Canon CN-E 24mm
Canon CN-E 24mm T1.5 L F on the Canon EOS 1D-C. Photo: Canon

In 2008 the DSLR revolution was launched by the Canon 5D Mark II. For the first time, large sensors for filmmaking became affordable - and with it, a shallow depth of field synonymous with cinematic imagery became available to the masses.

UPDATE: This post is no longer updated and is now out of date. This post was written years before the RED Monstro, Sony Venice, Arri Alexa LF and all the other full frame (and larger) cameras were available! I now have a dedicated page here that I can continually update and add more lenses to.

The 5DMkII however used a full frame sensor - 36x24mm in size. This is larger than a Super-35 sensor (or film cell) typically used for filmmaking, meaning regular cine lenses are simply not big enough to use with the full frame sensors. For a while, DSLR shooters were limted to using regular DSLR lenses - which, whist optically can be fantastic, lack much of the functionality and mechanics that set apart cine lenses from photo lenses.

Fulfilling this need, Zeiss were first to the party with their CP.2 lenses. Using the same optics as their ZE/ZF.2 full frame, photography lenses, but rehoused in a cine body. For a long time, they were the only viable option for full frame cine lenses and even today, are a very popular option.

Not only was full frame/DSLR shooting becoming extremely popular, but digital cinema camera sensors started becoming bigger. In 2013 RED started producing the Dragon sensor which is larger than Super-35 - fueling the need for larger lenses. In the mean time, Canon and Schneider had been busy and both now have their own lines of full frame primes - the CN-E and Xenon FF lenses respectively. Between those two and Zeiss, they have most of the market covered - and is often what's seen on the front of a RED!

That is until recently however. Samyang already have a line of cine style lenses - albeit mechanically nearly identical to their photography lenses but with a declicked aperture and geared rings. To compete with other true cine lenses, Samyang have rehoused their lenses into proper cine bodies and are called Xeen. The coatings are reportedly different, resulting in a slight improvement to some aspects, however as the optical formulas are the same, they are largely comparable in quality to their photography lenses.

Not content with what the market had to offer, in 2015 Steven Kisilevich in Germany decided to make his own set of full frame primes - Celere HS primes.

And finally, Sigma, recently lauded for their highly successful 'Art' series of photography lenses, has decided to enter the cine market too, last month announcing a set of full frame primes along with both full frame and Super-35 zooms. Currently there is no word on price or availability, but no doubt will be priced similar to it's contemporaries.

Below is a table comparing the offerings from all of the manufacturers. Information is taken from their official websites and as EF is the only consistent mount across all the lenses, specs are representative of this mount; size and weight will vary slightly with different mounts. Blank information represents a 'no' or currently unknown.

Where possible, actual retail prices have been used, otherwise the RRP has been provided. Prices are of course subject to change and are therefore reflective only and are accurate at the time of writing. Purchasing a set of 4 or more lenses is usually cheaper too.

Data ranges are usually as a result of the widest and/or longest focal lengths. These are often slower, heavier and more costly etc. Most lenses across any given set are usally consistent sizes and speeds.

