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Xeen 20mm Lens Overview

written by Shane Hurlbut, ASC

Xeen’s lineup of lenses is spectacular. They’ve hit the nail square on the head with both the look and the price point. They’re true cinema glass that people can afford to own – something that can’t be said for something like Cookes or Master Primes. These Xeen lenses don’t come with high end price tags, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have a high end look. Xeen’s image quality is unique and beautiful. Today we’re going to be looking at the Xeen 20mm, specifically at its image quality, breathing, and color rendition.

The Xeen 20mm is a very cool faster piece of glass. It goes all the way down to a T1.9. I like to shoot very close to a T2 wide open whether I’m doing day exteriors or night exteriors. The 20mm focuses down to 8 inches and is very light – 2.2 lbs. That’s nothing compared to the 6 lb Arri Master Prime! Try hauling that around all day handheld or on a MoVI.

Handling our Xeen 20mm

Let’s jump into the nitty gritty.

Separation

The Xeen 20mm does a decent job at pushing the background away from the talent. It does seem like our model, Eli, is being pushed towards the screen.

Eli separates nicely from the background

This is decent separation. This has to do with the size of the frontal element on the lens. A larger front lens element will mean the image wraps around the talent more. This makes the background shoot off a million miles away. Try staring at an object with some physical 3D space behind it. It can’t be against a wall or an object. Try moving your head a little. As you move it from side to side you see more of what’s behind it in your line of vision. This is what a larger front lens element translates. It can see further apart and therefore wraps around your talent more.

The Cooke front element vs the Xeen’s

The Xeen doesn’t have a ginormous front element, but it does a decent job at shaping the background. This is the main difference between a $24,000 piece of glass and a $2,400 piece of glass.

We throw the focus to the near 8” and then go deep on the Xeen. As we throw focus I watch for breathing.

Breathing

Xeen 20mm close focus

The way to do it best is with a distortion chart. You want to see if you lose or gain any squares on the outside edges as you focus back and forth. A 1 or 2mm breathe would be considered minimal. You wouldn’t really notice it on screen.

Xeen 20mm distortion chart

The Xeen 20mm is beautiful. There’s no breathing at all, it looks excellent. You can see on the distortion chart that I don’t lose or gain any squares. It can be kind of hard to see properly when the image blurs so much at close focus.

When you rack focusing, you don’t want a distracting zoom, which is what breathing is. The point of the rack is to draw attention to someplace else. You don’t want to be drawing attention to the rack itself with a simultaneous and unwanted zoom. That brings awareness to the camera and away from the on screen performances. Not good.

Here’s a situation where it might be unwarranted. Let’s say you’re trying to keep an exact frame on an object. Maybe you’re lining up perpendicular or parallel lines in the frame. If you change the focus you may disrupt your framing in a noticeable manner.

Color Rendition

Color-wise, the Xeen is a little more red/yellow in tonality. As a result, the skin pops a bit more and isn’t just a neutral wash. You can pick apart a lot of individual colors in the Xeen’s image, which allows for flexibility. In some instances, that also may not be the look you want, but it definitely is looking good for the skin here on Eli, our model.

A full frame color analysis

The Xeen 20mm has some contrast to it. You can see that it suppresses the highlights a little bit meaning we are seeing less into the shadows. There is more contrast in the shadows. Look at the area under the desk right behind Eli. It seems like it holds the highlights a little better than the shadows. It doesn’t seem like the highlights are really blowing out much.

It’s these little nuances that distinguishes a lens and sets it apart. What might not seem like a big deal can have a tremendous effect on your audience and their perception of the on-screen image.

This was just a brief overview of a few of the tests performed on this lens. For more of an in-depth look at the Xeen 20mm, check out How to Test Your Lens from Shane’s Inner Circle, and be sure to sign up now so you never miss in-depth articles like these! In How to Test Your Lens, we put Xeen up against Cooke S4, Canon CN-E and Leica R comparing weight, mount, T-stop, mechanics, focus, distortion, vignetting, lens flares, color, image quality, contrast, sharpness, and bokeh. Don’t miss out on this monstrosity of a test!

Let’s review what we’ve talked about in this Xeen 20mm overview:

  • This is true cinema glass that people can actually afford to own
  • The Xeen 20mm does a great job pushing the background away from the talent
    • This has to do with the size of the frontal lens element
  • The best way to check for lens breathing is with a distortion chart
    • As you rack from near to far, see if you lose any squares on the outer edges
    • A 1 or 2mm breathe is considered minimal
  • The point of a rack is to draw attention to something specific
    • An added zoom with the focus can be distracting
  • Your job is to elevate the performance of the actors
  • The Xeen 20mm is a little red/yellow in tonality
    • This makes the skin pop a little more
  • It has some contrast to it
    • Suppresses highlights and crunches shadows a bit more

All our RED footage is handled in full res in real time on our dueling HP Z840 workstations and monitored on  HP Z24x DreamColor monitors.

Read Xeen 16mm Lens Overview >>

Check out How to Test Your Lens

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