When choosing your camera, you will need to decide how to complete your camera package by picking the lenses and accessories to buy or rent.

Your camera choice will influence the kind of lenses that you will be using, so the camera and lens decisions should be made concurrently. As you make lens choices, keep in mind what kind of lens mount you are using and whether your camera will need to be adapted to fit the lens choice.

Trying to pick the "best" lens or the "right" lens for a shot is almost impossible. The sheer number of lenses available, the creative reasons for using one lens vs. another, and the subtleties that vary from lens to lens all make choosing a lens almost an endless journey with no definitive answer.

Have a SO mm lens

The most common and widely used camera lens is the 50 mm portrait lens. This lens is most closely described as having the view of the normal human eye. This means that using a 50 mm lens closely mirrors what you see as your field of view on a day-to-day basis. When in doubt, this is a great lens to default to or use if you are limited in the number of lenses you have available. Make sure to have a 50 mm lens in your kit and readily available.

Set of Prime lenses

A set of primes refers to your chosen inventory of fixed focal lengths. If you have three or more prime lenses, you have a set of primes. However, choosing a set of primes is as varied as the number of angles you can shoot from. How do you narrow your choices?

First, choose a lens for any specialty shot or unique look you are trying to create. For instance, if you are shooting a scene from the top of a building and you need to turn the cars and people on the ground into miniature versions, you would need to use a tilt-shift lens.

On most shoots you will not need a specialty lens, but if you do, it is easy to identify and rent or buy that lens.

Second, decide whether you are shooting in close quarters or are shooting from longer distances in more open areas. In general, you are trying to get a range of focal lengths that allow you to get coverage in the locations you are shooting.

The more lenses you have and the better understanding you have of how lenses change the compression of the image, the framing of the image, or the action in the shot, the better you will be able to narrow your choices. Here are three sample prime lens "kits" that you could use as a guideline for your prime lens set.



Since so many lenses are available, there are trade-offs between the common types of lenses.

First let's look at older lenses vs. newer glass. The glass in a newer lens has a multicoating that improves the quality of the image and reduces the flaring of the lens. Also, since the lenses are new or nearly new, there are few to no problems with the aging of the lens. Scratches, fungus, hazing, and overall high use of a lens can be issues on older lenses and glass. One drawback to using newer glass, though, is most everyone has the same lenses and glass. If you want to stand out with a unique look created in camera, then it is much harder to achieve that using only the latest lenses.

One benefit of new lenses is the ability of the lenses to be controlled by the camera.

Older lens have no way to communicate with your camera, so you have to manually focus the lens at all times, including taking stills. Since there is no communication between cam­ era and lens, the metadata of your f-stop, the shutter speed, and so on, is not stored with your footage or images. Also, they may not have multicoating on the glass, so the lenses themselves may not be in pristine condition. On the flip side, in general you can buy used glass cheaper than buying new glass. In some cases, you can get amazing-quality lenses with top-quality glass at a fraction of the cost of new lenses. Additionally, the lack of (or reduced) multicoating can actually give you beautiful flares and help create the "look" of your film
in camera. Don't rule out using older lenses with great glass. Just because it was made in the 1960s doesn't mean it doesn't still take world-class images.


Here are some recommendations for basic lens kits that would be good to have on a shoot. These are suggestions for getting started, and if you can add more lenses to the mix, then you should add them as you need them.

Versatile Kit This kit would consist of two zoom lenses and a prime lens: 24-70 mm, 70-200 mm, and 50 mm. If you are shooting a documentary or a shoot where there is little to no time to set up for a shot, then this kit will get you the coverage you need and allow for some flexibility in the speed of setting up your shots. Get yourself a wide-angle zoom, such as a 24-70 mm, and a telephoto zoom, such as a 70-200 mm, to cover the likely range you will need during your shoot. In addition, get yourself a trusty 50 mm prime in case you can shoot interviews or some of your setups without having to use one of the zoom lenses.

