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Zeiss Compact Primes - thoughts, experiences, alternatives?

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#1 Petter Englund

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Posted 26 January 2017 - 06:17 AM

Hello filmmakers!  :)

 

Currently inclining towards buying a set of used Zeiss Compact Primes T2.1 (15mm = T2.9) to use with our BM URSA mini 4.6k EF for indie short film production and perhaps a feature in the not too far future!

 

My production crew and I have a budget around 17-19k USD for a kit of 5-6 lenses. From what we have researched, the only competitors in the same price class as the Compact Primes would be the vintage SuperSpeeds from the same brand.

 

A lot of forums refers to the vintage SuperSpeeds as being unusably soft at wide apertures and not having the same quality of the coating compared to the Compact Primes (but I guess the latter is part of the vintage look).

 

Not necessarily looking for anything super-sharp, like the new Zeiss OTUS-series, but also don't wanna paint ourselves into a corner with something extremely stylish. If we would've had the cash, we would have aimed for a kit of rehoused Cooke Panchros or S4 mini's - for reference.

 

Any experiences with the Zeiss Compact Primes?

Any arguments for going for the vintage Zeiss SuperSpeeds over the Compact Primes?

Any alternative lenses we ought to look into (fast zooms included)?

 

Thanks in advance! 

 


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#2 Giray Izcan

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Posted 26 January 2017 - 07:20 AM

Compact primes are rehoused stills glass with inconsistent aperture throughout the series. Superspeeds are true come lenses and aren't softer than compact primes. Sure, wide open, they aren't the sharpest but 2-2.8 they are tack sharp. I would go with the superspeeds.
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#3 Dom Jaeger

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Posted 26 January 2017 - 07:39 AM

I think you'll find Super Speeds are well out of your budget, a set of 5 MkIII Super Speeds in good condition can fetch over $80,000. Maybe you have been looking at the cost of a Super 16 set? At any rate, they don't come in EF mount if that's what your camera is.

CP.2s are a different level of lens, but pretty good value for the price.

Have you considered renting or borrowing a set to test them out and see if they meet your expectations? Are you going to need anything faster? Cooke Panchros are a very different look to S4 minis, it seems like you don't have a particular look in mind?
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#4 Mark Kenfield

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Posted 26 January 2017 - 07:56 AM

A couple of things to consider:

The coatings on the older Superspeeds are a lot muddier than the newer lenses, so there's a HUGE difference in contrast between the two. The CP.2s have a really crisp and punchy modern look because of the newer coatings, whereas the older Zeisses look much more muted out of the box, and are much more susceptible to things like veiling glare, so they have very distinct looks comparatively.

 

Another thing is the bokeh. The oldest Superspeeds (which are the only ones you'd find in that price range) have a 3-blade aperture, this gives their bokeh a distinctive triangular shape. Some people love it, others hate it. I think it looks pretty sweet personally, but again, it's something different. The CP.2s by comparison have a 14-blade aperture, which is the one area where I think they actually have an edge over much more expensive lenses like the Ultra Primes or Cooke S4s - they have the most perfectly round bokeh (at virtually any aperture) that you'll find in any lens going. It makes for very pretty pictures.

 

The Superspeeds will give you a consistent T/1.4 aperture even at your wide-angles (18mm and 25mm), that's a very handy feature to have (the CP.2s are T/2.9 for the 15mm and 21mm - two stops slower). Now the Superspeeds aren't all that good wide-open, but when you need an extra stop of light, they can give it to you.

 

The Superspeeds can't be used with clip-on matteboxes, the CP.2s can.

 

I'm not sure about the specific layout of the Ursa, but on some cameras the older lenses (because they're so much more compact than the actual 'compact' primes) can be difficult to rig with follow focuses etc.

So they're very different lenses on the whole. Each with significant plusses and minuses. You'd just have to pick the ones that suit your needs best.

 

I had a set of the CP.2s myself (until I upgraded to the CZ.2 zooms) and adored them. I'm a sucker for the cool, crunchy look of modern Zeiss glass though, so they suited me very well. The 21mm and 85mm are particularly delightful. For reference, you can check out my showreel here: www.dreamsmiths.com.au/showreel and the majority of that was shot on CP.2s, should give you some idea for the 'look' they can give.

