First Look: Veydra Mini Primes for Micro Four Thirds

I test four new cine lenses for GH4s, BMPCCs, and other MFT cameras.

I’ve had some time to play with four prototype Veydra MFT Cine Lenses: the 16mm, 25mm, 35mm, and 50mm. Here’s what I’ve seen. [UPDATE #4 6:00pm PST 17 Dec: Kickstarter project funded at over 5.4x the goal.]

Four prototype Veydra Mini Primes and a GH4

Four prototype Veydra Mini Primes and a GH4

The one-line setup: Veydras are cine primes designed specifically for micro four thirds cameras. I posted an intro to the Veydras here on PVC, and Matthew Duclos gives more details in his blog. I also have a brief interview with Veydra supremo Ryan Avery on DVInfo. I refer you to those for background. Here, I’m just going to report my findings and impressions. 

Bear in mind that these are hastily assembled prototype lenses that came to me after having been, in Ryan Avery’s words, “through the wringer 4 times” at various other events, like the Hot Rod Cameras Open House. “There are a few dead/unlubricated spots in the focus and they haven't been cleaned or inspected by us since being at Illya's shop.” So these lenses have the casual abuse of four public events on top of the relative imprecision and variability of prototype units. 

Even though these are single samples of prototype lenses, I’m reporting what I saw: the good, the bad, and the ugly. Some of the issues I’ve noticed may well be one-off problems unique to these prototypes that will not be present in production lenses; still, I report them because they’re what you’d see if you had these lenses in your hands. Just remember that I’m looking at rough-around-the-edges prototype lenses, not finished products. You have been warned!

Design and Functionality

The lenses share a common external package, with a front diameter of 80mm and a length from flange to front of 85mm (about 3.15” around by 3.35” long). The rear diameter is 59mm. The lenses weigh between 461g and 546g (16.26 oz – 19.26 oz). All take 77mm screw-in filters. They have industry-standard gearing on focus and iris rings, in exactly the same position on all focal lengths. Lens bodies are solid metal with a semi-matte black finish. 

The left side of the front ring is marked with the lens’s focal length in bright yellow. The top of the ring has the orange “Veydra” label followed by “Mini Prime” in bright yellow. There is no focal-length marking on the right side.

Top view of the Veydras: 16mm, 25mm, 35mm, 50mm.

Top view of the Veydras: 16mm, 25mm, 35mm, 50mm.

Right side of the Veydras: 16mm, 25mm, 35mm, 50mm.

Left side of the Veydras: 16mm, 25mm, 35mm, 50mm.

Left side of the Veydras: 16mm, 25mm, 35mm, 50mm.

Right side of the Veydras: 16mm, 25mm, 35mm, 50mm.

Focus rotation is about 300º end-to-end, with gratifyingly close M.O.D.s ranging from 8” / 20.3 cm on the 16mm to 15” / 38.1 cm on the 50mm (full specs in Duclos’ post). Remember, these are cine measurements, taken from the focal plane: subtract 10.5 cm or 4 1/3 inches from those figures for the distance between lens and subject.

Veydra close focus: focus is on the ruler's cm scale.

Veydra close focus: focus is on the ruler's cm scale.

Each lens has two focus scales, one for the right side, one for the left. The scales are engraved for 14 to 22 distances (14 on the 50mm, 16 on the 35mm, 19 on the 25mm, 22 on the 16mm) with 3mm high, bright yellow numbers. By loosening three locking screws, each scale can be rotated freely, so you can fine-tune its position to account for variations in flange depth. 

The prototypes I have use Imperial measurements: inches and feet. Metric scales, I’m told, are an option if you buy the lenses on Kickstarter, and will be available through dealers starting in January or February.

