After being lucky enough to have shot with the really rather beautiful looking Tokina Vista prime lenses with Sony’s Venice II (see here), I decided to take a look at the generation 2 Tokina 16-28mm wide angle cine zoom. This lens is available in a variety of mounts including PL, E-Mount and many others and is really very good value for the money.
The lens is parfocal, has minimal breathing and minimal chromatic aberration. To try it out, I took a PL mount sample to Windsor to test it out with my FX9 using a Vocas PL E-Mount to PL adapter.
I often find it difficult to write about lenses because when a lens performs well, there is little to write about without being gushy. The 16-28mm from Tokina does what it should, and it does it well. I didn’t find any particular flaws in the images from the lens and overall, they look really good. At 16mm on a full frame camera the lens gives a very wide field of view with very minimal distortion. It remains sharp into the corners and there is no significant vignetting.
It is well constructed and the 300 (ish) degree of travel focus ring has a very nice weight and feel to it. The zoom ring is a bit heavier but this prevents the zoom moving when you don’t want it to.
A few people have commented about why use a larger bulkier lens like the Tokina over a more compact and lighter photo lens. I think a lot depends on the type of project you are working on. Being realistic, if you are running around on your own, trying to quickly grab footage on a lower budget production then a photo lens with auto focus might be the better option. But when you need maximum control over focus a proper mechanical long travel focus ring is what you want. If you want to zoom during the shot, the lens needs to be parfocal. So for a more controlled shoot, perhaps for drama or other scripted productions a true cine lens like this is often preferable. so, it’s a case of picking the right lens for the type of production you are shooting. The Tokina 16-28mm t3.0 cine zoom is absolutely worth looking at for any movie style wide angle applications.
See the video below for some example footage and a closer look at the lens.
Sorry for the lack of post recently, but I’ve been busy on various overseas shoots using the Sony Venice camera. I’ll be writing these up in due course.
My 2 favourite and most used lenses are my Fujinon MK zooms . I use the MK18-55 and MK50-135 on both my PMW-F5 and on my FS5. I’ve also used them on a Sony Venice. They are really great lenses. But one thing that I’ve always felt would make them a bit better is a power zoom.
Enter the Hedén VLC system.
For starters the Hedén VLC system allows you to turn a non motorised zoom lens into a power zoom lens, but the Heden VLC system is more than just a zoom motor and control box. It can be expanded with a second motor to not only motorize the zoom but also provide an electronic focus control (although as yet I have not tried this).
Never heard of Hedén before? Well if you work in higher end features and productions you will probably have come across them before as they are a highly regarded Swedish manufacturer of electronic follow focus and zoom systems used in high end Cinematography. For me though, until now their products have been beyond my reach. One of their standard follow focus motors costs around £1.6K/$2K. However the motors and components used in the VLC systems are much cheaper, yet still meet Hedén’s exacting standards. A complete VLC zoom system, including motor, costs around $2,100 USD. It’s still not a “cheap” item, but the system is of very high quality and surprisingly flexible, so it is something that should last many years and work with not just todays cameras and lenses but also whatever comes next.
The VLC system comprises several components. A control box, a motor or motors along with various attachment brackets for the motors depending on your application and a set of cables.
The first time I played with the system it was an early development unit on my FS5. On the FS5 the system is controlled using the Lanc control functions built into the cameras existing handgrip. The cable from the hand grip that normally plugs directly into the camera body is plugged into a breakout cable from the VLC control box and then another connection from the control box plugs into the FS5. This way the handgrip controls the FS5 as normal, but now the zoom rocker on the handgrip also smoothly and accurately controls the Hedén zoom motor. All the hand grips other functions continue to operate as usual.
The motor used by the VLC system is a very high quality compact servo motor and gearbox with digital position and speed feedback. So the controller knows exactly how fast the motor is turning and where it is in it’s operating cycle. The first time you use the system it needs to be calibrated for the lens you are using. This is done quickly and simply, just by pressing the small CAL button on the controller. Once pressed the motor quickly runs back and forwards to find the lenses end stops.
