Whether you’re shooting an indie movie or a Super Bowl commercial, you need the right equipment to make the footage truly shine for your audience. A sharp image matters as much as a sturdy build and a diverse selection of focal lengths and apertures. Fortunately, Zeiss Supreme Primes deliver in all of these areas and more.
All lenses are constructed by Zeiss, a German stalwart in the cinematography industry for a reason. Headquartered in Oberkochen, Germany, Zeiss traces its roots to optical products like microscopes in the mid-19th century. In the 175 years since, its scientific innovations have led to breakthroughs like the first distortion-free lens, the first wide-angle lens, and the digital camera lens.
But it’s in commercial and professional applications where the internationally-lauded technology developed by Zeiss truly shines. Join us for an in-depth exploration of Zeiss Supreme Primes, focusing on four of its top features: construction and design, image quality, build and durability, and focal lengths and aperture.
1. Lens Construction and Design
Zeiss has built its global reputation for a reason. As Red Shark News notes, the company is “famous for making lenses that are sharp and technical-looking. They’re comfortable being described as an artistic tool and a scientific instrument in the same sentence.”
That unique combination becomes clear in its design. An interchangeable lens mount system makes it simple for any user, from DP to camera assistant, to change lenses in the field. Each lens weighs an average of just under 3.5 pounds (1,600 grams, to be exact), making it much smaller and much lighter than other lenses available at similar price points. For comparison the average Master Primes lenses weigh nearly 5 pounds each.
That’s not just due to high-index plastic material and anodized aluminum, which allows the lens to be thinner than other materials. It’s also thanks to the fact that every lens is assembled manually in Germany, achieving a level of quality control that other manufacturers don’t tend to match.
2. Image Quality
Of course, the construction and design of cinematography products only take you so far. Ultimately, it all comes down to the quality of the footage you’re shooting. Fortunately, it’s also another area where Zeiss Supreme Primes truly stand out.
Available in sets, Supreme Prime lenses can cover cinematic sensors that range from Super 35 and smaller all the way to full frame and beyond. That makes them capable and willing partners for even the most complex camera systems like the Sony Venice 2, Arri Alexa Mini LF, and Red Monstro VV.
But it’s in tricky light environments where these lenses truly shine. Filmmakers and reviewers alike have lauded the Zeiss Supreme Prime’s ability to transition evenly between in-focus and out-of-focus areas, creating textures and depth that other lenses may struggle to reach.
The manufacturer, for its part, calls the image quality as a “gentle sharpness that renders a crisp but organic look.” That might sound hyperbolic but is backed up by several independent reviews of different lenses in its class.
3. Build and Durability
When reviews mention that Zeiss Supreme Prime are built for cameras of the present and the future, they’re not just talking about the staying power of their image output. The hardware itself is built to last, and it shows in the build from the beginning.
The above-mentioned aluminum and high-index plastic construction is in place for a reason. These are lenses that can easily stick around for a decade or more. The mechanisms and individually calibrated scales are built purposefully simple, avoiding breakdowns during operation or the interchange of lenses on a camera.
When a lens does break down or begin to malfunction, Zeiss promises answers. Over the past decade, the manufacturer has built a global service network that includes service stations across the United States, Europe, and Asia. This means that even after the expiration of the one-year warranty and a potential extension of another year, ongoing professional maintenance of the lens can keep it at the highest end of factory and industry standards.
4. Focal Lengths and Aperture
The full line of Zeiss Supreme Primes consists of 14 individual lenses, all designed to be interchangeable through a single mount. Their differences lie largely in the apertures and focus lengths:
- Supreme Prime 15 mm T1.8, aperture of T1.8 to T22, focal length of 149mm (5.9 inches).
- Supreme Prime 18 mm T1.5, aperture of T1.5 to T22, focal length of 163mm (6.4 inches).
- Supreme Prime 21 mm T1.5, aperture of T1.5 to T22, focal length of 120mm (4.7 inches).
- Supreme Prime 25 mm T1.5, aperture of T1.5 to T22, focal length of 119mm (4.7 inches).
- Supreme Prime 29 mm T1.5, aperture of T1.5 to T22, focal length of 121mm (4.8 inches).
- Supreme Prime 35 mm T1.5, aperture of T1.5 to T22, focal length of 119mm (4.7 inches).
- Supreme Prime 40 mm T1.5, aperture of T1.5 to T22, focal length of 121mm (4.8 inches).
- Supreme Prime 50 mm T1.5, aperture of T1.5 to T22, focal length of 119mm (4.7 inches).
- Supreme Prime 65 mm T1.5, aperture of T1.5 to T22, focal length of 121mm (4.8 inches).
- Supreme Prime 85 mm T1.5, aperture of T1.5 to T22, focal length of 119mm (4.7 inches).
- Supreme Prime 100 mm T1.5, aperture of T1.5 to T22, focal length of 119mm (4.7 inches).
- Supreme Prime 135 mm T1.5, aperture of T1.5 to T22, focal length of 146mm (5.7 inches).
- Supreme Prime 150 mm T1.8, aperture of T1.8 to T22, focal length of 114mm (4.5 inches).
- Supreme Prime 200 mm T2.2, aperture of T2.2 to T22, focal length of 183mm (7.2 inches).
The variable aperture in all of these options is notable, as it provides full customizability for the filmmaker or DP. Natural light is as possible as effects achieved through lower or higher exposure. Meanwhile, the high focal lengths of these options can achieve high-level details of both foreground and background.
Getting the Right Lenses–From the Right Team
First released in 2018, Zeiss Supreme Primes have quickly established themselves as a go-to professional lens option for a variety of reasons. Their custom construction process has led to not just enhanced durability, but also a consistent quality that can easily be maintained and replicated across longer shoots.
Beyond the image quality, it’s the practicality that truly makes these lenses shine. A lightweight design that does not compromise durability, combined with the interchangeable mount system, has made Zeiss Supreme Prime lenses a top global lens option for professional productions. It also means that a set of multiple lenses to get the perfect design for each shot always makes the most sense.
When you look to bring character to your visuals, these lenses can do the job. Rent them by the day, week, or month to get the maximum benefits. If you need more information, this Special Report on the lens system by the Film and Digital Times offers the perfect deep dive into the hardware.
Here at Cinevo, we pride ourselves on offering only the best professional cinematography products for any type of production. As your rental equipment and production partner, with a team that has years of experience with on-set experience, we are dedicated to helping you find the right products to make your shoot a success. Take the hassle out of your next production by working with us today.