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DZOFILM Catta Review – Zooms with Character, Shooting a Real-Life Documentary

This is my real-life review of the DZOFILM Catta Zooms – my experience using this pair of affordable cinema zooms on an entire documentary production, from start to finish.

The DZOFILM Catta Zooms have been on the market for a couple of months, and instead of doing a quick, rather superficial first-look review, I decided to use them on a full documentary production. Because of the look of the images the Catta zooms produce – more on that later – they became the perfect match for this film.

The documentary itself is about a very difficult historical subject – the Nazi’s Euthanasia program during World War II. And because much of the film consists of “talking head interviews” with historians and contemporary witnesses, I was going for a warm, cinematic, yet slightly vintage look.

A big “Thank You” goes out to the DZOFILM team for loaning us these lenses for many months as shooting days kept being pushed and rescheduled due to Covid restrictions. And the second big thank you goes out to the producer and director of the documentary, Alex Millecker and his production company Ostfilm, who made sure we are able and allowed to use images of this unfinished documentary for this review.

Working with the DZOFILM Catta Zooms

Now the shoot is over, and I have used them in a variety of shooting scenarios. First off, before going into detail, if you are just after my opinion: I love the look that these lenses produce, they take the “digital edge” off modern cinema cameras and truly make the image look more “cinematic”.

DZOFILM Catta Zoom
Image credit: CineD

This is not a very technical review as I talk about my real-life experience with those lenses, but if you are after more technical tests of the DZOFILM Catta zooms, I recommend CVP’s review of the Catta 35-80. Jake Ratcliffe from CVP did a remarkable job measuring distortion, breathing, sharpness and many other technical aspects of the lens in his video. Watch it below:

In general, both DZOFILM Catta Zooms – both the 35-80 and the 70-135mm – are remarkably similar in size and weight. Considering their focal ranges, they are quite small for full-frame zooms, and remarkably light, with both weighing slightly over 1.5 kilograms.

This of course made them an ideal choice for a documentary production like mine – no need to rebalance tripods when changing the lenses, and also light enough to use on the shoulder with your camera for extended periods of time – and it won’t make the camera top-heavy at all. I used the Catta Zooms mostly with my Sony FX9, sometimes with a Sony FX6 or a7S III, and due to the lenses’ low weight I mostly didn’t even use lens support, which of course made it easier and quicker to swap them too.

Easily interchangeable

When using the lenses with a remote follow focus or any type of motor, it’s nice to see that all the gears on both lenses are on the same position, which again makes swapping them easy.

Both of these zooms are T/2.9, which I would consider quite good, or at least the norm for zooms in the focal ranges that these have. The fact that the T-stop is identical on both lenses makes it super easy to swap between them for shots in the same lighting setup within a scene.

It also helps that they share the same front diameter of 80mm, and both lenses have a 77mm thread mount. This came in handy when I used the 70-135 on an a7S III as a b-camera on a slider. No need to use a matte box in this case, just a screw-on filter like on photo lenses.

DZOFILM Catta Zoom
Swapping rear filters. Image credit: CineD

Talking about filters, there’s another quite unique feature about the Catta zooms: they offer a rear plug-in filter tray, which lets you add those small, so-called coin filters to the back of the lens, whether it’s an ND, a UV, a streak or a mist filter. Unfortunately, I didn’t have access to such filters when reviewing the lens.

Mount choices

Let’s talk about mounts for a second: DZOFILM created a really cool mechanism that allows the user to change their mounts by themselves, without the need of using any kinds of tools. It’s worth noting that the normal version of the Catta Zooms is built for mirrorless cameras, which means you have E, RF, L, X and Z mounts available. Changing the mount itself is very easy – you have to turn the barrel, press a button, and then you can remove the current mount by lifting it up. To replace it with another mount, you can just reverse the operation. The kit also includes shims that you can – and should – add, depending on the flange distance of your camera.

