I’ve been using the Rokinon as the 85mm in my prime lens kit since it came out earlier this year, and it’s been getting noticed a lot lately. Here’s where I like it, where I don’t, and when it gets used the most.
The 85mm is about as fast as you could reasonably need in any lens. There are 85mm f/1.2 lenses made by Canon and others, but the 1/3-stop difference isn’t as important as other lens features. The lens is sharp enough for 1080p even wide open, and starts approaching near-perfect sharpness for stills around T/2.8. It’s actually a pretty nice photo lens for portraits if you don’t mind the manual focus. Bokeh is very pleasing, and a bit more circular than the Canon f/1.8, but not as perfectly round as the Canon f/1.2L. It also flares a bit less than the 85mm Canon f/1.8. The flares are also much more cinematic. If your goal is JJ-Abrams-style intentional flares, this lens really does well.
The standard lens gear is much nicer than aftermarket gears or traditional cine-mods. There is nothing to slip or drift, and pulling focus is always smooth and natural. It also has hard focus stops at near focus and infinity, so you don’t have to re-mark your follow focus like you would for photo lenses.
As most video shooters know, precision control over exposure is welcome addition. The de-clicked aperture allows you to easily fine-tune your iris without even thinking about how many stops you’re going in either direction. I found that taking the numbers and clicks out of the equation completely allowed me to focus on making the image look better, not what F-stop I thought should look best.
If you’re looking to shoot more stills than video, the 85mm f/1.8 from Canon is probably a better choice. The autofocus and superior sharpness wide open make it a better lens for portraits at f/2. If you’ve got budget, the Rokinon can’t come close to the 85mm cinema primes from Canon and Zeiss. It’s an unfair comparison, of course, since you can buy a complete set of Rokinon lenses for less than the cheapest cinema lens from Canon.
The lens does breathe a bit on focus pulls. We didn’t mind it much in our testing, but it’s much more noticeable than a Zeiss 85mm CP2, for example.
If you’re the type who wants all of your prime lenses to match, Rokinon can’t help you yet. With a big gap at the 50mm spot, there’s no way you can make a complete Rokinon prime kit. The reality is, at this price point the Rokinon lenses probably won’t be a perfect match for color, anyway, so switching to a 50mm cine-modded Zeiss Planar T* isn’t a big deal.
When I Use It
For budget DSLR video shoots, a full set of cinema primes can be out of reach, and zoom lenses often don’t have the speed for indoor shoots. I have been loving the 85mm T/1.5 on a Canon 5D mark III for interviews, where the focal length is perfect and the limitations of the lens hardly matter. The T/1.5 really lets backrounds fall off a lot faster than f/1.8 lenses. It’s also a great lens for getting more candid moments at parties and events indoors, where you need some reach from your focal length and still need to be able to expose in near-darkness with only available light.
I get asked all the time, “what’s the best lens to shoot video on my camera?” Once you’ve shot for awhile, you’ll realize this is a silly question. Most projects are much better with a collection of a few lenses, whether they are zooms or primes.
Every time I choose a lens, it’s based on what’s appropriate for the project, the shot, the camera, and the budget. But since there are thousands of reviews for photo lenses, and almost none of them talk about shooting video, I thought I’d make my personal top five list of still photo lenses for Canon video shooters. For those projects where cinema lenses just aren’t affordable, finding the right photo lens can still get you amazing results. This list isn’t scientific, and it’s not comprehensive, but these lenses should definitely be on your radar, especially if you’re shooting on a Canon 5D mark III or Canon 6D.
Canon makes four 50mm prime still photo lenses, and this one strives to strike a balance between good and affordable.
Why it’s great for video
The shallow-depth-of-field look is why DSLRs really exploded for video around 2010. While f/2.8 usually looks just fine, shooting at f/1.4 could make an interview in front of a trash pile look beautiful. Perhaps more importantly, the two extra stops of light mean you can realistically expose in places you otherwise wouldn’t dream of shooting. Wide open around 1600-3200 ISO, you can expose for faces watching a projection screen or people lit only by candles. It’s tiny and lightweight, and not intimidating for the shooter or the subject. The 50mm focal length is natural, elegant, and cuts with anything. It also beats the sharpness of any of Canon’s zoom lenses. It’s a useful length on a crop factor camera, too, especially as an interview/portrait lens. At a little over $300 new, it’s the most affordable lens on this list.
What’s not so great
It’s not a do-everything lens, so you’ll need at least one lens on either side of the 50mm focal length for just about every shoot.
This prime lens is found most often in wedding photographer’s bags, but I’ve seen it on more than one video set, as well.
