Zeiss CP.2 vs. ZF.2

Zeiss released their CP.2 (Compact Primes) cinema lenses about a year ago, not long after they dropped their original Compact Primes on the market. There has been a lot of debate about the value of the Compact Primes. With an influx of new primes with a range of price tags, there is no shortage of choices for the budding cinematographer or even the veteran looking to invest in some glass. At $3,900 a piece, or a set of five lenses just shy of $20k, the Compact Primes are some of the cheapest options out there for what I would consider professional cinema lenses. However, a lot of cinematographers are opting for the ultra budget conscious still photo lenses with Cine-Mods to bring them up to cinema spec. But what makes the Compact Primes so much more expensive than, say, a Zeiss ZF.2? After all, they are in fact the exact same glass but in a different housing, right? Sort of… There are quite a few features that really separate the two lenses no matter how similar their heritage is. The ZF.2s are Zeiss’ latest all manual still photo lenses. They just happen to make very pretty images when mounted to a motion picture camera as well as a still photo camera. The Compact Primes take it a step beyond pretty images and provide a professional set of features that can be very valuable to a cinematographer and his/her crew. I’ll start with the optics. Zeiss says that the CP.2 lenses use hand-picked elements that really increase the consistency and accuracy of the lenses. I can’t attest to this as I haven’t seen any difference in the glass or the test results produced by the Compact Primes, but it looks good on a brochure.

It may not be obvious, but these two 85mm primes are share the exact same optical design.

The next item is the aperture. The ZF.2 lenses use a fairly standard 9 bladed iris whereas the CP.2 lenses utilize a much more rounded 14 bladed iris. This isn’t just a numbers game. A rounder aperture makes for rounder bokeh, smoother background blur at wider apertures. This brings me to my next difference. The Compact Primes will provide a much smoother, creamier bokeh thanks to the 14 bladed aperture design but you won’t be able to pull off the crazy shallow depth of field shots because the CP.2 lenses are all limited to f/2 (T2.1) at most. For example, the 50mm ZF.2 tops out at f/1.4, a commendable aperture. The same lens, optically, is limited to f/2 (T2.1) on its CP.2 cousin. This means that you’ll have to work a little harder to get that nice creamy bokeh to really melt in the background. Onto round two, the housings. The CP.2 lenses wipe the floor with the ZF.2s in this category. …Almost. The Compact Primes all have a uniform, internal focus housing which means the is no telescoping of the barrel and the focus and iris gears are all the same distance from the mount. This is handy when swapping lenses during a shoot since you don’t have to think about repositioning your follow focus or motors. Speaking of gears, yeah, the Compact Primes come equipped with cine-standard 32-pitch gears where the ZF.2 lenses sport a knurled grip instead. This can be overcome fairly easily with the addition of a Cine-Mod focus gear but you’re still not going to gain an aperture gear even with the Cine-Mod on the ZF.2 lenses. The focus movement of both lens series is superb. Smooth, viscous, and accurate. But the Compact Primes take the movement a step farther, rotating almost 300°. The ZF.2s vary from lens to lens ranging from a manageable 90° to a pleasing 275° on some focal lengths. This isn’t a deal breaker considering some shooters these days have become accustomed to quicker, shorter focused pulls on still lenses but there is no denying the expanded focus throw of the Compact Primes is far more accurate. The focus scales on the CP.2 have far more marks that are spaced nicely and very easy to read with precise witness marks for each distance. The ZF.2 lenses use a traditional photo distance scale with a convenient depth-of-field range engraved right on the lens, but lack the quantity and accuracy of distance marks that the CP.2s feature. On a similar note, the focus rotation direction of the ZF.2 lenses is what most cinematographers would consider backwards. If you’re looking at the front element of the lens, rotation to infinity is counter-clockwise, whereas every cinema lens, as well as almost every lens manufacturer in the world, rotates clockwise towards infinity when looking at the front element. Again, not a huge deal breaker. There are plenty of follow focus units on the market with a flip-flop gear box that will allow you to reverse the direction of your follow focus, essentially “correcting” the focus rotation of a ZF.2. It should also be noted that Zeiss’ Canon Eos mount version of the ZF.2, the ZE, does not share the same backwards rotation of the ZF.2 since it is a native Canon mount lens. Moving on…

Size comparison between the CP.2 85mm and ZF.2 85mm with Cine-Mod.

