LENSES - PART 01 - PRIMES
I think after years we are finally able to diagnose our condition... we are have an addiction to primes. Seriously, I find almost impossible to resits the sexy-ness of a new lens or an old well-taken-care-of vintage one. #lenslust pretty much explains it.
We are gear heads (well, me more so than Danielle) I get weak in the knees after walking the show floor at NAB, or just hanging out with friends at the local camera shop. I can never have too much glass, and at the top of the list are primes. Primes are my favorite but that it was once quite the oppsite. I used to LOVE zooms and its actually all I had. I think I may have had a 24-135mm back in the day and thought that with that one lens I could rule the photographic/cinematographic world with... but I quickly found out that this wasnt the case. That moment occured when I rented my first prime lens - the 50mm f / 1.2. It all changed from there, and I've been addicted to primes ever since, not to say Zooms are not cool (we have an entire post cooked up for them in a few weeks) but primes just hit that special place between drool worthy tech specs and awe inspiring achievable imagery through usage. #primelensaddict
One of the most common questions we get is "what lens should I get next." And I have always found that to be one of the most difficult questions to answer, simply because there is not one right answer. Lens choice is specific to each person's style and the perameters of the shoot. I think the most important thing to think about when looking into that next lens upgrade is not only what it will help you achieve but why:
Be its low light capabilities, or the ability to be close in or far away from a subject, or just its versatility, every lens has its strengths and weaknesses. It's important to keep in mind the affect the lens has on the image captured by the camera and how viewers percieve that image. This to me is where the why comes into play, and you can utilize the power of focal lenths as elements in helping tell the story or convey an emotion. (More on that in future posts)
We really excelled when we started using primes in addition to zooms because primes forced us to be more creative. Instead of standing in one spot and zooming in and out, we had to move around and try different things to bring variety to our shoots. I've found that when using primes I break out of my routine and think out of the box more often. I do think that zooms have their place in shoots (next post) however primes are a very important part of our arsenal of gear.
Benefits of prime lenses:
• They often have a lower F / T stop than zoom lenses. This is generally because they contain much less glass for the light to pass through and also the way the optics are arranged when the elements are fixed rather than moving as they are in a zoom lens.
• Generally the optics are sharper ( again because there is less glass for the image to pass through )
• More compact than some zooms ( in some cases )
• Usually faster to auto-focus than zoom lenses
• In the cinema world generally the primes are lighter than the zooms ( not always though )
• allow for lighter set ups because you don't necessarily need rails, extra gear to support them
I thought it would be good to give a run down of the primes in our basic lens package that we travel with most of the time and also the lenses we use on simple run and gun situations all the way up to a large scale commercial production.
First I'll start with our favorites. AKA "what would you want if you were stuck on an island with a camera and a lens"
MORE TECH INFO HERE - Canon 35mm f/1.4
To me the 35mm is the king of kings in the still world and I think it is becoming a big favorite in the DSLR cinema world as well. We originally purchased this lens for portraiture but when we started shooting more and more motion projects it became our go-to lens for getting both wide and close up shots. The main reason why this lens is so loved ( not only by us ) is that it works well in so many different situations. For the still photographer, you can step back and capture groups of people and also go in close to get individual portraits as well. Another + on the still end is that the auto focus motors are extremely fast, so you can shoot from the hip effortlessly with this lens. Its perfect for traveling if you only have .5 seconds to grab a photo before someone tells you to put away your camera :)
For video this lens is great because you can get a one shot, two shot, or even a good three shot with it if you are on the go and cannot change lenses. It is also great for timelapses because its wide, but not to the point where much distortion happens, so you can get some great composistions with it where straight lines are generally straight lines.
We used the 35mm quite a bit when we shot in this video we created for Canon for the C300 launch event. Almost all of the detail / close up shots were with the 35mm.
My favorite things about this lens:
• Has a great F stop range (1.4!!)
• It has great close focusing distance, so you can get right up close to your subject.
• It is sharp throughout the entire F stop range
• Despite it being a wide lens it doesn't distort when you are shooting up close or far away
• Works great on different crops 7D ( as 60mm approx. ), 1D M4 ( as a 45mm ) , 5D or the upcoming 1DX ( 45mm )
• Has great close focus for close ups or product shots
CONS: We don't currently own two of them and Danielle has made it clear that it is HER lens.
