Lenses I use and recommend

As mentioned in the guide to lens adapters, my choice of lens mount for the Sony A7s is Nikon F (or G). Here’s a video going over how I selected my lenses:

Download Video

Note: I say ‘multiple’ when talking about the bokeh factor, but I really meant ‘add’.

Bokeh Factor = Aperture + Crop factor 

E.g., here are how my lenses stack up (All of this is approximate, but it’s great as a general rule of thumb):

  • 14mm T3.1 becomes a 21mm T4.6 in APS-C mode
  • 28mm f/2.8 becomes a 42mm f/4.3 in APS-C mode
  • 50mm f/1.2 becomes a 75mm f/2.7 in APS-C mode
  • 135mm f/2 becomes a 200mm f/3.5 in APS-C mode

You get the same light levels, so there is no change in exposure – only the bokeh!

A list of recommended lenses: Still Primes

Let’s start with primes. Why would anyone use still primes for video? Here are some good reasons:

  • They are (or were) designed to resolve great detail, so 4K is a piece of cake.
  • They are cheap!
  • They are easy to buy and maintain.
  • They are light.

In fact, if you’re on a budget but still demand great quality and are happy to live with the compromises, then I highly recommend still primes for the Sony A7s.

Sigma 50mm Art

Warning: Information and prices provided in this guide might be inaccurate or wrong, even if I have tried to be as accurate as possible without losing sanity. You are responsible for your own actions. Refer to manufacturers’ manuals and data for accurate information and prices.

Nikon 135mm f/2

Here are some recommended prime lenses from the Nikon stable for each focal lenght:

Focal Length Cheap Option Filter Thread (mm) Approx. Price
Fish-eye Sigma 15mm f/2.8 None $609
Nikon 16mm f/2.8D None $899
Wide Samyang 14mm f/2.8 None $399
Nikon 14mm f/2.8D None $1,399
Zeiss Distagon T* 15mm f/2.8 ZF.2 95 $2,950
Zeiss Distagon T* 18mm F/3.5 ZF.2 82 $1,395
Nikon 20mm f/2.8 62 $675
Zeiss Distagon T* 21mm F/2.8 ZF.2 82 $1,843
Samyang 24mm f/1.4 77 $669
Nikon 24mm f/1.4G 77 $1,879
Zeiss Distagon T* 25mm f/2.0 ZF.2 67 $1,699
Nikon 28mm f/1.8G 67 $697
Zeiss Distagon T* 28mm f/2.0 ZF.2 58 $1,283
Sigma 35mm f/1.4 Art 67 $899
Normal Nikon 50mm f/1.2 AIS 52 $700
Sigma 50mm f/1.4 Art 77 $949
Zeiss 55mm f/1.4 Otus 77 $3,990
Nikon Micro-Nikkor 60mm f/2.8D 62 $469
Sigma 70mm f/2.8 62 $459
Samyang 85mm f/1.4 72 $299
Nikon 85mm f/1.4D 77 $969
Telephoto Tamron 90mm f/2.8 SP Macro 1:1 58 $749
Tokina 100mm f/2.8 AT-X 55 $399
Zeiss Makro-Planar T* 100mm f/2 ZF.2 67 $1,843
Nikon 105mm f/2.0D 72 $1,049
Nikon 135mm f/2.0D 72 $1,150
Sigma 150mm f/2.8 72 $1,099
Nikon 200mm f/4.0D 62 $1,649
Nikon 300mm f/4D 77 $1,134

Don’t forget, you can buy many of these Nikon lenses used in great condition. I’ve only listed new prices. If money were no object, my dream set would consist of Zeiss ZF.2 primes and nothing else. As a full kit, nothing beats it. I might swap the 50mm and 85mm with the  Zeiss Otus lenses too. Either way, it’s all Zeiss.

One problem you’ll have to contend with still primes is the differences in filter diameters. I’ll deal with that later.

