Do Your Speeds Need to be Super?

I’ve touched on Zeiss’ success over the past decade, all based on their old Zeiss ZF and ZE line of lenses. The ZF lenses started to become extremely popular with the VDSLR revolution and low point of entry into the world of motion picture acquisition. The ZF lenses were updated and replaced with the ZF.2 line which made using them on modern Nikon cameras easier and more feature rich. Zeiss proceeded to take those same internals and implant them into bigger better housings in the form of Compact Primes, their first new cinema lens in quite a while. The compact primes were good but they had a few problems. The speed from one lens to another was inconsistent and the mounts were fixed. Zeiss addressed both of these issues by limiting the entire range to T2.1 with the exception of the already slower 18mm, 21, and 25mm and introducing their interchangeable mount system. This pleased most users that wanted a versatile set with consistent aperture throughout the set. But where did those faster primes go?

Queue the CP.2 Super Speeds. Not to be confused with the work horse, legendary Zeiss T1.3 primes commonly referred to as “Super Speeds”. Zeiss never officially deemed their professional cine lenses of the 80’s and 90’s any specific names like they started doing with the Ultra Primes. The industry just sort of decided to call the Super Speeds to differentiate them from the older T2.1 primes. Back to present time with the Compact Primes… There were a few focal lengths in the ZF family that were an impressive f/1.4 maximum aperture. When Zeiss released the CP.2 lenses, those focal lengths were limited to a maximum aperture of T2.1. The Super Speeds unleashed the maximum potential of those couple lenses and added one new design allowing a maximum aperture of T1.5. The lucky focal lengths make up a small set of three lenses including the 35mm, 50mm, and 85mm. Not what most would consider a complete set of lenses, but it’s a decent spread of focal lengths especially if you’re shooting 35mm full frame instead of Super 35mm.

Other than the engraving and extra silver ring on the aperture, the 50mm T2.1 and T1.5 are physically identical.

The primary question everyone is asking is “are they really worth the extra cash”? I suppose the answer really depends on your needs as a cinematographer. The regular CP.2 lenses are about $3,900 per lens except for the special lenses such as the Macros and the 15mm. The new, faster Super Speeds are $4,900 for the 35mm and $4,500 for the 50mm and 85mm. Not a huge jump in price… Zeiss claims that chromatic aberrations are reduced in the Super Speeds over the regular CP.2 lenses which may very well be true but not enough to make any practical difference. The only lens that isn’t based on a previously aperture limited CP.2 is the 35mm which was originally based on the ZF.2 35mm f/2.0 lens whereas the CP.2 Super Speed is based on the much newer and more impressive ZF.2 35mm f/1.4. The obvious and primary benefit to getting the Super Speeds over the CP.2 lenses is their speed. That T1.5 is very attractive to some cinematographers. I wouldn’t consider them a smart upgrade if you’re simply looking for low-light capability since cameras these days are getting better at handling low-light much quicker than lenses are. The extra speed, to me, is an artistic preference giving you a much shallower depth of field over the standard T2.1 of the CP.2.

A simple difference in exposure. Same shutter speed, different aperture.
This example shows the softness introduced by a wide open aperture. As is the case with most lenses, image quality is sacrificed to obtain shallower depth of field and low light performance. Heavily cropped to show details. Shutter speed adjusted to compensate proper exposure.

Usually stopping down the aperture will produce oddly shaped bokeh due to the blades in the iris. The CP.2 lenses use a very nice round iris assemblies that eliminate weird shapes no matter what stop you’re at. Apart from the faster aperture all of the other specs pretty much stay the same with the exception of the previously mentioned 35mm difference. The coverage is still 35mm full frame (24mmx36mm) so you don’t have to worry about covering larger sensors such as the 5D MkIII or future oddball Red sensor sizes. The housings are still all uniform for the Super Speeds which is the same as the other “normal” CP.2. The mounts are still swappable between Nikon F, Canon EF, PL, and Micro 4/3. The only other cosmetic difference is the words “Super Speed” laser etched on the witness ring and a small silver band just in front of the iris gear. So if you want that extra bit of bragging right with a T1.5 aperture and a few extra laser etchings, then the CP.2 Super Speeds may be the right choice for you. Another way to look at it is if the few extra bucks isn’t a big deal, then you can always stop the Super Speeds down to T2.1 and achieve the same results as with the standard CP.2. It’s just like buying a car. You can get the standard base model but if you go with the performance package, the power is there when you want it. It’s all about which options work best for you in the budget you’re working with.

One thought on “Do Your Speeds Need to be Super?

  1. I’ve been hearing that the 50mm Super Speed is based on a regular f1.4 50mm ZF/ZE lens. Some say that it’s one of the worst lenses in the lineup. What would be interesting is to see these Super Speeds head to head with regular CP2s and especially the 50mm Super Speed compared to 50mm Macro CP2, which is considered one of the best lenses in a lineup by quite a few.

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