T.Stops Blog

An Examination of: Blackmagic Hyperdeck Shuttle 2

In this installment of Tstops, I will be looking at the Hyperdeck Shuttle 2.

The new HyperDeck Shuttle 2 (HDS2) Uncompressed/Prores/DNXHD recorder, which records to off the shelf SSD’s.   The HDLS “1”, was an uncompressed 10bit422  recorder.  It generated a lot of excitement when first launched because of its price of roughly $325, small size and  excellent cross compatibility and affordable media.  It can also be used as an HDMI/SDI cross converter.  The reality of its novelty hit when you actually recorded uncompressed video.  Nearly 11 Gigs per minute.  While the quality is pristine, the prospect of recording practically 700Gigs per hour of video is daunting.  Without an expensive raid array, you dont have a hope of trying to view your footage in realtime in post.

BlackMagic recently upgraded the original HDS2 to record DNX-HD, the compressed 220mbps Avid codec.  Had you been an Avid Editor, this could have been a god send considering the price.  Recently, BMD released a new firmware, that upgrades the recorder to record in Apple ProResHQ422!  This breaks this product wide open.   With its ability to record pretty much every signal you can put into it, and record it directly into that same flavor of Prores, this product suddenly became a whole lot more interesting in the world of digital filmmaking.

I purchased mine to use as a Prores proxy recorder with my Epic ( or a scarlet!), though it can really be used with practically any camera that has an HDMI or SDI out.  Everything from clean output DSLRs all the way up to an Epic/F65/Alexa(not that you’d need cause it records Prores internally).

The unit is very simple.  You use the included software to give it the initial setup, frame rate, auto triggering, format, timecode etc… then its ready to go.  It has an onboard battery that runs the unit for about 75min of constant recording.  You can then recharge it with the included AC adapter, or purchase (or make) a Dtap to BMD 12v connector. Yes its proprietary, and thats annoying as all hell.  But for the price I can deal.  Its playback functions are as easy as a VTR, with REC, Play, Stop, Next and Back as its only controls.  You really dont need anything else.

I purchased the HDS2, HDS2 Mounting bracket, a Samsung 256gig 6gbps SSD, and a few DIN to SDI adapter cables as the HDLS2 has miniSDI connections like the REDONEMX.  All in, I paid about $750, for a prores/DNXHD/Uncompressed Recorder/Cross converter/Playback device.  One of the cool little benefits is that i can take any finished product mastered in ProresHQ, drop it on the SSD, and play out to any projector, TV, or display in either HDMI or SDI.

This particular system is the least expensive way of recording ProRes with camera TimeCode on the market right now.  For RED owners inparticular, it has a specific benefit. It can accept the pure 24p signal from the SDI, and record it into 24p Prores.  The next recorder that can do this is the Atomos Samurai, but it costs nearly three times as much when all is said and done.  For Scarlet/Epic owners, interested in a proxy recording system, or who dont have a rocket card, you can use the HDLS2 as an inexpensive way of trans-coding your footage to Prores in realtime.  You simply play out the footage from camera and record the signal.  You may have to send the footage back to the cards on your computer when you get home if you wind up reusing all your cards thought the day, but realtime transcoding to ProRes is significantly faster than doing a software transcode.  Dial in the color temperature on the cameras playback menu, select Redlogfilm, and record away. Instant grade able color accurate 10 bit ProRes.   A fantastic way to deliver footage to clients.

Also, in the newest RED Scarlet firmware upgrade, audio is sent through the SDI so your footage is sound synced.  In theory, with the Look around enabled and all markers turned off, you can record to ProRes the full 5K frame.  5K field of view on a Scarlet.  As i dont have a scarlet anymore i would love for someone to confirm this is possible.  You may get some letter boxing, but if you want the full effect of your lenses on the bigger than S35 MX frame, this could be a very real possibility.

I think this is a great solution for quick turn arounds, and emergency back up recordings for critical assignments.

Since my latest workflow with the RED involves keeping the camera in REDlogFilm, then outputting the LOG signal to my DIT, the beauty of this system is that I get Log recordings in ProRes off the bat.

