Lens Profiles – Carl Zeiss Cine Primes – Part Two

CinemaTechnic Lens Profiles – Carl Zeiss Cine Prime Lenses

For Super 16mm, Super 35mm and Digital Cinematography

Part Two 1998-2014

Section 1: ARRI Zeiss Ultra Primes – 1998

©2016 Jorge Diaz-Amador


Ultra primes were the first of the current production Zeiss cine primes to be introduced, becoming available in 1998. They have been in continuous series production since then and have become one of the most used lenses for high end cinematography.

Ultra Primes design addressed some of the drawbacks of the Zeiss cine primes that preceded them – the Standard Primes and the High Speed primes (Super Speed):

The traditional helical thread based focus system, used on the Standard and High Speed Primes, moves all the optics and most of the lens housing with focus (the length of the lens changes during focus). This focus system was subject to wear over time and weight on the front ring (clip-on matte box) would accelerate the process. It was also a somewhat delicate system to service.

The length of the various lenses in a set varied, sometimes considerably as in the case of the Standard Primes T2.1 Although the position of the focus gears was consistent on most of the focal lengths, the iris gears, which set ahead of the focus gears, had significant variation in their position and they also moved away from the lens mount as the lens was focused on closer distances.

Focus scales had small distance marks that were not as easy to the read as the marks on other modern lenses (Cooke S4, Panavision). The focus scales had feet and meters on one scale2, leading to a visually “busy” design that could be confusing under the stress of production work.

The Standard Primes set had many focal lengths, but it was a combination of new and old designs, so differences in sharpness and color rendition were noticeable when going from an old design (Distagon 2/24) to a new one (Distagon 2/28).

The Ultra Prime Cine Lenses

A completely new mechanical design where the main barrel spanned the distance from the lens mount to the front ring as one piece, and the entire optical system was isolated within. Any forces the lens was subject to, like pressure on the front ring from a clip-on matte box, or torque on the focus gear ring, would be transferred directly the mount without affecting the optical components.

Internal focus system for all focal lengths: The length of the external housing remains constant during focus. The positions of the focus and iris gears are unaffected. The Distagon lenses (all lenses in the set shorter than 50mm) use a floating element system where the front group stayed in a fixed position and only the rear group moved during focus. The Planar lenses, use a semi-floating element system utilizing unit focus with a fixed rear element (similar to the Planar 1.2/50 and 1.2/85 High Speed primes).

Entirely new optical designs1, achieving a consistent T1.9 aperture for all lenses in the set except for Distagons 8R, 10 and 12mm. The new optical designs eliminated glass types that contained lead or arsenic. This anticipated the EU RoHS directive, and the Ultra Primes were able to stay in production after 2004 unlike the High Speed primes which had to be discontinued.

New advancements in anti-reflective coatings and anti-reflex paint to suppress stray light within the lens resulting in increased contrast and color purity. All lenses in the Ultra Prime set are held to the standard of delivering over 90% MTF at 10 lp/mm. This high contrast at low frequency is perceived as the “crispness” of the image.

The Ultra Primes were the first cine prime set from Carl Zeiss to be “Super Color Matched”. The Color Contribution Index of the entire Ultra Prime set is held to a very narrow tolerance.

“The objective was to create lenses which for the first time completely unite all main characteristics such as focus, contrast, color saturation, color uniformity and compactness together with a high speed rating and low aperture-induced focus shift.”

Improved optical performance in close-focus (traditional lens designs had been optimized for infinity focus).

The irises have nine blades (10 in the case of the 135mm UP). The High Speed primes had seven iris blades.

The Super 35mm format Ultra Prime lens series is composed of the following:

  • Distagon Ultra Prime 8R 8mm T2.8 T*
  • Distagon Ultra Prime 10mm T2.1 T*
  • Distagon Ultra Prime 12mm T1.9 T*
  • Distagon Ultra Prime 14mm T1.9 T*
  • Distagon Ultra Prime 16mm T1.9 T*
  • Distagon Ultra Prime 20mm T1.9 T*
  • Distagon Ultra Prime 24mm T1.9 T*
  • Distagon Ultra Prime 28mm T1.9 T*
  • Distagon Ultra Prime 32mm T1.9 T*
  • Distagon Ultra Prime 40mm T1.9 T*
  • Planar Ultra Prime 50mm T1.9 T*
  • Planar Ultra Prime 65mm T1.9 T*
  • Planar Ultra Prime 85mm T1.9 T*
  • Sonnar Ultra Prime 100mm T1.9 T*
  • Sonnar Ultra Prime 135mm T1.9 T*
  • Sonnar Ultra Prime 180mm T1.9 T*

*The Ultra Prime 8R has been discontinued. All other focal lengths remain available.

