3 Things You Must Know Before Buying A DSLR Camera Lens

First and foremost, as a buying guide for your filmmaking and videography needs, invest in the best DSLR camera lenses for video before investing in a camera! Great glass means kick ass videos! It will certainly improve your cinematography!

Fun times at 2Bridges films

Fun times at 2Bridges films

Excuse us for the language, but we can’t emphasize enough the importance of high end glass. Many professional videographers (2Bridges included) would suggest getting the very best DSLR camera lenses, before you actually purchase a DSLR camera for your filmmaking needs. Ideally, we’d like to have an entire set of Zeiss lenses and an RED Dragon camera, but then we wouldn’t be indie filmmakers. With that kind of budget, we’d be making the next trilogy of Star Wars.

But as an indie filmmaker or a small business owner, your budget will likely be limited. If your resources are limited, then it’s always best to think of rate of return. Can you really make up that investment by buying a Sony a6500? Remember it’s so easy to just rent cameras. For example, we rent out our Sony a6500 on KitSplit for a mere $70 bucks for the weekend.

If you’re a wedding videographer in the Big Apple, then that’s a bargain. Most likely, in a wedding videography gig, you’ll likely need 2 cameras – one for the shooter (who takes candid footage) and one to put on sticks (tripods) to get a wide shot (coverage). In bigger weddings, you’ll likely need 2 or 3 cameras, as 2 shooters are required to take candid shots (highly recommended for big banquet halls).

Now, would you pay $2,000 - $4,000 for a camera? This doesn’t even include the glass, the cage and all the accessories. Trust us – you’ll need all this stuff if you want to make the next Sundance Indie Film or shoot weddings on the weekends. Or would you rather invest in a good set of DSLR Camera lenses and rent out 3 cameras for $240? Add the fact that cameras have a shelf life of just two years.

If you’re an established production film company that gets regular clients, then yes – it’s okay to invest in 1 or 2 DSLR cameras as you’ll likely make up that investment in 3-4 gigs. But if you’re just starting out, it’s not recommended to make a splash on a camera right away. Especially, if you’re really new to the videography and photography game, it’s best to rent from us or anyone else in Kitsplit to test out what works best for you. The lifespan of most cameras make them a bad investment for a beginner videographer, especially if you have no plan to monetize it.

metabones-min.jpg

If you invest in lenses instead, then you can use this for any camera that you’ll buy or rent in the future. Yes, you might need to invest in a good adapter, like the Metabones, to use Canon lenses on a Sony Camera, but it’s still better than buying a $3-4K camera. A director of photography with a high end lens kit can attract the attention of many production companies and producers. Big production companies usually have a RED Dragon rented already. All they need is someone who can operate it. If you can operate a Dragon and have a high end lens kit, then you could have an edge in applying for the job.

Good lenses age like fine wine. There are a set of vintage Zeiss lens that are highly sought after by professional DPs. If you’ve got a good collection of these vintage Zeiss lenses and know how to use them, then you’ll likely attract some indie film directors. For example, consider the the Contax Zeiss. Some of these lenses go back to 1975, yet there’s still a demand for them. They could work even on a RED camera.

Lenses have a longer shelf life than cameras and another reason why it’s worth investing in them rather than splashing on a $3,000 Sony camera.

Finally, camera lenses will rent better than cameras. Since cameras often have a 2 year shelf life, then their rental value goes down significantly in 2 years. Moreover, if a manufacturer decides it will no longer support a specific model, they’ll just slash prices across the board, which then again lowers the rental value of the camera. However, lenses can work on any camera (both old, new and yet-to-be released) so there will always be a market for your high end glass.

So know we’ve gotten the rant on lenses out of the way, it’s actually time to revisit the real topic at hand: 3 things you must know before investing in DSLR camera lenses. Here’s the cliff notes version:

  1. Make sure the lens is compatible with your camera
  2. Be mindful of the aperture – the smaller the F number the bigger the maximum aperture
  3. Don’t pay extra for lenses that have fancy image stabilization features

Consider Compatibility of Camera Lenses Before Making Your Video!