The scales lack exact distance marks to line up with the index on the lens body. Instead, a silver band lets you add such marks yourself if you feel the need, or, according to Veydra, you can have Duclos Lenses measure and mark them at Duclos’ usual service rate [update 9:20am 15 Dec: Matthew Duclos says, “We had similar requests with the Red Primes when they were new. Our ability to add witness marks depends entirely on the accuracy of the lens. We won't add witness marks if the lens can't maintain accuracy. Additionally, the Veydra primes have a machined channel between the focus mark and the witness which leaves little to no space for us to engrave a distance mark (witness). If we were going to add witness marks, I think we would need a brand new scale.”]. 

When asked about the lack of marks, Ryan Avery said, “[w]e simply cannot hit the price point offered and have traditional markings.” I should point out that few if any mass-produced lenses have such marks: none of my still lenses do, nor do the Rokinon cine primes. Custom-calibrating each lens is a time-consuming, manual procedure which would likely add hundreds of dollars of cost to each lens; the cheapest lenses I know of with exact distance lines are Zeiss Compact Primes, one of which will run you what four Veydras cost (or all five, if you get ‘em at the Kickstarter price). Given that many Veydra users will be setting their marks based on the electronic focusing aids of their cameras, then pulling based on the marks on their follow-focuses, this seems like a perfectly rational tradeoff to me. 

The iris ring has a 75º to 90º rotation depending on the lens, and is engraved (on the left side only) with the same tall, bright yellow numbers. Aperture settings are nonlinear: spread out at the T2.2 end, bunched up at the T22 end. This isn’t much of an issue, as you’ll want to stay at T8 or wider to avoid diffraction softening of the image (more on this later).

The irises have ten blades and dial open and closed smoothly, with no click-stops. The aperture stays circular for the first stop and then assumes a decahedral shape, with slight “star point” notches at the corners for smaller apertures on the 35mm and 50mm – but the bokeh is smooth, circular, and uncomplicated at all openings.

Veydras, wide open: 16mm, 25mm, 35mm, 50mm.

Veydras, wide open: 16mm, 25mm, 35mm, 50mm.

The mounts are hard-chromed brass bayonets for micro four thirds cameras. There is no electronic coupling between camera and lens.

Handling

These are cine lenses, pure and simple: 300º focus travel; toothed rings designed for geared actuation instead of the laying-on of hands; no electronic anything; common sizes, gear positions, and (to the extent practical) weights, so that one can swap lenses without having to reposition or replace follow-focuses, matte boxes, filters, etc.

The Veydras look a bit like recent Ultra Primes – semi-matte black bodies, bright yellow markings – only scaled down about 0.7x to MFT sizes. They feel like Ultra Primes, too: they have the same, solid density (literally: if an Ultra Prime is about 1.4x bigger than a Veydra, and both lenses are built the same way, the Ultra Prime should weigh twice as much. And indeed, Ultra Primes do weigh about twice as much as Veydras).

25mm Veydra vs. 24mm Ultra Prime

25mm Veydra vs. 24mm Ultra Prime at Chater Camera

The iris rings have a smooth, fluid-damped feel to them. The drag is enough to keep ‘em from shifting at light touches, but not enough to impede purposeful action. I could not detect any backlash in the mechanism, and registered the same exposure whether I dialed up to an aperture or dialed down to it.

The focus rings also have a smooth, fluid-damped feel to them, though – as I was warned – a couple of the prototypes have a couple of places where the feel is ever so slightly rougher, more noticeable as a faint rasping sound than as any increase in drag. The 50mm and 35mm make slightly more noise turning in one direction than the other; the 50mm makes a slight “clunk” as I reverse focusing direction, though I was not able to detect any backlash in the focus settings or in the operation of the lens. 

The 16mm’s front half is slightly loose – it seems there are some fasteners inside that need tightening up – and so it showed a few degrees of backlash. 

All of these issues are likely unique to these “hastily assembled” prototypes; I would not expect them in quality-controlled production lenses.

