Best Lenses for New Filmmakers
Back when I first started working as a cameraman, we primarily used high end video cameras to record things like commercials and documentaries. There was always a big difference between projects shot on video and those shot on film. One of the biggest things you would notice was that video just had a specific look. It moved at around 30 frames per second and just had a different feel. But today, that line between video and film is gone. Almost all independent features are now shot on dslr’s or cameras that can shoot at 24 fps and can shoot with different lenses. Therefore it’s important for beginning filmmakers to understand lenses and which ones will get you the best bang for your buck.
Note: This is primarily for Canon users, so my apologies in advance to Nikon users. I have listed a few Nikon lenses below that are older manual lenses that can be adapted to a Canon mount. I also want to mention that this is just my personal opinion, so I’m sure not everyone will agree.
Best Starter Lenses
If I had to recommend just one lens for the starting filmmaker, it would be this one. If you are looking to start making short films quickly, there is no better combination than a cheap dslr like the Canon EOS Rebel T5 along with a 50mm f/1.8 lens. One of the big things this lens allows you to do is shoot in very low light. As it is a f/1.8, it will also allow you to shoot with a very narrow depth of field which gives you that nice blur (Bokeh) in the foreground and backgroun. The only issue that I have with this lens is that you will most likely be shooting on a cropped sensor, so this lens really becomes kind of a zoom. So you may want to go with something a little wider like the Canon 24mm f/2.8 mentioned below.
One thing you may notice is that none of the lenses here are fixed length, in other words they don’t zoom in and out. Otherwise known as Prime lenses. In general, in order to make the glass in the lens work well it takes a lot more to make a really good zoom lens. So in general you are in better shape to stick with fixed lenses.
2. Canon EF 50mm f/1.4
For those who have a few hundred bucks more, I would recommend going with the 50mm f/1.4. This lens is a giant leap forward from the f/1.8 not only in terms of picture quality, but the lens itself is much better built.
If these 2 50mm lenses are still out of your price range, you can also find some great older 50mm lenses. One of my favorite lenses that virtually nobody knows about and it’s an amazing lens is the Olympus 50mm f/1.4 or f/1.8 Zuiko Prime. It’s a well built full metal lens, sharp as a tack, and can be found for around $30 on Ebay.
Another personal favorite extremely cheap but good lens is the Nikkor 50mm f/1.8 E lens that you can also find on Ebay for quite cheap. Canon and other users can find pretty cheap adapters for these, but since they are manual they allow you to change your iris manually which can be very convenient.
3. Rokinon 14mm f/2.8
I had to include this lens for 2 reasons. First of all, this is one of my all time favorite lenses to shoot with. And second, it’s pretty cheap. On a cropped sensor, this lens works great because it gives you that real panoramic feel. It makes your images look epic. The only issue I have is that it has a large rounded lens so you won’t be able to use any screw on filters or even an protective UV Filter.
My first really wide angle lens was the Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8, which is also a wonderful wide lens for the price, but a bit more expensive and not as good for filmmaking as the Rokinon.
4. Canon EF 85mm f/1.8
For price and quality, the Canon 85mm f/1.8 is going to be about the best option for the quality and price point. I’m more of a fan of wide lenses, but this used to be my go to lens for a zoom.
5. Canon EF 24mm f/2.8
Now let me start by saying ergonomically, this is a terrible lens to be shooting with. But it has 3 huge advantages over most of the other lenses out there. It’s super cheap, has an f/2.8, and it will give you the same focal length on a cropped sensor as a 35mm. Of course the obvious drawback is that it will be a hard lens to focus with. And you can pretty much forget attaching a focus ring to it. So bare that in mind. But for $150 bucks, you’re not going to get much better.
If you absolutely need to have an all in one solution, I highly recommend Canon’s 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6. This lens also has STM (Stepper Motor) which means it’s very quiet. That can be a big help on set, although most of us will be using the manual focus function.
A Step Up
As you develop as a cinematographer, you will also want to get better glass. Here are my 3 favorite mid-level lenses.
Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L
This is my personal favorite lens. I use this lens and my Rokinon wide angle for about 99% of the work I do. Of course, this lens isn’t cheap, so it’s better to start with the other lenses until you feel comfortable and then move up when you’re making some income and actually need the lens.
Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM Telephoto Zoom Lens
You can’t have a real list of Canon lenses without these white badboys. The Canon 70-200mm is a beast. Without a doubt one of the best zoom lenses on the market. If you really start getting serious you will want to check these out. This is the go to lens for sports photographers and are also amazing for filmmaking.
I have tried a lot of lenses out in the past and these really are my favorites. Nobody ever really agrees on lenses so make sure to do your research. The truth is though, if I was just starting today and had some real money to spend, I would probably just go with the Rokinon Cine Lenses. They have some great deals right now and you can have a full set of amazing primes for around $1k.
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