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Quick Look: Three Canon Sumire Primes

Sumires bring “character” to Canon’s CN-E full-frame cine primes

Canon announced the Sumire Prime lenses in April: seven full-frame cinema primes designed to add “a unique artistically pleasing look with gentle and beautiful skin tones and smooth bokeh” to Canon’s lens line.

Sumire Prime

This is the first time Canon has named a series of lenses: “Sumire” (“Soo-me-ray”) is a Japanese word for “flower”, “purity”, or lovely”. Sumire Primes are based on Canon’s EF-mount CN-E cine primes, but depart from Canon’s normally crisp, just-the-facts rendering at wider apertures with a smoother, more “characterful” image. Sumires will start shipping this summer.

Canon lent me prototypes of the 24mm T1.5, 50mm T1.3, and 85mm T1.3 Sumires for a few days. While I wasn’t able to do a comprehensive review, I did explore what the lenses do that makes them different from standard CN-Es, and from the vintage Canon K-35s that the Sumires are often compared to.

Design

Sumire Primes, side view

Sumire Primes look and feel almost identical to standard CN-E primes, albeit with PL mounts instead of EF mounts. (Technically, the Sumires are also CN-Es — CN-E FP X lenses, to be precise, while the standard CN-Es are CN-E L F primes — but I’ll call them “Sumires” and “CN-Es” to distinguish them.) 

Sumire labeling

Both lines have the following lenses in them:

  • 14mm T3.1
  • 20mm T1.5
  • 24mm T1.5
  • 35mm T1.5
  • 50mm T1.3
  • 85mm T1.3
  • 135mm T2.2

All use an 11-blade iris, a focus ring with a 300º throw, and an iris ring with a 36º throw. Focus and iris gears are identically placed on both lines of lenses. From 20mm on up all have 105mm filter threads; from 20mm through 85mm all have the same length (the 14mm is about 7mm shorter; the 135mm is around 14mm longer). Outside diameter is 114mm. The lenses weigh between 1.1 kg and 1.4 kg (2.4 lbs – 3.1 lbs).

Sumire Primes, side view

Like the CN-Es, the Sumires have white-filled focus and iris scales on the left side, and high-visibility yellow-green marking on the right side.

Left and right side markings

Unlike EF-mount CN-Es, Sumires ship with PL mounts. Canon service centers can swap the PL mounts for EF mounts after purchase. Sumires have no electronic connections and cannot report their settings to the camera regardless of mount used.

When focusing the Sumires, the 24mm’s front element moves in and out while the back element does not; the 50mm’s front and back elements both move; the 85mm’s back element moves but the front does not. The CN-Es are exactly the same. 

Build quality is superb. The lenses feel solid and precise. Focus and iris rings are perfectly smooth through their entire ranges, and have just the right amount of damping — they have the same smooth feel as a good fluid head.

Optical Performance

I tested the Sumires on a full-frame Sony A7Riii mirrorless camera using an MTF PL-to-E mount adapter. Unfortunately the adaptor is designed for APS-C / S35mm sensors, not full-frame, so the corners of my images have more shading (at larger apertures) and outright hard vignetting (at smaller apertures) than they would had the adaptor been more open — literally — to the light from a full-frame lens. Thus I can’t directly infer anything about full-frame coverage or evenness of illumination outside the central 67% of my Sumire images based on looking at them — and neither should you! 

I shot a few stills with standard CN-Es, courtesy of Koerner Camera Systems, my local rental house, and I also put the Sumires on Koerner’s projector. I’ll use that information to fill the gaps in my discussion.

Coverage and Vignetting

Canon says that the Sumires cover a full-frame (36mm x 24mm) image circle, and when I put the three lenses on a projector they did indeed cover full-frame, with only a slight darkening of the corners at the widest apertures. Standard CN-Es likewise cover full frame with minor corner darkening wide open, and I have every expectation that the Sumires perform just like standard CN-Es in this regard.

Wide open, both Sumires and CN-Es show an even falloff in illumination from center to corners. It’s most noticeable on the 24mm, at perhaps a stop and a half to two stops, while the 85mm shows maybe half a stop of vignetting, with the 50mm comfortably in between these extremes. Close down a stop or two, and all the lenses even up nicely in an S35mm crop; by T4 brightness across the full frame is perfectly even on the CN-Es, and I infer is likely to be the same on the Sumires.

Resolution

The A7Riii captures images at 7952×4472; an 8K UHD frame is “only” 7680 pixels across (though DCI 8K, if it ever comes to pass, will be 8192 pixels wide). All three Sumires are 8K-sharp at the center at all apertures. Corners are only slightly blurry wide open (“slightly” means at most a blur radius of maybe five 8K pixels), and clean up considerably by T4 on the 50mm and by T5.6 on the 24mm and 85mm.

