Leica Thalia Large Format Cine Lenses

Large format cinematography gets more interesting today with Leica Thalia. CW Sonderoptic introduces nine new prime lenses that cover all formats from Alexa 65, Panavision DXL, RED 8K VV, Full Frame, to Super35.

Leica Thalia primes ship with stainless steel PL mounts. An XPL version will be available for ARRI Rental. Thalia lenses have front diameters that are all 95 mm, just like Leica Summilux-C and Summicron-C lenses. They work with the same front accessories like clamp-on Leica Cine MacroLux +0.5, +1, +2 diopters. Thalias accept 92 mm screw-in front filters and have a rear net holder just like the Summilux-C. Incredibly, most of the large format Thalias are actually lighter and shorter than the Super35 Summicron-C primes, which are already extremely light and small. The mechanical design is consistently Leica-like, rugged and ergonomic.

The 15-bladed irises are totally round at every aperture and create the same beautiful, smooth bokehs across the entire set. The iris ring is linear—marks are evenly spaced across all T stops.

Thalias have a new focus mechanism design with smooth cams  and focus barrels that all rotate 270°. Focus and iris gears are industry-standard 0.8M and are in the same positions.

Lens metadata is provided with /i Technology via standard contacts in the 12 o’clock position at the rear of the PL mount. I believe the metadata will include shading, distortion mapping and geometric correction at a later date. The mechanical design appears to accommodate mount adapters and the possibility of additional future lens mount options. Ideas on interchangeable lens mounts are in consideration.

The initial set of 6 Thalia lenses is expected to ship around July: 30, 35, 45, 70, 100, 180 mm. The remaining 3 Thalias should ship towards the end of 2017: 24, 55, and 120 mm with close focus capability.                 

Astute readers scrambling to the Leica website may ask whether these are just rehoused Leica S still lenses. No, they are not. The Thalias share components and optical elements. Some of them are new, some are replaced. Remember, Leica S lenses cover a 54 mm image circle. Thalias cover up to 60 mm diagonal. Selection of components and adjustments to the 65mm format image area was a demanding process. To achieve this, some Thalia optical elements are larger than those inside S lenses. Coatings are new. The iris is unique. The barrels are optimized and compact. In addition, the 55 mm T2.8 Thalia is completely new, built totally from scratch, to fill the gap between the 45 and 70 mm. And, above all, the look is smooth, silky and cinematic.

Dr. Aurelian Dodoc, Co-Managing Director for Development and Production at CW Sonderoptic, explained, “This is a success story. Gerhard Baier had the original idea to see whether Leica S lenses could be suitable for cine. Our motivation was a larger field of 60 mm. This fit into the important discussion of the appeal of larger format for cine. We worked on a new, robust, cine-style mechanical design, a new, linear, 15-bladed iris assembly, close-focus ability and much more.

“The look is artistic, smooth, not too sharp, with a gentle focus roll-off. I like to paint in what little free time I have when not designing lenses or working. The Thalia project was like painting, to create images that are beautiful. I received some inspiration from Umberto Eco’s History of Beauty and his discussions about  the form and meaning of beauty in our culture.

“I’m not a fan of super, super sharp, and the Thalia lenses embody that philosophy. In some ways, an almost perfect lens can be easier to design than a lens with character. A perfect lens has a mathematical target. With the Thalias, we actually had to work a lot harder at the optical and mechanical design to achieve the combination of imaging functions that are inherent in these lenses. It’s a cinematic, beautiful image—the result of CAD design, adjustments, coatings, filtering, optical elements. I think the best description would be ‘iconic.’”

Playing With Light

“Thalia, Muse of Comedy” 1739, by Jean-Marc Nattier. Oil on canvas, 135.9 × 124.5 cm. Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco

About the name, Gerhard Baier, CW Sonderoptic’s Co-Managing Director for Sales, Marketing and Business Development, said, “Thalia was the daughter of Zeus and Mnemosyne, the eighth-born of the nine Muses. Thalia was the goddess of music, song and dance and also comedy and idyllic poetry.  She inspired us on this project and perhaps she can be our honorary muse of cinema and beautiful images. For me, the Thalia lenses have a rhythm and are like a symphony playing with light and textures, flares—turning emotions into pictures. They have a roundness and shape and they deal with flares in a wonderful way that enhance the image and don’t interfere with faces. These lenses invite you to play almost like a musical instrument—to play with light. They are clear without being overly sharp. Focus is smooth and forgiving without appearing soft. Skin tones are natural and smooth with an accurate color rendition.

“Images captured with the Leica Thalia lenses appear to have an added depth and dimensionality, especially on large sensor cameras, because of their gradual focus fall-off. Rather than having even, flat planes of focus across the entire frame, the Thalia lenses have a gentle transition between in and out of focus objects that is consistent with the way we see things, and yet is different from the images of most modern lenses.”

Aurelian described the first screening of footage shot with Thalia lenses. “After we saw the first images, there was dead silence in the theater. We looked at each other. Nobody could say anything. There was a tentative, collective sigh of relief. We had done it. And then the applause and cheers began. The entire team had succeeded in an incredibly challenging task. We hope cinematographers, directors and audiences will feel the same way.”

  • Image Circle: 60 mm diagonal (covers ARRI ALEXA 65, RED and DXL 8K VV, VistaVision, Full Frame, Super35)
  • Lens Mount: PL and XPL (for ARRI Rental) – Stainless Steel
  • Front Diameter: 95 mm on all lenses in set (same as Summilux-C and Summicron-C)
  • Front Filter: 92 mm screw-in (same as Summilux-C)
  • Rear net holder: Same as on Summilux-C
  • Matched barrels: Focus and Iris Ring locations in same position for all focal lengths. 0.8M Lens Gears.
  • Metadata: /i Technology lens data contacts
  • Focus Rotation: 270°
  • Iris Blades: 15
  • Iris Shape: Circular at all apertures


15-bladed iris is totally round and remains round at all apertures. Bokehs are beautiful and smooth, without “onion rings” or star bursts.

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