The Big Ole Lens Test Party – testing a variety of lenses in video

by planetMitch3 Comments

Benjamin Eckstein sent us this interesting study on lenses – it was shot on the Panasonic AF100 (not an HDSLR) but thought you might gain some knowledge from this non-scientific test.

The Big Ole Lens Test Party

Frame grab from Rick Macomber


This all started because on a daily basis, it seems, my Twitter feed is chock full of discussions about how lens X is SO MUCH better than lens Y, etc, etc. People talk about how much better a certain lens looks over another and I just don’t buy it. I mean, I would guess that there is a difference, and I’d hope so for the difference you can pay between cheaper and more expensive lenses, but I just couldn’t imagine that on the same camera, the differences would be monumental. So, I decided to put my money where my mouth is, get together a bunch of lenses, and see what all the hype was about. I had been talking with my buddy Chris Loughran about doing this, and he definitely wanted to hop aboard and work on this. He had more experience with higher end lenses than I did and was pretty sure I’d see a big difference across the range of lenses we were going to test. Previously, I had never really shot with any cinema lenses, and only worked with video specific lenses Canon and Fujinon zooms and then still lenses with 35mm adapters, DSLRs, and then large-sensor video cameras.  I was certainly aware of the mechanical advantages of the cinema-specific lenses, but was more interested in the differences we could SEE in the shots. I thought that this would be a good opportunity to get together some Boston-area shooters, so I invited a bunch of guys over to partake in some food, beers, and lens testing.

The Lenses

We had a wide-array of lenses ranging in price from $450 to about $18k. With the exception of one lens, all were either 35mm focal length primes, or zooms set to 35mm. Here was our lineup from most expensive to least expensive.

-Cooke s4 35mm f2.0 (I believe retail is about $18,000)

-Zeiss Super Speed 35mm f1.3 (not in production anymore, I think they are available used for about $5-7k)

-Zeiss CP2 35mm f2.1 ($3900)

-Olympus 14-35 f2.0 ($2299)

-Nikon 17-35 f2.8 ($1699)

-Canon 17-55 f2.8 ($1099)

-Nikon AIS 35mm f1.4 (approx $899, but this was a de-clicked version, which would cost more)

-Sigma 30mm f1.4 ($489)

-Tamron 17-50 f2.8 ($459)

With the exception of the Sigma, Tamron and Canon lenses, all other lenses could be aperture adjusted on the lens (or in the camera). We mounted the EOS mount lenses to a 7D to set aperture on each. We did this test at f4 on each lens (as that seemed the most appropriate for this scene), but in comparing the waveforms on each lens, found we needed to open to about 3.5/3.8 on the EOS lenses to get the same exposure.

The Camera

We used my Panasonic AF-100 to test all of these lenses.

Much more info on: The Big Ole Lens Test Party « Benjamin Eckstein.

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the BTS video

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(cover photo credit: snap from the video)


  1. Benjamin & friends, thanks for posting an informative test. Nice job! I agree that the Cooke S4 was the nicest looking lens. However, I was also surprised at how slight the differences were considering the price differences. But of course, I was looking at this with web compression, etc. A larger hi rez display with no additional compression would likely show more differences. And you weren’t stressing these lenses too greatly. One generally sees greater differences with wide and long lenses – not mid-range. Also, shooting wide open will be more telling on quality. Breathing is generally more pronounced on longer zooms such as a 70 – 200mm or greater range like 25 – 250mm.

    This test does confirm my philosophy based on over 30 years of shooting (including 21 features). Get the best lenses you can comfortably afford for each project and then worry about something else. Expressive lighting and camera composition are much more important – and of course story and acting are king. For most projects, any of these lenses would be acceptable to a majority of audiences. As long as overall quality is consistent, most viewers won’t notice or care. For me, quality is a balance of choices. Use your budget wisely. There are many important tools that can be helpful in addition to cameras and lenses.

  2. Great to watch. Got 2 of those lenses that are tested (tamron and Sigma)…. good to see the differences are not too great…

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