The Creative and Technical Differences between Full Frame and S-35

To shoot Full-Frame or S-35? Are there really artistic reasons for shooting on FF?

What are the advantages and what gear will I need?


Film making has always had ‘pinch points’ of innovation, some of them more successful than others and in recent history more often than not driven by the retail thrust to sell more TVs- HD, 3D etc.  

Mostly these modifications or improvements have an emphasis on an upscale in quality to tempt the consumer to upgrade their hardware or VoD packages and of course this means the origin of the content must also have been ‘upscaled’ to deliver on the retail promise.

We have seen the advent of digital sensors replacing film and then HD sensors and then 4K and 8K and so on and whilst the increase in resolution (more pixels-more detail and colour subtleties) has been important, manufacturers have also started to release larger size sensors to not only accommodate the increased pixel counts but to allow the film maker to utilise the benefits of a larger sensor.

These larger sensors are known generically as Full Frame (FF) and this article will try and explain the differences between that and Super 35mm size sensors and what the advantages/disadvantages the FF world can offer along with some description of what the different cameras can achieve.

This article is split into 5 sections 

  1. Technical Stuff – about Image Sizes and Ratios
  2. Lens Stuff
  3. Creative Use of FF Lenses and Sensors
  4. What Camera Does What?
  5. FF Lenses

1. Technical Stuff

Dimensionally Challenged:

Both Super 35mm and Full Frame are not new terms or concepts in fact they are older than most of us and both are derived from film terms.

Before we start however it is important to clarify one parameter that will be used a lot on this piece and that is aspect ratio.

An aspect ratio does not define the size of a sensor it is the fixed relationship between the horizontal and vertical axis and could be any size physically. And so the most commonly used aspect ratio (that of our TVs) is 16:9 (1.78:1) but it can be used on any size sensor from 2/3rds size chain cameras up to Alexa 65mm and IMAX-which is a massive postcard size picture (or frame) compared to the B4 cameras but importantly the aspect ratio is exactly the same.

Aspect ratio is a means to define the ‘look’ of a piece but sits on top of the actual dimensions of the sensor being used so when you see the term ‘for a given aspect ratio’, it means the pictures match in terms of the framing box but do not necessarily match in terms of area/size of that box and this is an important distinction when explaining FF.

Super 35mm

A term derived from film that has several parts to understand.

Firstly motion picture film has used the same basic principles for nearly 100 years and that is that the film travels vertically downwards through an exposure window called a gate and each picture is moved on by four perforations (Bell & Howell pitch for the geeks).

The picture again could be any aspect ratio but it had to be constrained by the fixed width of the film at 35mm and by the need to allow for magnetic soundtrack on the printed film which meant that the optical centre of the film was offset to accommodate the strip needed for the soundtrack.

So the more widescreen the aspect ratio used the smaller the physical height of the picture (remember the horizontal is fixed by the size of the film and the soundtrack strip) and as the vertical dimension reduces to create a pleasing aspect ratio then more surface area of film is not being used and therefore the resolution is lowered (effectively less film pixels if you like).

The anamorphic process was introduced as a way to counter this reduction in quality whilst delivering a widescreen aspect ratio but more of this later. The ‘Super’ in Super 35mm refers simply to the removal of the soundtrack safety zone and an optical re-centre to the middle of the piece of film.

The point of this is that the horizontal dimension increased (more pixels) so ‘for a given aspect ratio’ the physical area used was increased and therefore the quality of the image was greater as more of the vertical could be utilised. Dimensionally there is some variation on 16:9 Super 35mm sensors but they are all essentially derived from the size a 16:9 aspect would be when applied to the four perf 35mm wide, with no soundtrack strip, piece of film.

Full Frame

Nowadays ‘Full Frame’ is a bit more of a generic ‘catch all’ phrase but again it does have a fixed dimensional history based on 35mm film.

In SLR stills cameras the same 35mm film as movie cameras was (is) used but with one major distinction – the film in an SLR travelled horizontally.

The film was pulled along at 8 perfs per shot but because the aspect ratio was laid on East-West as opposed to the North-South, the image size for a given ratio was considerably larger meaning that a far greater area of film (pixels) would carry the image and therefore the quality would be higher.

The aspect ratio usually found in SLRs was 3:2 (1.5:1) with an actual measurement of 36x24mm but in DSLRs you have the ability to create a more popular ratio such as 16:9 with the benefit that the image size is greater than that of the movie camera.

So Full Frame cameras basically emulate a stills camera size gate (sensor) where the film has enabled a much larger surface area by travelling sideways instead of vertically. There are variations on this theme that need to be considered as they will crop up in the camera section.

Full Frame cameras basically emulate a stills camera size gate (sensor) where the film has enabled a much larger surface area by travelling sideways instead of vertically.

