Exploring Canon's cinema lens range

Canon's cine lenses are the culmination of half a century of experience in cinema lens design. But which Cine Prime or Cine Zoom is right for you?
Wildlife filmmaker Sophie Darlington shoots with a CN20x50 IAS H E1/P1 cine-servo lens.

Canon’s Top End Cine Zooms and Compact Zooms deliver outstanding 4K Super 35mm image quality and greater creative control for cinematic productions, as well as wildlife, drama and sports. For wildlife cinematographer Sophie Darlington, the ultra-telephoto cine-servo CN20x50 IAS H E1/P1 is the one lens she couldn't do without. © Simon Blakeney

Although the Cinema EOS system made its public debut in 2011, Canon's history of cinema lens design can be traced back decades. It began in 1969, when Canon accepted a request to build a cinema zoom for Hollywood filmmakers, and two years later the K5x25 macro zoom lens was born. This was soon followed by the iconic K35 Prime Series, which were recognised with an Academy Award in 1976 and are still appreciated in the industry today.

The latest Canon cine lenses are the culmination of half a century of experience in the construction of cinema lenses. With their combination of outstanding optical performance, class-leading build quality and trusted reliability, Canon's Cine Primes and Cine Zooms are equally at home capturing natural history in HDR as they are on high-end drama sets.

"We've always been known as a wide-ranging imaging company and for many years just as well known for our cine lenses,” says Paul Atkinson, Product Specialist for Professional Video at Canon Europe. "The current range is designed to produce an uncompromising level of image quality, and to do that consistently, day in, day out."

This consistency is one of the key advantages of the Canon cine lens system. Whether you're using a Cine Prime, a Cine Zoom or a Cine Servo Zoom, you can be confident the colour balance will remain the same.

Close-up of a filmmaker attaching a Canon Sumire Prime cine lens to a camera.

Shooting an action film with Canon's Sumire Prime cine lenses, cinematographer Freek Zonderland was delighted with how easy it was to swap lenses when he needed different focal lengths, thanks to the closely matched sizing, ergonomics and consistent gearing on all the lenses in the family.

"If you decide to swap the CN-E14mm T3.1 L F Cine Prime for the CN-E30-300mm T2.95-3.7 L S Cine Zoom, for example, you won't see any noticeable colour shift because all our cine lenses are designed to work together," Paul adds.

"There are other shared features, too. The gearing is the same on the lenses, and the front diameters and filter threads on the Cine Primes and Sumire Primes are also identical, making it easy to change lenses without adjusting a rig setup.

"Ultimately it just comes down to finding the lens that's suitable for the look you want, your shooting environment and your budget. The opportunity to choose anything from 14mm right through to 1500mm and know that you're going to get a consistent level of performance gives you incredible flexibility."

To help you make an informed decision as to which Canon cine lens is right for you, here's a guide to the different types of cinema zooms and prime lenses that are currently available.

The Canon EOS C500 Mark II with a CN-E30-300mm T2.95-3.7 L S lens.

Canon's Cine Zoom range is designed for EF and PL mount Super 35mm cameras such as the Canon EOS C500 Mark II, pictured here with a CN-E30-300mm T2.95-3.7 L S lens. EF mount integration brings a number of advantages, such as peripheral illumination correction and the opportunity to use the Dual Pixel Focus Guide for accurate manual focusing.

Cine Zooms

Canon's Cine Zoom range is separated into two distinct groups of lenses – Top End Cine Zooms and Compact Cine Zooms. Both classes of lens are designed for EF and PL mount Super 35mm cameras and offer outstanding 4K image quality for high-end film productions.

The brace of Top End Cine Zooms – CN-E14.5-60mm T2.6 L S/SP and CN-E30-300mm T2.95-3.7 L S/SP – offer a complementary range of focal lengths for comprehensive coverage across a wide range of subjects. "The CN-E30-300mm T2.95-3.7 L S/SP in particular has an impressive zoom range, and it's being used in wildlife, drama and sports," Paul says. "It's a really versatile lens with a long reach and a generous maximum aperture for its size."

Where the ability to be more mobile with smaller cameras is important, the Compact Cine Zooms are a better choice. "While the original Canon EOS C700 with its Super 35mm sensor would be a natural match for the Top End Cine Zooms, the Compact Cine Zooms would perhaps suit the proportions of the Canon EOS C300 Mark III better," Paul suggests. The CN-E15.5-47mm T2.8 L S/SP and CN-E30-105mm T2.8 L S/SP are more lightweight and portable than the pair of Cine Zooms, although Paul advises using them on a rig with a lens support.