A very nice feature is that when the motor isn’t being driven it can be turned quite easily. This means that unlike some other similar systems you don’t have to mechanically or physically disengage the motor from the lenses pitch gears to perform a manual zoom. In fact, the motor acts as a soft damping system and helps make manual zooms smoother.
My only gripe about the VLC system is the size of the control box. On a camera as small as the FS5 the control box is quite a big lump to add.
For power I run it from a Dynacore BP-U type battery that has a D-Tap output. There is no on/off switch, so you turn it off by unplugging it, but the system doesn’t use much power and I barely noticed any difference in the life of the camera battery when using it this way.
The control box has controls for the motor speed, torque and direction. These controls allow you to fine tune the way the motor operates, so if you want you can have a fast snappy zoom, or if you prefer you can have a slower zoom. The control buttons are mounted below a soft waterproof membrane to protect the unit from dust and moisture. There is also a small LED display that shows the torque and speed settings. When zooming in or out this also shows the requested zoom speed. All the cables are connected to the box using very high quality Lemo connectors.
I found that the FS5 zoom rocker with it’s limited travel seemed to work best for me when the motor was set to quite a slow speed. The motor has lots of torque, so it should have no problem driving lenses with quite stiff zoom rings. However I probably wouldn’t try to use it with a DSLR zoom. I dabbled with producing a zoom motor for DSLR zooms some years back, but found it very difficult. Most DSLR zooms are quite stiff, often have tight spots as well as only limited travel. This makes it very difficult to get a very smooth motion. Feel free to try it with whatever lenses it is that you have, but I think you will need to test the functionality with each photo zoom lens to see how it copes. For proper video and cinemas lenses with smooth zoom rings the VLC system should work very well.
With the Fujinon MK lenses the motor can be attached to the barrel of the lens via a dedicated bracket. There is also a bracket for two motors for those that want to motorize not only the zoom but also the focus.
The benefit of having the motor on the lens is that it’s always in the right place and you don’t need rails etc. The downside is that if you have more than one lens you need to either, swap the motor and brackets each time you change lens, have multiple brackets or if you have really deep pockets a motor and bracket for every lens. Swapping the motor from bracket to bracket is very quick and easy, just loosen the thumbscrew and the motor slides out. So I would recommend having a bracket on each lens and simply swapping the motor over. The other alternative is to use one of the Hedén rail brackets to attach the motor to 15mm rails, then when you swap lenses the motor stays attached to the rails and it’s just a case of lining the motor up with the pitch gear on the lens.
Not long after starting to use the system on my FS5 I was informed that there was an update for the system that could work with any 3rd party Lanc Controller. So I decided to give this a try on my PMW-F5. To make this work you need an additional aftermarket Lanc zoom controller. These are readily available and there are lots of choices.
The Manfrotto controller I used allowed me to operate the zoom from from the pan bar of my tripod. Great for studio or ENG type applications. The only thing you don’t get with an F5 and a Lanc controller is control over record start and stop as the F5 itself doesn’t support Lanc control. So you still have to press the record button on the camera. But this isn’t a big deal and having the ability to zoom from the pan bar is great for so many applications.
Overall I am very impressed with the system. The degree of control you have over the lens is quite remarkable, it’s just as good as the control you get with a high end ENG zoom. It’s very easy to setup and allows you to perform silky smooth zooms with ease. If you want smooth, slow starts to the zoom or extremely slow zooms, both are easily achieved with the Hedén VLC system.
I probably wouldn’t use it for every shoot, especially with the FS5 as the control box is a little bulky. With the F5 or FS7 and other larger cameras this is much less of a concern, so I will probably use it more often with these cameras. I also want to explore using it with Lanc controller that I can use with handgrips when handheld (perhaps using the Vocas Arri rosette kit for remote attachment of the FS5 hand grip).
The biggest strength of this system for me though, is that it isn’t actually lens or camera specific. You can use it with just about any lens and camera. So as you add more lenses to your collection, or if you change camera, you will still be able to use the VLC system just by making sure you have the right motor bracket. The 15mm rod bracket should work with just about any lens. This means that it’s a system that should last you a very long time.