Why it’s great for video
Shoot without a macro lens for long enough, and you’ll get to the point where you realize you absolutely, positively, must have one in your kit for certain situations. While Canon’s 50mm f/2.5 macro can work in a pinch, the 100mm focal length of this lens lets you put a little more distance between the camera and the subject, making lighting much easier. The 50mm also doesn’t look great beyond a few feet, but the 100mm f/2.8L IS makes a great lens for portrait-style work, interviews, and events. The stabilization means you can even shoulder-mount the camera in a pinch, although I suggest a monopod or tripod for extended shooting. This lens, like almost all Canon prime lenses, has simply fantastic optics and sharpness.
What’s not so great
I find 100mm a less desirable focal length than 85mm and 135mm, usually. The price seems a bit steep when compared to non-L-series primes. It’s probably Canon’s slowest prime lens over $1000. If you decide to go with a prime kit instead of zooms, you’ll have more lenses in your bag, although the rest of them will probably be smaller and much more affordable.
This lens is basically the kit lens of Canon’s fullframe lineup. While many shooters will trade the zoom range for the extra stop of light in the 24-70 f/2.8 IS, the 24-105 is the most popular Canon fullframe lens currently in production.
Why it’s great for video
DSLR video is strongest in scripted narrative and music videos. Documentary work really pushes the DSLR farther than it might want to go. This lens makes it possible to actually follow around a subject, get in the car, get out of the car, and keep rolling the whole time. Image stabilization and a perfect zoom range for “walking around” make it incredibly popular, and bundle prices have pushed the white box version of a new lens under $700. The L on the barrel might even make you feel a little better when you’re trying to justify shooting your whole movie on a single $700 lens.
What’s not so great
Jack of all trades, master of none. The range is practical, but doesn’t go as far on either end as you might want. The f/4 aperture is too slow for dark interiors. Sharpness is acceptable, but color fringes and softness creep into the image corners on the longer end of the zoom range. It also doesn’t maintain a continuous exposure level through zooming. Even though the readout stays at f/4, I find that zooming from 24mm to 105mm effects my exposure by a stop or more.
If you’re a still photographer who wants to dabble in video, this will be a frustrating lens. Not as sharp as most wides, and relatively slow focusing compared to other lenses. But for video shooters, it’s one of my top recommendations.
Why it’s great for video
The focal length range is fantastic. It looks almost identical at 11mm on a crop factor camera as at 16mm on a full-frame camera. The perspective is exaggerated, but distortion is kept to a minimum (this is no fisheye). This lens loves to be moved around, and I often put it on a jib or slider for really engaging camera moves. The f/2.8 speed means you can use it indoors, even in low light if you don’t mind pushing the ISO a bit. This is a hugely popular lens for indie music videos. There is no image stabilization, but that’s forgivable on a lens this wide. The sharpness issues that bother me at 22 megapixels don’t even factor in to 1080p video. It’s also the first “affordable” lens you should buy for a micro 4/3rds-size sensor with an EF mount, like the Blackmagic Cinema Camera. I nearly put the Sigma 20mm f/1.8 on this list instead, but I think the added usability of the Tokina on crop-factor cameras earns it a spot on my top five list.
What’s not so great
On fullframe cameras, the imaging area of the lens doesn’t reach the edge of the sensor past 16mm. The focal flange distance varies from copy to copy, and some of them don’t properly focus to infinity on all camera bodies (see the Blackmagic Cinema Camera).
Canon has always excelled at making long zoom lenses. It’s what helped Canon win market share back from Nikon as the world shifted to digital. The current version of the 70-200 f/2.8 IS is basically the pinnacle of human engineering, and a likely contender for eighth wonder of the world.
Why it’s great for video
Still photographers have the luxury of shooting at faster shutter speeds to control shake and blur. Video shooters don’t. The image stabilization is critical for handheld, but I’ve even seen it help on tripod shots. Combine that with amazing lens speed, a very convienient zoom range, and industry-leading sharpness for a near-perfect lens. If you’re shooting DSLRs in a studio setup, you’ll want two!
What’s not so great
The price. The newest version is upwards of $2,300, and you’ll still need a lens or two in the middle of the zoom range. It’s also not particularly portable. At least it will keep almost all of its retail value, if you take good care of it. The 70-200 f/2.8L IS original can be found for a very good price, and for video shooters, the upgrade to the II model is probably not necessary.
What lens is on your must-have list for video shooting? Leave your thoughts in the comments.
