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Illumina S35s 'A Negative Experience'


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#1 Adam Howden

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Posted 20 March 2012 - 02:54 PM

I thought people might be interested in a recent negative experience I had with Lumatech and there Illumina S35 lenses.



Have a look at the vimeo link and a read of the information below...


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This is a test of a set of Illumina S35s that I purchased early this year (2012). I ended up sending them back for a refund. But due to a re-stocking fee I received only 90%. And because I also cancelled my order of the 135mm I ended up loosing, with shipping close to $5000 Australian dollars.

For me, the lenses didn't perform. The 18mm & 25mm show severe edge distortion and softening - too much to be considered in the same league as Arri, Zeiss or Cooke. Distortion that wouldn't smooth out until as far down as T5.6. Personally I don't see the point in having a T1.3 rated lens that doesn't perform until way past T4.

This is in fact the 2nd test I shot, to try and rule out the possibility of a back focus issue with the first test, let me assure you there was no back focus issues. The Red & the Alexa were supplied by a national camera rental company with a long and respectful history of serving the Australian film industry, they checked the back focus for me knowing the test that I was about to perform. Also, the lenses taped out to where they were supposed to ie. 5'6" hit right on the lens mark. But the edges - well disappointing to say the least.

It was a sorry outcome for a set of lenses that I'd hoped so much for, I really wanted them to perform but I felt the edge distortion unacceptable, the build quality was suspect and the illumination was patchy.

I even had a lens tech at Panavision Australia look over the test and he said "I can see is that the centre is sharp and the edges are soft and there is a little distortion as well in your test. This is Field curvature, the inability of a lens to hold focus from centre to the edge of frame; distortion is the inability to reproduce image shapes accurately". He then added "When compared to the Zeiss I can see the Zeiss has much better Field flatness".

The lenses were sent back to the broker and the manufacture for testing, they re-tested and claimed the lenses looked good? I was amazed that they could make these claims. I shot tests on 3 different cameras and even cross checked them with a Zeiss Superspeed MkIII just to make sure I wasn't going crazy - I wasn't. The Red One, The Alexa and even the poor old Sony F3 revealed the incredibly poor performance of these lenses.

Ultimately I was pretty disappointed by the attitude of the owner of Lumatech, it was an expensive lesson for me to learn and unfortunately with a small amount like the amount I lost it's hard for me to justify the expense of a lawyer, although I've discussed the situation with several, but the costs are prohibitive.

I would urge anyone thinking about these lenses to think again, I certainly won't be buying anything from Lumatech ever again.
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#2 Dom Jaeger

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Posted 21 March 2012 - 02:03 AM

While I can sympathise with the money you lost, I'm not sure your outrage is really justified. With lenses, and cine lenses in particular, you really do get what you pay for. Why would you expect a set of (relatively) low-cost high-speed lenses to be in the same league as Zeiss or Cooke?

Lens design is always a balancing act of compromises. You can't really expect a cine lens to be relatively small and light-weight, T1.3 fast, free from aberrations at every aperture and focal length, without distortion, extremely sharp, mechanically robust and precise and yet still be classified as a 'budget' option. Super Speeds are still highly sought after because they come close, but they also have their issues (particularly wide open), and unless you get a pristine set or one that's been re-conditioned there could be all sorts of wear or damage that will affect the performance.

If you want perfection and high speed you need to use modern glass where affordability isn't part of the compromise - something like Master Primes or Cooke S5s, though you'll notice they still carry some weight. It's also worth noting that when Cooke or Zeiss produce lower cost optics, they drop the speed.

For their cost, speed and size, the Illumina S35s are probably not a bad deal, if the only issue is a bit of distortion and field curvature on the wides. Shooting a flat chart wide open at one-and-a-half feet is testing them at their limit. Was the corner softness less noticeable further away? Did you do any other tests? Sometimes chart tests show issues that are never really noticed in real-world set-ups.

Perhaps you would have been happier with Red Pro Primes, but again, the compromise there is big, heavy lenses with sloppy focus scaling and what I find to be a rather ugly bokeh.

