Cine lenses, also known as cinema lenses or motion picture lenses, have been gaining popularity among filmmakers and photographers alike. But what sets them apart from regular lenses?
A cine lens is a specialized type of lens designed primarily for capturing moving images in film and video production. It features precise manual focus and aperture control, consistent exposure values with T-stops, minimized focus breathing, and compatibility with professional camera rigs, which distinguishes it from regular lenses used for still photography.
In this article, we will delve into the world of cine lenses, addressing the differences between cine lenses and regular lenses, their impact on image quality, their compatibility with photography, and whether they have autofocus capabilities.
The Difference Between a Cine Lens and a Regular Lens
Cine lenses and regular lenses, also known as photo lenses or still lenses, are designed for different purposes. While both can capture images, cine lenses are specifically engineered for capturing moving images in films and videos, whereas regular lenses are primarily intended for still photography. Below are the key differences between the two:
Build Quality and Design
Cine lenses typically have a robust build, with high-quality materials and precise mechanical construction. This ensures durability and consistent performance under the demanding conditions of film production.
In contrast, regular lenses often prioritize compactness and affordability, which may sometimes compromise their build quality.
Focus and Aperture Control
Cine lenses feature manual focus and aperture control rings with smooth, consistent, and precise movement. The focus ring usually has a longer rotation range, allowing for more accurate focus adjustments.
While photographers refer to the aperture or diaphragm of a lens, filmmakers and cinematographers use the term ‘iris’ for the same mechanism. Essentially, these two different terms describe the same feature in a lens.
The aperture ring on cine lenses is de-clicked, enabling seamless aperture adjustments during a shot without introducing sudden changes in exposure. In contrast, regular lenses often have click-stops in the aperture ring, which can cause abrupt changes in exposure while adjusting the aperture during filming.
While filming, it’s essential to avoid the audible clicking noises of a regular aperture ring and noticeable shifts in exposure. Instead, everything should be seamless and quiet.
The focus ring on a cine lens can rotate more than 270 degrees, allowing precise adjustments between the closest focusing distance and infinity. This design leads to stable focusing and greatly reduces focus breathing, a common issue with regular camera lenses.
Cine lenses are parfocal lenses, meaning they can maintain focus on a subject while zooming in or out. In contrast, non-parfocal lenses may lose focus when zooming, which means you need to adjust the focus again.
Since zooming is a crucial aspect of filmmaking, a true parfocal cine lens enables smooth zoom transitions without losing focus on the subject.
T-stop vs. F-stop (Light & Aperture Control)
Cine lenses use T-stops (transmission stops) to indicate aperture values, while regular lenses use F-stops. The key difference between the two is that T-stops account for light transmission losses within the lens, providing a more accurate representation of the actual light reaching the sensor.
F-stops only represent the theoretical amount of light passing through the lens, which may differ from the actual light transmission due to lens design and coatings. This distinction is critical in filmmaking, where consistent exposure across multiple lenses is essential.
Cine lenses are designed to minimize focus breathing, a phenomenon where the field of view changes slightly when adjusting focus. Focus breathing can be distracting in video production, whereas it is generally not a concern in still photography.
Regular lenses are not typically optimized to minimize focus breathing, making them less suitable for video applications.
Cine lenses are equipped with built-in gears for focus, iris (aperture), and zoom control. These gears enable seamless integration with follow focus systems and other professional camera rigs.
Like many professional lenses, cine lenses allow you to zoom in and out by rotating the zoom ring on the lens body. Unlike regular lenses, cine lenses do not change their physical length during zoom adjustments, as they manage the focal distance internally.
This feature is particularly beneficial for filmmakers using camera rigs on stabilization systems, as even small changes in lens length can disrupt the balance of these systems, affecting the shot’s stability.
Size and Lens Mounting
Cine lenses are typically larger and heavier than most still photo lenses, primarily due to the manual adjustment of their settings.
Unlike still photo lenses, which come in various sizes and lengths, cine lenses adhere to a standardized size.
This standardization eliminates the need for specific mounts when attaching cine lenses to professional film cameras and removes the requirement to adjust the matte box, which prevents stray light from affecting the lenses.
Consequently, cine lenses offer greater compatibility and ease of use with film cameras and camera rigs.
Optical Quality – Sharpness, Color, and Contrast
The optical quality of a lens largely depends on the glass used. High-end still photography lenses, made from premium glass, can offer excellent optical quality for video as well.
Although cine lenses and regular lenses may have similar optical performance in typical filming situations, cine lenses truly excel in challenging lighting conditions, such as direct sunlight or high-contrast scenes.
Cine lenses from the same brand usually deliver consistent image output in terms of color and contrast. These lenses are designed to provide sharpness across the entire frame, including the corners, and to minimize or eliminate chromatic aberrations, barrel distortion, and vignetting, which are particularly noticeable in video footage.
While not essential for all filmmakers, cine lenses can also produce beautiful out-of-focus blur (bokeh) and appealing light flares when used with a shallow depth of field.
High Price Tag
A drawback of cine lenses is their high cost. Top-of-the-line cine lenses can reach prices well over $100,000. Cine lenses are more commonly rented than purchased for this reason.
However, there are more budget-friendly alternatives are available, such as pseudo-cine lenses and cine-modified photo lenses. These options are essentially digital photo lenses with some cine lens functionalities and are compatible with DSLRs, mirrorless, and compact film cameras.