Optical Performance:

The optical performance of the Ultra Primes is very good. The set is characterized by it’s consistency, with no “weak” focal lengths, and for its optimization. Compared to previous lens designs, Ultra Primes preform very well wide open and require minimal stopping down to reach the aperture for optimum MTF. Distortion is very low even on the widest focal lengths. Field curvature is well controlled.

Mechanical Performance and Servicability:

Ultra Primes are known to be the most reliable Zeiss cine primes in service. Their mechanical design is robust and the focus mechanism not subject to wear as the Standard and High Speed primes were. Image shift and backlash during focus are rare and usually indicates a mis-adjustment in the focus system. All focal lengths have at least one optical centering adjustment. Field curvature and spherical aberration are also adjustable.

Above: Size comparison of the Ultra Prime set. All lenses shown at the same scale. Ultra Prime images courtesy ARRI.

Ultra 16 Cine Prime Lenses

Zeiss also produced a series of lenses that share the Ultra Prime mechanics, but have completely different optics designed to cover the Super 16mm format, and have a T1.3 aperture. These lenses were designed to provide the highest optical quality in the Super 16mm image area. The optical design of these lenses is superb, even by Carl Zeiss standards. They are the sharpest cine lenses so far produced (within their image coverage circle). Due to unfortunate timing (just in time for RED killing interest in the S16mm format), production of these lenses was very limited. I don’t know how many sets were produced, but in over 5 years working at a Carl Zeiss authorized service center, I never had a single one come in for service. This is unfortunate as I would have been quite keen to do optical testing on them.

The Ultra 16 lens series is comprised of the following:


  • Distagon Ultra 16 6mm T1.3 T*
  • Distagon Ultra 16 8mm T1.3 T*
  • Distagon Ultra 16 9.5mm T1.3 T*
  • Distagon Ultra 16 12mm T1.3 T*
  • Distagon Ultra 16 14mm T1.3 T*
  • Distagon Ultra 16 18mm T1.3 T*
  • Distagon Ultra 16 25mm T1.3 T*
  • Distagon Ultra 16 35mm T1.3 T*
  • Distagon Ultra 16 50mm T1.3 T*

1 The Distagon 2/10 Ultra Prime uses the same optical design as the Distagon 2/10 Standard Prime and the mechanics are also nearly identical. This lens was the most advanced in design of the Standard Primes so it was left mostly unchanged except for cosmetics.

2 The High Speed / Super Speed primes Mark III had single-standard scales, either feet or meters.

The author (seated right in green shirt) during his first Ultra Primes service training at Carl Zeiss Oberkochen in May 2004.

Part Two – Section 2: ARRI Zeiss Master Prime Cine Lenses – 2005

©2016 Jorge Diaz-Amador, all rights reserved


ARRI/Zeiss Master Prime Lenses are the end result of a long history of large aperture high speed lenes designed by Carl Zeiss going all the way back to 1966. If you are interested in the background of that development, or the classic High Speed / Super Speed series that preceeded the Master Primes, you can find out more with the articles below:

High Speed Primes Genesis

Classic Carl Zeiss High Speed / Super Speed Primes

A Brief History of the Master Primes

As I mention in the above linked article High Speed Primes Genesis, the first Master Prime prototypes were assembled in May 2004. Introduction to the market by ARRI and Zeiss took place at NAB in 2005.

The original set, as announced in 2005, was quite extensive comprising 16, 18, 21, 25, 27, 32, 35, 50, 65, 75 and 100mm focal lengths.

In 2007, 14mm and 150mm focal lengths were added to the set. A 12mm was introduced in 2010, and the last focal length to be added, 135mm was first shown at IBC in September 2011.

