This is a question a lot of people are asking. As I’ve mentioned in other recent posts, sensors have reached a point where it’s very difficult to bring out a camera where the image quality will be significantly different from any other on the market for any given price point. Most differences will be in things like codec choices or trading off a bit of extra resolution for sensitivity etc. Other differences will be in the ergonomics, lens mounts and battery systems.
So it’s interesting to see what Keith Mullin over at Z-Systems thought of the EVA1. Keith knows his stuff and Z-Systems are not tied to any one particular brand.
Overall as expected there isn’t a huge difference in image quality between any of the 3 cameras. The EVA1 seems weaker in low light which is something I would have predicted given the higher pixel count. The dual ISO mode seems not to be anywhere near the same as the really very good dual ISO mode in the Varicam LT.
Having done a fair bit of shooting with the new and very nice Fujinon MK 18-55mm E-Mount lens I decided to take a much closer look at the Fujinon Cabrio XK6x20 20 to 120mm T3.5 lens with the servo hand grip.
The price of this lens is very competitive and it can now be found as low as £11K/$16K. Lets not try to pretend that good quality PL mount zooms are cheap, but this is a great price for what is very high quality glass. The 20 to 120mm zoom range is nice and of course it’s truly parfocal there is a back focus adjuster along with macro function.
Like the other similar ENG style PL zooms this lens is quite heavy. The front element of the lens is huge and I’m sure a lot of the weight comes from this big lump of glass. One of the nice things about this lenses baby brother the MK 18-55, is that the 18-55 is really very light, which is great on the smaller cameras like the FS5 or FS7.
The 20-120mm Cabrio exudes quality. The build quality of the lens is wonderful, the witness marks are crisp and well engraved, the servo zoom is silky smooth. The large servo module acts as a handgrip just like traditional ENG lenses and it really comfortable to hold and use this way. But if you don’t need it it can be easily removed leaving the bare bones lens body and saving a little bit of weight. There are the usual 0.8 mod pitch gears on each of the focus zoom and iris rings. Focus ring travel is huge at about 200 degrees and due to the physical size of the lens this is as much as I’d ever want. Even towards infinity there is still a nice range of travel so focussing accurately on distant objects is easy.
But what about the image quality, how does the lens perform in real world situations?
To find out I used it for a shoot in Norway. The shoot was for TV manufacturer Philips. We wanted to obtain some high quality 4K HDR footage to show off the capabilities of a new 4K OLED Ambilight TV. Unfortunately the weather conditions on the shoot were pretty grim most of the time and this made it all the more challenging. But I’m pleased to say that both lenses performed very well despite snow, ice and cold.
One of the great things about having both the high end Cabrio 20-120mm and the budget friendly 18-55mm for the shoot was that the overall look of the images from the FS5 and F5 was the same. Often mixing lenses from different manufacturers results in different looking images giving the colourist more work to do in post. Fujinon now have a range of lenses to suit most budgets from the high end Cabrio 19-90mm T2.9 down through the Cabrio 20-120 T3.5 to the MK 18-55 T2.9.
So what do the images from these lenses look like? I’m afraid I can’t show any of the footage from the Philips shoot yet, I should be able to show it later in the year. Below are a couple of frame grabs to give you an idea of the kind of images you can get. We didn’t shoot the same shots with the F5/XK6x20 and FS5/MK18-55 at the same time, I was the only cinematographer. So I don’t have a side by side comparison from the shoot, but the different scenes shot with each lens/camera combo match really well.
TESTING BOTH LENSES:
In order to better directly compare the two lenses I shot some test shots. The XK6x20 on my F5 and the MK18-55 on my FS7. Both cameras were set to the same settings and hypergamma 3 with the cinema matrix used. The images you will see below have not been touched, this is how they looked straight from the camera. If you click on the picture you should get a link to the full frame 4K image, but do remember this are Jpegs.
I tried to get the same shots with both combinations but you will see some small variations. I apologise for that. To give as fair a comparison as possible I did most of the shots at 20mm and 55mm, but then in addition shot at 18mm on the MK18-55 and 120mm on the XK6X20 so you can see the additional range each lens offers.
First test was of a neighbours Cherry tree in blossom.
The next test was a simple setup shot of a couple of beer bottles on a table with strong sunlight from above and behind to create deep contrast. I wanted to see if either lens showed signs of loosing shadow detail due to the very large, very bright table top introducing flare into the shadows.
My conclusion with the above shots is that there is remarkably little difference between these two lenses. Both perform extremely well. I think the XK6X20 might be marginally sharper at the wide end than the 18-55mm, either that or the slightly better viewfinder of the F5 is allowing me to focus more precisely. In addition I think the bokeh of the more expensive Cabrio is marginally smoother than the 18-55, but again it’s a tiny difference (not as big as the difference in white balance of the two cameras).
