CM33: Compact Manual Focus Lens for Mirrorless, with "Mods"
A compact, sharp and fast manual pancake lens optimized for Fuji, Sony and Canon mirrorless mounts, with Mod image effect upgrades.
CM33: Compact Manual Focus Lens for Mirrorless, with "Mods"
A compact, sharp and fast manual pancake lens optimized for Fuji, Sony and Canon mirrorless mounts, with Mod image effect upgrades.
Our Vision for the CM33
We love the feel and precision of classic manual focus lenses, but they were designed for a different generation of camera. With the Modula Optical CM33, we are bringing the best parts of those classic lenses to a modern ultra-compact lens that is optimized specifically for today’s great mirrorless cameras. The CM33 is a 33mm f/2 pancake-style prime lens that delivers stunning image quality and very close macro focus range with specialized optics. It also includes two new unique features for photographers:
- "Mods" open up a world of powerful and modular optical effects
- "Focus Finder" provides the greatest possible manual focus precision
We believe there has never been a lens that provides this much creative power and flexibility, especially in an inch-long form factor that fits beautifully with compact mirrorless camera bodies. And the CM33 is “Made in America” in a way that’s not just a label; it’s a comprehensive engineering philosophy that we believe leads directly to high-performance products. We’ve already spent over a year developing the CM33 and we’re excited that it’s now ready to reveal to the world. But we truly need your support to bring the CM33 to production, and to shape Modula Optical’s future roadmap of unique high-quality optical tools.
Classic Lens Satisfaction, Made Compact for Mirrorless
Visit a used camera store today and you won’t find nearly the number of classic lenses generally available just a few years ago. The reason is that mirrorless camera shooters are buying these lenses up and rediscovering the joy of using them with the variety of adapters available for these cameras. Classic lenses can provide a unique look to images, the build quality is excellent, and they feel great to use — especially the speed and precision of direct, mechanical manual focus. And the visible focus aids in mirrorless cameras (like focus peaking and split-screen zooming) make that manual focus even more precise and intuitive than was ever previously possible with these lenses, even on the original cameras for which they were designed.
The downside of using an older lens originally designed for an SLR camera is that the optics need to accommodate a big gap between the lens and sensor (or film) for the SLR mirror, called “flange focal distance”. Even rangefinder lenses have a somewhat long flange focal distance. But a lens designed for a mirrorless camera can get much closer to the sensor, which allows its optics to be much smaller at the same level of image quality. So the CM33 takes inspiration from the usability and build quality of classic manual lenses — lessons refined over a period of decades — but brings those lessons to a modern optical design specifically for mirrorless that doesn’t force you to carry around the bulk of a bigger lens and an adapter.
The CM33 uses a fully custom in-house mechanical design with a priority on excellent build quality and feel. It includes a focus ring that connects your hand directly to the motion of the optics through precision machined aluminum and brass parts — not the indirect, laggy electronic focus-by-wire often used in autofocus lenses that are switched to “manual”. The result is focusing that is perfectly smooth and incredibly precise using digital focus aids, especially using our Focus Finder feature.
We want the CM33 to be a truly great photographic tool that can be used and enjoyed for many years. So we have built our mechanical prototype parts on our in-house CNC lathe and mill — the same machines we plan to use for final production of these parts. This means we can tune and optimize the design of our parts and assemblies specifically for the machines’ extraordinary capabilities and precision. It also lets us minimize the number of parts typically required when designing for mass-market production methods, putting more functionality into fewer parts. This minimizes variations from copy to copy of the CM33 and delivers a wonderfully solid feeling in use.
Exceptional Optical Quality in a Pancake Package
The CM33 uses a fully custom and proprietary optical design, developed in-house specifically for the Fujifilm X-mount, Sony E-mount, and Canon M-mount systems. Because these three systems are virtually identical in sensor size and flange focal distance, one lens design can work for all three without compromising either size or performance. Only the bayonet mount itself is different between versions of the CM33 for the three systems.
The result of our year-long optical development of the CM33 is a unique 5-element lens design that produces image quality on par with some of the most highly-regarded compact prime lenses available today, but in an even more optimized package. It’s a pancake lens that lets you carry it on your mirrorless camera anywhere, but without the performance compromises usually taken to achieve that size.
We chose a 33mm focal length because — for the APS-C format the CM33 is designed for — it’s precisely equivalent to the classic 50mm full frame focal length that is wonderful for portraits, street photography, or other general artistic or casual shooting. We worked hard to achieve a maximum aperture of f/2 within the CM33’s compact body — fast enough for low-light usage and capable of shallow depth of focus with pleasing bokeh. This combination of 50mm focal length and f/2 maximum aperture describes some of the most historically important lenses in photography, like Leica’s groundbreaking Summar in the 1930’s and their enduring Summicron. The reason is simple: it's fast and flexible, providing a natural view on the world in a wide variety of conditions.
