Quick Look: Canon EF-mount Cinema EOS Lenses

When Canon lent me and Art Adams a 1D C and a C500 for review, they also left us three cine primes and a compact cine zoom, all in EF mount. Here’s a quick look at these lenses.

Cine Primes

Canon CN-E24mm T1.5 on a Canon C500.

The three Cinema EOS Primes, the CN-E24mm T1.5 L F, CN-E50mm T1.3 L F, and CN-E85mm T1.3 L F, are all designed for cine-style operation and for consistency across focal lengths, so lenses can be changed without affecting the weight and balance of the camera and without requiring repositioning of follow-focus or matte box. They’re all four inches (101.5 mm) long and 4.66 inches (118.4 mm) in diameter, with a common front diameter of 114 mm. They’re even threaded for 105 mm filters, so you don’t need a matte box just to hang a bit of glass in front of the lens. The lenses run from 2.4 to 2.9 pounds (1.1 – 1.3 kg).

Their focus rings rotate 300º; their irises have 11 blades for a pleasingly round bokeh; and the iris rings are smoothly turning, without detents or stops. Both focus and iris rings are geared for motors or follow-focus accessories; the gears are in exactly the same place on all three lenses. Focus markings in white read from the left side of the camera; a second set of markings, in green, is readable from the right side. The lenses come with Imperial or Metric distance scales, and the scales are said to be swappable, though we didn’t explore this capability.

All the primes cover full-frame 24x 36 mm sensors, so they’ll work fine on 5Ds and 1D Xes as well as on 1D Cs, 7Ds, C300s, C500s, and so on. Canon Cinema EOS primes are only available in EF mount.

The 24mm T1.5 is $5,220; the 50mm T1.3 and 85mm T1.3 are $4,950 each. At present, buying all three together saves you $900, for a bundle price of $14,220.

Compact Zoom

Canon CN-E30-105mm T2.8 on a Canon C500.

The $23,275 CN-E30-105mm T2.8 L S telephoto cinema zoom is available in both EF and PL mounts. It’s a “compact zoom” in cinema terms, weighing only 4.8 pounds (2.2 kg), and keeping the same 114 mm front diameter as the primes (whereas Canon’s non-compact zooms weigh about twice as much and have 136 mm fronts).

Yes, it weighs about twice as much as a prime and it’s about twice as long (8.6 inches or 218 mm), and it’s about two stops slower at T2.8, but those aside, it’s clearly cut from the same cloth. Its lens markings are the same, it has the same 300º focus throw, and its aperture has 11 blades. The zoom ring turns through a bit over 90º and it has the same silky-smooth, nicely damped feel as the focus ring. Focus “linearity” is excellent (turning the ring at a constant speed results in a constant zoom, with no compression towards one end of the scale as is often the case with stills zooms).

30-105mm T2.8 cine zoom compared to the 24-105mm f/4 stills zoom. It’s bigger, heavier, and pricier, but it’s much better suited to cine-style production.

One very nice feature of the 30-150mm: it’s tapped for zoom and focus levers, and two levers are bundled with it, a long one and a short one. These levers make smooth manual zooming (and focusing, if you need to perform a long, continuous focus pull) easier and more pleasurable.

Both long and short zoom/focus levers fitted. The bit on the bottom is a lens-support attachment.

All Canon’s Cinema EOS lenses report focal length and iris to the camera, so that this information can be displayed and stored as clip metadata.

24mm on a C500 for "A Walk in the Woods". DP Art Adams. Note the aperture and focal length readouts on the left side of the screen.

Of course the lenses themselves are entirely manual: focus, zoom, and iris are completely, consistently, and unambiguously under your control at all times.

Operation and Performance

All the lenses have a reassuringly solid feel to them. The focus and iris rings turned smoothly and consistently, with the exact same feel and resistance not only from end to end on the same lens, but across lenses, too. I didn’t notice any grittiness, stickiness, or other distressing characteristic to the mechanical aspects of the lenses.

The primes are quite rectilinear, even on full-frame, with just a hint of barrel distortion.

Note: I shot all my distortion tests handheld on a 5D Mk II, photographing a floppy plastic grid target propped on an artist’s easel, with the upper right corner supported by a light stand and the lower right corner not supported at all. That corner sagged back, away from the camera, so it looks like all the lenses have excessive barrel distortion in the lower right quadrant. Please ignore that quadrant in the test images. Also, these were shot under mixed daylight and warm-white fluorescents with a fast shutter, so the color is all over the map. Forgive my sloppiness; I was running a very high fever that day!

I’ve superimposed the active areas of the 1D C’s sensor. The “Full-frame” HD area will be the same for all full-frame cameras, including the 5D. The 4K area is the 1D C’s 4K framing. The S35 area is that used on the 1D C, and it’s  roughly comparable to other nominally Super35mm sensors; the C100/C300/C500 use a 13.8 x 24.6 mm sensor area, a bit larger than that shown for the 1D C, while the 7D’s sensor area for video is just slightly smaller than the 1D C’s S35 area: 12.5 x 22.3 mm.

CN-E24mm T1.5

CN-E50mm T1.3

CN-E85mm T1.3

There is little lateral chromatic aberration to speak of (maybe 2-3 pixels of red/green separation in the extreme corners of my 5D’s 5.6K stills; less than 1 pixel’s worth by the time you crop to 1D C 4K or S35), and minimal longitudinal aberration (the sort you see when pulling focus through a subject). Sharpness was generally excellent. When I put the 24mm on my 5D and pixel-peeped the corners of the image with10x live view, I did see some lateral smearing wide open, but stopped down to T2.8 or smaller the problem went away. In practical shooting, it was never an issue.