I hope this helps you find out if this is a viable solution for your work flow.  Its affordable,  practical, and compact.

Thanks for reading,

Follow me on Twitter @timurcivan !

I’ve got a lot of new content coming up soon:

An Examination of : Rokinon Manual Primes  24mm F1.4, 35mm F1.4, and the 85mm F1.4

An Examinaton of : Sekonic LiteMaster Touch Screen Light Meter.

Until Next time!!!!

Examination of Sony F3 and RED Scarlet: REDUX

In this installment, I have reshot the skin tone portion of the direct comparison.  I brought on Local600 DIT Thomas Wong to supervise the color and quality-check the results.

Some interesting points were raised regarding white-balance and how it effects color reproduction with regard to the RED footage in the last test.  To help reduce user error, i conducted the test under more controlled conditions, eliminating mixed color temperature light sources.

The lighting set up was 2 matched daylight sources: Key from camera left, and a background/edge light from camera right.  Grey set paper comprised the backdrop to help avoid color contamination.  Our studio and lighting was provided by the Russel Brothers, TheRussellBrothers.com

Note that I did not use fill light in order to see how the skin tones read within deeper shadows. I used two models, with two different skin tones, and adjusted the light for each of their single-shots, then balanced the lighting for the two-shot.  The lighting was identical between the two cameras, with the same lens was used on each: a RED 18-50 (courtesy of Ned Soltz, Ned Reviews.com), as my iPanchros were rented for the week.

We let both cameras warm up for 45min, and black balanced them together.

I exposed the Scarlet @ the recommended 800ISO using false color.

Tom Wong, DIT and Colorist, brought along his Leader Scope and Flanders Scientific Monitor.  Here are his opinions:

The F3 reaches into the shadows better cause it’s a stop faster than the Scarlet. Combined with the extended highlight rendition, overall I thought the F3 produced a much creamier look. The lower resolution and gentle roll-off really gave more pleasant skin in general, and showed the good stuff while hiding the stuff you don’t want to see in skin- a lot of the reasons why people choose the Alexa over a RED.

( On both cameras*) color rendition was very nice; it wasn’t perfect, few things are. There were some bias in certain areas, but overall i think (they) rendered skin very naturally, and the red shirt was the closest thing to what we were seeing in real life. It was this brighter, more scarlet type of color.

That said, I don’t like stock Redcolor and Redgamma. Despite how much it’s improved. I think it can fool the DP, and throw off lighting decisions. Like lighting for stock 709 on set for an Alexa. You’re throwing away a lot.  For example, in RC3 RC3 the image is a lot crunchier and contrast is much higher. Because of that it feels a touch underexposed. So it might convince you to throw in more light.   Developing from REDLOGFILM is 100x better. It more accurately represents what you are capturing, in my honest opinion. You get better shadow detail, better highlight roll off, the whole image overall just looks more buttery and colors feel a lot more spread out in the signal and natural. The RED is still more contrasty than the F3 because it’s not reaching into the shadows as much at 800 ISO, so that’s actually kind of a con for the F3 too. If you want much higher contrast it’s harder to achieve cause it’s digging into the shadows so much more.

Overall i think RedLogFilm and S-Log can be neck and neck, but as far as accurate color representation without any additional color correction other than contrast and saturation, I feel like the F3 more accurately sees certain things, like the red shirt for example.  All of it can be corrected of course, but to get the shirt right without secondaries you’d be affecting everything else to get the shirt right, and you would be manipulating values more.   Can you get there? Sure, your high quality raw files to do that, but is it more work? Yes, a little bit.  I find that the more you have to compensate and move values around, the more destructive it can be to the image. After all, you are manipulating gain in the channels after all. Fortunately, it’s a robust codec.   Everybody has different needs, time requirements and different ways of working for every show. These are all factors in decisions with cameras.  If it came to matching a RED to F3 and vice versa, it would be easily done cause both are so robust in their color matrix, and being so close to “perfect” as is. HOWEVER, The biggest challenge as a colorist would be the fact that the F3 sees more shadow detail and has more highlight rendition. Those are actually more of the blaring differences in the images and that may complicate the matching…………and of course F3 can’t blow up to 4k and look good :)”