Optical and mechanical aspects of the Master Prime lenses:

ARRI and Zeiss could have simply come up with a new set of High Speed lenses without leaded or aresic doped glass and they would have sold quite well (at least after the introduction of the RED ONE). But instead ARRI and Zeiss decided to take the new design to a whole new level of sophistication and complexity.

No breathing

It was decided to take on one of the imaging problems that was taken for granted in cinematography: Image “breathing”, the change in image size caused by the movement of the lens element when refocusing the lens.

In traditional still and cine prime lens designs, focus is accomplished by moving the entire lens optics toward or away from the image plane (film or sensor). This causes the magnification ratio of the lens to increase as the distance to the image plane is increase. This is called “breathing” in the cinematography industry.

The solution that Zeiss chose, and which they patented, took two forms: For the shorter focal length lenses (a highly modified Distagon lens design) up to 40mm, there is only one moving lens group that does all the focusing. Both the front and the rear groups remain fixed.

For 50mm and longer lenses (modified Planar or Sonnar designs), things got much more complex. These lenses all use two moving lens groups, plus a fixed group (the front group). The two moving focus groups move at different rates.

For all Master Prime lenses, focus is accomplished with a cam/follower system, similar (although a much more complex implementation) to the Cooke S4 lenses. In the case of the Distagons there is one focus cam, and in the case of the Planar or Sonnar lenses (50mm and longer), there are two focus cams, mounted in tandem. This allows for the differential movement of the two focus groups.

The result is closer in terms of mechanical execution and complexity to a zoom lens than to the typical prime lens. It is fairly accurate to say that these lenses are twice as complex an optical design as the High Speed lenses.

The Master Primes also use a new anti-reflective coating called T*XP. This coating offers higher performance than the already effective T* coating used for all previous Zeiss cine lenses (and some current models as well).

Special lacquers of “blacker than black” paint were also developed for painting the edges of the lenses. This greatly reduces stray light reflecting from the ground lens edges.

Light, consistent focus torque

Another area that was addressed was the issue of previous cine prime lens design having focus movements that became stiff and hard to turn in cold temperatures. This was due to the use of fine pitch helical focus threads that required grease. The grease would become thick at low temperatures greatly increasing friction and therefore the torque required to turn the focus ring. Sometimes focus motors would not be able to handle the torque levels and fail to function.

The master primes use a cam/follower system and a focus bearing using synthetic bearings. This focus system has very low friction and operates in a range of -20 to +50º C with minimal change in focus torque. The torque required to turn the focus ring of a Master Prime is lower than that of any previous Zeiss cine lens.

The Master Primes were the first lenses to incorporate ARRI’s Lens Data System (LDS) from the start. The result is a much better integration of the electronics than in the LDS Ultra Primes. All the LDS components are manufactured by ARRI Vienna and have ARRI spare part numbers.

The focus scale on the Master Primes is of large diameter and is a simple cylinder, not incorporating part of a focus ring or focus gear. The focus travel is about 340º from Minimum Object Distance (MOD) to infinity. The focus scales have many marks and offer a very high degree of resolution of focus distance calibrations due to their diameter. Both feet and meter marks are present on all focus scales. Each focus scale has a letter code, and each lens is matched to a focus scale letter code (although this can change if the lens is serviced).

Traditionally, Zeiss prime lenses always had an end stop for focus travel right at the infinity mark. The reason for this was that their wide and fast lenses had protruding rear elements and could be in danger of contacting the expensive and delicate spinning mirror reflex shutter on ARRI film cameras.

With the Master Primes, due to a combination of focal length, large aperture, large entrance pupil and high resolution, it was determined that focal lengths of 75mm and up may not reach infinity focus under all conditions of temperature/pressure etc. At some point in production, 75mm and longer Master Primes were changed to focus past infinity called “infinity overrun”. These lenses will have an additional short focus mark just fast the infinity mark.

Older Master Primes can be set up to overrun infinity without special modification, although there will not be the extra hash mark past infinity. This is something I recommend and a service I perform for my clients.