Finally a shot of my ugly mug just so you can take a look at some skin tones.
Again very little difference between these lenses which is a good thing. Both perform very well, both produce pleasing images. Sure the XK6X20 20-120mm is more than twice the price of the MK18-55 but then it does offer twice the zoom range and it’s very hard to make fast parfocal lenses with big zoom ranges for large sensors. There will be a companion MK50-135mm lens coming later in the year, so with both the MK lenses you will be able to get the full range of the XK6X20 and a bit more, provided you don’t mind swapping lenses. It’s a tough choice if you have an E-mount Sony camera, which to get? For E-Mount I think the pair of MK lenses will be the way to go. If you have a PL mount camera the XK6X20 has to be a very serious contender. It’s a great all-round cinema zoom lens and a realistic price. Whichever way you do go you won’t be disappointed, these are proper cinema lenses.
When you think of cine lenses then there are several brands that immediately come to mind. Zeiss, Arri, Cooke and Angenieux are probably the most familiar names but there are many others too. One brand I have been looking at more and more recently is Schneider.
Schneider Kreuznach have been making lenses since 1913. Based in Kreuznach in Germany they have long been know for their innovative designs and they won an Oscar in 2001 for Technical Achievement for their Super-Cinelux motion picture lenses.
A few years ago I met one of their lens engineers at NAB. I don’t think I have ever met a man as passionate about a lens design before or since. Every Schneider lens that I have ever used has been brilliant. They always seem to have near zero breathing, are always extremely solidly built and produce great images. So when I got a call from Manfrotto, the UK distributor to see if I would like a chance to play with some of the new Xenon FF (Full Frame) lenses I grabbed the opportunity.
The Xenon FF lenses are cine style lenses available with either Canon, Nikon or PL mounts. The mounts can be changed should you need to switch mounts at a later date. They are priced to directly compete with the Zeiss compact primes. At the moment there are only 3 lenses available, a 35mm, 50mm and 75mm, all are T2.1. In the near future there will also be a 25mm and 100mm T2.1 as well as an 18mm T2.4 Yum Yum! I’d love to have one of those for my Northern Lights or Storm Chasing expeditions. They are all the same size, have a 100mm front diameter, all have a 95mm lens thread. This means that swapping lenses during a shoot is straight forward as you don’t have to change Matte Box donuts or re-position the follow focus if you’re using one. Being Full Frame lenses and rated for 4K these should be a great match with the Sony A7s.
I got to play with a 35mm and 50mm with EF mount and decided to try them on my full frame A7s shooting in HD as well as taking a few still photos (which are the equivalent to 4.5K) on a cloudy and rainy day.
Straight out of the box you cannot help but be impressed by the build quality. These are substantial lenses, weighing in at around 1.25kg each with the EF mount. I could not find any plastic on these lenses, they look built to last.
The focus scale is large and easy to read, each lens being individually calibrated. Focus travel is a full 300 degrees. Even as you get to the far end of the focus ring the distances are still nicely spaced. From 9ft(3m) to infinity is around 100 degrees. Compare that to most DSLR lenses where the same focus range might be compressed into just 5 or 10 degrees and you can see that precise focus is much easier. Although sometimes a very large focus travel can make focus pulls a little harder simply because or the large distance the focus ring has to be turned. But I’ll take a big focus throw lens over small throw any day.
The lenses have 14 curved iris blades giving a very round aperture even when stopped right down. I love peering into these lenses at the aperture blades as they are a work of art (but really hard to take a photo of). You can also see in the photo that the coatings of the lens are a distinct orange colour.
In practice the lenses did not disappoint. It did seem a bit odd to have such a large and heavy lens on the diminutive A7s, but as image quality starts with the lens a good lens can make all the difference. I shot at various apertures from wide open at T2.1 down to about T8 and didn’t notice any significant change in resolution across the range (I took photos as well as video to check the lens performance).
The lenses do tend to flare a little bit, the 35mm more than the 50mm, but I thought the flares were quite pleasing, others may disagree. Take a look at the video to get an idea of what they are like. There was a bit more flare at T2.1 compared to T2.8 or T4 on both lenses.
I did some big focus pulls to see how much breathing there was and as with all the Schneider lenses I’ve used breathing was very minimal. There is some breathing, these are not like the Cine-Xenars which have virtually zero breathing, but the breathing really is small.
Another test shot was to shoot some tree branches silhouetted against the sky to check for CA and colour fringing. Basically I can’t see any. Maybe right out in the very corners of the frame there is the tiniest bit of CA, but you really have to hunt for it.
