XEEN Lenses: What They are for and Why I Like Them

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Throughout my career, I’ve always been intrigued by cinema lenses. These expensive, exotic, and mechanically sublime feats of engineering are truly noteworthy products. This is why I jumped at the opportunity to do this hands-on review of the Rokinon XEEN cinema lenses. Compared to the majority of cinema lenses, these are very reasonably priced and available in a variety of mounts. These two qualities, along with solid optical metrics, make these lenses very popular among owner-operators producing high-quality video and film.

For this review, I was lucky enough to receive the full 6-lens set in PL-mount. This set consists of the 14mm T3.1, 24mm T1.5, 35mm T1.5, 50mm T1.5, 85mm T1.5, and the recently available 135mm T2.2, about which I was especially excited, after the praise the photo version of this optic received from photographers. The newly announced 16mm T2.6, which will be the seventh lens in the set, was not available at the time of this review. If your camera doesn’t take PL glass, the XEENs are also offered in Canon EF, Nikon F, Micro Four Thirds, and Sony E mounts. These lenses will likely outlive the camera system for which you would buy them. So, if you ever switch to another system, the mounts are user-replaceable (though I would recommend going to a lens technician for this service to ensure the lens is properly collimated after the mount is switched).

Rokinon Xeen Cine 6 Lens Bundle

Build Quality

Going into this review, I knew that the XEEN lenses would be overkill for the majority of work that I shoot. These lenses are larger and heavier than the lenses that I own and use, and require some hardware support to take full advantage of their capabilities, but more on that later. I really appreciate the build quality and attention to detail that goes into the construction of these lenses. The full aluminum body is a far cry from the original plastic construction found housing similar optics on the Cine DS line, and the prices of the XEEN lenses certainly reflect that. All of the focus and iris rings were well-damped, though not completely consistent from lens to lens. What is consistent, however, is the positioning of the focus and iris gearing on all of the lenses. This is especially advantageous when using follow focuses and motorized lens-control systems, since none of the equipment has to be moved during lens changes. Another commendable construction aspect is the fact that all the lenses, with the exception of the 14mm, are identical in size, both in diameter and length (the 14mm lens is slightly shorter than the rest to prevent vignetting). This feature is one that the XEEN lenses have over some more expensive competing cinema prime lens sets from other well-established brands.

Rokinon Cine DS 6 Lens Kit with Canon EF Mount

One issue that I found, likely particular to my review sample—the front element of the 135mm lens had come slightly loose out of the box and made a clicking noise when I racked focus. I was able to tighten it back up easily, but it did make me wary of other possible mechanical issues I might not have noticed in my review period. If I were to purchase these lenses, I would take them to a lens tech for a once-over to discover and iron out any possible problems that may have occurred during shipping, or otherwise.

11 blades aperture

My Rig

For the better part of the last two years, I have been filming with my trusty Sony α7S. More recently, though, I have rigged it up with a baseplate for more advanced productions requiring 15mm LWS (Light Weight Support) accessories. To take the weight of XEEN lenses, plus the PL adapter from my camera’s relatively tiny E-mount, I added a lens support. It was a little finicky when setting up, but the consistent lens size ensured that I could set the support and forget it. Like most cinema lenses, the XEENs don’t employ threads for circular filter installation (though if they did, the filter would have to be pretty darn big to cover the front of the lens), so having a matte box around for mounting 4 x 5.65 filters was definitely handy. As I said above, my usual setup is a lot smaller, but as a gearhead, there is something undeniably cool about having all this hardware at my disposal!

Sony Alpha a7S Mirrorless Digital Camera

To support it all, I had the help of the Sachtler Ace L Freddie Wong Edition tripod. With all my gear set up, I had just about maxed out the weight capacity of the Ace L head (I had the pan and tilt drag on 3 and the counterbalance set to 7). So, keeping the weight of these lenses in mind is crucial when considering the rest of your kit. Personally, I would recommend a larger tripod solution for a XEEN lens setup. Regardless, the Ace L tripod was up to the task, and operated very smoothly on both the pan and tilt axes.