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 Sony launched the FS7 II they also launched a new lens to go along with it. The previous zoom lens that was bundled with the FS7 was the SELP28135G, a 28-135mm f4 zoom lens that would work with Super 35mm, APS-C and full frame cameras. While generally well received this lens is not without it’s problems. For a start it’s not really wide enough for use as a general purpose lens on an APS-C or Super 35mm sensor. The other problem is that the zoom is very slow. Even when set to manual zooming in and out takes a long time. You turn the zoom ring and then have to wait for the lens to catch up.
The new lens is a wider 18mm to 110mm f4 lens. This is a really useful zoom range for a Super 35mm camera. But the new lens can only be used on S35mm and APS-C cameras. It can’t be used with full frame cameras like the A7s in full frame mode.
But what about the zoom speed? Well this has been addressed too. On the 28-135mm lens the zoom function is electronic. There is no mechanical connection between the zoom ring and the optics of the lens. The 18-110 has a proper mechanical connection between the zoom ring and the internal lenses, so now you can crash zoom in and out as fast as you want. In addition the zoom servo motor is much faster and motorised zooms take place much more rapidly. One downside to this is that it’s a bit harder to control the zoom speed. You can do slow creeping zooms if you are very careful with the cameras zoom rocker, but it’s hard to do. The difference in pressure on the zoom rocker between creeping zoom and medium speed is tiny. The lens tended to change zoom speed quite quickly. While it is indeed very nice to have a variable speed motorised zoom, don’t expect the fine degree of control that you get from admittedly more expensive traditional ENG lenses. Lets face it this lens is only around £3K/$5K which is remarkable cheap for a parfocal s35mm zoom. Take a look at the video below for an idea of the zoom speeds etc.
Is it really parfocal? Well yes, it does seem to be parfocal. I only had the lens for a morning to play with, but in all my tests the focus remained constant throughout the zoom range.
So, what about focus? Like the 28-135mm lens there is a nice big focus ring that slides fore and aft.
In the rear position the focus is manual and there are calibrated focus markings and end stops. You get about 180 degrees of focus travel from 0.95m (3.1ft) to infinity (in autofocus you can focus slightly closer when the lens is at the wide end). The focus ring has 0.8mm pitch teeth for use with most standard follow focus units, although this gear ring is very close to the end of the lens, so it may be tricky to use if you have a matte box in place. Breathing is very well controlled and barely noticeable unless going through very large focus throws. Out of focus Bokeh isn’t bad either, I didn’t observe any nasty surprises in the limited time I had to play with the lens.
Sharpness and flare. The lens appears to be nice and sharp at the wide end but just a touch soft at the long end. It’s not bad overall but when shooting at 4K I could just about detect the lens becoming marginally softer as I zoomed in. The sample I had was a well used pre-production prototype, but I’m going to guess that the production lenses won’t be hugely different. Shooting the roof of a house against a bright sky revealed only a small amount of flare, certainly nothing out of the unusual for a zoom lens.
Overall I really like this lens. It even has a support point at the front of the lens body for additional stability. While f4 isn’t the largest of apertures it is quite usable and even wide open the lens performs well. For the money it is a lot of lens. I think we need to be realistic with our expectations for zoom lenses and large sensors. Bigger zoom ratios require bigger lens elements if we want to maintain a constant aperture. Bigger lens elements cost more to produce.
One advantage Sony have over the competition is that it’s easier to make zoom lenses for the very short flange back distance of the E-Mount cameras compared to the deeper flange back of PL or Canon mounts. The closest competition to this lens is the Canon 18-80mm T4.4 (f4 ish) which is a fair bit more expensive (£4K/$6K). If you want a similar zoom range then you’re looking at the beautiful Fujinon 20-120 T3.4 at around £14K/$19K.
This came up as a question in response to the post about my prototype lens adapter. The adapter is based around an electronic Canon EF mount and the question was, what do I think about DSLR zooms?