The drag level on the focusing rings is on the high side; the rings are harder to turn quickly than any of the Rokinons or most still lenses. The feel is comparable to the stiffer SuperSpeeds or Ultra Primes I’ve used. I mention this because micro four thirds cameras lack the mount rigidity and solid stability of “big cameras”, and the rigs they’re attached to are typically less stiff than the bridge plates and rods you’ll find on Alexas and REDs and F55s and the like. Trying to do a fast focus pull on the Veydras applies a fair amount of force to the focus ring, which can cause the rig to flex a bit in response; if you’re attempting a rapid pull on a locked-down shot, the image may wobble a bit. I hope that the shipping Veydras will have a lower drag overall; Ryan Avery says, “I'm not certain if that drag will be in production. We can take a look at some other types of lubricant.”

Another thing: Veydras are the fastest-changing lenses I’ve used, for two reasons. One, the bright orange Veydra logo provides a clear and unambiguous reference for lens orientation, even in dim light. I can spin it ‘round to the proper orientation much faster than a Cooke, Ultra Prime, SuperSpeed, Rokinon, or any still lens, because that big orange logo shows me at an unmistakeable glance when I have the lens right-side-up. 

Two, the “fat lip” of the 80mm front ring, fatter than the rest of the body, affords a secure one-handed grip with excellent kinesthetic and positioning feedback. With my left hand’s index and middle finger wrapped around “Mini Prime”, or the same fingers on my right hand atop the Veydra logo, the lens is perfectly poised to be fitted to the camera, yet the lens has no tendency to slip from my grasp. I can swap between Veydras with much less fumbling and groping than normal, even when I’m standing behind the camera while changing lenses.

Overall, these two factors probably save me maybe five seconds per lens change… but that’s a pretty consistent five seconds of faffing about that I don’t have to do with Veydras. It’s little things like that that can make the day go more smoothly.

I did miss having exact distance marks, but mostly when I was checking focus accuracy: I like having those lines when I’ve set up a test target at, say, exactly 15 feet. When focusing on more typical scenes, I found I was relying more on other cues, such as, “the index line is a line’s width below the top of the 7’ marking”, or, “at this point, pull until the third smudge on the follow-focus ring is two widths away from the witness mark”, just as I do when using other lenses. 

Even so, having a few additional distance marks, with or without numbers attached, would be useful on the long end of the lenses: the 50mm’s labeled distances go from 5.5’ to 9’, 30’ ,and INF, leaving a lot to the imagination when it comes to presetting focus in that 5’ – 30’ range.

 

Next: Performance; Value for Money?


Performance

Short answer: Veydras behave much like Ultra Primes do, albeit half a stop slower (T2.2 instead of T1.9 for the maximum aperture). 

I took the lenses up to Chater Camera and compared them to SuperSpeeds and Ultra Primes, two rented Rokinons (24mm T1.5 and 50mm T1.5), the Voightlander Nokton 25mm f/0.95, Lumix 12-35mm and 35-100mm f/2.8 zooms, Nikon 35mm f/2 D and 50mm f/1.4 D primes. I shot 12 Megapixel full-frame stills on my GH4 with each lens wide open, and at T (or f/) 2.2, 2.8, 4, and 5.6. I also shot a full-frame (HD, not 4K) focus pull at those settings. In these tests, I set the iris and then adjusted shutter speed and ISO for consistent exposure (within 1/3 stop); I wasn’t checking for aperture accuracy.

My lens cart at Chater Camera: so many toys!

My lens cart at Chater Camera: so many toys!

The next day, I shot stills of the DSC Labs MegaTrumpet chart, with all the lenses except the SuperSpeeds and Ultra Primes. I ran through all the apertures down to T (or f/) 22, adjusting shutter speed and ISO to maintain the same theoretical exposure across all iris settings. I also set a fixed white balance and shot a DSC Labs ChromaDuMonde chart at a fixed ISO and shutter speed, all apertures set to T4 or f/4, and a fixed white balance. I did a variety of tests shooting into lights; with lights just out of frame; bokeh tests with Christmas bulbs; focus calibration tests; and general fooling around.

Resolution

From T4 onwards, the Veydras are pretty much as sharp as you get: as crisp and clear as the Ultra Primes.