Catta Zoom
Framegrab from the documentary. Image credit: Ostfilm / Nino Leitner

It is worth mentioning that DZOFILM also released more additional versions of both Catta Zooms, called Catta Ace, with interchangeable EF and PL mounts. You will have to decide whether you want the mirrorless mount version or the EF/PL mount version, as you can’t move mounts between the two versions of the lens. Just keep in mind that the EF/PL version might give you most flexibility, because you can actually use adapters to put EF and PL lenses on all the mirrorless cameras, but not vice versa. The Catta Ace versions are a little bit more expensive than the normal Cattas, and they come in black instead of white.

Focal range

Let’s take a look at the focal ranges – 35-80 and 70-135mm. First of all, it’s apparent that a wide-angle zoom is missing from this line-up. I found it a bit challenging at times to shoot a feature documentary lacking such a wide angle zoom or prime that would fit the Catta look – so I hope they will add something in the range of 24 to 35 soon.

DZOFILM Catta Zoom
Framegrab from the documentary. Image credit: Ostfilm / Nino Leitner

However, you can use their wide-angle Vespid primes, for example the 25mm, to complement the zooms in the meantime, the look is not the same but similar.

Regarding the Catta zooms, I like the fact that the focal ranges are overlapping – very often I would prepare for a shot with the shorter zoom, realize I need a slightly longer focal range, swap to the other one and still be flexible enough to revert to a slightly wider shot again with the same lens. It’s important to note that the 35-80 becomes a tad less sharp from around 60mm, so you will get better results swapping to the 70-135 as soon as you can if you need a longer focal length shot.

DZOFILM Catta Zoom
image credit: CineD

However, DZOFILM also did a great job making images from both lenses look alike, with similar characteristics. As I mentioned initially, those characteristics look very nice and truly cinematic to my eye – they make images from cameras like the FX9 appear a lot less “perfect” and less neutral, adding a certain level of warmth to the overall feeling. Bokeh is very soft and pleasing, which is certainly a result of the 16-bladed iris that they are using.

Sharpness and chromatic aberration

Yes, there might be a loss in sharpness rendition when zooming beyond a certain point, but it seems all within acceptable limits and as a user you have to be aware that making full-frame zooms with this small size and at such an affordable price will come at some cost. There is also visible chromatic aberration on the edges throughout the focal ranges of both lenses, even when you step down. I do however not see that as a downside of the lenses at all, as this CR clearly adds to the creamy, pleasing look of the lenses, and it gives them a vintage touch.

And that specific touch was a perfect choice for the documentary I was shooting. Overall, I am really impressed with the Catta Zooms, and I think you get a lot of bang for the buck with this combo of lenses. I simply fell in love with the look – it made my shooting more “organic looking” for sure, and took the digital edge of the images from the Sony FX9 and a7s III.

The DZOFILM Catta Zooms – Image Credit: CineD

The fact that you can change the mount yourself to other mirrorless mounts – or between EF and PL – makes them a long-term investment that should still serve you well in the years to come if you decide to invest in this pair of lenses, even if you swap to a different camera system. They are small, the focal ranges make them quite versatile, and in this price range, it will be hard to find something comparable for full-frame cameras. Which is also why the Cattas have proven to be very popular, at least that’s what I am hearing when talking to retailers.

DZOFILM Catta Review – Conclusion

The DZOFILM Catta lenses are not perfect – if you want no chromatic aberration, and total maximum sharpness all the way through your focal ranges – you will have to invest quite a bit more money to get a set of Zeiss Compact Zooms or something even more high-end. But if you’re after a versatile combo of cinema zooms, with a distinct, warm, and organic look that fits so well in this day and age, the Catta zooms will serve you very well. I wouldn’t want to miss their look anymore.

Link: DZOFILM

What do you think of my DZOFILM Catta review and the lenses themselves? Do you use zooms or do you prefer prime lenses? Share your experiences in the comments below!

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