Thomas Wong,
Local 600 DIT

The new test was a good thing for me in particular. I finally got a sense of the latest RED workflow from on set through post.  I’m finding that through direct comparison, the flaws in the F3 are starting to expose themselves more.  There is aliasing on his jacket, and the highlights can be almost unnaturally muted at times because of how aggressive the log curve is up top.  The Scarlet is sharper and has a glossier look.  Again, I use the different cameras for different purposes, though with the REDlogfilm workflow Tom and I established, I find that I can get a look that’s smoother with less punch.  It’s a matter of personal taste, I prefer a softer contrast.

Tom brought the images to a “pleasing” level ( custom LUTS are subjective).   We rated the cameras at 5600K, and Tom performed the grade though Scratch Lab directly from the R3D, and the final output was directly from RAW with no RGB render before grading.  The Scarlet measured approximately 5700K in RCX with a manual WB from the Macbeth chart.  

Tom created a LUT on set, and saved the TrueLight Cube before converting it to a 3DL file to be applied to the LOG footage in Scratch.  We used REDlogfilm with a LUT-ed workflow because it’s the best way of seeing what the sensor actually sees.  RC3/RG3 is essentially a LUT created by RED, but we felt by comparison that we would get better results with a LUT workflow.  While I can see how RG3, with its harsher contrast, is useful as a safety catch, the crushed black forces you to expose to the right on the histogram, and keeps the lower end of the signal better fed with more light.  As you can see, the LOG/LUT workflow didn’t have a noise penalty as the Scarlet was behaving quite well with the light in the scene.

The Images were not matched to each other; we wanted to see where they landed though the native look of the sensors.  The ISO1600 of the F3 is seeing much further into the shadows than the Scarlet’s.  It’s interesting because the sensitivity is working against the F3 in this case.  The base fill of the room, and the spill from the lights on ordinary objects, was both lifting the black and reducing contrast.  Herein lies the double-edged sword of sensitivity.  Spill is your #1 enemy.  This information is useful should you ever need to intercut the two cameras.

Below are some grabs from the video with the corresponding Vectorscope LUT framegrabs. (note: in the final grade Tom pushed the saturation of the F3 footage up a bit, so if you scope the images below, you will see a small disparity in saturation)  There will be R3Ds and Tiffs, as well as DPX filed available to download as soon as I get some additional server space.  I am switching hosting companies.

I encourage you to download the samples and see how they grade in your own system. They will be up in the coming days.

I actually find the red to look a bit better.  It has a nice healthy skin tone.  RC3, really nailed it.

Tom in his odd sense of humor chose the cheesiest font and music on earth.  Thanks Tom……


F3 Slog NO LUT:

F3 Slog with LUT:

Scarlet RC3 RG3:

Scarlet RC3 / REDlogFilm No LUT

I am missing the Screen Capture from the REDlogFilm Leader Waveform/Vectorscope, oversight on set.

Scarlet RC3 REDlogFilm LUTed:



F3 with LUT

Scarlet RC3 / RG3

Scarlet RC3 REDlogFilm No LUT

Scarlet RC3 / REDlogFilm With LUT

Josh and Melissa:
F3 sLog No Lut

F3 sLog with LUT

Scarlet RC3 / RG3

Scarlet RC3 / REDlogFilm With Lut

DPX and R3D’s coming.


An Examination of: Sony F3 and Red Scarlet; a Direct Comparison.

Hello everyone, thank you for reading.  In this installment I will be examining the similarities and differences of the F3 and RED Scarlet.  As an owner of a Sony F3 with sLog and a RED Scarlet, i am lucky in that i am in the positon to do a direct comparison.  These two cameras cost roughly the same, and both are targeted at the mid range feature, commercial and corporate video worlds.

After doing this test, i found a few interesting things.  First let me talk about what you will be looking at.  The same lenses were used for both tests.  The Skin tone test is with an 18mm Cooke iPanchro, and the CU is with a 50mm.  The Still life is with a 50mm iPanchro.

