Bringing Quality to the Next Level: a Look at Schneider, Zeiss and Canon Compact Cinema Lenses

It's not easy to determine which lenses to purchase when there are so many options. After all, lenses are a lifetime investment. There's a new camera every season, but the quality and craftsmanship of a good lens will never change. In this article you can compare three brands in particular and look at the abilities of their compact prime cinema lenses. The three rival brands we'll be looking at (as you might've already guessed) are Zeiss, Schneider, and, Canon. The lens comparisons will take a look at the performance of the 50mm Canon L Series, Zeiss CP.2, Canon CN-E, and, Schneider Xenon FF.

Magnanimous Media, a Chicago based rental house, have shared their lens comparison video and blog post with Fstoppers. I'll be providing commentary to their technical specs and try to offer a little more in depth information about each of the lenses. Below are two comparison videos between the prime lenses.

This first video takes a look at the technical performance of the lenses. Magnanimous noticed "the Canon L Series begins softening up around F8, while the Zeiss and CN-E lenses begin softening up around T/F 11. The Schneider, however, stayed sharper throughout the range when compared to the other three. Even at T26 it seemed to keep the resolution and contrast at a higher standard than the rest." The Schneider Xenon does appear to stay sharper, this could be because Schneider boasts "manual focus markings offer dead-on accuracy" which could be attributed by the distinct shape of the lens barrel.

This second video shows how the lenses render skin-tone:

The Canon glass tends to shift warmer in the blacks, while staying cold in the skin tones; which, in my opinion, is pretty typical of Canon lenses. The Zeiss is pretty cold, it really brings out the magentas and blues. Aside from the Xenon, the colors of the compact lenses run pretty cold,  however Schneider's Xenon manages to remain pretty well color matched. According to their website, all their lenses are color matched for accuracy.

 Comparing Build

An 'easy' way to compare lenses is by comparing build, you can do this by checking how many blades the lens provides. The more blades, the better Bokeh (aesthetic quality of blur). I should specify that the 'blade' rule should really be applied to people using their lenses manually, like shooting video, because if you're using auto focus lenses they need to be able to stop down quickly and open up quickly (while the mirror flips) so there is a trade off.


  • Canon L-series: 8-blade iris /  soft around the edges /color bleed in the bokeh.
  • CN-E lenses: 11-blade irises / soft around the edges
  • Zeiss CP.2: 14-blade iris / smoother fall-off
  • Xenon FF lenses: 14-blade iris / smoother fall-off  / smoother out of focus areas

    "The CP-2s and CN-Es share a very similar build.  Their compressed barrel is quite useful, though the compression tends to make for cramped lens control and matte box setups.  The CN-E and CP2 lenses do not have entirely consistent barrels across the range, which tends to complicate lens swaps.  The Schneiders have nearly identical barrels and a length more at home on a professional set, making lens swaps more easily negotiable. There is plenty of rod space and matched focus and iris control means that your lens control might not even need to move off the teeth.  All of the cinema lenses have smooth and quiet operation, which are a big improvement over the noisy infinitely turning focus on L-Series lenses.  The CN-E and Zeiss, however, are quite tight where as the Xenon FF lenses have resistance comparable to higher end cinema glass.  So, the Canon and Zeiss glass will make you work a bit harder to pull focus and lens control will need a tad more torque, which could lead to a bit of lens torque depending on your setup.  The Schneiders feel far more solid and while the CN-E and CP2 glass is nothing to scoff at, they are a bit lighter and not quite as well constructed."

    Ultimately it looks like Schneider is setting the bar really high for rival brands. Do you agree or disagree, given the results here?

    [Via Magnanimous Media]

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Aside from the benefits that make a Cinema lens better for cinema use, the 50L actually does a great fell apart with CA at 1.2, but it stayed the most consistent between f/2 and f/11 (at least, to my eye....)....

>>> "The Canon glass tends to shift warmer in the blacks, while staying cold in the skin tones"

I can't possibly believe that Canon lenses render different color depending on the amount of light being reflected from your subject. This must be a subjective perception bias that the reviewer has.

The cine lenses to beat these days are the Zeiss Master primes and the Leica Summilux-C primes, where each lens costs over $20K. These are the lenses you would want to rent if your budget allows for it.

It doesn't look like those color comparisons were white balanced, so basically those comparisons are moot. Even if they were, a lens' color rendering doesn't really mean much of anything, because you're going to post-process everything anyway. So whatever you may find objectionable you're going to correct in post.

It's unfortunate they didn't also compare the Samynag cinema series optics. That would have been interesting.