Okay so this is my first ever blog post in conjunction with one of my ‘episodes’ and this is a perfect one to start out with (lots of pictures). I’m hoping to use this post to further clarify what I say on my episodes (which I usually say as fast as humanly possible).
This episode I talk about the first ever ‘entry level’ full frame cine zoom lens. To give some perspective on why I wrote this episode vs. just doing a flat out review let’s take a look at some of the other cinema lenses already in existence for other mounts:
Gosh darn those things are expensive!
So anyway, when I did my first episode about the new FF E-mount lenses coming out to support the alpha line of sony cameras, I did overviews on the three I had already purchased; the 35mm f/2.8, 55mm f/1.8, and 24-70mm f/4. I also did a forecast on rumored lenses coming out in 2015, one of which was the 28-135mm. At the time I thought it was intriguing just because of the focal range alone, I didn’t even know that it would be a ‘cine’ lens. And to be honest I don’t think I would have purchased the 24-70 zeiss at the time had I known more details about the 28-135; I bought the zeiss because I assumed I would still like it better for video than the 28-135 because it is, you know, zeiss glass.
Therefore I wrote this episode to kind of shed some light on the difference between photo lenses and ‘cine’ lenses, so what’s the difference you ask?
Well, for starters photo lenses are made spec to, well, photographers. They are light and compact as can be, and they cut corners in terms of design/mechanics to shed weight/size. For instance, most photo zoom lenses are vari-focal, meaning the focus-point changes at different focal lengths. Like if I’m filming someone giving a speech at a podium, and I zoom in on them, the focus will shift to behind them and I will have to refocus; I’m sure you see this a lot with videos on youtube shot on a DSLR.
Next, zoom rings are great for photographers, it gives them a quick ability to change framing on the fly so they can keep snapping pictures. However, this isn’t so great for videographers, because it’s darn near impossible to get a smooth zooms on a photo lens as is evidence by this episode I made over 3 years ago!
The third point above is more in reference to ‘cine’ primes than it is ‘cine’ zooms, but regardless the fact remains that most photographers do not use manual focus as much as they use auto focus. Though this is quite the opposite for videographers, where we almost exclusively use manual focus, and need to be able to have fine control over changes in focus. This is where ‘cine’ lenses come with a big advantage; more focus throw. The focus throw on the 28-135 is about 50% larger than the canon 24-105 that I used to have. And with ‘cine’ primes, you can actually choose between 2-3 focus rings for different situations (like for example pulling focus quickly from something far, or switching to a more macro focus ring for something like a closeup).
The fourth point I want to add, which wasn’t in my youtube episode, yes this is an exclusive point for those of you who still like to, you know, read; the 28-135 has both internal focusing AND internal zoom. Back in my days with the canon 5d, both of my 2 most used lenses struggled in this area.. my 50mm 1.4 extending as I changed focus, and my 24-105mm f/4 extended tremendously as I zoomed in. These are two factors that, for photographers might not matter as much, but are huge negatives for anyone doing professional video work or filmmaking.
The 28-135mm is the first full frame cine zoom priced below 10k? I’m not 100% sure about that but the cheapest FF cine zoom I’ve seen is another sony for around 25k, which would be just insane to pair with my sony a7s which is only 2500. So this is kind of a whole new door opening for me in terms of having a more professional rig.
This is now what a client sees when I show up; 3 years ago it was just a little camera with a little lens. Size does matter in the business world folks. Don’t get me wrong, I love the small size of my a7s paired with my relatively tiny sony-zeiss FF glass for photography, but if you can give me an all-in-one solution for video, make it look and feel professional, and I’m already using a 7″ monitor for 4k recording anyway, I’m sold.
The ability to get smooth zooms and focus pulls while still having the professional feel is something that has been in the back of my mind since the day I first started using DSLRs for video. We’ve all been making sacrifices for the sake of image quality. And for the IQ and price, we were more than willing to do so.. but I think that day is over. The new possibilities, especially in terms of price, that FF mirorless is unlocking is just going to lead to more newer and cheaper innovations. I can’t wait for Sony to release a set of ‘cine’ primes for the e-mount at a fraction of the cost of the canon ones I linked above.
Focus ring is not infinite, though the focus still feels electronic.
The focus ring, is really nice on the 28-135mm, I really enjoy the ability to quickly switch between MF and AF without ever pressing a button on the camera! Also the ring is not infinite in manual mode, yet still has some of the electronic assist features I enjoy with the sony-zeiss e-mount glass. This opens the door to more professional setups that might include follow focuses.
This was one of the biggest concerns from my viewers about the new sony-zeiss e-mounts being released; is that they had no markings for focus, were infinite in both directions, and variable (i.e. can’t use a marked follow focus as shown above). Well, the 28-135 is IMO the perfect balance of both, the MF still feels assisted, but you can also mark your FF.
Well, this is running on longer than expected, and since I still plan to do a full review at some point I’m going to wrap this up with some quick initial tests:
Corner test @70mm, winner 24-70
Center test @70mm, winner 28-135
Corner test @55mm, winner 55mm f/1.8
Center test @55mm, winner TIE
Corner test @35mm, winner TIE
Center test @35mm, winner TIE
So without going into too much detail, it seems that the 28-135mm actually holds up pretty well in terms of sharpness to my other sony-zeiss glass. I think the biggest surprise it that it is basically as sharp or sharper than all of the sony-zeiss lenses I own (35 f/2.8, 55 f/1.8, 24-70 f/4), though unsurprisingly it falls off a bit at the corners compared to the 55mm and the 24-70mm.
I might do a more in depth breakdown during my full review, but chances are I won’t because I am not 100% capable of accurately testing lenses. I actually go to dpreview a lot for those types of tests, but we’ll see. I only tested the 28-135 at 35/55/70 so that I could directly compare them to lenses I already own. It’s important to note that things like CA, sharpness, and vignetting vary at each focal length.
The TL;DR of all of this is that I will be using my 28-135 exclusively for video, using my 35/55 for photos, and selling off my 24-70 (and switching it for the new 16-35mm to make up for my lack of wide angle lenses. I own an rx-100 m3 which has a equiv focal range of 24-70 anyway, so I don’t think I will miss my 24-70 zeiss too much.
Sony RX-100 mark 3
Honestly like I mentioned earlier, the only reason I own the 24-70 is because I thought it would be more practical, while also having better IQ. Though I’m not sure it really holds up to my other glass too well, and it was my most expensive lens.
Anyway, before I go here are some quick negatives I see with this lens.
I’m thinking of switching to a matte box setup to compensate for that crazy 95mm front thread, it will future proof my system so I can stop wasting money on filters (I bought a 300$ variable ND filter for my 24-70 @68mm, and it doesn’t work for any of the newer lenses coming out with a filter of 72mm).
This lens is VERY HEAVY, I was shocked when the package first came in, be warned that while you CAN technically go handheld with just the camera and lens, you will not want to for very long. Definitely worth investing in a more heavy duty tripod for sure.
Lastly, this is only f/4. So you will need some additional primes for those super shallow shots everyone loves to use in their films. Personally this isn’t a big deal, if it was f/2.8 the lens would be EVEN BIGGER, if you can imagine that. The great thing about the a7s, is that I can use 6400 iso with no issues, and since I mostly shoot between f/5.6 and f/9 having that f/4 only isn’t the biggest deal. Like I said, for portraits/photography I still have my primes!
Well this is quickly becoming a full review, so I’m just going to stop here.
Hopefully this shed some light on the difference between photo lenses and cinema lenses, and how mirrorless technology is going to revolutionize the types of lenses we use for video.
See you next time!