2014, Year of the Servo Lenses

20140411-183725.jpgFujinon started a trend when they took their professional mid-range cinema zooms and slapped on a servo unit borrowed from their Broadcast Division. The result was the very successful 19-90mm Cabrio zoom, followed shortly by the 85-300mm Cabrio and just recently the 14-35mm Cabrio. During NAB 2014, or as I call it, Spring Christmas, Angenieux, Canon, and Zeiss all announced lenses with servo units in various practical applications. Credit where credit is due, Fujinon started it…

20140411-183725.jpgCanon’s intro includes their cleverly named Cine-Servo 17-120mm zoom. The lens is a bit more ENG than cinema, but with a 7x zoom range and a decent T2.9 max aperture (ramps to T3.9 at 120mm) it’s no slouch, but the broadcast standard 0.5 and 0.4 pitch gears on the zoom and iris pin this zoom as a ENG-centric option. The servo unit itself features all the usual broadcast bells and whistles such as 12-pin serial communication, 16-bit processor allowing pre-programmed zoom, focus, and iris position and speed. Oh and it’s available in Canon EF mount as well. Don’t even think about hanging it off of your 5D without proper support… A lot of great features rolled into one very nice zoom range with a rather attractive price.

20140411-184909.jpgAngenieux’s servo unit is just that – a servo unit. There’s no rocker for the zoom, no record button, no display screen, just a precise set of motors to control zoom, focus, and iris. Leave it to French to take something as boring as a servo unit and make it look sexy… The Angenieux Servo Unit (ASU) will interface with all of the lightweight Angenieux zooms including the 15-40mm, 28-76mm, 16-42mm, 30-80mm, 16-40mm, 30-76mm, and 45-120mm. The ASU is compatible with Cooke’s /i Technology, broadcast style handles and cinema style motors and controllers such as Heden and Preston. The Angenieux lightweight zooms are about the lightest most compact cinema zoom lenses available, with superb image quality to boot. This makes them excellent candidates for the ASU which will only add about 1.5 pounds.

20140412-091300.jpgZeiss displayed a prototype servo unit that will attach to any of their three CZ.2 zoom lenses – 15-30mm, 28-80mm, and 70-200mm. Each of the three CZ.2 zooms would require an individual mounting plate that would provide the interface for the universal servo unit. The servo unit will feature a zoom rocker and iris control and will have a quick release for speedy installation and removal once the mounting plate is installed. Zeiss says an optional focus motor will be available as well. Connectors for external controllers are also available. Overall, this unit appears to be a nice blend of cinema and ENG features, making the CZ.2 some of the most versatile zooms available.

Fujinon and their Cabrio lenses seem to have the CinENG blend down well. When the servo unit is detached, the Cabrio lenses appear and function just as well as any other mid-range cinema zoom. Fujinon announced a rather interesting new zoom at NAB – a 25-300mm. That’s a 12x zoom for those counting, with an optional servo unit. The other lenses in the Cabrio line-up, the 14-35mm, 19-90mm, and 85-300mm are all considered usable for run-and-gun shoulder mount work whereas the new 25-300mm will be slightly different considering it’s rather hefty at nearly 20 lbs. with the servo unit. The servo unit is intended more for remote applications or studio style work with external controllers.

So what do we gather from this motorized development? Is Fujinon the trend setter? Is this just another fad that will result in servo drive units being left on the shelf over the next few decades? Or is this the new direction for motion picture lenses being driven by motors for more precise, convenient operation? With Fujinon, Angenieux, Zeiss, and Canon all jumping in the ring, who will have the best solution for cinematographers looking to bridge the gap between cinema and broadcast style work? Stay tuned!

5 thoughts on “2014, Year of the Servo Lenses

  1. I guess, then, that any prior year could have been called, “The year of celebrity cinematographer/bloggers proclaiming that ‘professionals’ don’t use servo lenses!”

  2. Before the Fuji Cabrios, IB/E Optics had the HDx35 adapter to allow 2/3″ servo lenses to cover 35mm PL cameras. Before that there were adapters from Abekus, although they were pretty old school optics. I think these stop-gap adapters may have paved the way for Fuji and then the others by identifying a market need.

  3. Surprisingly it took this long. I grew up using servo zooms (ENG) and the thought of trying to manually zoom a cine lens makes me feel… nervous. It seems anytime you saw a movie you could easily spot the manual zoom. It always was the uncomfortable shot.

    Servo really is the way to go and I’m glad to see more options now!

Leave a Reply