Vistavision again is not a new term but has been revived chiefly by RED on its ‘Monstro’ sensor and again was based on process designed to increase the quality of a piece of film by increasing its physical size.

So a Vistavision film camera took the East-West travelling concept of an SLR and turned it into a movie camera able to run at 24fps but crucially with an 8 perf pull across allowing for a box of 36x24mm to be exposed.

The advantages were a much bigger picture, therefore higher quality as more film grains were used per frame to present a smooth fine grain image which was extremely useful for visual effects and it’s the same advantage in today’s digital cameras.

The disadvantage in film terms was that it used twice as much film as a vertical pull down camera and so was relegated to the visual effects world fairly early on in its lifetime.

Other variations to note are the Alexa 65 which is based on a sensor size emulating 65mm film travelling North-South and IMAX which emulates 65mm travelling East- West, both of which are therefore postcard size pictures.

So it’s all very well having these big sensors but we haven’t yet looked at the fundamental requirement of these big things, which is a lens that can deliver an image big enough to cover them.

Perceived Field of View for Full Frame and S-35

The second issue worth mentioning is that for the Sony compatible lenses, working in Full frame means that the perceived field of view (in full frame mode) is wider than that of S-35, owing to a larger image size being generated by the lens.

The very useful website by Abelcine here demonstrates this very effectively.

2. Lens Stuff

We have discussed lenses at length before and so will try not to get side tracked too much and stick to the FF bits.

All lenses produce an upside down circle of light containing an image of what is in front of them and that image via a set of precise mounts and distances falls onto the sensor.

The ‘you had one job’ bit of this for the lens is that the circle has to be big enough to cover the box it is sending an image to and if the circle is not big enough then you will end up with vignetting or a circular shadowing around your image.

The reason for the circle being as close to box size as possible means that the lenses can transmit  as much light energy as possible and not dissipate this by having an over large circle. Indeed when the jump from 35mm to Super 35mm occurred, lots of lenses including Zeiss SuperSpeeds or Speed Panchros for example had (have) an exit circle that doesn’t quite cover that new bigger box – see right..

Full frame therefore needs a big circle which is why we need FF lenses to cover but just as with aspect ratio we need a quick de-bunk before we move on.

A 25mm lens is a 25mm lens is a 25mm lens.

Putting a 25mm lens onto an FF camera does not alter the focal length of the lens, it is still a 25mm lens and it has the same field of view and depth of field that it did when you last put it on a Super 35mm camera because…it is a 25mm lens.

A 25mm lens is a 25mm lens is a 25mm lens and putting it onto a FF camera does not alter its focal length.

Those of us who come from a movie background found that working with a Canon 5D for instance was weird because all the lenses appeared to wider than we were used to and people coming from a stills background found that digital movie cameras were ‘cropping’ compared to the DSLRs they were used to.

Both are right

A 25mm FF lens on a Super35mm sensor will ‘feel’ just like any other 25mm because the box is collecting all the image info it needs and is ignoring a significant proportion of the circle. A 25mm FF lens on an FF sensor will provide a wider image because all of the bigger circle of image is now being used. The bigger circle is transmitting a greater quantity of light rays from around the edge of the field of view which is why the image appears wider than on the Super 35mm version.

See the example on the right – the focal lengths of the lenses used in both shots are both 50mm but the 50mm in Full Frame appears to have a much wider field of view due to the larger sensor.  However the depth of field of both shots will be identical.

Anamorphic lenses are (have) generally been designed to output their image oval onto Super 35mm size sensors so you will get strong vignetting if trying to use these on an FF sensor. Some manufacturers are beginning to produce lenses that do cover bigger sensors (Cooke’s 1.8x squeeze for instance) but these are for high end only and specifically for sensors with a 3:2 (1.5:1) aspect ratio to maintain the correct de-squeeze geometry.

Telecentric lenses are those that have two special qualities in relation to FF-telecentric refers to a greater quantity of light rays leaving the back of the lens in a parallel fashion which benefits the picture by allowing more even image illumination (within the image circle) and removing ‘hot-spotting’- where the centre of the picture is brighter than the edges because the light rays are travelling further and therefore slightly dimmer.  The second advantage is that in a telecentric lens the magnification of objects is more even including those outside of the focal plane and this is part of the perspective flattening process previously discussed which means we are now entering into the creative use of FF lenses and sensors so we need a section heading.

3. Creative Use of FF Lenses and Sensors

So now we have cameras with larger sensors and a bunch of lenses that can cover them and we understand how and why it works so the next question must be what are the benefits and what if any are the disadvantages?

The creative arguments for using FF should maybe start with most obvious and technical. If you are using a larger sensor then you will be acquiring images beyond the VoD 4K benchmark, so for example

So you already have an upscale in terms of resolution and detail and even if there is a downscale to HD later on there will be a latent extra quality to the picture and of course future proofing of the material.