Cine Lenses vs Photo Lenses
To better understand the differences between budget photo lenses, professional photo lenses, and cine lenses, we have prepared a comparison table below. This table highlights the key features of each lens type, allowing you to make an informed decision when selecting the best lens for your specific needs.
|Budget Photo Lens
|Professional Photo Lens
|Wide range of focal lengths
|Limited to cine needs
|Consistent exposures with T-stop calibration
|Uniform image characteristics
|Consistent front diameters and filter threads
|Focus throw smoothness and range
|Short (quick focus)
|Presence of aperture ring
|Smooth zoom operation
|Focus control method
|AF / Manual
|Follow focus system
|Rugged and durable construction
|Non-extending barrel during zoom/focus
|Maintaining physical length
|Ease of service and repair
|Uniform weight across lens lineup
Do Cine Lenses Make a Difference?
Cine lenses can significantly impact the quality and consistency of moving images in film and video production. Cine lenses unique features, including precise focus and aperture control, consistent T-stops, minimized focus breathing, and compatibility with professional camera rigs, enables filmmakers to achieve a higher level of control and precision in their work.
However, cine lenses also tend to be more expensive and heavier than regular lenses, which may be a disadvantage for some users. Ultimately, the choice between cine lenses and regular lenses depends on the specific needs and priorities of the filmmaker or photographer.
Can You Take Photos with a Cine Lens?
Cine lenses can be used for still photography. While they are primarily designed for filmmaking, their high-quality optics and precise focus control can also yield excellent results in still images. However, there are some limitations to consider when using cine lenses for photography:
Cine lenses typically lack autofocus capabilities, meaning that photographers must rely on manual focus. This can be challenging in some situations, such as fast-paced action or sports photography, where autofocus is crucial for capturing sharp images.
Weight and Size
Cine lenses tend to be larger and heavier than regular lenses, which may make them less convenient for everyday photography or travel.
Cine lenses are generally more expensive than their regular counterparts, making them a less accessible option for many photographers, particularly hobbyists or those on a budget.
Despite these limitations, cine lenses can produce outstanding results in still photography, especially in controlled environments such as studio shoots or when capturing landscapes, portraits, and other subjects that do not require fast autofocus.
Do Cine Lenses Have Autofocus?
As mentioned earlier, cine lenses are primarily designed for manual focus operation. Autofocus systems introduce potential inconsistencies in focus and focus breathing, which can be undesirable in film production.
Manual focus control allows filmmakers to achieve precise and consistent focus throughout a scene, ensuring that the desired subject remains sharp and in focus.
That said, some cine lens manufacturers have begun to incorporate autofocus capabilities into their products, especially as the technology has improved and become more reliable.
These autofocus cine lenses are still relatively rare and can be more expensive than their manual focus counterparts. The decision to use an autofocus cine lens depends on the specific needs of the filmmaker and the type of project they are working on.
Choosing the Right Lens for Your Project
With the growing popularity of hybrid cameras capable of both high-quality stills and video, it is essential to consider which type of lens best suits your needs. When deciding between cine lenses and regular lenses, ask yourself the following questions:
What is the primary purpose of your project?
If your primary goal is filmmaking or videography, investing in cine lenses can provide the level of control and consistency required for professional results. However, if you are mainly focused on still photography, a regular lens may be more suitable and cost-effective.
Do you require autofocus capabilities?
As discussed earlier, cine lenses typically lack autofocus features. If you need autofocus for your project, you may need to look for the rare autofocus cine lenses or opt for a regular lens.
What is your budget?
Cine lenses can be more expensive than regular lenses due to their specialized features and high-quality construction. If you are on a budget, consider whether the advantages of cine lenses justify the additional expense or if a regular lens can meet your needs.
Do you need compatibility with professional camera rigs?
Cine lenses are designed to integrate seamlessly with professional camera rigs, including follow focus systems and other accessories. If you plan to use these tools in your project, cine lenses may be the better choice.
Cine Lenses in the Market
As cine lenses gain popularity, various manufacturers are offering a wide range of cine lenses to cater to different needs and budgets. Some well-known cine lens manufacturers include:
Zeiss is a renowned optics company that offers a range of high-quality cine lenses, including the Compact Prime CP.3 and Supreme Prime series. These lenses are known for their sharpness, color consistency, and minimal distortion.
Canon, a popular camera and lens manufacturer, offers the Cinema EOS series of cine lenses, which includes prime and zoom lenses designed for various sensor sizes and formats. These lenses feature high-quality optics and reliable performance.
Sigma, a third-party lens manufacturer, has introduced the Sigma Cine series, which includes prime and zoom lenses that provide excellent image quality at a relatively affordable price point. These lenses are compatible with various camera systems thanks to their interchangeable mounts.
Cooke is a prestigious British lens manufacturer known for producing high-quality cine lenses with a distinct “Cooke look,” characterized by warm and organic color rendering. Their lenses, such as the S4/i, 5/i, and Anamorphic/i series, are popular among professional filmmakers.
As you can see, cine lenses offer a wide range of advantages over regular lenses when it comes to filmmaking and videography. While they can be used for still photography, certain limitations may make them less suitable for some photographers.
As technology advances, we may see more cine lenses with autofocus capabilities, further blurring the line between cine and regular lenses.
The choice between cine lenses and regular lenses depends on your specific needs, budget, and the type of project you are working on.
By carefully considering these factors and researching the various options available in the market, you can find the perfect lens to help you achieve your creative vision.