At T2.2 – wide open on the Veydras – there’s a very slight softening of the image overall, just like a wide-open Ultra Prime is ever so slightly softer than the same lens closed down a stop or two. As with the Ultra Primes, the wide-open softness is so minimal that it wouldn’t stop me from shooting: it’s more of a mild contrast reduction than a visible loss of detail.

T2.8 was in-between, but much closer to T4 than to T2.2 in terms of sharpness and contrast. The difference between T2.8 and T4 is only noticeable when flipping between two otherwise identical shot 

Starting at T8 or T11 or so, on the GH4’s 16 Megapixel MFT sensor, all lenses start suffering from visible diffraction-induced loss of sharpness. The Veydras behave just like any other lenses in this regard. So, whether it’s Veydras or Ultra Primes or anything else, stay at T8 or wider for best results, at least on the GH4. (For more on small-aperture diffraction limits, see Mario Orazio’s rant from 2005).

Here's a pixel-for-pixel detail (from 12 Mpixel, 4608 x 3072 stills) of the MegaTrumpet chart, shot with the 50mm at each marked aperture, with “Natural” picture style and sharpness at -5:

The other Veydras' images look pretty much identical; if you want to pixel-peep 'em, I have a 311 MB zipfile available with all the source pix.

In most of my tests, the 35mm was a tiny bit softer at T2.2 – T5.6 than the other Veydras. I put that down to single-sample errors, as there’s nothing especially challenging about making a 35mm lens compared to the others.

At wider T-stops, corners are a wee bit less crisp than centers, as is commonly the case, but the difference is so minimal that it doesn’t affect real-world shooting, only pixel-peeping. These lenses are sharp and contrasty corner-to-corner.

Exposure

From T2.8 onwards, all the Veydras render perfectly evenly exposed images with no brightness variations across the frame. Wide open at T2.2, the corners fall off by 1/3 – 1/2 stop; visible in an A/B comparison but otherwise not noticeable.

25mm Veydra on the WFM at T2.2 and T2.8

25mm Veydra on the WFM at T2.2 and T2.8

Distortion

The 35mm and 50mm are as near enough to being perfectly rectilinear as makes no practical difference. Straight lines pretty much remain straight. I say “pretty much” because, if you pixel-peep the pix, and hold straightedges up to the screen, you can detect a tiny bit of barrel distortion – but you have to go to those extremes to see it. The 25mm is only slightly worse.

The 16mm is a bit more complex: mild barrel distortion across most of the image, but then things straighten out at the outer edges, so that verticals at the edges of the screen, such as door frames, remain straight. (Note that if you’re shooting 4K on the GH4, ETC on the GH3 or GH4, or you’re using the BMPCC, the smaller image areas will be entirely inside the barrel-distorted part of the full-frame image. For example, 4K on the GH4 uses a cropped area roughly comparable to the 90% box shown on the test chart; that's the box containing the trumpet patterns.)

Four lenses at T4. No grading aside from a 20% brightness boost.

Four lenses at T4. No grading aside from a 20% brightness boost.

Color

The 25mm, 35mm, and 50mm prototypes are very well color matched. This particular 16mm lens is just slightly warmer (also seen in the quad-split above):

Four lenses at T4. No grading done.

Four lenses at T4. No grading done.

Ryan Avery again: “The warmth of the 16mm may or may not be a prototype thing. I can't comment for sure. We've seen 3x total 16mm lenses and the last two were more closely matched. We matched the coatings at the factory spec so they should match in production. We intend for these lenses to be matched but don't guarantee it, as that is a quite expensive process to guarantee, and way outside the cost of these lenses.”

Flare

All the lenses show a couple of magenta and green ghost flares for bright in-shot lights; they’re similar to most other prime lenses I’ve tested in this regard. I get 10-point “sunstars” off the edges of the iris when shooting a bright light. Check out Veydra's GH4 video clip for some practical examples. 