Bokeh—the quality of out-of-focus areas—is excellent: creamy-soft and smooth.

CN-E24mm T1.5; Peter Singer interview at Google. DP Joe Murray. Ungraded.

CN-E50mm T1.3; Peter Singer interview at Google. DP Joe Murray. Ungraded.

CN-E85mm T1.3; Peter Singer interview at Google. DP Joe Murray. Ungraded.

The 30-105mm zoom has to cover a 3.5x focal length range, so it’s to be expected that its images won’t exactly match those of the primes. Indeed, the zoom shows a bit of barrel distortion when 30mm wide, becoming neutral in midzoom (40-50mm) moving towards very slight pincushioning at telephoto (remember, this lens only covers S35 and the 1D C’s 4K areas; distortion outside those constraints is irrelevant, unless you’re using the lens on full-frame for a special effect):

CN-E30-105mm T2.8 at 30mm.

CN-E30-105mm T2.8 at 40mm.

CN-E30-105mm T2.8 at 50mm.

CN-E30-105mm T2.8 at 75mm.

CN-E30-105mm T2.8 at 105mm.

For comparison, look at the the performance of the popular EF 24-105mm f/4 L stills zoom:

EF 24-105mm F4 L IS USM at 24mm.

EF 24-105mm F4 L IS USM at 50mm.

EF 24-105mm F4 L IS USM at 70mm.

EF 24-105mm F4 L IS USM at 105mm.

The zoom shows a tiny amount of lateral chromatic aberration, a bit more longitudinal aberration than the primes (that is, slightly more than almost none, grin), and its bokeh is a bit “busier”, not quite as creamy and even. But these are comparisons against pristine primes: while I say “not as good as”, the performance is still pretty darned impressive.

I didn’t notice any ramping (exposure change), vignetting, or portholing while zooming, even at full wide aperture; breathing (change in magnification while focusing) is almost nonexistent; and I couldn’t detect any focus shifting during zooming (not that I was expecting to see problems in any of these areas, because after all, this is a proper cine zoom).

Issues and Cautions

Look: I have to find something to complain about, or it isn’t a proper review.

The lenses come with substantial, push-on plastic lenscaps. They work very well to protect the front of the lens from rough handling, but their rims are so deep that that they tend to cover the focal length markings on the primes.

The EF mount is a fine mount for stills, but it’s a bit on the lightweight side for cine cameras and lenses. The thin flanges on the lenses just aren’t as robust as those on a PL mount lens, so some caution and gentleness are called for.

Mounting flange on the 30-105mm T2.8 zoom.

When Canon delivered the cameras and lenses, I asked if the 30-105mm could be mounted on the C500 without a lens support, just to look at it, and the Canon folks said yes… but one of them held his hand below the lens all the same, just in case it decided to fall off! Seriously, the lens was never in imminent danger (and neither Art not I had any qualms about hanging one of the primes on the camera unsupported), but it is more delicate than a PL mount, and needs to be treated appropriately.

Mounting flange on the 85mm T1.3 prime.

On the 85mm, the rear element is exceedingly close to the back of the flange. Mounting and dismounting this lens requires extra caution, to make sure you don’t touch or damage those exposed elements.

And that’s as negative as I can get. These lenses are valuable additions to the toolkit, and well worth checking out the next time you’re shooting with an EF-mount camera.

Disclosures: Canon lent me and Art Adams a 1D C, a C500, three cine primes, and a cine zoom for about a month, and paid shipping and insurance. However Canon did not compensate us for our time or provide other material consideration in return for a favorable review. Canon has reviewed this article for errors of fact, but the opinions in it are mine alone.

About the Author

Adam Wilt is a software developer, engineering consultant, and freelance film & video tech. He’s had small jobs on big productions (PA, “Star Trek: The Motion Picture”, Dir. Robert Wise), big jobs on small productions (DP, “Maelstrom”, Dir. Rob Nilsson), and has worked camera, sound, vfx, and editing gigs on shorts, PSAs, docs, music vids, and indie features. He started his website on the DV format, www.adamwilt.com/DV.html, about the same time Chris Hurd created the XL1 Watchdog, and participated in DVInfo.net’s 2006 “Texas Shootout”. He has written for DV Magazine and ProVideoCoalition.com, taught courses at DV Expo, and given presentations at NAB, IBC, and Cine Gear Expo.  When he’s not doing contract engineering or working on apps like Cine Meter, he’s probably exploring new cameras, just because cameras are fun.

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About The Author

Adam Wilt

Adam Wilt is a software developer, engineering consultant, and freelance film & video tech. He’s had small jobs on big productions (PA, “Star Trek: The Motion Picture”, Dir. Robert Wise), big jobs on small productions (DP, “Maelstrom”, Dir. Rob Nilsson), and has worked camera, sound, vfx, and editing gigs on shorts, PSAs, docs, music vids, and indie features. He started his website on the DV format, adamwilt.com/DV.html, about the same time Chris Hurd created the XL1 Watchdog, and participated in DVInfo.net‘s 2006 “Texas Shootout.” He has written for DV Magazine and ProVideoCoalition.com, taught courses at DV Expo, and given presentations at NAB, IBC, and Cine Gear Expo. When he’s not doing contract engineering or working on apps like Cine Meter II, he’s probably exploring new cameras, just because cameras are fun.

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