Our design was fed with copious real-world testing and evaluation that we have performed over the past year, including:
- Measurement of camera sensor angular chromatic sensitivity curves to ensure we avoid angular roll-off and optical cross-talk that causes color-shifted vignetting near the corners of the image
- Characterization of cover glasses and filters in camera bodies, to ensure these are correctly compensated for in the optical design
- Lab and photographic benchmarking of MTF, distortion, chromatic aberration, bokeh, and more on a wide variety of well-regarded prime lenses to ensure we set our performance bar high
Using our own internal optical design techniques developed over years working in the field, we’ve been able to define a design that is optimized for true photographic performance, not the typically-published metrics of performance like oversimplified MTF curves. And through our established American optics manufacturing partner, La Croix Optical, we have access to world-class glasses, coatings, and processes, all nearby within the US. We were able to work closely with them to optimize our design to take full advantage of their production capabilities refined over decades making precision optics for medical, military, scientific, and industrial systems.
For example, we modeled in software the effect of specific microscopic variations from the ideal lens shape that are introduced in manufacturing and we use those variations in our design to actually correct optical aberrations — rather than increase them — without introducing greater design complexity that would drive up size and variation between lenses. In effect, we’ve been able to get performance that normally requires use of aspheric lenses, without having to use these difficult to manufacture elements. These kinds of techniques are typically reserved for military-grade optics, but we used the same tools, techniques, and suppliers to achieve the CM33’s remarkable size and performance.
We have posted a variety of example images on our website so you can see the performance of the CM33’s optics for yourself. We think the results are fitting with the best tradition of lenses that allow instinctive capture of both the detail and feel of a variety of scenes at any aperture — from evocative scenic shots to intimate portraits to engrossing macro images. The CM33 is extremely sharp, exhibits very little chromatic aberration or distortion, and introduces only a mild amount of natural vignette. We think the images it captures are exceptional, especially for a lens of this ultra-compact size.
Mods — Modular Optical Image Effects
While designing the CM33, we found that there are many useful image effects that can be achieved by putting specialized optical elements near the aperture stop of the lens — the position in the middle of the optics used for the iris aperture where light is fully mixed together. But because the stop is buried in the middle of the lens, it’s normally impossible to add any optical elements here after the fact. Plus, the extra thickness of glass in the middle of the lens has to be considered in the design to avoid loss of image quality. So for example: a special gradient filter, called an apodizer, placed at the stop can give a lens beautifully creamy bokeh, but to get this effect you have no choice but to buy a dedicated and expensive lens where this filter is permanently designed in. To make matters worse, this filter permanently reduces the light gathering capability of the lens.
So we’re introducing Mods. Mods are specialized optical elements mounted in easy-to-use form factor (smaller than an sD card) that you can insert into the CM33 near its stop at any time to drastically modify the image captured, on the fly. We’ve designed the CM33’s optics from the start around this Mod capability so image quality isn’t compromised when a Mod is inserted — a concept that’s now patent pending.
For example, we’ve developed our SF Mods to provide a dreamy "soft focus" effect which normally requires a special lens like the classic Minolta Varisoft. Various types of soft focus filters are available for lenses today, but they all tend to produce a general uncontrolled haze across the image. The proprietary multi-layer engineered diffuser in our SF Mod, placed at the stop of the CM33, produces a tightly controlled halo around strong highlights and colors — while preserving sharp detail — for a much more pleasant and useful effect. Easily return to normal shooting by removing the Mod and replacing it with the CM33’s included pathlength corrector lens.
We plan to offer many more Mods in the future that you can use with your CM33 so you can keep expanding your creative options without having to carry around extra special-use lenses.
Focus Finder — Pinpoint Manual Focus Accuracy
Another unique feature of the CM33 is something we call Focus Finder. It’s an external switch that holds the aperture fully open to temporarily decrease the depth of focus, so you can quickly pinpoint the best focus point regardless of your chosen aperture. It works beautifully with the focus aids in mirrorless cameras: When holding down the Focus Finder switch, focus peaking highlights will show only for details that are in ideal focus, and when using a zoom assist, out-of-focus details are much more apparent. Release the Focus Finder switch and the aperture returns to the setting on the aperture ring, ready to shoot.
We’ve designed the Focus Finder switch ergonomically so it can be used with a finger on your right hand while your left hand is left free to operate the focus and aperture rings like normal. And because people have different size hands, Focus Finder has been designed to accept a variety of switch parts to suit what is most comfortable for you. Use one of the included switches, or even design and 3D print your own if you want something totally custom.
Amazing Macro Close-up Capability
Another advantage of the CM33’s unique design is incredible close-up capability. Many lens designs sacrifice close focus capability to reduce optical or mechanical complexity, forcing the use of add-on macro adapter rings or a dedicated (and typically large) macro lens. But the CM33 naturally allows you to get within 5.5 inches (140mm) of your subject, making it flexible enough to capture virtually any subject.