To see these pixel-for-pixel, click or tap them to expand them on your tablet, laptop, or desktop monitor — no, you’re not likely to see the full detail on your phone:

Sumire 50mm at T2.8

Sumire 85mm at T2.8

Put another way, Sumires clearly resolve 140 lp/mm on the lens projector near the center of the image — by “clearly” I mean clear definitions between the light and dark lines in the 140 lp/mm target grids.

Note that I said “sharp”, not “crisp”. For the purposes of this article, I’m using these words in a specific way. “Sharpness” relates to whether or not a fine detail is resolvable; “crispness”  relates to the contrast of that detail. Much of what makes a Sumire a Sumire is related to fine-detail crispness, a.k.a. microcontrast, and I’ll have a lot more to say about that later.

[To be perfectly pedantic, I’m using these words in a very narrow sense, and not necessarily in the way they’re used elsewhere. While “sharpness” normally refers to both the limiting resolution of a lens and the contrast transfer function across all spatial frequencies, I’m using it to refer to the limiting resolution only. “Crispness” is a less well-defined term; I’m using it as a shorthand for high contrast at higher spatial frequencies: the other bit of what makes up “sharpness” in the more general sense. This article on “sharpness vs microcontrast” should help clarify my meanings, and it’s a pretty good introduction to microcontrast, too.]

Geometry

All three Sumires show a slight amount of barrel distortion, as these images show (remember, ignore the dark corners: just look at the shapes of the charts):

Sumire 24mm

Sumire 50mm

Breathing

Sumires breath — change image size with changes in focus — just like CN-Es do. It’s not extreme; it’s fairly typical of conventionally-designed primes. Still, it’s not the “breathless” performance you’d get with a Tokina Vista, for example.

Chromatic Aberration

The three Sumires all show mild lateral chromatic aberration (CA), as these 400% extracts of the lower-left corner of the chart show. Note that these are 4x magnified snippets of ~8K pictures, complete with scaled-up JPEG artifacts:

corner CA, 24mm

corner CA, 50mm

corner CA, 85mm

Interestingly, each lens has its own signature look in this regard. 

CN-Es look much the same.

Lateral CA is largely invariant with aperture; you can’t get rid of it by stopping down.

Longitudinal CA, a.k.a. axial CA, is minimal, though out-of-focus details show some green fringing when the focus is closer, and magenta when the focus is farther, as these pix from the 50mm show:

Sumire 50mm @ T1.3, focused near
Sumire 50mm @ T1.3, focused near
Sumire 50mm @ T1.3, focused far
Sumire 50mm @ T1.3, focused far

(Yes, the geometry is slightly different; these were shot handheld from not-quite-exactly-the-same position.)

I shot the same scene using the CN-E 50mm at the same T1.3 aperture, and got essentially the same result as far as fringing is concerned, though the CN-E’s magenta was more reddish.

Now, the Fun Stuff

So far, so boring: Sumires look and work like CN-Es, and from T2.8 or T4 on down their image rendering is pretty much standard CN-E rendering, at least in terms of sharpness, geometry, and chromatic aberration.

The fun stuff mostly happens when you open the lenses up.

Wide-Open Performance

When Sumires are irised open, wider than T2.8 or so, the normal Canon crispness vanishes, replaced with a creamy, glowing softness.

Wait, what? Creamy, glowing softness? What does that even mean? Have I sold out completely, and adopted the squishy, hand-waving terminology so beloved of the marketing types? No (at least not entirely): I’m trying to describe succinctly the image rendering at wide apertures, which Matthew Duclos attributes to decreased microcontrast due to spherical aberration.

Here are 1:1 chart samples on each lens, at T2.8, T2, and WFO (wide freakin’ open, which is T1.5 for the 24mm and 1.3 for the others):

Sumire 24mm at T2.0

Sumire 24mm at T1.5Sumire 50mm at T2.8

Sumire 50mm at T2.0

Sumire 50mm at T1.3

Sumire 85mm at T2.8

Sumire 85mm at T2.8

Sumire 85mm at T1.3

See the glow? Here’s another comparison (with a tip o’ the hat to Matt Duclos): 

full frame, 50mm at T1.3
full frame, 50mm at T1.3
close-up, 50mm at T1.3
close-up, 50mm at T1.3
close-up, 50mm at T2.0
close-up, 50mm at T2.0

What’s happening is, in essence, a slight blurring of the image superimposed over the sharp image. That slight blur means that fine details — those smaller than the blur radius —lose contrast, as the blooming highlights from bright details lift the shadows of dark ones. That’s “decreased microcontrast”. 