The downside (depending on the codec used) will be an increase in storage requirements and some NLE platforms and hardware may struggle to play back in full res but that will soon solve itself as it always does.

However the biggest difference (and why we have created some images to demo this) is the change in perspective and therefore depth of field.

We have seen that ‘for a given aspect ratio’ and the same focal length lens and iris setting, the image will be wider on an FF sensor and as it’s not ever about just being wider, what does this mean in practice?

You don’t want to be wider you want the same image you had in your head so the aforementioned 25mm is too wide so you have to change lens to a 35mm or even 40mm to give you the picture you wanted.

So by doing that, two things have happened-firstly if your iris setting is the same then your depth of field has shrunk ( if you had changed to a 50mm it would have halved) and secondly the perspective on the image has flattened-objects in the distance will feel a bit closer and a bit softer because of the longer focal length.

Now this is sort of the same argument as for using anamorphic lenses because using a 2x squeeze system requires double the focal length for the horizontal squeeze so a 25mm image on Super 35mm ‘for a given aspect ratio’ would be 50mm on anamorphic to match shot size.

So the upshot is that your lens grammar needs to shift upwards by one or two focal lengths in order to achieve parity with what you are used to in Super 35mm terms and therefore shallower depth of field and flatter perspectives will be the benefits.

The potential downside is as usual with shallow depth of field in that there will be a struggle to hold onto focus.

So you can see from the images of the girl in red shot on a 50mm in FF and S35 version, the FF versions seem to involve the space around the subject in a more engaging way-it’s a subtle but telling shift in storytelling and it may be for you.

Creative uses inevitably involve the manipulation of technical parameters to achieve the desired effect and using FF as a base increases this relationship to ‘11’.

The images which have been reproduced courtesy of IMAGO show how the subject and background objects which do not change in relation with each other, can be manipulated to move closer and further away from each other by moving the camera away from the subject and using a longer focal length. 

These examples used ARRI Signature Primes and ARRI Alexa LF cameras shooting in ARRI Large Format, which is a bit larger than Full Frame.

Whilst this technique can be used with S-35 or FF, it is more noticeable in FF as a consequence of the larger image size (36.70mm x 15.31mm).

The wider the lens the greater the spherical distortion and therefore the use of the FF format and lenses will mitigate bendy verticals as the focal length for the given shot size will be longer. This is also the case when shooting faces as the longer perspectives bestow a more cosmetic and flattering image.

For example a classic side mount two shot in a car would have been on an 18 or 25mm lens on Super 35  but could be a 32 or even a 40mm on FF or LF-you will have less depth of field for a given stop but the balance between the profiles will be much more even.

4. What Camera Does What?

Arri Alexa LF and Mini LF

The ARRI LF and ARRI Mini LF Provides a 36.7 x 25.54mm (1.43:1 aspect) sensor that is 4K (4448 pixels in the horizontal plane) when being used in LF mode (this is slightly larger than FF).

Lenses that cover LF are required to shoot in this mode and indeed ARRI have created the LPL mount with a 44mm depth for some of their lenses but you can use an adapter that brings it back to PL with a 52mm depth.

The LPL mount allows for a more telecentric design of lens as the back elements of LPL lenses can be physically wider to facilitate more parallel light beams therefore reducing hot spotting and increasing even magnification. Any other mode other than Full Frame or LF on this camera is the same as a normal ARRI Alexa or Alexa Mini.

The ARRI Signature Primes are presently the only lenses fully telecentric by design.

RED DSMC3 V-Raptor 8K

RED released the DSMC3 platform to replace the original VV Monstro camera and this is improved in every measurable way and captures 8K resolution onto its internal cards in RAW Redcode format.

It manages to capture 17 stops of dynamic range and scan time twice as fast as previous RED cameras, facilitating internal capture up to 100p in 6K, 150p in 4K, 200p in 3K, 300p in 2K or 600p in HD.

It is worth mentioning here that RED now produce the 8K V-Raptor Rhino, which has virtually the same specifications but covers S-35. (In fact, the Rhino achieves 16.5 stops dynamic range and improved slow motion capture of up to 150p in 8K, 200p in 6K, 300p in 4K, 400p in 3K, 600p in 2K).

Sony Venice

The Sony Venice is a true 36x24mm (1.5:1 aspect) size sensor when in 6K mode, so it fully covers FF. 

It is truly versatile as the 4K mode is Super 35mm size and will therefore accommodate any vintage or anamorphic lenses whilst qualifying on the usual VoD specs…in Sony’s words it is ‘aspect ratio agnostic’.

