Freelance Lighting Cameraman

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Looking for a good zoom lens for the Sony F series Cameras that doesn’t cost the earth!

I have been looking for a good set of zoom lenses to use with the Sony F5 & F55 for sometime now. I love my Canon Cine Prime lenses & also my Canon EF L zoom lenses, but sometimes it’s just not convenient to use prime lenses and if I’m working on a Sony F5 or F55 you always have to use an expensive third party adapter or a fader ND with the Canon EF zoom lenses as the Sony F series cameras can’t control the lenses iris without additional equipment due to the fact that EF lenses have an internal iris.

I have done a bit of research in to available options for zoom lenses on F cameras & it seems your options are:

1 – PL mount lenses: These are very expensive but the best quality lenses money can buy. New releases like the Canon 17 – 120 ENG style lens or the Fujinon Cabrio’s have been specially made for the new batch of super 35mm HD cameras.

2 – B4 mount lenses: Add an expensive adapter to your F camera & you can have the joy of a B4 2/3rd inch lens Great for news, documentaries all sorts. Beware not all B4 to FZ adapters are equal! Always worth testing 1st.

3 – Nikon stills zoom lenses: Great quality but for me they focus & zoom the wrong way round. They also require an adapter & have a funny iris ring IMO.

4 – Canon EF- L stills zoom lenses: Great quality but once again they need an expensive electronic adapter to operate the iris or a fader ND which means you have the lens locked open at it’s maximum aperture but you just twist the ND to suit your exposure requirements. IMO Not ideal I don’t want everything at F2.8!

5 – Sony ENG zoom lenses: These aren’t as popular as they probably should be. I think it’s because they’re not a fixed constant aperture through out the range of the lens & also to a certain extent because of lens snobbery!They are not that cheap either.

6 – Canon FD stills zoom lenses: Before Canon made the auto focus Ef fit lenses that we know these days they used to make manual focus lenses called FD lenses. The FD lens are a fully manual lens with an external aperture, focus & zoom. The issue though is that the Aperture on the lens is Clicked for photography purposes, so a photographer would set the aperture and it wouldn’t shift. The FD part of the name pertains to the mount on the back of the lens. So I always ruled this option out until I came accross http://www.thelensdoctor.co.uk Eddie ( The lens Doctor) is a ex Canon lens technician who has a passion for the glass! He now removes the Old Canon FD mount and machines and adds an EF mount to the lenses and declicks the aperture. The mount he adds is a non electronic version of the EF mount. Why is this so important you may ask. Well, when filming you sometimes need to move the aperture during the shot or take depending on the circumstances. Maybe the sun came out or your panning from a dark area in a scene to a bright area. An exposure pull. The skill is to make that exposure pull without the viewer noticing the exposure pull! So to make this happen you need a smooth aperture ring and not a click stopped ring.
So I recently bought three lenses from Eddie the Canon FD 20 – 35mm , 35 – 105mm & a 70 – 210mm and I also bought from ebay an EF to FZ mount. The mount is so that I can fit these lenses fit onto the Sony F5 or F55 cameras. I bought a dumb mount as the lens doesn’t have any electronics to speak to the camera so you don’t need an expensive electronic mount.

Canon FD 35-105mm lens on Sony F5 camera

Canon FD 35-105mm lens on Sony F5 camera

Canon FD lenses were built to cover a full 35mm frame so if you use them on a C300 or other Super 35mm sensor camera you’ll need to add a magnification factor of X 1.53. I find the easiest way to do this on location is to half the focal distance and then add it. So roughly speaking a 50mm lens will have the field of view of a 75mm lens ( Actual is 76.5mm but that’s being picky!) but the depth of field characteristics will be the same as the original lens in this case the 50mm.

I have been using them very happily on my C300 & also my Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera with a speed booster (once again you don’t need the expensive speed booster as they have an external aperture). My first thoughts are how lovely it is to use these lenses with their external aperture & the fact that they seem to be parfocal. They hold their focus through out the zoom range. Also that they are a bit softer on skin tones than newer lenses. The colour rendition on them seems to be good and they feel fairly warm. Once again good for skin tones But I have noticed that they are a little bit more susceptible to lens flare or ambient flare, so for me I’ll always use these lenses with a matte box. I have a Genus matte box that goes really well with the size of theses lenses & has two filter trays.

Genus matte box on c300

Genus matte box on c300

Today I got to have a look at these lenses in comparison to the Angenieux 30 – 80mm Optimo DP zoom lens. This is an £18000 cine style lens. I shot the footage that I have linked to on this post of a test card at Shooting Partners ( http://www.shooting-partners.co.uk/) it was a quick look and the F5 was set to Gamma table STD5 and XAVC codec 1920 x 1080 25p. I white balanced the camera & the ambient light was at about F8.
When I compare the two lenses what I see is that the Optimo lens is very sharp with good resolution and colour rendition but so is the Canon FD 35-105mm lens. Ok maybe not as sharp as the Optimo but this is an £18000 lens against a £300 lens! In my opinion I like to have softer skin tones it flatters your presenters, actors or any person standing in front of the lens! We talk about sharpness so much these days but I think that there is a difference and a confusion as most people will talk about sharpness and really mean focus, as in “is it in focus?” But what I’m talking about is that these FD lenses have a lovely glow and softness to them and the subject is fully in focus! The FD lenses don’t resolve the image at the same level as the Optimo but this adds to the lovely feel of the lens and to me that means being able to be more creative and hopefully be able to evoke more emotion when it’s required.
I’m really pleased with this set of zoom lenses and I know that they will come in really useful for all sorts of work from interviews to cookery shows or even drama,commercials & pop promos. I’m really looking forward to shooting some fashion stuff with them with a low back lit sun! (sorry getting carried away :-)
They can be used on any camera that will take an EF mount so all Canon HDSLR’s, EOS C cameras, Red, Sony F cameras, Blackmagic camera’s, AJA CION and even the Arri Amira.
Are they 4K? I doubt it, but I’ll cross that bridge when someone asks me to shoot 4K and I’ll use my Cine primes (which are 4K) or hire in a PL mount zoom lenses, if that’s what’s required. Saying this though they may well suit the 4K job that happens to come in at that time. Just because it’s “4K” doesn’t mean it needs to be shot on the most expensive lenses. As the Cameraman you should use the correct tool for the job. If there good enough to shoot 18 megapixel Raw stills I’m sure they can handle a bit of 4K!!