Yes, those details are still there: you can still see the sharp edges behind the glow. But the localized contrast reduction means that fine textures and small details are de-emphasized; it’s a softening of the image, the inverse of applying a sharpening filter in post. This is especially useful when shooting people, as the fine details of skin texture get softened while the core sharpness is retained: it’s an optical version of the “skintone detail” softening function in broadcast cameras.

Put another way, it’s a decrease in MTF at higher spatial frequencies. Interestingly, that’s also a characteristic of photochemical film rendering, so I can say (in squishy mode, again) that wide-open Sumires give a somewhat more filmic rendering than standard CN-Es do.

Here are more examples, shot with the 85mm at T2.8, T2, and T1.3. The closeups are extracts from the full image:

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See how fine detail, like the rabbit’s fur and the lens barrel’s texture, gets smoothed or de-emphasized as the aperture is opened?

It’s important to observe that this smoothing is most pronounced WFO but is almost entirely gone by T2.8. From T2.8 or T4 onwards there’s little difference between the Sumires and standard CN-Es. This is either a boon or a limitation, depending on your frame of reference: it’s a boon in that you can dial “character” in or out as you see fit with a simple aperture adjustment; it’s a limitation in that you only get the “character” wide open, and you only get “crispness” from T2.8/T4 onwards. 

This two-lenses-in-one modality isn’t unique to Sumires. Vintage Zeiss Super Speeds behave much the same way, being creamy-soft wide open and crisp when stopped down (indeed, when I put one of the Sumires up on the projector, Koerner lens tech Kari Fouts instantly said that the Sumire reminded her of a Super Speed). The Voigtlander Nokton 25mm f/0.95 I use on my GH5 is another example: wide open it’s a creamy mess (especially off-axis, with plenty of astigmatism and coma thrown in for good measure) but by f/4 it’s a sober, respectable reporter of reality. 

With all these lenses, the softness is only available at the widest apertures, which means the shallowest depth of field — your focus puller may not be happy!

I must point out that the iris ring has a very short throw of 36º, so even a minor misadjustment can have a large impact on image rendering (as well as exposure). If you’re trying to fine-tune softness by shooting between wide open and T2 or T2.8, and keep it consistent from shot to shot, you’ll need a precise touch on that ring. Had Canon given iris a wider throw, say, of 90º or more, I’d find the lens easier to use and far less finicky for fine-tuning. 

If you’re going for maximum character, though, you can just whack it open to its limit and not worry.

Bokeh

Bokeh – the appearance of out-of-focus areas – is generally good. At wide apertures especially, unfocused objects towards the periphery squash into “cat’s-eye” shapes, like the gold highlight at lower left in this image:

Sumire 50mm at T1.3, defocused

That circumferential smearing adds a “swirling” impression to the background:

Canon’s Tim Smith and Stephanie Franz at the PNW Lens Summit, 85mm Sumire Prime @ T1.3
Canon’s Tim Smith and Stephanie Franz at the PNW Lens Summit, 85mm Sumire Prime @ T1.3

Sumires differ in their rendering of “near bokeh”, where the out-of-focus object is closer to the camera than the focus point; and “far bokeh”, where the unfocused object is farther away. Far bokeh is generally smooth and soft, but near bokeh is edgier, with a distinct magenta outline. 

close-up, 50mm at T1.3
close-up, 50mm at T1.3
close-up, 50mm at T1.3; close-focused, so this is "far bokeh"
close-up, 50mm at T1.3; close-focused, so this is “far bokeh”
close-up, 50mm at T1.3; far-focused, so this is "near bokeh"
close-up, 50mm at T1.3; far-focused, so this is “near bokeh”

These are worst-case images at T1.3; usually the near bokeh isn’t quite so busy. However, it sometimes stands out in a distracting way:

focused on the chart. See what happened to the eyes?
focused on the chart. See what happened to the eyes?

Yes, I’m picking nits, but that’s what I get the big, big money for [joke, sadly].

Again, a busy near bokeh isn’t unique to Sumires; the Nokton performs almost exactly the same way. And it’s worth pointing out that if you must choose between a busy near bokeh and a busy far bokeh, having the near bokeh busier is the better choice, as most of the time you’re blurring backgrounds, not foregrounds.

Flares and Sunstars

Overall, Sumires seem very resistant to veiling flare, but the 50mm and 85mm provide beautiful inter-element reflections and haloes around bright sources. The 11-blade iris, closed even slightly, generates gorgeous sunstars, too. Both flare hits and sunstars vary with aperture. Enjoy (note that for the 24mm T4 and T8 images, that’s not flare on the left side of the picture, but spill from a hallway light):

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Color Rendering

I only have one color comparison of the Sumires and the CN-Es: a shot of Koerner’s Abel Cine resolution chart taken with both lenses, after white-balancing the camera on the chart:

color comparison, Sumire vs standard CN-E

Are They K-35s?