The complete Master Family of Lenses is composed of the following:

  • Distagon MP 12mm T1.3 T*XP
  • Distagon MP 14mm T1.3 T*XP
  • Distagon MP 16mm T1.3 T*XP
  • Distagon MP 18mm T1.3 T*XP
  • Distagon MP 21mm T1.3 T*XP
  • Distagon MP 25mm T1.3 T*XP
  • Distagon MP 27mm T1.3 T*XP
  • Distagon MP 32mm T1.3 T*XP
  • Distagon MP 35mm T1.3 T*XP
  • Distagon MP 40mm T1.3 T*XP
  • Planar MP 50mm T1.3 T*XP
  • Planar MP 65mm T1.3 T*XP
  • Planar MP 75mm T1.3 T*XP
  • Sonnar MP 100mm T1.3 T*XP
  • Sonnar MP 135mm T1.3 T*XP
  • Sonnar MP 150mm T1.3 T*XP

Master Macro 100mm T2.0 T*XP Note: The Master Macro is very different mechanically from the T1.3 Master Primes, and is the only lens in the series that is a T2.0, but it is still considered part of the “Master Family”

Master Primes 65mm and 150mm T1.3 Master Prime 14mm aspherical front element Carl Zeiss headquarters, Oberkochen, Germany. Image ©2010 Jorge Diaz-Amador

Master Primes Optical Performance

The following is based on my own testing using both Zeiss MTF testing equipment, and subjective areal image projection. The commentary should in all cases be considered my opinion.

Contrast is always very high, due to very efficient antireflective coatings and anti-reflex black paints and light traps. Even at T1.3 MTF at 10 lp/mm in the center of the image is just under 100%. Wide open, MTF at 20 and 40 lp/mm will be quite good in the center of the image, with the 20 and 40 lp/mm values relatively close to the 10 lp/mm value, as compared with other lenses of similar aperture.

Optimum MTF on-axis (in the center of the image) can be reached at surprisingly large apertures due to the very effective correction of aberrations. With some focal lengths it can be reached at apertures just below T2, with some other focal lengths, more stop is required, but generally not more that T4 and never more than T5.6 (usually with the longer focal lengths).

It should be noted that the preceding is based on MTF measurement, and in the case of a lens reaching maximum MTF at T5.6 for example, the MTF at T4 might only be 2-3% lower, which is not easily discernible by eye.

As a general rule, a well-adjusted Master Prime should look good wide open and start to look very good around T1.7. By subjective observation best performance will usually be seen between T2.8 and T4.0. Shooting at the optimum T-stop should only be necessary when capturing images for very high resolution sensors and for projection at very large screen sizes.

Distortion is very well corrected on all focal lengths. The correction is particularly impressive with the very wide Master Primes (12, 14mm) which use radically aspherical front elements (see photo).

There should be no image shift during focus. If this is seen, it means something is loose or broken in the internal mechanics of the lens. Regrettably any visible image shift means the lens will need a full overhaul.

Flatness of field is generally very good. In some cases, due to a complex correction, a “wave” field curvature can be seen rather than the typical center to edge field curvature. This will usually be seen with lenses in the 16 – 21mm focal length. This may be a result of an incorrect field curvature adjustment. Field curvature is adjustable on all Master Primes, but it is a very difficult adjustment to do correctly.

Image symmetry should be very good. However this is one area where problems can occur with lenses that are frequently rented and especially ones that are shipped a lot. The Master Prime optical design depends on the mechanical system working perfectly. All the internal optics are adjustable. Some of these adjustments are very “touchy” and the shock of impacts in shipping can de-center the optics. This results in a “tilted” field curvature and manifests as the asymmetrical focus at the sides and corners of the image that can be easily seen on a lens test projector.

Master Prime service

The solution for the above mentioned problem is an optical adjustment. In some cases, the adjustment can be made with only minimal disassembly. Unfortunately this is not often the case. In most cases a full overhaul will be required to correct optical problems.

Not any lens technician can do the needed adjustment. Without both special training and a large investment in special tools, it will be a frustrating and ultimately pointless exercise.

I know of which I speak. A lot of the silver hairs on my head were acquired during the process of learning how to service these lenses which took years. Suffice it to say that every focal length in the Master Prime set has a “personality”.

No one buys or rents these lenses looking for average performance. They are looking for the state of the art. And a properly adjusted Master Prime is something special.

Comparison with other cine prime lens sets

In my opinion, the only other lenses that can compete with Master Primes in optical quality are the CW Sonderoptik Summilux-C (Leica) primes. The only Zoom lenses that can compete (and suprisingly well at that) are the Fujinon Premier Series zooms.


