A Comparison of Cine Prime Lenses for Full Frame Cameras

In this article I wanted to compare the specifications of a few popular cine prime lenses in the PL mount, specifically for full frame sensors.

A full frame sensor is 36mm x 24mm. However, you hardly shoot in an aspect ratio lower than 1.77:1 (16:9). This restricts the sensor dimensions to about 36mm x 20mm.

This means the lenses chosen must at the very least cover an image circle of 42mm to adequately cover a full frame sensor without vignetting. Typical cameras:

Red Monstro: 46.31mm

Arri Alexa LF: 44.71mm

Sony Venice: 43.5mm

Full frame mirrorless cameras: 42mm

This excludes many lenses that cover larger than Super 35mm, like e.g., the Leica Summicron-Cs. I’m only including lenses that are considered serious cinema lenses, not pseudo-cine lenses. And finally, I’m not considering lenses for the Alexa 65 or 65mm film.

Exclusive Bonus: Download your FREE list: 25 Proven DIY and Cheap Lighting Gear that actually delivers cinematic results (PDF file optimized for mobiles and tablets).
Schneider Cine Xenar III 50mm

The seven lens kits I’m comparing are:

  1. ARRI Signature Primes
  2. Canon Sumire Primes
  3. Cooke S7/i Primes
  4. Schneider Xenon FF Primes
  5. Sigma Cine Primes
  6. Tokina Cinema Vista Primes
  7. Zeiss CP.3 Primes
  8. Zeiss Supreme Primes
FeatureArri SignatureCanon SumireCooke S7/iSchneider Xenon
Aperture Range^T1.8-T22T1.3-T22T2.0-T22T2.1-T22
Front diameter (mm)114114110100
Blades in Iris1111914
Image Circle (mm)44.743.146.3145
Close Focus from Image Plane^ (mm)450450500500
Weight^ (kg)1.81.13.41.2
Focal Lengths in the kit12 to 280mm14 to 135mm16 to 135mm18 to 100mm
Consistent Length?*YesYesYesYes
Largest Consistent Aperture**T1.8T1.5T2T2.1
Focus Rotation (degrees)300300270300
Price for 50mm (B&H, USD)^$24,920$7,410$23,400$3,360
Sigma CineTokina Cinema VistaZeiss CP.3Zeiss Supreme
Aperture Range^T1.5-T16T1.5-T22T2.1-T22T1.5-T22
Front diameter951149595/114
Blades in Iris991516
Image Circle43.346.746.346.3
Close Focus from Image Plane^ (mm)400480450460
Weight^1.212.110.771.2
Focal Lengths in the kit14 to 135mm18 to 105mm15 to 135mm21 to 135mm
Consistent Length?*NoYesYesNo
Largest Consistent Aperture**T1.5T1.5T2.1T1.5
Focus Rotation (degrees)180300300300
Price for 50mm (B&H, USD)^$4,499$4,499$5,790$18,750
  • *For about four lenses in the kit, typically 24 to 85mm.
  • **If three of the lenses (among the middle five) are T1.5 but the other two are T2.1, then the largest consistent aperture is T2.1.
  • ^For the 50mm lens in the lineup. For the Arri Signature Primes, it’s a 47mm.

What about Image quality?

Image quality is the most important aspect of a lens lineup. However, it is also extremely subjective. You either get inspired or you don’t, regardless of what MTF charts tell you.

The important aspects of image quality are focus breathing, lens distortion, flare control, internal reflections, lens aberrations, lens metadata, electronic control, etc.

As far as focus breathing is concerned, except for the Sigma Primes, all lenses on this list are okay. Some are extremely good, others are average. The Sigma Primes have unacceptable levels of breathing in my opinion.

There’s just no way to gauge image quality without testing a lens yourself. No shortcuts here, and no point watching YouTube videos because that hardly shows you the important intricacies of a lens.

Observations

Let’s tackle each lineup one by one, with both pros and cons, and where each lineup separates itself from the bunch.

ARRI Signature Primes

These are probably the best lenses as far as this comparison is concerned. Note the following:

  • 12mm T1.8!! (Coming soon)
  • 11-blade iris, which is probably enough (Master Primes have only 9)
  • Goes all the way to 280mm, so Arri is fully committed to this line.