On board 16 bit RAW or X-OCN capture to AXS S48 cards, the modular design facilitates the Venice to use used as a portable box camera or in a full production format and the additional capability of being able to use the Venice Rialto system into a split camera/recorder system makes this is a tremendously versatile camera.

Sony Venice 2

Sony Venice

Well, just like the Venice but a bit lighter and a bit shorter, as the external AXSM module is now built into the camera. Like the original, the Sony Venice 2 is a true 36x24mm (1.5:1 aspect) size sensor but unlike the original, can be supplied with a native 6K or 8K sensor. We find that cinematographers NEVER voluntarily choose to crop their sensors, so since 8K is so memory and data-hungry, we have elected to initially only supply the Venice 2 in a native 6K sensor, which is in fact the same sensor as the original Venice 1. 

DJI Ronin 4D 6K 4-axis Gimbal Camera System

The Ronin 4D is not like other cameras…

It features an integrated 4-Axis Gimbal with built-in 6K Cinema Camera capable of onboard RAW capture. It is an entirely new concept camera that has the capacity to revolutionise camera production methodology and has been used on several notable dramas that VMI has supplied equipment on, in place of a steadicam unit. 

It works brilliantly but due to its design, you will be very limited to using lightweight lenses which are compatible with its gimbal architecture and in case you are wondering what 4-axis stabilisation means, the DJI Ronin 4D has added a Z-axis to the traditional 3-axis gimbal, which effectively decreases vertical camera shake and offers stabilisation performance on par with a dolly. 

Canon C500 MkII

The Canon C500 Mk II is an incredibly versatile camera. It uses the same sensor as the Canon C700 FF, built into a versatile, modular compact form factor camcorder which is shorter than the C300 Mk II and body weighing just 1.75kg (without battery).  It can be used in a cut-down format to make it suitable for gimbal and drone use or instead can be built up into a fully-featured shoulder-mounted camera complete with full ARRI kit and professional viewfinder.

It can be provided with a PL or EF mount and the EF dual pixel auto focus capability is very good indeed and it will record 5.9K in FF or 4K images in 16:9 or anamorphic formats. 

On-board capture to the highly efficient Cinema RAW Light will record up to 40 minutes of 12bit images (with 15 stops of dynamic range) on to a single internal 512GB CF Express card (same form factor as XQD cards).

Whilst the 4.3″ touch-screen LCD display is standard, an optional OLED Electronic Viewfinder EVF-V704 converts this camera into a totally functional professional shoulder-mount camera.

Sony FX-9

The Sony FX-9 is a 6K camera (not the same sensor as the Sony Venice) which covers Full Frame (36mmx24mm) and Super-35.

It delivers 4K 4:2:2 10 bit oversampled images to the onboard XQD cards in XF-AVC codec.

The XDCA-FX9 extension module allows for 16 bit RAW output to a suitable external recorder but won’t currently capture RAW 4K on board.    

It also has a strong autofocus interface with the correct specification E-mount lenses and is perfectly suited to working with some of the new Sony G series lenses for which the autofocus systems work brilliantly.

It has become incredibly popular and is capable of recording 4K in either cropped S-35 or FF capture.

Sony FX-6


The Sony FX-6 is Sony’s compact version of the FX-9 and is capable of recording FF capture in 4K, just like the FX-9 in a smaller, lighter body.

It features a surprisingly high degree of specification.  Full Frame capture with native E mount, in common with the FX9, we provide a Metabones EF mount to offer compatibility to both E mount and EF mount lenses and an optional PL mount too.

It captures to Sony CFExpress Tough cards for full FF 4K capture.

Being smaller and lighter does mean that some trade-offs are required though.

So to make sure that this is as versatile as possible, we provide the Sony XLR-K3M XLR adapter and the CVP viewfinder mod as standard, which converts the LCD panel into a proper viewfinder loupe, shared by the FX9 and also provides 2 x XLR audio inputs as well.

We have also elected to include the Hawkwoods V-Lok battery mount and 3 x Hawkwoods Mini V-Lock batteries to give long recording times and battery use.

Whilst this is a small camera, offering Netflix-approved 4K quality, we provide a modified ARRI base plate solution to fit 15mm bars, though be aware that presently, no compatible 19mm bar solution is available.

In short, this is a small, compact, lightweight and versatile camera which can be used effectively in a Gimbal capacity, or as a shoulder-mount camera, though it has some limitations and is not as solidly built as its bigger brother, the FX9.

Also, please note that whilst we provide an ARRI modified base plate with 15mm bars with 19mm bars support option, there is no ARRI top plate available, as ARRI don’t make one, so this is very much a lightweight camera for lightweight lens applications.

Z CAM E2-F6 Full Frame 6K Camera

Z CAM E2-F6 Full Frame 6K Camera

An underrated camera which is the highest spec of the Z Cam range. The Z CAM E2-F6 camera features a Full Frame CMOS 6K sensor with 14 stops of dynamic range and featuring of 4K capture up to 120fps in 2.40:1 aspect ratio supplied in either PL or EF mount and also offers anamorphic capability too.

