Lenses are like small precious treasures to us filmmakers. We cherish those that have a distinct look and features since, as many folks used to say, a lens is an investment that you will not upgrade soon, whereas the camera body and all the other tech gear gets old and needs to be replaced every once in a while.
Most of the newest lenses are also quite expensive. Nano-coatings, multiple optical elements, electronic gears for iris and focus, all this small add-ons and functions tend to bring the price higher up. Caleb Pike from DSLR Video Shooter is well used to scavenging around the web looking for enticing offerings for budget filmmakers, so here are some of his new findings.
The lens set he showcases here comes from eBay, and it was amazing to know the price – $256 for the whole set. Yeap, you read that right. The set is made of six lenses of a lesser-known Japanese manufacturer from the sixties, called Chinon.
Not as renowned like other Japanese staples like Canon or Nikon, but still it seems these are worth taking a look at, if not for anything else at least for the price of the whole set.
These lenses were designed for 35mm film cameras, that means that the sensor coverage is what we now call Full-frame, like a Sony A7 series or Canon’s 5D and 1D. The set is composed of six lenses: 28mm f2.8, 35mm f2.8, 50mm f1.7, 50mm f1.9, 135mm f2.8, 200mm f3.5.
Keep an eye on the spelling of the brand, though. As Caleb has encountered similar lenses, both in name and form factor, the Chinar lenses, seem to be a pretty low-quality option.
As for the good ones we have in this set, the Chinon ones, they are full metal bodies and have been upgraded with a 3D printed focus gear, taking advantage of the extremely long rotation of the focus ring. On the 35mm it’s over 200°, that’s well in the range of some cine lenses.
Anyway, time to look at some test footage. All the images were shot on a Sony A7RIII with the lenses wide open so that any imperfections and artifacts can clearly stand out.
28mm f2.8 – $52
35mm f2.8 – $49
50mm f1.9 – $28
135mm f2.8 – $23
200mm f3.5 – $50
As you can see all of the lenses have more than decent quality. They are a little bit softer on the edges, especially the 35mm, with some vignetting in the frame. It’s actually more of a little light fall-off on the edges rather than an actual vignette since the whole sensor is perfectly covered.
Stepping down a little bit the iris will give sharper and clearer images, but the shots wide open are still very usable. Between the two 50mm, the keeper seems to be the f1.7 that comes in a little bit sharper than the f1.9.
One more thing – The 55mm f1.7
An honorable mention is the 55mm f1.7. There are various options, even an f1.4 one, but this lens has a particular oval bokeh, soft and swirly that a lot of filmmakers are looking for.
So, in conclusion, what can we say of this set? Looking at the price alone, it’s a must-have. There’s almost no other lens set that can compare, and the quality is decent.
Depending on the aim of your production, it could be even better to have lenses that take down some of the detail from these hyper-detailed 4K sensors we are used to, thus giving a more cinematic look.
The latter may not be true if your line of work involves commercial projects or some sort of product photography, but if you are shooting a short film or even a music video, these could be the perfect tool to get the aesthetic look right.