Shortly after announcing the latest FX series cine camera, the FX6, Sony also unveiled the new cine zoom lens first announced with the FX9 last year, the Sony FE C 16-35mm T3.1 G, it is now available for pre-order.
This lens was announced by the Japanese company some time ago. It was originally previewed when the FX9 was launched in September 2019, but it wasn't until now, in the dwindling year of 2020, that it became available for pre-order.
As the following picture shows, this new cine zoom is the first of three (or more) coming lenses in this C-marked cine zoom lens range.
The first of its kind. The Sony FE C 16-35 mm T3.1 G Cine Zoom. Photo credit: Sony
Sony FE C 16-35mm Z3.2 Cine Zoom
This lens is no surprise and comes with an E-mount. It covers the wide end of the so-called holy trinity of zoom lenses: 16-35mm, 24-70mm, and 70-200mm. Aperture is measured at T3.1, which is not exactly large, but perfectly reasonable when you consider the cost and especially the size of the lens. Since T-stops are measured as opposed to mathematically calculated apertures, T-apertures tend to be a little slower than their apertures. In this case, this T3.1 could roughly be translated into a 1: 2.8.
The video above is from the lens' original introduction (September 2019). Photo credit: Sony
The Sony FE C 16-35mm T3.1 Cine Zoom covers full frame sensors, which is only natural since its development was introduced along with the introduction of the Sony FX9 cine camera, which has a full frame sensor. The same applies to the recently dropped FX6 film camera. Despite the not-so-impressive T-stop, this lens may be a perfect match for both cameras if you're shooting lots of quick documentaries. (This is a pretty fast lens for a wide angle zoom though, to be fair!)
This new cine zoom has some of the features you'd expect from a dedicated cine lens, but it lacks a few others too. It has three rings (with hard stops) to control focus, iris and zoom. The rotation of the focus ring is 120 °, much more than conventional still photography lenses.
Removable zoom servo. Photo credit: Sony
The Sony FE C 16-35 mm T3.1 has a removable servo unit for smooth zooming with the integrated zoom rocker on the lens. If you want, you can remove the servo and lens hood for a more compact setup.
The lens with attached hood and servo (left) and without (right). Photo credit: Sony
The AF ring can be pushed back and forth to switch to AF or MF mode. Since the lens is AF-capable, the manual focus is not done exactly manually, but of course by cable.
Switch between auto focus and manual focus. Photo credit: Sony
A proper, fully mechanical cine lens usually offers things like parfocality (no focus shift when changing the focal length) and suppressed breathing (changing the field of view when tracking the focus). The Sony FE C 16-35 T3.1 zoom offers both properties – but not exactly. Sony states it is almost parfocal even though they don't put the parfocal sticker on it. Focus breathing seems to be well controlled, what exactly this means has yet to be tested in the real world.
|format||35 mm full screen|
|Focal length||16 mm – 35 mm|
|Lens groups / elements||13/16|
|Viewing angle (35 mm full image horizontal)||97 ° – 54 °|
|Maximum aperture||T3.1 (F2.8)|
|Minimal aperture||T25 (F22)|
|Aperture blades||11 (circular)|
|Minimal focus distance||0.28 m|
|Maximum enlargement ratio||0.19x|
|Zoom system||Both manual and powered|
|Dimensions diameter x length||118.4 mm (4.7 inches) x 146.6 mm (5.8 inches)|
Front diameter 114mm
|What's in the box||Hood|
Lens front cap
Lens rear cap
Lens mount adapter
The lens consists of 16 elements in 13 groups. Two XA (Extreme Aspherical) lens elements and three aspherical elements minimize distortion, curvature and astigmatism. Two ED (Extra-Low Dispersion) glass elements suppress color distortion, while an advanced nano AR (Anti Reflection) coating on optical surfaces reduces stray light and ghosting. Sony claims that the floating focus mechanism is optimized for "movie applications".
Optical design of the Sony FE C 16-35 mm T3.1 Cine Zoom. Photo credit: Sony
Thoughts – an all-rounder?
So this cine zoom lens is an all-rounder. It does AF, but also manual focus. It can be operated with a special zoom servo, but you can detach the device and zoom in manually. You can switch between tiered and unclicked iris. All of this is convenient, but of course it has a price, and I'm not talking about dollars here.
Proper cine zoom is really a one-trick pony. It doesn't do much, but it doesn't compromise. No focus breathing, parfocal throughout, smooth and reliable manual focus. All of this has a price, too, and this time I'm talking about dollars.
The Sony FE C 16-35mm T3.1 on a Sony FX9. Image creit: Sony
AF capability means that the Sony FE C 16-35mm T3.1 relies on a fly-by-wire focusing mechanism. This is never as good as a direct mechanical focus mechanism found on higher quality glass when using an external focus motor, for example. The fly-by-wire approach, however, enables AF with this lens so you have to choose.
While this lens allows you to shoot without a bag full of lenses, it is still a compromise. Perhaps Sony hit the sweet spot of being super versatile without too many downsides in terms of optical performance and ease of use (fly-by-wire focusing!). We'll have to wait for more in-depth testing to be sure.
Sony FE C 16-35 mm T3.1 (left) and FE 16-35 mm f / 2.8 GM (right). Photo credit: Sony
If the (much) higher price compared to the already available still photography version is worth it, the Sony FE 16-35mm f / 2.8 GM zoom lens remains to be seen. Both lenses have exactly the same internal optical design.
Photo credit: Sony
Link: Sony website
What do you think? Is this lens worth the money or do you prefer using still glass to get the job done? Share your thoughts in the comments below!