Each of Canon's Cine Zooms offers exceptional optical performance, with the inclusion of large aspherical lens elements and 11-blade diaphragms, plus inner focusing and minimised focus breathing to reduce changes in the angle of view during focus pulls.

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Cinematographer Laela Kilbourn photographed on an urban street with a camera rig on her shoulder.

Cinematographer Laela Kilbourn has been a camera operator on television shows such as Castle Rock and Jack Ryan, as well as shooting numerous award-winning documentaries, and says advances in technology are breaking down barriers to entry into the industry, particularly for women. Photograph by Constance Brimelow.

The CN-E50mm T1.3 L F lens.

Cine Primes, such as the CN-E50mm T1.3 L F, are full-frame lenses that are engineered to give a highly defined, high-contrast image, with beautiful bokeh courtesy of an 11-blade diaphragm.

Canon EOS C500 Mark II with CN-E85mm T1.3 L F lens.

Canon's Cine Prime range contains seven lenses, offering coverage from 14mm to 135mm. The robust, compact CN-E85mm T1.3 L F short telephoto prime is light in weight, making it a versatile option on a compact camera such as the Canon EOS C500 Mark II.

Cine Primes

Significantly lighter in weight than zoom lenses covering the same focal length, Canon's Cine Primes feature a durable design and industry-standard controls. A natural fit for high-end productions, the full set of seven full-frame lenses covers a focal length range of 14mm up to 135mm, giving plenty of creative options to professionals who prefer the aesthetic qualities of cine primes. Each lens has been designed with consistent colour reproduction in mind, so there is no noticeable colour shift when swapping between focal lengths.

"These are very sharp, high-contrast lenses with exceptional bokeh," Paul says. "They have the advantage of having a wider T-stop of T1.5 in most cases – even T1.3 with the CN-E50mm T1.3 L F and CN-E85mm T1.3 L F. They also exhibit minimum focus breathing. Sometimes with photography lenses there's a discernible change in the field of view when you change the focus, but that's been significantly reduced across the entire Canon Cine Prime range.

"Because these lenses are designed for EF mount cameras, it means we have compatibility with the Dual Pixel Focus Guide for accurate manual focus assist, plus the ability to transfer lens metadata back into the file. It means that for a camera with Electronic Image Stabilization, such as the Canon EOS C500 Mark II, the camera will automatically detect the focal length and set up the stabilisation correctly when the function is activated."

A female athlete is filmed lying in a pool of golden glitter using Canon Sumire Prime lenses.

Sumire Prime lenses share the same focal lengths, T-stop and precise manual control as their Canon Cine Prime counterparts, but offer a more "cinematic" image. "It's just really about giving the cinematographer or the director of photography more choice in the look they want to achieve," Paul says. Filmmaker Freek Zonderland used Sumire Primes to capture fast-paced action in Golden Girl, the story of an athlete.

Cinematographer Freek Zonderland looks through a Canon Sumire Prime lens held in his hands in a woodland setting.

Freek loved the experience of working with the Sumire Prime range of lenses, thanks to their compact size, attractive flare and dreamy bokeh quality, plus their practicality: "If you change lenses and they have different sizes or different weights, then the balance changes every time," he says. "The Sumire Primes are not exactly the same, but they're close enough that within 30 seconds, you're ready."

Sumire Primes

Engineered to deliver sublime image quality with a noticeably different character to Canon's Cine Primes, the Sumire (pronounced "Soo-mee-ray") collection of full-frame prime lenses lends a more cinematic look to productions.

The Sumire Prime range, including the CN-E20mm T1.5 FP X, CN-E50mm T1.3 FP X and CN-E85mm T1.3 FP X, offers the same seven focal lengths and fast T-stops as the Cine Prime line-up. Both sets of prime lenses also share an identical colour tone, mechanics and construction, with a consistent 300-degree focus travel, 105mm screw-on filter thread and 114mm front diameter for matte boxes.

Where the Sumire Primes differ is that their optical formula produces a more cinematic look with a hint of softness, natural skin tones, subtle flares and rich, silky bokeh. These characteristics are particularly evident at wider apertures, with a smoother focus fall-off. They come with a PL mount that can be converted to EF at any local authorised service facility.