Colour wise there is no obvious colour shift, if anything perhaps very, very slightly warm. As expected the lenses are very sharp and crisp, from corner to corner, but not excessively so. I found that the images contained a lot of detail but had a pleasing roundness too them that I really like. I shot a chrome shopping basket and the reflections of the bright chrome look really nice. I think this is a combination of a little bit of flare without excessive sharpness. I think it’s a very nice natural look. This can be one of the benefits of a video lens over a stills lens. Stills lenses must be incredibly sharp to work with 24 or 36 mega pixel sensors. Sometimes this results is a super sharp image that lacks character. Arguably if you start with a very sharp image you can always soften it a bit in post, but sometimes it’s nice to start off with a more rounded image. Look at how popular Cooke lenses are, they are well known for their rounded rather than super sharp images.
As expected from a 14 blade iris the bokeh is very creamy and smooth. Both near and far out of focus areas look very good indeed. Out of focus edges are smooth and don’t show any obvious double edges or other distortions.
Take a look at the video for a better idea of the lens flares and the overall image quality. I really like the look you get from these lenses and wouldn’t mind a set of them for myself. I feel they have a lot in common with Cooke lenses, but at a much more affordable price. I hope to test them further in the near future and to a wider variety of scenes. I suspect they will be very good on skin tones and faces.
I was lucky enough to get to spend some time with a pre-production Sony PXW-X180 here in Singapore. I put it through it’s paces shooting around the botanical gardens, China town and Clarke Quay.
For a 1/3″ camcorder it produces a remarkably good image. Really low noise, very clean images, much better than anything I have seen from any other 1/3″ camcorder. The 25x zoom is impressive, the variable ND filter is very clever and it might seem trivial but the rear viewfinder was very nice. It’s a very high resolution OLED, much, much better than the LCOS EVF’s found on many other models.
The zoom lens has proper manual calibrated controls with end stops, much like a PMW-200. The ability to use a multitude of codecs is fantastic and perhaps better still is the fact that you can use SDXC cards for XDACM or XAVC at up to 50Mb/s, so even XDCAM HD422 can be recorded on this low cost media. This will be great for news or other situations where you need to hand off your media at the end of the shoot.
A more in depth review will follow soon, but for now here’s the video. Un-graded, un touched, straight from the camera footage. Looks very nice if you ask me.
I was lucky enough to be able to borrow a pre production Sony NEX-FS700 for an evening and of course the one thing I had to check out was the super slow motion function. So my good friend Den Lennie let me shoot from his balcony overlooking the Belagio fountains in Las Vegas. The video speaks for itself really. The slow motion function is incredibly easy to use and I was surprise how well it performed shooting at night at 240 frames per second (1/240th shutter). There are lots of other nice features on the FS700 which I’ll write more about in a later post.
I’m a long time Vinten user. My first true, pro tripod was a Vinten 5 with alloy legs that I purchased in 1989 (I think). 22 years on I still have that tripod and it is still perfectly useable. Since then I’ve been the very happy owner of a fabulous set of Vinten FibreTec legs (still have them, still love them) and a new model Vinten Vision 5AS. All of these have been excellent, reliable and virtually indestructible. I’ve taken them up into the Arctic where it’s been -36c. I’ve taken them to the Arizona desert, into Hurricanes, Sand Storms and all kinds of extreme weather. I’ve even used them stood waist deep in the sea (not really recommended). Anyway, I’m waffling… When I needed a bigger tripod to support my Hurricane 3D rig I obtained a Vinten Vision 100.
The Vision 100 is not a new model, but it has a reputation for being able to take a quite remarkable payload for it’s size. You see the Vision 100 head is not much bigger or heavier than my Vinten 5, yet it can take double the payload (20kg). This means that I can still pack it in to my luggage when I’m travelling without getting crippled by high excess baggage charges.
One of the features that has made it particularly useful for 3D is the digital counterbalance readout that tells you exactly where you are within the heads very generous and continuously adjustable counter balance range. When swapping between the 3D rig and a conventional camera I can simply dial in the numbers that I know give me optimum balance and off I go. One minute I can have a 3D rig with a pair of F3 etc, weighing over 15kg, then after a few turns of the counterbalance knob I can mount just a single F3 weighing only 3kg and the tripod works beautifully well with either payload. The continuously adjustable drag adjustments for pan and tilt are easy to set and if you want you can get a lot of drag. I find this very useful when shooting air shows with long lenses as I like to have quite a bit of drag to work against to keep things smooth. The smoothness of this head is lovely with no sudden slips or tight spots, it’s a pleasure to use.
