How to Choose the Right Camera Lens | Zoë Davidson | Skillshare

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How to Choose the Right Camera Lens

teacher avatar Zoë Davidson, Software Engineer & Cinematographer

Watch this class and thousands more

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Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Watch this class and thousands more

Get unlimited access to every class
Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Lessons in This Class

    • 1.



    • 2.

      Lens Compression


    • 3.

      Focal Lengths


    • 4.

      Wide Angle Lenses


    • 5.



    • 6.

      Telephoto Lenses


    • 7.

      Angle of View


    • 8.

      Photo vs Cinema


    • 9.

      Anamorphic vs Cinema


    • 10.

      Mounts (EF, PL)


    • 11.



    • 12.

      Best Budget Options


    • 13.



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About This Class

This class will help you decide which lenses to choose to use in your next film!

My name is Zoë, I'm a cinematographer and professor of film. I've been shooting films for many years now, and the projects I've worked on have gone on to be shown at dozens of film festivals including Sundance and CaribbeanTales. You can check out my work here.

The goal of this class is to leave students with a practical understanding of how to choose the correct lenses based on their camera, budget and the environment that they're working in. Students should leave this course ready to confidently shoot their next big film.

Meet Your Teacher

Teacher Profile Image

Zoë Davidson

Software Engineer & Cinematographer


Hey! I'm Zoe, a software engineer, filmmaker, and former professor from Toronto, Canada. I have an MFA in Film from Howard University, and also do work as a software engineer.

In the past, I've worked for the University of the District of Columbia, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, Lionsgate, Huffington Post, and I'm a member of organizations like the Canadian Society of Cinematographers.

The films that I've worked on have been featured at festivals around the world, including Sundance, ABFF, Trinidad Tobago Film Festival, and CaribbeanTales.

Check out my latest work, here:

