Why Are Cinema Lenses So Expensive?

If you look at normal lenses, then look at cinema lenses of comparable aperture and focal length, you might be shocked by their prices over their counterparts. This fun video examines just why cinema lenses are so expensive.

Coming to you from ZY Productions, this great video talks about why cinema lenses are so expensive. If you're used to standand lens prices, you might be thoroughly shocked if you've never seen how much an equivalent cinema lens costs. In case you're wondering what T-stops are, these are f-stops adjusted for light transmittance. No lens transmits 100% of the light that enters it, so while the f-stop of the lens may be accurate for describing depth of field parameters, it actually overestimates how much light is making it to the camera sensor. While this error might not matter much to a stills photographer, in film, even slight variances in exposure can be quite noticeable, so it's crucial that cinematographers be able to rely on getting the exact same exposures as they switch between lenses. In short, you can think of T-stops sort of as f-stops of light transmittance. Check out the video above for more on the topic. 

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2 Comments

16mm Camera's picture

I was just on a commercial set in Hong Kong for a major brand where some old Nikon Nikkor's SLR lenses that were modified into cine lenses and mounted to a ARRI ALEXA SXT. The DP said she also had a pristine set of Canon FD's, Leica R's and Contax Carl Zeiss and depending on the project ops to use them over cine lenses.

When they run camera tests the client often times ops for the modified sets when shown the test footage. Often times they don't mention the specifics and keep it about the colour aesthetic.

She's using her Canon FD set to build out a colour LUT profile for an upcoming feature film as well.

I'll admit to be being quite shocked that professionals at this calibre are opting to not use these much more expensive lenses when money is really no issue.

Shane Castle's picture

TL;DV: parfocal high-range (>10x) zooms, no focus breathing, minimal rectilinear distortion. All of these are expensive to design and build.