A Comparison of Prime Cine Lens Kits costing less than $10,000 per Lens

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.

Exclusive Bonus: Download my free cheatsheet (with examples) of the most important and useful focal lengths for film and video (PDF file optimized for mobiles and tablets).

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:

Schneider Cine Xenar III 50mmA word about PL mounts: Just because a lens manufacturer claims their lens supports PL, doesn’t always mean it will support the Arri PL standard. Make sure what you’re getting into before you commit.

The seven lens kits I’m comparing are:

  • Zeiss CP.2
  • Sony CineAlta SCL
  • Canon CN-E
  • Samyang
  • Red Prime Pro
  • Cooke Mini S4i
  • Schneider Cine-Xenar III

 

Features Compared

Here is a brief overview of the seven lens kits (click to enlarge):

Comparison of Cine Lenses

*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:

Cine Lenses focal length f-stop

Here are some observations:

Zeiss CP.2

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.

Canon CN-E

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.

Samyang

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.

Exclusive Bonus: Download my free cheatsheet (with examples) of the most important and useful focal lengths for film and video (PDF file optimized for mobiles and tablets).

8 replies on “A Comparison of Prime Cine Lens Kits costing less than $10,000 per Lens”

  1. The Sony primes are very underrated! They are as well built as the are T2 across the board while the Zeiss are all over the place and the Sony primes are not just rehoused still glass like the. The Sony also look better in my opinion. But because it is Sony most people snob them. 
    By the way, why did you use a picture of the Sony F3 PL lens but talked about the new generation lenses? They are very different lenses.

  2. basque  I agree with you. CP.2s are excellent value for money, and optically great too. I use them from time to time on the C300, but not often. 
    And, who wouldn’t like to shoot with an 5i or a Master Prime? Today, Tokina has entered the cinema lens game as well. Everyone’s doing it!

  3. Interesting Comparison. I do own ZEISS CP.2 lenses, I do think while they are not the best out there they are not also the most expensive. I see them as a great set of lenses and while they cover the image circle of the dragon sensor they hold up pretty well. Being this said many other lens options ( Even Ultraprimes) do not even cover anyway so at the end I don´t think that is an issue and not all the projects should be done in 6K or with the same lenses. ZEISS CP.2 lenses are very affordable, small lightweight, versatile and can hold on their own because their quality is good enough for most cases, they cover up to 6K, have the legendary ZEISS look and their professional enough to be used.

    I personally love ZEISS, COOKE( my favorites) , ARRI prime options and ANGENIEUX zooms (love this ones too)  but I could not afford any of them or all of them nor do I need them there is far more things more important that which gear you use and that is how do you use your gear. Vintage Glass can also be beautiful, say super baltars, kowas, k35´s it all depends how you use them.  

    Form me Zeiss Cp.2 are just a great option for the price, and to have them as a personal set and new ZEISS CZ 70-200 zoom is even better. Not all of them are slow lenses. You can get a decent 2.9 wides and 2.1 on the rest of the set ( and not even Ultraprimes are constant apertures on wides) and some of the CP.2 are way better than other ones with same ULTRAPRIME look with perhaps a not so creamy look but still not many will even notice that difference.

    I wish COOKE S4-minis where faster lenses, but they share the same look with their older brothers and don´t even think 2.8 with today´s sensors is really an issue. My absolute favorite lenses are COOKE 5is, they are one piece of art…

  4. Jeremy_LA  They should rock, but I have no direct experience with them. If you’re willing to go for it, check out cine-vised lenses from Duclos or GL Optics. E.g., a Sigma 18-35mm or a Canon prime rehoused would be killer, and more bang for your buck.

  5. Thank you for the article. Super!!! 

    What do you think about these lenses Schneider Kreuznach Xenon FF-Primes with a Red Epic?

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