Showdown: Rokinon Vs. Zeiss

If you frequent my website, you are surely familiar with the Zeiss ZF.2 line of lenses. They are considered the high end of DSLR lenses in terms of quality and price, unrivaled german engineering. But recently, a new crop of cheap-o lenses have made their way across the ocean and are really giving Zeiss a run for it’s money. Continue reading Showdown: Rokinon Vs. Zeiss

Voigtlander 25mm f/0.95 Nokton Teardown

Everyone lusts after the coveted speed lenses, wether it be an old set of Zeiss Super Speeds at T1.3, or the dreamy Leica 50mm f/0.95 Noctilux, we all have a fast lens of desire. The low light capability and the crazy shallow depth of field are the primary draw to such quick lenses, not to mention their inherent “measuring tape” bragging rights. Voigtlander recently released their 25m f/0.95 Nokton. A company usually affiliated with 35mm film cameras, Voigtlander is the first company to offer a native Micro 4/3″ lens without pairing it to a camera, a practice usually reserved for the “little three”: Sigma, Tamron, and Tokina. Bearing a price tag of about $1500 depending on where you get it since supply and demand plays a huge part in the price, it far cheaper than the Leica Noctilux with extra-hefty price tag of around $10,000. Voigtlander Really hit the nail on the head with this lens, at least for my line of work. I had been trying to get my hands on one since I first heard about it and had a few opportunities that didn’t pan out. But luckily, a client asked if I would be able to perform the Duclos Lenses Cine-Mod to his brand new Nokton. These lenses are in extremely short supply and very difficult to get a hold of, so I had no prior experience with this model specifically, I told him I would give it a go and see if it’s possible. The lens arrived a week later and I began the Cine-Mod process.

Voigtlander with Duclos Lenses Cine-Mod (seamless focus gear, 80mm front ring, smooth clickless aperture ring). Obviously this would be more functional on a Panasonic AF-100. But my test mule is a simple Olympus E-PL1
Aluminum and brass helical assembly. Professional build quality.
Almost entirely disassembled. No plastic components to be found here.

For the most part the lens is a perfect candidate for the modification. It has all manual control, solid aluminum housing, common filter thread, good surface for mounting a gear, but something stood out to me right away. Usually the iris control is at the rear of the lens and is fairly easy to access for the de-clicking portion of the Cine-Mod. Not on the Voigtlander… It’s toward the front of the lens meaning I would either have to disrupt the optics by removing a few front components or disassemble the entire lens to get to the click mechanism in the iris. Either way, a good opportunity to determine the build quality and materials used in the 25mm f/0.95. I proceeded to do what I do best. A few components into the lens and I could immediately tell that this lens was designed and built with professionals in mind.  All of the internal and external components are billet aluminum, except for the focus helical which is machined from brass. Very common in manual focus lenses including professional cinema lenses. Everything is lubricated with nice, viscous grease and tolerances are held fairly tight. The mechanical design isn’t anything special, but it doesn’t need to be. Focus is smooth and consistent as is the aperture, after de-clicking. The focus marks are accurate and flange depth from the factory was very close, a little bit long, letting the lens focus a tad past infinity at the end if travel.

Ten bladed iris for bubbly beautiful bokeh. Could be better, but still... nice choice.

As for optical quality, the lens performs well but not great. Obviously with such a large aperture, details begin to fade after f/2. Chromatic aberration is minimal but still present at most f-stops. With eleven elements in eight groups, the optical design is nothing revolutionary.The shallow depth of field makes focusing pretty difficult unless you are an experienced focus puller. The rotation of the focus ring is approximately 300° with clean, solid stops at both ends of travel. The low light capability of this lens makes up for it’s slightly less than perfect image quality. I would rather have a tiny bit of color fringing and soft details than have to bump the ISO up to 3200 just to get a shot. I wanted to compare the Voigtlander to a similarly fast Zeiss 50mm f/1.4 ZF.2 but I didn’t have one handy at the time I shot the test photos. However, I did have my Panasonic Lumix 20mm f/1.7. This little pancake powerhouse is my go to street lens when I shoot on my Olympus E-PL1 for funsies. I’ve always been pleased with the results I got from my Lumix 20mm, but I would never consider it for motion picture use as its far too small for any real world setup, the focus and aperture are entirely electronic, controlled by the camera, and it’s all plastic… So how does the rare Voigtlander stack up against the Lumix, optically? See for yourself.