"Although both the Sumire and Cine Prime lenses have 11-blade diaphragms, the bokeh is slightly different with the Sumire lenses, especially towards the edges, where it becomes more elliptical," Paul says. "The Cine Primes have a more universal rendering in this respect."

The CN20x50 IAS H E1/P1 Cine Servo lens.

The trio of Canon Cine Servo lenses, including the pictured CN20x50 IAS H E1/P1, can be adapted for either a broadcast or cinema environment. The colour characteristics of the lenses are matched with the rest of the Canon cinema lens lineup, enabling them to be easily integrated into any production workflow.

Technicians adjust a Canon EOS C500 Mark II with Sumire Prime lens in a Russian Arm attached to the roof rack of a motor car.

When filmmaker Brett Danton was shooting a commercial for the F-PACE, Jaguar's luxury SUV, he used a variety of rigs including gimbals, drones and a Russian Arm mounted on a second car. This was all facilitated by the versatile mix of Canon cine lenses available to choose from. © Brett Danton

Cine Servo

Blending stunning 4K optical quality with broadcast-friendly features, the trio of Canon Cine Servo lenses offer a versatile choice for broadcast and handheld applications where servo control is required. Available in both EF and PL mount, the lenses are designed for Super 35mm sensors, with the CN10x25 IAS S E1/P1 also offering Full Frame coverage when using the built-in 1.5x extender.

The CN20x50 IAS H E1/P1 is a particular highlight. Its expansive 50-1000mm 20x ultra-telephoto zoom makes it a perfect fit for wildlife, sport and live performance. "Certainly, if you look at anything that's being produced for natural history at the moment, the lens that you will most likely see in behind-the-scenes segments is the CN20," Paul says.

"With its built-in 1.5x extender it effectively becomes a 75-1500mm, allowing you to frame a shot without encroaching too much into the subject's space. It produces an excellent image at that focal length too."

Removing the servo drive units from the lenses enables them to be operated like classic cine zooms. "You can then connect an external focus/zoom demand should you wish to do so," Paul says. "The 25mm-250mm CN10X25 IAS S and 17mm-120mm CN7x17 KAS S E1/P1 in particular are very much multi-use lenses. The latter is perfect for documentary, for feature, for drama – it's just a great all-rounder. You can envisage putting it on a Canon EOS C700, where you'll get the best of both worlds – cinema-style image quality with the option of documentary-style shoulder-mounted shooting."

Filmmaker Nicolai Deutsch kneels on the edge of a ledge filming two rock climbers from above with a Canon EOS C500 Mark II.

Cine Primes and Full Frame sensors

Discover why a larger Cinema EOS sensor does justice to the amazing 4K image quality of Canon's cinema lenses.
A Canon EOS C200 camera with CN-E18-80mm T4.4 L IS KAS S lens.

Compact Cine Servo zooms are large format EF-mount lenses that are designed to meet the needs of productions with smaller budgets, without compromising on optical quality. They benefit from three modes of image stabilisation and fast autofocus via Dual Pixel CMOS AF. Pictured, an EOS C200 with a CN-E18-80mm T4.4 L IS KAS S lens, from Canon's Compact Cine Servo range.

Compact Cine Servo

Similar to their larger Cine Servo stablemates, the leaner, lighter Compact Cine Servo zoom lenses are designed for 4K Super 35mm cameras and feature built-in servo control. However, their more compact construction means that they're easy to use handheld or shoulder-mounted on shoots that move at a fast pace.

"These are workhorse lenses for filmmakers who shoot documentaries on a compact cinema camera such as the Canon EOS C200," Paul explains. "Both the CN-E18-80mm T4.4 L IS KAS S and the CN-E70-200mm T4.4 L IS offer the convenience of cine-servo operation in a conveniently small-sized package. They're ideal for the run-and-gun shooter who wants a quality optic without the hassle of having to rig up a bigger lens. For added convenience, you can even program the joystick on the Canon EOS C200's grip to become the zoom controller.

"The maximum aperture of T4.4 is slightly slower than that of other zooms in the Canon cine lens range, but with the performance of today's sensors it's not an issue. The added convenience of precise autofocus, image stabilisation and cinematic optical quality make these lenses highly appealing."

Both of the affordable Compact Cine Servo lenses are stabilised and are offered exclusively in EF mount, so they benefit from three modes of image stabilisation and Canon's accurate and reliable Dual Pixel CMOS AF.

Written by Marcus Hawkins

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