I already covered some of the differences in the apertures of each lens, but another minor difference is the movement of each. The ZF.2s being the still photo lenses they are, use a spring loaded iris with clicks at every third stop increment. Again, easily overcome with a Cine-Mod, so not a deal breaker there either. The Compact Primes obviously come from the factory with a buttery smooth aperture movement, as a cinema lens should. Next up is the lens mount. One of the primary upgrades the CP.2 lenses received from the original Compact Primes is the interchangeable mount. Not exactly revolutionary, but a nice feature for an ever-changing camera market. The Compact Primes have the option of sporting a range of mounts including PL, Nikon F, Canon EF, Micro 4/3 and even Sony E mount. Not exactly hot swappable, but a convenient feature to say the least. The mount is swapped by removing a few screws from the mount, shimming, and replacing with the desired mount. I’d like to note that this should be done by a technician with test equipment to ensure flange focal distance is set properly. Why spring for precision calibrated cinema lenses if you’re not going to calibrate them properly anyway, right? The ZF.2 lenses come in a Nikon F mount only. Zeiss makes their ZE line which features a Canon EF mount, but lacks a manual aperture ring making them useless for motion picture. A quick side note, there is a very obvious naming difference for the ZE and ZF lenses Z=Zeiss, E=Canon EF, and F=Nikon F, simple. Anyway, back on track…

Zeiss’ press release photo of their Compact Prime, CP.2.

The last feature I’ll cover is the overall build of each lens. The Compact Primes, despite their name, aren’t so compact compared to the ZF.2 lenses. I’m sure the naming was an attempt to carry on their cinema lens series like the Ultra Primes, Digi Primes, and of course the Master Primes. An entire five lens set of the ZF.2 lenses can fit in one carry on case, whereas the Compact Primes are going to require a much larger, more protective flight case that will never make it past Bertha, the flight attendant. Believe me, I’ve tried. This can be a plus or minus depending on how you are looking at it. Sure the ZF.2 lenses are smaller, lighter, and overall more portable than the Compact Primes. But if you’re trying to impress some producers or some makeup artist babes on set, lets face it, the Compact Primes are going to do you justice every time. The ZF.2 housings vary from lens to lens just like their aperture. The 50mm f/1.4 ZF.2 is the smallest of the range, almost even pocketable with a mere 54mm diameter. Then you have lenses like the 35mm f/1.4 that are quite hefty and about 75mm in diameter. The Compact Primes vary in weight a little bit because of the different optical designs and quantity/size of glass elements but their diameter and length are all standardized except for the two close focus 50mm and 100mm lenses. So which lenses take the cake in the end? It’s hard to say. Each lens is more suitable for a range off needs. That’s the beauty of the option Zeiss has provided. If you want the nice cinematic look of the CP.2 lenses but don’t have deep enough pockets, you can still get the exact same glass in a cheaper housing in the form of ZF.2s. If you have the dough and the need for a more user friendly feature set, the Compact Primes are a great tool to have at your disposal as an owner-operator, at a relatively reasonable price. Either route is going to produce excellent results just as any Zeiss lens should. Personally, I prefer the Master Primes.

