ARRI Signature Zoom LensesBy Bokeh Rentals | November 17th, 2021
Back in March 2018, ARRI announced its newest line of Signature Primes. With 16 lenses ranging from 12mm to 280mm focal lengths, united by universal T-stops, new LPL mounts, and a large format sensor, a new standard had been set for cine lenses.
Now, ARRI has begun releasing a matching line of lenses that are capable of zoom. And these Signature Zoom lenses were built to match imaging and performance with the Primes. A dubious task, because of the mechanical elements required to make a lens zoom—but nevertheless, ARRI set its sights. And the results are impressive.
The ARRI large format Signature Zoom package is a collection of four lenses that cover 16mm-300mm; capable of achieving a maximum focal length of 510mm with the 1.7x extender.
Just like the Signature Primes, the ARRI Signature Zooms cover full frame formats. Any large format or Super 35 sensor is possible with these lenses, making these a great choice for any sized project.
Like any exceptional gear, these lenses are built as a package. All have a uniform T-stop of T2.8, which provide a comforting consistency among the lineup, as lenses can be swapped out with minimal strain. High-quality zooms like these have no exposure ramping, which means that when zooming from 65mm to 300mm during a shot, the T-stop isn’t going to self-adjust. It may seem like a given, but this is quite the accomplishment when constructing such mechanically intricate lenses.
T-stop is just a number, so it’s worth considering performance. And the ARRI Signature Zooms have spectacular performance with both low and high levels of light. These capabilities may be less important for a Prime set—but for run-and-gunning zoom lenses, you want the assurance an image won’t get blown out or too noisy in dark situations. Cinematographers have hailed the Signature Zooms’ ability to handle bright environments, especially daytime landscape shots where the sun can be strong on skin tones. These are key to retaining character when shooting documentary, and the ARRI Signature Zooms do not disappoint. As cinematographer Laszlo Bille described his experience: “The lens behaved very, very nicely outside. We never had any harsh flares or bad effects from the sunlight, even when panning into the sun”.
With image quality taken care of, ARRI has space to expand the zoom capabilities of the lenses, and so the four lenses come with a 1.7x extender, perhaps the largest in the industry. The way it works is simple: if you’d like to expand the outer bound of focal lengths, DPs can attach the extender to the 65mm-300mm lens, turning it into a roughly 110mm-510mm lens. Beware though, there is a loss of about 1.5 stops when attaching the mechanical piece, and the T2.8 becomes a T4.9. Despite the drop in aperture performance with the extender, the performance is still impressive, and there is remarkable sharpness to the image. In fact, the minimum focus distance is unchanged when the extender is added, so you can still be at 510mm and crisply capture an object that sits only 1.3m in front of the lens.
Newsshooter shot some stunning test footage around Tokyo, showcasing the color depth and latitude possible with the ARRI Signature Zooms:
Much like the Signature Primes, each Signature Zoom lens has a detachable magnetic rear filter holder. This space is useful for placing filters and fabrics to experiment with diffusion, color and flaring. As Christopher Doyle puts it: “I especially love that the whole Signature lens series has the magnetic rear filter holder, which I’ve always felt opens up all kinds of personalized creative looks and possibilities”.
The lenses themselves are as lightweight as they can get, given their mechanically intensive builds. ARRI opted for lighter magnesium housing (opposed to the heavier, alternative, aluminum), which is yet another reason for the set’s high retail value.
ARRI claims that its Signature Zooms have optical and mechanical performances that exceed the other cine zooms out there, and that they can be used alongside the instant-classic Signature Primes. And so far, there is some notable agreement from professionals, which the company has posted on its site.
The four ARRI Signature Zoom lenses are an optical feat of engineering and make excellent additions to their sixteen Prime counterparts. The zoom lenses are new, so finding them before Christmas 2021 might prove difficult, as they’re the most coveted among new optical releases. Additionally, the price per lens is in the tens of thousands, leaving the higher-budgeted productions most capable of putting them to use.
ARRI takes its time for its inventions—and the ARRI Signature Zooms have been well worth the wait. This ultra-capable lens set is a worthwhile investment for any ambitious production, and worth considering for rental.
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