I'm not defending Lumatech (or their refund policy), but I think perhaps you're expectations were a little high. I would also suggest that anyone thinking of investing that much money in lenses should try to rent a set and see how they fit first. And if no rental companies carry them, perhaps there's a reason why.
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#3 Adam Howden

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Posted 22 March 2012 - 06:11 AM

Thanks for your thoughts Don,

I wouldn't describe my feelings as outraged but I was disappointed on quite a few levels. I literally begged and pleaded for a more reasonable outcome with both the broker (FJS) and the owner of Lumatech, I was willing to accept some collateral damage but not to the extent of which it cost me.

To my knowledge there was no other set of these lenses in the country (Australia) and the only way that I could've tested them was to fly to the states, perhaps I should've. I completely understand that lens design is ultimately a set of compromises but honestly my my $400 Nikkor looked a lot better than the equivalent $6000 Illumina?

If you've looked at the tests you would see that the softness and distortion is just as bad at 2' as it is at 6'.

Personally I think my expectations and level of disappointment are warranted.

Hence I returned the lenses and invested in a set of Ultra Primes.
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#4 Dom Jaeger

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Posted 22 March 2012 - 09:08 AM

Yeah, I'm not sure what a "re-stocking fee" is, but that part of the deal sounds pretty rough.

It's true that some fairly cheap stills lenses can be fantastic optically, but the scale of production is many times that of cine lenses, which reduces their cost. They use plastic housings, short throw focus mechanics with enormous tolerances, and have no need for accurate scaling. And if they're not aiming for high-speed, they can optimise the optical design around it's natural maximum aperture. $400 might get you an f1.8 lens, but what's an f1.4 24mm Nikkor worth, 2 grand? And you'll often find the more expensive fast lens doesn't perform as well as the cheaper sibling. Is there an 18mm Nikkor that's faster than f2.8?

From your tests I'd say the designs of the 18mm and to a lesser extent the 25mm Illuminas probably don't quite work down to T1.3, and maybe should have been limited to (and optimised for) T2, but then it wouldn't have been a uniform set. For some people the aberrations you noticed may not be a deal breaker. The only experience I've had with Illuminas was a few of their S16 lenses that I serviced for a film school, and I can't say I was particularly impressed. They weren't far off 16mm Super Speeds optically, I didn't notice any really nasty aberrations, but the build wasn't great and the scaling was so off I had to re-mark them.

Anyway, you should be happy with the Ultra Primes. Here's hoping you shoot some great stuff on them and never look back!
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#5 Adam Howden

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Posted 22 March 2012 - 08:40 PM

Thanks Dom,

I totally agree with you. However I think given the costs of these lenses it's fair of me to expect them to perform to at least a certain level.

Regarding the Ultra's yes I intend to, I'm sure I'll get many years of beautiful work out of them :-)
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#6 georg lamshöft

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Posted 13 April 2012 - 04:07 AM

IMHO, it's a shame that with rising popularity of the PL-mount/S35-style cameras more and more companies try to rip off customers with substandard quality. Despite the price difference to quality lenses, we are still talking about investments of several 1000$ here!

Interestingly enough, your new Ultra Primes also have a little bit of "Cold War background": in 1945, the USA literally rescued (although I bet they didn't realized it back then) 122 specialists from Carl Zeiss Jena from the Soviets and made them start up operations in Oberkochen (West Germany) - within a few years, the vast majority of know-how, skilled craftsmen, engineers and technology came to Oberkochen (besides political aspects, the salary of the Workers in Jena was less than 1/5th of the Oberkochen workers even before the borders was closed). While Zeiss Oberkochen quickly started to innovate again and made highest-quality optics, the leftovers of Jena never recovered (despite the size). If this wouldn't have happened, Zeiss would propably no longer exist after 1989 or wouldn't be able to design & manufacture lenses beyond Lumatech standards.... Now the lens elements from your Ultra Primes are ground in Jena - but luckily with huge investments in technology and training, no Soviet standards anymore...
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#7 Adam Howden

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Posted 22 September 2012 - 03:08 PM

For those of you that are interested. In September 2012 I was contacted by FJS International and Gregorgy Mirand of Lumatech. To cut a long story short I eventually received a full refund, though delayed by many months this chapter has finally come to an end. I agreed to removed my tests from Vimeo and let sleeping dogs lie.

A small victory, but receiving my nearly $3.5K back was truly welcomed.

Edited by Adam Howden, 22 September 2012 - 03:09 PM.

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#8 Adam Mills

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Posted 22 February 2014 - 06:28 PM

Can I ask if the paint job for the markings was was green and red, or a light greenish yellow?