The first portion of the test is a skin tone test, and the two images were brought to “neutral” to my eye.  The F3’s Footage was graded in Apple Color, and the RED footage in RCXpro transcoded to 4k PRORES, then down scaled to 1080 for the export.  

The second portion is a Still life that has a wide dynamic range.  Roughly 12 stops spot metered.  The Shadow corner of the Playstation controller being the low point, and the upper left of the cell phones reflection of the light source being the high point.  The subject matter is specifically chosen.  The metallic greens, copper, brass and browns of the rams head and pocket knife are very difficult to reproduce.  Also the reflection on the cell phone is the real test of highlight retention.  The words “Motorola” should visible in the reflection.  White letter, under glass reflecting the source of light. A very subtle, but difficult highlight to render.

The F3 footage is “De-LOGed”.  Meaning, my metered grey point is brought to its proper place around 55IRE, from 40IRE, where it should be exposed in LOG, and the black portions of the signal hit 0IRE, and the highlights hit 100 IRE. When the slate reads “no clip” it means that i used false color to expose so that no portion of the brightest part of the scene is clipping. The same was done with the RED.  This is to see highlight rendition vs Shadow detail.

 The RED footage is exposed a bit more directly using Redgamma3 and Redcolor3.  I did do a simple grade in RCX, to make sure black hits 0IRE and the highlights hit 100 IRE.

So please, enjoy the Comparison Video.

The two cameras essentially pick up where the other leaves off.  The RED is sharper, but has more noise and less sensitivity.  However it records 16bit RAW 4k, even in its smallest configuration, a lens, a battery and a monitor.  The F3 despite its clean signal, infinite dynamic range, and 444 output, it needs an external recorder to take advantage of it.  Even when you do record to a cinedeck in 444, its still 1080p.  Less than the standard of 2k for digital projection.  

The usual workflow on F3 is as follows, Camera outputting sLog to Pix240 or Cinedeck.  I then feed the signal to the DIT who applies a LUT to the sLOG and then out puts the image to the video village, director and the back to a camera department monitor.   I set a base exposure, then the DIT applies the lut.  Based on each different scene, we then tweak the lighting to the LUT onset, and keep the LUT as a reference for the grade.

The workflow I’ve been using on the RED is a bit different.  Since the recorded image is RAW, on set LUT’s are slightly less important as it can be determined later on.  We simply feed the image to DIT and have him give a light base grade to output to the monitors on set.  I use the RED tools to measure exposure; false color and histogram.


The biggest problem i have is deciding between the two cameras.  The RED is simply razor sharp, has a punchy slick look, and has the easiest onset ergonomics and workflow.  The footage is 16bit 4K RAW.  I mean, the camera is the size of a Hassleblad and gives you amazing images.  

The F3 on the other hand, is night vision, which makes for simpler indie shooting on lower budgets where you dont have access to bigger units.  It also has more useable dynamic rage, and its color is in my opinion the best in digital right now short of the Alexa. ( Though REDColor3 is REALLLLLY good!) Case in point, in the skin tone test you just watched, the color of the wall in the F3 footage is completely accurate.  Thats exactly what my wall looks like, but looks quite magenta in the RED footage. If I fight the magenta with a bit of green, the skin tone gets thrown out of whack.  This green/magenta balancing act is a definite pitfall of the RED, even with REDColor3.

This real issue is that it comes down to image quality.  I find myself, shooting films and documentary on the F3, but commercials, music videos, and corporate spots on the RED.  When it needs to look natural, i use the F3.  When it needs to look crisp and slick, RED.

Until next time,

Feel free to follow me:
timurcivan @ twitter

An Examination of: Small HD DP4 EVF

Pardon my hiatus friends, thankfully i’ve been very busy shootin this last few months.

One tool i’ve been using on a regular basis is what i like to call the “Light meter for the digital age”.  That is to say a small, high quality monitor.  In this case the Small HD DP4.  This is a truly unique monitor, that holds an interesting place in my tool kit.