Veiling flare from in-shot lights seems fairly well controlled. Veiling flare from just-offscreen lights is a bit stronger than I was expecting, mostly on the 35mm, where a strong light a quarter-screen-width outside of frame washes across the center of the image. Ryan Avery says that veiling flare has varied quite a bit on the prototypes and that I shouldn't judge them overall based on the single samples I have on hand. I agree: veiling flare is present to some degree on every lens I’ve tested, and it’s the sort of thing that has me running around setting flags to block with any proper prime (that’s why you have french flags, side flags, and eyebrows in your support kit). I will simply state that, on these sample lenses, veiling flare is sometimes stronger than I was expecting, and there is the possibility that production lenses may behave similarly. I don’t expect production lenses to flare this way; I just can’t rule it out: I simply don’t have enough data. 

Bokeh

Bokeh is mostly round, completely smooth, and pleasing on all lenses at all apertures. At wider apertures there’s bit of “cat’s eye” squishing of the bokeh towards the corners of the picture; at midrange irises there’s a trace of that ten-sided aperture opening if you look closely. As Veydras are primes using spherical elements, you’d expect these results, and that’s exactly what you get.

[Update 4:50pm 15 Dec 2014] That's with large or diffuse sources, like streetlamps or frosted bulbs. With “point sources” such as clear glass Christmas-tree bulbs, the bokeh's aperture-induced shape is more defined, and there's a slightly brighter edge, as these pictures with the 50mm show:

Chromatic Aberration

There’s a wee bit of longitudinal, mostly blue/yellow chromatic aberration with the iris wide open; just enough to add a hint of color to contrasty details and lead to that slight softening at WFO (Wide Freakin’ Open). Stop down to T2.8 and it’s very hard to detect; at T4 it’s completely gone.

As to lateral chromatic aberration? It just doesn’t seem to exist with these lenses. 

Consistency / Repeatability

With the exception of the 16mm and its loose front half, I found the focus and iris controls to be repeatable and consistent in their actions. 

Iris calibration differed slightly across the lenses, with the 25mm being consistently about a third of a stop brighter than the others at T5.6 or wider (as the two quad-split images above show). No worries; I’ve seen the same variation across a set of Ultra Primes.

At apertures from T8 on down, I saw some inconsistencies in iris calibration on the various lenses: on the 50mm and 35mm, small apertures are darker than they're labeled, while on the 25mm the small apertures are brighter. All were within 1/2 stop of the marked value, except for T16 on the 50mm, which was about a stop darker than labeled. Prototype problems? “Yes”, said Ryan Avery, “these T Stop issues should be limited to the prototypes, as we put them together really fast for the Kickstarter.”

Raw Data

If you want to pixel-peep for yourself, you can download my still frames (zipfile, 311 MB) andr my focus-pull, bokeh, and veiling flare tests (H.264 .mov file, 823 MB from my website (assuming it doesn't collapse under the load the way dropbox did!). Veydra also offers downloadable clips shot with the GH4 and the BMPCC; details on the Kickstarter updates page.

Value for Money?

If I had to describe Veydras in one pithy phrase, I’d say, “scaled-down Ultra Primes for micro four thirds cameras”. They’re sharp, rectilinear, and clean: good, workmanlike optics with no nasty surprises. 

They aren’t the fastest lenses available, but they also avoid the soft, soapy renderings you get WFO on lenses like Super Speeds, Rokinon T1.5s, and Nokton f/0.95s: you can shoot these puppies wide open and intercut them with T5.6 shots from the same lenses and not worry about a substantial change in the look.

They are true, no-nonsense cine lenses, with identical exterior dimensions and control placements. They work with standard focus/iris gearing on follow focuses, motors, etc., and you can swap lenses without repositioning any accessories. The 80mm fronts fit standard matte box adapter rings while the 77mm filter threads let you use the same screw-in filters across the set. A 300º focus travel lets you pull accurate focus without the hypersensitivity of short-throw lenses. The common max aperture of T2.2 across the set means that if you have enough light for one lens, you can shoot the scene with any of ‘em. The bold yellow markings make them easily operable in low light.