Sachtler Ace L Freddie Wong Edition Tripod System

In Use

I have to say, shooting with these lenses was a pleasure, for the most part. I took them out to the wilderness that is central New Jersey to shoot a music video for a friend of mine. Unfortunately, the weather didn’t agree with our plans but, despite the weather, we were able to get some solid shooting time in. When the going gets tough, it really pays to have high-quality lenses like this. Being able to keep my matte box and follow focus in the same place for all the lenses was a major bonus. Time saved because of this was considerable. The 14mm lens, being shorter than the rest, required some working around. 14mm is incredibly wide, and my matte box would not handle it (or the 24mm lens, for that matter). I ended up using it, anyway, for handheld close-up work. Aside from that small issue, all of the lenses worked flawlessly. Focusing actions were smooth, and precise focusing was very easy to accomplish, even at wider apertures.

XEEN 14mm at T11. There is some geometric distortion, but that’s to be expected from such a wide lens. Since the front lens element has no cover provided by the lens or a matte box (it’s too wide) errant water droplets can actually land on the lens (easily visible the musician’s forehead).

Another advantage of a matched set, such as the XEENs, is that no matter the situation, you won’t have to compromise on the look. The XEENs are color matched to ensure that you won’t have to grade one shot differently than another, just to achieve the same look. Speaking of look, the XEENs have a circular aperture, which utilizes 11 blades, maintaining circular out-of-focus highlights when stopped down. On many shots in my video, I would stop the lenses down to T4 or T5.6 for optimal sharpness. It’s good to know that stopping down is an option without having to sacrifice the smoothness of your background.

XEEN 135mm at T5.6. This longer focal length offers smooth out-of-focus elements, even when stopped down for easier focus pulling. Having the 11-bladed iris helps in this regard.

No Competition

For those who want the TL;DR (Too Long; Didn’t Read) summary: I really like these lenses. They are built for production, in robustness, ease of use, and consistency. For the price, these lenses are tough to beat, and that is one of the best things about them—they truly broke the previous price-to-performance barrier. Other lens manufacturers may try to follow suit, but at this time, it’s hard to find any competition for these lenses. If you’re serious about your production, and you crave the consistency of professional lenses, put the XEENs on your short list.

In Short

  • What I like:
  • Consistency in lens dimensions
  • Solid construction
  • Precise focus and iris adjustments
  • Wide apertures (T1.5 on 24,35,50, and 85mm)
  • Lots of focal lengths to choose from
  • Color matched
  • Things to look out for:
  • Weight (these lenses are heavy)
  • No filter threads (like most cinema lenses), requires a matte box or other filter mount
  • The 14mm lens is shorter than the others

8 Comments

What matte box do you use? Just purchased the lens. 

Nice article. Thanks for the rundown!

Hi! my apoligies for my ignorance on such topic, but may you clarify what would be the advantages of using these lenses only for still photography?

Cheers

Pretty much none.

Optically there is generally nothing different or special about cine lenses. It's all about the housing - declicked aperture, long focus throw on the focusing ring, gears on the aperture and focus rings, and in the case of Xeens and some others, uniform size between lenses.

For stills, these are bascially heavy primes with manual focus and manual aperture. Only get them if the optics are drastically better than what you're using. And even if that were the case, there are more suitable AF options from the likes of Nikon, Sigma and sometimes Canon

Could you upload some samples from your shoot?

Thanks

I second that, would love to see a few production frames. Also, you didn't talk about critical focus across the lens or possible CA.

Hi DJ and Sin Radot,

Thanks for reading. I have submitted some images to accompany the article, however, they seem to not have gone up yet, likely due to the article being published prior to our Sukkot closure that ended last week. I will try to have the images uploaded soon. As for critical focus across the lens, I'm assuming you're referring to how flat the plane of focus is. I did not notice any inconsistencies on any of the lens copies that I had to test, however, there are many factors at play there including the PL to E-mount adapter that I used (Metabones). CA seemed to be relatively well controlled, though I usually shoot the lenses stopped down slightly for an easier time pulling focus (as I'm sure you know, pulling focus at T1.5 is not very easy with subjects in motion).

Hope that answers your questions!

"(as I'm sure you know, pulling focus at T1.5 is not very easy with subjects in motion)."

As a former 1st Camera Assistnat who made his living pulling focus by eye rather than by electronics, I can give an amen to that. This was particularly true when the diector would shoot  the rehearsal hand-held with actors that are unpredictable. Fun!. 

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