“The Initial Mystery that attends any journey is: how did the traveler reach his starting point in the first place?” — Louise Bogan
For this journey I’m on in London, it’s an initial mystery of shooting with cine lenses, but let’s back up to the starting point. If you’ve never heard of a cine lens, that’s shorthand for cinema, and what’s happening is, as ever more capable DSLRs and mirrorless cameras hit the market, lens makers are converting their high-end still image lenses into cine lenses. And, digital filmmakers are benefiting from the superior optics and more compact sizes to take on location.
What you need to know is:
You can get really sharp still images and 4K movie clips for a reasonable amount of money.
The lenses I have with me, the Sony 28-135mm F4 ($2,498) and Sigma 50mm T1.5 ($3,499) are available for purchase at previously unheard of prices. For lenses of this sort, an independent outfit, or a freelancer, would previously rent, but now you can run-and-gun with a body like the popular a7S II ($2,598), all in a backpack.
And, I did just that at a bike shop, a race, and around London shooting B-roll.
The mirrorless disruption in the DSLR market is shaking up digital cinema, too, and always one to push myself, that was my self-assigned challenge this week: shoot with cine lenses.
The assignment wasn’t without its challenges—a cine lens like the Sigma 50mm is entirely manual, with rings for focus and aperture. Attaching a Sigma EF lens to a Sony camera has proven effective for many shooters, and Sigma’s MC-11 EF to E mount adapter not only opened up their lens line to Sonys, but Canons, too.
Just as I explained in my earlier stories about shooting with a Leica and in black-and-white, it requires attention and being in the moment, stabilization as well—in-body with a mono or tripod, too—because so much data is being throughput. I may have run-and-gunned this story, but didn’t point-and-shoot.
Designed to record continuous motion, a cine lens allows you to change the aperture, focal length or focus while recording, without a clicked ring vibrating the body. Image quality is paramount with a cine lens—the Sigma 50mm supports 8K (wow, I know), and the Sony 28-130mm is their full-frame 4K lens, and perfectly matched to the a7S.
Sony cine lenses, up until this one, had been for Super 35/APS-C, and it’s more like a video camera lens for E-mount bodies, with features like a linear autofocus motor and Super Sonic wave motordrive that allows precision and quiet operation. Like all Sony lenses, the controls are fly-by-wire stepper motors compared to Sigma’s geared focus and iris rings.
Of the self-assigned shoots, to date, using cine lenses was the most challenging, and I found it best to just start shooting and figure it out. I’m very pleased with the results, and you can see for yourself in the stills and short video edit I uploaded here.
London: Shooting With Cine Lenses
I’ve got more shooting and editing to do this week, and my journey continues out of the city into the country. I’ll have the prime and zoom with me, with an eye to cinematic expression.
Of all the creative outlets I’ve worked in, cinema is the most daunting in terms of what you need to learn, and that’s for a shooter who’s adding motion to a story or creating movies full time. For someone who normally shoots street, there’s no incognito mode with cine lenses, either. In person, the lenses are even bigger, huge actually, and people take note.
So now you know the starting point for my cine lens challenge. I’ll share the rest of the journey once it’s complete. I certainly haven’t figured out all the cinema mysteries yet, like color grading or the various formats and standards, but that’s next on the list.
What I do know is that more cine lenses are coming to meet the demand of the mirrorless market, and they all make your images, still or moving, significantly better.