CinemaTechnic Lens Profiles – Zeiss Compact Prime CP.2 Cine Lenses – 2009

©2016 Jorge Diaz-Amador, all rights reserved

Carl Zeiss Compact Primes were created in a response to the great increase in demand for cine primes that started in 2008. The concept was to produce a less expensive but still high quality prime lens set.

For several years Carl Zeiss had been designing high quality manual focus lenses for SLR cameras – the ZE and ZF series. These lenses were manufactured under contract by Cosina in Japan under Zeiss quality control.

The Compact Prime concept was to take the SLR optics and put them in completely new mechanical housings made to professional cine standards.

Another major change was that these would be the first cine lenses that would not be an ARRI/Zeiss branded product, but would only be Carl Zeiss branded and sold directly by Zeiss.

Carl Zeiss contracted the optics manufacturing to Cosina, and the mechanical housings to a subcontractor (I believe that the mechanical housing manufacturing later moved in-house). Each component arrives at the Carl Zesis factory in Oberkochen Germany. Final assembly – mating of the optics to the housing, centering of optics, and laser engraving of the focus and iris scales is all done on the production floor at Zeiss.

The process is streamlined to take up a minimum of time per lens from the highly trained Carl Zeiss lens production technicians. This is another factor in keeping the price low. The other cine lenses made on the same production line take much more time per lens, which is a factor in their higher cost.

These new housings have an internal mechanical design that could be considered a lightweight analog of the Ultra Prime mechanics although they share no parts, other than the PL mount. Compact Primes use a main barrel that connects directly to the lens mount. Any force applied to the front ring (all except the 50mm Makro-Planar have 114mm diameter fronts) is transferred directly to the lens mount. This is unlike the older lenses, such as the standard primes or high speed primes, that used a telescoping helical thread system.

The length of a compact prime does not change during focus. For the shorter focal lengths (Distagons), as with the Ultra Primes, only the rear group moves during focus. This helps control breathing during focus. Beginning with the 50mm they are unit focus, but with some modifications.

The original Compact primes, which were only manufactured for a short time, were only offered in PL mount, and no other mount could be fitted. Each lens had a T-stop that corresponded to it’s wide open f-stop. So for the short-lived original CP set, the 50 and 85mm lenses were T1.5.

The innovation that caused the explosion in the popularity of the Compact Primes was the interchangeable mount system introduced with the definitive Compact Prime 2 (CP.2) in early 2011.

At the time (2010), the digital SLR cinematography revolution was taking place. The clear lines separating still photography and cinematography were blurred when Canon introduced the 5D Mk. II which was a full-frame professional quality DSLR that could shoot motion video.

Many owners of these cameras wanted a prime lens set, but were torn between the need for Canon EF mount to fit their 5D Mk. II cameras, or PL mount in case a bigger budget shoot came up and they needed their lenses to work on a higher end digital cinema camera.

This need was so great that there was a successful cottage industry for a while converting Canon 5D Mk.II DSLR cameras to PL mount. This was a permanent conversion that removed the flip-up reflex mirror rendering the camera’s viewing system useless. Yet this mod was very popular for a while.

The CP.2 interchangeable mount system allowed you to have a lens set that could be switched between PL and Canon EF mount (originally). Later Nikon F and Micro Four Thirds mounts were offered.

This interchangeable mount system required a modification to the main barrel of the original Compact Prime. Original CP’s can’t be fitted with the EF mounts unless the main barrel is modified which would require a complete overhaul.

Here is an example of the lens mount swap procedure, going from PL to EF mount:

  1. Remove PL mount – 8 screws
  2. Install EF sub mount – 8 screws
  3. Install EF mount – 4 screws
  4. Check back focus, adjust shims if necessary (requires revering and repeating steps 2 and 3).

Zeiss wisely switched from their previously used mount attachment screws – M2 screws with a 2.8mm wide slotted head – to Torx head screws. This is a very wise move. The old slotted screws had heads that damaged very easily. This was a problem for even experienced lens technicians. The Torx screws, combined with a Wiha torque limiting screwdriver, greatly reduced the potential for stripped screws.