Not much difference in resolution from a distance, we’ll get to that in a minute. The first thing I notice is the barrel distortion from the Voigtlander. However, the Lumix photo is cropped a bit so that it matches the Voigtlander. But even then, the full image from the Lumix exhibits almost no distortion. Now we get down to the resolution in some large crops below.

Based on these cropped samples, the Lumix is a clear winner in terms of resolution. These images were cropped from the center of the test chart. The Lumix used it’s snappy auto focus to lock onto the test chart, but for the Voigtlander, I used the 10x focus assist on my E-PL1 to rack focus as accurate as I possibly could, so there isn’t any user error in focus accuracy. I would consider it a complete victory for the Lumix image quality since the Voigtlander was shot at f/1.7 to match the Lumix’s max aperture, had I opened the Voigtlander all the way to f/0.95 then the resolution would suffer even more. Both lenses perform very well up to this point and these charts are really nitpicking the details, but hey… That’s what I do. Now onto some of the pretty stuff. The comparison photos are just that, shot wide open on each lens simply to demonstrate the different characteristics of each lens.

Voigtlander 25mm at f/0.95. A bit soft and difficult to focus without using the focus assist (digital zoom). The bokeh is very nice and flares from direct sunlight are present but controlled and artistic.
Lumix 20mm @ f/1.7. Obviously sharper with a deeper depth of field. The auto focus nailed it without hesitation. The contrast seems a bit higher except in the disgusting sun flare fading the entire bottom left corner. Ew...
Voigtlander 25mm f/0.95 wide open bokeh demo.
Lumix f/1.7 wide open bokeh demo.

So yes… The Lumix provides sharper, more accurate images, but the Nokton renders beautiful, soft and dreamy images. the two really can’t be compared when it comes to motion picture application. The Lumix is pocket sized and lightweight but lacks the manual controls and superior build quality of the Nokton. If you’re looking for a go to low-light lens for your Micro 4/3″ video camera, the Voigtlander Nokton is an excellent choice for under $2000 (if you can find it).

More F3 Lens Options

I wrote a quick review about a month ago giving some good choices (and bad) for the Sony F3 when it comes to PL mount lensing. After the dust has settled and I’ve had some more time to try all of the options first hand, I’ve come up with some good ideas for the cinematographer on a budget as well as the pro looking to go Sony. I had heard of people using a Nikon to F3 adapter that basically replaces the PL mount but I hadn’t seen one in person until I went to NAB this past week and saw it for myself. The product comes from a company called MTF Services and allows the user to attach native Nikon mount lenses to the F3.

MTF Services Nikon to F3 adapter. Available from Abel Cine Tech (I think).

This opens up an entire world of high quality optics to use on the F3. Nikon announced they have sold over sixty million (60,000,000) as of April, 2011. That’s insane! But I believe it. This means that the old manual lenses I love so much for cinema can now be used natively. Even the newer Nikon “G” lenses can be used. You know, the plastic lenses without an aperture ring on them… Yeah. Nikon is going the way of “gelded” lenses which eliminate the manual aperture control ring. Their entire line of new pro zoom lenses including the 14-24mm, 24-70mm, and 70-200mm, are all G lenses and lack that manual control. Nikon did leave the little lever that the camera slaps to close the aperture down in the lens which the MTF mount utilizes to control even the newest crop of G lenses that lack the manual control. Accomplished by adjusting the blue ring on the outside of the mount adapter, full manual control is enabled on all Nikon lenses. The G lenses obviously wont have an aperture scale or any indication of what f-stop you are using, but it is a compromise after all. If you want to step it up a notch try using the Zeiss ZF.2 primes with an F3. What a dream team! the only thing these lenses lack for motion picture use is the features of their big brothers, the CP.2. The ZF.2 share the exact same glass as the CP.2 but lack the focus gear, smooth aperture movement, and uniform front diameter. This is all overcome with the Duclos Lenses Cine-Mod that adds a seamless focus gear, 80mm front ring, and a creamy smooth aperture movement. Obviously this option is a little self serving for me since Duclos Lenses provides the Cine-Mod and the lenses but I sell them because I like them. I don’t like them because I sell them.