Movie Kit This is one zoom (either a 24-70 or a 70-200) and a set of three prime lenses from among 24,35,50, 80, and 100 mm. A set of prime lenses can help you create the visual look and the way you tell your story. The biggest factor in your lens choice for this kit will be where you are shooting. If you are inside a house or very tight space, then wider-angle lenses are a better choice than long lenses. However, if you are doing mostly exteriors or in a location with a lot of space, a mix of standard primes and some longer lenses would be a better fit.

One Lens If you have a limited budget or if you are going for a particular look or style, narrow your lens choice to only one lens, either a 50 mm or a zoom. Lenses are expensive and in some cases can paralyze you with the amount of available choices for any given scene. Try shooting on just one lens and see what your creativity can bring to the screen. Sometimes less is more.

A recommendation for a lens is more like picking your favorite child. There is no way if you make a recommendation that everyone will agree. We are giving our opinion on what we have found using the various lenses available, and that is what it is-our opinion. If you are heavily invested in one brand of lens, then use that lens. Just get out to shoot something and test what you have. If it turns out later you want to try some other lenses, then take a
look at the following material and pick some off our recommendation list.

Lens Brands

There are many lens manufacturers both past and present, and most if not all are valid choices for you to use. The main brands we will talk about in this book are Canon, Nikon, Panavision, and Zeiss.

When recommending lenses, there is no official "best" lens. Lens choice is personal and more based on your aesthetics and the look of the piece you are trying to achieve.

We have worked with most of the major lenses. Here is a list from our favorite lenses based solely on image quality:

• Leica R

• Canon L series

• Zeiss ZE/ZF

• Zeiss CP.2

• Nikon AIS

We started with several Canon L series lenses as our main lens choice. When shooting our feature film, we mixed and matched Canon L series and Nikon glass and got good results with both. Most recently, we purchased and converted a set of Leica R primes as our main lenses. In our opinion, these are the very best lenses for the image quality, sharpness, and visual look they render on the DSLR platform.

• Leica lenses are the gold standard in lenses. They are highly coveted still lenses, and the majority of top cinema lenses are made with Leica glass.

• Canon lenses are good high-quality lenses that work for a lot of projects.

• Nikon in general produces some of the clearest and crispest images on the market.

• Zeiss lenses are great-quality lenses that are very affordable and accessible. You can easily find lens mounts to fit your camera, and Zeiss just introduced new lenses for DSLR cameras.

Lens Mounts and Adapters

The first thing you need to know prior to deciding on brands or types of lenses is the type of mount a lens uses to attach to the camera. In general, camera manufacturers engineer their cameras to fit their own lenses (in other words, Nikon cameras mount only Nikon lenses, for example). This is where lens mounts come in.

A lens mount is the configuration that allows interchangeable lens to be attached to the camera body. The lens mount interface will have the mechanical means to physically attach the lens to the camera body and will have electrical components to allow the lens and the camera body to communicate with each other. The camera body will have a specific lens mount system, and all lenses with that configuration will easily be attached to the camera body.

Lenses with nonconforming mounts usually can be mounted by using lens adapters.

There are many manufacturers that make lens mounts so that you can use a manufacturer's lens with a different manufacturer's camera (in other words, so you can use a Nikon lens on a Canon camera, for example). In some cases, certain lenses might damage your mirror or sensor on your camera, so you need to do some research to make sure others have successfully mounted the lens you want to use on your camera.


PL is a lens mount developed by Arri for use with both 16mm and 35mm movie cameras. The PL stands for positive lock. PL mounts are the standard mount for most cinema lenses. If you choose to use standard cinema lenses on an DSLR camera, then you need to have your camera outfitted with a PL mount.

Lenses04When mounting a nonconforming lens, the electrical interface may not function, or older lenses may not have an electrical component; in these cases, the lens may have to be used partially or entirely manually. Most DSLR cameras can be fitted with adapters to allow the camera body to accept cinema lenses, and as a result, the flexibility on lens choice is nearly limitless.