Review rating: **
List of sponsored/free gear: It was a workshop
Did I get paid for this review? No

Snehal Patel of Zeiss was in Mumbai to launch the new CP.3 lenses and the LWZ.3 21-100mm zoom. It was a 2-day workshop, and I got to spend some time playing with the lenses, testing it against the old CP.2, Ultra Primes and also the Compact Zooms.

For cameras we had the Sony FS7, F55, Arri Amira, Red EPIC-W and Varicam, displayed on Sony monitors – so it was great testing out how the lenses behaved on cameras with different sensors.

This report is just my first impression of the products. I’ve asked Zeiss for a review unit when it starts shipping in August (the CP.3 XD ships in August, the plain CP.3 is already shipping). I don’t know if they will, though.

LWZ.3 21-100mm T2.9 to T3.9

This lens retails for $9,900, so is cheap compared to cinema zooms (Fujinon is the main competitor). It is parfocal and has low breathing, which is great. Zeiss primarily pitches this as a run-and-gun lens mainly for documentaries and gimbal work, but without compromising on the Zeiss look. This means, if you’re shooting with Ultra Primes or CP.3/CP.2s, then you get a color matched zoom.

Here’s a video shot by Visual Impact to launch the zoom:

And here’s the making:

What I liked

  • You can replace mounts so it can be used on many cameras.
  • Parfocal and low breathing.
  • 290° focus rotation. Smooth focus and zoom throw.
  • 11 aperture blades.
  • Covers 8K Helium (except for FF mode, where you will see vignetting. Same with Alexa Open Gate).
  • 3/8″ tripod support.
  • Low distortion. As the Zeiss launch videos show, and we tested, it renders lines straight (but not if you move the camera, then the distortion is apparent in the wide end).
  • Stellar flare resistance and performance, similar to the Compact Zooms.
  • Color matched to CP.3 and Ultra Primes.
  • It’s damn light, and is tough.
  • It’s vacuum sealed, which means it does great in mild rain, dust, etc., and is resistant to fungal growth. Not completely weather sealed.
  • One lens for all your work.
  • Really good price-point. The LWZ.3 actually is good value for money overall. Zeiss had a good offer for India at launch, so if you’re in India you’ll find the link to contact below (I don’t know how long it will last, and I’m not associated with them so please don’t ask me!).

What I didn’t like

  • The T2.9 to T3.9 aperture. At the telephoto end it drops, but as Snehal was keen to point out, the aperture shifts gradually and linearly, not like still photo cameras. So when you actually zoom in slowly, you won’t notice the drop in exposure. Still, there is a drop in exposure!
  • It’s not wide enough! An 18-100mm would have been great. I feel Zeiss have missed a trick here. Either a wider range or a consistent T-stop, one of these would have made the lens a lot more compelling. I cannot understand why this lens isn’t full frame but still offers a variable T-stop.
  • It only covers Super 35mm, so the 35mm equivalent focal length is 30-140mm. Let me repeat: Not wide enough! On documentaries, drones and gimbals the one thing you need is a wide angle. Maybe Zeiss can come out with a wide-angle attachment, but it would further drop the aperture.
  • The price! Even though it’s a great price for a cinema zoom, you can get a lot of the image quality with just a Canon 24-105mm f/4 L lens, with only a slight drop in aperture (but it covers full frame). You really have to do some hard thinking to justify the difference in price for run-and-gun work. Still photo lenses are really popular, many Red owners shoot with photography lenses.
  • If you’re a Sony shooter, the New Fujinon MK series lenses (only for the E-mount) is definitely better value. Other than that the LWZ.3 actually is good value for money overall.
    114mm front diameter, so you need a matte box or some big filters (95mm)!

The CP.3 Primes – “Plain” and XD

The Zeiss CP.3 primes are the much-awaited upgrade to the super-popular Zeiss CP.2 cinema zooms. The XD version adds a motor/encoder that is able to pass on lens metadata (similar to EXIF data) over the Cooke /i protocol (not the Arri LDS system because Zeiss has to pay royalties on that, and that is then passed on to you – which would only raise the prices).

In addition, XD also has Zeiss Extended Data that passes on information on shading (vignetting that all lenses display) and distortion. Here’s the launch video:

Currently, no camera supports this directly (there are contacts on the mount itself and a lemo port separately), but Zeiss is working with the high-end manufacturers (with PL mount cameras) to incorporate it. The Cooke /i standard is already widely supported, so it shouldn’t be too hard.

If your camera doesn’t support it, or if it isn’t a PL mount, then the lens has a LEMO connector that you can connect to an Ambient Lockit that will record the data and (if you want) transmit the data wirelessly to a laptop that runs Pomfort LiveGrade.

Zeiss is coming out with a free app for DaVinci Resolve (OFX), and is also working with Nuke and Adobe for plugins so you can then use the data in post production to make those corrections.

