Lens choice is subjective and certainly not a science, but below are some important considerations when considering the best DLSR lens for video purposes. One of the big advantages of shooting with a DSLR instead of a standard prosumer camcorder is the ability to swap out lenses. Learn to choose ’em well and use ’em even better and you will be well on your way to shooting stunning DSLR video footage.
If you do not yet own any DLSR lenses, I recommend starting with a 50mm prime lens. Here’s why:
- A prime lens has a fixed focal length. In other words, it is what it is. Want to get closer to that ‘gator? Suck it up and take a few steps forward – there is no zoom to help you here. (Legal disclaimer: I advise against using a 50mm prime lens to shoot any critter with sharp teeth or horns that isn’t a family pet).
- Why 50mm? 50mm lenses most closely mimic the way our eyes perceive our surroundings so they are an excellent focal length to start with.
- Prime lenses are higher quality for the money and tend to be faster. Faster, meaning that they let in more light. The speed of the lens is even more important for video than it is for still photography. With still photography you can reduce the shutter speed down as much as you wish (even 1 frame per second or slower). As long as you have a steady tripod you will get a clean shot. With video you need to shoot at about 50 frames per second consistently. Any slower than this and you are likely to get unwanted strobing effects.
- Lens sharpness is often touted as being highly important and it is…for still photography. For video, a fast lens (see above) is more important than a sharp lens. In fact when choosing a lens for video, some softness is even desirable, giving more of a filmic look.
- Fixed focal length lenses are also great to learn with. They will force you to learn your lens and DSLR well and make strong compositional choices while shooting.
- Note that if you use a micro 4/3rds format camera such as the Panasonic GH2, lenses will have a focal length 2X of what the lens is marked as. For example a 25mm lens becomes a 50mm lens on the GH2. DSLRs such as the Canon 5D have “full frame” sensors so there is no crop factor to take into account – the lens will be as stated. Check your camera manual to be certain of this.
Below is a great Canon 50mm lens to consider that offers excellent value money.
Canon EF 50mm 1.8 – It’s a little bit plasticky, but this lens incorporates some great glass for the dollar spent. Very good for video.
Next I would purchase a good zoom lens. Something in the range of 50mm to 150mm. Zoom lenses are a bit pricier because they are more complex. They are also slower (need more light) than primes because the additional lens elements mean that there is more glass for light to travel through. With zoom lenses, unless you will exclusively be using your camera on a tripod, I recommend purchasing models that include built in image stabilization. This will be key when shooting on the go. The closer you zoom into a subject, the greater the lens shake.
Sigma APO 70-200mm Lens – This is an excellent zoom lens with built in stabilization. Fast. Great choice for video.
Finally I recommend a good wide angle lens. Wide angle lenses are very helpful for shooting in tight spaces and they also tend to be relatively fast lenses so they can be helpful in low light conditions.
Tokina 11-16mm Lens – This wide angle with a zoom is a bit pricier than the lenses above, but wide angle lenses are generally more expensive because of the complexity of the lens shape design (Google “retrofocal construction” if you are interested to learn more. It’s beyond this blog’s focus to cover.)
Finally, remember to spend some time (preferable a lot of time) with each lens before moving onto the next. There is no need to rush into purchasing new lenses until you know the ones you own well. There are many, many other aesthetic considerations that will take time to learn from your lenses by experience. Each piece of glass has its own character of color, brightness, graininess and an intangible feel. Great photographers have been made by their wise choice of lenses. Follow your instincts and you too may develop your own unique style that will partly be connected to your particular choice of lenses.