I won’t spend too much time on specs, other than this brief over view.  Its a 800×480 16:9 1080 capable monitor, with HDMI, and component inputs. MSRP at SmallHD is $749 with the EVF attachment included.  Its specifically designed to be used with an eye cup attachment that turn this small monitor into an EVF (Electronic View Finder).  This is extremely advantageous to the modern digital cinematographer, because more often than not, the digital cameras we use tend not to have viewfinders that are in logical, or convenient places.  More often placed on as an after thought it seems.  At last we now have a system that gives you freedom to place the EVF where ever you wish.

Physically the DP4 monitor has a fantastic fit and finish.  You could say an almost “MacBook Pro” like build. Smooth milled aluminum, with a silky texture, beveled edges, and all power, and buttons are smoothly contained in one body.  The removable Eye Cup, is also thoughtfully designed, but is made of plastic.  The eyecup has a great feature, a rare earth magnetic locking mechanism.   Its an elegant means of securing the evf in its open and closed positions.  You can see the magnets in the image above on the left side.  The unit comes in a very sleek black box, with a short HDMI cable, 90 degree HDMI adapter, USB cable, collapsable sunshade, screen protector, EVF eyecup, rubber eyepiece,  wall AC power unit, and a screen wipe.

I have a lot of ground to cover, but right now i want to talk about using the thing….

In the 4 months i’ve had this monitor, ive brought it to every corner of the USA and soon, will be taking it to Africa to complete a feature film i am DPing.  I have not had a single electronic hitch.  It is reliable, rugged, and stands up to abuse quite well.

Whats awesome about the DP4 is this: as a SmallHD DP6 user for about a year.  I have grown spoiled by its high resolution, plethora of tools, and beautiful build quality.  When i received the DP4 i was not expecting it to perform to the same standard as the flagship monitor, figuring the lower priced unit would be lacking…..  Truth is, it performs slightly better. Its color accuracy is better, its latency (the refresh rate, and speed of processing from the camera signal) is almost nil, and despite the “lower” resolution, its smaller size makes it appear to be equally sharp.  Its like they shrunk a DP6 and added more features.  Its my new weapon of choice for travel jobs.  Its half the size, weight, and gives me all the same tools.   At the same time, if i ever need it, its a EVF for bright sunlight use, or handheld.  Some early DP4 adopters will be pleased to know that the Rubber eyecup has been updated, and eliminates a lot of the problems associated with the old system.  The old cup would fall off rather easily with a small bump, and when using diopeter or ND on the eyepiece, it made the problem worse.  I JUST received the  new eyecup, and its a godsend.  Love it.  In fact, i had to re write a portion of the article to mention the fact that this problem was solved.  So, hats off to you SmallHD.  Thank you for listening.   You can see below, the old rubber cup on the right, and the new improved design on the left.  The portion that connects to the EVF is longer, and is built like a bellows to adjust to various accessories for the EVF eye piece. Very secure and comfortable.

I want to return briefly to its latency performance.  All monitors have latency issues.  Its the simple physics of  the onboard computer processing the image, scaling it to the panel then displaying it.  (as informed from the manufacturer) The DP4 has one of the most powerful image processing circuits in the business.  What this means is you get the least amount of lag in the image from the camera.  This isn’t a big deal when using it in “normal monitor” mode, with no eye cup, but it can be disorienting when using a EVF with one one shut in hand held mode, if your movements aren’t matching what you see. it can be a dizzying experience.

Apart from the physical standpoint, the tools it offers are phenomenal, AND flexible.  I have used the DP4 on Jobs ranging from short films, big budget commercials, documentaries, a feature film, and corporate video.  I have used it on, the 5D, F3, RED, 7D, and the HPX 170.  This is why i call the DP4 the “Digital Lightmeter”.  I take it on every job.  I know its image, and its tools are perfect for the modern workflow, especially its 2 types of false color.  The DP4 was the first to include the new kinds of false color, False color HL and False Color HML.