The camera manufacturers, such as Canon, Nikon Pentax, and Sony all make lenses, and there are third-party companies that make lenses - such as Tamron, and Sigma. EF indicates the lens type. So, you can't just attach any lens to any camera, if the lens is not compatible with the camera it's going to be useless.

Canon has two main lens types EF, and EF-s. EF lenses can be used at any Canon DSLR. EF-s lenses however are designed specifically to be used on cameras that have the smaller APS-C sized sensors. Generally speaking, the digital rebel line has APS-C sized sensors for the 60D, and the 7D cameras also do. EF-s lenses are not compatible with the full-frame sensor cameras. As a general rule, the Canon lens system is actually pretty simple, because all you really need to know is the sensor size in your camera. Knowing that you can pick a lens that will be compatible with your Canon DSLR camera

Nikon lenses are a little more confusing. Nikon has AF - D lenses also known as AF. The AF-S lenses which are known as the DX, and then the G lenses. They certainly don’t make it easy on the layman to understand what’s what. Now the AF-D lenses are compatible with all Nikon DSLR cameras, but they will not autofocus on the D3000 series or D5000 series cameras. In order to make these entry-level DSLRs cheaper Nikon left out the autofocus motor from the camera body.

Now with the AFS lenses which are the DX series, these all have autofocus motors in the lens. These lenses are compatible with all Nikon DSLRs, and they will autofocus on all the SLR cameras, including the 3000, and 5000 series. Now the G lenses are a subset of the AF-S lenses which are the DX series. The G lenses also have the autofocus motor in them, and also are compatible with all Nikon DSLRs. The main difference is that these lenses do not have a manual aperture ring on them. Nikon traditionally has a manual aperture ring that allows you to set the aperture, but you can do that also in the camera. Now some photographers love having this ring, but if it's not important to you to have then you can save some money on an AF-S series lens by getting a G series that does not have this aperture ring on it.

A DSLR Lenses’ Aperture Impacts Video Quality

For our discussion, let’s use one of our staple lenses at 2Bridges: the Sony FE 24-70mm F/2.8 Lens. For our discussion, let’s use one of our staple lenses at 2Bridges: 

A definite must-have for any serious videographer

A definite must-have for any serious videographer

If you had to get a zoom lens for your videography businesses, then this is the king of the crop, especially if you’re Sony camera fan boy. It is definitely the best lenses for wedding videography. It has a constant F2.8 max aperture to maintain quality exposure and depth of field regardless of focal range.

The 24 to 70 millimeter is the focal length of the lens, and this is measured in millimeters, and it is based on the 35 millimeter film standard.. Now, this Sony lens has variable focal lengths. Hence, it is called a zoom lens.

 

Now, let’s take a look at:

Rokinon Cine DS 50mm

A Staple for shooting the best wedding videos

A Staple for shooting the best wedding videos

This is one of our earlier investments at 2Bridges, and is a great choice for your first “nifty-fifty” prime lens collection. Notice that this particular lens has a fixed focal length. Lenses with fixed focal lenghts are called prime lenses.

The 24 to 70 millimeter is an example of a zoom lens, and the Rokinon 50 millimeter is an example of a prime lens. It has just one focal length. The focal length refers to the field of view for the lens, and how much the lens can see. There are three main focal length types:

  • Wide angle view
  • Standard angle view
  • Telephoto view

The wide-angle lenses have a wide field of view for photographing large scenes such as landscapes, large crowds, and concerts. Standard lenses have a sort of middle field of view almost as if you were looking, right, through your eyes. This is the 50mm view, and is great for walking-around and filming your surroundings “as-is.” The telephoto lenses have a narrow field of view, and that allows you to see something very far away from you, and take a photograph of it.

To cover it briefly the aperture is the opening in the lens that lets light into the camera. Generally speaking, the bigger the aperture the better the lens. And the smaller the number, the bigger the aperture. What does that mean for you? It means looking for a lens that has a small number.

Although this particular Sony zooms lenses are bad ass lenses for wedding videography, these variable maximum aperture lenses are generally not very good lenses. They're cheaper to make, and they don't perform very good at the telephoto end of the zoom, which kind of defeats the purpose of the lens in general.