The only real negative is you can’t use them on the Red Monstro in full sensor mode.

Canon Sumire Primes

I’m not a fan of these lenses. They only cover 43.1mm, so you can’t effectively use them on any of the higher-end cameras listed above. And they are too expensive for what is on offer.

They do have some advantages going for them:

  • 11-iris blades, which Canon claims is better than even-numbered blades
  • T1.5 constant aperture, and some lenses go up to T1.3
  • 14 to 135mm range
  • Lightweight
  • Virtually no breathing

Maybe this is a commitment from Canon that their future full frame cameras will stay under the 43mm diagonal.

Cooke S7/i Primes

People use Cooke for the Cooke Look. And Cooke promises this lineup matches perfectly with the rest of their series.

Advantages:

  • It covers the Red Monstro!
  • 16 to 135mm range, which shows Cooke is committed to the format.
  • The Cooke Look

There are a few disadvantages though:

  • 9-blade iris (is it a disadvantage?)
  • Weird front diameter
  • No super-wide option
  • Weight. These are the heaviest lenses in this lineup.

Schneider Xenon FF Primes

These lenses have been around a long time. One of the key complaints of this series is the chromatic aberration in this lineup. However, you can’t argue against its value for money.

Advantages:

  • 14-blade iris
  • 45mm coverage
  • Low weight
  • Low price

Disadvantages:

  • Weird front diameter
  • No super-wide option
  • No new updates in a long time.

Sigma Cine Primes

Many people love the look of the Sigma primes, as they are direct descendants of the Art series. Which basically begs the question: Why not just buy the Art series and cine-mod them?

Disadvantages:

  • Breathing is unacceptable in my opinion
  • Lowest aperture is only T16
  • Only covers 43.3mm
  • Length is inconsistent
  • Focus rotation is 180 degrees

It has some advantages though:

  • Image quality!
  • T1.5 constant aperture
  • Low weight
  • Close focus is best
  • 14 to 135mm focal lengths

Tokina Cinema Vista Primes

These lenses are the most exciting in this group due to their price vs performance.

Advantages:

  • Constant T1.5
  • No breathing
  • Covers the Red Monstro
  • Great price

Disadvantages:

  • Heavy lenses!
  • No super wide angle or telephoto option greater than 105mm

Zeiss CP.3 Primes

The CP.3s are basically CP.2 glass with some modifications. Key among those is the change in size.

Advantages:

  • Lightweight – lightest in this class
  • Smallest in this class
  • Covers Monstro
  • 15-blade iris
  • 15 to 135mm focal length range

The CP.2s are proven workhorses, and the CP.3 is of the same breed. People buy and rent them because they work. And they are consistent and color matched to other Zeiss glass.

Even though they are T2.1, I would personally pick them over the Canon Sumire. Read about my first impressions of the CP.3.

Zeiss Supreme Primes

I’ve personally used these lenses and they are solid. The bokeh is creamy, here’s the video I shot:

I also speak about the Sigma cine primes and the Zeiss Supreme Primes in my Arri Alexa LF review:

Personally, I’m a bit confused about the Supreme primes:

  • Some lenses have a 95mm diameter, some have 114mm
  • Lengths are not constant, even in the mid-range! I really don’t understand this.
  • No wide or super wide option so far

There are advantages though:

  • The Zeiss look, color matched.
  • T1.5 constant aperture
  • Covers Monstro
  • 16-blade iris
  • Relatively lightweight
  • Slightly cheaper than others in this class?

Which cine prime is the best?

No such thing! As you can see, they all have strengths and weaknesses that make them perfect for some cameras and applications, and unacceptable for others.

The three lineups that I really want to test next is:

The Signature Primes cover the Alexa LF sensor, while the Cooke S7/i covers Monstro. This is why I’ll probably consider both. As far as the low end is concerned, nothing beats the value of the Tokina Vista Primes (not interested in the ONE though).

If you ask me which set to buy in the low-end business (corporate videos, commercials, etc.), I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend the Zeiss CP.3 line. Everyone knows the brand, and it will always be in demand. Can’t say the same about Tokina.

I hope this article was helpful. What do you think?

2 replies on “A Comparison of Cine Prime Lenses for Full Frame Cameras”

Comments are closed.