Thinking about buying a Zeiss lens? Zeiss and KitSplit have teamed up to get KitSplit members an exclusive 10% discount on Zeiss lenses, including the Zeiss CP3. More details here. Just let our Gear Experts know at firstname.lastname@example.org or 917-722-6792, and we’ll send you the exclusive discount link ASAP.
Zeiss has long occupied the top end of the cinema lens market. Thinking back on their all-star lenses, there are the new Supreme prime lenses targeted at the blossoming full frame cinema market, the Master Prime Lenses that dominated for the last 20 years, and the Ultra prime Lenses before them.
Across all their lens lines over the decades, Zeiss has crafted sharp, consistent, top performing lenses that are beloved by filmmakers around the globe. Yet, until now, they have been relatively expensive and heavy (particularly the master primes). This made them an excellent choice for some shoots, but less popular with Steadicam and hand held operators despite their incredible image quality.
Zeiss is no fool, and a decade or so ago released the original compact primes, a lens set popular for the compact size (so important it’s in the name), their light weight, and especially, their affordable price. Zeiss being Zeiss (this is the company that went through three revisions of the Super Speeds in 15 years), they have kept refining the Compact Primes as well—the CP.3 is the latest revision.
We spent a week with a CP3 set, and were impressed. With the CP3s, Zeiss has adjusted to meet the price needs of indie filmmakers while maintaining their signature quality and appreciation for the “ZEISS Look”.
The evolution of Zeiss’s Primes: Compact Primes, CP2, CP3
The Master Primes were the top of the Zeiss pack for nearly two decades, and were so loved by filmmakers that they used them constantly on sticks and dollies (and even managed to fly them from time to time!). The biggest issue keeping modern Zeiss primes out of the hands of many filmmakers was the cost—often tens of thousands of dollars per lens—and rental rates to match. Of course, one option you always save when considering purchasing cine lenses is buying used.
Zeiss has been dominant for so long that there are amazing sets of glass from the 80s and even the late 70s that hold their value exceptionally well and can create stellar images.
Unfortunately, vintage glass doesn’t always offer an easy “inroad” to owning Zeiss. First, “vintage” cinema glass went through a price explosion between roughly 2005 and 2010. Those beautiful Zeiss standard speeds you could barely afford in 2005 where completely unaffordable by 2010, as digital cameras both created a larger need for cine lenses, and also an appreciation for vintage lenses that took some of the digital edge off.
Zeiss CP3 Lenses a.k.a. Compact Prime 3 Lenses
Zeiss, recognized a hole in the market and, in May 2017, released the third generation of the Compact Primes to address the boom in “affordable” cinema glass with Zeiss designs and technology.
The compact primes feature lens coatings and design that more users can afford, and are especially appreciated for their lighter weight in comparison with the Master Primes. The original Compact Primes were one of the first to really push interchangeable lens mounts to the mass market, which is something that has become quite common in the years since and is appreciated by owners who don’t know ahead of time of purchase which platforms they might need to use the lenses with. Field swapping between EF and PL mounts is definitely a killer feature. And overall, the CP.3s are at a reasonable price point for indie filmmakers, while maintaining Zeiss’s high standard and appreciation for vintage film looks.
Zeiss CP3’s XD Extended Lens Data
The key feature for these lenses to compete with vintage options is the sophisticated modelling Zeiss has done to support and maintain a consistent look throughout the lens line. This comes from the eXtended lens data—an optional upgrade for the CP.3 lenses. Extended Data (or XD) is the ability of the lens to supply its own
metadata to the camera or other data capture systems. Utilizing the Cooke /i protocol, ZEISS
lenses with XD provide over 10 lens parameters including iris and focus position, field of view
and entrance pupil position. This not only allows for more sophisticated VFX workflows, it also allows for more realistic recreation of vintage lens designs.
