Not all cinema lenses are as financially accessible as the Zhong Yi Optics Mitakon Speedmaster S35 T1 cine lens series. A couple of years ago I stood before a set of Cooke S8/i lenses at their launch event and asked how much they were. My head was still dividing the $34,650 price between the seven lenses and thinking it was oddly cheap for Cooke when the rep said, ‘Oh, apart from the 135mm – that will be $36,100.’ Then the penny dropped – they were $35k each, not for the set. Somehow I’d been expecting some dramatic price shift from this giant of cine lens design, but sadly it wasn’t to be on that occasion.
Zhong Yi Optics might have only three lenses in its new set of Mitakon Speedmasters for S35, but the maths is much less challenging – and a good deal less eye-watering. The complete set of T1.0 lenses in this new range will cost just $1299, or each one can be had for $499. Considering $1299 would be a very good price for even one T1.0 lens for this format it makes me wonder just how good these lenses actually are, and whether we’d be throwing our money away investing in such trifles.
These are Mitakon Speedmaster lenses are designed for S35 and APS-C cine systems, and they will be offered initially in a choice of mounts for Sony E, Nikon Z, Canon RF and Fujifilm X mirrorless cameras. The set I used was furnished for the Fujifilm X mount, so I fitted them on the Fujifilm X-H2S with its APS-C sized sensor.
Inevitably the element of specification that will draw all the attention for these lenses is their maximum aperture of T1.0 – a feature that will spark as much doubt as it does wonder I expect. The company has some previous experience working at such wide apertures, and has already produced Speedmaster cine lenses for the MFT format and for full frame cameras, as well as f/0.95 lenses for stills models. Fast apertures have become something of a speciality.
On the flip side though, their minimum aperture is not as small as some lenses offer, as each has a range that reduces to just T16. Considering the 1.5x magnification factor that we need to account for in S35 lenses which makes the 20mm behave like 30mm, the 35mm like a 52.5mm and the 50mm like a 75mm, a minimum iris setting of T16 may not always be enough to create the required depth-of-field.
The set really is a set though, from a technical stand-point at least, and Zhong Yi has attempted to match as much between them as possible. They have common iris and focus ring positions and even the same focus throw of 270°. The aperture throw also matches at 60° and each of the lenses takes a 77mm filter – small enough to be already to hand for many mirrorless shooters. The diameter of the lens barrels measures 88mm at its widest, and each of the lenses is 93mm long from camera surface to the end of the barrel.
Each of the lenses has a 9-bladed iris, so we should get a uniform look, but, unsurprisingly, there’s no uniform weight – with 180g between the lightest and the heaviest – not so bad. Zhong Yi doesn’t seem to indicate that weights and sizes are different depending on the chosen mount, so we will assume they are all the same for now.
If you have seen a Zhong Yi Speedmaster cine lens before you will be in for no surprises regarding the design of this set. The deep-black barrels are set-off with a smooth mid-sheen finish, while all lettering and markings are made in an English mustard coloured paint. Letters and markings are engraved into the metal and the paint set in the grooves, so they won’t easily wear off.
My set came in a neat little Peli-style case with shaped cut-outs marked up for each lens so if you put the lenses back in the right place each time you can see at a glance which is which. It’s fortunate that the case is well marked, as the lenses aren’t. Each unit has its name in two places – on the sloped edge of the barrel between the iris and focus rings, and on the side of the barrel at the front. The sloped surface between the rings is sloped, and so can only be read easily from a certain angle, and the lettering, as nice as it is, is quite small. The clearest marking is on the side of the barrel, but unfortunately the first digit of the focal length is obscured by the slip-over lens cap, so the 50mm reads as 0mm when the lenses has the cap on. Not a massive deal perhaps, but what feels like a silly lapse of concentration in what is otherwise a nice practical design.
Those working in feet or metres are catered for, with both measures being displayed on the left side of the barrel, and tandem markers reading off the linked scales in exactly the same places – with metres somewhat taking the lead role. The focus ring rotates beyond the infinity position as well as the closest marked distance, and stops with a slightly dampened nudge when it gets to the end of its journey.
T stops can be read from either side of the lens, though in two of the lenses we can’t quite match the index mark with the T1 position – it’s just a fraction off and makes me concerned that we won’t get the full T1.0. Full stop positions are used to mark the iris ring, and the settings are evenly distributed throughout the rotation with no bunching up at the extreme ends.
The optical design sees eight groups of elements in each model, with the 20mm using 13 elements and the 35mm and 50mm using 11 elements. Zhong Yi doesn’t seem to release information regarding its exact optical design.
