The Vazen 50mm T2.1 1.8x is the second lens in Vazen’s full-frame anamorphic line-up. It covers the RED Monstro and ARRI ALEXA LF open gate modes.
Who is Vazen?
Vazen is a Chinese lens manufacturer and although they are still a relative newcomer to the market they have started to build a solid reputation through their previously released M4/3 anamorphic lenses.
- Covers RED Monstro & ARRI ALEXA LF open gate modes
- Min. Focus Distance: 3.6′ / 1.1 m
- Weight: 3.42 lb / 1.55 kg
- Length: 6.89″ (17.5 cm)
- Front Diameter: 95mm
- Filter Thread: 86mm
- Mount: PL / EF (User interchangeable)
The 50mm T2.1 is part of Vazen’s new anamorphic line-up and it is designed to cover large format cinema cameras like the RED MONSTRO, ARRI ALEXA LF, Kinefinity Mavo LF, and Z-CAM E2-F8. Technically the lenses only cover a 44mm image circle, but as I mentioned earlier they do still work with the RED MONSTRO.
Originally, a 55mm and 105mm lens was in the works to complete a 3-lens set. The 55mm has subsequently become a 50mm. There is no word yet whether the 105mm will actually be 100mm. There may well be other focal lengths available in the future to further expand the set.
I think it would be fair to say that Vazen is probably trying to attract owner/operators of mid-tier digital cinema cameras that are capable of shooting in open gate anamorphic modes. They could also very well find themselves in some rental houses where people are looking for a more affordable alternative to high-end and high-cost anamorphic primes.
At $8,000 USD it is hard to call the Vazen 1.8x anamorphic lenses budget lenses, but in the anamorphic space, they are certainly a lot more affordable than other options that are available.
From M4/3 to Large Format
As I already mentioned earlier, Vazen already makes 28mm T2.2, 40mm T2, and 65mm T2 1.8x anamorphic lenses, however, these only cover Micro Four Thirds sensors.
It has been interesting to see a relatively young company such as Vazen competing in the full-frame and larger anamorphic space. There is certainly a place in the market for mid-tier anamorphic lenses, and clearly, Vazen has identified that opportunity.
Size & Weight
The 50mm 1.8X anamorphic lens features a reasonably compact and lightweight design. It tips the scales at 3.42 lb / 1.55 kg and it is 5.2″ (13.3 cm) long. This makes it shorter than the 85mm 1.8X which is 6.89” long (17.5cm). The idea behind keeping the size and weight to a minimum was so that the lenses could be balanced on gimbals and other stabilized platforms.
You may well find that the lens is a little large and heavy if you are putting it on a smaller-sized camera. This is something you need to take into account if you plan on buying/renting one and using it with a mirrorless camera that can shoot anamorphic.
The lens is reasonably well made, but the build quality isn’t going to rival what is available from companies such as Cooke, Zeiss, or Angenieux.
The iris ring is nicely weighted, however, the focus ring didn’t have a lot of resistance and I found it to be a little loose for my liking. The resistance also wasn’t consistent. The lens has more resistance as you got closer towards infinity. These may be small complaints, but it was enough for me to notice and take note of.
Attention to detail is very important, and if you want to sell a lens that costs $8,000 USD, customers shouldn’t come across issues, especially with the operation or build quality. What concerns me is that there wasn’t any consistency in terms of build quality between the 85mm and the 50mm.
If you are going to sell lenses that cost $8,000 USD there needs to be some sort of constancy between social lengths, especially when it comes to build quality and with the operation of the lens.
Esthetically, I’m glad they got rid of the small bits of carbon fibre on the front of the lens that was found on the 85mm, (I’m not sure if it was actually carbon fibre or not). To me, this gave the wrong impression. First impressions matter, especially for a relatively unknown company, and regardless of how good a lens actually performs, appearance and attention to detail will matter to a lot of potential customers.
Vazen has changed the markings on the 50mm and they are slightly better than those of the 85mm. While they did add clear markings for the aperture there are still no physical marks next to the distances placed on the lens. This may not be a big deal for some people, but if you plan on using these lenses on larger productions then the lack of physical markings may well be an issue.
Again, the attention to detail needs to be addressed. If Cooke, Angenieux, or Zeiss produced an anamorphic lens with no clear markings they would be chastised.
At least they have added aperture markings on the non-operators side of the lens. On the 85mm there are no aperture markings on the non-operators side of the lens.
The lens is designed with an 86mm front filter thread for ND filters or diopters. The front diameter is a standard 95mm for matte box mounting.
The aperture and focus rings feature industry-standard 0.8 mod cine gears. The location and position of the iris and focus gears are supposed to be consistent with all of the focal lengths to make switching a lens over easier and fast when you are running a follow focus. I didn’t have access to the 85mm when doing this review so I wasn’t able to check if the positioning was indeed identical.
