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.
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.
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.
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.
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.