Schneider-Kreuznach has a broad history in the world of optics. They’ve produced many sets of motion picture lenses as well as a plethora of photographic lenses for just about every format imaginable. A few NABs ago they announced that they were introducing a new line of motion picture lenses, the Cine-Xenars. I was particularly excited because they had long since absorbed Century Precision Optics back in 2000 and I had been expecting great things from both companies with the impending motion picture revolution. …And then I saw the prototype lenses.
I was discouraged by the results that Schneider produced in their original Cine-Xenar lenses back in 2009. The original Cine-Xenar primes were a helix based focus mechanism which resulted in telescoping barrels – a nuisance to say the least. In addition to the odd telescoping focus, the aperture was at the front of the lens which means every gear on the lens moved forward and back while focusing – A curious design decision. Less than a year later Schneider announced their Cine-Xenar II which still failed to correct the major issues. As they say, third time is a charm… The Cine-Xenar III lenses followed not too long after and this time I was excited to get my hands on them. Pretty much everything was corrected including the addition of the 18mm. All of the materials used are high quality billet aluminum for the barrels and stainless steel for the PL mount. The lenses are also available in Canon EF mount. So Schneider took a step back and made a proper set of cinema primes. Onto the technical features of the lenses. The standard six-lens set as of today includes an 18mm, 25mm, 35mm, 50mm, 75mm, and 95mm. A complete set of primes. Something a few manufacturers don’t understand, even today… At the time of this test session, I didn’t have time to shoot test images, mostly due to weather, but fear not! I’ll be linking test images and screen grabs from the full set very soon. All of these test were done in projection and with an auto-collimator for image quality and accuracy evaluation.
One spec to note is their maximum aperture. The 18mm and 25mm are capped at a T2.2. The 35mm is unnoticeably protracted to a T2.1, and the rest of the set, 50mm, 75mm, and 95mm are a respectable T2.0. As is the case with most lenses these days, speed isn’t everything. It’s more of a style choice than a technical requirement with the vast improvements in sensor capability and noise performance these days. The difference from the minimum T2.2, to T2.0 isn’t much of a difference when compared to other lens sets. Still, even at T2.1 on the 50mm using a 35mm sensor, your depth of field at 10′ is a mere 12″. Even at T2.1, your bokeh is going to be very nice.
The Cine-Xenar III cover a Super35 format sensor, plenty of coverage even for an Epic frame. Schneider claims coverage of 31.5mm but I tested even the widest lens, the 18mm, and found at least 32.5mm of coverage, and more in the longer focal lengths. The Cine-Xenar III produce a predictable if not pleasing illumination fall-off in the wider lenses and uniform illumination in the longer lenses. Schneider does offer a Canon EF mount that will work great with cameras like the Canon 7D, Blackmagic, and even a Red with Canon EF mount. However, the Cine-Xenar III primes won’t cover sensors larger than Epic-X, 5K (for you RedUsers).
The resolution is exactly what I expected, it’s more than adequate. For all six lenses, 200 lp/mm was measured in the center with falloff to about 100 lp/mm at the edge of the Super35 frame. Certainly no Master Prime, but more than enough for a professional production environment. I would compare the overall resolving power to lenses such as the Zeiss Ultra Primes, but at a fraction of the cost. This was Schneider’s goal when designing the Cine-Xenars, a balance of performance and price.
When testing wide-open there was some minor flaring (not light flares like you see when shooting, but a ghosting flare that is measured on a test projector) which effected the overall contrast representation at wide open but nothing that would detract from a real-world picture. Once stopped down by one stop, the contrast and resolution team up to provide a very nice, accurate image with little to no noticeable flaws.
None. Just as a cinema lens should be.
Other Optical Details
One of the strong points of the Cine-Xenars is their ability to control flares from light sources and chromatic aberrations. While chromatic aberrations are still present, they are controlled and not unusable. The out-of-focus character of these lenses is very pleasing thanks in most part to the 18 bladed aperture in every lens. I’ll have examples including screen grabs and sample images in the near future that I’ll link back to this review. The axial alignment from the factory was spot on throughout the set which is critical if you’re shooting 3D. The distortion is minor in the wider lenses, but nothing more than I would expect. Once you get to the 50mm and beyond, the distortion is very well controlled. As I mentioned before, there is virtually no breathing throughout the entire set. Close focus is impressive at a mere 11″ from the film plane on the 18mm and 25mm, progressing up to 26″ at the telephoto end of the set. 11″ from the film plane with a 7″ lens puts your focus point about 2″ away from the front of the lens.
Possibly one of the best features of the third revision of the Cine-Xenars, the mechanics are just as reliable as they are accurate. The focus is cam driven similar to Cooke 5i primes which is an improvement over the original Cine-Xenars, allowing for constant volume and accurate, repeatable focus marks with a smooth consistent rotation. Every lens has 270° of rotation. Speaking of focus marks, theres no shortage here. Each lens has about 25 individual focus marks with clear, concise distance marks accommodated by individual lines for each distance on both the smart side and dumb side of the lens. The witness marks are located at eye level on an angled section of the barrel making them easily viewable from just about any position. The Cine-Xenar III primes all have identical dimensions including height, diameter, and the position of the focus and iris gear. This make swapping lenses a breeze on set. The fronts are all 104mm diameter with 100 x 0.75 filter threads which Schneider also offers. There are a pair of screws on the underside of each lens which I assume is for a support foot as the lenses are a bit heavier than your average Canon L lens. The scales come in either metric or imperial flavors and are swappable thereafter – a feature that most people don’t think about until they need it.
The Schneider Cine-Xenar III primes are an excellent set of professional motion picture primes. It may have taken them a few tries to get it right but when Schneider gets it right, they really get it right. I can go on and on about how proper these lenses are for motion picture work. They’re traditional. They’re accurate. They’re simply good at what they do. Most people thrive on comparison tests. I only had a few days with the lenses which, again, is why I don’t have many image samples or frame grabs yet. I considered comparing these to the Zeiss Compact Primes or even the Canon Cinema Eos Primes, but it simply wouldn’t be a fair comparison. The Zeiss CP.2 are designed for 35mm Full Frame sensors which will produce a much larger image circle and the maximum aperture of the CP.2 is all over the place. Granted, the Cine-Xenars aren’t perfectly consistent across the board, the CP.2 range from a T1.5 all the way to a T3.5. The Canon Cinema Eos primes only have three focal lengths at the time of this test and they’re only available in a Canon EF mount, not PL. The closest lenses I would compare the Schneider Cine-Xenar III primes to would be Zeiss Ultra Primes or Cooke S4. They have very similar build quality, size, weight, and image quality. The Cine-Xenar III primes are a bit slower than Zeiss Ultra Primes, but at a fraction of the price, a fair trade to say the least. Add the Cine-Xenars to your wish-list as they’re sure to become classics.
Lastly, by request, pricing and availability.