 

**I just realised this at the end of writing this essay, but the Superspeeds are PL-mount or Bayonet-mount, and cannot be mounted to an EF mount camera like your Ursa... so yeah, that's an issue!**


Edited by Mark Kenfield, 26 January 2017 - 07:58 AM.

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#5 Petter Englund

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Posted 26 January 2017 - 09:10 AM

Thank you for the replies!

 

I'm not a super fan of the typical sharp/cripsy modern look seen in most blockbusters, but I also don't want the look to bring too much attention to itself that vintage glass sometimes does. For example, I really love the look of "The Place Beyond The Pines". It's very naturalistic and clean, but at the same time not plastic or super-crisp. What's in focus really pops out from the background in a nice way. Kind of creates this natural 3D illusion without being on the nose. Most of this probably comes down to lighting etc., but I know this film is mostly shot with Cooke S4's. 

 

When it comes to bokeh, a preference is not for it to be perfectly round without corners. For the latest 12 months I've been on my way to settling for a homemade anamorphic set up with a kit of vintage taking lenses in front of an ISCORAMA 54 1.5x (talk about bokeh). The look I got from that was amazing in my opinion, but after test filming we just couldn't accept the lack of sharpness. It was so hard to set focus. We just couldn't get it to an acceptable level of sharpness... and perfecting the back-focus ended up taking too much time. 

 

Dom,

From what I've heard online the Cooke Panchros and the S4 mini's have a similar look - Panchros a little less contrasty and vintage - but both still at the yellowish "Cooke" end of the color spectrum... but perhaps I'm totally wrong? I have never tried any of them myself and there's not much material to find on the Panchros online (mostly reading). Do you know a movie / reel shot entirely with the Panchros?

 

I'm taking a trip to the closest (and only) renting firm within my area next week to try the Compact Primes. Unfortunately, they only have the CP's and the Cooke S4's. If the Panchros look are not even close to the S4's, then it will be useless form me to try the S4's out..

 

Mark,

The oldest Superspeeds for S35, would that be the mk1? I know there's a S16 version, too, but I can't get a hold of what that model is called! It's usually easy to find an info-site on different versions of a lens series, but not for the Superspeeds..!

 

My URSA is EF, correct, but shouldn't be a problem to mount a PL lens with an EF-PL adapter. It's the other way around that's a problem?

 

Thanks a lot for the detailed info! I'll take a look at your showreel right away! Is the 85 you're referring to T1.5 or T2.1?

 

 

--

 

Thank you all once again for the quick replies!


Edited by Petter Englund, 26 January 2017 - 09:11 AM.

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#6 Dom Jaeger

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Posted 26 January 2017 - 10:00 AM

EF to PL adapters only work with a few PL lenses, those with very minimal protrusion behind the mount. I'm pretty sure Super Speeds won't work.

Anyway, even Mk1 Super Speeds in good condition can go for $30K or more, Visual Products has a set at the moment for $34,500. If you try to get them cheaper on eBay you'll probably just end up with scratched and worn ones.

Mk2 and 3 Speed Panchros were mostly made back in the 50s and 60s, they are lovely but somewhat low con and soft wide open compared to S4s, with different flare characteristics and bokeh. Mr Turner was shot entirely with Speed Panchros, probably lots of other movies now that there are so many rehoused sets around. I don't think they'll adapt to EF either, however.

CP.2s are probably the best option for your budget in EF mount, but it never hurts to try them out first.
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#7 Stuart Brereton

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Posted 26 January 2017 - 10:46 AM

I love Super Speeds. They look great at f2 - 2.8, and wide open they have a distinctive vintage feel. Hoyte van Hoytema shot 'Let the Right One In' wide open on super speeds. As Dom says, even a set of Mk 1s is probably out of your price range.

 

Have you considered Xeen lenses? They cover full frame and come in EF or PL mounts. B&H sells a set of 6 for $13k


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#8 Mark Kenfield

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Posted 26 January 2017 - 10:19 PM

Thank you for the replies!