Small, lightweight with dual native ISO, the Z-Cam E6 captures internal 12 bit capture of MOV and MP4 using ProRes codecs and also 10 H.265 codec using ZRAW and ProRes codecs.

Think of this as a compact Full Frame B or C camera to a drama/feature shoot where portability is an important consideration, or perhaps as a dedicated gimbal camera.  Failing that, the specs are certainly good enough to shoot as a main camera for budget productions too.

Sony A7 III DSLR Camera

Since Full Frame is a digital image standard, both existing and future DSLR cameras are capable of capturing video in Full Frame, though the video codecs of DSLR cameras are always rather limiting. 

As such, presently the Sony A7S Mk III and Canon 5D Mk IV are cameras stocked by VMI and which capture in Full Frame format.

Panasonic S1H DSLR Camera

Panasonic LUMIX S1H 4K camera with dual native ISO and Full Frame size sensor. This camera is suitable for both stills and video applications and the S1H includes 10 bit, 4K, 4:2:2 onboard record capability, recording internally to SD cards. Most importantly, its capability for 10 bit 4:2:2 onboard capture at 60 fps is very impressive.

Panasonic S1H Front Hero

The VMI package includes the external audio box with dual XLR inputs as standard which is also very important, since all compact DSLR-format cameras offer limited input/outputs, so the addition of full XLR sockets makes this a more practical production camera.

The S1H also offers full V-Log/V-Gamut with 14+ stops of dynamic range, 6K full frame capture, 4:2:2 10-bit internal recording, Cinema 4K at up to 60p, and unlimited recording time

5. FF Lenses

Super 35 lenses have been around for a very long time and whilst Full Frame and Vistavision are relative newcomers to the world of cinematography, this has been a standard in the stills world for a hundred years since it was first introduced as a concept by Leica.

As a consequence, all stills DSLR lenses with ZF and EF mounts and many native E-Mount lenses too (though not all), will cover Full Frame and cameras with a suitable mount are able to use these lenses to capture Full Frame images.

Here is a list which, whilst not exhaustive, aims to be a practical and useful guide to lenses which achieve the aim of Full Frame cinematography.

For ease and convenience, we have categorised these into High-End, Mid-Range and Entry-Level and to avoid repetition, all lenses included below resolve 4K image quality and above, so this will not be mentioned.

High End Full Frame Lenses

Arri Signature Primes

Covers image circles up to large format 46mm, so Full Frame and above and especially new ARRI Large Format specifically for ARRI LF and Mini LF Cameras.  T1.8 throughout the range and offered in PL and LPL mount.

ARRI’s new lens design works on the telecentric principal, which helps reduce illumination fall-off from light hitting the sensor at a sever angle outside of the image circle.

It features ZEISS eXtended Data technology for electronic metadata capture and there are 16 lenses in the entire set from 12-180mm (not all yet available at time of writing).

ARRI Signature Prime

Cooke 1.8x Anamorphic Full Frame SF Lens Set

The Cooke Anamorphic/i Full Frame Plus Standard and SF (Special Flair) prime lenses are designed to cover Full Frame full 24 x 36 still size sensor with 1.8 squeeze.

Cooke have calculated that 1.8x is the sweet spot, since their opinion is that 2x loses too many pixels and 1.6x does not give a suitable anamorphic feel, hence 1.8x.

8 lenses in the entire set (32-150mm) 

Zeiss Supreme

The original extremely fast (T1.5), lightweight and compact Full Frame cinema prime lenses in PL mount.  Each focal length has a 95mm front diameter and weighs between 1,2 and 2.3kg.  Includes ZEISS eXtended Data technology for electronic metadata capture.

12 lenses in the entire set (12-150mm) 

Zeiss Supreme Radiance

Extremely fast (T1.5), lightweight and compact cinema prime lenses in PL mount with some added character, courtesy of special Zeiss coatings.  In common with the regular Supremes, eEach focal length has a 95mm front diameter and weighs between 1,2 and 2.3kg.  Includes ZEISS eXtended Data technology for electronic metadata capture.

12 lenses in the entire set (12-150mm) 

Leica Summicron-C

Set of 11 Leica Summicron-C prime lenses which cover a 36mm circle, so whilst not quite Full Frame, this is larger than S-35 and feature a T2.0 aperture in PL mount. 

As such, they fully cover Alexa Open Gate and larger too, if the camera image sensor allows this.

Alexa Sensor Coverage:  3:3 Ana 23.76×17.89mm
RED Sensor Coverage: Helium 8K 6.5K Ana Gemini 5K 6.5K Ana Monstro 7K+ 6.5K Ana.

