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posted by - Friday, 17 July 2009

At NAB this year, a number of manufacturers announced new PL mount prime lenses. All of them cover the 35mm cine format and all are designed to work well with digital camera systems. The new Zeiss Compact Primes, however, offer something a little different.

How are the Zeiss Compact Primes different from other new PL mount primes?

First, they come out of the gate as a very complete set. There are seven available focal lengths: 18, 21, 25, 28, 35, 50 and 85 millimeters. All the focal lengths needed for most general production are represented within this range.

Secondly, these lenses are the only ones in the world that can be used on cameras with very large sensors, up to the size of a still camera’s 35mm frame of 36mmx24mm. In the cine world, that’s VistaVision, or what has recently been dubbed Full Frame 35 (FF35). This is important moving forward in the HDSLR and Digital Cinema world where sensors sizes are not necessarily locked to the cine film formats of the past. Of course, these lenses can also be successfully used on traditional film cameras with spinning mirror shutters.

Compact Prime RigLastly, but also importantly, the Zeiss Compact Primes are quite small and extremely lightweight, only 2.2 lbs each. This is not only useful for handheld work, but also a real necessity for HDSLR rigs, where the petite size advantages of such a camera are lost if they cannot be comfortably supported for long periods. Most prime lenses are two to three times the weight of the Compact Primes and many are physically a good deal larger.

How are the Zeiss Compact Primes different from still camera lenses?

The Zeiss Compact Primes have their origin in the excellent Zeiss Z-series lenses manufactured for still camera use. There have been some major changes along the transformation from still camera use to cine-style PL mount design.

• The housing is completely redesigned. Only the glass itself is the same as its still lens counterpart. Each lens housing is exactly the same size and the rings and gears are positioned at the same spots. This makes switching lenses and engaging with matteboxes and follow focuses fast and easy. Even the front lens diameter of each lens in the lineup is the same – 114mm.

• The focus scale has been expanded with many referenced distances, and these are noted with precise index marks.

• The aperture has 14 blades, making for a very circular iris at any f-stop (the still version has only nine blades). This means that out of focus highlights will diffuse into aesthetically pleasing round shapes rather than hexagonal or otherwise distracting formations.

And, of course, the Zeiss Compact Primes come in the industry-standard PL lens mount. This mount is much stronger and more stable than lightweight still camera mounts. Attaching a focus motor or hanging a clamp-on mattebox with some filters is not a problem.

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