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HDSLR

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.

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Panasonic AF-100 Launch Event (Part 1)

A couple of colleagues and I made a trip down to Columbus last week to check out a gear workshop hosted by Scott Handel from Ohio HD Video and his crew at The Backlot to witness a launch event for the Panasonic AF-100.

There were two set ups with the AF-100.  One of them was mounted on a MYT Works slider,

Panasonic AF-100

which in itself was fairly smooth in operation as well as having some flexible configurations.  The second set up was a hand-held ready Zacuto rig. First thing I noticed was the size of the body.  It’s similar to the HVX200 and if you were ever used to shooting with a lens adapter set up, the body loaded with a matte box, lens and FF is much smaller than what it would be using a Redrock M2 or Letus set up (thank God those days are over). The flip-out LCD is of significant improvement over the HPX & HVX screens, offering more resolution, which really helps with focus.  It’s loaded with a diverse array of built-in exposure tools unlike most cameras at its price point or any of the HDSLR’s for that matter. HD-SDI out is another welcomed staple due to the fact that I can’t stand the HDMI output on the Canons because of their frequent buggy connections.  I appreciated all the little things like working with assignable ISO’s, variable color temperature control and of course…familiar Panasonic form factor from the old days.

We decided to shoot our own “on the fly” tests while we were there.  My immediate disappointment was born from seeing

how poorly it handles gradations in skin tones…especially in darker zones like III, IV and V.  The mids to low mids look like plastic IMO.  Of course, the signal is heavily compressed and it’s using a 4:2:0 color space. The tests we performed were at ISO 200, F2.8-4 split at a 172-degree shutter angle. Also, after pulling in the clips into FCP and viewing the raw footage…I was disheartened to see Panasonic’s familiar noisy, creepy crawly blacks…even at ISO 200.  Seriously Panasonic…you need to address this.  I know that the 5D and 7D’s ultra clean sensors have spoiled me but there’s no excuse for such a noisy image.  It was a problem with the HVX200, HPX170 and now, the AF-100.

At the end of the day, I feel that Panasonic missed their opportunity to reclaim their crown with the indie film market. Yes, it’s capable of great imagery and I’d be happy to use it for the right job.  But coming from one of many who have adopted the Canon 5D and 7D, I will continue to favor them for the time being.  Although the HDSLR’s have their downfalls, they fit and go places that most camera’s do not, the offer flexibility and control of exposure in ultra low-light situations better than any video camera I have used and the sensor size / depth of field of the 5D is unique from EVERY video camera on the market today.

A fair evaluation would come from using the AF-100 for a couple of jobs to really give it a chance from start to finish.

Check back on Monday (01/17/11) for thoughts on the Zeiss CP.2 compact primes.  (The Backlot AF-100 Launch Event – Part 2).