There is a lot of variation between lenses when it comes to sharpness, contrast and distortions. A zoom will always be a compromise compared to a prime lens. DSLR lenses are designed to work with 24MP sensors. A 4K camera only has around 9MP, so your working well within the design limits of the lens even at 4K. While a dedicated PL mount zoom like an Angenieux Optimo will most likely out perform a similar DSLR zoom. The difference at like for like apertures will not be huge when using smaller zoom ratios (say 4x). But 10x and 14x zooms make more compromises in image quality, perhaps a bit of corner softness or more CA and these imperfections will be better or worse at different focal lengths and apertures. At the end of the day zooms are compromises but for many shoots it may simply be that it is only by accepting some small compromises that you will get the shots you want. Take my storm chasing shoots. I could use primes and get better image quality, but when you only have 90 seconds to get a shot there simply isn’t time to swap lenses, so if you end up with a wide on the camera when a long lens is what is really needed, your just not going to get the shot. Using a zoom means I will get the shot. It might not be the very best quality possible but it will look good. It is going to be better than I could get with an HD camera and a very slightly compromised shot is better than no shot at all.
If the budget would allow I would have a couple of cameras with different prime lenses ready to go. Or I would use a big, heavy and expensive PL zoom and have an assistant or team tasked solely with getting the tripod set up and ready asap. But my budget isn’t that big. I could spend weeks out storm chasing before I get a decent shot, so anything I can do to minimise costs is important.
It’s all about checks and balances. It is a compromise, but a necessary one. It’s not a huge compromise as I suspect the end viewer is not going to look at the shot and say “why is that so soft” unless they have a side by side, like for like shot to compare. DSLR zooms are not that bad! So yes, using a DSLR zoom is not going to deliver quality to match that of a similar dedicated PL zoom in most cases, but the difference is likely to be so small that the end viewer will never notice and thats a compromise I’m prepared to accept in order to get a portable camera that shoots 4K with a 14x zoom lens.
What about DSLR primes and why have I chosen the Canon Mount?
This is where the image performance gap gets even narrower. A high quality DSLR prime can perform just as well as many much more expensive PL mount lenses. The difference here is more about the usability of the lens. Some DSLR lenses can be tiny and this makes them fiddly to use. They are all All sorts of sizes, so swapping lenses may mean swapping Matte boxes or follow focus positions etc. Talking of focus, very often the focus travel on a DSLR lens is very, very short so focussing is fiddly. If the lens has an aperture ring it will probably have click stops making smooth aperture changes mid shot difficult. My prime lenses are de-clicked or never had clicks in the first place (like the Samyang Cine Primes). It’s not so much the issue of requiring a finer step than the one stop click, but more the ability to pull aperture during the shot. It’s not something I need to do often, but if I suddenly find I need to do it, I want a smooth aperture change. That being said, one of the issues with using Canon EF lenses with their electronic iris is that they operate in 1/8th stop steps and this is visible in any footage. Ultimately I am still committed to using the Canon mount lenses simply because there are so many to choose from and they focus in the right direction unlike Nikon lenses which focus back to front. For primes I’m using the excellent and fully manual Samyang T1.5 Cine Primes. I really like these lenses and they produce beautiful images at a fraction of the price of a PL mount lens. My zoom selection is a bit of a mish-mash. One thing about having a Canon mount on the camera is that I can still use Nikon lenses if I fit the lens with a low cost Nikon to Canon adapter ring. If you do this you can only use lenses with an actual iris ring, so generally these are slightly older lenses, but for example I have a nice Sigma 24-70mm f2.8 with a manual iris ring (and it focusses the RIGHT way, like most Sigmas but unlike most Nikon mount lenses). In addition I have a 70-300mm f4 Nikon mount Sigma as well as an Old Tokina 28-70mm f2.6 (lovely lens, a little soft but very nice warm colour). One thing I have found is that most of the Nikon to Canon adapter rings are little bit on the thin side. This prevents any zooms from being Parfocal as it puts the back focus out. Most of the adpaters are made in two parts and it’s quite easy to take the front and back parts apart and add shims made out of of thin plastic sheet or even card between the two halves to correct the back focus distance.