A list of recommended lenses: Cine Primes

If you need help in deciding on a cine lens as opposed to a still camera lens, read what is a cine lens and how is it different from photo lenses?

Zeiss CP.2

There are three ‘problems’ with using cine lenses on the Sony A7s:

  • Cine lenses will make handholding unwieldy, if not impossible. Neither camera nor lens will have image stabilization.
  • There are only two manufacturers that make full frame cine lenses for the Sony E mount.
  • There are no cheap options for the full range of focal lengths.

There is nothing that can be done for the first option, except to use a proper rig and follow focus system. No free lunch here.

The two manufacturers that make cine lenses for the full frame sensor, in the Sony E-mount, are:

  • Samyang (Bower, Rokinon, et al)
  • Zeiss

Here’s a chart comparing cine lenses for the Sony A7s:

Samyang Zeiss CP.2 (114) Canon (with Adapter) (114)
Lens Approx Price Lens Approx Price Lens Approx Price
14mm T3.1(N) $399 15mm T2.9 $5,700 14mm T3.1 $5,220
24mm T1.5(77) $699 18mm T3.6 $3,990 24mm T1.5 $5,220
35mm T1.5(77) $519 21mm T2.9 $3,990 35mm T1.5 $4,950
85mm T1.5(72) $349 25mm T2.1 $4,500 50mm T1.3 $4,950
28mm T2.1 $3,990 85mm T1.3 $4,950
35mm T1.5 $4,900 135mm T2.2 $4,950
50mm T2.1 $3,990
50mm T2.1 Makro(134) $4,900
100mm T2.1 $4,900
135mm T2.1 $5,700

Note: Information in brackets is the filter thread diameter in mm.

Right of the bat you can see that, though Samyang cine lenses are cheap and offer great value for money, they lack a few critical focal lengths for a full frame sensor. Both Canon and Zeiss offer an excellent range of lenses, though I prefer Zeiss CP.2 for the following reasons:

  • They have cheaper options
  • They have greater options and focal lengths
  • They have a macro option
  • They don’t need an adapter

Is there a middle ground? Yes, and no. It seems unlikely that any manufacturer will make great cine lenses in the sub-$1,000 price range, so the next best option is to modify a still lens for cinema work. Two companies that have been doing this for a while and have sufficient track records are:

  • Duclos Lenses – $250 for a full cine-mod, and $409 for a cine-mod plus mount change (you need to contact them for Sony E-mount at present)
  • GL Optics – they also provide casing modifications, and the prices run greater than $3,000 per lens. For primes, the charges are too high. For zooms, they might be a bargain (considering the prices of cine zooms)!

In either case, these services don’t have a worldwide presence, so you must be aware that replacements and service will be slow; and if you want a quick replacement in an emergency you likely won’t find the same lens.

A list of recommended lenses: Cine Zoom Lenses

This is where cine-mods make sense. Zoom lenses for full frame sensors are as rare as UFO sightings:

Lens Approx Price Mount (Filter thread)
Tokina 16-28mm T3.0 $4,499 EF/PL (114)
Zeiss LWZ.2 15.5-45mm T2.6 $19,900 EF/PL (114)
Zeiss 15-30mm CZ.2 T2.9 $23,900 E (114)
Zeiss 28-80mm T2.9 CZ.2 $19,900 E (95)
Zeiss 70-200mm T2.9 CZ.2 $19,900 E (95)

It would be the rare individual who will buy a $20K zoom for a $2.5K camera.

Sony 70-200mm f4 OSS

 

A list of recommended lenses: Still Zoom Lenses

So we come full circle as to why it’s a good idea to stick to zoom lenses made for still cameras on the Sony A7s. If you already own zoom lenses stick with the brand you own, and get adapters. If you’re starting from scratch, here are my picks:

El cheapo

Stick with the ones made for the Sony E-mount by Sony:

If you want f/2.8 and don’t have the budget for the high-end Nikon zooms, you can also opt for Tamron equivalents at f/2.8. It goes without saying that any zoom lens for a full frame sensor can be adapted to the Sony A7s.