 

I'm not a super fan of the typical sharp/cripsy modern look seen in most blockbusters, but I also don't want the look to bring too much attention to itself that vintage glass sometimes does. For example, I really love the look of "The Place Beyond The Pines". It's very naturalistic and clean, but at the same time not plastic or super-crisp. What's in focus really pops out from the background in a nice way. Kind of creates this natural 3D illusion without being on the nose. Most of this probably comes down to lighting etc., but I know this film is mostly shot with Cooke S4's. 

 

When it comes to bokeh, a preference is not for it to be perfectly round without corners. For the latest 12 months I've been on my way to settling for a homemade anamorphic set up with a kit of vintage taking lenses in front of an ISCORAMA 54 1.5x (talk about bokeh). The look I got from that was amazing in my opinion, but after test filming we just couldn't accept the lack of sharpness. It was so hard to set focus. We just couldn't get it to an acceptable level of sharpness... and perfecting the back-focus ended up taking too much time. 

 

Mark,

The oldest Superspeeds for S35, would that be the mk1? I know there's a S16 version, too, but I can't get a hold of what that model is called! It's usually easy to find an info-site on different versions of a lens series, but not for the Superspeeds..!

 

My URSA is EF, correct, but shouldn't be a problem to mount a PL lens with an EF-PL adapter. It's the other way around that's a problem?

 

Thanks a lot for the detailed info! I'll take a look at your showreel right away! Is the 85 you're referring to T1.5 or T2.1?

 

 

Hey Petter, if your not fond of a modern 'look' and uniform, circular bokeh, I'm not sure you'll particularly enjoy the CP.2s - those are kind of their defining aesthetic characteristics.

The oldest 'official' Superspeeds are the Mk I models. They have a PL-mount, but I've only ever seen a couple of these for sale at the price range you're after. There was a set before them though, known as the 'B-Speeds', which came in Arri bayonet mount (which can be modified to PL-mount pretty easily), and they're the ones you're more likely to find for that kind of price.

 

I wonder if you might want to look at something like a set of re-housed Leica Rs instead (they're much more inconsistent in T/stops than the CP.2s, but they have a lovely look, and less of the modern cleanliness of the newer Zeisses).

 

**a quick correction to an earlier point I made. I said the Mk1 Superspeeds had a three-blade triangular aperture. But they were actually nine-bladed (just in a triangular shape).


Edited by Mark Kenfield, 26 January 2017 - 10:21 PM.

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#9 Dom Jaeger

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Posted 27 January 2017 - 12:36 AM

The oldest 'official' Superspgeeds are the Mk I models. They have a PL-mount, but I've only ever seen a couple of these for sale at the price range you're after. There was a set before them though, known as the 'B-Speeds', which came in Arri bayonet mount (which can be modified to PL-mount pretty easily), and they're the ones you're more likely to find for that kind of price.
 


Actually, if we agree there are 3 versions of Super Speeds then the 'B-Speeds' are the Mk1 models. They originally came in Bayonet mount but many have been converted to PL and had focus gears and 80mm fronts added (and often also had a mechanical overhaul). Apart from the triangular iris they are also a tad slower at T1.4. That's the set Visual Products have at the moment for $34,500. Maybe you'd find an unmodified set for under 20K, but you'd have to spend several grand more to convert them to a useable form and whenever I see one that someone's picked up cheap from eBay or India or whatnot they tend to need a full overhaul.

The cinematechnic site has a very good rundown of the history and versions of Super Speeds:
http://cinematechnic...eed_f1-2_lenses
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#10 Mark Kenfield

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Posted 27 January 2017 - 01:03 AM

Cheers Dom, my understanding of them came from from Matt Duclos' little history of them: https://thecinelens....s-super-speeds/

Which puts the 'b-speeds' as the first of the high-speed sets (many of which have been modified over the years), and the Mk1s as a full redesign of the mechanics (though using the same optics).


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#11 Dom Jaeger

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Posted 27 January 2017 - 02:50 AM

Yeah I guess it's up to interpretation, since there's at least 5 factory variations (some subtler in difference than others) which Zeiss never officially named, but the latest versions are by general agreement known as MkIIIs!

