What Kind of Camera Lenses Should Be Used for Filmmaking?

If you are using a DSLR camera to record video footage, you will need to know what kind of lens would be most suitable for your use-case.  Filmmaking does require a lot of different angles, action scenes, and close-ups; in this case the most suitable option would be a zoom lens with the ability to open to a large aperture. 
lenses for filmmaking - collection of camera lenses

Prime versus Zoom

The convenience of zoom lenses cannot be overstated. You do not have to worry about constantly changing lenses to create the composition you desire, as they cover a wide range of focal lengths in one package. However, it is important to note that this huge strength is also their weakness. Designing a lens to perform optimally at multiple focal lengths is challenging, so there will be some trade-offs between performance and size. While good zoom lenses are available, they typically come at a premium price.

On the other hand, prime lenses are designed to achieve a specific focal length or function. As a result, optical performance is generally much better, and lenses can be made with larger apertures while still maintaining a fairly compact size. Prime lenses have fewer moving parts, so problems arising from general use are less likely. A prime lens typically performs better than a zoom lens and is sharper, with fewer visible aberrations. Modern DSLR and mirrorless cameras feature high-resolution sensors that can make these differences evident.

The inability to zoom in for compositional changes is another significant difference. Since photographers cannot use a zoom lens to change perspective, they must be more thoughtful in their process and move around a bit more. This is why choosing a focal length is one of the most important decisions when considering a prime lens.

lenses for filmmaking - 85mm camera lens

Choosing a Focal Length

You will often hear lenses referred to as “portrait” lenses or “street” lenses because they are better suited to certain subjects or styles. The field of view and the function of the lens play an important role in this decision. Wide or extreme wide-angle lenses are best suited for capturing cramped interiors, while telephoto lenses are most appropriate for capturing distant wildlife or sports.

In addition to the obvious, different focal lengths have their own attributes and appearances. When comparing a wide aperture setting with a longer lens, the depth of field will be shallower when the lens is longer. With a 100mm lens at f/2.8, the background will appear less distinct than with a 35mm lens at f/2.8. In addition, telephoto lenses tend to flatten features and compress space, making the background appear closer to the subject than with a wide-angle lens.

An 85mm lens is a popular choice for portraiture because it provides good background separation due to its shallow depth of field and flatters a subject’s features slightly. The use of wide angles will exaggerate perspective and distort subjects, but they are useful for architecture, landscapes, and other types of photography where dramatic elements are desired.

Remember that sensor size will affect the field of view captured and that lenses are typically given a 35mm equivalent focal length for use with different formats, such as DSLRs with APS-C sensors. With a 1.5x crop factor, a 50mm lens mounted on such a camera will have an equivalent focal length of 75mm. A 50mm lens is still a 50mm, just that the area captured is similar to that of a 75mm lens on a full-frame camera as if you had cropped the image in post-production.

The benefit of this is that users are able to take advantage of their longer lenses to reach a wider area. By doing so, you may be able to convert already long-range lens options into longer equivalent focal lengths, which would otherwise not be possible.

Nikon’s AF-S NIKKOR 600mm f/4E FL ED VR lens and Canon’s EF 600mm f/4L IS III USM, for example, become equivalent to 900mm and 960mm lenses, respectively, which is longer than either company’s current longest lens of 800mm.

Manufacturers of lenses take into account the popularity of crop-sensor cameras. This means that some prime lenses are only compatible with APS-C or smaller sensors and will not provide full coverage when used with a full-frame camera. This allows lenses to be much smaller than what is necessary to achieve equivalent focal lengths with a full-frame lens. In its APS-C mirrorless camera series, Fujifilm offers 23mm, 35mm, and 56mm lenses, which are equivalent to the popular 35mm, 50mm, and 85mm lenses on full-frame cameras.

However, if you own a crop-sensor camera and your brand offers full-frame cameras, you may wish to consider upgrading to a larger sensor in the future. Consequently, crop-sensor lenses will not be compatible with your later camera, while full-frame lenses will be compatible. You can save time and money by purchasing full-frame-compatible glass now.

Other features, such as maximum aperture, minimum focus distance, and autofocus motors, also play an important role in selecting a lens, but focal length remains the most crucial factor.

lenses for filmmaking - 50mm camera lens on table

Standard Lenses

The standard or normal lens is one of the most common options for prime lenses. A 45° angle of view is characteristic of these lenses, which is similar to the perspective we see with our eyes. This is a good lens to begin with since you can easily imagine how your images will appear before you even put the viewfinder up to your eye. 35mm lenses fall between 40mm and 65mm, though the 50mm is the most popular and well-known lens.

