Sigma Cinema Lenses - A Better Way for Better Footage

 One of my go-to lenses from Sigma Cinema

One of my go-to lenses from Sigma Cinema

This is the first of a series of articles on Sigma Cinema Lenses.

There are multiple levels of videography and not everyone hits them all.  I have a friend who used to make metal cages and brackets for DSLRs who now only does fine crafted mounts of wood and aluminum for smart devices.  His market is much larger and there is lots of demand for better video made with smartphones as an example.  I wish him great success.

Then we have the really odd space of the DSLR and Mirrorless body.  Lots of fine cameras do video, with many at such a quality jump over the smartphone morass, it's amazing that more people aren't in this space.  The biggest issue appears to be perceived complexity and the understanding that decent video is edited and has good sound, not exactly hallmarks of the smartphone set.  Buyers in this space still want autofocus and autoexposure in general.

Next up is the more serious videographer, who may be shooting with a higher end mirrorless or DSLR, but who wants lenses that are parfocal, that have superb sharpness, with minimal distortion and vignetting.  These folks tend to shoot off sticks or tripods, and not so much handheld video.  They may have multi-camera setups, or need to be able to match exposure exactly when switching lenses.  It is this group, and the professional cinematographers that the Sigma Cinema lenses targets.  

i want to focus (pun intended) on the ladies and gentlemen who want and will pay for better quality, but who are likely independents or have minimal funding.  One of the biggest challenges for these creatives has always been the cost of buying glass and thereby constraining themselves because they then have to rent glass.   Our market is also seeing the really professional wedding and event folks having to deliver hybrid content, both stills and videos, and to differentiate themselves in both quality and appearance from Uncle Bob and his big DSLR and "pro" lenses.  Listen, if your name is Bob, and you are a working professional, and also happen to be an uncle, this is not about you.  It's about the other guy, and if you are a professional, you know exactly of whom I speak.

What Sets a Cinema Lens Apart

The first thing that folks new to this family of lenses note is that these lenses are large and reasonably heavy.  A 20mm cinema lens looks nothing like a 20mm full frame lens.  It has a much larger front element, two massive adjustment rings and weighs in about five times more.  It will also have minimal vignetting and minimal distortion.  And yeah, it's going to cost more.  And candidly before Sigma brought their lenses out, that more meant a LOT more.

 Dimensional drawing for the prime that I shot with the most, the 14mm T2 FF. Note that both the focus and iris rings have pitched teeth for remote controllability with manual or automated gearing systems.

Dimensional drawing for the prime that I shot with the most, the 14mm T2 FF. Note that both the focus and iris rings have pitched teeth for remote controllability with manual or automated gearing systems.

Cinema lenses do not auto focus.  They do not have automatic aperture (iris) settings.  The camera operator needs to be fully engaged and planful.  There is no point and shoot blasting here.  More lightsaber than blaster if you follow Obi-Wan.  The iris ring is measured in T stops.  

An f stop, is a mathematical construct and while it would be lovely if every lens that delivered f/2.0 transmitted the same amount of light, it does not happen, because the f number is a calculation, not a measurement of light transmission.  A T stop measures light transmission, and since it comes from cinema where vagueness in settings is not tolerated ever, a lens set to T 1.5 transmits exactly the same amount of light as any other T 1.5 lens.  This means that lens changes, or camera switching between different cameras with different lenses set to the same T stop, will produce identical exposures.

This is important because shutter angle (or the still variant, shutter speed) tends to be fixed and not varied for a shot or shot sequence and what we call ISO, is referred to more correctly as gain in pro video and gain should deliver consistency in colour and noise from camera to camera.  There is a lot less room for "close".

Users will find that the fine motion of the T stop ring is like nothing that they have used in still lenses.  The rotation angle is very large, allowing for extremely precise control.  The ring has a standard pitched gearing for use with manual or electronic controllers and all lenses use the same pitch for the gears.

Even more evident is the focus ring.  It is also fitted with a control ring, also in the same pitch for indirect manual or electronic control.  The rotation angle is incredibly long because the mechanism that handles focusing is magnificently precise.  There is no slack in the focus at all and this allows for manual focus sharpness never seen in a still lens, and certainly never in one of today's fast autofocusing stills.  

 This is a remote focus controller from Redrock Micro. It allows a remote focus puller to handle focus chores without ever touching the camera

This is a remote focus controller from Redrock Micro. It allows a remote focus puller to handle focus chores without ever touching the camera

Do these differences mean better images?  Yes in fact they do.  To that end, some folks who shoot high resolution landscapes for example, are mounting cinema lenses on their digital still cameras in order to achieve the best image quality possible.

Cinema lenses may allow for lots of light transmission, and using them is not as fast as a modern AF lens, but it's not supposed to be.

General Use

When I mount a Cinema lens on my Canon C300, the front ring is the same size on all the Sigma Cinema lenses.  So I simply slide the matte box which holds filters and lens shade forward, change lenses and then slide it back on the rails to fit.  Because the lens shade function of the matte box is variable, I can use the same matte box for all the lenses.

There are zoom Cinema lenses and some folks prefer them for exactly the same reason that still photographers do, convenience and flexibility.  It's highly unusual to have a zoom during a shot in professional video, as it looks hackneyed and amateurish, but the ability to change angle of view, without having to move the camera and related equipment can be a real asset.

With that said, the widest variety of lenses are going to be found in the primes, with fixed focal lengths and very fast T stop ratings.  Yes, shooting with a prime is constraining, but constraints often serve to drive creative response..

