UPDATE: May 10, 2016
I’ve been getting a lot of views to this page so I just wanted to post an update since I did the original comparison.
After doing the comparison, I made the decision to purchase a set of three Schneider Xenon FF cine lenses, 25mm, 50mm, and 100mm. I’m very happy with the purchase and can’t wait for the 18mm to be released towards the end of 2016.
I’ve used them on number of corporate shoots, mostly interviews, and I’m getting ready to use them on a short film. Using them on set there is a noticeable difference in image quality, but where I really can see the difference is in post production. As with the original comparison, this is an unscientific review, but they have a very clean and clear look. The focus is very sharp even WFO, no blooming, very little CA. In a recent edit, I kept catching myself looking at the image on the 50″ plasma screen and saying “Man that looks nice!” Some full res 4k frames are below, shot on the Blackmagic Production Camera 4k.
An Unscientific Test of the 50mm Zeiss CP.2 Super Speed and 50mm Schneider Xenon FF
I’ve been considering upgrading my lens package for a while but it wasn’t until I was recently hired as a B-Camera operator to shoot pickups for a 2016 feature film that I really made the decision to take the plunge. The camera I used had a Angenieux Optimo 24-290mm T2.8 Zoom. I’m certainly not in a position to plunk $87k down for a lens. However, I decided that it was a good time to invest in some industry recognized cinema glass that would last a life time. After much internet scouring for reviews and talking to colleagues, I focused on (haha, I made a funny):
- Sony CineAlta 4K Six Lens Kit
- Zeiss CP.2 Super Speeds
- Schneider Xenon FF
- Schneider Xenar III
- Leica Summicron Cinema Primes
- Xeen Cinema Primes
I Finally narrowed it down to 3, the Sony, Zeiss CP.2, and Xenon FF. I rented a 50mm Zeiss CP.2 and Xenon but could not find a rental house that had a Sony. I was really leaning towards the Sonys though because of the price for the six lens set. I decided not to go for them because of size, weight, less name recognition, and PL mount only. Name recognition is not a huge issue for me but the fact is, as lame as it is, some people are more comfortable going with a brand that has wide name recognition. I frequently have requests for equipment rentals. I wanted to have something with a little more recognition. The Zeiss and Schneiders both have EF and PL mount options that are interchangeable. That was appealing to me because of flexibility between camera bodies if I rent a camera and options for people interested in renting the lenses from me.
My final choice was the Schneiders. I ordered a 25mm, 50mm, and 100mm. The motion picture above and still pictures below give an unscientific look at some of the strengths and weaknesses. For reference, I compared the two rentals to my Rokinon 50mm. I was actually impressed with how well the Rok did.
Here are my seat of the pants impressions of the lenses.
Zeiss CP.2 Super Speed
Overal a huge improvement over the Rokinons I normally use. The build quality was excellent and they functioned smoothly. It has nice bokeh in part because of the 14 blade iris. I did not notice any breathing when pulling focus. It has the ability to switch lens mounts. It was not as heavy as I remembered them from the last time I used the Zeiss CP.2s. What I did not like was that at WFO T1.5 they go soft and the highlights bloom, or anything bright and white for that matter. In that regard they actually are no better than the Rokinons. However, in the images you’ll notice that the Rokinon’s bokeh is terrible compared the the Zeiss and Schneider due to its 9 blade iris. Overall sharpness was great but once you open up past T2.0, the blooming starts.
Schneider Xenon FF
The Xenon was my pick because the build quality was excellent, a slight bit better than the Zeiss, very smooth focus and iris rings, nice bokeh with a 14 blade iris even though its maximum aperture is T2.1, very sharp overall, and stayed sharp wide open at T2.1. Maybe the slightly slower aperture kept it from going soft and blooming but it just seemed to be very consistent all the way through the focus range. I really like the size and ergonomics of the Xenons as well. The “CP” in Zeiss CP.2 stands for compact prime. For me they are too compact and do not allow enough room for a follow focus and anything else mounted on the rods. The Xenons are about 2″ longer and allow for more breathing room when building out a camera. They also have a smaller outer lens barrel diameter of 100mm as opposed the the Zeiss CP.2’s 114 mm Diameter. That saves me from buying a new matte box. All I need is a 100mm to 104mm spacer ring.
It’s hard to tell but by the seat of my pants, I felt the color rendition is a slight bit warmer, similar to a Cooke, not as sterile as the Zeiss. A couple of other nice points about the Schneider is that the FF in its name stands for full frame. I don’t shoot anything larger than super 35 and don’t plan to in the foreseeable future, but the Xenon FF series of lenses are modern design lenses suitable for full frame DSLRs. I think that’s potentially appealing to rental customers who still shoot on full frame DSLRs. Another thing about the Xenons is that rather than basing their design on stills glass, as are the Zeiss lenses, they are based from the ground up on cinema glass from the Xenar III series.
My main checkoff list for new lenses was:
- Build quality
- Sharpness through entire focus range
- Creamy bokeh
- PL mount option
- Name recognition and esteem
The Xenon gets all the boxes checked, the Zeiss gets most of them checked, the Rokinons, although they are my day to day work lenses, get none of them checked.
The camera used was a Balckmagic Production Camera 4K and a Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera. None of the stills or footage are from the BMPCC though. They will come later. All of the interior shots were done at 3200k, exterior shots at 6000k, and all done in CinemaDNG RAW. A grade in Resolve 11 was done to get the footage to viewable and I used Captain Hook’s “Hook_BMDFilm2Vid3DLC_VIBE_V1” LUT. I uploaded a 4k version to Vimeo and when they roll out the 4k version to everyone it should be available when you click the HD icon in the player. You should still be able to download it though if interested.