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Zeiss Digiprimes...still viable?

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Greetings and thank you for allowing me to be a part of this august group of folks. I've been a reader for a long time, now I can post. And, here's my first.

The Zeiss Digiprimes are amazing lenses. But, being designed for 2/3" 3 chippers, they are hamstrung. I have no real interest in trying to find an old F23 to use with them. Instead, I'm curious about people's experiences using them on larger single sensor cameras. There are several adaptors available that supposedly correct for the old 3 chip offset while enlarging the image circle. I know of three that are available...the IBE adaptor, the Abakas adaptor, and the Blackmagic adaptor. The BM adaptor relegates the user to a max rez of 2K. I would be interested in what people's impressions are of shooting 2K for narrative work on a Blackmagic. Anyone? The only YouTubes I can find are a few that show the use of ENG zooms high, to my eye, look pretty bad. I've got to believe that a Zeiss, forcibly stopped down, zoomed in with someone else's glass might still look pretty damn good even in something like 4K.

I'd also like to hear feedback about the other adaptors if there is any here to be had. I'm pretty invested in Panny m43 but certainly could consider adding a new body to use with this glass. It just seems a terrible shame that these beats of glass mastery are forced to languish in the dustbin of history. But, once something gets stuck between them and the sensor does all of that go away? Anyone have direct experience using the Digis in this way?

Thanks for listening and thanks for sharing your knowledge.


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I looked into this and I'm not sure it's a great idea if you don't already own the lenses, or unless you can get a fantastic deal.

You'll lose two stops in the converter, so they'll end up being roughly T/4, which isn't spectacular. Furthermore, as you've noted, the converter will cost you something, particularly in terms of aberration. Some are better than others, but at least some of the poor reputation of B4 zoom lenses on Super-35 cameras is due to the converter, not the lens. B4 broadcast zooms generally don't have the same design goals as, say, DigiPrimes, and they tolerate different compromises, but the converter certainly adds a layer of... well... lack-of-ideality. Good converters are expensive.

If I tripped over a set of Digiprimes in a box I'd use them happily, but I wouldn't pay a fortune for them now. Most of the sets I've seen go for more than I'd pay for this sort of solution. I think the world overvalues them at this point. DigiPrimes are good. DigiPrimes on a converter are going to be considerably less good. 

Personally I'm not convinced most people are really that concerned over sensor size; this bigger-is-better insanity is not often very considered. The advantages of smaller sensors are huge, in that you can use great-yet-inexpensive lenses. Obviously, if you've got a client that wants  4K, you're stuffed, but you could always get a Blackmagic 12K and get 4K out of an area I suspect converted DigiPrimes would cover.


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Phil, thank you so much for this excellent answer. There was a rental house in the US auctioning off old surplus equipment. In that group they had a small batch of digiprimes (almost all of the focal lengths). Ultimately, they sold off for about an average of $450 + 20% auctioneer premium + 8% sales tax + shipping. In the end, I didn't pull the trigger. After reading your reply...I'm -almost- regretting that decision. Why? I think I am reading your reply correctly that the UMP 12K windows down to a Super 16 size that yields 4K res. Is that accurate? I had, in fact, been looking at BMD's solutions for B4 3-chip lenses and they certainly offered the best (least expensive) kind of integration with camera (versus bulky, expensive, bespoke attachment between  lens and camera). All that said, it is still placing inferior glass behind superb optics. I'll stick with my less-varied (and less wide) set of converted C/Y Zeiss and remain richer and still very happy (and, yes, often with a piece of inferior glasss between camera and lens via Speed Booster). But, oh those Digiprimes...

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I have the wide digiprimes and digizoom, with both the abakus and IBE HDx35.

They are master prime build quality and extremely sharp. Only bummer is the light loss, so if you have a camera with a high base ISO you will be fine. If you don't mind deep DOF, this is the way to go. Abakus works really well for s16mm film, and is the loop hole for cheap version of Zeiss Ultra 16 primes. Ends up being T2.4 vs T1.3 on the ultras but that's the price to pay, for such a good deal.

The HDx35 vignettes a bit more wide open since its expanding the image circle nearly 2.7x, so its best to stop down and shoot with tons of light (or if you have high ISO capabilities). These are big lenses, true cinema build quality that don't breath and have the best feature of them all, back focus adjustment.

Stay patient and grab a few on ebay to test!

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2 hours ago, Jo Kamimura said:

have the best feature of them all, back focus adjustment.

Something that's worth looking out for is the widget that I think was called Sharp Max, which was designed to clamp on the front of DigiPrimes (or any other B4 lens) and present a target at optical infinity for back focus adjustment. When I saw DigiPrimes on set, the Sharp Max was routinely used at every lens change. I'm not sure how essential that really was, but it's a nice tool to have.

With regard to JK's thoughts, I would take the position that for nearly $600 each, shipped, you could buy any of a wide variety of classic stills primes which would probably behave better than a converted DigiPrime on modern cameras, cover full frame, be much faster, etc. You'd be doing it for the build.



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