Welcome to “fly by wire” Cinema Lenses.
The Airbus A320 took off in 1984 and was one of the first commercial airplanes with digital, rather than mechanical or hydraulic, controls. Although we’ve seen cine lenses controlled electronically, the Sony F EC 16-35 T3.1 G (SELC1635G) Cinema Lens is altogether unique.
Externally, the 16-35 T3.1 lens looks familiar, albeit a bit smaller than what you’d expect. There are three separate, geared M0.8 rings for focus, iris and zoom. The iris has a mechanical switch to click or declick the aperture settings.
This 16-35 T3.1 lens has a servo zoom familiar to videographers, anathema to many cinematographers, but here, something to be enjoyed. A switch on the servo (right side of lens) engages the drive or disengages for manual control or an external lens motor. There’s a small H-L switch on the left side to change speeds from high to low.
The servo zoom is extremely smooth and can be set for an imperceptible move that might be especially beautiful for a title sequence landscape. Don’t expect this small servo to do a snap zoom. Ideally you won’t be tempted to snap zoom at all. But if you must, snap manually, with the servo disengaged. Or, you can remove the miniscule servo mechanism with three screws.
Slide the focus barrel of the 16-35 T3.1 forward for full autofocus (with manual over-ride). Slide the barrel back for full manual focus control. And here’s where focus by wire gets really interesting. Up to now, most autofocus or electronic focus lenses did not easily perform repeatable moves. This lens has a linear response mechanism that provides repeatable, tactile, accurate manual focus control. You will consistently return to a marked focus position on the 140 degree rotating barrel. And yes, there are end stops.
Welcome to the future of cine lens design.
Why? Shorter flange focal depth, like the Sony E-mount’s 18mm, benefits optical design, especially at wide focal lengths. Moving optical elements with independent internal electronic actuators, rather than mechanical helical threads or cams, enables faster response speed, precision and silence.
The new FE C 16-35mm T3.1 G zoom is Sony’s latest E-mount Full-Frame zoom. (Note: Sony’s Full-Frame FE PZ 28-135 mm F4 G OSS Full-Frame Zoom came out with the FS7 in September 2014. But it did not have consistently repeatable focus marks.)
The 16-35mm T3.1 G has two XA (Extreme Aspherical) and three Aspheric elements to minimize color aberrations, geometric distortion, field curvature and astigmatism as well as to reduce the physical size of the lens. Optical surfaces are coated with Nano AR to reduce flares and ghosting. The 11-bladed circular iris assembly maintains round bokeh at all apertures.
Of course, the 16-35 T3.1 G is also fully functional on Sony a7 and a9 series cameras, complete with servo zoom and autofocus capability.
The Sony FE C 16-35mm T3.1 G zoom lens will be available in December 2020 for US $5,499.99.