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Best ZOOM Lenses for Cinema

zoom lenses cinema lenses

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#1 Robbie Fatt

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Posted 17 March 2016 - 06:24 PM

I'm not sure if this topic has been covered before but I am looking at getting a very good zoom lens for use on a Blackmagic Ursa Mini. I have heard that the Cooke 18-100 is an amazing zoom (PL mount of course) but I am wondering what are the best zooms for cinema under $6k US. I know a lot of people just use stills glass but isn't there better options out there?

 

Are the Zeiss Contax zooms any good? 

What other options are there? 

And is it actually worth paying over $10k for a zoom lens when you can pick up a Zeiss Contax for under $1k.

 

Any information would be helpful!


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#2 Satsuki Murashige

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Posted 17 March 2016 - 09:25 PM

I guess the relative value of a zoom lens mostly has to do with how you intend to use it. Do you need cinema mechanics, repeatable focus marks with a long throw, no image shift, solid tracking? Then you need cinema lenses.

If not, then you can save a lot of money with stills lenses. I use stills lenses all the time for run-and-gun docu-style work, interviews, and corporate work because it's more important that I have wide focal length range while staying small and light. I use my cinema zooms for narrative style work when I have a focus puller and a full crew.

Most Contax zooms are of the push-pull variety. You physically extend the lens barrel to change focal length. Poor mechanics for cinema use, since the focus ring will drastically change position as you zoom. But if you treat them like Canon EF zooms and just pull focus from the lens barrel, they should work fine.

Other affordable options would be L series zooms and Sigma Art zooms. These have the benefit of being mostly constant volume lenses and are sharp and clean looking. Contax lenses have a more vintage look like the Cooke 18-100.
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#3 Robbie Fatt

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Posted 17 March 2016 - 09:44 PM

Hey thanks for your response!

I'm less interested in the practicality of the lens and more interested in the image it gives. I am more run and gun but I am definitely after a "cinema" look. 
 
An example of a film which I absolutely loved the look of is Spike Jonze's "Her". I read that the DP used coating-less Cooke lenses, high speed zeiss lenses and a Canon zoom (20-110mm f2.8?). I am a big fan of this softer look and I'm wondering if the zeiss contax zooms would be quite similar since they are supposed to be quite similar to Zeiss Superspeeds?

 

Her-screenshot-on-boat.jpg

 

her-skyline.jpg

 

Thanks again!

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#4 Mark Kenfield

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Posted 18 March 2016 - 01:33 AM

I think your options for S35mm cinema zooms are severely limited at $6,000 USD Robbie. You can however get some really nice S16mm zooms for that kinda money.

 

I think you need either more cash or lower expectations to be honest.


Edited by Mark Kenfield, 18 March 2016 - 01:34 AM.

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#5 Satsuki Murashige

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Posted 18 March 2016 - 01:35 PM

Zeiss Contax lenses are multi-coated, so they looks similar to normal vintage Super Speeds and Standard Speeds. They won't look as soft and flarey as Cooke Speed Pachros or uncoated Zeiss. The Contax MMJ lenses are newer and cleaner looking, with round to angular iris blades. The AEG and AEJ series have 'ninja star' pattern iris blades and flare more due to older coatings. Read more here: http://www.reduser.n...-Survival-Guide

They are sharp when you stop them down. The fast primes look closer to vintage cinema glass than the zooms because they have faster apertures where the image is softer, less contrasty, and has more aberrations. Which is what most people want in vintage lenses.

There are some Chinese companies that re-house stills glass of various makes including Contax, relatively affordable.

http://www.allstarci...ar-lenses/c16rb
http://www.glcinemod.com/english.html
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#6 Phil Rhodes

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Posted 18 March 2016 - 06:08 PM

Assuming you're into documentary, one-man-band sort of situations, this is quite a big problem at the moment. Low-cost zooms for big-chip movie applications are in extremely short supply. There are brilliant high-end options, such as the Fuji Cabrio 19-90 and Canon CN7x17, but they're horrifyingly expensive, and end up feeling very big and heavy on all but the largest cameras. Even an Alexa feels nose-heavy with a Cabrio on it.