Top-of-the-line

Since we stuck to Nikon lenses for our primes, I highly recommend Nikon zooms as well. Canon zooms are equally good, if not better:

I hope this long but exhausting look at the lens options for the Sony A7s hasn’t spoiled your appetite! Look at it this way: There is no other full frame camera system that gives you so many lens choices for every budget imaginable. If you’re buying used, you can start from Canon FD, Nikon F, etc…and move to Contax Zeiss, Leica R, and so on. If you’re buying new, you can start with Nikon F (and G), Canon and move to Zeiss.

My investment in the Nikon F mount has been, to a certain extent, to future-proof my investment. I hope you will also take a long-term view and find a solution that suits your needs.

To buy cine lenses for the full frame, check out these options from B&H.
For still camera lenses, click here.

Click on the link below to the next lesson or head over to the main menu (above). If you need help with something, feel free to send me an email. I’ll try to get back to you as soon as possible.

FAQs

These are important topics raised by subscribers that shed more light on this lesson.

Q. What about Sony lenses? Where can we find more information about them?

A. Sony has a full compatibility list of all its E-mount, A-mount and Konica lenses that tells you exactly which features are supported by which lenses: http://support.d-imaging.sony.co.jp/www/cscs/lens_body/index.php?mdl=ILCE-7S&area=us&lang=en

Q. What about Schneider Xenon FF primes? Aren’t they better than a CP.2 kit?

A. I don’t know. Real-world reviews of Xenons are extremely limited (I wonder why, because they have been around for long enough), and some reviewers are not entirely happy with the optical performance of the lenses, which probably explains why it is so ‘cheap’.

Also, you don’t get an entire kit with the Xenons, because there are some important focal lengths missing. What is good about them is their construction, and the fact they have been built from scratch purely as cinema lenses, especially with 14 iris blades.

However, as of May 2015 post NAB, I still maintain the most decent cinema lens kit for the A7s is Zeiss CP.2. If you can’t afford it, at least you’ll find it on rental most parts of the world.

Q. What do you feel about the Rokinon DS cine lenses?

A. They are excellent value for money. Rokinon/Samyang have proved their worth over the last few years and I don’t think you can complain for the price.

For those who don’t know, DS lenses are rehoused Rokinon primes with the focus and iris rings all at the exact same distance, so you don’t have to change follow focus or iris gears with every lens change. That saves a lot of time on set.

However, where these fall short are they are not all the same length, size or weight, which cine lenses are supposed to be. If lenses are the same length, you don’t have to reposition the matte box with every lens change. If lenses are at different lengths and weights, it takes time to reposition your rig and adjust rod lengths. Finally, if the outer diameter isn’t the same size, you will need different matte box adapters for each lens change. All this eats up precious time on set.

Let’s not be under the impression that Rokinons/Samyangs can replace real cine lenses, but for bang for buck – they are unmatched. I absolutely recommend them, as long as you know what you’re getting into.

Q. What’s a cheap good zoom with image stabilization for run-and-gun or vacation work?

A. I really like the Canon 24-105mm f/4L, it is a gem.

Compared to the Sony FE 24-70mm f/4 OSS the Canon has a better zoom range and is cheaper. It’s totally worthy of the L monicker. The disadvantage is that the adapter (or any adapter for that matter) doesn’t work very well for autofocus with Sony cameras. For manual focus, I recommend the Canon over the Sony, its focusing ring is way better, and it covers a greater focal range. Also, it has a ‘standard’ 77mm filter thread, whereas the Sony is 67mm. Finally, it is a better investment overall – a lens that will come handy even on professional shoots. Both are weather-sealed.

The 24-70 FE will give you faster autofocus and is lighter. But for video, focusing will be irritating – or not, depending on what you’re focusing on. If you’re going to just focus on one thing and shoot, then it might work out okay. If you want to follow the action, then forget it.