Sigma Canada provided me three lens sets for this and the individual reviews.  They came in Canon EF mount, Sony E mount and the PL mount.  I have no gear to mount the PL lenses, but it is important to know up front that PL mount glass is available if that is the mount that your camera uses.

These lenses are built to support professional video cameras using the Super 35 sensor, and thus create an image circle perfect for that sensor.  Some produce an image circle large enough for a full frame still camera, while others do not. Thus when those lenses are mounted on a full frame camera such as my Canon 5Ds, I see vignetting.  However, when I set the camera aspect ratio to 16:9, the coverage is perfect.  No adjustment is needed on the Canon C300 because it is built around the Super 35 sensor.  Sitting on the desk in front of me is a Sony a7S Mark II with the Sigma 24mm T1.5 lens mounted on it.  The lens is larger than the body of the camera, and I would use the tripod mount foot on the lens instead of trying to mount the camera to a tripod.  I can shoot this handheld, but it's not optimal.  I like the a7S Mark II because of the wide range of cinematic gamma choices that it makes available, and it's excellent performance in low light scenarios.

 In this image, you can see the special lens foot for use on a tripod or rig plate. It is attached to the lens body by a set of stainless steel screws. All the lenses can use the same foot, although screw lengths will vary by lens

In this image, you can see the special lens foot for use on a tripod or rig plate. It is attached to the lens body by a set of stainless steel screws. All the lenses can use the same foot, although screw lengths will vary by lens

My comment about the Sony and shooting handheld being not optimal is true for me for all cinematic lenses.  I can balance the Sony or the 5Ds with a prime cinema lens on my DJI Ronin-M, but I just did not have the range to be able to balance the cameras with a zoom mounted.  Even then, it makes the rig exhausting to use because I do not have a shoulder hanging unit.  If you've never seen one, I'll post an image here so you can get the idea. And for anyone who has balanced a Ronin-M, yes it took a while and was definitely not as simple as I make it sound.

 This is a Ronin-M. I love the capability it brings, but I got tired very quickly when using it with the 5Ds and cinema lenses. It was moderately easier with the lighter Sony A7IIs

This is a Ronin-M. I love the capability it brings, but I got tired very quickly when using it with the 5Ds and cinema lenses. It was moderately easier with the lighter Sony A7IIs

 This is what I do not have, that I would need for longer term shooting with the Ronin-M and cinema lenses on a DSLR or full frame mirrorless. It’s a terrific piece of kit, but I cannot make the business case for one.

This is what I do not have, that I would need for longer term shooting with the Ronin-M and cinema lenses on a DSLR or full frame mirrorless. It’s a terrific piece of kit, but I cannot make the business case for one.

Mounting the cinema lenses on the Canon C300 or a Sony FS-7 Mark II positions the lens perimeter above the camera baseplate so use on a tripod without a cage or rig is quite doable.  I use accessories from Shape predominantly on my C300 and you really see in this kind of work why these accessories really are not options when working with cinema lenses. Certainly the size consistency of the cinema lenses makes changes very simple, when it comes to aligning the follow focus and the matte box.

Sigma has a wide range of cinema lenses available.  I received the 18-35 and 50-100 zooms as well as primes in the 20mm, 24mm, 35mm, 50mm, and 85mm for the Sony, as well as the same zooms for Canon plus the 14mm and 135mm primes. Since starting the review, a 40mm and a 105mm have been released.

 Some of the prime lens examples from the Sigma Cinema lineup. Take particular note of the large easy to read numbers and the dual focus and T stop scales so you can verify settings from either side of the camera. For my evaluation, I had all of these in Sony E mount with full frame coverage on the a7IIs

Some of the prime lens examples from the Sigma Cinema lineup. Take particular note of the large easy to read numbers and the dual focus and T stop scales so you can verify settings from either side of the camera. For my evaluation, I had all of these in Sony E mount with full frame coverage on the a7IIs

Investment

Those who have shopped cinema lenses are going to marvel at these prices. Those who have not may have a stroke. We are not talking about still lenses here. Cinema lenses are more expensive than still lenses. That said, the Sigma strategy makes a lot of sense.

Looking at the chain that I do some work for, I discover that the primes in Canon EF mount, PL mount or Sony E mount come in at $4599.99 CAD for most focal lengths. Both Super 35 zooms are $5259.99 CAD and the full frame zoom is $6569.99 CAD. The Sigma offerings come in priced below Canon’s already very competitive cinema lenses

Next Steps

Rather than try to cover experiences with all the lenses in a single place, you will see articles specific to lenses and the use cases when I was shooting with them.

I did arrange a seminar with Henry’s, but attendance was not stellar, likely due to summer timing. I also spent one on one time with professional videographers and independent filmmakers and they loved what they were seeing.

You can download a PDF of the Cinema Lens Line here

More to come!


Have an idea for an article or tutorial?  Do you have a question photo or video unrelated to this article?  Send me an email directly at ross@thephotovideoguy.ca or post in the comments.

If you're in Canada, please consider shopping with Henry's in your local store or at www.henrys.com  If you're in the United States and shop with B&H Photo Video, please consider doing so through the link on thephotovideoguy.ca as this helps support my efforts and has no negative impact whatsoever on your shopping experience.  

If you find the podcast or articles of value, consider clicking the Donation tab in the sidebar of the website and buy me a coffee.  Your donation goes to help me keep things going.  Email your questions on any photo or video topic and I will try to respond within a day.

I'm Ross Chevalier, thanks for reading, and until next time, peace.