In the market for a cinema zoom lens but on a budget? Lately, for Micro Four Thirds camera users, DZOFilm’s 20–70mm T2.9 parfocal cinema zoom has been the budget answer. But, for those operating EF and PL mount Super35 cameras, the cinema zoom options offering that same focal range for under $5,000 are slim, save for an old RED PRO 18–85 T2.9, maybe a few vintage Angenieux zooms, and the new Venus Optics Laowa OOOM 25–100mm T2.9.
Well, the options were slim.
DZOFilm’s newest zoom lens combo, the Pictor 20–55mm and Pictor 50–125mm T2.8, steps in to this market offering a parfocal zoom and cinema housed experience for the Super35 sensor camera user at just under $4,500 for the set in black (or $5,400 for the set in white if you prefer to see your lenses in reflections).
I had the opportunity to use the DZOFilm Pictor lens set on multiple shoots for a combined 40 hours of active operation time either with the lenses mounted on a shoulder rig or hooked up to an easy rig and operated by remote focus. The point is they weren’t just taken out to a field or pointed at charts. and they have me split on how I feel about them.
Let’s start by going over the build quality.
These are beautiful lenses. The smooth anodized black aluminum barrel complements the sharp angles and blocky white and yellow lettering on its surface. The overall look is simple, cohesive, textbook form-meets-function where all elements exist for a purpose. They are impressive to look at.
The focus, zoom, and iris gears are nicely dampened. The focus gear has 270 degrees of rotation, which is more than enough for fine adjustments. The zoom gear slows down just a touch on the long end, but the resistance there is not enough to alter my confidence in a shot. The iris gear is on the looser end compared to the focus and zoom gears. On multiple occasions, I had bumped the iris to a T3 or T3.5 without realizing. A user error? Yeah, for sure, but the looseness is still a concern given that they could loosen up somewhat over a few years of use. When will they need to be serviced? How can they be serviced?
When writing about the dampening of the gears on the Pictors, my opinion is tempered by my recent experience with the similarly-priced Venus Optics Laowa OOOM 25–100mm T2.9. The dampening on the OOOM is almost non-existent. It is rough, inconsistent, and frustrating to use. The dampening of the Pictor set is butter by comparison, punching above its price.
But while the dampening is great, the gearing itself seems to have a problem. When connected to a follow focus, like the manual LanParte I own or the Tilta Nucleus-M I used, the gears do not perfectly line up with the gears of the focus system as if there is an ever-so-slight machining error. This error, if it is one, causes vibrations. When rotating a follow focus, the movement of the two gears as they fight one another shakes the entire lens. That shaking results in an audible rattle.
Worse, in my own tests with the camera locked down on a tripod and focused on a close subject, I found that this rattling of the lens shows up on camera as a bumpy frame movement reminiscent of the subtle bump of a weathered slider.
I held off on reviewing these lenses because I knew I would be remotely pulling focus with a Nucleus-M setup connected to a remote camera operator using an easy rig. I wanted to see if I could notice the bump from far away while staring at a monitor.
Did I notice it when handheld? No. When the lenses are on a handheld camera, the bumpiness when rack focusing is overpowered by the handheld shake. Further, when I was using this remote setup, there were moments when the camera was placed on a tripod. While it was locked down, I racked focus and also did not see any shake. What changed? The operator had firmly attached the supportive base to the rails beneath it.
In order to mitigate the bumpiness caused by the gearing, the lenses must be supported by the rails. This will get rid of the bump, but it will not eliminate the audible rattle of the gearing.
More Threaded Mounting Points
One (petty) thing I would have liked to see is the inclusion of those threaded mounting points on the focus and iris barrels in addition to the zoom barrel. Had there been threading on the focus barrel, I would have taken off the zoom knob and placed it there to aid in manual focusing without a follow focus. My thumbs were pretty beat up from racking with just the gear.