See full profile

Level: All Levels

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1. Intro: Hi, my name is Zoe. I'm a cinematographer and a Professor of Film. I've been shooting films for many years now. And the projects I've worked on have gone on to be shown at festivals like Sundance and Caribbean tales. As a cinematographer, one of the most crucial decisions you'll make when choosing to shoot a film is Which lens are lenses you'll use? I'd argue that your choice of lens is way more important than your choice of camera. Within reason, the lens you choose will determine a large percentage of what constitutes the look of your film. Spherical versus anamorphic, fast versus slow. These are all choices you will need to make as you look at lenses. Throughout the course, we'll cover all of the things you want to think about before choosing a lens for your next project. By the end of this course, you should be able to pick out the perfect set of lenses for your next film. Let's get started. 2. Lens Compression: Lens compression. Lens compression is a visual effect that can cause the images the camera captures to appear distorted. On a wider lens, the subject may appear slimmer, the background may seem further, and the straight lines near the edges of the frames may look curved. On the flip side. With a tighter lens, the subject may appear wider, the background may seem closer, and the images in the background may also look a lot larger than they otherwise would to the naked eye. This is the result of lens compression. In the right moments, lens compression appears normal as our eyes have been trained to accept certain distortions in certain shots. However, it's something to be cognizant of when we're making our shot list and choosing our lenses. 3. Focal Lengths: Focal lengths. There are many different focal lengths we can use when it comes to making a film. No set focal length is required for any one shot or for any look. However, as filmmakers, just like we need to be aware of depth of field, we should also be aware of the focal lengths that we choose for our projects. There are three groups that lenses typically fall into. Wide telephoto and the ones in between. Let's talk about each category. There are use cases and their caveats. 4. Wide Angle Lenses: Wide lenses, typically, anything wider than a 35-millimeter lens is considered a wide lens. This would include 14 millimeter, 24 millimeters, and 28 millimeter lenses, for example. These lenses produce a view of the world that is a lot wider than what we're used to seeing with our own eyes due to their increased field of view. In films, these lenses are typically used for establishing shots with the desire is for the entire environment of the scene to be captured. These establishing shots helped to place the audience in the scene that they're about to view. Wider lenses are also typically used to capture landscape focus shots, such as the sun's setting into the ocean or a mountain range. As they are able to capture these images with a much better perspective due to their field and angle of view. However, there are some caveats when it comes to using wider lenses. This is not true with all wide lenses, but it is common knowledge that some lenses have what is known as distortion. Distortion is when a piece of the image is changed in a noticeable way due to the construction of the lens. The type of distortion that wide angle lenses are known to have can make smaller spaces feel larger than they truly are. That's why so many wide-angle lenses are used in real estate photography. However, if you pay attention to the edges of the frame, both in these photos and in films, you'll be able to see that the image begins to curve as it gets closer and closer to the edge of the frame. Depending on your intention with the piece and how you desire a space to feel in a scene. This is something you definitely want to be aware of when it comes to using wide-angle lenses. 5. 50mm: 50 millimeter. The lenses in the middle most closely replicate what the human eye sees would typically fall within the 40 to 50 millimeter range. You may have heard of the 50 millimeter lens being referred to as the nifty 50. That's because this focal length is extremely versatile and what it's able to capture with these, granted with enough space and the right technology, almost any lens could frame a wide shot or an extreme close-up. However, it's the ease of which these transitions can be made with the 50 millimeter lens that makes it nifty. These lenses can capture both excellent portrait shots as well as pleasing wide shots. If you can only have one lens on set, many people argue that the 50 millimeter lens is the one to have, and I tend to agree. 6. Telephoto Lenses: Telephoto lenses. These lenses fall at the far end of the spectrum. Typically lenses that are a 100 millimeter focal length and higher. Telephoto lenses are great for capturing distance subjects like wildlife, for instance. These lenses produce a very focused and tight angle of view, so you might not get much background in your shot. They're great to use when you're unable to get too close to your subject as far as distortion goes, you know the phrase, the camera adds £10. This is a result of telephoto lenses. Any lens that goes above what our human eyes used to seeing will cause some distortion of the image of the subject. In a portrait shot, a subject's face will appear wider than if a 50 millimeter or 35 millimeter lens was used. This is due to that distortion. In addition to the subject changing, the background will also appear much larger and closer to your subject. Now, don't let this stop you from using these lenses. They're are great tools. But it's important to be aware of how each lens can affect your image. 7. Angle of View: Angle of view. Let's talk about angular view. This is the angle of the view that you see in the shot, and it's dependent on what your focal length is. Here's an image to explain it a bit more clearly. With wide-angle lenses, you'll get a much larger angle of view because the goal of these lenses to capture a wider field of view on the opposite side of the spectrum are telephoto lenses, which only capture a very small angle of view. These lenses are used to isolate a subject from a far distance. It's important to understand angle of view because it will help you choose the focal length of the lens as you want to use in your next film. If you really want isolated portrait shots, you'll want to use lenses around the 50 millimeter range and up. But if you want to capture the vastness of a mountain range or make a small room seem large, you'll want to use a wide angle lens. 8. Photo vs Cinema: Photography versus cinema. You've probably seen both photography and cinema lenses for sale. And may have been wondering what the differences between each are when it comes to shooting video. Let's get into that. Photography lenses can definitely be used for shooting film. So if that's all you have access to, don't stress about trying to get a cinema lens. In some ways, photography lenses can have a lot of benefits that cinema lenses don't offer, autofocus being one of them. However, these benefits can also have their downsides. If you do use autofocus, for instance, many cheaper photography lenses make noise as they're focusing. This noise can then be picked up by your microphone's affecting the quality of the overall audio of your film. Additionally, sometimes these lenses don't actually focus on what you want them to. This can leave you with a lot of unusable or at least unfocused footage. Personally, if I have the choice, I prefer cinema lenses. They allow for much easier focusing, aperture adjustment, and generally speaking, use higher-quality