Lens Data is the process of capturing precise focus, iris, and zoom information while you shoot. Previously the most common system for doing so has been /i. This passed that lens data through connectors in the lens mount on to the body of the camera, so that in your viewfinder you could see where the lens was focused, what the rapture was set to, and the zoom setting. These are all normal pieces of data to record for an integrated lens video camera, but having them in a cinema camera has been super cool.
Think about it like this. Without XD lens data it’s possible to apply a simple filter and “mimic” the look of a vintage lens, adding softness, chromatic aberration, and color stuff. But that look won’t change at all as the focus and iris change in the shot. On the other hand, if you shoot with an actual vintage lens, focus and iris changes, dramatically affecting the image the lens creates. Lens data has been around for a long time, but XD increases the sampling for more sophisticated modeling of different looks.
On top of data provided in the Cooke protocol, ZEISS has included Lens Shading and Lens Correction data. With these new data points, you can also use the XD data for a tighter integration into post VFX workflows. For instance, if you are compositing an element into a shot, you can use the new ZEISS lens data to strip away the shading and distortion of the lens. This helps the VFX team to match up their positioning marks, and create a realistic depth of field effect, and have focus change on your composite in sync with the focus rack happening in camera in a way you previously would have had to build a LUT by shooting charts and cheat by hand. Once your compositing is done, the lens look and shading can be easily added back
in to the editing with the click of a mouse, saving you tons of time in post!
The XD data is an upgrade option in the lenses, and then can either pass through the /I data port or be exported out through an external hardware connection for when you work with cameras that don’t support /i. For those of you unfamiliar with /i technology, it was originally developed by Cooke Optics (trademark and technology is used by Zeiss with permission from Cooke optics) and found in their lenses. It is a method of transferring metadata from a lens to a camera for later reference. This is especially appreciated on smaller projects where you might be working with a more “indie” camera that won’t transfer /i data like a larger camera might, but you still want to capture that data.
A Winning Combination with the Zeiss CP3’s XD
It’s this combination— the light weight, the affordable price (for cinema primes), and the integration of sophisticated lens data and profiling—that make the CP.3 a winning combination. It’s a great choice for many filmmakers who want the benefits of the precise, sharp Zeiss look but also the ability to manipulate it in post. It seems like a natural a go-to for indie filmmakers who are looking to buy or rent.
Thoughts on the Image
We got to spend a week with the lenses, and thoroughly enjoyed them! We were especially impressed regarding improvements from the original compact primes. The image created by these lenses is very pleasant and sharp. It’s not as crystal sharp as Masters, and has a pleasant rolloff into a clear bokeh that feels liquid, not diffused. Aberration on the wide lenses is minimal to non existent, though you do see some color aberration on the long end of the range.
In this sample from the 85mm, set to full close focus, you can see some color fringing, though primarily on the green/magenta axis, “secondary” aberration (where “primary” aberration is on the blue/yellow, with blue fringing being one of the big areas). They’ve made great strides since the first release of compact primes; It’s exciting to see it more controlled here, even for projects where you won’t be opting for the XD lens data.
The build quality of the Zeiss CP3 is excellent, with a pleasant lens feel. The lenses are surprisingly light and small considering their quality. The 18mm clocked in at only 890 grams, a pleasant weight to hand hold compared to the 18mm Master Prime with runs 2100 grams—and that’s on the lighter end of the range for the big lenses.
The CP.3s, as the third generation are known, probably got the most press for the XD system, but even the plain, non-XD glass we got our hands on provided a pleasurable shoot without saddling the images with artifacts. If you want the clean, crisp, but pleasant Zeiss look at an affordable price point, these are absolutely worth a look.
Thinking about buying a Zeiss lens? Zeiss and KitSplit have teamed up to get KitSplit members an exclusive 10% discount on Zeiss lenses. More details here. Just let our Gear Experts know at email@example.com or 917-722-6792, and we’ll send you the exclusive discount link ASAP.
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All photos used in this post are by Charles Haine