Canon 8-64mm T2.4 Review

 

In this exclusive VLFV review, Mark LaFleur of Old Fast Glass takes a closer look at the Canon 8-64mm T2.4 aka The Hurt Locker Lens and explains why this classic super16 zoom can still be a perfect lens for many modern cameras and as the video above proves, a wide range of creative projects too!


INTRO

Only a handful of exceptional lenses end up with nicknames that stick. If you say “The Hollywood Lens,” it’s amazing how many people know you are talking about the Contax / Zeiss 28mm f2. Canon’s 50mm f0.95 is almost exclusively referred to as “The Dream Lens.” The legendary Zeiss 50mm f0.7 is often referred to as “The Kubrick Lens” because of its use on Barry Lyndon, and the fact that Stanley Kubrick was the only person outside NASA that owned one. One lucky Super-16mm format zoom lens has sort of unofficially been named, “The Hurt Locker Lens.” This came about because of how much attention was given to the Oscar nominated film Hurt Locker being beautifully shot on 16mm film, almost exclusively with Canon zooms. The primary lens that spent the most time on the production’s A-camera was the Canon 8-64mm T2.4.

Canon made a few versions of this lens over the years all sharing similar focal ranges and T-stops, and they are all excellent lenses worth discussing, but we will focus on the 8-64mm T2.4 for this article. This lens was designed to cover the Super 16mm format. If you are shooting on a camera with a super-35mm or APS-C sensor like a Canon C300 MKII, Sony FS7 or ARRI Amira, this lens will give you roughly the same field of view of as a 16-128mm lens would give you, which is really useful range. The 8-64mm gives you a field of view range that’s a bit wider and a bit longer than the popular Canon 17-120mm T2.95, and it’s lighter, cheaper, and almost a stop faster. The 8-64mm is a compact, lightweight, 8X cinema zoom lens, with a fast, constant T2.4 maximum aperture over the entire zoom range, with no ramping.

This lens seems to have been developed with the documentary shooter in mind. It covers the most commonly used focal lengths, it’s got a fast maximum aperture, it’s extremely light-weight, and it has relatively short focus and zoom rotation, which is ideal for when you are zooming and pulling focus directly off the barrel. That being said, this lens delivers a very desirable look, making it well suited for scripted work as well.

BUILD QUALITY

Despite being lightweight, this lens feels like it’s built for military use. Maybe that’s one of the reasons it was favored on Hurt Locker! But seriously, it’s solidly built, and it even looks mil-spec with its gray paint and glow-in-the-dark witness marks. Both of which are useful. The gray paint means the lens won’t get as hot in the sun as it would if it were painted black, and the witness marks are ideal for shooting in low-light. Focus rotation is only about 180 degrees, which is actually perfect for doc shooting when you are pulling focus off the barrel. Another nice feature: the iris closes down completely which is great for black balancing your camera if your lens cap isn’t handy.

USABILITY

I always tell people that one of the most important things on set, is that you are never fighting your equipment. Often with zoom lenses, we find ourselves wishing a lens went a little wider, or a little longer, or could open up another stop, or was a lot lighter, especially after 10 hours of shooting! With this lens, I never find myself wishing those things. At T2.4 it’s pretty fast. I’ve been in tight spaces, and 8mm is almost always as wide as I need to go. And at 64mm, I can get a good close-up, or cutaway without needing to move closer to the subject.  Also worth noting, the lens has a close focus distance of 1’ 10” from the sensor. Considering the lens is about 10 inches long, that means you can get the front element about 1 foot from your subject! At 8mm, it’s as close as you typically need to get. At 64mm you getting close to macro territory, allowing you to get really tight on your subject, which is great for ECUs and cutaways, and it means you aren’t swapping lenses or using diopters or extension tubes to get close: just move in, zoom in, or both.

IMAGE QUALITY

Image quality overall is excellent. Wide-open at T2.4 the image is softer and dreamier than when stopped down. You will see a bit of chromatic aberration in high-contrast situations. It’s a very nice “vintage” look. However, I feel like the lens really shines at T2.8, and that’s where I try and keep it when I’m using this lens. It seems like a small difference, but it actually changes things significantly. At the cost of a little bit of light and bit more depth of field, stopping down to T2.8 delivers a sharp image, cleans up a lot of the chromatic aberration and still maintains shallow depth of field, especially at longer focal lengths. At T4 the lens is very sharp.

Although super-16 zoom lenses cover a huge focal range in compact, light-weight packages, one of their trade-offs tends to be heavy focus breathing.  One of the things that makes this lens so desirable, is that focus breathing is very well controlled. At the wide end, there is no breathing at all. In the mid-range it’s minimal, barely noticeable. At the longest focal lengths breathing increases slightly, but is still impressively low.

CHARACTER

I love the look of this lens. The best way I can describe it, is that it has texture. You can feel it, but it’s never too heavy or distracting. And it has something that pretty much all my favorite vintage lenses share: character without sacrificing performance. It’s not too clean and clinical, but you’ll also never be fighting against the look. It’s sharp if you need it to be, but can still give you a softer look if that’s what you want. It’s a lower contrast lens, and it’s slightly warmer than neutral, which I think is one of the reasons it’s immediately appealing to cinematographers. This lens is quite flattering on people’s faces.

