SLR Magic lenses having a 2x squeeze, Vazen has set itself apart. The company also started jumping into full-frame anamorphics, and we expect more focal lengths down the line.
Each MFT focal length is priced around $3,250.
For most of us, this is a holy-shit-I-wish-I-could-afford-this-lens.
The $30,000 4K lens has a 10X optical zoom with a 1.5x optical extender, which increases the telephoto end to 375mm. It covers Super 35 sensors and matches the look of the other CINE-SERVO lenses, which includes a 17-120mm and a 50-1000mm.
The servo motor unit can be easily removed, but attached, it's ideal for documentary and ENG shooters. The lens is pretty light too, weighing about 6.7 lbs, and is available in PL or EF mount. With EF mount, the lens is compatible with Canon's autofocus functions including continuous AF, one-shot AF, and focus guides.
We've always enjoyed Tokina lenses. They're a little under the radar and not too pricey, but for the indie shooter, they might be a little out of reach and fall into the rental-only category. The 25-75mm T2.9 joins the 11-20mm and 50-135mm zooms, making the trio a solid option for Super 35 image capture.
All three lenses have similar optical features including a parfocal design to retain focus while zooming, limited focus breathing, and low distortion. They're slightly heavier and longer than the Sigma High Speed Primes, but what we like about them is they're not Sigma glass. As much as we love Sigma too, the lenses are everywhere because of the price point. It's become the de facto look online, and while that's not a bad thing, it's always nice to see something unique.
Samyang, or Rokinon depending on where you live, does an excellent job rehousing still lenses for cine use. The VDSLR MK2 line (Rokinon Cine DSX) takes it a step further by shaving weight, improving color matching, adding better weather sealing, along with its standard 0.8 mod gears and a video-friendly de-clicked aperture.
There are four focal lengths that cover full-frame at a fast T1.5 aperture. The 24mm, 35mm, 50mm, and 85mm have aspherical lens elements to reduce aberrations. Each lens is available in different mounts including Sony E, Canon RF, and Fujifilm, and clock in between $449 and $749, or you can scoop up the entire set for $2,500. A 14mm T3.1 is expected sometime next year.
While technically not available until next year, it's hard to not mention the Premista 19-45mm T2.9. The lens is a beast, covering large-format sensors up to a 46.3mm image circle. With the addition of this new zoom, the Premista lineup is rock solid and includes a 28-100mm T2.9 or an 80-250mm T2.9-3.5.
As you'd expect, the zoom carries over similar image characteristics, including color rendition, controllable flare with minimal ghosting, and reduced distortion throughout the entire zoom range. The lenses are also compatible with both Cooke's i/Technology and Zeiss eXtended Data technology.
With matching focus, iris, and zoom rings, a 280° focus throw, any of the lenses are worth renting for your next production.
What hasn't this company been doing this year? Not only are they releasing MFT lenses, but they're introducing new focal lengths for Super 35 and large format. Their 50mm T2.1 full-frame lens looks great and only costs $959. They've added a 35mm T2.1, and by August of next year, they'll complete the set with 7 focal lengths total from 14mm to 135mm. If you're looking for affordable cine lenses, be sure to check Meike out as an alternative option.
Like Meike, DZO Film is another company that's been busy this year, offering new primes and zooms. The Pictor Zoom series includes 20-55mm T2.8 and 50-125mm T2.8 and covers Super 35 sensors. What makes them a standout is that they have user-changeable mounts for PL and Canon EF.
The Vespid primes, aptly named after a wasp, are said to be "nimble and agile," thanks to their lightweight and uniform design. The set offers focal lengths of 25mm, 35mm, 50mm, 75mm, 100mm, and 125mm at T2.1 as well as a 90mm T2.8 Macro (1:1.5) lens, covering large-format sensors up to 46.5mm, making them an option for RED DSMC2, ARRI Alexa LF, Panasonic VariCam LT, and Sony VENICE, or with any full-frame DSLR and mirrorless camera.
Another set of lenses No Film School wishes they could give everyone for free. The ARRI Signature Zooms follow the Signature Prime series and they're simply stunning, as you'd expect coming from ARRI. The set covers a range from 16mm all the way up to 300mm, and there's a 1.7x extender that works with two of the zoom ranges.
The lenses have a 46mm image circle, which easily covers full-frame and large format. Better yet, switching between the two series won't be a cause for concern as color rendition across both lineups are similar in look. The series includes a 16-32mm T2.8, 24-75mm T2.8, 45-135mm T2.8, and 65-300mm T2.8.
So what are some of your favorite lenses released this year? Let us know in the comments below.
Still feeling nostalgic about 2020? Then check out the rest of our Year in Review 2020 coverage for more of our top picks, industry trends, and end-of-year takes.