A great set of cine prime lenses will take your film or video project to the next level. Not only because they can provide a more pleasing or "cinematic" image, but because of the added functionality that can save time on set. But primes aren't cheap. Some cost upwards of $40,000 each or higher!
Jake Ratcliffe, Technical Marketing Manager at CVP, took a look at a variety of quality and affordable budget cine prime lenses, all full-frame, to figure out which is the best glass that won't bust your budget. Check out CVP's video here.
Qualities of Cine Primes
Unlike photography lenses, which take one picture at a time, lenses made for cinema have to contend with movement. They all have distinct looks depending on the brand, with differences in bokeh, sharpness, fall-off, and more to make a project look cinematic. Plus, they're made to have much fewer visual issues like chromatic aberration, distortion, and vignetting. They're also constructed of metal instead of plastic, have consistent apertures usually in T-stops (but some come with F-stops), and should last for years, if not decades.
You can get a "nifty fifty" from a popular camera brand for $125, but a 50mm cine prime lens could cost close to $4,000 with some brands. But there are budget options for some creatives that offer these cine qualities. and CVP chose four budget sets to see which has the best overall quality, build, and image. The lenses they tested were:
- Meike Cine Full-Frame Primes
- Samyang XEEN CF (branded as Rokinon in the U.S.)
- DZOFILM Vespid Full-Frame
- Dulens APO-MINI Primes
Testing Four Sets of Budget Primes
The team at CVP used a nearly identical lens from each set and filmed tests in both controlled and uncontrolled environments, using a Sony VENICE 6K with the native PL mount. They decided for this particular video to only test the 50mm and 85mm cine prime lens from each set.
CVP's exterior test of four nearly identical budget cine prime lenses.Credit: CVP
Testing included both controlled and non-controlled environments. CVP filmed a subject outside with a Dulens 58mm T2.4, DZO Vespid 50mm T2.1, Samyang XEEN CF 50mm T1.5, and Meike 50mm T2.1 all at T2.8 to keep each setup identical and consistent.
They repeated the test inside with lenses that are identical or similar in focal lengths and aperture settings.
The CVP team also tested the lenses' sharpness, chromatic aberration, close focus, bokeh, vignetting, lens flare (calling J.J. Abrams), distortion, and breathing. There was a lot covered here, and the results were a mixed bag.
CVP's interior test of four nearly identical budget cine prime lenses.Credit: CVP
CVP's Budget Cine Prime Lens Conclusions
So, after thorough testing and analysis, which is the best set of budget cine lenses?
“That really depends on the look you want from your lenses and what focal lengths you want,” Ratcliffe said.
Unlike photography lenses, cinema lenses aren't always about being perfect. For example, the Dulens set offered less contrast than the other lenses.
The gang at CVP felt the Meike lenses were slightly inconsistent, but have a great price, resolve well from corner to corner, have low aberrations, and good breathing performance. If you don't mind that your lenses might not match, they may be a solid budget solution.
- Full-Frame Coverage, 45mm Image Circle
- T2.1 to T22
- 85mm Front Diameter
- 11 Iris Blades
- 82mm Front Filter Threads
- Focus Marks in Feet & Meters
- 330° Focus Rotation
- 0.8 MOD Focus & Iris Gears
The Samyang Cine lenses (branded as Rokinon in the U.S.) had more aberrations and onion skinning in the bokeh, which Ratcliffe admits “may not be to everyone’s tastes.” However, the Samyangs are the fastest, even if they are the largest and most expensive.
Keep in mind that fast glass can be attractive, despite the onion skinning bokeh and aberration issues.
- 24, 50 & 85mm PL Mount Lenses
- Full-Frame Coverage for up to 8K Sensors
- X-Coating Technology
- Fast T1.5 Aperture
- Lightweight Carbon Fiber Housing
On the other hand, the DZOFILM Vespid Primes have the largest variety of focal lengths, which allows cinematographers and filmmakers a lot more options when composing their shots. It also allows for building your own set with whichever focal lengths they prefer, as Ratcliffe observed. They have great construction and a more "artsy" look.
- 25, 35, 50, 75, 100, and 125mm Lenses
- PL Mount
- Focus Scales Marked in Feet and Meters
- Hard Case Included
Finally, the Dulens APO-MINI primes are the new kids on the block, and while they resolve well in the center, they have a slight drop-off in the corners of the frame. They are also clean of aberrations and have an overall nice look that harkens back to vintage lenses. Their overall small size makes it easier for setups and transport as well.
-Covers full-frame sensors
-Anti Chromatic Aberration
-T 2.4 to T16
-Interchangeable PL/EF mount
Food for Thought
I thought I'd throw in my two cents. The first thing I thought about was going lower cost with either the Meike six-lens set or the Dulens four-lens set (with its different focal lengths), saving me thousands of dollars.
However, the Meike lenses have a yellowish look to them that I wouldn't want to deal with in post. The Dulens feature a similarly clean look and nice drop-offs in the corners, but without the yellowish look. Those would be my two picks. While the other sets are great, they're a bit expensive for a budget build.
When buying a camera and lenses, I tend to go with a more affordable body and put the extra money into the glass. The camera will last a few years, but the lenses will pretty much last a lifetime.
Ratcliffe also promised a much longer video with tests of each set of budget cine lenses will be available on their Vimeo page. It’s worth taking a closer look at the video from CVP with their testing and analysis.