I shot this recently in the back garden using the Canon C300 with the Canon 70-210mm FD lens with 2 x optical doublers which given the magnification factor of the C300 is 1.53 x the lens worked out as a 1285mm F16 lens. Whilst the sun was going down. I used the wide dynamic range custom picture profile. I just thought you may like to see it. I really like the crazy lens flare shots, so many different colours. :-)

7 responses

  1. Nathan Thompson

    Do the FD lenses have clicked apertures? And I’m guessing they have the standard Canon mount?

    July 10, 2014 at 9:37 pm

    • Nathan Thompson

      Nevermind…you covered that.

      July 10, 2014 at 9:38 pm

  2. Did you compare the Angenieux to the FD zoom wide open? Most any lens will look good at f8. How are the corners side open? Contrast? What about focus breathing? Ramping? Is the FD Parfocal? Can you do a smooth, slow zoom? What is the focus rotation in degrees? If the FD lens works for you, great! But I think you’re comparing apples and oranges, and not speaking to the many advantages of cine zooms.

    July 11, 2014 at 1:16 am

    • Hi Jeff,
      I didn’t get to compare the Angenieux wide open as I literally had only 15 minutes with the camera before I had to leave but I have been using the 35-105 wide open and can answer your queries that as I say in the piece it seems to be Parfocal, there appears to be no ramping, the corners are clean and sharp. On a contrast note these FD lenses are softer than the Angenieux and the focus rotation is the same as a stills lens as well as EF lenses. I’m capable of a smooth slow zoom as an operator I have always used manual zoom on all my zoom lenses even when I had B4 2/3rd inch cameras, the zooms on these lenses have friction in them not as much as a Cine lens but enough.
      I think I do point out that one lens is £18k and the other is £300 so yes your right Apples and well priced oranges. The point is though is there £17700 worth of difference between the two lenses for every day use? I don’t think so. I also say that as a Cameraman you should choose the lenses that are appropriate for the job in hand so it’s really a case of horses for courses. I have seen the GL lenses and Duclos and they are good lenses nobody is disputing that but for a lot of people they are still very expensive and not an option. This is a an option that doesn’t cost the earth and Still allows the operator to get great results. I hope that helps and Thanks for your comments :-)

      July 11, 2014 at 5:24 am

  3. There are a slew of rehoused stills lenses in PL-mount that also offer great build quality, manual de clicked iris, much more focus throw, improved breathing, gears, much better feel, calibrated witness marks on both sides of the lens, focus stops. These lenses by manufacturers like GL Optics, Duclos, AllStar offer great lenses at a fraction of the price of true cine lenses.

    July 11, 2014 at 1:20 am

  4. Mark, a 15 minute evaluation of a Cine zoom isn’t adequate. All cheap lenses look good at f8. One could argue that a C300 or F5 are really not necessary for “everyday use”. Alternatively, one could argue that a $500 lens might not be a place to cut corners with a $16-20K camera.

    Regarding rehoused lenses from GL, AllStar, Duclos, as well as Zeiss CP2, Canon CN-E primes, some are priced close to still counterparts, such as a Canon 70-200 F2.8 IS 2 USM at $2500 vs. AllStsr 80-200 T3.0 at $2800.

    Cine lenses make using zoom motors, follow focus and matte boxes easy, there’s no plastic in construction, manual iris pulls are easy, precise, repeatable focus is the norm. Obviously, an AC much prefers pulling for a cine lens.

    Lenses are very subjective and everybody has different priorities for their equipment dollars, but I think you may have not given a fair evaluation of the advantages of cine glass. My take is that camera bodies come and go, but good glass has a much longer shelf life. If renting, cine glass doesn’t cost that much more than good stills glass, in the context of a full production.

    July 11, 2014 at 5:57 am

    • Jeff
      I wasn’t evaluating a Cine lens I was merely having a look at it compared to a much cheaper stills lens.
      I hear what your saying and agree and have written that that these very expensive Cine lenses resolve at a higher level but my blog is about trying to find a lens that doesn’t cost a great deal of money that’s more accessible for every day use.
      When you don’t have a focus puller or even a camera assistant. Maybe it’s just the operator and a journalist. The point is Jeff as I stated before it’s horses for courses.
      If your working on a large production you may well take a Cine lens over a stills one but surely that depends on the script and the look that your after.
      Thanks for your comments :-)

      July 11, 2014 at 7:22 am

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