Zoom lenses that cover such a large focal range tend to have some distortion, and this lens does, although I never find it distracting. At the wide end, you’ll notice some barrel distortion. I tend to like a little barrel distortion personally. It’s one of the things I like about most anamorphic lenses. At longer focal lengths it has very slight pincushion distortion.

It’s a zoom lens with a lot of elements, and beautiful old coatings, which results in lens flares that are quite nice. Bokeh is pleasing and never too busy. Pinpoint light sources are rendered as lovely orbs at T2.4. Stopped down and the orbs take on the six-sided shape of the iris. It’s a nice classic look. Other great zooms with six iris blades include the original Angenieux Optimo series. This iris design will give you 6-pointed “sun stars” when you point the lens at the sun or a strong pinpoint light source.

Canon 8-64mm T2.4 feeing at home on Arri Alexa Mini

COMPATIBILITY

The Canon 8-64mm has a PL mount, so it will work with any camera that has a PL mount. It was designed for the super-16 format, and it will work for that format, and any smaller formats. I’ve heard it does well with the MFT cameras from around 12mm-64mm, but I haven’t tested it. These days, so many cameras with Super-35mm and larger sensors have the ability to use a cropped portion of the sensor. If you are a RED Epic Dragon or Weapon 6K owner, this lens will cover 2.5K. For 8K Helium owners, this lens covers 4K, making that a very wise pairing. You can use it on an ARRI Alexa Mini or ARRI Amira in the HD S16 setting, or the Sony F5, F55 or FS7 in those cameras’ 2K Center-Crop setting. It will easily cover the original Black Magic Pocket Cinema Camera. There is a growing list of digital cameras that will work perfectly with this amazing lens.

SPECIFICATIONS

  • Format                       Super-16
  • Focal Range              8-64mm
  • T-Stop Range            T2.4 – T16 and closed
  • Close Focus              1’ 10”
  • Front Diameter          95mm
  • Weight                       5 pounds
  • Length                       200mm

PROS

  • Lightweight.
  • Little to no breathing.
  • Fast aperture.
  • Amazing zoom range.
  • Cinema-quality mechanics.
  • Unique look.
  • Good close focus.
  • Much cheaper to buy or rent compared to it’s Super-35 equivalent.

CONS

  • It’s hard to think of any cons for this lens. I guess the only thing it has going against it, is that it only covers the Super-16 format, which is a great format, but not right for every job.

CONCLUSION

Although the Super-16 format is making a comeback, it still surprises me that it’s often overlooked. Super-35 and now Full Frame cameras offer a big sensor capable of shallow depth of field, and more pixels on the sensor. It also means bigger heavier cameras and lenses. On the other end of the spectrum, 2/3” chip cameras with their better ergonomics and smaller, lighter cameras and lenses are still the norm for news, some reality TV, game shows, talk shows and sports. In between those two formats is Super-16. It benefits from smaller, lighter, faster lenses, but has much shallower and more “cinematic” depth of field that feels closer to Super-35 than it does to 2/3” cameras, and at a lower cost to rent or buy compared to Super-35 cinema zooms.

Back when this format was more popular, some impressive lenses were being built, and for some reason (probably because all the camera and lens makers are chasing the full frame boom), no one is making new Super-16 lenses. Lenses like the Canon 8-64mm are becoming more and more in-demand as more filmmakers are rediscovering the beauty of the S16 format. High-pixel count digital sensors are very sharp and unforgiving. When you use a smaller part of the sensor, the camera’s grain structure, or noise is magnified. This adds texture to you image. It softens skin imperfections, and takes the edge off of reality. Combine that with a lens that has its own distinct personality and texture, yet performs like a proper high-end cinema lens should, and you have a recipe for success.

Whether you need a high-quality zoom lens to get you through a fast-paced documentary shoot, or you want to bring a unique look to a film or music video, the Canon 8-64mm T2.4 has a beautiful vintage look, excellent performance, and it’s so easy to work with, both for your shoulder and your budget.


Thank you to Mark for an incredibly insightful review. These lenses can rarely be found on eBay, so if you want to use one for your project and you are based in LA, then you can rent one from Mark’s rental company – Old Fast Glass!


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One Response to Canon 8-64mm T2.4 Review

  1. I was wondering if you could help me understand something about this and other S16 lenses. Most info about using these types of lenses is either geared towards the ORIGINAL Blackmagic pocket (1080) and how to use it on Sony or Red (like the above clip) in a 2k crop mode. However the NEW BlackMagic Pocket 4k camera is still a S16 sensor but at 4k (double the resolution of it’s predecessor)… To the best of my understanding the 2 most important factors in determining lens compatibility is the Image Circle (will it physically cover your sensor) which I believe this lens will cover the MBP4k sensor perfectly and the lesser mentioned but possibly more important MTF (Modulation Transfer Function) with regards to optical quality. Again my understanding is that high quality S16 lenses such as this have and MTF of 80 lp/mm or possibly greater… MY QUESTION — assuming the lens does indeed cover the BMP4k sensor completely (or mostly) will the MTF be high enough to resolve beautifully on a 4k S16 sensor OR will the image quality start to suffer at a certain point… IF it will start breaking apart would anyone happen to know when? (ie 2k, 2.5, 3k etc) — Any help in answering this question would be greatly appreciated!

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