If you’ve never used a detachable-lens camera like a DSLR or mirrorless camera before, the prospect of choosing lenses can be a bit intimidating. There are some alright guides online for still shooters, but we felt we needed to write something specifically for people shooting video. Here’s the quick-and-dirty overview of what you need to know before you pick a lens or set of lenses, whether it’s to rent, borrow, or buy.
The camera and the lens need to make a physical connection and an optical one. If you use a lens and a camera that share the same mount, this is usually pretty easy. The three most common categories of lens mounts in the video world are EF (Canon), F (Nikon) and PL (cinema cameras), but you’ll see others like Sony’s Alpha/NEX/E-mount, micro 4/3 (MFT) mounts, and more, too. Frequently, you can use an adapter to connect one type of mount to another, but it can be kludgy and often you’ll lose any electronic features built into the lens, like autofocus or vignette correction. And often, adapters will only work in one direction. This is because of the imaging area of the lens.
Each lens creates a circle of the image it is capturing inside the camera. Some lenses have a very large image circle. These are usually more expensive and heavier. They can be adapted more easily to almost any mount. Some lenses have a smaller imaging area. These are usually more affordable and lightweight, but can’t be used on a larger image sensor. This is the reason EF lenses (approx. 43mm imaging area diameter) can be used on crop-factor cameras like the T5i (approx. 30mm sensor diagonal), but EF-S lenses can’t be used on fullframe cameras like the Canon 5D mark III. This holds true for Nikon lenses (called DX) and some other third-party lens manufacturers, too.
If all your cameras have the same imaging area, it’s a non-issue. If you have different sensor sizes, it may make sense to buy for the biggest sensor, since you may be able to adapt your lenses to fit the smaller sensor. Or buy a separate set of lenses for each of your different camera mounts, if you don’t mind carrying around all that extra glass. For beginners, definitely start with a mount that matches your camera. You’ll have plenty of time to experiment with odd mountings later in your career!
Not all vintage lenses are great lenses. This Tamron would be pretty slow by today’s standards.
Wide lens. Long lens. Normal lens. Telephoto lens. These all have meanings, and they all depend not just on the lens itself, but on the camera and imaging sensor they are designed to be paired with. A “normal” lens is one that gives a field-of-view similar to what we see with our eyes. We measure lens focal length in millimeters. What tends to look normal is a focal length approximately the same as the diameter of the imaging area (the diagonal measurement of the camera sensor). Fullframe cameras like the Canon 5D and 6D are often paired with a 50mm lens when the shooter wants a natural sense of depth and dimension. Crop factor cameras have a smaller sensor, so the measurement of “normal” will be smaller, too. On a APS-C sized sensor as found in lots of DSLRs (T2i, T3i, T4i, T5i, T6s, 7D, just to name a few) a 35mm lens will look about normal in most cases.
Normal lenses, because they are doing “normal” things with light, tend to be the easiest to engineer. This is why the $300 50mm Canon f/1.4 lens can look amazing, but nobody makes a 300mm f/1.4 at any price.
Usually a photographer’s first lens is a zoom lens, this means it has variable focal length. A lens that does not zoom is called a prime lens. Prime lenses are easier to engineer than zoom lenses, so they tend to be less expensive, smaller, lighter, and of significantly higher image quality. If you have time to switch lenses, or a team of people to help you, you’ll almost always want primes. If you need to compose your shots on-the-fly, and don’t have time to dig through a set of 5 different lenses for the right one, a zoom might be the best choice. Historically, zooms have been favored for 35mm photo and television, while primes have been used more for motion pictures and large-format photography.
A wide lens is a lens that has a smaller focal length than whatever “normal” is, depending on the camera. So on my Canon 6D, a 35mm lens is a wide lens, but on my Canon T5i, it’s a normal lens. A wide lens tends to exaggerate space and perspective.
A long lens (also called telephoto lens) has a focal length greater than normal. Some lenses go much beyond normal, and are called super-telephoto lenses. A long lens tends to compress space and minimize distance.
A perfect bag of lenses would have all your focal lengths covered. When I shoot with the Canon 5DmkII, I usually have a 20mm, 28mm, 35mm, 50mm, 85mm, and 105mm in my bag. That way I know I can get just about any shot I want. I usually only shoot with a zoom lens if I know I need to cover a lot of different kinds of action at the same time.
If you don’t know the difference between stops and f-stops, take a moment to read our guide. Once you have an understanding of how f-stops work, you can start to compare lenses.
As far as we’re concerned, any lens with a maximum aperture of about f/2.0 or faster is a fast lens. f/2.8 is right in the middle. Anything slower is a pretty slow lens. All other things being equal, faster is better. But there are plenty of times when we’re shooting with an f/4 lens, too. It’s just a question of what lens is right for the job.
