Filmmaker Charlie Watts takes the 35mm, 50mm and 75mm SLR Magic cine lenses out for some golden-hour filming with his Sony A7s
When most of us think of a “cine” lens, we think of big expensive glass that’s built for the film and commercial industry. However, since the birth of the Canon EOS 5D more than ten years ago, filmmaking equipment has continued to become more compact and affordable.
I’ve always prided myself on not letting my gear or my budgets get in the way of creating. These set of prime cine lenses for SLR Magic are a great solution for the modern-day filmmaker – they really do give you that increase in image quality without breaking the bank.
For this review I had the pleasure of shooting with the 35mm f/1.2, 50mm f/1.1, and 75mm f/1.4.
At a glance:
• Focus type: all manual
• Maximum aperture: 35mm f/1.2, 50mm f/1.1, 75mm f/1.4
• Minimum aperture: all f/16
• No. of diaphragm blades: 13
• Filter size: 52mm front thread
Straight out of the box these lenses feel solid and durable, constructed from anodised aluminium they feel capable of enduring most conditions the travel filmmaker endures.
I’m not suggesting for one minute to neglect proper care, but they do feel as much like a cine lens as they look. The build quality feels firm and tight; there’s no cheap plastic-feel to the lenses, and you get the sense that they will withstand whatever conditions you throw at them.
Pulling aperture manually on the SLRs is something that does take some getting used to. More often than not I shoot with the Sigma Art range, which communicates directly with my camera, leaving me with only the focus to adjust via the lens.
That being said, once you get out of the habit of looking to the camera body for aperture, the iris and focus ring are extremely sturdy – which for me had both its pros and cons.
Let's start with the negatives: occasionally for run-and-gun style shooting, the rings can be a bit too firm and tough. I found pulling focus on the lenses to be occasionally stiff and a bit fiddly due to their size. Like I mentioned previously, however, I think it’s just case of getting use to them and I’m confident it’s something you would soon become accustomed too.
On the plus side, you can rest assured that your focus or aperture isn’t going to come loose or get knocked when shooting, just as with a true cine lens.
As these lenses are “cine” lenses, the big plus for me is the versatility of the setups you could employ with them. Gimbals and 3-axis stabilisers are getting increasingly popular, not to mention accessible for the mass consumer, and one huge advantage of these lenses is that they allow for the addition of a follow focus system and a pulling system for aperture, as they have the standard cine gearing.
Yes, okay, this is probably a step up from a one-man crew, and not something you’d want for fun shooting or travel films. But, if you were looking at a cheaper option for a small production like a short film or low budget music video, then these lenses would be a great route to go down.
One thing I did love about these lenses was the rounded shaped bokeh, thanks to the 13 diaphragm blades. I found myself constantly shooting into the sun, and I can imagine shooting a night cityscape with this glass would be superb. The sharpness of the bokeh was really impressive and the silky-smooth look really adds to the quality of the frame. If you are a bokeh buff, then you will love these lenses.
If you are the type of filmmaker who likes to travel light and carry as little kit as possible, I would really recommend these lenses. I travelled with them in just my small camera satchel and felt confident they would be fine, thanks to their durable build.
This was my first time not shooting with a lens adapter on my Sony A7S, and shooting with the native e-mount SLRs was so much easier. The speed of these lenses and the brilliant capabilities of the A7S II in low light are a perfect match. What I also really liked about these lenses is how inconspicuous they look – they don’t scream steal me!
Everyone has their own unique style when it comes to shooting, a certain look and feel they prefer from their image. What I fell in love with about these lenses is the fringing around soft-focus parts of the frame; it really gives a beautiful look to the image, and for me this is what separates it from stills lenses. After shooting during the golden hour (sunset), I loved looking back at the results and the dreamy vibe and tone the lenses gave to the film.
I’ve been shooting with the Sony A7S for more than a year now and I love the results I get from such a small camera. As mentioned, I am a big advocate of being as inconspicuous as possible – the bigger the camera and lenses, the more people become wary and conscious of you, especially if they don’t know you.
The VENICE film was all shot handheld at 1080p 50fps. There has been a lot of talk about the S-Log2 or 3 picture profiles in the camera, and yes these very popular. However, I prefer to shoot in the CINE4 profile. I find shooting in S-Log with the 8-bit codec gives me too much unwanted noise in the blacks, which gives me issues in the grade. I find shooting relatively flat in the S-Gamut3 gives me enough latitude in post to play with the grade.
Overall, I was really impressed with the results the SLR Magic lenses gave me. Lens choice is always going to be a matter of taste and personal style – if you are the type of person who wants crisp digital results from your footage then these lenses are probably not going to fit your needs, but if you love those imperfections and beautiful flares then I’d say that you should definitely give them a shot.
About the Author
Charlie Watts is a professional director and filmmaker based in Manchester. To see more of his work, visit his website.