  Zeiss CP.2 Canon CN-E Schneider Xenon FF Samyang Xeen Celere HS Sigma FF
Focal Lengths 15, 21, 25, 28, 35, 50, 85, 100, 135 14, 24, 35, 50, 85, 135 18, 25, 35, 50, 75, 100, 135 14, 16, 24, 35, 50, 85, 135 25, 36, 50, 85 20, 24, 35, 50, 85
Speed T1.5-2.9 T1.3-3.1 T2.1-2.4 T1.5-3.1 T1.5 T1.5
Mounts Available EF, PL, E, F, MFT EF EF, PL, E, F EF, PL, E, F, MFT EF, PL EF, PL, E
Front Diameter 114mm 114mm 100mm 114mm 85mm 95mm
Length 80-149mm  94-115.6mm 133.2-143.5mm 88.3-121.7mm 118mm 82-134.5mm
Weight 900-1600g 1100-1400g 1160-1530g 1160-1394g 1050g 1125-1475g
Aperture Blades 14 11 14 11
(14mm: 9)
8 9
Focus throw 300º 300º 300º 200º 250º 180º
Witness Marks Imperial/Metric Imperial/Metric Imperial/Metric Imperial/Metric Imperial Imperial
Filter Thread   105mm
(14mm: none)
95mm
(18mm: none)
    82mm
(20mm: none; 85mm: 86mm)
Weather sealed   Yes       Yes
Luminous marks         Yes Yes
Interchangeable lens mount User   User   User Service
Individual Price (plus VAT) $2778-$4111
€2520-€3731
£2272-£3360
$3308-$3958
€3001-€3591
£2705-£3235
$2817-$5627
€2557-€5107
£2303-£4583
$1636-$1841
€1485-€1671
£1333-£1500
€3,600  

So what comparisons can we draw from this?

The Zeiss CP.2s are the smallest and lightest, most of which weigh only 900 or 1000g. For this reason, they're probably the most popular choice for applications where weight is a serious consideration - namely aerial and gimbal cinematography. They're also relatively affordable, further popularising them. The set has the greatest range of focal lengths, however their speeds vary. Most of the lenses are T2.1, though the 35, 50 and 85mm lenses are also available in a 'Super Speed' variant at T1.5. Some of the wider lenses are slower at T2.9.

Based on their renowned DSLR lenses from their 'L' series, the Canon CN-E primes are the fastest. The 50 and 85mm lenses are T1.3 - the fastest cine lenses outside of much more expensive cine glass such as the Zeiss Master Primes and the only lenses this fast that cover full frame.  The 24 and 35mm lenses are T1.5, the 135mm is T2.2 and the 14mm, as is the case with many wide angle lenses, is the slowest at T3.1. Interestingly, the CN-Es are only available in EF mount, presumably in a bid to push their own mount as a serious contender for cinema applications. Their cine zooms are available in both EF and PL, and it is possible to convert CN-E primes to PL by third parties such as Duclos.

The Schneider Xenon FF lenses are typically a little cheaper than the Canon CN-E primes, with only the 25 and 18mm lenses being (unfortunately much) more costly. The 18mm is 1/3rd stop slower at T2.4; all of the lenses are the same size with the exception of the 135mm which is about 1cm longer.

The Samyang Xeens also bear the traditional full frame prime design, the same as the CN-Es and CP.2s: short and wide. They're by far the cheapest option at almost half the cost of its competitors. The 14mm is, like the Canon, the slowest at T3.1; the 16mm is T2.6 and the 135 is T2.2.

The Celere HS lenses are comparatively small and light, second only to some of the CP.2s. Their biggest selling point is complete uniformity - all the same size and weight, perfect for steadicams and gimbals, eliminating the need to rebalance. An 18.5mm is in the works, however this will be T1.6 and unfortunately won't have the same weight or dimensions.

Sigma 35mm and 50mm FF cine primes
Sigma 35mm and 50mm T1.5 full frame cine primes. Photo: Sigma

Until they're released, we won't really know how good the Sigma FF primes are and how they really compare, but if the specs are anything to go by they look excellent. T1.5 across the range means the 20mm is the fastest lens you can get that wide for full frame. As an added bonus, they all (along with Sigma's cinema zooms too) come with a lens support foot, plus the aesthetic design of them looks really great. No other lenses have the front diameter, filter diameter and image circle dimensions engraved into the lens barrel!

Despite all of these specs and comparisons, the only two factors that should really affect a purchase decision are price and look. Work out which ones you can and can't afford, and from there, see which you like the look of most - some are warmer or cooler than others, some are sharper; it's all personal preference. There are so many things that contribute to the look of a lens that can't be quantified. If you can, get some hands on time with them and test to see which you like the look of most. Only then will you find the lenses that you're happiest with.

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