Duclos Cine-Mod Zeiss ZF.2 lenses.

I haven’t seen a Canon Eos mount for the F3 yet but I suspect it’s not too far off since everyone already converted their Nikon mount lenses to Eos to use of their 5/7D. I’m looking forward to more mount options on the F3. I think it’s a great platform that allows the user a good compromise between indie DSLRs and a RED camera. Obviously there isn’t one camera that does it all and the same can be said for the lenses. This can be said for just about any manual Nikon mount still lens and the F3. There are also a few more lenses that were announced at NAB that would work well like the lightweight Angenieux zooms. I think most people would prefer to keep a F3 rig fairly light and avoid attaching gnarly heavy glass like the RED Primes and Master Primes. While I’m sure the final product would benefit from the beauty of Master Primes but if you’re shooting with Master Primes and an F3 it’s probably because you blew 90% of the budget on the lenses and didn’t have another choice. There are many more options when it comes to still lenses on the F3. While there may not be adapters to attach lenses like the Leica R series, you can always convert Leica R lenses to Nikon mount and still use the MTF mount. Be careful though, too many adaptations and you’ll start to introduce unwanted mechanical slop. Keep an eye on added components and calibrate often. Also, make sure you read up on which lenses work well before you invest a fortune on rare lenses from Ebay.

My advice is to try as much as you can. Don’t believe all the screen grabs you see online. Go out and try new lenses for yourself. Find a shop that will let you play with the lenses and shoot your own tests. You be the judge.

Nice Try, Sony

Everyone is raving about the new breed of “large sensor” video cameras most popular of which is the Sony PMW-F3 and it’s super 35 size chip. Shortly after Sony dropped news of it’s new intermediate camera they announced the specs for a set of three budget lenses that could be paired with the camera. The set of three lenses retails for about $5,000 (I think) which makes each lens a little over $1,500. That’s cheap! That’s pretty much the same price as a still photography lens. I waited for Sony to release actual production lenses rather than request press models that could have been tweaked for optimal performance.

A camcorder lens?

I came across a couple sets after a few months and had a chance to bench test them optically and get an idea of the general feel of the lenses. The first thing that caught my attention was the size of the lenses. Each lens is a little over five inches in diameter so I figured it would weigh a decent amount, but I was wrong. They’re actually not very heavy at all. Probably because they’re PLASTIC! Every external piece of the lens other than the mount is made of plastic.

Here's an example of the plastic corrosion from acetone. I tested it on the inside of a housing ring by rubbing a cotton swap soaked in acetone. The external does have a clear coat that helps, but still... Plastic?!?

Okay fine, maybe it’s the new, cheaper, modern way to make lenses and pass the savings onto the consumer, I’m down. But then I took one apart for funsies and realized Sony didn’t put any effort into these lenses at all. While I was taking the lens apart I came across so many things that rubbed me the wrong way like the plastic all over the place, the screws didn’t line up with their holes and were stripped before I even touched them. Not a big deal, I’ll just use a bit of acetone to dissolve the glue around the head. Nope! The plastic housing is not chemical resistant and acetone will simply melt the plastic and bond the screw even more. That’s okay, I have other methods for removing stuck screws, like heating them up to melt the glue. No, again! A single hit from my torch would turn the plastic housing of the lens into a blob of resin.

Difficult to tell from the photo, but this screw is inserted and tightened at an angle and then covered in glue. No acetone or heating help here. I'm pretty sure the small ring next to the screw is where the hole was supposed to be drilled. Oops?

Granted most of these problems are from a service standpoint. There are certainly fewer user issues than service issues, like the lack of critical focus marks and witness marks on each distance instead of just a number. Obviously this makes pulling focus difficult (or easy depending on how much you care about accuracy). As a user, you had better keep these lenses out of the dust and don’t even think about shooting at the beach. The housings are highly susceptible  to contamination (dust, dirt) leaving the focus and iris rotation gritty and uneven. And that gets me back to the service woes… In order to clean and lube a lens like this, the cost would be a little over half the value of the lens. That’s just not reasonable. I’m sure if you sent this back to Sony for service, they would send you a whole new lens and chuck the old one, common practice for consumer product service. Stick to TV’s and camcorders, Sony. You do great work there.

