Recent activity & shop talk.

Panasonic AF-100 Launch Event (Part 2) – Zeiss CP.2 Compact Prime bliss

The highlight of the event was experiencing the image quality and mechanics of the Zeiss CP.2 Compact Primes.  Scott had a 50mm T2.1 with an EF mount on a 5D and a 85mm T2.1 with an EF mount on a 7D.  The 5D was feeding to a Panasonic BT-LH1710P production monitor so I was able to accurately evaluate the image.

For starters, I absolutely loved the fact that the mounts are interchangeable on the lens itself.

Zeiss CP.2 50mm T2.1

Permanently modifying my 5D is not an option because I use it for stills as well.  But if you wanted to throw the CP’s on the RED or any other camera with a PL mount, you simply swap out the EF mount for a PL mount on the lens, which is a killer and versatile feature!

The image quality of the CP’s is incredible.  Their color and contrast resolve beautifully, have very low distortion, show minimal breathing from what I could see (if any) and are color matched across the set.   The CP.2’s gave me that warm fuzzy feeling when looking at the monitor.  Sometimes you can’t explain the exact details of why a lens feels good…you just have to go with it.  Lenses can be a matter of preference and the Zeiss’ definitely have a cinematic personality of their own.

Anyone who has shot with HDSLR’s knows the challenges of using still photo lenses on their cameras.  Aperture rings that inhibit the full range of an F stop, wonky follow focus rings that get in the way, making an AC’s life a living hell with the touchy and inaccurate short focus distance…etc.  Although the Zeiss ZF 35mm still lenses are some of my favorite pieces of glass to use with HDSLR’s, they were made to be exactly what they are…still photography lenses.

Another fantastic feature is that the Zeiss CP.2 primes finally bring professional cinema lens mechanics to the HDSLR world without permanently modifying your camera.  They have silky smooth aperture rings for accurate T stop increments, calibrated focus marks and a calibrated focus barrel that has a nice long focus throw which gives your AC a fighting chance at pulling focus (especially shooting wide open on the 5D).  What a refreshing feeling to actually have this option on the Canons.

We did some comparison tests with a few lenses on hand just to see the difference between lenses we use on a regular basis and the compact prime.  The glass under study was a Contax Zeiss F1.4 50mm and a Canon 24-70mm F2.8 L Series zoom. Shot with the 5D, the settings on both the camera and the lenses are as follows:  F2.8, 1/50th shutter, ISO 640, balanced to 5500K and lighting consisted of Lite Panel 1×1 LED’s slightly mixed with natural mid afternoon daylight coming in through some windows.  Interestingly, both the Contax Zeiss and compact primes weren’t that different in their optical performance.  They both actually retained more contrast and detail in the shadows as you can see from the stills.  The color temperature is off a bit which is due to the temperature of the Lite Panels but I didn’t want to custom white balance for each lens because lenses usually vary in their warmth or coolness. I expected the 24-70mm to fall short of both lenses due to the obvious fact that it’s a zoom as opposed to a prime and I’ve never really gotten the sharpest images from it.  There’s also a considerable difference in contrast with the 24-70. Not good. Stills are ungraded.

Lens comparisons

You might ask why would you want the compact primes when you can just use Zeiss ZF’s, Canon L glass or any other higher grade 35mm still lens and achieve nice results?  Well, if you shoot professionally, you’ll know and appreciate cine lens contrast and resolution, no breathing, smooth and accurate focus pulls, durable and smooth mechanics and being color matched across the set.  Why is color matching important?  So you don’t end up with a total mess during the grading phase in post.  Lenses tend to have tints due to their coatings and sometimes it is very subtle.  However, if you have a bunch of mismatched glass…like different focal lengths from various manufacturers or product lines, chances are that you’ll run into some potential pitfalls in post with tints in the highlights, mids and / or the shadows.  Unless you’re making an artistic choice to mix lenses, I highly recommend sticking with a matched set.

Another notable aspect is that they are much quicker to work with than still lenses.  For starters, primes aren’t necessarily conducive to hectic, run & gun jobs where time is always against you.  Start throwing lens gears onto the rig and messing with lens mounts (if using anything but Canon L glass)…you start eating up precious time in the camera department.  Being a professional doesn’t just consist of pretty pictures.  You have a job to do, limited time to get the shot off and the less you have to mess with or modify…the better for everyone on the set.

Bottom line:  The Zeiss CP.2 primes are love at first sight.  A solid set of these things would run you around $20K…but that’s cheap for cine lenses.  Better yet, help out the guys in town and rent them from Scott Handel at Ohio HD Video.  You won’t be disappointed.

2 responses

  1. I saw your review of the compacts. I was wondering have you done anything more with them since this review. Used them on an AF100?

    Also – side note I am looking to rent from Scott!

    February 12, 2011 at 4:44 pm

    • Hi David,

      Unfortunately, I haven’t had a chance to work with the primes any further. I’m hoping to rent them for a job and put them through the gauntlet. I’ll be happy to post my findings when that happens. Thank you for your interest David!


      February 26, 2011 at 6:05 am

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