By sheer luck, Koerner received a set of vintage Canon K-35 primes the day I was there, so I had a chance to make a quick comparison, on the projector and on the camera.

K-35s on the bench, shot with an 85mm K-35 at T1.3
K-35s on the bench, shot with an 85mm K-35 at T1.3

Both Sumires and K-35s are sharp super-speed primes, but they have different looks. The K-35s don’t have nearly the same degree of softening wide open; there’s a slight bloom or blur, but it’s a fraction of that on the Sumires.

The 85mm, at least, reverses the Sumire’s bokeh: its near bokeh is smooth, while its far bokeh is angrily busy, with a green rim and magenta interior.

K-35 85mm at T1.3, focused close
K-35 85mm at T1.3, focused close
K-35 85mm at T1.3, focused far
K-35 85mm at T1.3, focused far

Sharpness overall seems comparable between the lenses, as does chromatic aberration in general, though — as with the Sumires — each K-35 we put on the projector had its own signature lateral color fringing.

In short, Sumires and K-35s are not the same.

Conclusion

Canon’s new full-frame Sumire primes provide a “characterful” alternative to standard CN-E primes. At smaller apertures, Sumires perform much like standard CN-Es, providing crisp, clean images. At wider apertures, Sumires soften the image with reduced microcontrast (while retaining core sharpness), so that skintones are smoothed and a more filmic rendering is obtained. 

The 11-blade irises in Sumires generate gorgeous, 22-point sunstars. The 50mm and 85mm also yield attractive internal flares from bright point sources, while being admirably free of veiling flare.

In addition to added character, the Sumires come with PL mounts instead of EF mounts, and have no in-lens electronics for focal length / iris / distance reporting. Canon will be able to swap the EF mount for a PL mount (and others such as Duclos will likely offer the same service).

Sumires have a solid build with consistent dimensions and control placement. Focus and iris rings are buttery-smooth and well damped. Focus throw is a comfortable 300º, though aperture setting are crowded into a narrow 36º range, making precise iris adjustment very finicky.

Sumires come at a premium: the standard CN-E 50 T1.3 sells for $3950, while the Sumire 50mm T1.3 will cost $7410 when it’s released later this summer. (The 24mm and 85mm have the same prices; other lenses in the series will likely vary just as their CN-E counterparts do.) 

Are Sumires worth that premium? Consider that, in essence, you get two lenses for the price of one: a “characterful” super-speed lens wide open, and a “clean” lens at T2.8 and below. If that’s the sort of versatility that appeals to you, these lenses may very well meet your needs. 

However, “character” is an idiosyncratic thing: the look of the Sumires is different from that of Tokina Vista Ones, Sigma cine lenses, old Zeiss Super Speeds, ARRI Signature Primes, Cookes, K-35s, rehoused B&H Baltars, Richard Gale Optics… There have never been so many choices — and at so many different price points. I would not presume to tell you what you like; all I can say is that if you’re intrigued by the Sumires, you need to get an eyeful of them yourself. They’ll be at Cine Gear Expo in Hollywood in a couple of weeks, and at your favorite cine lens vendors starting this summer. 

Pros

  • Fast maximum apertures (T1.5 on the 24mm, T1.3 on 50mm and 85mm)
  • Full-frame coverage
  • Smooth, actor-friendly rendering at wider apertures
  • Crisper rendering at smaller apertures
  • Generally pleasing bokeh
  • Attractive flare characteristics (IMHO)
  • 22-point sunstars!
  • 300º focus throw
  • Focus / iris scales on both sides of the lens
  • Consistent filter threads, lens gears, and outside dimensions
  • Solid, modern Canon construction with buttery-smooth operating controls

Cons

  • “Near bokeh” can be distractingly busy
  • Some green/magenta axial chromatic aberration on focus shifts
  • Minor lateral chromatic aberration
  • Minor barrel distortion
  • Finicky, cramped 36º aperture throw.

Cautions

  • Shipped with PL mount only, though EF swaps will be available
  • No electronics for focus / iris / focal length reporting

Disclosure: Canon lent me three Sumire lenses at the PNW Lens Summit, and paid for return shipping. Koerner Camera Systems let me come in and play with standard CN-E primes and a lens projector. Aside from that, there is no connection between me and Canon, Koerner, Duclos, or anyone else mentioned, and no one paid me or offered other compensation for a favorable review or shout-out.


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PVC Staff
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,…

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