A top-of-the-line cinema prime lens kit will set you back about $200,000. Some of the legends of this space are Panavision Primos, Arri Zeiss Ultra/Master Primes, Cooke S4i/S5i and the Leica Summilux-C.
For those who need cinema-quality lenses, which also includes features that make it easy to use in production (as opposed to photography), but can’t afford the top dogs, there are lenses in the sub-$10,000 group. A full kit of these lenses will run you about $40,000 and above. Luckily for us, this is a very competitive field, and there are many options.
The purpose of this article is to compare the features, price and options of seven cine prime kits, with an eye towards discovering which is the best investment at this point of time. To learn in detail about what you should look for in a lens before making a purchase, check out:
The seven lens kits I’m comparing are:
- Zeiss CP.2
- Sony CineAlta SCL
- Canon CN-E
- Red Prime Pro
- Cooke Mini S4i
- Schneider Cine-Xenar III
Here is a brief overview of the seven lens kits (click to enlarge):
*There is more than one option available for this feature.
**Not all lenses in this kit conform to this value.
***There is no 50mm lens in this lineup.
****It appears that Red has discontinued this range, even though they are still selling off some inventory.
Addendum: Schneider Cine-Xenar III is also available in the EF mount.
No, the Samyang price isn’t missing a zero.
Focal length and f-number comparison
The following is a table showing what focal lengths are available for each kit, along with the lowest f-numbers available. The maximum f-number is sometimes T 16 or T 22. Click to enlarge:
Here are some observations:
The CP.2 kit probably is the most versatile, it has the most options when it comes to focal lengths and lens mounts. The biggest complaint is the slow wide angle options, especially the 18mm. It is great for 1080p, but those who have used it for 4K and above say they don’t resolve as well as a Cooke or Red Pro Prime.
Buy your Zeiss CP.2 kit here.
Sony CineAlta SCL
The Sony website is unnecessarily confusing and frustrating. Just try finding information about the SCL series! There are also complaints from some users who claim the PL mount doesn’t conform to Arri PL. I haven’t tested this, but you should look into it if you are planning to use this lens kit with a non-Sony camera. Going forward, I expect this lens kit to get better and better, though. Its pricing is competitive, and it is fast at T 2 across the board.
Buy your Sony SCL kit here.
The Canon CN-E has the least options among this bunch. It is almost as if Canon is afraid to totally commit to the cinema or high-end broadcast market. I mean, Samyang and Red have more options, and both these companies are relatively new. On the other hand, these primes are a T 1.3, which makes them on par (on paper) with the legends. Unfortunately, the tests I’ve seen don’t give it too much credit.
Buy your Canon CN-E kit here.
Look closely, and you’ll see the Samyang has two things that no other lens in this series has: a couple of super-wide lenses! The 14mm T 3.1 is supposedly excellent. What I worry about is Samyang’s construction for tough production work. But at this price, where’s the risk? You can buy another kit and add a Samyang kit without feeling the pain.
Buy your Samyang kit here.
Red Prime Pro
These primes have withstood the test of time. They had to perform perfectly and resolve 4K right from the beginning, and many tests comparing them with the others on this list give it equal (if not more) respect. The major disadvantage of this series is the size and weight; and the fact that they are getting more and more rarer.
Buy your Red Pro Prime kit here.
Cooke Mini S4i
Cooke is a legend, and they can charge what they charge and get away with it. However, look at the f-numbers. This is no S4i, but a Panchros in a digital avatar. In today’s day and age, I wouldn’t recommend anyone buy a T 2.8 lens for $7K.
Buy your Cooke Mini S4i kit here.
Schneider Cine-Xenar III
The Cine-Xenar III is a recent addition by a legendary lens manufacturer. Like Cooke, they can charge big prices and get away with it. The fact that it comes in an EF mount version as well is mouth watering. One of the lenses in this lineup push the $10,000 limit, but the rest are in the $7,000 range. The next step is an Arri Ultra Prime T 1.9 kit, with each lens retailing at about $13,000 or so.
Buy your Schneider Cine-Xenar kit here.
Most bang for your buck?
If you’re shooting 1080p or 2K, then I would say, without a shadow of a doubt, grab the Zeiss CP.2 kit. I’ve used it many times on the C300, and they are stellar.
If you need the extra two super-wide angles from Samyang, you can add them to any kit. However, note that there is no PL mount option here.
If you’re shooting 4K and above, especially the 6K Red Dragon, you don’t have much choice. The big guns (price-wise) in this list don’t cover the image circle required by the Dragon sensor. The only kit I recommend in this list for 4K (but not the Dragon) is the Schneider Cine-Xenar III, but I would also try to push my budget further and snag the legendary Arri Ultra Prime T 1.9 lenses.
What do you think? Is my assessment correct? Which is your favorite cine lens lineup, and why?