Currently the following lens mounts are available for CP.2 lenses: ARRI PL, Canon, EF Nikon F, Sony E, Micro Four Thirds

As they were designed as still camera lenses, all CP.2 lenses cover Full Frame 35mm except the 15mm T2.9. This is not the result of the 15mm optical design, but of mechanical vignetting caused by the front of the CP.2 housing.

Some users had complained about the large differential in T-stops within the CP set, which ranged from T1.5 to T3.6. In order to produce a set with as large as possible a range with the same T-stop, the decision was made to limit the iris opening on the Planar 50 and 85mm to T2.1 This led to a set that matched the standard primes T2.1 aperture from 28mm to 85mm.

New Focal Lengths Introduced

One of the first new lenses to be added to the set is the CP.2 100mm/T2.1 Close Focus. It is based on the Makro-Planar 2/100 ZE-ZF lens. I consider it to be one of the best CP.2 lenses in terms of optical quality.

At NAB 2012 the CP.2 15/T2.9 and 135/T2.1 were added. A new version of the CP.2 25mm was added to the set with a T2.1 aperture was introduced at IBC in September 2012, and the original CP.2 25mm/T2.9 was discontinued.

The CP.2 set now ranged from 25 to 135mm at T2.1 with FF35 coverage.

The CP.2 lenses were one of Carl Zeiss most popular cine product ever. In 2011 there was a 12 month wait to take delivery of a set.

CP.2 Super Speed Series

First shown at IBC in September 2012 were the CP.2 Super Speed series. With the introduction of the ZE-ZF Distagon 1.4/35, a set of three focal lengths of CP.2 lenses are offered with T1.5 aperture. These lenses are prominently labeled SUPER SPEED and are actually the first Zeiss lenses ever to officially have that name.

The set is comprised of Distagon 35mm/ T1.5, Planar 50mm/T1.5 and Planar 85mm/T1.5. The 50 and 85mm Planar are not new designs, they simply revert to the original Compact Prime configuration of allowing the aperture to open fully.

CP.2 Optical Performance

The image quality of the CP.2 lenses is quite good, especially considering their cost. They are derived for high quality still camera lenses, and their performance should be as good or better than the ZE/ZF lenses that they are based on. The wide angle CP.2 lenses perform particularly well in having low levels of geometric distortion.

CP.2 lenses have a single centering adjustment that may not be present in the still camera version (I’ve never taken a ZE/ZF lens apart), so that could potentially mean better optical performance for the CP.2 version.

Since all CP.2 lenses are designed to cover FF35 format. They have the advantage of being able to cover sensors larger than S35 format. But they also have the drawback that being designed for the larger format, they cannot deliver the MTF in the smaller S35 image area that a lens that was designed only for S35 can deliver (at least in the wider focal lengths).

Compared to the higher-end Zeiss cine lenses, such as the Ultra Primes (which only cover S35 format), the CP.2 will generally not perform as well at full aperture. But most CP.2 focal lengths, when stopped down 2-3 stops from full aperture, are a fairly good match for the dedicated Zeiss cine lenses.

The CP.2 Super Speed lenses should not be expected to perform as well at full aperture (T1.5) as the dedicated cine lenses offering that aperture (Zeiss High Speed and Master Prime series). They tend to perform more like good quality still camera portrait lenses, having some flare and spherical aberration at full aperture. These characteristics can be pleasing under some conditions, and the CP.2 Super Speed performance wide open can be somewhat similar to vintage lenses, although with significantly higher contrast. The CP.2 Super Speed will perform as well as the other CP.2 lenses once stopped down.

CP.2 Lens Service

CP.2 lens service follows a somewhat similar paradigm to Ultra Prime service. CP.2 lenses require some special service tools. Attempts at disassembly without the special tools (beyond lens mount swaps) can cause damage to the mechanics.

The CP.2 mechanics are similar in concept to the Ultra Prime, but have a more lightweight construction (in keeping with the “compact” concept) coupled with a large diameter (114mm front instead of 95mm). This large diameter thin wall construction makes the CP.2 lenses sensitive to impacts.

It is important to avoid impacts since in most cases the mechanical housing cannot be economically repaired. The most common procedure at Carl Zeiss Authorized Service Centers is to remove the optics from the impacted CP.2 lens and transfer them to a new housing. The cost of this repair is roughly half the cost of a new lens.