Modular Filter Rings
To keep the CM33 as compact as possible, we haven’t added the extra length we would need in order to provide a standard-size threaded front ring for filters, lens hoods, or lens caps. We know these are important to many photographers though, so we’ve included our own special threaded interface for modular front ring adapters that let you choose your own balance of size and front-ring functionality without vignetting the image.
For those who don’t mind adding a few millimeters of length to use standard filters and caps, we offer a slim adapter to a standard Ø52mm filter size. Or for those who can give up a little more compactness for a lens hood to minimize off-axis lens flare, we offer a durable machined aluminum hood. Uniquely, the hood can also accept Ø52mm filters or caps, while providing solid protection for your CM33’s front glass — and the resulting solution is still smaller than most lenses.
CM33 Technical Specifications:
- Focal length: 33mm on APS-C (50mm full frame equivalent)
- Maximum aperture: f/2.0
- Lens construction: 5* elements in 4 groups (* plus plano Mod pathlength corrector lens)
- Minimum focus distance: 5.5 inch (140mm), 0.25x magnification
- Horizontal field of view: 39°
- Dimensions: Length 1.0 inch (26mm), Diam. 2.4 inch (61mm)
- Filter thread: Ø52mm, with filter adapter
- Mount options: Fuji X / Sony E (including FE in APS-C mode) / Canon M
Our Status and Plan, Kickstarter and Beyond
We brought the CM33 to Kickstarter because it’s the perfect platform for what we’re trying to do: launch a world-class product and brand without having to sell out to venture capitalists or a big corporation that would pull us away from our vision. We don’t want a roadmap directed by maximized profitability at all cost, and we refuse to compromise our products by throwing it to a globalized supply chain that doesn’t have the same quality-first priorities that we do.
That means your support is absolutely essential to making the CM33 and Modula Optical a reality. We need sufficient funds to invest in the equipment, tooling, and raw material needed for us to build many copies of a lens of the quality and complexity of the CM33. The reason our funding goal is high is that the need for this investment is real and significant. Without your support to meet that funding goal, our story absolutely ends here.
Because a successful Kickstarter campaign is so critical, we’ve already invested thousands of engineering man-hours and hundreds of thousands of dollars over the past year to get us to a point where we felt good about asking the Kickstarter community for significant support. The most important thing to us was designing and building the true optical design that we plan to take to production so you can see the real image quality it can produce, not just estimates and analysis. We’re extremely happy with the results.
Not only is the optical design complete and prototyped, but our full supply chain is already defined. We have quotations and lead times in-hand for all critical components that we aren’t building ourselves. And building the majority of mechanical parts ourselves and performing final product assembly and testing at our facility means we have much more control over our own delivery timeline — and quality — than relying on an outside factory.
If we reach our funding goal on Kickstarter, we move into the final engineering and production preparation phase. The most substantial engineering work to be done is to complete our final mechanical design. We have already built multiple rounds of mechanical prototypes to test the highest-risk elements of this design and have high confidence in final features and form-factor. But definition of final details and tuning for our internal manufacturing needs to occur before we’re ready to build lenses to put in your hands.
Also we will immediately begin placing production orders for necessary components like the CM33’s optics, iris apertures (built to our design by an iris aperture manufacturer of 70 years), and a variety of required production tooling. We will also begin purchasing assembly and test equipment and start preparation of our manufacturing space at our facility in Plano, Texas where we can hand-assemble lenses, test them to ensure great image quality, pack them up, and ship them to you.
Our design and production process for the CM33 means we can’t just tool up and pump out tens of thousands of lenses; we wouldn’t have it any other way. We plan to produce these lenses at a rate that ensures a consistent level of quality, but that means they will take time to build and they will always be somewhat limited in availability. Once the design is 100% complete and released, we estimate that we will be able to produce only about 500 CM33 lenses every 3-6 months. Backing us here on Kickstarter ensures you will be among the first to own one.
Backer Reward Details
The main backer reward we offer is a CM33 lens with front and rear caps and a Modula Optical lens cleaning cloth. A survey will be sent out later to allow backers to choose between versions compatible with Fujifilm X, Sony E, or Canon M cameras. We promise that all of our Kickstarter reward levels on the CM33 are at a significant discount below our expected retail pricing, in gratitude for your support. We really have priced it at the minimum we can in order to cover our build costs and get CM33 production and Modula Optical off the ground. After all, that’s why we’re here on Kickstarter.