Extremely lightweight (most focal lengths are 1.2-1.5kg) and a front lens diameter of 95mm. 

11 lenses in the set – 15-135mm

Leica Thalia

Another Leica lens group which also cover Full Frame and larger band whilst these cover an image circle of 60mm fully covering Alexa 65.

Unusually, Leica Thalias don’t have a constant aperture throughout the range and the 9 lenses have a focal range of 24-180mm and a varying maximum aperture of between 2.2 and 3.6. 

Cooke S7

The Cooke S7/i series lenses are designed to cover Full Frame and up to the full sensor area of the RED Weapon 8K (46.31mm image circle), which is beyond VistaVision.

13 x focal lengths of 16-180mm are available and the main lenses have a matched maximum aperture of T2.0 and are equipped with /i Technology for frame by frame digital information capture.

Fuji Premista

The Fujinon Premista series zoom lenses are film lenses designed to cover Full Frame and achieve a constant maximum aperture of T2.9.  There are 2 lenses in the set with the wide zoom covering 28-100mm and the long zoom covering 28-100mm. (Note that a 3rd 19-45 is now available too, though VMI don’t stock this yet)

They are extremely high performance and compact (both are 3.8kg and front element of 114mm) considering their performance and range and are fully compatible with the “ZEISS eXtended Data” system.

Mid-Range Full Frame Lenses

Sigma Cine prime

The Sigma Cine series prime lenses are designed to cover Full Frame and achieve a constant maximum aperture of T1.5.  There are 11 focal lengths in the set covering 14-135mm, including the recently released 65mm.

They are surprisingly high performance and compact 95mm front diameter and each lens weight between 1 and 1.5kg and they can be offered in PL or EF mount.  The later PL mount lenses are compatible with Cooke/i data.

Note that we provide 3 x distinct group sets:

Sigma Classic Prime

Just like the Cine Prime but with a lot of character which many people like, as they flare easily and since the design incorporates more non-coated optical elements for expression. Whilst retaining the 8K resolution of the high-speed cine range, the Classic Primes offer a unique combination of low contrast and artistic flare/ghost to creates beautiful bokeh effects for creative freedom.

This necessarily means that all Classic Primes are T2.5, compared with the T1.5 of the Cine Primes range.

The Sigma Classic Prime lenses are presently only stocked by VMI in PL format and these are compatible with Cooke/i data.

In common with the Cine Primes, these cover Full Frame and there are 11 focal lengths in the set covering 14-135mm, including the newly released 65mm.

Canon Sumire

The Canon Sumire prime lenses are designed to cover Full Frame and achieve a constant maximum aperture of T1.5.  There are 7 focal lengths in the set covering 14-135mm.

They have a lot of character and whilst these lenses are lightweight (each lens weight between 1 and 1.4kg), these are housed in Canon CN-E housings with a a 114mm front element diameter and what we consider to be a fussy focus scale.  

Each can be offered in PL or EF mount, though VMI are stocking these presently in PL mount only.

These have no compatibility with Cooke/i data.

canon/northwest v-35 special edition

Northwestern Cameras and Duclos in the US have taken the Canon CN-E cinema lenses and using the legendary Canon K35s as inspiration, created a look close to the vintage optics, whilst retaining some individual aesthetic. The designers consider them to be Canon K35 Mark IIs.

They believe that just enough of the old traits remain to make a new and fresh look for digital capture, so this means more interesting flares, less contrast, less saturation, whilst at the same time, still retaining Canon’s incredible skin tones.

The V-35 Special Edition primes are available now in PL mount only.

Canon CNE

Canon’s first modern film lens, the Canon CN-E prime lenses are designed to cover Full Frame and achieve a constant maximum aperture of T1.5.  There are 7 focal lengths in the set covering 14-135mm and the recent introduction of the 20mm/T1.5 makes this a very practical cinema lens choice for EF mount cameras.

They are very clean and just like the Sumire Prime, each lens weight between 1 and 1.4kg and a 114mm front element diameter.  

They are only available in EF mount, and whilst Duclos in the US offers a PL lens mount conversion, VMI only stocks these lenses in EF mount.

Zeiss Compact Prime CP3

The latest Zeiss Compact Prime series which offer improved mechanics and are both smaller and lighter than the original CP2 series. Also, whilst most of the optics are common to both sets, though Zeiss advise that some focal lengths have improved coatings.

As with the CP2, these offer full frame coverage 24x36mm with a 300 degree focus range and all focal lengths conveniently have a front element of 95mm including the 18mm.

All focal lengths of 25mm and higher have matched T2.1, so VMI have elected to group these with a 25mm-100mm as a five lens set with additional focal lengths available.