 

It is a huge gap in the market and I suspect one day someone will fill it. Until that time, there are essentially three options:

 

- Get a converted stills lens. Various companies do this intermittently. For instance, True Lens Services has the 80-200 "morpheus" zoom, which is a converted Nikon stills lens, for UK£6500. This is still more than your budget, not a suitable range of focal length and it's not set up to be used like a news or documentary lens, but that's the sort of thing you could google for. Any mainstream solution to the "cabrio is too expensive" problem is likely to be from this sort of approach, but I'm not aware of anything to link you to right now. The stuff Satsuki mentions isn't really on the same order of zoom range as, say, a broadcast lens.

 

- And yes, you can get a 2/3" lens and an adaptor. Good adaptors, with quality corrective optics, can make it possible to mount news-style broadcast zooms on big-chip cameras. Optical quality is sometimes dubious, even with good adaptors, and good broadcast zooms aren't that cheap themselves, so it's mainly a solution for broadcast camera people who already own a B4-mount, 2/3" zoom. On the upside, it's the only way to that sort of solution for less than a lot of money. You can end up with, say, a 14x4 zoom (really a 14x8 zoom by the time you put the extender in) with an equivalent of about F/4. It's not a brilliant approach, but it can be done, and if you want to take your chances with older, standard-definition zooms, it can be very affordable.

 

- Get something like the Canon 24-105 F4L. It's affordable, optical quality is good, and it's among the least bad DSLR glass for documentary or other fast-paced work, but it's still a DSLR lens with ergonomics that are mediocre at best and it needs to be mounted on a camera that understands how to control EOS apertures electronically.

 

There is no great solution, sadly. There needs to be.

 

P


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#7 Satsuki Murashige

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Posted 18 March 2016 - 06:53 PM

The tricky thing is that Robbie wants something that looks like old Cooke Panchro prime lenses or uncoated Super Speeds in a cheap zoom. I'm thinking the closest you will get to that look for the price is actually old vintage prime lenses made for stills. And not a zoom.

You could actually look at old Russian Lomo prime lenses remounted to PL, that might actually still be in the ballpark budget-wise.
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#8 Stuart Brereton

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Posted 18 March 2016 - 07:20 PM

Get something like the Canon 24-105 F4L. 

 

As an aside, while the 24-105mm L is a great lens in many ways, it breathes so badly that the only time it truly has a 105mm FOV is when focus is at least 20 feet. At 6 feet it's more like an 85mm


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#9 Phil Rhodes

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Posted 18 March 2016 - 08:19 PM

This is true, although it's still one of the least bad zooms for running around with.
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#10 Robin R Probyn

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Posted 18 March 2016 - 08:41 PM

"And is it actually worth paying over $10k for a zoom lens when you can pick up a Zeiss Contax for under $1k."

 

Answer.. Yes it is.. 

 

​Was in the same boat as you are now.. Phil pretty much sums it up.. if you want to avoid adaptors.all the problems of non par focal/breathing.. tiny focus travel etc (AC will hate you) of stills/converted zooms.. then there is CN7 or the Cabrio,s.. both are excellent lenses,you might get the "non 4K" spec older 19-90 Cabrio,s cheap, relatively speaking :).. these days.. 

​The CN7 is quite warm.. warmer than the CN primes.. otherwise just warm it up in grading..

 

But there is nothing in the middle really.. and due to the inherent cost of a "quality" cine zoom I dont think there ever will be.. except for second hand.. theres nothing you can do.. you just have to spend the money.. good investment..at least they dont change much.. and can be used on any camera .. 


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#11 Satsuki Murashige

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Posted 18 March 2016 - 08:50 PM

... if you want to avoid adaptors.all the problems of non par focal/breathing.. tiny focus travel etc (AC will hate you) of stills/converted zooms..


I think Robbie made it pretty clear that he doesn't care about these things. He simply wants the look of old Cooke lenses. For cheap. Preferably in a zoom.
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#12 Robin R Probyn

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Posted 19 March 2016 - 12:23 AM

ah ok sorry..  the "Zoom for cinema"part stuck in my mind..


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#13 Phil Rhodes

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Posted 19 March 2016 - 07:02 AM

you just have to spend the money.. good investment..at least they dont change much.. and can be used on any camera

 

Lenses are a great investment if you're going to get paid for 'em.