Zhong Yi Speedmaster 20mm T1.0
It won’t be much of a surprise to learn that T1 is not the strongest aperture setting of this lens, but it might be surprising that image quality improves dramatically enough in the centre of the frame that T2 is just ahead of T5.6 – an aperture we might expect to be the best iris setting. It looks as though the wide-to-mid range has been prioritised as this is where the better resolution is to be found. By T11 we experience a very noticeable drop in clarity so detail falls to below that achieved at T2 – though T2 suffers from much lower contrast, and for some purposes will give the appearance of producing less ‘sharpness’.
In the edge of the frame things are a little different, with T5.6 being clearly the better setting, followed some way behind by T11, T16 and only then T2 and T1. By T1 corner detail is almost readable but is also very soft and contrast is extremely low. Sharpness is somewhat dampened at all settings by red-light separation rather than an absolute inability to reproduce detail, but none the less focusing at the widest aperture is extremely difficult as things never really get sharp.
Dark corners are pretty obvious at T1 and are still visible at T2, but are mostly gone by T5.6. This has little impact on a 16:9 frame but it does show when the whole sensor is used. The lens suffers from a red tint that heats all tones, but which also clings onto object edges. This is apparent in red fringes in resolution tests but also in the flare tests where red highlighted patterns are clearly visible.
Flare generally though is reasonably well controlled – or at least the lens is less susceptible to flare than its companions. Wide open we get a rainbow ring around light sources in the frame that point into the lens, while on closing down a little the colours tighten to a smaller reflection but a larger halo of white light emerges as well. Even at T4 specular highlights are represented by a very sharp star burst that many will greatly enjoy.
A very mild dose of curvilinear distortion is present in the form of some light barrelling, but certainly not enough to bother most people – and focus breathing is also very moderate.
- Best aperture: T4
- Flare: Significant
- Resolution at T1: Low
Zhong Yi Speedmaster 35mm T1.0
This model follows the same path as the previous lens, with its quality emphasis on the wide-to-mid T stop settings. This time though T5.6 narrowly edges T2 from the top spot for resolution in the centre of the frame, but T2 is surprisingly good. T1 has detail resolution but the low contrast can make the image look pretty washed out. T11 suffers slightly from a degree of diffraction that takes its resolution below that of T2, and T16 is just soft and less readable than T1.
Reading from the edge of the frame T5.6 is easily the better aperture, and stands out as such from all the other settings. T11 comes second but is only just ahead of T2. T1 produces a readable result in the corner of the picture but its low contrast makes it look worse than the image created at T16. Shooting at T1 makes it hard to focus on anything close to the corner of the frame as the image never actually gets sharp enough to trigger peaking even when the image is magnified.
Vignetting is severe at the widest T stop and produces a defined dark triangle in the corner of pictures shot with the whole sensor. T2 also shows heavy vignetting, but it is mostly gone by T5.6. T1’s vignetting will be enough to inflict noticeable shading on a 16:9 frame, but by T2 it won’t look too bad.
Once again you should expect images to have a red cast and that high contrast edges will be gilded with a slight ruby hue. Red rings are very much a feature of flare created by pin light sources, and having any form of light in the frame, or even just outside it, sparks a burst of glowing red circles across the image area. Inside these red circles you’ll find bright and clear cyan and green images of some of the lenses elements, creating an interesting interplanetary exploration vibe.
On closing the aperture to the halfway point the red rings become less prominent but the spinning top shapes of the lit-up elements become quite intrusive and sharp. In the wild though I found LED street lights produced a series of electric blue flare disks across the frame. At wide apertures the effect is muted to a cloud effect, but as we close down the circles become bright, distinct and dominant. The recessed nature of the front element means the lenses is less inclined to pick up stray light from the sides, but once close to the edge of the frame the flare becomes a powerful feature of the picture.
A little pincushion at infinity turns to a little barrelling at the closest focus point in this lens, so optical breathing takes in not only a slight change in magnification but also disturbs the picture with a degree of shape shifting.
- Best aperture: T5.6
- Flare: Dramatic
- Resolution at T1: Reasonable
Zhong Yi Speedmaster 50mm T1.0
With this slightly longer lens aberrations that may have passed without too much notice in the wider models are somewhat magnified and play a greater role in the way images look. The fall-off in resolution between different T stops is more marked, so T5.6 is the better aperture by some distance. T2 is some way behind and suffers a good deal from mis-aligned red light which makes its resolution look worse than that recorded at T11, even though the difference in readability is less marked. For some reason readability at T1 looks almost better than at T2 and while the lines and text of the target glow and are hazy, beneath all that they are quite sharp. The target at T16 is also readable but pretty soft.
