For example, compare a cine lens like the Zeiss Compact Prime CP.2 50mm/T2.1 ($3,900) to a high-end DSLR lens like the Canon 50mm f/1.2L ($1418). Both are EF-mount, have the same focal length, and it seems the Canon is a faster lens. Another example is comparing the Canon CN-E 30-300mm T2.95-3.7L ($45,000) vs. the EF 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6L IS USM ($2700).

What makes a cinema lens so expensive (construction, image quality, etc...)? What can these lenses do that normal high-end DSLR lenses can't? Can photographers benefit from the features of cine lenses?


2 Answers 2


Cine lenses do have to overcome certain limitations that don't really apply to still cameras.

Still lenses will usually exhibit the phenomenom of "breathing" during focus. Breathing will cause the image to appear to get larger when the focus shifts, a non-issue for a still camera, but a big issue when doing motion picture recording. Fixing that isn't free, as it were. :)

Zoom lenses for still cameras are often vari-focal, the focus changes as you zoom, but this is not the cases for cine lenses, these are para-focal. In other words, you can zoom in and out and the focal point will remain the same. Again, not free to fix.

Final thought... Volume. I don't think the volume of sales helps the price. That's the supply/demand side of things in play, they just won't sell enough to make the profit margins.

In terms of benefit to a dSLR user, the answer is that it's the same as a videographer when you shoot video.

  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ Volume is a huge factor, compare the nubmer of people out there shooting with large sensor Cine cameras like the RED to the number of people out there who own a DSLR! \$\endgroup\$
    – Matt Grum
    Commented Feb 11, 2012 at 9:50
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ Don't forget Cine lenses use factory-calibrated T-stops (which are based on F-stops but take lens light absorption into account). DSLR's don't mind small changes in exposure between lenses with the same theoretical F-stop: Cine lenses do. \$\endgroup\$
    – Berzemus
    Commented Sep 13, 2012 at 15:28
  • \$\begingroup\$ Rumor has it that in Hollywood cinema equipment is not considered up to standard unless it has a 5 figure price tag. Or in other words, a supply / demand thing indeed. \$\endgroup\$
    – user20700
    Commented Jun 26, 2013 at 10:19

A huge factor is that cine lenses are most often color matched so that you can swap lenses or use multiple cameras and you are guaranteed an identical color balance from each and every camera. You won't notice subtle color shifts in single photos of a series, but with an animated film image and lots of edits... it's painfully obvious. Color matching is so important that, if you watch credits, there's almost always a separate line for the Color Timer.

Another huge factor is that some films are shot with anamorphic lenses and those are a specialty item, which feeds into John's comment on volume produced, lacking economies of scale and all that economic stuff.


Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.