So there you have it. Overall DSLR lenses are not a huge compromise. Of course I would love to own a flight case full of good quality PL mount, 4K ready, glass. Perhaps one day I will, but it’s a serious investment. Currently I use DSLR lenses for my own projects and then hire in better glass where the budget will allow. For any commercials or features this normally means renting in a set of Ultra Primes or similar. I am keeping a close eye on the developments from Zunow. I like their 16-28mm f2.8 and the prototype PL primes I saw at NAB look very good. I also like the look of the Zeiss 15.5 to 45 light weight zoom. Then of course there is the excellent Fujinon 19-90mm Cabrio servo zoom, but these are all big bucks. Hopefully I’ll get some nice big projects to work on this year that will allow me to invest in some top end lenses.
This is a new lens announced today by Fujinon. It’s a 19-90mm T2.9 PL mount zoom lens, which in itself isn’t particularly interesting, there are plenty of similar lenses on the market. What is very interesting is that this lens has a removable hand grip that contains motors for the zoom and iris. So this lens bridges the gap between a traditional 2/3″ ENG style lens and a PL cine lens. If you don’t need the servo functions you can remove the hand grip. The lens has standard 0.8mod gears on the focus, zoom and iris rings so conventional follow focus motors can be used. In addition the lens is very lightweight for a PL zoom. Clearly this lens is in response to the growing use of Super 35mm camcorders in documentaries, news and other similar applications.
I’ve been asked a couple of times for some frame grabs shot with one of the MTF B4 to super 35MM adapters that I designed. Well, here they are. Shot on a Canon C300 fitted with the adapter and an old standard definition Canon J16 zoom lens. It was late in the day when I shot this so it’s not showing the adapter in its best light and of course an HD lens would be even better.
Click on the thumbnails to view a larger image or the full resolution image. I love the fact that even when using a super35mm sensor you can still have this great par-focal zoom range. Put a 20x ENG zoom and you can get both wider and closer!
OK folks. I wanted to see just how well a 2/3″ broadcast lens would work on an F3, but don’t have $5.5k to fork out on one of the Abel adapters. So with a bit of head scratching, a few, lowish cost lens purchases and a few hours in the workshop I cobbled together my own adapter. At first I tried a 2x magnifier but this didn’t quite give me full sensor coverage and was soft out in the corners. With a little more work I took the magnification up to 2.5x and I have clean corners. I’m really pleased with the performance, although one lens element needs changing for a higher quality element to combat some softness when the iris is fully open.
My old Canon J16x8 f1.8 becomes a 24 to 320mm f4(ish) par-focal lens which is actually quite handy. Next step is to make up a power cable for the lens so I can use the zoom servo.
I’m considering trying to find a manufacturer that can make these up for me properly, the converter should cost a lot less than $5.5k
While I was in Singapore last week I got to play with a pair of Canon’s XF105’s on a Genus Hurricane 3D rig. We were able to use the programmable axis shift function to compensate for the way the zoom lenses don’t remain centred as you change focal length. Zooming in 3D with two cameras is very hard to do because of this shift, normally requiring very expensive matched lenses. With the 105’s and and a few minutes of adjusting we were able to do synchronised zooms (using the IR remote) that retained very good tracking and accuracy. This really is quite remarkable at this price point!
Can you use a 2/3″ B4 broadcast zoom on a 35mm camera. Well yesterday I would have said “no”, but having seen this video on the AbelCine web site, now I’m not so sure. UPDATE: OK Should have read the specs…. it’s only suitable for smaller sensors as it has a 22mm image circle, the F3 has a 27mm diagonal. It’s still a viable option for the AF100 however.
The HDx2 adapter magnifies the image to fill a 35mm sensor, doubling the focal length at the same time. This is very intriguing as 35mm zooms are few and far between and very expensive. There is a 2 stop light loss (well if you expand the image 2 times that’s what happens) but most broadcast zooms are pretty fast lenses to start with. I can’t help but think that the pictures might be a little soft, but if you already have decent 2/3″ glass then the $5,500 for the adapter might make a lot of sense. Anyone out there with experience of one of these? I’d love to know how it performs.