We wrote a while back that gear doesn’t make the pro, and we will always agree with that thought. But there is something special about high quality equipment in the hands of a skilled craftsman. We met with our owner before the year ended, and he asked us what we needed to elevate our game. While we answered with a few different responses, the number one reply was cinema lenses.
Room for Improvement
I have often noticed that while our shots looked great, there was plenty of room for improvement. We use dynamic and complex lighting set-ups to separate our work from the rest. Limitations become apparent when you push the boundaries, and there were specific flaws in our lenses that walled us into a box. Shooting wide-open at f1.4 was something we stopped doing once we realized our 50mm couldn’t do it well. When the aperture was that wide, a hazy effect was introduced in our lens, and the image looked really soft.
None of our lenses handled line distortion well. This is a subtle detail that most do not notice, especially our clients, but it became increasingly obvious to us. Overall sharpness, detail and light fall-off are also features we didn’t like about our old glass. Keep in mind, those lenses are not bad; they are more than adequate. But we were asked to step up our quality, and that is the brass tacks once we reviewed it.
Introducing the Xeen Cinema Line from Rokinon
We had already looked at cinema lenses before the meeting, and that is why our response was so readily given. Considering the quality and invariable price that comes with this kind of glass, our selection was not very broad. We are a full-service production house, but we are not located in LA or New York. The Xeen line by Rokinon grabbed our attention out of the gate because of its overall offering of value compared to pricing. Twelve thousand dollars sounds like a lot of money because it is, but in terms of cinema lenses it is a drop in the bucket. I don’t want to downplay what we have because they are absolutely fabulous, and we do not have any regrets or buyer’s remorse. These lenses make us quite happy, so let’s now discuss why we love them.
The first thing you notice is the build. They are all metal and heavy and give you the feel of confidence in what we bought. The diameters are all the same, making filter purchasing much easier. The focus and aperture rings are both click-less and smooth, which allows for easy adjustment. The focus ring turns 270 degrees, while the aperture ring goes the full 360. Like all cinema lenses, the natural hood built into each lens is very nice. Each front element is recessed enough to provide solid protection from unwanted flare. They are sexy too. All cinema lenses have the same similar design, but ours look amazing nonetheless.
Clarity and Bokeh
We didn’t do a field test as much as we just simply used them for a project. Studio 601 in Randleman, NC put together a Pin-Up/ Glamor Shoot, and we provided a behind-the-scenes video. The first thing I noticed while shooting with the 35mm is how sharp and detailed it is wide-open. We didn’t get that kind of clarity with our former glass, and this aspect made us smile. Even wide-open, these lenses give us nose-to-back-of-the-head kind of sharpness, while also providing the creamy bokeh everyone loves. The bokeh is perhaps the best part. The wide-angle lenses give you a separation you can only get from telephoto options in photography. This characteristic of cinema glass is one of their best features. It is exaggerated even more when shooting with a longer lens like the 85mm or 135mm.
Color and Contrast
The next time we shot with our Xeen lenses was on studio project with a controlled environment. They didn’t let us down, but the set-up didn’t offer any kind of challenge. We did employ a tele-prompter, so we were able to confirm that our lenses worked well with it. Because all the lenses are close to the same size in length, we found we can use the 85mm or even the 135mmm with the teleprompter. This was not possible before, as telephoto lenses for photography are too long.
The next project was a locally produced sitcom. This gave us the most scenarios to test out the glass. We shot in low-light, we used back lighting and side lighting. The walls were yellow, but the color on all shots turned out fantastic. Cinema glass gives you a cinematic look, and that is my favorite detail. This is the third time we have helped produce a season for this sitcom, and it is safe to say it looks better than ever.
There are cons, but for our use we only have two so far. If you we shoot directly towards a large light source wide-open, there is still a slight hazing effect that softens our image. But compared to our previous glass, it’s not bad at all. The second downside is the mount. Each lens has a quarter-twenty thread mount because of their weight. It is more practical to attach the lens instead of the camera on smaller models like our a7sII. However, the mount is situated in a spot too close to the back of the lens, making it impossible to attach some of our cameras. We had to remove and flip the direction of the mount on some of the lenses to overcome this problem. For the most part though, these drawbacks are not serious, and they definitely don’t halt our productions.
Cinema lenses have given us an avenue to sincerely upgrade the quality we offer. This does not make it any easier because we strive to improve on all fronts. It does make us more responsible for getting better shots, and it takes away any excuses that may have existed in our production days pre-cinema glass. The overall quality of these lenses is something we can’t take for granted, and every time we mount one we smile. The small and mundane act of attaching a lens is made all that more special when you have a serious bit of glass in your hand. The heft will always remind us of the what it takes to truly be great, and the cost you sacrifice to get there—even if we aren’t talking about lenses anymore.
For a more detailed review, check out our companion video below.