Nice Try, Sony

Everyone is raving about the new breed of “large sensor” video cameras most popular of which is the Sony PMW-F3 and it’s super 35 size chip. Shortly after Sony dropped news of it’s new intermediate camera they announced the specs for a set of three budget lenses that could be paired with the camera. The set of three lenses retails for about $5,000 (I think) which makes each lens a little over $1,500. That’s cheap! That’s pretty much the same price as a still photography lens. I waited for Sony to release actual production lenses rather than request press models that could have been tweaked for optimal performance.

A camcorder lens?

I came across a couple sets after a few months and had a chance to bench test them optically and get an idea of the general feel of the lenses. The first thing that caught my attention was the size of the lenses. Each lens is a little over five inches in diameter so I figured it would weigh a decent amount, but I was wrong. They’re actually not very heavy at all. Probably because they’re PLASTIC! Every external piece of the lens other than the mount is made of plastic.

Here's an example of the plastic corrosion from acetone. I tested it on the inside of a housing ring by rubbing a cotton swap soaked in acetone. The external does have a clear coat that helps, but still... Plastic?!?

Okay fine, maybe it’s the new, cheaper, modern way to make lenses and pass the savings onto the consumer, I’m down. But then I took one apart for funsies and realized Sony didn’t put any effort into these lenses at all. While I was taking the lens apart I came across so many things that rubbed me the wrong way like the plastic all over the place, the screws didn’t line up with their holes and were stripped before I even touched them. Not a big deal, I’ll just use a bit of acetone to dissolve the glue around the head. Nope! The plastic housing is not chemical resistant and acetone will simply melt the plastic and bond the screw even more. That’s okay, I have other methods for removing stuck screws, like heating them up to melt the glue. No, again! A single hit from my torch would turn the plastic housing of the lens into a blob of resin.

Difficult to tell from the photo, but this screw is inserted and tightened at an angle and then covered in glue. No acetone or heating help here. I'm pretty sure the small ring next to the screw is where the hole was supposed to be drilled. Oops?

Granted most of these problems are from a service standpoint. There are certainly fewer user issues than service issues, like the lack of critical focus marks and witness marks on each distance instead of just a number. Obviously this makes pulling focus difficult (or easy depending on how much you care about accuracy). As a user, you had better keep these lenses out of the dust and don’t even think about shooting at the beach. The housings are highly susceptible  to contamination (dust, dirt) leaving the focus and iris rotation gritty and uneven. And that gets me back to the service woes… In order to clean and lube a lens like this, the cost would be a little over half the value of the lens. That’s just not reasonable. I’m sure if you sent this back to Sony for service, they would send you a whole new lens and chuck the old one, common practice for consumer product service. Stick to TV’s and camcorders, Sony. You do great work there.

UPDATE:

I didn’t really go over the optics at all in my original post. But now that I’ve had a chance, I bench tested the lenses and they did perform decently. The optics are certainly not bad by any means. I would compare them to Zeiss Super Speeds. There is little to no light falloff at the edges and resolution is even from corner to corner. Breathing is present but minimal. To compare the Sony primes to existing primes would be difficult. Optically, I would say they fall between Ultra Primes and Super Speeds. These lenses will certainly get the job done. I may have been a bit harsh before… Nah.

Published by

Matthew Duclos

A connoisseur of fine motion picture lenses, Matthew has spent over half his life servicing, refining, selling, manufacturing, and collecting cinema lenses from around the world. Chief Operating Officer of Duclos Lenses and Founder of TheCineLens.com, Matthew has been contributing to the motion picture industry for over 15 years, and to this site for over 5 years.

15 thoughts on “Nice Try, Sony”

  1. I work at a rental house called Tamberelli Digital in Manhattan. We purchased a set of these lenses a few weeks ago with one of our PMW-F3 cameras because they seemed like a good solution for clients who can’t afford to rent more expensive glass. It turns out, however, that these Happy Meal lenses only work on Sony cameras, despite their claim as “PL mount” lenses. The ears on the PL mount are larger than those on an Ultra Prime, and so they wouldn’t fit on our Canon 7D with FGV PL modification, our AF100 with Hot Rod adapter, or our Alexas. They slide right onto our F35 though.

    1. It’s possible, just not really worth it. Their image quality is good, but nothing special about them. I would think a nice set of Leica-R lenses would benefit more from a rehousing.

  2. Hi Matthew,

    So I’m wondering if, in the end, you would endorse buying the F3 w/ lens package or not, and if not, what might be a good alternative for getting the body, and at least a lens or two to start out shooting with. My total budget is about 25k (so Zeiss CP primes or the like are not really an option). Any thoughts or ideas you might have would be greatly appreciated.

    Thanks!

    – Josh

  3. Josh,

    I would not recommend the Sony lenses if you plan to shoot for a living. I would suggest the Zeiss ZF.2 lenses with a Nikon-F3 mount adapter. That would give yoga great image and robust, professional lenses at a third the price of the CP.2 lenses.

  4. Hi, I have a problem with the Sony 50mm, there is a play in the focus mechanic, with the lens facing down if I push the front element up the optics slightly moves, my question is: since I live in Italy and servicing to you is not economically doable (sorry for my bad English), I would really glad if you can help me about how to teardown the lens to access to the focus helicoid to try to fix the problem for myself, I removed a lot of screws and rings but now I’m stuck, I can send you a picture, please, help me, thanks a lot. Max.

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