Video / Hands-on Review

Hands-On Review: 3 New Veydra Mini Prime Cine Lenses for Sony E Mount

         

As a Sony a7R II shooter, I was thrilled when Veydra announced that select lenses from its line of Mini Primes would be made available with Sony E mounts. Originally designed for MFT cameras, the Mini Primes are purpose-built from the ground up for cinema applications, rather than being re-housed DSLR lenses. Featuring matching sizes, front diameter, 0.8 mod (cine-style) gears on the focus/iris rings, and T2.2 maximum apertures, the Mini Primes form a proper cine lens set. Compact and affordable when compared to alternatives on the market, the Veydra Mini Primes are ideal for the current generation of mirrorless shooters. Needless to say, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on them.

Of the five lenses currently available, the 25mm, 35mm, and 50mm focal lengths cover APS-C/Super 35 sized sensors, so Veydra decided to let us Sony E shooters join the party. Thanks! In particular, they are a great match for the Sony a7R II (which performs best in its 4K Super 35 crop mode), as well as native Super 35 cameras such as the FS5 and FS7. If you like to think in full-frame 35mm terms, then these lenses provide an equivalent angle of view of 37.5mm, 52.5mm, and 75mm lenses, respectively. I tend to think in Super 35 terms for video and not full-frame equivalents, but to each their own.

The entire lens lineup, which includes wider 12mm and 16mm focal lengths that don’t cover Super 35 sensors, is available for MFT mount and C-mounts cameras, making them ideal choices for the Panasonic GH4, Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera, and Digital Bolex D16. An 85mm for all mounts is also on the horizon. For this review, I focused exclusively on the new Sony E-mount offerings.

Design and Construction

Veydra nailed it with the size and weight of these lenses. As soon as I put one on my Sony a7R II, it just felt right. Weight of the lenses is pretty consistent, with the heaviest (25mm) weighing slightly more than 1 pound. Combined with an aircraft-grade aluminum housing, the lenses feel solid and durable while remaining lightweight enough for comfortable handheld shooting with a mirrorless camera.

As I’ve already touched upon, all of the Mini Primes feature a consistent size. This means that the length and outside diameter (80mm) are the same across the lineup, making it easy to swap lenses when using a matte box. It also means that the focus and iris rings, which feature industry-standard 0.8 mod gears, share a common position across all lenses, so you won’t have to adjust your follow focus when switching between focal lengths. Additionally, all lenses feature 77mm front filter threads.

As is the custom for cine lenses, aperture and focus markings are positioned on the side of the lenses to make it easier for focus pullers to see. The yellow engraved markings give the lens classic styling, with focus markings provided on both sides of the lens to facilitate assistants working on the “dumb side” of the camera. The lenses I reviewed had imperial measurements, but you can also purchase each lens with metric measurements. I was a little disappointed to see that the aperture markings weren’t duplicated on the dumb side, as well. This seems like a bit of an oversight to me.

Operationally, I found the iris rings on all three lenses to be smooth and consistent. I did, however, find some inconsistency in the focus rings between the lenses, with my 50mm having noticeably more resistance than the other two lenses. It didn’t impact performance or focusing, but it was something that I noticed. Also, the original 35mm that was given to me seemed to have a faulty focusing helicoid, resulting in the lens not being able to focus to infinity. Veydra was quick to get me a new 35mm which, I’m pleased to say, functioned properly. The focus rings have 300 degrees of rotation to enable smooth and accurate focus pulls.

Issues aside, I can’t say enough about the size and overall construction of the lenses. They’re a perfect match for the a7R IIs and, I imagine, a camera like the FS5.

Optical Performance

Considering that these lenses were originally designed for smaller sensor sizes, I was eager to see just how well they performed on Super 35 sensors, and to see if they had sufficient resolution for 4K recording. Going in, I expected to find soft edges and corners, since I’d be recording parts of the image circle that were never used on the smaller–format sensors. Let’s take a look at the findings.