I am split about the performance of the Pictors. I tried writing around this so that I could get to the salient features of the set first, but in the end it is easier to just say what has been on my mind: the optical performance at T2.8 is either intentionally tuned for a vintage look or unintentionally poor with heavy chromatic aberration and strange bokeh. Yes, you could use these lenses at T4 for a reduction in those vintage characteristics, but you, like me, are likely looking at these lenses specifically because they are T2.8.
On the other hand, where the set suffers optically could be seen as reasons to justify it down the road as some kind of cult favorite on forums and at crafty tables. The set has all the character of something from another era, minus the fungus, plus many modern features like parfocal zooming and low breathing. It could be enough to keep those Nikkor primes firmly in a Pelican in your closet (with silica gel, I hope).
By calibrating with the included shims, the Pictors are truly parfocal.
There were many moments while using these lenses when I would zoom in on a subject and realize I did not need to refocus. I began to adapt my shooting style so that I could utilize the parfocality more frequently, such as by shooting a 20mm wide shot and then snap zooming in for a 55mm shot. When editing, I cut out the zooming portion to make the sequence of the two shots look continuous. Getting this kind of continuity on a non-parfocal lens is difficult to achieve because the time it takes to refocus after zooming is enough to make the wide shot and tight shot appear non-sequential when put together.
To hammer this home… Think of a chef chopping an onion. You want to get a wide of the chef starting on the onion and a tight of them partway through. With a parfocal lens, you grab this wide and then snap zoom to get the tight of them cutting. Since you do not need to spend time refocusing, the placement of the knife on the tight is nearly the same as its placement in the wide, lending a more continuous shot.
These lenses have no noticeable breathing. The lack of a perspective shift when focusing between close and far subjects invites more creative shot opportunities, especially when coming from the nauseating focus shift of the Canon 24–70mm F2.8, which heaves the image in and out by double digit degrees. For those looking for minimal focus breathing, these lenses check that box.
Beautiful Flare, Low Veiling Glare
The quality of the coatings on the glass is another modern feature on these lenses. The glass does a good job at limiting veiling glare and when it does flare, it lets in warm, pleasant tones. In the below photo, sunlight was pouring through the far side windows. With one of these bright windows in the frame, the Pictor 20–55mm T2.8 retained contrast.
The long stack of lens elements that form just outside the flare is present, and in a good way. Since I have grown accustomed to seeing on the big screen the lens flares of long zoom cine lenses, the stack of elements on the Pictors stands out less than the element stacks of shorter DSLR lenses with fewer elements. To put it in other words, I mentally associate the long flare stack with a higher budget. If you are gunning to appear bigger on a smaller budget, these lenses could help with that given the flare characteristics.
I could be full of it here. As I write this, I wonder if I’m the only one.
Where I’m not the only one is in seeing the inconsistent sharpness at T2.8. Overall, the sharpness is not bad. It is not like there is never a tack sharp portion of the frame; it is just that while the center is sharp, the edges will always have a sort of defocused smearing effect to them even when stopped down to T3.5.
Many charts have been shot by reviewers and discussed at length, so I will not be showing charts here. Instead, I have included frames that demonstrate the character.
The above photo is a shot of the left half of a frame of cans in a beer canning machine. The center of the image and focus are set on the can directly underneath the machine (third can from the right). If you draw your eyes from the focus can over to the one on the far left, you can see a gradual reduction in sharpness. The leftmost can, though it is slightly forward in the field, is more out of focus than the cans closer to the focal point and has a streaky bloom about it. Again, to reiterate, this is at T2.8 on the Pictor 20–55mm. The effects shown here are lessened when not wide open.
Here is a full frame of a salad. The focus point is set on the lettuce just after the cherry tomato in the bottom of the frame. As you draw your eyes to the left, the focus grows less sharp and gains a streakiness to it.
These jerk chicken wings tasted great, but the focus, like in the above photos, loses sharpness outside the center and gains that streakiness like on the beer cans.
The slightly out of focus areas gain a muddiness I am not used to seeing in the out of focus areas of frames taken on any other lens.
In the above shot, take a look at the dressing. Though in the same plane of focus as the wing, the herbs in it are blooming.
