Lenses are probably the most important tool a filmmaker can have. With the right glass, you can achieve great cinematic images with even normal house hold lights and a T 2i. Camera sensors differ slightly in look and feel but nothing will drastically change the look of your film as lenses and the choice of focal length.
This post is aimed at someone that is either trying to build an amazing lens kit capable to tackle any shooting scenario or someone that wants to expand an existing one by adding unique lenses that have unique looks.
We are going to look at cheap and imperfect lenses, vintage lenses, as well as newer lenses. Each lens has its own purpose and we are going to cover absolutely every piece of glass that you as a filmmaker or cinematographer should be aware of.
I am going to divide this post into two sections. First we are going to look at the best modern lenses that can give you a nice clean look while having great compatibility in terms of quality, autofocus and in lens stabilization, and price. Then we are going to look at vintage lenses that can be more affordable, less perfect, but that have more character and can give you very different unique looks in a later article.
1 - Tamron SP 70-200mm F/2.8 Di VC G2
I'm going to start this list with my all time favorite lens and focal length. Tamron has been doing some amazing things and with the recent introduction of the new and improved 70-200mm it started gaining some serious competitive edge to Canon and Sony with their respective 70-200 lenses.
I have done many in studio comparisons with the previous model Tamron had and it was already close if not better than the much more expensive (nearly twice the price) Canon 70-200mm.This new version from Tamron has a much improved and more solid feeling metal body.
The Vibration Control (VC) has been largely improved offering 3 different modes to control it depending on the type of shooting situation. This last improvement is huge for me as I have noticed many times when shooting on a tripod and tilting or panning that the previous iteration was trying to overcompensate the moment. With these modes you now have full control over the lens' VC.
The reason why I like this focal length in general so much is for the emotion it can convey. This is my go to for capturing powerful moments and getting really close, not just in terms of getting close to the subject in space, but also in terms of feeling as this lens compresses the background and creates a very intimate feel.
I love love love this lens and I can't praise it enough. And the bokeh... oh the bokeh!
Honestly words can't do it justice so watch this video by The Slanted Lens:
You can buy the Tamron 70-200mm g2 here:
2 - SIGMA 18-35mm T2 & 50-100mm CINE HIGH-SPEED ZOOMS LENSES
Ok so these next two lenses I've paired together might scare you a bit in terms of price but if you can afford them, they are an amazing set of cine glass that can give you high end cinematic looks.
It is a large investment but unlike camera bodies which can become obsolete in a very short amount of time, good glass usually can stand the test of time and be used for a life time. This is the type of kit that can do that for you since it not only offers a solid build, can offer a great image, but they are also constructed as Cine lenses which is very different than having a regular DSLR of photography lens. This is because the gear rings for every aspect of the lens (Aperture / Iris, zoom / Focal length, Focus) can be controlled and attached to a follow focus piece for example.
This makes these lenses future proof in terms of your own career so that if you ever scale up in crew size or want to mount these on a cinema camera, a shoulder rig, or on a Movi that needs a wireless follow focus system attached to pull focus remotely.
Another handy feature about the way that these lenses are built is that the numbers and markings on the lens glow in the dark! Say whhhaaat?
Yeah. Now this isn't just a cool party trick you can show off to your filmmaking buddies but it is very useful in low light and night shoots when pulling focus and having very low visibility.
A huge part of how a lens looks to me is the bokeh and how it flares. These Cine lenses excel at both. The bokeh is just stunning and gives your images a nice depth and the flares look very natural and cinematic.
Understand that these lenses can't be compared to other DSLR and photography lenses as they belong in the Cine lens category. With that in mind, the price can even seem cheap considering what SIGMA is offering. If you are serious about Cinematography and want to invest in a great pair of Cine lenses for your lens kit then the Sigma cine zoom lenses are an amazing investment.
This video from Sigma Benelux showcases the look of these lenses:
You can buy the Sigma Cine Zoom Bundle here:
3 - ROKINON CINE LENS KIT 24, 35, 50, 85mm T1.5
As an alternative to the expensive Cine lens market, Rokinon offers a pretty decent solution.
I personally like the look of Rokinon lenses, especially when paired with a very sharp looking Sony sensor.
Rokinon glass has a slightly soft quality which isn't necessarily a bad thing considering most digital sensors now are very clean and can lack the more organic and authentic feel film cameras have.
I even find myself adding a bit of diffusion to either the from of most lenses or in post to add more of that veiled feel that emulates the film look that we are all accustomed to. This is why we are going to look at vintage glass later in this post and see just why they are so great while being affordable.
The focus and iris each have gears built to fit most wireless systems which is impressive for the price point they come in the market. This is why if you are starting off and are trying to get a very decent kit that can fit to into a camera rig and can give you great results, the Rokinon lenses could be a good fit for you.
Something I should mention is the Xeen line up which is the next step up in the Rokinon brand, however, for the price bump I don't see them being worth saving the money. If you want Cine lenses but can't afford much, the Rokinons are great. If you want anything beyond that, it would probably be best to wait out and grab the Sigmas shown in the previous section.
Here is a very good technical review video from DotKomrade Productions:
You can buy the Rokinon Cine set here:
5 - TAMRON 24-70mm F2.8 VC
Tamron makes it again on the list and for all the good reasons of our top pick. It's a great all around lens, affordable, and with a range that is a must have in your lens kit.