The lens also features a close focusing distance of 3.6′ / 1.1 m which is only marginally closer than the 3.8′ / 1.15m of the 85mm. The minimum focusing distance is pretty poor compared to the competition.
|Vazen 50mm 1.8x||3.6′ / 1.1 m|
|Cooke Cooke 50mm Anamorphic/i |
1.8x Full Frame SF Prime Lens
|2.0′ / 0.6 m|
|CALDWELL CHAMELEON 48MM XC 1.79x||2.5′ / 0.76 m|
Above you can see a comparison between the Vazen and a couple of other full-frame 50mm (or close to) 1.8x anamorphic lenses. The Vazen certainly is at a disadvantage when it comes to how close it can focus when you compare it to other options that are available.
The 50mm T2.8 is available with a user interchangeable PL and EF mount. Both mounts are included when you purchase the lens. This certainly gives you plenty of flexibility as you can use the lenses on various different camera platforms. Just a word of warning, changing over lens mounts is not something you should do in the field. Vazen also includes some lens shims and you may well find that you will need them when changing the mount from PL to EF.
Vazen chose to adopt a 1.8x squeeze design to balance the anamorphic characters as well as the resolution of the image. The 1.8x squeeze can produce a cinematic widescreen 2.39:1 aspect when paired up with 4:3 sensors. When paired up with 16:9 sensors, much less data (than 2X anamorphic lens) is needed to be cropped away to create the desired 2.39:1 ratio.
In a lot of ways, particularly for a lens at this price, the decision to go with a 1.8x anamorphic makes a lot more sense than going with a 2x. 1.8x is more versatile and it allows the lens to be used on more cameras. I also suspect that it is also more affordable and easier to make a 1.8x anamorphic lens than a 2x.
The 50mm T2.1 consists of 12 Elements in 10 Groups. The lens also has 11 aperture blades.
Anamorphic breathing appears in a different way than when using a normal spherical lens. With a spherical lens, breathing gives the appearance that the focal length is changing. However, with anamorphic lenses, vertical stretching occurs with the background. So when you adjust focus from something close to something further away, the background takes on a squeezed appearance. Hence why you see oval instead of round bokeh.
With anamorphic lenses, the more you stop the lens down, the less the out-of-focus object’s appearance will change. If you shoot wide open and pull focus the out-of-focus objects will change shape more dramatically.
Older anamorphic lenses such as Lomo’s and Kowa’s can breathe a lot. Newer anamorphic designs from companies such as Zeiss and Cooke have a lot less breathing. The popular Panavision E Series anamorphic lenses retain true anamorphic artifacts such as disproportional vertical focus breathing.
So how does the Vazen fair?
Focus breathing is well controlled on the 50mm. You can see my tests above. For these tests, I was pulling focus by hand.
Fall off and Vignetting
I didn’t notice any real noticeable fall of or vignetting when using this lens on a Kinefinity MAVO LF.
As the lens covers an image circle of 44mm I wouldn’t expect to see any vignetting or light fall-off when used on most full-frame sensors. I wasn’t able to test the lens out on an ALEXA Mini LF or a RED MONSTRO.
A lot of the more ‘affordable’ anamorphic options on the market tend to struggle when it comes to sharpness. In saying that, some anamorphic lenses have an inherent softness that is esthetically pleasing to a lot of DPs.
I shot a sharpness test with the Vazen on a Kinefinity MAVO LF in 6K (6016×3984) Open gate to see how sharp the lens was at various T stops. Above you can see that the lens is a little soft wide open at T2.1, however, it still has enough sharpness that you could certainly use it wide open. The lens does improve quite a lot once you start stopping it down, and by the time you hit T5.6 it is pretty sharp.
For an anamorphic lens, the sharpness is very good, especially considering the price.
Along with nice oval-shaped bokeh, lens flair is one of the most sort after characteristics of shooting with an anamorphic lens. The Vazen will give you that typical blue streak that most people like. Wide-open at T2.1 the blue streaks are quite pronounced and whether or not you like that look is a purely personal decision. I personally liked the lens flare and streaks I was getting with this lens.
Once you close down to T5.6 the blue streaks are less pronounced, but they do take on more of a harsher appearance.
In general, the lens maintains a good amount of contrast even when bright light sources are coming directly down the lens barrel.
The lens does have a bit of visible real-world chromatic aberration when used wide open, however, I didn’t find it to be overly distracting, and it is reasonably well controlled. You can see the fringing that is occurring on the bokeh in the above picture.
Nice oval-shaped bokeh is something you want if you are purchasing an anamorphic lens. The bokeh produced is reasonably pleasing, especially when used wide open. However, I did find that the fall-off from in-focus to out-of-focus areas was a little harsh for my own personal taste.