23 thoughts on “Zeiss CP.2 vs. ZF.2

  1. One more nice article with lots of facts. very well written. Looking forward to read more on zoom lens

  2. Cometes un grave error cuando supones que puedes equiparar un nº T/ a un nº F/. Los números T tienen en cuenta la tramitancia de luz a través de la lente. Tienen en cuenta la perdida de luz cuando se refracta a traves de las distintas lentes que tiene el objetivo. Los número F por el contraría son solo una estimación matemática de la cantidad de luz que atravesará el objetivo. Un objetivo que sea T/2.1 puede llegar a ser más luminoso en la práctica que un objetivo F/1.4. Por cierto anque los objetivos CP.2 y los ZF compartan esquema optico, no tiene porqué compartir la calidad del vidrio ótico, la calidad de las palas del diafrágma, que sea continuo o no como lo son los ZF, la perfecta escala de distancia de enfoque, el mayor recorrido de este aro… podría seguir justificando porque los CP.2 valen mucho más que los ZF pero solo me quedaré en que Zeiss gracias a dios es una de las empresas más comprometidas con la calidad, y nunca intentaría estafar ofertando 2 productos de igual calidad a distinto precio… Un saludo.

    1. It’s the same glass. The difference between f/stop and T stop is the same from lens to lens in this case. For example, the f/2.0 lenses are equal to a T2.1. The mechanically limited apertures are just that… A mechanical-physical limitation in that the aperture movement is being restricted to stop at a smaller aperture.

  3. Thank you for this article! Very helpful!
    One question remained for me though, lens breathing for CP2 vs ZF2, any difference?
    Thank you, Matt!

  4. Just the article i was looking for…think i am set on getting a few ZF.2s….Your advice , which lenses to get if i wanted to start with 4? i was thinking the ZF.2 18mm, 35mm, 50mm and the 85mm.. will that be the best set to cover the widest range?

      1. @Matthew Duclos, why 50mm f/2.0, and not f/1.4 ? Maybe f/2.0 has more advantages for motion picture?

  5. Thank you for this writeup. It is very helpful.

    I too would like to know if there is any difference between CP2 and ZF2 with regards to focus breathing. One would hope that the CP2 is better but to what degree?


  6. On the super speed set of ZFs on your site, how does the focus pull compare to the corresponding super speed cp2s? If you don’t mind listing which ZF’s pull further and are more like CP2’s, that would be great! If it breathes the same, both are fast, what are the real, if any down sides for getting duclos modded zf speed set vs a cp2 super speed set for three plus times the price? I got a Scarlet and have been borrowing my buddies non modded Nikkors but I want to get a set of my own glass and I am having trouble deciding between your super speed zfs and getting an old angie pl zoom and having it serviced… Basically trying to spend like 4,500 or less right now… Thanks, ps been reading your forum and posts on RU a lot, very helpful!

    1. The ZF.2 primes are the same glass used in the CP.2 primes. There would be very, very minor optical differences mostly due to the shape of the aperture blades, more rounded at all stops in the CP.2s. The true benefit to the CP.2s is the mechanical build quality and construction. The focus rotation is about 300 degrees in each prime whereas the ZF.2s have a much shorter rotation, as little as 90 degrees or less in some lenses. The overall rotation, depending on your setup, of the CP.2s can be a burden with such a long throw. All-in-all, both lenses offer very good performance and near identical image quality, but with completely different price tags.

  7. Great post! Love the CPs, they are my lense of choice for work on my C300. However I’m having trouble with something specific and maybe someone here can help me. I’m trying to replace my follow focus gear with one that fits the CPs. I see on all CP posts a “32 pitch” gear, but when i search for the part for my Cavision FF i only see references to “.6 or .8” pitches. Any hints as to what equates to what? thanks!

  8. Thanks for the article as always Matthew, really appreciate your professionalism, and I finally made up my mind as I’m going with the ZF.2 for various reasons including budget, have a few question regarding usability with the canon DSLR crop sensor.

    Is there any difference between the back focus (I’ve read your article about it Got the general idea) between the two as I know the ZF.2 would be equipped with a adaptor, or is it already properly shimmed (if that s the proper world for it)

    As for international shipping, would it be safe to assume that the glass will be in tip top condition as I know my country are a bit reckless when it comes to handling parcels even through internationally renown services.


    1. Just a little side note on this… The CP.2 and ZE use the exact same glass. So when someone shows a comparison of a ZE and a CP.2 and they don’t match – something is wrong.

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