The VC is great, and in electronic lenses is an added element that can help smooth out shakiness and make your shots much smoother. This is why this lens is a great all around glass piece to have in your lens kit for many different shooting uses.
The range is a must and can get pretty pricy and cumbersome when trying to cover that range with individual primes. This is why having a zoom that can cover that range while being a relatively fast aperture makes this lens a great option.
You can buy the Tamron 24-70mm here:
6 - PANASONIC 14mm F2.5 G
This is a very specific type of lens and here's why:
If you own a Panasonic GH4 or GH5 this lens has great compatibility while keeping a very very small form factor. I mean look at that thing!
This is a great travel lens and something that you can throw in your bag or pocket and whip out whenever you need a very wide shot for a landscape of for a vlog. For the size the fact that it can open up to an F2.5 is great and the focus ring is smooth enough to not give you any problems when shooting.
This is also the perfect lens for gimbal shoots and whenever you are trying to keep a low profile with your camera set up.
Roberto Blake took a look at the lens and shared his thoughts in this video:
You can buy the Panasonic 14mm lens here:
7 - SONY 20mm F2.8
If you have a Sony body and are getting jealous of all the Panasonic love the previous lens got, no worries, there is a Sony pancake lens for you too. It's not as wide but its black.
I personally prefer this focal length since for my type of shooting it has more uses, especially for vlogging.
Incredibly considering its size, this lens has autofocus! And its really not bad at all.
This is great for all the same reasons as the previous Panasonic pancake lens; its small, portable and great for travel, and has a solid feel and build quality.
Again this is great for gimbal shots, especially the increasingly popular one hand stabilizers. This lens allows you to keep a small form factor and avoids adding too much weight to the rig that can get very tiring if you are using bigger and heavier lenses.
The only draw back is that if you want to use any follow focus systems there is little room for gears to grip.
An added bonus with this lens is Sony's ultra wide converter which can give you a wider wide range of focal length.
Converters like this can be great at increasing your options without taking up too much extra room in your camera bag.
TechnologyMafia made a video reviewing this Sony 20mm lens:
You can buy the Sony 20mm lens here:
8 - SIGMA 24-35mm F2 ART
I personally believe the SIGMA art series is what legitimized third party lenses that weren't recognized named such as Canon or Nikon.
The Art series has been constantly improving offering a look that is favored by filmmakers for its sharpness as well as character.
This particular lens was the fastest zoom available for full frame cameras at the time of release, raising the bar for all other manufactures.
Many Cinematographers prefer prime lenses as they have a production longer history and can usually offer a high end quality that most zooms can't. However, I think that in the new age of cinema zoom lenses are a must have in your filmmaking lens kit.
They offer more than one focal length in one body which gives you more creative freedom when shooting and allows you to experiment a bit more without loosing the luxury of time when having to swap lenses on set.
This particular lens covers 24mm, 28mm, and 35mm focal length which is my preferred wide range before jumping into a 50mm and a 70-200 from there.
The bokeh is nice and round thanks to the many blades and the focus motors are very silent.
Overall this is one of the nicer wide zoom lenses for videos.
Even-though I think this camera is a perfect fit for filmmakers, I wanted to include this great video from DPReview to show some portrait and subject shots that highlight just how great the bokeh and feel of this lens are:
You can buy the Sigma 24-35mm F2 Art lens here:
9 - SIGMA 85mm F/1.4 ART
If you are interested in getting a lens that is simply outstanding for portraits then the Sigma Art 85mm f 1.4 is the perfect lens for you.
I know I have covered several zooms that do a really solid job with subjects in close ups and portraits but nothing can quite come close to the look and feel of this 85mm.
The bokeh is just stunning and this bad boy is made up of 14 elements while having excellent sharpness and details and is almost completely free of any chromatic aberrations.
The body feels solid and robust and the large focus ring is nice and comfortable to grip and nail precise focus changes.
Of course this lens is praised by photographers but a good portrait type close up can be really important in a film to really drive the emotion of an actor in a scene.
For a more detailed look at just how great this lens is check out this great review video by Dan Watson:
You can buy the Sigma 85mm F/1.4 Art lens here:
10 - CANON 50mm F/1.4 USM
A 50mm is a must have in any lens kit and a 50mm is a great focal length to start filming with and practicing as it forces you to physically move in your scene to get close ups or wide shots.
This gets you thinking more of blocking and out of the box ways of getting the look you want.
Directors like Hitchcock, Robert Bresson, and Yasujiro Ozu almost exclusively used the 50mm focal length so its important to appreciate its use and what it can offer to your scene.
I owned this Canon 50mm f/1.4 and although the body is mostly plastic it is still robust and feels solid and delivers a great image for its price.
This is one of the lenses that I recommend to filmmakers that are just starting out or are starting to build their lens kit.
There are plenty of 50mm out there and I might even make a post on just that topic but this one is a solid option and one of my favorites.
You can buy the Canon 50mm F/1.4 lens here:
This brought some memories. Looking back at the lenses I've used and loved for things I've shot or collaborated with DPs that did was a lot of fun for me and I hope you enjoyed this article and found some value into it.
Do you agree with the lens choices on this list? Let me know if you have any lenses that you really like and feel free to share your thoughts on them in the comments below!
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