A lens is the optical funnel through which your camera captures light. It is a very important tool. Generally the two most important considerations when buying a lens are:
This directly translates to the “field of view” of the lens or “how zoomed in it is”. Obviously this will have a very large impact on the shot.
This refers to how large the rear element of the lens is and how much light it allows to pass through it to hit your sensor. A lens can always be “stopped down” to a smaller aperture, but having the option of “opening it up” to its widest possible aperture means a more shallow depth of field (blurry background) and better low light ability.
“It’s the glass that really makes a difference”. “Invest in lenses”. You’ve heard this before if you’ve taken a walk down lens recommendation posts on modern forums. Take a look at the video below.
In some contexts, lens choice is possibly more critical than the camera, but it’s often overstated by those without context looking to justify an expensive lens purchase. Cinema lenses have certain features which make using them on big shows and crews easier, but really, much of the difference is not one visual to an audience unless you get into something like anamorphics. Cheap lenses used to be decidedly inferior optically, but I’d say around 2010 or so we started to see a real evening out of some budget lenses really competing with their name-brand counterparts. As we’ll get into in the next section, only buy something you know will really make a difference in your production.
When I began in this industry, the focus (hehe) was on lens sharpness and consistency, the true marks of a “professional” lens. Modern cinematographers are currently and commonly after everything but sharpness and consistency. I therefore maintain that you’re better off shooting with old cheap lenses “with character” than you are spending a lot of money on modern imperfect cine lenses. And the standard to which photography lenses have been held (from a technical perspective) is higher than that of cine lenses, so even Master Primes don’t excite me like they once did.
If you’re after a vintage look there’s good news. It’s easier to add stuff to a lens to make it less perfect than it is the other way ’round. Often what makes vintage lenses look cool is imperfections like: halation (translucent glowing around highlights); softness around the edges; Here are some tricks:
Why Cine lenses are expensive (from biggest factor to smallest):
1. Supply vs. Demand: Photo market is way bigger
2. Breathing and Cam-driven internal construction
3. Still photo lens zooms are “vari-focal” meaning they change focus with zoom
4. Light transmission (T-stop) and color consistency across a series
Cine lenses have a wider angle of rotation on the lens for adjusting focus. They are geared with the standard .8 MOD pitch and the spacing along the length of the lens of the focus gearing is consistent between multiple lenses (you don’t have to move your follow focus after switching focal lengths).
Photo lenses are held to if anything, a higher optical standard in many ways.