In short, they form a family of interchangeable cine primes. They’re not just a random assortment of odd-sized stills lenses with cine gears grafted onto them. Like Ultra Primes, they’re a bit boring: they’re “just the facts, ma’am” lenses delivering clean, neutral images without a lot of lens-induced “character”. As a result, you can move freely between the lenses in the set, and go from wide to small apertures, and the pictures you get will be consistent from shot to shot: aside from obvious changes in angle of view and depth of field, there’s nothing different in the way the different lenses and different T-stops render images.

In my opinion, safe, boring, predictable performance is a good thing. There’s nothing wrong with having super-fast Rokinons, Noktons, or Dog Schidt lenses in your toolkit for when you need some extra “character”, but having clean, crisp, consistent glass lets you deliver repeatable, reliable results from one day to the next.

The cost? 

$900 each, except for the 16mm at $1000 and the 12mm (which I haven’t tested as none are available) which will run $1200, though during the Kickstarter campaign any single lens could be had for $700.

A set of four (16mm – 50mm, as tested) is $3700 (was $2500 during the Kickstarter campaign).

All five, including the as-yet-unseen 12mm, will be $4900 (was $3200 during the Kickstarter campaign).

That’s about $980/lens on average ($640/lens during the campaign). An Ultra Prime runs about $13,000. Granted, the Ultra Prime is half a stop faster, and it fits many more cameras than a Veydra will, as it covers Super35mm and uses a PL mount. But if you’re committed to the MFT format for the long haul, and need a set of cine-style primes, the Veydras look mighty attractive.

Pros

  • Sharp at all apertures, edge-to-edge. 
  • No lateral chromatic aberration.
  • Undistorted, rectilinear rendering (25mm, 35mm, 50mm).
  • Consistent T2.2 maximum apertures across the set.
  • Identical lengths, diameters, filter sizes, gear positions.
  • Clear yellow markings.
  • 300º focus rotation.
  • Very solid-feeling construction.
  • Adjustable focusing scales, with chrome rings for adding marks.
  • Orange Veydra logo and “fat lip” make lens changes fast and easy.

Cons

  • Some barrel distortion on the 16mm.

Cautions / Risks

  • Focus drag may be high on production lenses, as it is on the prototypes.
  • Unknown levels of veiling flare on production lenses.
  • Prototypes have uneven calibration for smaller apertures; should be fixed in production.
  • We have no idea how the 12mm will perform.
  • As these are prototypes of a new line of lenses, there is no way to predict how durable and robust they’ll be over the long haul. 
  • Despite the track records of the folks involved, there is a tiny but non-zero chance the whole project could vanish in a puff of smoke tomorrow (unlikely, true, but this is Hollywood we’re talking about).

You can place pre-orders with a small deposit at either Duclos Lenses (for the 5-lens set) or Hot Rod Cameras (4- or 5-lens set), or order directly from the Veydra website.

 

 

Disclosure: Ryan Avery at Veydra sent me the four Veydra prototypes to look at and answered my many questions, but has not offered me any special deals or other inducements for a favorable review. The lenses ship back to him later this week. There is no material connection between me and Veydra, Duclos Lenses, Hot Rod Cameras, Chater Camera, or Panasonic. The Odyssey 7Q used for the WFM is on loan from Convergent Design. Chater Camera lent me Ultra Primes and Super Speeds; I rented two Rokinons and the PL-mount adapter from LensRentals.com; and the GH4 and the assorted stills lenses are from my own wallet-emptying collection of gear. 


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Adam Wilt

Adam Wilt

Adam Wilt has been working off and on in film and video for the past thirty years, while paying the bills writing software for animation, automation, broadcast graphics, and real-time control for companies including Abekas, Pinnacle, Omneon, CBS, and ABC. Since 1997 his website, adamwilt.com, has been a popular reference for information on the DV formats. He has reviewed cameras for DV Magazine and written its “Technical Difficulties” column, and taught classes and led panels at NAB, IBC, and DV Expo. He co-authored the book,”Optimizing Your Final Cut Pro System”, part of the Apple Pro Training series.