Note that whilst Zeiss make two versions of these lenses, which are with and without XD data, VMI currently provide these in the non XD variety in PL mount only.

Zeiss compact prime cP2

The Zeiss Compact Prime are effectively T2.1 Zeiss ZF DSLR Prime lenses optimised to work with large sensor DSLR cameras rehoused in film lens housing to give superior focus movement, though focus direction is the same direction as motion picture lenses.

Full frame coverage 24x36mm with a 300 degree focus range and all focal lengths conveniently have a front element of 114mm including the 18mm.

Irritatingly, these are not a speed-matched set with a common T stop, so we supply a 6 x lens sent including an 18mm/T3.5, and 21mm/T2.9, though from the 28mm onwards, all four remaining focal lengths are matched T2.1 which we find a better combination.

They are available to hire in either EF or PL mount.

Blackwing t’tuned Full Frame Primes

The Tribe7 Blackwing ‘T’ Tuned prime lenses are modern full-frame prime lenses designed to have the degree of vintage look ‘tuned’ to influence the ease of flare and softness. 

This set is T-tuned which represents a medium level of softness and flare. 

Tuning allows parameters such as sharpness, contrast, roll-off, spherical aberration, field curvature, edge halation and flare to be modified to provide sets of “curated” optics to suit the personality and intent of the owner.

Many of the design cues for BLACKWING7 primes originate in optics manufactured during the 1930 – 1960s 60mm image circle (27mm has 55mm image circle).

Blackwing X’tuned Full Frame Primes

The Tribe7 Blackwing ‘X’ Tuned prime lenses are modern full-frame prime lenses designed to have the degree of vintage look ‘tuned’ to influence the ease of flare and softness and these are subtly difference from the ‘T’ Tuned version. 

This set is X-tuned which represents a medium level of softness and flare. 

Tuning allows parameters such as sharpness, contrast, roll-off, spherical aberration, field curvature, edge halation and flare to be modified to provide sets of “curated” optics to suit the personality and intent of the owner.

Many of the design cues for BLACKWING7 primes originate in optics manufactured during the 1930 – 1960s 60mm image circle (27mm has 55mm image circle).

Atlas Orion Anamorphic

The Atlas Orion anamorphic lenses are interesting anamorphics which flare easily and whilst these are don’t quite cover Full Frame, they cover an image circle of 31mm, so larger than Super-35 but smaller than Full Frame. 

As such, they fully cover Alexa Open Gate and larger too, if the camera image sensor allows this.

Alexa Sensor Coverage:  3:3 Ana 23.76×17.89mm
RED Sensor Coverage: Helium 8K 6.5K Ana Gemini 5K 6.5K Ana Monstro 7K+ 6.5K Ana

Zeiss CompactZoom

With 3 Zeiss CZ.2 Compact Zooms in the series (VMI stock the 28-80 and 70-200), these compact zoom lenses cover Full Frame and Super 35.

They are matched with T2.9 maximum aperture and can be supplied with either PL or EF mounts.

A useful range and a compact size, both the 28-80 and 70-200 have 95mm lens fronts and weight 2.5 and 2.8kg respectively.

Zeiss Cine Zooms

Angenieux EZ Zooms

The Angenieux EZ Zooms have a totally different strategy with other lenses.  Angenieux has cleverly designed these lenses so that you can decide whether to use them to cover super S-35, or instead introduce in an additional optic with a 2.7x zoom factor to cover Vistavision.  In doing so, it reveals another focus scale to scale accurately in both formats.

As such, the 2 x zooms in the series cover the focal range of Wide 15-40 (S-35) or 22-60 (VV) and also Standard 30-90 (S-35) or 45-135 (VV).

They are relatively compact and achieve a constant maximum aperture of T3.

Both zoom lenses lenses weigh 2kg and have a front element of 114mm.

Sigma 24-35 FF Zoom

Sigma make a 24-35mm T2.2 FF Cine High-Speed Zoom Lens which is a full frame zoom incorporating a native Canon EF mount and is a completely new design from the previous DSLR optical range with new optics, new mechanics and genuine film housing with clear focus scale marked in feet.

These are heavier than DSLR zooms 1.45kg) but optically they are beautiful, don’t breathe (zoom when focussing) and will hold focus when zooming.  

The range is very limited so perhaps more of a variable prime but an extremely well made lens.

Entry-Level Full Frame Lenses

All EF, ZF, Leica and other similar stills lenses will cover Full Frame.

Whilst there is a massive choice of lenses available, here are selection of suitable lenses which VMI carry for hire from stock. 

This is in no way an exhaustive list but it is worth mentioning that EF and other mounts are becoming increasingly more available on ARRI, Sony and RED DSMC-2 cameras as well as a multitude of professional cameras.  Our experience is that much of the stigma about shooting with DSLR lenses has disappeared, as camera operators and cinemtagraphers appreciate the performance and convenience of using DSLR lenses in production.