The difference being that the FC HL, stands for High/Low.  It shows a black and white image, with only the clipping points being represented with color.  Pure clipped black (signified by Blue), and pure clipped white (signified by RED).  This is critically important when shooting dimply lit scenes, and being able to isolate the “black” out from the rest of the FC range, is helpful in establishing your fill lights, and knowing where you are losing detail.  On the contrary, the white clipping indicator of FC HL is equally important in out door scenes so you can see exactly where your video signal is getting lost.

I have been using Sony’s F3 camera on a regular basis with the sLOG function, which gives you a wider dynamic range.  I have been living by the false color as an exposure tool, as it gives me a “wysiwyg” interpretation of my exposure.  Critical for maintaining all the information the signal has to offer.

The beauty of false color is that it is useable on any camera system with a HDMI tap.  I will be using the DP4 as a EVF on my soon to be delivered RED scarlet.  The beauty of the DP4 is that its scaleable to every camera system i’ve come across.

Lets take the DSLR for example.  I shoot with the 5D every so often, and we all know about its short comings in as far as its drop to SD resolution while recording, and lack of proper exposure tools in video.  The DP4 solves these issues for me and even saves my eye sight by not having to strain my eyes   looking at a tiny screen on the back of the DSLR.  The DP4 like the DP6 has scaling presets built right in, clearly labeled, Canon REC, Nikon REC, DSLR Playback.  No more guessing, losing portions of your screen, no more taping monitors, no more hassle.    Speaking of taping monitors, how many times have you been trying to shoot for scope, only to find your self marking the monitor with tape for framing.  Finally the DP4 has built in marking lines for 4:3 and 2.35:1.  Very very handy.  I just shot a feature film that was to be cropped for scope, and the marking lines saved me for the handheld scenes.

Lets take this one step further.  Anamorphic lenses are now all the rage with the indie community.  The built in custom scaling options mean i can de squeeze the image and still be able to focus, frame and use my exposure tools.  Makes shooting with anamorphic, not only possible, but simple and easy.

Power: The DP4 has some VERY convenient features in this department.  Its power system is completely built in, That is to say, no need for removable, battery plates.  Unlike the DP6 which has the removable Canon battery plate, the DP4 has built in canon battery plates and a DC power input, that are counter sunk, and flush with the back of the monitor.  When not in us they are out of the way and safely tucked behind the monitor.  The DP4 can run on one single canon battery for almost 3 hours.  I wound up shooting a short concert for a friend, as a favor, nothing major, just the 5D.  So i grabbed my 5D, and stuffed the DP4 into the camera bag, and ran out the door.  I forgot to bring spare canon batteries.  I was faced with a dilemma.  I had one half charged Canon battery and one fully charged battery.  I figured, get the concert in the bag, so I put the fully charged battery in the camera, and though “Run the DP4 for 20 min or so, till the battery runs dry”.   An hour later, the DP4 was still running strong off a single half charged battery.  The DP4 does have a slot for two batteries, so the runtime with both, is close to 6 hours.  I usually use a D-tap cable to power the DP4 and 6, so i rarely use the Canon batteries.  When attached to a AB 90wHr battery, the DP4 has remained on for over 12 hours, with the battery indicator on the battery showing 50% remaining charge.  Great on power.

I now want to take this time to discuss some of the problems and issues i’ve encountered.

Despite all the positive atributes, not every product can be 100% perfect.

The main issues are as follows:

1: The lack of a built in diopeter is somewhat of a pain.  It is recommended to buy a separate screw on diopeter.  The problem with that is it makes the end of the evf a little longer.

2: Sun light burn.  The optics in the eye cup are actually quite nice.  The edge to edge sharpness is great, and the image is sharp.  There is however a caveat, if the sun ever finds it self at an angle perpendicular to the panel with the EVF component covering the panel, it can focus the suns rays and like a magnifying glass burn the panel.  With a little care, and utilizing the ability to fold up the EVF, its easily preventable, you just need to be aware. Small HD recommends buying a screw on ND6 filter for the end of the eye cup.  It  cuts out just enough sunlight to prevent burn, and allows you to comfortably use the brightest setting of the monitor, where its contrast ratio is the highest, and thus performance is best.  It does however interfere with the Rubber eyecup, and if you need to use a diopeter and the ND the rubber eyecup will be difficult to attach without tape.

