By Elliot Smith - Happen Digital
Yes, yes another person on the internet bleating on about cine lenses and how you’re not a professional unless you’ve ‘dropped’ thousands on exotic manual ‘glass.’
Let’s be clear: frankly, if you spend $5,000 on a lens it had better be good, whether or not it’s at the entry level end of a range of zooms for ‘cinema’.
At the small production company I work for, we shoot and finish in HD on an original Canon C300. It’s getting old enough now to be called ‘trusty,’ but for a six-year-old camera the image is great, the footage doesn’t take up a ton of space, and if you use a slightly tweaked EOS colour profile, what you see on the camera screen is pretty much what you edit. The clamshell monitor/XLR combo sucks as hard as it always did but there you go.
So we’ve resisted the urge to replace our camera with something whizzier and will stick with it for as long as it’s doing everything we need it to.
Mostly I’ve had a love-hate relationship with the Canon 24-105mm f/4 lens - love that zoom range but it’s not really wide enough and it’s neither parfocal nor truly a constant aperture – my copy loses an awful lot of light at the long end. But until now it’s been a go-to lens as it’s flexible enough to get the job done in most situations.
The Canon 18-80mm Cinema Zoom Lens then seemed like a good bet: improved build quality, parfocal and with a focal range that’s good enough for most shoots.
We light most of our interviews, so I wasn’t too worried about the relatively slow T-stop, and when I spotted a local supplier offering a good deal on overstock earlier this year I took the plunge.
Fortunately it was a plunge worth taking. The 18-80 is just one of those lenses that’s pleasing, whatever you’re shooting and particularly for talking heads (we shoot a lot of talking heads).
It feels slightly warm, it’s very very sharp, and although T4.4 sounds scary for a S35 sensor, in reality it’s fast enough to blur backgrounds nicely without making chasing focus a nightmare.
This isn’t a charts ‘n’ sharpness type review - check out Matt Porwoll’s excellent in-depth piece on Abel Cine for a more technical rundown of the 18-80mm. But I’ve been using the lens in the real world for a few months now and I can honestly say it’s exceeded all expectations.
It's flexible enough to use as a walk around lens, and is great for GVs and developing action. I shot the short below juggling a 16-35mm, the 24-105mm and a 50mm which was about as much fun as that sounds.
With the 18-80mm, 90% of what I need to shoot can be done on one lens, which is a revelation. I started shooting on all-in-ones like the Sony EX1 and it’s actually a relief to get back to a similar degree of flexibility without having to worry so much about missing stuff while I’m changing lenses.
The second job I used the lens on was basically a torture test: a cramped, dimly lit shop with dark wood, and lit by a mixture of window light, stained glass and fake tungsten LEDs.
I’m not saying every shot was a keeper - and I did resort to a 50mm prime for some of the b-roll - but the 18-80mm was just about wide enough and just about fast enough to get the job done.
If that sounds like faint praise it’s not meant to - because I think it produces an incredibly pleasing image. Skin tones are great and it has a sharpness and pop that I’ve always felt was lacking from other lenses.
Six months in and the 18-80mm lives on our C300: I use it on pretty much every shoot and feel confident knowing I’ll be ready to shoot in most situations without worrying I’ve got the wrong lens on the camera.
I’d really recommend a rental to see if you can live with the T-stop, but if you can I feel it’s a great investment in a lens that will likely outlast your current camera, whatever you’re using.
Canon CN-E 18-80mm T4.4 Compact-Servo Cinema Zoom Lens - More info at B&H Photo