Lifetime Learning PSA – New SLR Magic Cinema Primes!

This self-assigned PSA came about as an idea to test my new set of SLR Magic lenses. I went with the Option B set that includes T 0.95 25, 35 & 50mm lenses as well as fast 10, 12, and 17mm glass.

Completing a recent production with my Panasonic/Lumix GH4 using the better zooms from Panasonic (12-35mm and 35-100mm, f2.8 both) I realized the need for true cinema lenses. A faster aperture to more easily throw background and foreground elements out of focus was one need, the gearing for follow-focus was an absolute.

Having done my research I chose the SLR Magic HyperPrimes. SLR Magic offers two options of micro 4/3 (mFT) mount 6-lens set with case: Option A (US$3,499.00) with the 35mm T1.4 lens and Option B (US$4,299.00) with the 35mm T0.95 lens. The other 5 lenses are the same for both options. Having been a fast lens freak for my entire adult life, the T0.95 of three of the SLR Magic lenses in the set peaked my interest. I wanted to test the lenses prior to purchase and, fortunately, the Cinegear tradeshow was coming to town and the lenses were there.

First impression was, dang, this is a hefty piece of glass! The solid metal construction and quality glass do add up to a weighty item, even when scaled for mFT. In my book, this is a good thing.

Second impression was the smoothness of the focus and t-stop rings. Both are nicely weighted with the t-stop ring being a bit firmer so as to avoid accidental changes. They felt like a nice fluid head.

Final thought there was that the 10mm had remarkably little distortion.

OK, I was in. All SLR Magic orders are filled out of the factory in Hong Kong so it was about a week before I got the set. Having since done two productions with the lenses I have some thoughts to share, almost all good.

In general I find the build quality to be excellent. The mounts are all snug on the GH4 and the focus rings are evenly smooth throughout the range. The de-clicked aperture rings are also very smooth. If shaken, nothing rattles.

The sharpness is outstanding, incredible even, on all the lenses from T2.0 onwards. The 17, 35 and 50mm are among the sharpest lenses I have ever owned, and having been a Nikon guy in film days before going to Canon for the digital era, that is saying something. The 17mm is my new favorite lens, giving a nice draw to a face at half-length, and a limited focus when wide open or a stop in from there. The 25 is nice, too, but I have learned that this focal length, when shooting video, isn’t really the same as a 50mm “normal” lens in stills. To my eye, the 17mm is more the normal lens for m43 video.

I put the 10mm, 12mm and 25mm into the category of required lenses meaning that there are times when I will need and use those focal lengths to render a scene in the room given and they are fine tools for that purpose. These lenses are just as sharp as the other three I’ve already mentioned, but I haven’t used them in a closer situation that provides a “Wow, that is stinking sharp!” type of image. Perhaps this is just me coming to an understanding of lens draw in the 16:9 format and I will find them perfect for some situations that I have yet to explore that will excite me. Capturing a lecture hall, students and all, is a working image, not one to fall in love with. But yes, the 12mm is sharper than anything I previously had in my bag as are the 10 & 25mm.

The 35 & 50mm are right there with the 17mm which I’ve already noted as my new fave, as lenses that create the images I love. Keeping in mind that focal lengths are effectively doubled as compared to full-frame sensors when shooting mFT, this makes the 35mm equivalent to a 70mm, and the 50mm to 100mm. I still think in full-frame numbers. Given the room to use the longer lenses for any single person shot makes for a wonderful image. Anywhere from wide open to several stops in, wow, crisp and colorful with a wonderfully controllable soft background is what these lenses provide that I love.

All of the lenses are beyond acceptably sharp wide open and, to my liking, critically sharp very close to wide open. I found in editorial that I didn’t need to sharpen any of the clips as I normally did, at 25%, for my previous lens set. Without sharpening, these lenses are way sharper than what I was used to when sharpened in post.

Sharpness is best shown by having areas of the image that are not sharp. The bokeh, or out of focus area in an image, can have vastly different qualities, not all good. Particularly on smaller sensor cameras as compared to full-frame cameras, the number of iris blades as well as the quality of the glass can have dramatic effect on the quality of the bokeh. I’ve seen bokehs that have an almost onion skin quality, with rings of definition where rings shouldn’t be. We’ve all seen the iris blades showing up in the shape of out of focus lights in the background of images. With as many as twelve aperture blades on some of these lenses as compared to sometimes six for other manufacturers, the bokeh on these lenses is simply, softly, subtly beautiful.

I generally shoot anywhere from wide open to two stops in, Never going past f8 with a smaller sensor camera. Much of the time this is only possible with ND filters in use. The variable ND filters from SLR Magic are a mystery to me. How do they do that? I simply don’t know, but I love them and have used them on almost every shot for the two productions completed. They make it simple to select my aperture, usually around t2.0 or t2.8, and then dial the variable ND until the histogram is in a happy place.

I have found the variable ND filters to be nicely neutral, with the UV coating doing a nice job of blocking infrared wavelengths when getting into the (I think) six stop end of the range. As virtually everything I’ve shot has been through an ND and being very impressed with the sharpness of the lenses, this speaks well of the quality of the glass in the ND filters, too.

The video I’ve posted here was completed solely with the SLR Magic lens set. Here is the equipment used for the production:

Camera – Pansonic Lumix GH4 with v-log software and YAGH interface unit.

Recorder – Atomos Ninja Assassin via HDMI connection

SLR Magic Lenses – 10mm HyperPrime Cine T 2.1

12mm HyperPrime Cine T 1.6

17mm T 1.6 Cine

25mm HyperPrime Cine III T 0.95

35mm HyperPrime Cine II T 0.95

50mm HyperPrime Cine T 0.95

ND Filters – Set of three SLR Magic Variable ND’s

Audio – Audio Technica System 10 wireless lavalier and handheld microphone on boom.

Post Production – Adobe Premiere Pro and Adobe Audition