In the corners of the frame resolution measures are altered by the degree of comma the lens exhibits. T11 produces the clearer image and one that is quite acceptable, but T5.6 is smeared. This smearing is severe in the widest settings to the point where in places we appear to get a double image. Once again, mis-focused red light degrades edges and details somewhat, and images are given a red tint across the whole frame so that black text is reproduced with the mauve tint of a spirit duplicator/Rexograph/Ditto/Banda machine that older readers may remember from the classrooms of the 1970s and 80s.
Vignetting is comparatively slight at T1, hardly visible at T2 and completely gone by T5.6. The reduced vignetting prompted me to fit this lens, roughly, to a full frame camera and found that is does cover a whole 35mm-sized sensor. It cuts off a bit in the corners, but if you are shooting in the 16:9 or 17:9 format you won’t see any shading. That information is less useful to Fujifilm users obviously, but Nikon Z, Sony E and Canon RF users might be interested.
Flare is quite dramatic in this lens when a light source is in the frame and, to an extent, just out of view. With the widest apertures flare greatly reduces contrast and throws large coloured rings across the picture area, which can become more noticeable than the subject itself. With the aperture closed to T4 however this dramatic display all but disappears and gives way to a quite faint series of green disks.
The front element in this lens is larger than that of the other two in the set, and is set quite far forward, so stray light creeping in from the side will be picked up. I had to be careful not to position my light ahead of the end of the lens to avoid a general haze covering the image.
The starburst produced at T4 is nowhere near as crisp as those produced by the wider lenses, but fans of this effect will only need to resort to T8 to get their fill.
There’s no real curvilinear distortion to speak of in the results produces by this 50mm, and breathing from the closest focus point to the furthest is also well controlled.
- Best aperture: T5.6
- Flare: Severe
- Resolution at T1: really poor
Notes on image quality
I guess there are two types of lens – technically good lenses, and ‘character’ lenses. Perhaps three, if we include technically good lenses that also have some built-in character. Technically good lenses we can rely on when everything needs to be crisp and sharp, unbent and detailed, and character lenses we turn to when we want some instant atmosphere, a vintage look or to create an impression. Of course with technically good lenses we can add filters and post-production for looks when we need it, but very often folks like to get all their looks from the lens. And these lenses are full of ‘looks’. Although Zhong Yi hasn’t promoted these as ‘character’ lenses they fall into that category as we certainly aren’t going to use them when we need a clean image that’s sharp right across the frame.
The characteristics of this lens set are that they are decent wide open when you want to emphasise the central portion of the frame and you like a glowy, soft look. You can improve the quality of the image significantly by closing the iris to T2, at which point you will get a good level of detail in the middle of the picture, some fall off towards the corners, a touch of vignetting with a nice romantic bloom about your highlights – while still retaining the dramatically shallow depth of field of a wide aperture lens.
At T5.6 you’ll usually get the better technical results, but still a slight warm/red tint, and at T11 and beyond you will begin to lose details again, but you will gain impressive star-bursts around bright highlights.
Not everyone will want or like these effects, and factual filming will rarely call for them, but narrative film makers might love this look and feel the low cost of the lenses makes them a great deal.
These are, as advertised, indeed a set of three T1 lenses that cover a S35/APS-C sensor. They do so with varying degrees of success, and with varying degrees of sharpness, but so long as users are fully aware of what to expect, and that they aren’t buying a set of general-purpose lenses, many will be delighted with their purchase.
Three lenses on their own can’t really make a set, so I’d expect this trio to be supplemented with something a little longer and something a little wider in the future, but for now the focal lengths on offer cover the main every day angles of view most will need.
Is the offer of 3 T1 lenses for $1299 too good to be true? The answer is yes, and no. Yes, of course they can’t possibly be up to the standard of regular cine lenses, but no because despite all the caveats, warnings and things to be aware of they are actually a lot better than I thought they would be, and certainly for the money offer exceptional value. That value has to be measured against how much we can embrace the compromises for our artistic ends of course, but if you’re looking for a soft look, a propensity to flare and dramatic de-focus effects, you actually couldn’t ask for better. From my point of view they are saved by their decent-enough resolution in the T5.6 range that does allow a really nice sharp image that could be classed as general purpose – so long as you fit a matt box to help with the flare.
The Zhong Yi Speedmaster T1 lenses for S35 and APS-C cost $1299 for the set of three, or $499 for each lens. You can read more about them on the Zhong Yi Optics website.