Do you know what cine lenses are? I’ll assume you’ve heard of them — cine lenses, or cinematography lenses, are now commonly discussed within general photography, no longer relegated to the exclusive province of filmmakers.
The bigger question, however, may be why cine lenses have become so popular with those who don’t consider themselves to be solely filmmakers or videographers. The answer won’t come as much of a surprise, but let’s first take a quick look at some of the important differences between cine lenses and still photo lenses.
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Every still photographer loves and appreciates a lens constructed of high-quality materials. Such lenses are heavier than their cheaper counterparts but the trade-off is worth it for some people.
Cine lenses take build quality a step further — they are designed to withstand the harsh environmental conditions and repeated abuse that filmmaking sometimes calls for. Their durable, all-metal bodies make cine lenses bulkier and heavier than even the best-built photo lenses.
There is a price to pay for premium materials.
Cinema lenses are designed to maintain focus on moving subjects and to smoothly change focus from one fixed subject to another.
When shooting a movie, moving subjects are held in focus by rotating the focus ring as the subject moves, a manoeuvre referred to as “follow focus.” Unlike a standard still lens, the focus ring on a cine lens features distance markings and hard stops, two features that make focus following much easier.
Cine lenses are also parfocal, meaning they maintain focus on a subject regardless of a change in focal length — you can zoom in or out without having to reestablish correct focus. Some still lenses are indeed parfocal but it isn’t a standard feature.
While still lenses have aperture control that is measured in f-stops, cine lenses use the more precise t-stop, which is a measure of the amount of light that passes through a lens rather than how wide the iris of a lens is open.
The big advantage here is more precise and more consistent control over exposure. Additionally, the iris ring is de-clicked, allowing for silky smooth aperture adjustments.
Cinema lenses and high end still lenses are both made from top quality glass. Cine lenses, however, are engineered to be sharp from corner to corner. Cine lenses also hold the advantage when it comes to optical imperfections — barrel distortion, vignetting and chromatic aberration are minimal (or non-existent).
Cost And Pseudo-Cinema Lenses
The best still lenses — those that feature top build quality, weather sealing, a constant aperture, etc. — are costly. While a prospective buyer might expect to pay $5000 or so for a professional grade still lens, a true cinema lens can easily cost more than $100,000.
This is where pseudo-cinema lenses come to the rescue.
A pseudo-cinema lens, from all outward appearances, possesses all the features that a filmmaker would need like a focus ring with hard stops, smooth zoom and de-clicked aperture ring.
The optics of a pseudo-cinema lens, however, are based on still lens technology, including coatings, flare resistance and distortion. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing; pseudo-cinema lenses are capable of very good quality output, but they don’t meet the exceptional standards of true cinema lenses. The difference will likely be most noticeable when working in particularly difficult lighting situations.
Pseudo-cinema lenses can be purchased for about the same cost as a high end still lens.
Why Cine Lenses Are Becoming More Popular
With the rise of digital cameras (especially mirrorless cameras) that are capable of recording high-quality video, videography suddenly became widely accessible.
One need not invest in a dedicated camcorder or digital cine camera as an entry point into videography — a DSLR or mirrorless camera now serves double duty.
While most people can’t or won’t shell out the money for a true cinema lens, someone who is serious about video can opt for lower-priced pseudo-cine lenses without having to sacrifice much in terms of image quality.
Photography has changed and will continue to evolve. Many camera users now consider themselves hybrid photographers who effortlessly switch between video and stills.
Cinema lenses — particularly pseudo-cinema lenses — cater perfectly to the hybrid shooter who already owns a camera capable of capturing video. Cine lenses can be seamlessly incorporated into a hybrid photographer’s workflow.
Of course, there are those who continue to stick primarily to one or the other — either stills or video — but technology has opened up more creative possibilities to everyone.