Other runners up:
MORE TECH INFO HERE - Canon 50mm f/1.2 L
PROS This lens is considered a "normal" lens, which means that, it being 50mm focal length it has minimal distortion and it also is very close to what we "see" with our eyes. You can try this out if you have any 50mm lens: hold up the camera to one eye and open the other and you will notice that it closely matches the "focal length" of what you see with your central vision. This can also be used as a storytelling device if you want to shoot something that would be as close to real life POV as possible.
• f / 1.2 -- low light baby! coupled with any camera, you can shoot in very little light at f / 1.2.
• It has great close focusing distance, so you can get right up close to your subject.
• The optics are extremely sharp. If you shoot at around f / 5.6 you'll be hitting the sweat spot of sharpness with this lens.
• great portrait lens (for photo) or 1 or 2 shot frame composition (for video)
CONS can't find much bad to say about this lens or the focal length in general. 50mm lenses are an industry standard (in photography) Look up any vintage SLR on eBay and the kit lens is almost always a 50mm.
MORE TECH INFO HERE - Canon 100mm f/2.8 Macro IS
PROS This lens is becoming one of my new favorites. I liked the old 100mm for photography, but with the new version and addition of Image Stabilization it is an amazing lens for cinematography.
We used the 100mm in the opening record scene of the piece we created for ESPN - Sunday NFL Countdown
A rundown of its strengths:
• Its great for detail shots because of close focal length
• The IS is incredibly good even when focused very close on moving subjects
• The focus throw / bokeh is buttery smooth
• You can go from a medium shot and push all the way down to a close up
CONS this lens has a very short focal plane. Meaning that you have very little play in the focus between whats in-focus and sharp vs whats out of focus. So if you want to use this lens for action or fast moving subjects, it will be very difficult to keep or track focus.
Below are the prime lenses that are almost always with us when we travel:
MORE TECH INFO HERE - Canon 135mm f / 2.0 L
PROS This lens is great for the cost / glass ratio. It retails for under $1000 and its a extremely light for the focal length. The lens is also f / 2.0 which gives you buttery bokeh and a nice focus throw. It also has pretty decent close-focus abilities if you find yourself shooting in confined situations.
CONS One thing to consider is that it does not have image stabilization, so at this focal length make sure you have some weight to your camera set-up / rig so you don't get to much unwanted shake or vibration in the image.
MORE TECH INFO HERE - Canon 45mm TS f / 2.8
PROS tilt shift lenses are great for creating the look of focus distortion or miniaturization. Also when not tilted or shifted, it makes for a great "50mm ish" range lens that you can shoot with. It also has a more fluid focus ring akin to older style manual focus lenses, so its buttery smooth while focusing. Unlike other Canon lenses, it also has a hard stop to the focus as well, so if you are using this lens with a Follow Focus, you can accurately mark your distances and it will stay consistent.
CONS While its a great normal focal length lens its not necessarily as sharp as the 50mm f / 1.2 or other similar focual length lenses. Also, I have found the the color rendition of this lens is different than other L - series lenses. I am guessing that it has to do with the different coating on the font of this lens. I find it to get warmer tones than the other lenses, so just know to test it out for yourself and adjust accordingly.
MORE TECH INFO HERE - Canon 24mm f / 1.4
PROS The 24mm is one of my favorites for wide-shot Steadicam work, or while using mini dollys like the Cinevate Atlas 30 cine slider. It's an extremely sharp lens throughout the focal range and its great for close focus work as well. It also can shoot in low light situations if need be. For wide master shots, it works great and has excellent edge-to-edge sharpness.
CONS This lens does have distortion, so if you are filming people close up you'll be adding a few pounds to their overall on-camera physique. So that plus the other so called 10lbs that the camera adds itself, you'll be in bad shape for any close up glamour shots :)
CLICK HERE TO BUY (Amazon) - Voightlander 58mm f / 1.4 Macro
PROS I don't currently own this lens any more, but it was always one of my favorites for two reasons. One: its a 58mm which give you a distinct look different than that of a 50mm or 45mm TS. Two: while its a 58mm, its also a close focus lens, so you can treat it like a macro, but the unique hint about it is its a "wider" macro. You can use it to get some pretty awesome shots if you need that extra punch of close-focus-ability. What I love about this is that you can go from a standard two shot and push all the way in to framing up someones eyes, mouth or nose, or even panning down to a letter in their hands, etc.