3: 1080 24psF.  The DP4 does not display 108024psF. (at least the unit i have)  It will view 59.94 1080i no problem, but the screen goes black when PSF is used. this presents a problem when using a KIproMINI with a camera like an F3.  The KIpro will record 1080 59.94, but it will require an additional step to remove the pull down in post, making it less convenient.  Not the end of the world, but  an inconvenience nonetheless.  The Sound Devices Pix 240 ProRes422 recorder however, will automatically remove the pulldown and convert the footage in to 24P onboard, making the issue non existant.

In conclusion;  Every camera nowadays has an HDMI port, and if it doesn’t, chances are you’re using an off board recorder that can convert an SDI signal to HDMI.  Reflecting the increasingly smaller and smaller cameras, a small monitor that keeps the weight and size of a rig down is a blessing.  The high image quality, tools, ergonomics, customer service, convenience and flexibility the DP4 provides the shooter is fantastic.  The simple fact that like its big brother the DP6, the DP4 can grow with you, and be used on every camera system you come across, from the GH1 to the Epic.

The New Eye cup will be shipping this upcoming week! Starting 12/19/11, Maybe even earlier!  Check www.smallHD.com for more information.

Until next time,
I will be reviewing the Duclos 11-16mm T2.8 Zoom!


An Examination of Lenses: Carl Zeiss Compact Primes MK1

image from www.en.panalight.ro

So as promised I am finally looking at something other than a Cooke.

On the slate today, the Zeiss CP – 1 Set.  I chose to review the CP1’s, as opposed to the CP2’s for a reason.

One, because i have a set of CP1’s…..  but more importantly, they are true PL primes.   The CP2’s have interchangeable mounts that can prove a bit tricky to collimate.  The CP1’s i have are accurate to the inch, so for the sake of testing and working with them, i went with what i know works perfectly.  I will amend this later with the newer CP’s at a later date to reflect the differences in the update.

Since they are so accurate in terms of focus, let me talk about build quality and ergonomics.  The primes are very light weight, under 2lbs per lens, and all the same size, with matching focus and Iris locations.  All have 114mm fronts, very handy when quickly changing lenses as your mattebox and follow focus can remain in the same position.  In my opinion, the light weight of the lenses is a double edged sword.  Yes they are easier to handle, and make for simpler stedicam and handheld work, yet they have a “hollow” thinness to the metal that just makes me grit my teeth.  They will probably last a life time, but every time you handle them it just doesn’t feel right.  Somethign like when you handle carbon fiber tools, or camera accessories.  I know they are strong and durable…. but they just feel to light and it doesn’t instill confidence.   The focus and iris both rotate smoothly with a long rotation, however with resistance that is vastly different than the Panchros.  My AC for the job i just did with them, (a newbie), having pulled focus on my Cookes, when pulling on the CP’s asked if somethign was wrong with the follow focus, noting the additional friction.  I had to set him straight that the silky, lack of resistance you get on Cookes is not the norm.  This isnt to say they are stiff by any means, they just aren’t as silky smooth as the Panchros.

The witness marks are plentiful, and accurate.  However despite the long rotation, you still wind up with 3/4 of the barrel rotation representing minimum focus to about 6 feet, with the remaining 1/4 for everything between 6 feet and infinity. Not a big deal on the wides, but murder on the 85mm.  Especially that the 50mm and 85mm are both T1.5.

As you can see, for a nice close up, the 85mm just looks great.  This was shot @ T1.5 1/2, and my AC was having difficulty keeping the singer of this music video in focus not so much because of the narrow DOF, but because of the fact that the 6″ he moves back and forth is almost a 1/4 turn on the lens barrel, and even more on the follow focus.  However, there is a certain beauty to a fast lens in a tight closeup.
That said, the real kicker is that the disparity of the Tstops, while not REALLY a big deal….. kind of is.  Let me clarify.  The lens set is as follows. 18mm T3.9, 21mm T2.9, 25mm T2.9, 28mm T2.1, 35mm T2.1, 50mm T1.5 and 85mm T1.5.