Color Tone & Personality
The lens is fairly neutral when it comes to color. In terms of its personality, it probably doesn’t have as much character as some other anamorphic lenses, but instead, it focuses more on optical performance.
I quite like the look of the lens, but again, this is just my personal opinion.
Real World Thoughts
The lens is relatively easy to use and operate and I liked the images I was getting from it. It is reasonably sharp as far as anamorphic lenses go, and optically it is also very good. The lens is relatively compact given the image sensors it covers and it works well on a wide array of cameras.
I climbed up a few mountains near Nagano in central Japan to get some test shots with the lens
Above you can see some images taken with the lens. These were all done without a tripod. For me, an anamorphic lens is more about flares and bokeh, they can be a great option when shooting vistas, especially out in nature.
More Focal Lengths Coming
As I mentioned earlier there will be a 105mm (or 100mm) lens being added to the range. I’m going to play the devil’s advocate for a second here and state that I personally think it makes a lot more sense to launch lenses once you have a set available.
I am not just having a go at Vazen here, because other lens companies have done the same thing.
Price & Availability
There is actually only a handful of 1.8x full-frame anamorphic prime lenses available, and the Vazen isn’t priced to compete with any of them.
You have the Cooke 1.8x Anamorphic/i Full Frame Plus series, and the Caldwell Chameleon 1.79x XC Anamorphic Lenses (XC -EXTENDED COVERAGE). The Caldwell Chameleleon primes retail for €28,750 and the Cooke 50mm 1.8x Anamorphic/i Full Frame Plus series costs $34,600.00 USD each. The benefit of both of these series is that they are already available in multiple focal lengths. With the Vazen there are only two focal lengths currently available.
At $8,000 USD the Vazen sits in a category that probably puts them more in competition with the Atlas Orion Series, even though those lenses only cover a 31mm image circle and they are a 2x anamorphic, not 1.8x.
Do you really need an anamorphic lens?
I think in principle a lot of people like the idea of shooting with anamorphic lenses, but whether or not you actually need to maybe a completely different story. Depending on what you do there may well be little to no demand to shoot anamorphic. For a lot of shooters, it makes more sense to rent anamorphic lenses rather than to own them.
While you may find the look of anamorphic esthetically pleasing, a lot of shows will not shoot anamorphic if they are going on broadcast television, simply because the broadcasters don’t want viewers complaining about black bars on top and below the image. With more and more online content being created by Netflix, Amazon, and Disney, etc. this isn’t really an issue. Online steaming entities are more than happy to have productions shoot with anamorphic lenses.
In my honest opinion, it is usually better to just rent anamorphic lenses for projects that require them. Even if you are looking at 3 Vazen lenses you have to factor in the entry cost is going to be around $24,000 USD. Buying a single anamorphic lens and not a set is not something most people are likely to do. In saying that, if you producing content that will end up in a widescreen aspect ratio you could easily mix anamorphic and other lenses together.
Vazen has set out to fill a gap in the market and I think they have achieved that. The 1.8x full-frame anamorphic lenses don’t really have any direct competition, especially at their price point.
In the past, I have generally been pretty disappointed with most so-called ‘affordable’ anamorphic lenses, however, at $8000 USD I wouldn’t put this lens in that category. This is a mid-tier anamorphic lens that tries to balance price, build quality, and performance.
In my personal opinion, the lens could have slightly better mechanics, better markings, and maybe a little more character. In saying that, it is pretty sharp for an anamorphic lens, it has nice bokeh and flare, and it can be used on a wide array of cameras.
Anamorphic lenses are hard to review. Sure, I can talk about the technical aspects of a lens, but technical perfection is not what most DPs look for when choosing an anamorphic. The character and unique look of a lens are why certain anamorphic lenses are more popular than others. Unless you are after something that is super clean like an ARRI Master Anamorphic, the preference is usually to find and use a lens that has lots of character.
Anamorphic lenses are still pretty niche for most shooters and unless you have projects that require anamorphic lenses or clients that don’t mind you using them, then I would think long and hard about purchasing one. Wanting something and actually needing something can often be two completely different things.
My advice would be to never buy an expensive lens (and expensive means different things to different people) without trying or testing that lens out first.
Lenses can have different characteristics when used on different cameras and it is important to try out both the lens you want on the camera or cameras you own or use.
The Vazen 50mm T2.1 1.8X FF Anamorphic is a nice lens and it certainly ticks a lot of boxes. It certainly won’t be for everyone, but it is a more budget-friendly option than other full-frame anamorphic lenses that are on the market. However, it is going to face some very stiff competition from much more affordable anamorphic full-frame options that will be coming to market soon.
The lens strikes a pretty good balance between affordability, image quality, and usability. Vazen has certainly filled a gap in the market that did exist. Just like the 85mm, this is a very solid offering and I enjoyed my time with the lens.
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