If these are out of budget, and you’re looking for something cheaper, and if you only want a lens for travel and vacation use, then I suggest you take a look at the Sony 28-70mm OSS.

It is also weather proof like the 24-70 and its optical performance is damn close: http://www.dxomark.com/Lenses/Compare/Side-by-side/Sony-FE-28-70mm-F35-56-OSS-versus-Sony-FE-Carl-Zeiss-Vario-Tessar-T-STAR-24-70mm-F4-ZA-OSS___1244_0_1253_0

Half the price and half the weight. No need for an adapter. Can’t go wrong with it.

Q. Can you use traditional spherical cine lenses like Arri Master/Ultra primes, Cooke 5i/4i, etc., with the Sony A7s?

A. You can use spherical lenses that cover the Super35mm image circle with the A7s, but only in APS-C mode. They will not cover full frame (36mm x24mm).

The APS-C mode has a 1.5x crop, while standard S35 has a crop factor of about 1.3-1.4. Here’s a table that shows how much image circle each format needs:

Format Image area Image circle
4-perf film 24.89 mm × 18.66 mm 31mm
Alexa 4:3 23.76mm x 17.82mm 30mm
A7s APS-C 24mm x 13.5mm 28mm
A7s FF 36mm x 24mm 43mm

Most cine lenses are only designed to cover about 31mm. The only cine lenses that cover full frame as of NAB 2015 is Zeiss CP.2, Canon CN-E and Schneider Xenon FF.

The introduction of DSLRs in cinema has made the word ‘full frame’ confusing. I use it with reference to 36x24mm, I.e., the real full frame of a 35mm area. I have an article about it here: http://wolfcrow.com/blog/what-is-the-35mm-equivalent-and-why-is-it-confusing/

Q. Can you use anamorphic lenses like the Hawk anamorphics with the A7s?

A. Technically, you can, in APS-C mode, but the squeeze factor will limit its usability. Most traditional anamorphic primes are made with a 2x factor, and it needs an aspect ratio of 4:3 to work. The A7s only allows for 16:9, so a 2x squeeze will result in an aspect ratio of 3.55:1, and you’ll be forced to chop off the sides to get 2.39:1.

What happens if you use 2x on the A7s in APS C mode? Here’s an example with a 28mm lens:

  • 28mm normally translates to 56mm in 2x anamorphic
  • In APS-C mode, 28mm becomes a 42mm equivalent
  • With 2x, 42mm becomes an 84mm equivalent
  • Because you have to crop from 3.55 to 2.39, the 84mm becomes a 125mm equivalent!!
  • To get the same 56mm, working backwards, you’ll need a 12mm anamorphic lens!

However, you could get by with a 1.33x anamorphic lens or adapter, though those are rare and not very good, I think. Shooting anamorphic with the A7s is a thankless exercise.

Q. What do you feel about the 28-135mm cine?

A. Specifically the Sony FE PZ 28-135mm f/4 G OSS? I have no feelings for it. It’s a great lens for a lot of professional shooters who want the quality and the convenience of image stabilization and cine features.

But for the average shooter, it’s overkill, and too expensive. E.g., if you really don’t need it, you can replace the zoom with:

All three together are cheaper than the zoom lens, but gives you an f/2 or better! Also, with this set, you have 28mm, 55mm and 135mm in full frame, and 40mm, 85mm and 200mm in APS-C mode, so your set can actually cover 28-40-55-85-135-200mm, which is almost a zoom!

It’s just a different option to consider, that’s all. Who’s the cine zoom for?

  • You absolutely don’t want to change lenses during a shoot
  • You want to make do with one lens for everything, from wide to telephoto
  • You’ll have enough light for f/4, even when shooting in picture profiles other than S-Log2
  • You need to zoom (it has a power zoom)
  • You need image stabilization across the board

It’s excellent value for money, come to think of it. A better-class cinema zoom is easily ten times the price!