Resolution

For my resolution tests, I used the board from my Scotland Yard game, since it provided plenty of fine details and, frankly, I thought it would be fun. While not a traditional resolution chart, it served my main purpose, which was to compare center and edge sharpness. Below you’ll find the screen grabs from the resulting 4K UHD footage, as well as 400 x 400 pixel crops from the center and the top left edge of the image.


  25mm 35mm 50mm
  Center Corner Center Corner Center Corner
T2.2
T2.8
T4
T5.6
T8

The lenses all performed fairly consistently across the board. Looking at the center crops, we can see that they all show good center sharpness even when wide open, while there is some noticeable softness in the corners wide open and at T2.8. By T4 they’re looking pretty good, and by T5.6 they reach their peak sharpness. Please note that the crops are from the extreme corners and when examining real-world footage, any softness was far less noticeable.

Vignetting

Along with corner sharpness, I was interested in how much vignetting I would get with these lenses on a Super 35 sensor. As you can see from the images below, there is some noticeable fall-off wide open with all the lenses, but it improves at T2.8, is pretty well controlled by T4, and is a non-factor by T5.6. Of the three lenses, the 35mm was the only one I found to still show some slight vignetting in the extreme corners, even when stopped down to T5.6.


  25mm 35mm 50mm
T2.2
T2.8
T4
T5.6

Bokeh / Focus Rack

With all three lenses I was able to achieve pleasing bokeh. Each lens features a 10-bladed iris that, wide open, produces nice round out-of-focus highlights, with the shapes becoming more oblong at the edges and corners of the frame. In the video below, I hung a string of red lights behind my Harry Potter Pop! Vinyl figurine (yes, I’m a Potter-head) and racked focus with each lens wide open. At the end of each focus rack, I close and open the iris.

When you close down the iris, the blade design of the 35mm and 50mm cause the out-of-focus highlights to take a circular-saw type shape, which I personally liked. The design also yields some rather nice sun star effects.


50mm 35mm

The 25mm, on the other hand, sports a more traditional blade design that keeps the “bokeh balls” more rounded as you stop down.


25mm
 

Another thing you’ll notice in the bokeh video above is some pretty evident focus breathing with the 35mm and 50mm lenses and, to a lesser extent, the 25mm. Granted I was racking from the minimum focusing distance, but after reading reports of minimal focus breathing when the MFT mount lenses were originally released, I expected breathing to be a bit more controlled.

Verdict

If I’m being honest, the Veydra lenses really surprised me, both in optical quality and construction. After using them for a few weeks on my a7R II, I really don’t want to have to give them back! Sure, I’ve used sharper lenses and lenses that perform better wide open, but for what the lenses offer in terms of design and size, you get a lot of bang for your buck. In real-world shooting, even wide open, I never felt let down by the image quality from any of the lenses, and was actually quite pleased with the way they rendered images.

Having used a variety of lenses for video in the past, including vintage SLR lenses with zip-tie focus gears, and re-housed “cine-style” DSLR lenses, it was a joy to have lenses that looked and felt like the real deal. With the Mini Primes, you get many of the benefits of much more expensive cinema lenses, such as matching sizes, front diameters, gear positions, and maximum aperture, that make productions go smoother. No fumbling around adjusting matte box or follow focus positions, or dealing with slipping third-party focus gears with these lenses. Also, they just looked good on my a7R II.

With the Mini Prime lenses, Veydra has made owning a set of cine primes realistic for a lot of amateur and independent filmmakers. There was definitely a void in the market for compact and affordable cinema lenses prior to their release, something with which the 199 people who together contributed more than $272,000 on Kickstarter clearly agreed. For any Sony E, MFT, and even Digital Bolex shooters out there looking for a set of compact cinema primes, I would recommend giving the Veydra Mini Primes some serious consideration.

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Update - 16mm Veydra does cover Super35 sensor. I'm using it with a Sony FS5 without any Vignetting

I have one from MTF services who confirmed it covers S35 before I purchased it.