CP.2 lenses tend to have a higher focus torque than Ultra Prime lenses and much higher torque than Master Primes or Master Anamorphics. The most common user complaint is high focus torque.

CinemaTechnic Lens Profiles – ARRI Zeiss Master Anamorphic Lenses – 2014

©2016 Jorge Diaz-Amador, all rights reserved

With the introduction of the Alexa Studio, Alexa Plus 4:3 and Alexa M, by 2012, ARRI had three versions of its digital cinema cameras equipped with 4:3 aspect ratio sensors.

This didn’t mean aynone really wanted to go back to the nearly square 4:3 aspect ratio in the age of HD. The idea was to facilitate digital anamorphic cinematography.

Cinematographers, having lost so much control over the image with the manipulations that can be done in digital post production, looked for a way to achieve a unique organic look that could be baked in to the image. Something that could not be faked and also could not be subsequently reversed.

ARRI worked with Carl Zeiss to develop a set of anamorphic lenses that could be used with the Alexa 4:3 sensor cameras in anamorphic mode

History and Pricing

The early prototypes, which had large plain blue barrels and were labeled concept anamorphic, were seen at NAB 2012, along with the Alexa Plus 4:3 cameras.

A redesigned prototype Master Anamorphic 50mm was first seen at IBC in September 2012. Production style prototypes of the 35, 50 and 75mm primes were seen at NAB 2013. First deliveries were made in early 2014. 40, 60, 100 and 135mm focal lengths were lated added to the set.

They are, in typical anamorphic form, a very costly set of lenses. Prices range from $43,600.- to $50,000.- per lens.

The Master Anamorphic lens series is composed of the following:

  • Master Anamorphic 2x 35mm T1.9 T*XP
  • Master Anamorphic 2x 40mm T1.9 T*XP
  • Master Anamorphic 2x 50mm T1.9 T*XP
  • Master Anamorphic 2x 60mm T1.9 T*XP
  • Master Anamorphic 2x 75mm T1.9 T*XP
  • Master Anamorphic 2x 100mm T1.9 T*XP
  • Master Anamorphic 2x 135mm T1.9 T*XP

Optical and Mechanical Design, Optical Performance

The Master Anamorphics are part of the ARRI Zeiss Master line, meaning they are top-of-the-line products that are very nearly cost-no-object designs.

The goal of the Master Anamorphic design was to produce a set of 2:1 anamorphic lenses with high contrast, very good sharpness and minimal distortion. It is clear that these goals were achieved. The Master Anamorphic lenses have the least distortion of any anamorphic lenses I have seen.

The optical design used some unique concepts to control distortion and aberration:

“The anamorphic squeezing is done by ‘spreading’ the cylindrical elements around and throughout the lens – not in front, not in back, but in several places. They are not based on existing lenses”.

– Thorsten Meywald ARRI lens product manager.

The Master Anamorphics were specifically designed as lenses for digital cinema cameras and are near image space telecentric. They are designed to have minimal anamorphic “breathing” meaning the change in both size and geometry of the image when pulling focus.

These lenses have iris blades with 15 leaves to achieve a near perfect round aperture. This is important because the oval bokeh is just about the only way that you will be able to tell that a shot done with a Master Anamorphic is an anamorphic image. The typical geometric distortion and astigmatism is not present.

Master Anamorphic Service

Zeiss made some good decisions in terms of mechanical design and serviceability. The optical adjustment points can be reached without major disassembly of the lens. Front elements can be changed without requiring optical re-centering afterward.

The first time I needed to replace a Master Anamorphic front element, I measured the MTF of the lens first to get a baseline. I then changed the lens element complete with its housing. Theoretically the new element was supposed to drop right in without requiring adjustments. But I expected to still need to do some tweaking.

I was pleasantly surprised and quite impressed when I measured the MTF of the lens post element swap and it was exactly the same. This is a great feature for serviceability and also makes the use of the “flare set” front elements practical. I wont’ shock you with the price of that replacement front element in housing, but I can give you this advice: Do everything you can to avoid scratching a lens element on a Master Prime.

This is the newest entry in the modern lens section of cinematechic.com. I will be updating this page once I’ve had a chance to have more hand-on experience with these lenses.




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