materials. For serious film-making. I'd always recommend going with cinema lenses. However, there are a few things to consider when opting for cinema over photography lenses. First of all, is the cost. Cinema lenses are typically much more expensive than photography lenses. While they can give you a much better shot, It's a major factor to consider. Cinema lenses are also usually much more bulky and heavier than photography lenses. Depending on your shooting environment or setup, you'll usually need a large case just for your set of lenses. Ultimately, it's within your time and your budget. I'd recommend checking out both and seeing which works best for the project that you're working on. 9. Anamorphic vs Cinema: Anamorphic versus spherical. There are two types of lenses that are generally used in filmmaking and amorphic and spherical. Generally speaking, most people are used to handling spherical lenses. Spherical lenses encompass the majority of consumer accessible lenses, including photography lenses. One reason for this is that anamorphic lenses are much more expensive, although you may not ever seen them in stores. You have probably seen them in films and television shows shot with anamorphic lenses. Anamorphic lenses provide their own distinct look that can combine the benefit of a shallow depth of field close-up with a wider background that you typically get with a wider spherical lens. This is due to the way that these lenses are engineered and the processes that take place in post-production to allow that footage to be usable. Anamorphic lens is also giving your film extra character from the way the book presents in the background to the horizontal lens flares that can appear across the screen. There are many benefits to using anamorphic lenses. However, be sure that if you do choose to use them, that they work within your budget in both production and in post-production. 10. Mounts (EF, PL): Mounts, EF, p, l, and all the rest. There are two main categories that camera mounts come in, EF and PL. If you spent time looking for cinema lenses online, you've probably seen these letters. But what do they mean? Ef mounts, our canon based lens mounts that are very common throughout the lens world. They're the same mountain as you find on lower-cost cinema and photography lenses. P L, on the other hand, or precision mock, is a mount reserved only for cinema lenses. These lenses lock into place when you put them on your camera, ensuring that they don't unexpectedly detach and fall off. Pl mounts are meant for heavy professional lenses that are used for daily and constantly. I've worked with both EFN PL amounts. And honestly after seeing how easily EF lenses can become detached from a camera when tools like a wireless follow focus, for instance, is attached, I'd much rather go with the PL mount lens. Anything. However, that's not to say that there's anything wrong with using only EF lenses. But if you are using a lot of external tools alongside them, you'll need to be very careful as depending on your camera body, they can become loose during the shooting process. 11. Costs: Costs. When you're looking at lenses, it's important to be aware of your budget and how much you can afford to spend. Although you may want a cook anamorphic set, your budget may not allow for it. So let's talk about the factors that go into cost and how you can get the best bang for your buck. Now if you're shooting a high budget film, I'd always recommend renting that way you can get the best lenses for the project that you're shooting without breaking the bank to buy them. To put this into context, a single cook anamorphic lens can cost about $30 thousand to buy. And keep in mind that you'll probably want to get a few different focal lengths. However, if you rent that $30 thousand drops down to about $400 per day depending on where you rent your lenses from. Now, if you're not shooting anamorphic, great, that purchase price can drop significantly from $30 thousand per lens to around $10 thousand, at least as far as buying goes. When it comes to renting, that $400 a day can go as low as 100. At this price point, I'd still recommend renting, especially considering the fact that the lenses that you're looking at might not work for every single gig. Each type of lens has its own unique characteristics. Some produce cleaner looking images than others, which may not be right for every project that you end up shooting. But regardless of which lenses you're looking at, The reality is not everyone can afford these prices. What about folks who are just starting out but still want good quality glass? Or the folks who are doing low to 0 budget independent work. Let's talk about the best budget options on the market. 12. Best Budget Options: Best budget options. Odds are, if you're looking for budget options, you're most likely shooting with a camera, with an EF or similar amount as opposed to a PO. So we're going to talk about the best budget options for EF mounts. However, many of the cinema lenses that we'll talk about today also come with PL mount options. If you do happen to have access to a PL mount Cameron, if you're looking for cinema prime lenses, I'd recommend looking at Rogan on Xen and cannons Sydney prime lenses. Both of these are great budget options for a cinematographer who still wants to work with good-quality cinema lenses, with a Z genes and the canons, any primes? I've seen an individual lens rent for under a $100 a day. And if you look around on places like share grid, you might even be able to get them for less than $50 a day. Now these two sets of lenses do different price when the Zener is being the cheaper of the tooth. But if you're interested in buying lenses from either of these sets, they generally range between 1400.4500. You can actually get an entire set of Zealand's is for less than $10 thousand, which if you have the budget and are working with them regularly, might actually be worth the investment. But if you don't care whether or not you're working with cinema or photography lenses. There are some even lower-cost options you can consider. Broken on who make the scenes have an even lower budget Sydney lens and the sub 500-dollar range. I've used them before. And while they are affected, I don't find that they perform as well as asean. So make sure to test them out before making the purchase. If they do work for you, that's awesome because there are much cheaper option. As far as photography lenses go. However, I would recommend checking out canons sub L series lenses. You can definitely go for their higher-end L series. Those are the ones with the red ring. But just be aware that if you're only going to be doing cinematography, they cause just about the same acidity lenses, but I find them harder to work with onset due to the lack of manual aperture adjustment on most of them. If you really don't have much of a budget at all and you're looking to just get started with a lens for your camera, it can, it actually has a great low budget option. This is the nifty 5050 millimeter 1.8. This lens usually costs less than a $150. And because it's a 50 millimeter lens, It's a very versatile lens if your budget is super small, but you can still afford to invest in a lens, I'd recommend buying one of those. 13. Conclusion: We've talked about a lot in this video, from focal length to anamorphic lenses field of view. I hope that some, if not all of it will be useful to you as you go out and get ready to choose your lenses. I have a few other videos on how to work with cameras, lenses and lighting. So be sure to check those out as well as always let me know if you have any questions, comments, or concerns about anything I shared today and I'd be more than happy to address them.