UPDATE:

I didn’t really go over the optics at all in my original post. But now that I’ve had a chance, I bench tested the lenses and they did perform decently. The optics are certainly not bad by any means. I would compare them to Zeiss Super Speeds. There is little to no light falloff at the edges and resolution is even from corner to corner. Breathing is present but minimal. To compare the Sony primes to existing primes would be difficult. Optically, I would say they fall between Ultra Primes and Super Speeds. These lenses will certainly get the job done. I may have been a bit harsh before… Nah.

Red Pro Primes: Between the Lines

This project started at the Red User Party in 2010 when Mark Pederson from Off Hollywood and Ketch Rossi in all of his eccentric, awesome style. Ketch approached me about adding marks to his Red Pro Primes noting that there were a few key marks that were left out. I’m not sure why certain marks were included or excluded, but the focus scale is a non linear helix design. This means that the spacing of the focus distance marks is restricted to the mechanical travel of the helix threads. Duclos Lenses had modified focus scale in the past. Even going to the extent of fabricating and engraving an entirely new scale from scratch in some cases. But the RPP really only required a few added marks. I thought it would be nice to go over the process of adding marks so that you can see what exactly is being done

Making temporary marks in pencil for the engraver to reference.

Continue reading Red Pro Primes: Between the Lines

Tokina’s 16-28mm Prospect

We have been considering several lenses for our next conversion process after the 70-200mm is complete. We started with the Tokina 11-16mm that did very well and thought it would be nice to stick with Tokina. However, Tokina didn’t have any other lenses that met our criteria. Certain specifications had to be met, such as constant, fast aperture, lightweight, internal focus and zoom, optical quality, and a somewhat decent platform to start with mechanically. When I heard about Tokina making a new 16-28mm f/2.8 lens I thought it would be a bit of a short range but still fit well. Then I saw the first photos of the lens and got really excited since it looked almost identical to the 11-16mm. In my head this meant that we could save a ton of time and money on research and development for the conversion parts and simply use the existing parts from our 11-16mm conversion. One step further, Tokina was planning to make this new lens a full frame “Pro” lens, perfect for the 5D. Continue reading Tokina’s 16-28mm Prospect

Zeiss CP.2 Arrives, Worth The Wait?

Yes. Worth the wait. I finally have my hands on my very own set of Zeiss CP.2 lenses. I know the lenses have been reviewed countless times but here is my quick run down on what exactly the Zeiss CPs are: CP stands for Compact Prime. The “.2” is Zeiss’ way of distinguishing from the first generation of Compact Primes which I will get to in a minute. The “Compact” Primes are indeed compact compared to modern cine lenses such as Zeiss Master Primes, Cooke 5i and the Red Pro Primes but a tad girthy compared to a Leica R series lens. The CP.2 lenses started their life as Zeiss ZF/ZE still photo lenses which are derived from Zeiss Contax lens designs. Regardless, the Zeiss ZF lenses are top shelf 35mm SLR lenses and are my first choice for budget motion picture shooting.

35mm CP.2 on a 5D MkII with follow focus and 15mm rods. Everything fits perfectly.

Continue reading Zeiss CP.2 Arrives, Worth The Wait?

Duclos 11-16mm Plays Nice With Sony F3

The infinitely knowledgeable Jason Wingrove sent me a snap shot of a Duclos Lenses 11-16mm on a brand new Sony F3 camera. If you haven’t heard of Jason Wingrove or a Sony F3, you need to spend some more time on the interwebs because they are both a staple in the motion picture industry. Jason was able to shoot with one of three Sony F3 cameras in the world at the time. He notes that the camera is very light which makes lens selection in regards to weight critical. Looks like the Sony F3 and the 11-16mm are a match made in heaven. By the way.. If you haven’t listened to Jason’s Red Centre Podcast along with Mike Seymour you’re missing out. Thanks to  Nathan Rodger for snapping the photos on location. Now if I can just get my hands on one of them Japanese moving picture things…