Then there are the 3rd party modifications, plus the Super 16 Super Speeds just to add some confusion, not to mention the iterations of standard speeds as well..

Aargh!
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#12 Petter Englund

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Posted 27 January 2017 - 05:50 AM

 

I wonder if you might want to look at something like a set of re-housed Leica Rs instead (they're much more inconsistent in T/stops than the CP.2s, but they have a lovely look, and less of the modern cleanliness of the newer Zeisses).

 

Thanks for the reply! That sounds interesting!

I haven't even heard of re-housed Leica Rs. I can see they range from f/2-f/4, averaging around f/2.8 which is not that bad.

 

Do you know how they perform wide-open?

I can see the bokeh has a swirly look, cool!

You know how sensitive they are to flares?


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#13 Jaron Berman

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Posted 27 January 2017 - 11:57 AM

The leica R primes are beautiful, took me about 2yr to assemble a good set and have them rehoused (that's another story).  I went for them initially because of a little book called "A History of the Photographic Lens."  I love the speed panchros and cook designs in general, but you can't put the Panchros on a EF mount camera.  What you can do is put the Leica R on an EF mount camera and, because most of the R's are based on the same optical design as the Panchros - achieve a similar look.  Obviously coatings and mechanics are very different, BUT a lot of the optical attributes are VERY similar (very difficult to tell apart in some lens side-by-sides).  Now there are aliens in the mix - the Summilux-R 35mm is a unique design (I'm sure others with more knowledge could point to ancestors and offspring of that lens), but for the most part they are all of common lineage. 

 

So, when people wax poetic about the glow of cooke, the creaminess of leica, or the beauty of panavision primo glass - some (obviously simplifying here) of that beauty is attributable to the fact that they're all descendants of the same optical formulas. 

 

as for flare, that will depend on coatings


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#14 Petter Englund

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Posted 27 January 2017 - 01:21 PM

 

So, when people wax poetic about the glow of cooke, the creaminess of leica, or the beauty of panavision primo glass - some (obviously simplifying here) of that beauty is attributable to the fact that they're all descendants of the same optical formulas. 

 

Jaron,

 

Thanks for the input! Makes a lot of sense, I'll definitely take a look at that book, too.

Do you have a showreel with footage taken with the Leica R-series and/or do you know a film shot entirely on the Leicas?

 

I've been searching online for an attempt to get an idea of what a set would cost...

Despite the obvious way of buying old Leica R's and sending in for re-housing (as I would guess you did) - there seems to be a couple of EF-sets out there referred to as "cine-modded". 

 

Obviously, those sets aren't re-housed... so what are they really? Hmm...

Here is a link to a "cine-modded" set: on eBay.

 

Also - will there be anything done to the coating when re-housing? I guess not, right?

Fortunately, a set of re-housed Leica R's seem to end up a little more affordable than a set of Panchros.


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#15 Marcel Zyskind

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Posted 27 January 2017 - 07:02 PM

Hi Petter

146 pages on Leica R.
http://www.reduser.n...on-RED-Pictures

Jaron,
 
Thanks for the input! Makes a lot of sense, I'll definitely take a look at that book, too.
Do you have a showreel with footage taken with the Leica R-series and/or do you know a film shot entirely on the Leicas?
 
I've been searching online for an attempt to get an idea of what a set would cost...
Despite the obvious way of buying old Leica R's and sending in for re-housing (as I would guess you did) - there seems to be a couple of EF-sets out there referred to as "cine-modded". 
 
Obviously, those sets aren't re-housed... so what are they really? Hmm...
Here is a link to a "cine-modded" set: on eBay.
 
Also - will there be anything done to the coating when re-housing? I guess not, right?
Fortunately, a set of re-housed Leica R's seem to end up a little more affordable than a set of Panchros.


Edited by Marcel Zyskind, 27 January 2017 - 07:12 PM.