When it comes to areas in the background, the muddiness goes away and the shots look fine.
Chromatic Aberration and Moire
The chromatic aberration on the Pictors is distracting if caught near the subject. There was a moment when I pulled out the 50–125mm T2.8 for some product work on a white backdrop. I thought it would be great because I could attach a follow focus and get some really smooth focus racking. But, I ended up swapping out the Pictor for the Sigma 18–35mm F1.8 because the chromatic aberration was strong enough to change the color on certain fine-detail areas of the product. Was it moire? Maybe, though probably a mix of the two.
If you look at this pizza in the below frame, you will see a large smearing of the crust where it should be in focus. That smearing blends the colors. Since the pizza is the subject of the frame, the chromatic aberration here is enough to be distracting.
The cardboard is a mix of purple and green. The crust has a purple fringe. The muddiness makes me think my lenses were dirty, but they were clean every time I checked.
In the above zoom of a frame, you can see a purple fringe on the baker’s shirt and on the countertop. Since this is not where the subject of the frame is (subject: the hands working the dough), it is not as noticeable.
Like I wrote in the beginning, the inconsistent sharpness, muddiness, and chromatic aberration are all characteristics that may appeal to some looking for a vintage look in a modern package.
Why I Would Buy the Pictors
- A cinema zoom like one of the Pictor lenses offers more creative possibilities for run-and-gun work than with prime lenses.
- The parfocality of the Pictors means more shots will retain focus on an adjustment and therefore be “saved.” In other words, you or your editor will be happier with more shots to choose from and fewer moments of clutched hair and “Why did I choose to focus right then!”
- The size of the Pictors is impressive in the eyes of the client. Your piddly Contax Zeiss may make a more beautiful image, but there is nothing like a big tank of a lens to make your clients nudge their buddies about that “pro videographer with the pro equipment” they had at their office the other day. Slap a sticker on the barrel and you could mark the lens off as an advertising expense...
- Compared to the OOOM, the Pictors are lightweight. At around three pounds, I do not mind carrying them around all day.
Why I Wouldn’t Buy the Pictors
- The Pictors have poor focus consistency across the frame and high chromatic aberration. I already was unable to use the set on a job because of those characteristics.
- On that note, these will not be your end-all-be-all lenses. For a clinical look or really any job that needs low color issues on fine details, the Pictors would stay on the shelf.
- In order to remove the bumpiness of the focus gearing when using a follow focus, the lens must be supported on rails. And having to lug around a rig with rails for those run-and-gun moments when a follow focus is needed is enough to make me consider leaving the lens behind in favor of something smaller.
The DZOFilm Pictor 20–55mm and 50–125mm T2.8 cinema zooms are unique at their price point. For under $5000, you get two parfocal cine-bodied zooms with low focus breathing, good flare control, and a vintage image that could appeal to people, especially those who frequently utilize the look of older lenses. Aside from the gearing issue, the build quality is great.
The only comparable new lens at the same price point is the Venus Optics Laowa OOOM 25–100mm T2.9 at $5,000. The OOOM is sort of the exact opposite of the Pictor set. Rather than two lightweight lenses, it is one heavy beast. And rather than opt for build quality, it went for image quailty. On every measure, the OOOM performs better than the Pictors; it is parfocal, has low breathing and low veiling glare, has barely any chromatic aberration, has consistent focus across the frame, and has beautiful midfield and background bokeh. But it is heavy for the kind of work I do. I did not like lugging the six pound OOOM around when I could have used one of the three pound Pictors. And the build quality of the OOOM feels cheap with clunky, gritty dampening and a cheap material finish.
What also has to be looked at when considering a lens set like the Pictors is diminishing returns. How important is parfocality to you? Can you live with focus breathing? Can you live without autofocus? I kept asking myself, “Can I get by with the Canon L Series set, the 24–70mm F2.8 and 70–200mm F2.8?”
The answer for me was that the creative possibilities and efficiencies allowed by a parfocal lens with low focus breathing are worth the money, though where that money goes, either the Pictors or the OOOM, remains in the air.