The XD versions are more expensive, but not by much considering the final kit investment, returns and value offered.

What about the “plain” CP.3?

The plain CP.3 line comes without the XD encoder, so is slightly lighter but otherwise similar in all respects. Differences between the CP.2 and CP.3:

  • The only new lens design in the lineup is the 18mm, which now covers full frame and is a T2.9 (the CP.2 18mm only covers APS-H and is T3.6). The other lenses share similar glass to the CP.2, with the notable differences being:
  • Smaller front diameter (95mm now).
  • New construction to make the lenses the same size (mostly) and weight (mostly) for easier gimbal use.
  • The lenses are more color matched.
  • Better flare resistance.
  • Consistent T2.1 aperture (mostly).
  • Lighter.
  • The CP.2 line is being discontinued. However, the CP.2 Super Speeds (35mm, 50mm 85mm T1.5) will still continue to be sold. There are no plans for a T1.5 version of the CP.3, but that’s what they said the last time as well!

What I liked

  • Easier to handle over the CP.2.
  • Interchangeable mounts with shims.
  • Color matched with good flare resistance.
  • Matched closely to Ultra Primes, Compact Zooms and the LWZ.3.
  • Lower chromatic aberration (though I didn’t test all the focal lengths)
  • Lighter
  • Smaller front diameter (95mm).
  • Great for gimbals and drones.
  • Nice balanced image quality – the Zeiss look. Nice skin tones and neutral color reproduction.
  • Sharp! I think it can easily resolve 6K. Not sure about 8K, will need to test it.
  • Photographers can also now consider it, though I don’t see how it can be an alternative to the Otus line.

What I didn’t like

  • Breathing at the telephoto end. The lenses continue to breathe similar to the Ultra Primes. This is normal, I’ve been told by Snehal.
  • The XD has limited utility, and demands a lot of resources to work. Currently you need the Lockit + Laptop + Pomfort LiveGrade to just record the metadata as separate sidecar files. Then you need a system to organize all this and utilize it through the post production pipeline. The shading and distortion features are useful for colorists (not so much) and VFX (the real beneficiaries). As you can imagine, this system is not for the solo operator. You need a DIT on set.
  • Price for the plain CP.3. Even though it’s decently priced, I can’t help but feel it’s not going to sell anywhere as well as the CP.2. Why would anybody upgrade for what is essentially similar glass? The CP.2 will continue to rent well, and will command decent prices in the used market. I really think Zeiss missed a trick here. The CP.3 at $3,000 or less would have been an exciting proposition. For new buyers it makes sense, but many of the rental houses already have CP.2s. The supreme success of the CP.2 is a bottleneck here!
  • The XD is confusing! At least to a market like India. There are so many questions I had to the actual working of it, but unfortunately we didn’t have an XD for this workshop so I thought I’ll make up my own mind if I ever get a test unit. For it to really succeed XD needs to be incorporate in-camera, and must pass as metadata with source footage.
  • You can’t XD-ify a plain CP.3. So you have to make up your mind, which adds to the confusion for rental houses. With this point and the point above – what it means is, maybe it’s a good idea to wait and watch while the platform matures before investing in XD. But that also means no investment in plain CP.3s while people wait and watch! I hope I’m wrong for Zeiss’s sake, but I can’t make financial sense with the CP.3s.
  • The shading system does not work well with filters. Snehal said ND filters shouldn’t have an effect, but if you stack ND filters you will change the shading characteristics. Many DPs add diffusion filters (the lenses are sharp and have a clinical look to skin tones that many try to mitigate nowadays with older glass or filters)

Overall though, Zeiss is super-serious with these lenses, and you won’t go wrong with either if you are investing in a new set of glass. Obviously such beautiful glass deserves a full review before I can form a final definitive opinion. So whatever I’ve said here is just my first impressions, some of which can be attributed to the limited amount of time I was able to spend with them.

The Compact Zooms, my favorite Zeiss lens

I also had a chance to play around with the Compact Zooms (they cover full frame and are about $20K a lens) and I must say they are super impressive. I’ll try to get those for review as well, but I’ll need to pair them with the a7S II and its ugly compression artifacts. Where is that decent full frame cinema camera? Currently, the CZs are like beautiful world-class racing horses pulling a rickety rickshaw on the roads of Mumbai. You want a zoom for the future? The Zeiss Compact Zooms are it.

I want to thank Mr. Gowrishankar of Zeiss for inviting me. You can contact him from one of the numbers here. Zeiss has a great outreach in India and I’m sure you can work with him for some good deals, even with photography lenses. I’m not affiliated and won’t benefit monetarily, so please don’t direct any questions to me.

And of course, thank you, Snehal Patel for a great workshop and for patiently answering all my questions. Snehal is totally honest – he’s the Zeiss look personified!

If you have any questions let me know in the comments below. I’ll leave you with a video from Zeiss using the CP.3 lenses:

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