Photos by Nathan Rodger http://www.nathanrodger.com

Continue reading Duclos 11-16mm Plays Nice With Sony F3

Hands On Tokina’s New 16-28mm f/2.8 Pro Zoom

I first heard about this lens several months ago from NikonRumors.com which has been fairly reliable for early news unless I hear it from a manufacturer like I usually do with Zeiss. I don’t have a very deep relationship with Tokina so I had to wait like everyone else to confirm this new zoom. The focal length intrigued me since it picked up right where the 11-16mm left off. As many of you know, I love the 11-16mm. It’s not the end-all-be-all of wide zooms, but the price for performance ratio is simply unbeatable. With the next lens in the lineup Tokina made a few improvements, but not without sacrifice. The 16-28mm is now an FX format lens which means that it covers a 35mm full frame sensor. Excellent for me and my Nikon D700, but even more important, it would work well with a Canon 5D mkII or the upcoming RED FF35 sensor.

side view of the new miniature pro zoom from Tokina. 16-28mm f/2.8 FX.

Continue reading Hands On Tokina’s New 16-28mm f/2.8 Pro Zoom

Duclos 70-200mm Conversion in the Wild

I kidnapped the 70-200mm cine conversion lens from the office along with a 5DII and went about shooting random stuff throughout the evening. There isn’t really a story or subject, just arbitrary shots. The lens worked like a dream! Focus pulling was very precise and easy with the new focus barrel. The bokeh from this lens is just phenomenal. It’s a tad heavy with a baseplate, follow focus, mattebox, stainless steel rods, and a camera hanging off the back. But when I removed everything and just used the camera and lens, it was no different than a day of shooting stills with a Nikkor 70-200mm. Having the manual aperture ring wasn’t really a necessity for this type of shooting since light wasn’t changing drastically while rolling, but it made stopping down much, much easier than fiddling with more dials on the camera. I’m very happy with it so far. The only problem I’ve found is that with a tele-zoom you really have to have a stable tripod to avoid camera shake. Let me know what you think.

(p.s. I’m not a DP, I don’t claim to be… I’m a technical guy.)

Cine Zoom Comparo: France vs. England

The Cooke 20-100mm is a workhorse of a zoom lens. It’s solid build quality combined with classic “Cooke Look” glass make it a very desirable lens in the current HD market. The other option is to drop a pretty penny on a stellar new Angenieux 24-290mm. The current champion of motion picture zoom lenses. These two cinema zoom lenses are decades apart and even farther apart in cost. An average Cooke 20-100mm costs a mere $7,000 compared to the going rate for a new Angenieux 24-290mm at around $63,000. A little background on these still samples. These were shot with a 35mm full frame 5D which means the vignetting is severe and expected. The settings were the same for each lens, 100mm at T4, ISO 100, 5100K color temp etc. Here are the samples.

Continue reading Cine Zoom Comparo: France vs. England

Fotodiox Nikon G – Canon Eos mount adaptor.

I recently gave a thumbs up to the Fotodiox Nikon – Eos adaptor as I found it to be the best combination of quality and price available. This mount allowed a lot of great Nikon glass to be used with Canon cameras with the exception of Nikons latest and greatest “G” series lenses. The G series lenses are Nikons latest effort to reduce the cost and complexity of their line up by stripping the lenses of their manual aperture control. The aperture is controlled by a small mechanical lever in the rear of the lens that interfaces with a similar small lever in a Nikon camera. Without the need for large, calibrated apart rings and fancy mechanisms for transfer a rotation, the cost to the consumer is (theoretically) lowered. Well thats great and all, but this left Nikon’s latest and greatest lenses, such as the 14-24, 24-70, and 70-200mm, at a loss since they required a Nikon camera body to operate the silly little aperture lever in the back of the lens.but now there are several work arounds for this. One of which is the new Fotodiox Nikon G – Eos mount adaptor. Basically the same construction as the current Nik-Eos adaptor, nut with a very small lever that interfaces with the lens as the camera would, but allows the operator to adjust the aperture. While this is a rather crude solution to a problem. While the lever only has travel of about 15mm, and there is no indication of F-stop, it works well enough. I found it rather difficult to obtain an accurate setting and repeat that setting. With a little bit of clever personal modification, it shouldn’t be difficult at all. So… If you have a great Nikon G lens that you love shooting with but want to use it on a 5D or 7D, then this is the mount you are looking for.

More photos after the jump > Continue reading Fotodiox Nikon G – Canon Eos mount adaptor.