Back in December of 2009 Band Pro unveiled their “Mystery Primes”. At the time Band Pro held the event at their Burbank facility, they hadn’t secured all of the legal mumbo-jumbo to use the name of a prominent, exotic German lens manufacturer. The fact that Iain Neil, a legendary optical designer, was standing next to the lenses during the unveiling, left little doubt as to who the manufacturer was. A few months later, Band Pro admitted that the lenses were in fact designed and built by none other than Leica. One of the most respected and sought after names in photographic optics, Leica stamped their badge on an impressive line-up of high-speed primes and set a delivery date for cinematographers to look forward to. That date came and went, Band Pro announced that Otto Nemenz International was already slated to receive the first 25 sets of lenses, and the rest of the industry was left to wait for a new delivery date. The lenses have finally started shipping and now I get to put them through their paces.
The set of lenses I had was still pre-production so I didn’t critique some of the rudimentary flaws too strongly. These lenses are my idea of absolute, purpose-built cinema prime lenses. Everything about them is just as a true cinema lens should be. They are very well built with high quality materials. They have a consistently fast aperture throughout the entire range of lenses available. They aren’t bloated and uselessly large. The set that I had for testing was comprised of an 18mm, 21mm, 25mm, 35mm, 50mm, 75mm, and a 100mm, all with a commendable aperture of T1.4. The resolution was nothing phenomenal, that’s not to say it wasn’t good, it just didn’t blow my mind. What really caught my attention was the contrast. I put the lenses on a test projector and the black levels produced were very impressive. Whats more is this contrast and resolution was held throughout the entire practical frame. The sharpness in the corner of the frame was only slightly less than that of the center, still resolving beyond 20 lp/mm. The field illumination was very impressive. I didn’t get a chance to test the actual illumination coverage, but from what I saw on the projector, there was very little if any light falloff. I also didn’t do any practical field testing since I don’t think it would do these lenses justice. These are cinema primes meant for a cinematic environment. Taking them out to the park down the street from me and shooting some trees simply wouldn’t do them justice.
There were a few flaws in a couple of the lenses, but I’m sure these will be corrected by the time these bad boys land in the hands of end users. Anyone looking for a set of professional, fast, prime lenses should consider the Leica Summilux-C series an excellent option. Everyone likes comparisons so I feel obligated to give everyone an idea of how the Leicas stack up against other pro cine lenses. I would say, technically, optically, and mechanically, they beat the pants off of just about any other set of primes out there. …Except for the Zeiss Master Primes.