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#16 Jaron Berman

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Posted 29 January 2017 - 11:21 AM

I did the Van Diemen rehousing based on reading their patent (fascinating solution to me).  Van diemen is a very very small company and they work slowly, and I managed to send my lenses in during a particularly busy/understaffed moment in their history which only made things slower.  However, I think the quality of work they do is quite good.  Now, unfortunately my lenses are back in the UK for mod to full-frame so I haven't really shot anything since going the route of rehousing (1.5yr so far).  I received them and they needed some tuning, so back they went.  Also note - I spent a long time tying to find a wide compliment super speed lens to match my leica lux 35,50,80 - and the closest optical match I found was actually the canon fd 24mm 1.4 - it's remarkably similar to the lux r's.... BUT it's FD mount which is incompatible with EF.  On a full rehouse, this is a minor issue (and I'm hardly the only person having that lens added to the R super speed set). So there's on advantage to a rehoused set - you can make the set you want and (if it weren't already so similar) you CAN have the coatings adjusted - but that's rocket science that requires a lens designer's input that's definitely above what I'm able to pay on this set.

 

In their old EF mount / duclos cinemod I will find some clips and post.  There is no recoating, original coatings which is why it takes a while to assemble a good set.   The stock mechanics on the leicas are quite good EXCEPT the iris.  If you have the iris de-clicked it creeps.  I had my set done by duclos and was happy except that feature, which was beyond frustrating.  I'd suggest that if you go for R's, don't declick the iris unless you're doing a full rehousing.  Way too frustrating to have your stop slip mid-shot.   But the focus throw is quite smooth and relatively long for a still lens, so for a very reasonable price you're off to the races.


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#17 Petter Englund

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Posted 01 February 2017 - 02:30 PM

Thank you for the replies!

I figured I want something in-between a super-modern look and vintage.

 

Any comments on the Zeiss Compact Primes compared to the Leica R's?

From what I have understood, they both are at the modern end of the spectrum.


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#18 Jaron Berman

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Posted 03 February 2017 - 05:05 PM

Well obviously it's all subjective.  However, having owned the CP2's, leica R's, some speed panchros, etc etc....

 

I sold the CP2 because I found them to be too clean for my taste.  Now, that's not saying they're razor-sharp and clinical, simply that for the projects I was doing they felt too neutral.  Where there wasn't budget to rent the S4's, I wouldn't choose them over Rokinons from an optical perspective.

 

I think the CP2 are a huge step above using canon EF still glass from a mechanical perspective absolutely, and they have beautiful round iris at all stops which looks fantastic.  But wide-open (on the newer "super speed" versions) they fall apart in a way I don't find pleasing.  Many of the zeiss designs do this - the Sonnars in particular are like "two lenses in one" where wide-open they look very vintage and closed down to t4-5.6 they look very sharp and modern.  There are some standout lenses - the 21mm CP2 is gorgeous, and the 25mm is also decent.  But in the "normal" range 32-35, 50, 80-85 - I think you'll find more character elsewhere.  

 

At the time they came out, there was nothing that could compete with the CP2 - interchangeable mounts, great mechanics, uniform front diameters, affordable price, full-frame coverage - what's not to like!?  And they do look good, I was always happy with the image.  Now I think you just have so many other options that may be more interesting in one direction or another.  I think the rokinon xeen are great and have their own look.  The schneider stuff is gorgeous and again - has its own look.  And the leica r have a stunning way of rendering faces/skintones - I supplement my focal lengths with S4's when I need more range.  

 

For a time I owned both sets - cp2's and leicas as well as a funky old technovision-cooke zoom.  I found myself using either the leicas or the cooke and leaving the zeiss on the shelf for long enough that I sold the CP's because if I were going for a very clean, sharp look - I'd rent ultras.  Not that the leicas aren't sharp, they just have a way of knocki


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#19 Jaron Berman

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Posted 03 February 2017 - 05:22 PM

ng focus out less quickly than the zeiss.  To my eye (someone more scientific with lenses could explain better) - the zeiss render more of a flat-field than the leica, meaning that the subject looks more cutout when the background is soft.  I think that more than anything is the "modern" look - almost like a clean roto look.  If you've seen tests of the new 85mm lenses on the EF mount market like the Otus, Sigma, and Sony GM - you'll see that look.  Compared to a Leica R 80mm - it's very clear the difference, and I personally prefer the less abrupt transition on the Leica.  But to each his/her own - and shooting the CP2's wide-open may do enough softening to make you happy?


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