On the last few shoots I've gotten my hands on a few different types of glass: Zeiss Mark I Super Speeds, Arri Ultra Primes, and a couple of Arri Aluras. I'm not going to waste anybody's time going into technical detail, but as a Camera Assistant, here are some things I noticed and preferred about some over the others.
Zeiss Mark I Super Speeds T/1.4
First off, no doubt that Carl Zeiss is a highly respectable name in the field. Hands down some of the best sets of glass out there. The last feature I AC'd was shot on a set of Zeiss Mk I Super Speeds, great lenses with an aperture that clocks in at T/1.4. Originally released close to 30 years ago, these might as well be one of the founding fathers of super speeds. Them being so old though you run into a few things, some good and some bad.
With age, comes wear. Unless "babied" there is going to be some natural wear and tear from being used for so many years. PL mounts being loose and needing to be reset and having some give in the focus ring were some things we ran into. This may not be for everybody though, I can only speak for the set we had in particular.
Beautiful filmic image. What I loved the most about these bad boys was the film-like appearance it gave our image. Of course we had to be careful with the aperture, opening wider than a T/2 would give sort of a "bloom" effect. This would cause issues with pulling focus, but other than that great image.
Hold your breath. Those who are familiar with pulling focus or dealing with a variety of lenses, you've heard of a lens "breathing." Well these guys full on inhale, deep sigh, practically snore. What I mean by the lens breathing is this: when you rack focus either direction, if it's a drastic enough pull you can see a change in your frame. Almost looks like a minuscule zoom, but it's noticeable. The actual physical lens breathes with your focus change as well. This can cause some creativity with your matte box, because at the start of your focus it may be right up against the lens, but by the end of your pull you could have gap in between the lens and matte box. This can cause light leaks depending if you have ND filters in or not. Just something to keep in mind.
Arri Ultra Primes T/1.9
Also accompanied with the Carl Zeiss name stamped on the top, great quality lens and a great quality image. Here's how they broke down for me:
Nice and Crispy. No doubt a good look to these primes. Compared to the Mark I Super Speeds it had a little less of a film look for me, but I felt like I could really nail some of my focus points, even as they got closer to infinity. Whereas on the Mk I's I felt like they would almost skip over where I wanted to focus as the talent got further away. Good crisp focus.
Nice and Cozy. In regards to the image, I can't say I noticed any breathing while focusing on these. Physically, there was NO breathing when you focus, which was great. The front of the lens was nice and cozy with the matte box the whole time, right up against the ND's. Kept us from even thinking twice about the possibility of light leaks.
Arri Alura T/2.8
Specifically the two Aluras we had on set were the 15-45mm and the 45-250mm, both with an aperture of T/2.8.
I've worked with these two particular lenses many times and love the image, plus being zooms it's easy to just dial in what lens your DP wants. However when you do have to change lenses, it's a bit of an ordeal.
Working with primes it's easy to get spoiled to just pop off the matte box, or swing it away depending on the brand you have, change lenses and you're good to go. Going from a 15-45mm to a 45-250mm is a bit more to do. Shown in the images above.
The front of the lenses are differently sized so that'll change the donut/hard matte you have in your matte box. It requires a rod change/extension depending which lens you're switching to. Changing rods causes for pulling the Follow Focus and reattaching it, and if going to the 45-250mm a lens support is needed. Not exactly as quick of a change as the primes.
If that's kept in mind when changing lenses though and you have things organized in a fashion that you can get to what you need quickly it shouldn't take too long.
Our of these three, I'd choose the Arri Ultra Primes. Quick to change, crisp to focus, and unless you're in super low light the T/1.9 is more than enough speed to get that nice depth of field you want in your shots. #DatBokeh