Can a $500 Cine Lens Stack Up Against a $26,000 Master Prime?

Cinema lenses come in all shapes and sizes. They also have a huge range of prices. Nowadays, you can pick up some cinema lenses for dirt cheap and own an entire lineup yourself. Or, you can go for the high-end options that are usually rental only unless you have tens of thousands of dollars to spend. 

In this video, the folks at Film Riot compared lenses at two ends of the spectrum. One is a $500 Rokinon 35mm prime that is often found in indie kits. The other is an industry-standard ARRI 32mm Master Prime which will run you over $26,000.

Before we even get started we need to understand that these lenses aren’t going to be put through intense studio tests where everything is perfectly synced up. They are using them mostly on faces at a variety of differences and in different lighting environments. It’s all about how they look to the eye. The lenses don’t even match up perfectly in focal length, being 32mm and 35mm.

Lens choice is hugely important when decided on a look for a project. Sometimes it is all about getting a distinct look and other times it is about getting a clean image. Character is a huge deal for lenses. They are a big fan of lenses with imperfections that have a distinct look and character.

Image Credit: ARRI

Sometimes, especially just starting out, your options are going to be limited. That’s why they are doing such a dramatic comparison between two very different price points.

In the initial studio tests the lenses are decently similar. If you absolutely wanted you could actually cut them together. Getting into the specifics, you can see that transmission is better on the Master Prime and that it also delivers more true-to-life color. There is a noticeable difference in the focal length and how that looks.

Another test was on a green screen since poorly controlled aberrations can make pulling a key a lot more difficult. In the test this didn’t seems to be an issue for either lens.

The biggest difference appears to be in color. The Rokinon has a wash of warm tones while the ARRIs hold a greater range of color. This is an important difference and can impact your image.

Looking at the bokeh, the Rokinon lens appears to have a dirtier appearance. The Master Primes are so much cleaner.

Image Credit: Rokinon

Moving outside, we are getting some different aspects of the lenses to show. With the Rokinon you are getting a bit more fogging and a purple haze. This could be something to appreciate if you want a distinct look, but with the Master Primes you can always make these additions in post since you have a clean image to start.

Still, the lenses are incredibly close. There is a reason for the higher cost and for serious productions it is worth it. We didn’t even get into things like build quality which is critical for serious productions where you need the reliability.

The last bit is about thinking about your destination. If you are just going up online with your videos then the compression and final viewing devices aren’t going to show these differences as dramatically. It should give a lot of indie filmmakers a lot of encouragement that you don’t need to drop a lot of money to get a good look.

Do you have any favorite budget lenses?

[source: Film Riot]

Order Links:

  • Rokinon 35mm T1.5 Cine DS Lens (B&H, Amazon)
  • ARRI 32mm Master Prime Lens (B&H)

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