The problem is that the bigger aperture part of the range is always at the wider end of the zoom, but the bigger aperture is almost always more helpful, and more needed at the telephoto end of the zoom, which again makes the lens a poor performer when it is zoomed way up. So on the higher zoom, you might as well use a dedicated telephoto lens.

Now some zoom lenses have a fixed maximum aperture. This is really cool. This means that the maximum available aperture stays the same throughout the entire zoom range. An example of this is the Nikon AF 80 to 200 millimeter F 2.8 telephoto zoom lens.

The key here's the F 2.8 this is a telephoto zoom, but whether the lens is zoomed to 80 millimeters or 200 millimeters, the maximum aperture is always F 2.8. These lenses can be more costly, but they are almost always better lenses than the cheaper variable aperture lenses.

Prime lenses on the other hand always have a constant max aperture, since the land doesn't zoom it doesn't have a change in focal length. The maximum aperture stays the same. It's constant. Prime lenses are great alternative to zoom lenses, and you can get better quality lenses with larger maximum apertures all while spending less money.

Does Image Stabilization (IS) Features on a Lens Matter for my Film?

Image stabilization is a technology that was developed for lenses that has smaller maximum apertures. In cheaper models (in terms of quality not just price), image stabilization tries to combat the poor performance of these lower quality lenses by putting some kind of an anti-shock system in the lens to compensate for the lack of larger apertures. The idea is that the anti-shock system stabilizes the internal elements of the lens. This in turn helps to reduce blur in your photos when your aperture can't open wide enough to give you a good enough shutter speed.

Now on Canon it's called IS, which stands for image stabilization. Nikon calls it VR for vibration reduction. Sigma calls it OS for optical stabilizer, and finally Tamron calls it VC for vibration compensation. I've never used a lens with any kind of image stabilization I'm just not really sold on the idea. So, I don't really buy them. I would rather spend the extra money to buy a lens that has a wide maximum aperture, then spend extra money on a lens that has some funky anti-shock system that's supposed to compensate for having a small maximum aperture.

Finally, do you really need image stabilization on a lens? This is why manufacturers like Manfrotto spend millions of dollars on researching the best tripods. Stabilization definitely matters, but I’d rather make a splash on a Manfrotto than spend on cheaper quality lens with “image stabilization.” Also, there’s the Zhiyun Gimbal which is perfect (and a must) for tracking shots and stabilization. At 2Bridges, it’s our go-to, 1-2 punch to get stabilization in our shots. And really – this is final – you can work on stabilization with Adobe Premiere. Granted, it’s better to start off with stable footage, but there are better alternatives versus “saving” money on cheaper quality with “image stabilization.”

Conclusion

If you’re just starting out, consider some of the points at the beginning of this article. With a limited budget, invest in high end glass or a good set of DSLR camera lenses for your video needs. The investment is much better than making a big splash on cameras because:

Shelf life and rental value of lenses last longer than cameras

Return on Investment on a good lens kit is higher than investing in a camera

One camera is usually not enough and you’ll still have to buy the lenses and accessories (thus blowing away your cash)

Cameras are cheap to rent, especially if you’re in New York or Los Angeles

Once you do decide to invest in DSLR camera lenses for your filmmaking needs, then pay attention to compatibility. It’s easy enough to get an adapter to fit use your lenses for a variety of cameras. But if you already have a specific camera, know that not all lenses will fit into that camera unless you get an adapter.

Aperture matters a lot. This impacts the look of your film. Some directors and cinematographers obsess with aperture. In multiple camera sets, they ensure that the aperture is consistent across all the cameras. You should definitely consider what you’re using the lenses for. A wide-angle camera works best for landscape shots or establishing shots of buildings, and a “nifty-fifty” (50mm) might work better for standard two-shot dialogue scenes.

Know your glass to make your film bad ass. That’s what we say at 2Bridges before any shoot.

Finally, save your money and don’t invest in cheaper glass with image stabilization. This is why tripods and gimbals are invented. Just for broke with your glass and build yourself a nice set Contax Zeiss lenses. Invest only in the very best DSLR camera lenses for your videos.