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#9 David Mirand

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Posted 21 March 2017 - 01:43 PM

My name is David Mirand and I represent Lomo Illumina lenses.

Mr Howden's monetary issue was caused by one of our dealers. That issue was rectified by Illumina central in order to satisfy the client. It was the right thing to do. The dealer was reprimanded for his actions, and it will not (and hasn't) happened again.

Now, I understand Mr Howden was angry and he managed to fill several forums with his complaint. He was right to do so. It is not an that has ever happened since. The way this thread is labeled, and a lot of prosumer misunderstanding of high speed cinema primes is damaging.

Now, regarding the quality of the lenses. I believe Mr. Howden had the MKI Illumina lens. Yes, it had some issues. That model was discontinued a long time ago, back in 2012. The model that is being sold now is the MKII. It's a good lens....so much so that Werner Herzog/Peter Zeitlinger used it on their last film with Nicole Kidman, James Franco and Robert Pattinson: "Queen of the Desert."

Here are Peter Zeitlinger's own words:

​PETER ZEITLINGER - DOP of "Queen of the Desert" by Werner Herzog:

All the film was shot 90% on Illuminas, we also used the Angenieux Optimo zoom lenses and a Canon long lens. As I am just a user, not an expert in optics and optical physics, I judge just the character of the image. I don't like the technically clean undistortive reproduction of the world, such lenses are good only for VFX work to my opinion. We used the Illuminas also for VFX work even the producers wanted to convince us to use different lenses.

We worked with Illuminas to get a more natural not a technical look. Those are great sensitive lenses with a big personality when wide open. They are light weight which is important to me for handheld and gimbal work. Also robust and mechanically good which was important in the desert. I think the lenses are the right workhorses for my needs. The bokeh is very nice when wide open, which I tried to achieve by changing the shutter or using ND filters. With highlights they tend to create a very green flare, which is so clean in colour that you can decide which colour you choose in the grading process by keying in the post. We could key the flare and transform the colour if we needed to a different colour in order to macth the colour composition and harmony of the image. Sometimes I turned it a bit towards blue, sometimes towards magenta. The flares where very important in the film "Queeen of The Desert". Not that much as an esthetic effect but more as the poetic depiction of the sun as a character which is so important and merciless in the desert. I used the High Dynamic Range feature of the RED Dragon camera. Thus the particular flare of the Illumina lenses helped us to create those magnificent flares and glares around the sun. Usually I use Plugins for creating the right shapes of the flares. In this case the beauty of the Illumina lenses where the better and natural choice.

I don't do technical tests and hardly ever go on a lens projector. So my choice is rather emotional and the overall impression when seeing the picture in the cinema. Illumina's lenses are not as “round” in the focus as for example Cook lenses, but much lighter and smaller. I added sometimes a bit softness in the post with a second film layer which I blurred a bit and added 15 to 20% to the “sharp” image. I think the Illumina's have the right balance between a personality and character on the one hand and the technical merciless of sharpness on the other hand without killing the actors face because of looking deep into the pores of the skin.

-Peter Zeitlinger, DOP

If that isn't convincing, please read the SALTIII Lens Shootout:

https://thecinelens....me-wfo-results/

I can assure you the price is lower than Master Primes, only because they are made in Russia. They still carry a 1 year warranty that is longer than just about any other cinema prime. The quality is superb! Over 140 sets have been sold worldwide. Approximately $7,200 USD/lens for a T1.3 is a crazy deal. We're just not a very well known brand, and we are just starting proper marketing of the lenses. Originally we relied on forums like these to get the word out. Now it's a whole new world in cinema primes, as you all know.

If you want Arri and Cooke to rule the high end cine prime market, by all means, let them create a monopoly. I can assure you that they will raise prices until only rental houses can afford them. We really try to make it possible for many people to get their hands on a T1.3 lens. The competition will still come from the bottom. Companies like Sigma and Tokina are great, but it's not a proper cinema lens.

Lomo Illumina lenses can now be purchased at Hot Rod Cameras in Los Angeles and Vocas in Amsterdam. Buy Illumina...we promise to support you, and make you happy. Forgive our past mistake toward Mr. Howden

David Mirand
Marketing Coordinator
Lomo Illumina Lenses
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#10 David Mirand

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Posted 21 March 2017 - 01:47 PM

By the way...if you need to contact us, please do at:

Illuminas35.com
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