Photographers of renown have claimed the “nifty fifty” as their favorite lens, including Henri Cartier-Bresson, one of the most important photojournalists of the 20th century and an icon for amateur and professional street photographers alike. He was famous for using a 50mm lens almost exclusively for its ability to act as “an extension of (the) eye,” permitting photographers to capture life in a frame in which our experience of the world can be captured.

It is also well known that normal prime lenses are easy to manufacture, relatively inexpensive, and generally reliable due to their simple design. Moreover, manufacturers tend to produce multiple varieties of this lens for photographers at all levels, whether they are beginners, amateurs, or professionals. Nikon’s AF-S NIKKOR 50mm f/1.8G and Canon’s EF 50mm f/1.8 STM are great budget options with wide maximum apertures that can significantly increase the capabilities of a beginner in comparison to a kit zoom lens. There are also higher-quality optics, such as ZEISS’s Otus 55mm f/1.4 lens, which is designed to provide near-perfect images at a price.

lenses for filmmaking - photographer using telephoto lens

Telephoto Lenses

There may be times when photographers find themselves needing a little more reach than they are able to achieve with a normal lens. In such cases, telephoto lenses can be extremely useful. As a general rule, telephoto lenses have focal lengths greater than 80mm and can extend up to 400mm, but at that point, they are often referred to as super telephoto lenses.

The popular 85mm, 100mm, and 135mm lenses are among the first branches of this category. As each of these lenses provides a slightly different perspective, the longer their focal length, the greater the compression, the shallower their depth of field, and the greater the distance they can be from their subject. Photographers usually use shorter lenses when photographing portraits because they prefer to maintain a reasonable distance between themselves and their subjects, as shooting across a field on a windy day is not ideal. In addition, shorter telephoto lenses are easier to handle and less intimidating while maintaining the benefits of shallow depth of field and flatter features.

The standard telephoto lens and the super telephoto lens represent the next level of lens technology and offer the advantage of distance. In order to capture a faraway subject, such as a rare bird or a football player, there is no other option. The disadvantage of these larger lenses is their size and aperture. A longer focal length requires a larger aperture, which makes options such as an 800mm f/2 lens practically impossible. It is important to consider the aperture when purchasing a telephoto lens, especially if you are considering the use of teleconverters.

The additional size and weight of telephoto lenses, coupled with their narrow field of view, make image stabilization an essential feature, especially when the focal length exceeds 200mm. With this technology, camera shake can be corrected, especially since the longer lengths amplify its appearance. With image stabilization, users are able to capture photographs that would otherwise not be possible with slower shutter speeds and low ISOs. In addition, video shooters will greatly benefit from this technology since it will greatly enhance the smoothness of handheld footage.

lenses for filmmaking - wide angle lens

Wide-Angle Lenses

In some cases, it is simply not possible to include everything in the frame, whether it is a group picture or a view of your favorite building. With their wide angle of view, wide-angle lenses, usually found at focal lengths less than 40mm, fill in this gap. Using the 35mm lens commonly found on a photojournalist’s camera, they are suitable for landscape, architectural, and street photography.

For some users, options such as the 28mm and 35mm will provide a slight expansion of their field of view. In addition to capturing a bit more in the frame, wide angles have a couple of notable advantages as a result of their design. As a result of the shorter focal length, there is a deep depth of field. Landscape and architectural photography benefit from the ability to capture entire scenes in focus, although it is not ideal for portraiture. As a result, photojournalists are allowed more latitude for focus errors with split-second shots.

Another popular wide-angle lens is the fisheye lens. A circular fisheye lens covers the widest angle of view, such as Rokinon’s 8mm f/3.5 HD Fisheye lens. When used with an APS-C camera, this type of novelty glass creates dramatic, exaggerated perspective and a circular image with a powerful circular image on a full-frame camera.

lenses for filmmaking - macro camera lens

Specialty Lenses

Because prime lenses have a specific purpose, they can be used as high-performance optics. It should be noted that macro lenses are a type of specialty glass that facilitates extremely close focusing distances, often with a 1:1 magnification ratio to capture true-to-life images. The AF-S VR Micro-NIKKOR 105mm f/2.8G IF-ED is one of many macro lenses available in a variety of sizes, ranging from wide to telephoto. These focal lengths provide users with a good working distance, enabling them to avoid accidentally blocking light from reaching their subjects or scaring away insects.

The reason cameras are used more often than camcorders is because cameras also serve the function of photography. Cameras have become ubiquitous and much more affordable than filmmaking-quality camcorders. 

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