 

The overwhelming majority of the time, in all filmmaking other than the top 5%, nobody's paying for lenses or for anything else, so it isn't. Glass is just seen as a basic requirement to get a picture on a monitor. Nothing, ever, is any form of investment, at least not beyond the most basic level of being able to do some sort of basic job. That's how the overwhelming majority of filmmaking that is done, is done, and that's why there needs to be something at $5k, rather than $30k.

 

P


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#14 Robin R Probyn

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Posted 19 March 2016 - 08:30 AM

I dont charge separately for the lens,mattbox,batteries,SxS cards.. etc.. just a price for the "camera package"..  thats a pretty basic thing right :) you need the camera and accessories to make a moving image.. the only to not pay for this ,is to put on a play or make a radio program.. nes par? 


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#15 Stuart Brereton

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Posted 19 March 2016 - 09:48 AM

You might be able to find an old Cooke 25-250mm for that money, but they're slow and heavy.


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#16 Phil Rhodes

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Posted 19 March 2016 - 10:39 AM

 just a price for the "camera package"..  thats a pretty basic thing right

 

You'd have thought so. The last three times I've been asked to shoot anything vaguely creative, it's been "We have [a ridiculously low amount] for you, and what camera do you come with?"

 

The incentive to invest is not great.

 

P


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#17 Robin R Probyn

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Posted 19 March 2016 - 10:52 AM

 

You'd have thought so. The last three times I've been asked to shoot anything vaguely creative, it's been "We have [a ridiculously low amount] for you, and what camera do you come with?"

 

The incentive to invest is not great.

 

P

 

Yes that does sound a bit grim.. the other side of the.. "cheap digital camera,s will democratize film making.." line.. or Producers can get more blood from a stone.. there is some point where you just cant make a film unless you have X amount of money.. even Tangerine had quite a bit spent on post to get it looking decent.. just shooting on an iPhone 5 straight to screen it will look like pretty bad I,d think..!


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#18 Satsuki Murashige

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Posted 19 March 2016 - 02:19 PM

The overwhelming majority of the time, in all filmmaking other than the top 5%, nobody's paying for lenses or for anything else, so it isn't. Glass is just seen as a basic requirement to get a picture on a monitor. Nothing, ever, is any form of investment, at least not beyond the most basic level of being able to do some sort of basic job. That's how the overwhelming majority of filmmaking that is done, is done, and that's why there needs to be something at $5k, rather than $30k.
 
P


Phil, can you please stop projecting your situation onto everyone else in the professional filmmaking world? I know it sucks in London (apparently), but you really don't speak for the rest of us.
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#19 Phil Rhodes

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Posted 19 March 2016 - 02:28 PM

The thing is, I suspect (I can't really know) that I am speaking for the rest of us.

 

There doesn't seem to be much argument that the proportion of filmmaking which can afford $30k lenses is very small - less than 1%, probably. But what's often overlooked is that the proportion of filmmaking that can afford any budget whatsoever for camera equipment is overwhelmingly large. It may be 85% or 90% or 95%, but in a world where there are very creditable 4K cameras for a few thousand units of currency, it's not surprising. For every job I've been offered (and I didn't take many of them) in the last year, the expressed budget for camera equipment has been zero. Very often I was asked to work for free as well, which is why I don't shoot very much anymore. But I digress.

 

Only a very, very tiny proportion of people who do this do it the way you do. You may be in the right part of the world for that to be untrue for you, locally, but considered globally, the situation is just terribly grim. And Hollywood, or the high end in general, constantly gives advice, as if the solution in the southwestern US is valid all over the world.

 

It isn't.

 

P


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#20 Satsuki Murashige

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Posted 19 March 2016 - 06:30 PM

What cities and countries have you shot in?

I haven't worked in lot of places outside of my local area compared to some here, but I've worked with locals all over California, NYC, Chicago, DC, Las Vegas, Salt Lake City, Portland, and parts of Florida. They've all had grip trucks, c-stands, and cameras available to rent for more or less the usual prices. Some are doing better than others, sure. But we usually always talk shop in our downtime, and I've never seen anything as dire as you say London is. Even productions from London that I've worked on seem totally normal.

LA is a special case, to a lot of LA locals everything outside of the city limits is the hinterlands. We have one ASC DP up here now shooting a film and apparently he thinks shooting in SF is like working in a third world country...
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