If you’re shooting outside during the day, you won’t need a fast lens. Fast lenses really pay off at night, or in interiors. They are also great for interviews, and any time we want that “background-out-of-focus” look we call shallow depth of field. I find I can usually shoot people by streetlight with a f/1.4 lens on a fullframe camera. Even campfire shots are a possibility.
Lens speed is one of the places where prime and zoom lenses really start to diverge. As an example, Canon’s 24-105mm f/4L zoom lens is top-of-the-line, and costs about $1000. But Canon’s 50mm f/1.4 prime lens is less than half the price, and three stops faster! If you’re shooting indoors, that extra light can be a huge help.
Image stabilization is an option on some lenses made for DSLRs. It tends to be used by people shooting in the style of television as opposed to the style of film, since video cameras have supported some kind of image stabilization for more than a decade. Canon’s lenses that support it are marked IS, Nikon’s are marked VR (for Vibration Reduction), and others are marked VC (for Vibration Compensation). As a video shooter, you’ll only want to turn it on if you’re shooting handheld or shoulder-mounted. Almost all image-stabilizing lenses are zoom lenses, with notable exception. There are different kinds of image stabilization, and some very high-end lenses will support two or more different IS modes.
If you do a lot of run-and-gun shooting, a zoom lens with image stabilization might be a good choice for you. But if you tend to do most of your work on a tripod, you’re better off taking something with extra speed or other features you might need.
These are the four easy-to-compare differences between lenses. Of course, we haven’t even touched on image quality, build quality, close-focus ability, or other important factors. We also didn’t mention autofocus at all, but that’s because for video shooters on DSLRs, manual focus is pretty much the only way to shoot, for now. How do you choose a lens? Let us know in the comments below.
When shooters talk about speed, they’re really talking about light. Light is measured in stops. If lens A lets in twice as much light as lens B, lens A is one stop faster than lens B. If it lets in four times as much light, it’s two stops faster. So, if we “stop up” or “open up” we are adding more light and if we “stop down” or “close down” we are taking light away (relative to where we started). All lenses have a maximum aperture (also called iris size or f-stop), but can be stopped down to reduce the amount of light coming in.
Photo: flickr/sodaniechea In some images, you can actually see the iris in the photograph. Here, you can tell the iris has six sides, making hexagon-shaped lens flares.
Lens speeds are measured in f-stops. Don’t confuse a stop with an f-stop. A stop is half or double a certain amount of light. An f-stop is the measurement of the diameter of the iris in the lens. They are related, but not the same. I’m going to explain this with some math, please bear with me. If you can commit it to memory, you’ll be halfway to being a professional shooter. If it bends your brain too much, just skip to the chart and try to memorize the pattern.
The F-stop is a ratio that measures the iris diameter relative to the focal length f. That’s why it’s represented as a fraction, f/x.
The cool thing about exposure is that as long as f is a constant, it doesn’t matter what it is. We can ignore it for this example, just remember that the number we’re focusing on is the denominator in a fraction, so a bigger denominator is actually a smaller number.
If I double the diameter of a circle, the area of a circle will become four times as large (remember that πr² equation from geometry class?). So if I double the diameter of the iris by going from f/8 to f/4, the iris gets four times bigger, and will let in four times as much light. Four times the light… that’s two stops (because 4=2×2). Eight times the light? That would be three stops brighter. One sixteenth the light? Four stops darker.
Now, as promised, the chart of f-stops:
<--Opening up Stopping down -->
. . . . . . .
f/1 f/2 f/4 f/8 f/1.4 f/2.8 f/5.6
What does it mean? It means that there is a one-stop difference between f/1 and f/1.4. There is a three-stop difference between f/1.4 and f/4. And you can extend the imaginary chart out as far as your mind wants to go by just doubling or halving the f-stop ratios. If you want numbers in-between…. you’d better bust out your geometry textbook (or use an f-stop calculator). To be practical, we’ve never seen an f-stop beyond f/0.7 on the open side or f/32 on the closed side, and optics tend to get a little crazy as you approach extremes, anyway.
Remember, the iris (aperture/f-stop/whatever you might call it), is just one of the four parts of exposure. You will need to combine f-stop, shutter speed, sensitivity, and the amount of light in the scene to get the full equation. The good news? F-stops are the tricky part! The rest gets much simpler. And now you have one of the tools to compare two lenses side-by-side. We’ll have more information on exposure in our next installment in the Exposure for Video series.
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