However, lenses designed to shoot stills won’t offer the same specification as hand-built film lenses:  Stills lenses won’t have the build quality, the degree of focus latitude (often the focus barrels will turn the opposite way that focus-pullers will be expecting);   Barrel distortion and focus breathing will be commonplace and DSLR zooms won’t hold their focus during zooming. 

However as a positive, stills lenses will be small, compact and affordable, so they are a practical option for budget-focussed productions and EVEN BETTER, many include auto focus as standard. Auto focus has improved with leaps and bounds since it first appeared and is now a practical way to shoot.

Expect that EF lens sets will usually not have a common maximum iris or indeed even a manual iris ring, since the iris control of EF lenses occurs on the camera body.  As a result, VMI favours Zeiss stills primes fitted with a Nikon mount supplied with an EF mount conversion ring to ensure that they are supplied as fully manual lenses with a manual iris ring.  

Sony G-Master Primes native E-mount

Full Frame, fast, autofocus prime lens set with native E-mount, designed and built for Full Frame, Super-35 mirrorless sensor and APS-C (E Mount) cameras and ideally suited to working with Sony FX9FX6 and FS7 series cameras without using any lens adapter.  This set encompasses 5 lenses, all with a maximum iris of 1.2-1.4, so easily capable of generating a shallow depth of field, made considerably easier by the auto-focus capability of compatible cameras. This package includes focal lengths 24-100mm, all with maximum iris of F/1.2 or F1.4


Sigma DG-DN series Primes E-Mount

Full Frame, fast, autofocus prime lens set with native E-mount, designed and built for Full Frame, Super-35 mirrorless sensor and APS-C (E Mount) cameras and ideally suited to working with Sony FX9FX6 and FS7 series cameras without using any lens adapter. 

The new set arriving in 2023 will now encompasses 5 lenses, 20-85mm, all with a matched iris of F1.4 (T1.5) in the ART style, capable of generating a shallow depth of field, made considerably easier by the auto-focus capability of compatible cameras. These have declickable irises too to make them ideal for cinematographic applications.

Sigma Art Primes EF Mount

Full Frame, fast, autofocus prime lens set with native EF-mount, designed and built for Full Frame, Super-35 EF mount cameras without using any lens adapter. 

This set encompasses 8 lenses presently (14-100mm), with a maximum iris of 1.2-2.8, so easily capable of generating a shallow depth of field, made considerably easier by the auto-focus capability of compatible cameras.

Sigma Art Lenses Full - 5 lens set

Nikon ZF Primes

A lot of bang for your buck.  VMI’s Zeiss ZF Prime Set comprises 5 lenses (21-85mm) which have been modified to have 80mm fronts and which are fully manual, VMI adds a focus gear ring and they perform surprisingly well.

They are fully manual with no AF function and VMI provides ‘clicked’ and ‘unclicked’ versions with fully manual iris and focus rings.

Supplied with EF mount adapters for compatibility with EF mount cameras.

Nikon Uncoated ZF Primes

We took the regular Zeiss ZF prime set and ground off the front elements to make a unique set of low-cost Zeiss uncoated Primes and they work very well.

Canon L USM prime

Canon’s L USM prime range have also been modified by VMI to incorporate a common 80mm fronts and external focus rings.

Whilst each focal length has a different maximum iris, the 50/F1.2 and 85mm/F1.2 are extremely popular.

However as with all Canon EF lenses, these have no manual iris ring and whilst the focus ring has a manual operation, being an AF lens, this ring has no end points and will slip beyong the end point which can be frustrating if used with a follow focus device.

Don’t forget Canon L USM Zooms

Canon have an enviable choice of native EF mount lenses and these can work extremely well in a production environment. 

Whilst the range is impressive, of course, all L_USM zooms also covers Full Frame too, (though be aware that most of Canon’s Cine Zoom range with PL and EF mounts only cover S-35).

DSLR stills zooms are not parfocal lenses, which means that the image will not remain in focus when zooming out, so instead they need to be used as variable primes, rather than zoom lenses.

Full frame however, due to the very shallow DoF compared with S-35, will hugely benefit from the Auto Focus (AF) function of these lenses and we expect operators to increasingly take advantage of AF in a production environment.

It is worth noting however that only the later versions of these lenses work best with the latest cameras such as the Canon C500 Mk II, in order to fully take fullest advantage of modern dual pixel auto-focus functions.


Sigma have made enormous strides of late and now produce a massive range of lenses.

4 series of Sigma lenses currently available:

The auto-focus functions now work really well, but make sure that you are using the latest versions of lenses and cameras to enjoy this great functionality at its best.

Ian Jackson/Barry Bassett, VMI
Updated April 2023

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