The legs I have been using with the Vision 100 head are the Vinten 3 stage carbon fibre Pozi-Loc legs. Even though these are nice and light, they are remarkably stiff. I also have one of Vinten’s clever Spread Loc mid level spreaders. I first got one of these with my FibreTec legs and I’ve never looked back. You can lock the spreader at almost any spread position with a quick turn of the single locking knob. If you need to get the legs down low there is a little button on each arm of the spreader that allows the arm to extend to up to twice it’s original length. The end result is the ability to get very low, even when using standard legs.
Tripods are pretty boring things really. Not as glamourous as a camera, but an essential piece of kit anyway. Get the right tripod and it will last you many, many years, almost certainly out lasting those glamourous cameras. All the Vintens I have owned have been superb. The Vinten 100 is a solid, well made piece of kit that I don’t even really think about when I’m using it. And that is after all what you want, gear that just gets on with its job.
In preparation for the big Duran Duran shoot in Berlin later in the week I was out with Den Lennie of F-Stop academy along with Duran Duran video producer Gavin Elder and James Tonkin of Hangman Studios testing the Canon 800/1600 f5.6 lens on my F3. This is an adapted DSLR lens fitted with a PL mount. What a lens! The bokeh was simply gorgeous from this lens and I’m really excited about putting it to use in Berlin on Thursday night. Keep tuned for more info on this BIG project shooting with F3’s, FS100’s and SRW9000PL’s. We’re even throwing in a VG10 or 2 for good measure! Nine cameras in total, ultra shallow DoF is the goal, gonna be hard to do, but it should look awesome.
Here is a set of 3 clips in the native formats taken with a Sony VG10, Canon t2i (550D) and sony F3.
CLICK HERE for the zip file containing the native fies (canon .mov, sony .mts and Sony BPAV folder) or click here to watch on vimeo. If you are going to watch on vimeo I would strongly urge you to take a look at the full size frame grabs below before coming to any conclusions.
I used the same Nikon 50mm f1.8 lens on all 3 cameras (MTF F3 adapter, cheap E-Mount adapter and cheap Nikon to Canon adapter). I had the lens at f8-f11 for all three cameras and used the shutter to control exposure or in the case of the F3 the ND filters. All were set to preset white, 5600k, the sky was visually white with flat hazy cloud. The VG10 was at factory default, the t2i was default except for Highlight Tone Priority which was ON and the F3 default with the exception of Cinegamma 1 being chosen.
PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE Don’t link directly to the download file, instead link to this page. Feel free to host the clips, just remember they are my copyright so include a link back here or a note in any text of where they originated.
PLEASE make a donation of whatever amount you feel appropriate if you find these clips helpful, to help cover my hosting fees if you choose to take advantage of these otherwise free clips. It’s a 340Mb download. As of May 9th, 122 people have downloaded the clips, that’s 41Gb of web bandwidth, yet not one person has made a donation. Come on guys and gals, if you want me to make clips available to download, help me out.
Here is a roughly done (sorry) comparison of the aliasing from an EX1R at the bottom and my F3 at the top. The F3 had a Nikon 18-135mm zoom, both cameras were set to default settings, 25P. The F3 clearly shows a lot more chroma aliasing appearing as coloured moire rings in both the horizontal, vertical and diagonal axis. The EX1R is not alias free. The chroma aliasing from the F3 is not entirely unexpected as it has a bayer sensor and there is always a trade off between luma resolution and chroma resolution and the point where you set the optical low pass filter. Frankly I find this performance a little disappointing. More real world test are needed to see how much of a problem this is (or is not). To put it in to some perspective the F35 aliases pretty badly too, but that camera is well known for producing beautiful images. I hope I’m being over critical of this particular aspect of the F3’s performance, because in every other respect I think the camera is fantastic.
UPDATE: I’ve taken a look at the MTF curves for the F3 and they are quite revealing showing that an OLPF is in use which is giving an MTF50 of around 800 LW/PH V and 950 LW/PH H. This is not quite as high as an EX1 and are quite reasonable figures for a 1920×1080 camcorder. This suggests that the aliasing is largely limited to the chroma sampling of the sensor. As this is a bayer (or similar) type sensor the chroma is sampled at a reduced rate compare to luma, which is why coloured moire is not entirely unusual.
Tests performed with a Tokina ATX-Pro 28-70mm lens at 25P
Clearly these will never be as good as, or as accurate as properly produced charts. Most home printers just don’t have the ability to produce true blacks with razor sharp edges and the paper you use is unlikely to be optimum. But, the link below takes you to a nice collection of zone plates and resolution charts that are useful for A/B comparisons. I split them up into quarters and then print each quarter on a sheet of A4 paper, joining them all back together to produce a nice large chart. http://www.bealecorner.org/red/test-patterns/
Camera setup, reviews, tutorials and information for pro camcorder users from Alister Chapman.