Sony’s set of six CineAlta-branded PL mount prime lenses has been picking up great reviews from top-end cinematographers.
Sony’s very reasonably priced SCL-PK6/F (feet) and SCL-PK6/M (metres) pack of six high-quality prime lenses has been specifically developed for CineAlta cameras and promises excellent colour rendition, low distortion and mechanical durability. The first cinematographers to have had the opportunity to get their hands on the lenses and shoot films with them have been somewhat overwhelmed by the results.
The focal lengths of the lenses are 20mm, 25mm, 35mm, 50mm, 85mm and 135mm with all having an open aperture of T2 enabling images to be captured in extreme low-light conditions. The T2 aperture also enables full control of selective depth of field, making it possible to shoot with shallow depth of field to produce a beautiful bokeh (the out-of-focus area of an image).
The lenses sit in robust, metal housing and all except the 135mm lens have the same compact design and the same front diameter and lens length. The geared lens rings are all in the same relative locations, too, so it’s possible to change lenses on set without having to move accessories such as follow focus. Each lens also has a nine-bladed iris, and a focus that rotates 240-degrees.
Perhaps the most surprising fact about the lenses though, is the astonishing pricing, with the full set of six high-quality CineAlta lenses available from an assortment of resellers from as little as €20k.
Consistent colour, 4K certified
The lenses have been made from advanced glass to ensure unified colour characteristics, with the whole set of primes being carefully colour matched to avoid any issues with colour matching in post. On top of this, the new Sony primes are certified for 4K capture, while minimising chromatic aberration, geometric distortion, vignetting, and breathing, making them idea for capturing vfx shots with a clean key.
Over the last few months, a number of top-end cinematographers have had a chance to get their hands on the SCL-PK6/F lens kit, including the much admired Steve Lawes (Sherlock, Death Comes to Pemberley, Skellig), the esteemed Serbian film and TV cinematographer Predrag Bambic SAS, and prolific Belgium-based cinematographer Louis-Philippe Capelle. All were suitably impressed. “Last summer I had the opportunity to do two short films with the lens kit. The first was a shoot including a variety of situations: daylight and night time exteriors, existing light, studio setups, wide panoramic shots and close-ups,” explains Bambic. “So it was a good opportunity to test the lenses under the different shooting conditions cinematographers face in every production.” “On the first shoot I used the Sony PMW-F55 in 4K resolution,” he continues. “When I screened the footage in the theatre, I was pleasantly surprised – both the daytime and night time panoramic shots looked spectacular, and the close ups of the subject looked very good too, even under existing light.”
“My next production using the lenses was a short drama and, again, the results were seamless,” adds Bambic, before concluding: “The Sony lenses are robust, with precision mount, long and precise focus. The maximum aperture of T2 is more than adequate for use with modern ASA 1200-2000 cameras, providing uniform maximum aperture, unlike many other kits.”
Bambic rounds up by saying: “[The lenses have] very good overall sharpness, contrast and saturation, even at full aperture. The contrast is very good, there’s no spherical or chromatic aberrations, no barelling. There’s also very little lens flare compared to a much more expensive set of cinema lenses. And there’s very nice bokeh in out-of-focus highlights, nice rendition of skin tones, and good, neutral and natural colour rendition. I will not hesitate to use them again for any kind of production.”
A nice aesthetic
Lawes is similarly taken by the lenses: “My first experience of using the new Sony lenses was when filming ‘Earth, Air, Fire, Water’, the 240fps promo film for the F55. My first impression of the lenses was they had a like-for-like feel with the lenses I am used to using. They have a nice aesthetic, and the size and range of the set is good. The quality of the glass is very impressive. They feel like proper cinema lenses, and have the right weight and mass.”
“The quality of the lenses is evident in the way they focus,” continues Lawes. “Mechanically and optically they are good and they also give a nice bokeh – they get a thumbs up from me and warrant the tag of the premium CineAlta brand.”
Lawes wraps up by saying: “The price is also fantastic. I’m really impressed. In terms of their usability and quality, I’d definitely use them again on an appropriate shoot.”
Great build quality
Meanwhile, cinematographer Capelle, who is also business manager at Eye Lite Rentals (which has offices in France, Belgium, Luxembourg and Morocco), says the Sony CineAlta lenses come out very favourably when tested side-by-side with lenses from other manufacturers.
“Firstly, I was impressed with the build quality of the lenses,” he says. They have a “heavy body, real focus ring scale and smooth mechanism, which immediately gives a positive impression.” “On the optical bench, they are also impressive – they have a good resolution, from the centre to the edge, with nice coverage even on the widest focal lengths,” continues Capelle. “The lenses rival much more expensive lenses from other manufacturers, even at full aperture.”
He adds the image quality produced by the lenses is “sharp with reduced flare. The bokeh is attractive due to the iris blades, and contrast is good with a little bit of smoothness in the downfall of focus.”
And, like Lawes, Capelle is impressed by the cost of the set: “What is impressive is the price for the set; it’s almost unbelievable compared to the cost of lenses from other manufacturers, even comparing favourably to the cheapest ones.”
Having been assured of the build quality, image quality and value for money of the CineAlta lenses, Capelle now wants to see the range extended to add the following focal lengths: “What is missing is 28mm, 40mm, 65mm and 100mm to have the full series. It will be great if the range includes these in the future too.”