Of course one of the unique features of the CM33 is its modularity, with Mod optical effects, front ring adapters, and Focus Finder interfaces. So we want to give our Kickstarter backers a chance to customize their CM33 with some of these add-ons at a special price. For all backers who choose a reward level that includes a CM33 lens, we will also provide a one-time opportunity to place an order of CM33 add-ons at a 20% discount below retail pricing. We will send instructions for taking advantage of this discount before we begin sending lenses out to backers, so you can receive everything all at once. Options will include:
- Filter Adapter: This slim machined aluminum adapter ring threads securely onto the CM33 and allows use of standard 52mm diameter lens filters such as UV filters or polarizers.
- Adapter Lens Hood: A sturdy machined aluminum lens hood provides extra protection against off-axis lens flare as well as damage to the CM33’s front optic. Its unique design also provides a threaded outer ring for use of standard 52mm diameter lens filters.
- SF Mod: Choose from our SF Mods options for CM33 which provide differing amounts of beautiful dreamy soft focus look to your images.
Over the coming months we plan to develop and offer additional Mods and other accessories that we will discuss and gather backer feedback on, so you will have as many options as possible available to you before we ship out your lens.
Finally, in addition to the standard CM33 we are offering two exclusive Special Edition versions of the CM33 for those who want something a little special. Rather than the typical black coated aluminum of our standard lens, the body of Special Edition lenses will be precision-machined from a choice of solid stainless steel or brass for a beautifully classic appearance, an unmatched tactile quality, and extremely high strength.
The Special Edition Stainless Steel requires no coating for its durable surface finish, like that of a fine watch, and the Special Edition Brass will slowly develop a delicate patina that evokes precision instruments of a past era. These materials are more much more expensive and time-consuming to machine, so we only plan to make a few Special Edition lenses available, each hand-assembled and tested by the Modula Optical engineering team. Each Special Edition lens will of course come with Filter Adapter Ring, Adapter Lens Hood, and SF Mods.
Frivolous? Well yes, but we thought the options were too cool not to offer.
Shipping Charges, Taxes, and International Support
Because we are offering a fairly high priced product, we have had to very carefully plan for both domestic and international shipping options, as well as insurance, taxes, and customs duties. When you make your pledge, you will be given shipping charges that are specific to your country and represent our real estimates of the costs to get your CM33 to you reliably.
International backers: Because of the high value of the CM33, we have had to very carefully plan for international shipping costs, insurance, customs duties, and local taxes. We plan to ship all lenses “DDP” (Delivered Duty Paid), which means that we will arrange and pay all duties and taxes required by each country up-front. In many cases, the majority of these fees are taxes that you would have to pay if you were buying the lens from a local shop. The shipping charge we list for each country includes these fees already. This means that there will be no risk of surprising fees or customs hassle when you receive your lens — everything is taken care of from us to you.
During our Kickstarter campaign, we are absolutely trying to add as many international countries as we can, as we can determine the shipping charges for each. If your country isn't on the list and you want to let us know, back us for $1 and let us know in the Kickstarter comment area, or else send us a message on Twitter.
Texas residents: As a Texas company, it should come as no surprise that we need to charge state sales tax. When making a contribution that includes a CM33 lens as a reward, please use the table below to determine what your final contribution should be including tax.
About Modula Optical
Modula Optical was incubated by a small group of engineers at Brass Roots Technologies – a Skunkworks-style R&D company that’s comprised almost entirely of engineers with years of experience in the cinema, military, automotive, medical, and consumer fields. We believe that focused end-to-end systems engineering that encompasses everything from user needs through to manufacturing processes and supplier capabilities leads to better products than typical mass-market, marketing-driven, outsourced and cost-focused design and manufacturing. We want to bring that history and philosophy to truly great optical tools that professionals and enthusiasts can use and enjoy for many years.
The CM33 is our first product under the Modula Optical brand, but we already have more designs in the works to slowly build out a full line of specialty lenses and other products.
Help us launch the CM33 and Modula Optical, and shape our future development roadmap. We look forward to a successful launch on Kickstarter with your support, and we’ll be engaging with the Kickstarter community to shape where we go from here. We will be releasing further information on our webpage, as well as engaging with photographers on twitter and facebook.
Risks and challenges
While good engineering always involves unknowns, we have worked tirelessly to minimize the risks of delivering the CM33 and its promised performance and feature set before coming to Kickstarter. We believe anything less would be unfair to our backers. Nonetheless, we want to be up-front with what could happen between now and delivery. Based on our past development experience, we have made best estimates on delivery timeframes including padding for the unforeseen, but there is always the chance of slips of critical material or parts due to material availability or other factors that are impossible to predict. Our specifications are based on real analysis and prototype testing, but small variations could occur in the final product delivered. The outer appearance of the lens shown here is preliminary, and although we do not expect changes in final dimensions or features, specifics of the appearance are not yet absolutely finalized.
Following the close of a successful Kickstarter campaign, we will communicate openly and frequently on our status to backers, whether to keep you updated on progress according to plan, or to highlight any challenges that arise and how we will deal with them.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
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