CHIOPT is joining the “zoom lens race” by bringing an EXTREMELY affordable zoom lens to the market that can be purchased in a variety of different mounts. The XTREME ZOOM 28-85mm T3.2 is now available at B&H and CVP (PL/EF/E mounts), so I took this new lens (E mount) for a spin wanting to find out if it is any good, in regards to optics and usability. After all, working with equipment directly in the field is the best way to sense how it performs. Interested in learning more? Then go ahead and read on.
Spring is known for crazy and unexpected weather changes here in Austria. Just as it goes, a day before going out to film the above piece, the nice, “spring-like” and sunny weather changed and by the time I got there, a white snow blanket covered Türnitz – a small, sleepy village located about an hour outside of Vienna. This is where I met Clemens Schweiger, a young biology/zoology student, who – amongst all animals in the world – chose spiders to be his delightful pets. Having 128 of them in a small hut on his family-owned property, we met for a friendly talk, which I used as an opportunity to test the new CHIOPT lens.
The XTREME lens that landed on my desk looked very solid with a nice metal housing to it. Also very evident is the amount of text (information) “printed” on it. From focus distance marks to aperture values all the way to focal length indications and also, in case you needed a reminder you are dealing with a full-frame, T3.2, 114mm front diameter thread, and a 46mm image circle, the information is all there. Also, if you are an assistant working on a set and are responsible for rigging accessories surrounding the camera/lens, be assured that lots of the lens information you might need is very accessible. Talking about markings, while I understand the tolerance beyond infinity focus (some wide-angle attachments require going beyond infinity to achieve sharp focus), I was not so sure why there is a rather big tolerance at the minimum focus end too (over the declared 0.75cm).
Back to the build quality itself: the only remark I have concerns the screw inside the hole to attach additional support for a heavy lens like this. From the looks of it, the glue attaching the screw to the hole seemed to have dried out to the point the screw wasn’t holding anymore. This might seem like a small thing, but when working with such a heavy lens, additional support is truly recommended, otherwise it is the camera mount that causes ALL the stress. And, when I write this lens is heavy, I truly mean it. I’ll elaborate on the “weight topic” a bit later, but all in all, the lens felt complete with clear markings on it and a very smooth zoom/focus/aperture ring operation.
This full-frame lens can be purchased with different lens mounts (PL/EF/E), and the sample I got came equipped with a Sony E one. Attached to the Kinefinity MAVO Edge 6K (camera review here), it felt ready to conquer the world.
I was struggling with how to continue my review from here on a bit, as all the technical information about the lens can be found on CHIOPT’s site. But I really wanted to talk about usability, optical performance, and who this lens is actually for.
So let's start by talking about usability, noting I’m fully aware that this is a bit of a tricky thing, as so many of us work in different ways. In that regard, I usually work as a “one-man-band”, so this lens might not be the perfect fit for my documentary style of filming, mostly because of its “Cine Lens characteristics” like 288° focus rotation ring and also its weight (2.7kg (PL), 2.8kg (E)). Meaning, that if you want to make the most out of this lens, please consider having a (larger) crew to assist you with operating it.
Saying this, I must state that the lens has many GOOD traits that can make it desirable for many., especially considering its very affordable price tag.
Here are some of the advantages of working with this lens, in no particular order.
At the end of the day and specifications aside, the final image is what counts, and the engineers who took care of the optical quality of the CHIOPT EXTREMER can be satisfied with their work well done.
Slight focus breathing, well-controlled chromatic aberration, and a sharp image in most cases work in favor of this lens. The overall “look and feel” is modern (“SIRUI like”), and it might not be for everyone, though with the help of some soft mist filters, the sharp look can be eliminated (the above video was filmed with a Kinefinity MAVO Edge camera in 6K resolution, mostly without any filters, but the camera’s internal built-in ND). The resulting bokeh is very pleasant, and the “focus fall-off” is gentle and not disturbing.
Needless to say that parfocal focus and a constant aperture throughout the zoom range are also part of this lens’ specifications, and both are executed well.
With so many positive remarks, one should be aware of the following shortcomings:
The lens flares very easily. Maybe it is the slightly rounded font glass element or the lens coating causing this phenomenon – for best results, I advise you to use a matte box.
Sharpness: In many cases, a lens will exhibit different sharpness characteristics when “playing” with its aperture (wide open is usually soft on the edges when using modestly priced lenses).
With the CHIOPT zoom lens, one should be aware that sharpness is NOT constant on different focal lengths, as well.
As you can see from the above stills images taken from the timeline, 28mm next to 85mm are a bit sharper than when filming on 40mm. Also evident from the above pictures is how straight lines are being captured with this lens, at different focal lengths.
Focal length: Designing a lens is a very complicated thing, and balancing between zoom range/max aperture and weight is a very delicate thing. There is no “free lunch” and the blanket is narrow. In that regard, I feel like CHIOPT compromised a bit. Indeed, it is a full-frame lens and I can live with its 85mm narrow field of view, but to my taste, 28mm is not wide enough. Also, the lens' maximum open aperture is T3.2, which is merely okay for such a lens.
Maybe the most critical point with this lens is the ability to conclude “who is it actually for?”. A single user might not tolerate its weight and size, while a rental house will (probably) hesitate to stock it, simply because fellow distinguish DPs will question why to use a lens from a brand they are not familiar with when there are so many other options. Using the familiar over the unknown will play a major role here.
For all of the above, we need to take the price into consideration. Sold for $2,899, this lens is extremely affordable, but can this make the difference and attract potential customers? To be frank, I’m not so sure, and this is not because of its build quality or overall optical performance, just simply because other currently available alternatives might be more suitable.
In a way, it is a “no man’s land lens". Meaning, that although it is well priced, it is too big and heavy for the solo independent filmmaker, and too unknown for everyone else, be it rental or production houses.
Personally, I hope to see a lighter version of this lens being introduced to the market, with a wider focal length, even at the expense of its narrow end.
For single operators like myself, other zoom lens offerings might fit better when it comes to size and weight, without potentially sacrificing image quality. As for rental/production houses, the newly announced Canon CN full-frame zoom lenses will also appeal more. These are of course more expensive (while cheaper than FUJINON Premista or even Canon’s own 35mm zoom lenses), but are easier to put into cinematographers’ hands, because of familiarity.