This basically means i have to light to a T4.  I mean, you have to light the scene to your slowest lens, unless its a one shot kind of deal where you aren’t going to be switching back and forth.  So, as i see it, if im going to be lighting to a T4, why even make the 50 and 85 a 1.5?  Ah HA! but then again, its AWESOME having a 50mm and 85mm at a T1.5……  The problem being you can’t just switch from one lens to the other when youre lit for one.  It is frustrating.

The CP’s optically speaking are decent.  They all suffer from significant softness, and very strong chromatic aberration wide open, and depending on the lens, all the way down to a T5.6.  The biggest culprit of CA being the 50mm, 85mm, and 35mm lengths.   Notice the pink/magenta CA on the sequins on the shirt.  Shot with the 85mm @ T2.0.


All of these lenses are soft wide open, including the 18mm.  Yea, the T3.9 18mm needs to be stopped down to be sharp.  This was extremely apparent on a EPIC shoot i did last week, with the CP’s.  Punching in for focus with the 25mm wide open, just never looked sharp in the focus assist until it was stopped down to a T5.6.  When edited, and output to 1080p for delivery, the softness is reduced, but had the shot been screened at 4k, it would have looked soft.  I shoot primarily on the F3 so the 1080p image looks ok if shooting wide open, but not as razor crisp as Master Primes or Ultra Primes in the Zeiss family.

These 1080p screen grabs are good examples of how when reduced to 1080, or captured at 1080, the images come back together rather well.

The 18mm in action:

The 50mm:

I am in the middle with regard to their flaring characteristics.  They don’t flare poorly, but they do flare a lot.  Similar to the early Zeiss Superspeeds in quantity, but not in quality.

The image milks up significantly, and there is a blue/aqua flare ghost.  This isn’t the flare ghost that comes from the OLPF, no, that’s green.  This is a bizarre aqua flare.  They all do it, and they all do it differently. Each lens has its own distinct flares.  Where as with S4’s, Ultras, Panchros etc… The flares looks somewhat similar in texture and scale, the CP’s are completely different in color, shape and quantity.  The 18mm flares if you look at it wrong.

That said, when CP’s are not flaring, and stopped down a stop or two they do exhibit phenomenal contrast.  Blacks are black, and whites don’t bloom in any way. They do milk out when wide open however.  Especially the 50mm and 85mm.  I am curious to see how the performance in the CP2 T2.1 50mm and 85mm compare.  This is what happens when you flag every light source off the lens, and stop down… look at those blacks… perfect.

This is a test shot with stand ins.

 A dancer.

Its almost too clean.

This is the life you have to live with Compact primes.  One extreme to the other…. fast Tstops, or slow Tstops… Soft and milky or crisp and contrasty…. They are so darn inconsistent.

That said, it can also be a blessing.  Shooting them wide open is like a built in promist, want it clean and sharp?  add a light and stop down to a T4, and you will have a super rich, contrasty, razor sharp image.  Want it Soft and ethereal? put in a scrim and open up.

Overall, i find that i am so spoiled by the Panchros and how consistent they are.  From T2.8 all the way to T16 its the same image.  The range of “look” you get with a set of CP’s is considerably different.  I can only describe the looks as neutral but slightly warm.  The longer focal lengths don’t distort, but the shorter ones do a bit.  Breathing is low, and the bokeh is absolutely gorgeous. There are somethign on the order of 14 iris blades to keep the bokeh perfectly round and buttery at all Tstops.  This is one area where the CP’s excel. They have “Canon L series” like bokeh. Smooth and clinical looking, but in a good way. This will make many in the DSLR crowd happy, because the bokeh they enjoyed on the Canon camera with Canon lenses, is attainable in PL on other platforms at an affordable price.

Over all in the end, i like the CP’s.   They have quirks, but i like quirks.  Perfect lenses would be boring.  If you want perfect, look into Master Primes.  I for one am perfectly happy living between my Cookes and the CP’s.

Till next time where i look into the Duclos 11-16 T3 Zoom!  Its so much fun its almost wrong….

Dont forget to follow me on Twitter @timurcivan or @tstopcinema