CONS This lense is not always completely sharp throughout the focal range, but that is also because its a vintage lens, so the sharpness factor may vary. To be able to use this lens on a 5D / 7D / Mark IV / C300 you have to buy a Nikon to Canon mount adaptor. Here is a great place to buy them and they are amazingly cheap too ( under $30 ) www.fotodiox.com
These are the lenses that we bring on board for sports shooting or larger scale commercial / film productions:
MORE TECH INFO HERE - Zeiss CP. 2 (Compact Prime) 50mm T 2.1
PROS This lens is as sharp as they come and has 360 degrees of focus rotation (which is great for 1st AC's who will be pulling focus on shoots). Zeiss has also made these lenses available with interchangable lens mounts. It comes in both PL and Canon EF mount which is huge if you own a 5d but also are planning to use PL mount camreas like the Epic, Alexa, C300, etc. Investment wise, its a great lens to purchase because of the multitute of cameras that you can use it on.
CONS Its a larger lens with a huge diameter, so its definitely not as "compact" as the name implys. Its also a T 2.1 so it doesnt have the greatest low light capabilties. I found it hard to manually focus on the fly, so you would definitely want to add a follow focus for useage. But overall as an investment in a great prime, its a good buy.
CLICK HERE FOR MORE INFO - ARRI Ultra Prime 20mm T 1.9
PROS This lens makes for one of my favorite wide angle PL mount lenses. Its sharp and crispy, definitely expected from any ARRI glass, but its also comes in at a hefty price --> $13,000.00
CONS For those of you used to focusing with DSLR still lenses, you will need a Follow Focus to focus this lens. It also has 360 degrees of rotation on the focus barrel as well, so a focus whip or knob will definitely come in handy in going from infinity to close focus.
MORE TECH INFO HERE - Canon 600mm f / 4.0
PROS While not the grand-daddy of telephoto lenses, this baby is sharp as a tack and focuses amazingly fast. It is also much lighter than you would think from seeing images of it. Our primary use for it is for shooting sports, where you need every inch of zoom to get right in on the action. We used this lens heavily while shooting both the 2010 & 2011 World Series with MLB. You can pick up either of these films on Amazon if your interested in what we shot and also to check out some imagery from the 600mm.
CONS Since its a f / 4.0 it need a good deal of light in the glass, so if you are shooting at night, make sure you have a camera that can handle high ISO speeds while using this lens.
MORE TECH INFO HERE - Zeiss CP. 2 85mm T 2.1
PROS This lens is my favorite of the Zeiss Compact Prime line. Its got extremely nice bokeh and its tack sharp. What I love about this lens is that it has a very distinct look different than the other 85mm's that Ive used. Its got great contrast in the image and the close focus is slightly closer than the Canon 85mm prime.
CONS It has a slower T stop than others and also since the outer diameter is so large it sometimes will interfere with some baseplates when using in a light monopod set-up (this goes for all the Zeiss CP lenses as they are all the same diameter).
MORE TECH INFO HERE - ARRI Ultra Prime 40mm T 1.9
PROS Similar to the 35mm but with a little bit more push. It also has great close focus so you can get some pretty cool macro shots with this lens as well.
CONS same as other arri lenses. no additional cons.
MORE TECH INFO HERE - ARRI Ultra Prime 65mm T 1.9
PROS 65mm is a unique focal length that you dont really see in any still lenses out there. I found when using the 65mm in the Super 35 format it makes for a perfect close up lens when focused in on one character or action. Its perfect for those moments when you want to start with the frame as a medium shot on one character and then push all the way into where their face fills the frame. Its the perfect lens for filming conversation between two people as well and cutting back and forth between the two angles.
CONS Theres not many bad things to say about this lens. Again, just a large price tag so its more of a rental lens.
Whether your on a big budget commercial shoot, or doing a personal creative project, it's important to have the gear you need that will allow you to execute your creative vision. Lenses are an important tool in the filmmakers/visual storytellers tool kit.
It is so important to invest in your gear and have a lot of tools to work with so you are prepared in any situation. One thing we do when we need more gear or want to test out a lens that we don't have is rent. One of our favorite places to rent from is LENSPROTOGO. We've been renting from them for a couple years now and they have downright amazing customer service. We have been able to get lenses from them quickly if we have a last minute shoot pop up or we are in a bind. Most of the time, i'll throw in a lens or two to try something new out, eventhough I might not need it for the shoot :)
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A Big thank you to all our readers & twitter followers for following our work, thoughts, and adventures. Viva 2012!
Just type in the promo code below to get 15% off your rental order from March 1st - 31st! at WWW.LENSPROTOGO.COM ( promo code: MINDCASTLE15 )
***Keep in mind that this post is our opinion on lenses based on our own experiences.
Check back later this month for Lenses Part 2: Zooms