Why Did Canon Release Intentionally Soft Cinema Lenses?

You may not have heard it yet, but there's a line of Canon cinema lenses that have been manufactured with a flaw by design, affecting the sharpness of the glass. The new gear has been out for a few months. In this article, you can see demo footage and an explanation for the peculiar release.

Earlier this year, Canon announced the new line of lenses. After hearing about them, I was relieved to hear that I wasn't the only one who didn't like lenses that were perfectly sharp. If you have scaled down high-resolution footage or used a rendered 3D animation, you have probably found that it looks too sharp and too perfect. In some cases, you even have to blur the image a little in order to make it pleasing to the eye. This is what these lenses are making in camera. They are adding a character and a texture to the image.

Cinema5D has interviewed Ryuji Nurishi, the head manager of the new line of Canon lenses: Sumire Prime. Nurishi shared that they had to spend some time inventing a way to make those lenses predictably soft without affecting the resolution and without introducing any other major optical defects. After working closely with cinematographers and filmmakers, they decided on a level of softness that was the perfect less-than-perfect sharpness. The lenses are said to cover even bigger sensors with 6K and 8K resolution. Below, you can see demo footage using the Sumire primes:


How do you like the results from these lenses?

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Dana Goldstein's picture

Or just pick up a Black Pro Mist for under a hundred bucks.

Tihomir Lazarov's picture

It's not the same, because the "filter" itself won't do 99% of the work the cinema lens does. If you already have cinema lenses, adding a filter is the way to go.

Dana Goldstein's picture

So I should buy a series of lenses rather than an excellent sharp lens and then varying strengths of BPM and other filters, so I can have maximum range of choice and expression. Gotcha.

Pretty sure Canon isn’t counting on private sales. These will be mostly rented. You should really go to a rental house and test out a set of real Cine lenses. There’s more “non sharp” sets out there than clinically sharp ones. Sharpness is not really hard to achieve if that’s all you’re after. Creating a lasting look that’s chased for decades like the Canon K35 lenses, is. BPM/Hollywood black magic, etc are just tools. They’re by no means a proper way to choose a “look” and it gets to a point where it’s just putting lipstick on a pig. I’m glad Canon is making an effort to offer the high end market another option other than the CN-E that are boring as hell, and the K35 that are hard to get hands on.

Rob Davis's picture

Why would you want this versus a sharp lens that can utilize softening filters?

Tihomir Lazarov's picture

I use such filters myself, but I know that I put them on glass that's not cinema-grade which is why you actually use the glass at first place. It's not the filter that does most of the work, but the glass and the filter is the cherry on the top. They just combined cinema glass with a filter into the same package.

Dana Goldstein's picture

Exactly my point. Now you’ve limited yourself to ONE look. Even within the same scene, different focal lengths often require different strengths of the same filter. This just makes no sense.

Tihomir Lazarov's picture

When shooting film you use lenses for a particular look, not different looks all over the place. For the next film you may want another look or another texture with a different set of lenses.

Dana Goldstein's picture

You should look up the differences in how the same strength of filter performs on wide vs tele lenses, it’s very informative.

Tihomir Lazarov's picture

Yes, it is different. I know it and I use different strengths for wide shots and close-ups exactly for that reason. However, if you watch the demo footage you will see there's a lot of room to use more soft focus filters over the lens, because by design it's so subtle.

Mike Stern's picture

“... how to make ideal softness”
We do that on post production.
Canon don’t waste your time and give us sharp high resolution lenses. We can take care of the softness you are talking about in zillion ways.

Tihomir Lazarov's picture

If you have ever tried to make a filter similar to Pro Mist effect in post, you will find that it doesn't look as convincing as the real deal. That's the same like making "film noise" in post. It doesn't look real, because real noise looks different in highlights and shadows. The same for that effect. It looks different in different parts of the frame, including depth.

However, if you want sharp cinema lenses, you are welcome to buy their sharp versions for a significant price and work your way in post.

Optical “softness” and lens characteristics are impossible to recreate in post processing. Or else we would all just shoot with a set of Master Primes and add all the character in post lol.

It seems asinine to all of us photo people that always want the sharpest thing in the world, but film/cine uses are very different. Watching a vast majority of films currently in theaters you'll notice that usually the lenses used are far from perfect. Usually a sharp zone in the middle 50% of the frame and then smearing and distortion towards the edges. It seems like $30,000 Cooke Primes, etc. should be sharp sharp sharp, but they're just not. They're engineered for a certain look, which often times is a look that became popularized using relatively low resolution film in the 50s or 60s—not the pinnacle of lens technology. Having a 4K TV just makes it very apparent the softness and distinct aberrations these 'fancy' expensive lenses really have. Canon is just trying to have an offering that is similarly unique and less detailed.

Spy Black's picture

Everyone will rave about these idiotic lenses.

Dana Goldstein's picture

Not everyone, but clearly some will be taken in.

Tom Reichner's picture

For wildlife documentaries, where one wants to see every hair and every feather segment sharply resolved, these lenses would be a disaster. I hope there are equitable alternatives for wildlife videographers to use - if they had to use these soft lenses, we would never get to appreciate the fine detail of the critters the way they are meant to be seen.

Tihomir Lazarov's picture

Yes, the other cine-grade lenses by Canon are not soft by design.