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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Sony is just starting to roll out their anticipated F3 camera. A Super 35 sized sensor in a mall, lightweight package. I try to stick to knowing a lot about lenses so you can hear more about the camera from Jason Wingrove’s real world take. But I will tell you all about your lens options when shooting with an F3. I’ll start with the most logical…
The camera comes with a PL mount. PL mount is the standard mount used by just about every non-panavision camera in the motion picture industry. This means that you have a slew of premium cinema lenses at your disposal and that’s how it should be. However, if you are on a budget and can’t afford an Angenieux 24-290mm Optimo then there are a few other options available. I know there are quite a few people making the jump to an F3 from a DSLR like a 5D MkII or a 7D and probably have some Nikon lenses or Leica lenses that you adapted to use on your Canon. Those are still great lenses and will perform just fine on an F3. Of course this is all under the assumption that real cine lenses aren’t an option. I want to make sure that is very clear from the beginning. There is no replacement for cine lenses like Zeiss, Angenieux, Cooke, etc. But there are many options out there for alternative lenses. A favorite of the DSLR revolution has been the Zeiss ZF lenses. They use great glass with advanced coatings and fully manual mechanics. If you don’t know why these still lenses are well suited for motion picture, read through Still Vs. Cine. Your set of Zeiss ZF lenses is sitting around gathering dust because you purchased a PL mount camera. No worries. There is a company called MTF Services that is making a kit to change your F3 to Nikon mount. I haven’t dealt with them personally but the mount looks decent. Now you can use your Zeiss ZF lenses as well as any other Nikon mount lens in your arsenal. The other common route the DSLR community has chosen is Leica’s R series lenses. The selection of prime lenses is great and the glass is simply stunning. Unfortunately there isn’t a Leica mount available for the F3 as far as I know. But there is a Leica to Nikon adaptor for Leica lenses that would solve the problem with the same kit from MTF Services. Yes, you’re converting your Leica mount to Nikon and your Sony mount to Nikon but everything is solid and as long as you take care of your equipment and have it checked frequently, you should be able to maintain the proper flange depth. The benefit to using still photo lenses with a camera like the Sony F3 is their size and weight. There are usually two major components on a hand held rig; the camera and the lens… The Sony F3 is already light enough for what it is. Choosing an appropriate lens makes all the difference in portability and ease of use. If you want to ditch the stills lenses and go for the more professional application, take a look at other sets of prime lenses.
Cooke recently released their Cooke Panchros, a throwback to their original Cooke Speed Panchros that were very common back in the 1930’s and are still well known today. Cooke went on to make other great lenses like the S-4s and now the 5is. These were top notch cinema lenses. But they left behind all of the smaller productions that couldn’t afford a set of premium lenses. They filled the gap with their new Panchro lenses. A bit slow in the aperture at T2.8 but acceptable to say the least. The whole set is matched in speed and color reproduction. Small and compact compared to todays standards, the Panchros should do just fine for almost any application other than low-light. If you’re thinking about using Cooke Panchros but think they will be too slow because of low light, then your grip dept. isn’t doing their job.
You might be asking “What about the PL mount primes that Canon is offering with the camera?”… Sony is offering three PL mount prime lenses (35,50,85mm) for an additional $6,500 (I think) that would work just fine on the F3. I haven’t had a chance to formally test these Sony primes but I’ve handled and used the 35mm on an F3 and I believe they will leave a lot to be desired for professionals. Think of it as the kit lens that comes with a DSRL. It gets the job done… But you can do better. I’ll reserve my final judgment for when I can put the Sony PL lenses through their paces and see what they can really do in a proper test environment as well as real work application. Who knows, they may surprise me. I can go on and on about all the cool PL mount primes you can now use with a Sony F3 but that would take several pages of writing that I simply don’t have the will to write. I’ll finish by going over one other option that I think suits the Sony F3 very well.
Angenieux makes an excellent line of lenses they call Optimo. This line includes their amazing 24-290mm, 17-80mm, 28-76mm, and 15-40mm. All of these lenses set the standard for cinema zooms over the past decade and truly are works of art. Angenieux set the bar so high they left the little guys at the bottom and needed to do something to put their glass in the hands of the creative newcomers. Along came their Rouge series. Originally aimed at those using a RED camera since they were digital only lenses. This meant they can’t be used on a reflex mirror camera since the rear element sticks too far into the camera body. The Rouge series consists of two lenses that are direct descendants of their Optimo parents, the 30-80mm and the 16-42mm. Distinguished by their protruding rear element and signature red rubber grips, the Rouge lenses perform just as well as their pricier counterparts, at a fraction of the cost. A good option, maybe one of the best options for a lightweight, professional cinema zoom lens… In the world.
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…