There are a lot of great lens options out there for videographers, photographers, and hybrid shooters. So many that it is difficult to pick the one that’s right for your project. Here is a list of lenses to consider in a variety of price points that are suitable for novices and seasoned shooters alike.
The Differences Between Photography and Cinema Lenses
Cameras are increasingly combining still photography and cinema features and some lenses are doing the same. Manufacturers have introduced Stepping/Stepper Motor technology for near-silent focusing during recording, giving multimedia shooters the best of both worlds: the portability of a still-image lens with quiet and precise rack focusing features of cinema lenses.
Despite this blending, there are still pretty big differences between photo and cine lenses. Many videographers use photography lenses for their work but it’s important to know some of their limitations.
Focus Throw and Breathing
The travel time between minimum focus and infinity on a photo lens is relatively short. This is to keep lens AF super fast so that photographers can capture moments (and nail focus) in a split second. Videographers, however, need longer throws because a movie scene lasts long enough to have focus change methodically within a shot. They rely on distance marks with ample spacing on the lens so that they can transition from one mark to another with precision for artistic effect or tranisitioning the viewers’ attention from one spot to another. This is just one of the reasons why cinema lenses are fundamentally different from photography lenses, even though photography lenses can be used for videography (and vice versa).
Another reason is focus breathing. You’ll often see “little-to-no breathing” being boasted on certain cine lenses on our site. What “breathing” does on a lens is produce slight angle of view shifts when going from one focus point to another. It’s most noticeable when making small focus adjustments, as it will create the effect of your subject having “shifted” in an unnatural-looking way. Most photographers (focus-stacking macro shooters excluded) don’t have to ever think about this, so it’s not a priority in photo lens manufacturing. But it’s pretty important in the cinema world.
Parfocal lenses hold focus on your subject as you zoom. This is a really big deal in a longer movie scene and less so for photographers who capture moments one at a time. Still photo lenses are often varifocal – the focus changes, or may change, as your focal length does. Many higher-end still photo lenses hold focus while zooming quite well even though it’s not a vital feature for photographers. This is great news for videographers who are trying to save money by avoiding using formal cinema lenses (or those who want to stay portable).
Sometimes you’ll see lenses on our site being described as “de-clicked”. This means the lens’ f-stop doesn’t open and close in predetermined physical increments. It’s smooth – allowing for seamless-looking exposure changes when stopping down or opening up the aperture. This feature is vital when following subjects around in variable lighting conditions. It’s not always a feature of photography lenses. However, if you plan on shooting with pretty much the same aperture the entire time, it might not be an essential feature for you.
Learn more about these features and see video examples of them in action in Photography vs Cinema Lenses: What New Videographers Need to Know.
Now that you know some of the differences between photo and video lenses, you’re better equipped to make an informed decision about what you really need. If you’re just as much a photographer as you are a videographer, you might be able to work around not having a parfocal lens with a de-clicked aperture. If you’re a full-time videographer, it may be essential for you to spring for higher-end video lenses. Fortunately, there are some more affordable video lens options out there.
Also note that cinema lenses create lovely still images – they just might be overkill for most photographers. If you’re used to working in manual focus (for example, if you do a lot of night sky shooting), then the build and optics of a cinema lens might be a great match, even if you mostly shoot stills.
This list spans a range of price points and skill levels. Several of the lenses listed come in many other focal lengths, too. If you find one in this list that intrigues you, explore the others that are in its same class. This will help you narrow down the vast choices that are out there.
10 Popular Canon EF Mount Lenses for Video
- Zeiss CP.3 28mm T2.1
- Canon 35mm f/1.4L II
- Canon 24-70mm f/2.8L II
- Sigma 35mm T1.5 High Speed Prime
- Canon 70-200mm f/2.8L IS III
- Canon 24-105mm f/3.5-5.6 IS STM
- Zeiss 35mm f/2 Milvus
- Canon 40mm f/2.8 STM
- Rokinon 35mm T1.5 DS Cine
- Tokina Cinema Vista 16-28mm T3 II
Zeiss CP.3 28mm T2.1 Lens ($121 for a 3 Day Rental, See More)
Zeiss is known for their sharp resolution, high contrast, low distortion, and perfect color rendering. They maintain many of the cinematic features of professional video lenses in a smaller form factor. They support 300º focus rotation, industry-standard focus and iris positioning, and a robust cine-style housing. The 28mm is a great wide angle choice for interiors and vistas but you can get a CP.3 primes in focal lengths ranging from 15mm-135mm.
Canon 35mm f/1.4L II Lens ($56 for a 3 Day Rental, See More)
This normal-wide prime is made with special Blue Spectrum Refractive Optics, which refract shorter wavelengths of the visible spectrum (blue light) in order to significantly reduce chromatic aberrations and color fringing and also allow for better low-light results. It is designed specifically with the quality and resolving power necessary for the latest super-high megapixel cameras, so it’s a great choice
Canon 24-70mm f/2.8L II Lens ($43 for a 3 Day Rental, See More)
The 24-70mm zoom range is among the most versatile available. For this reason, it’s a superb choice for shooters who just aren’t sure what to get. You will likely end up falling in love with the Canon 24-70mm f/2.8L II like so many others already have. Along with the 70-200mm, it’s our most popular lens, especially among photographers but is also a frequent renter among our videographers. A high-speed CPU with optimized AF algorithms ensures a fast and silent AF. Note that this lens has a very short focus rotation, making it difficult to use with set marks. But the close focusing distance, practical range, and portability make it a gem for journalists or on-the-go videographers who need to stay nimble and carry only 1 lens.
Sigma 35mm T1.5 High Speed Prime Lens ($125 for a 3 Day Rental, See More)
Like the Zeiss CP.3 lenses, the Sigma High Speed Prime lenses are designed specifically for cinematography, though they borrow coatings from their ART series photography lenses. This is handy for keeping color correction consistent across all modern Sigma lenses and the ART series are known for their lovely contrast and flare control. The High Speed Primes feature industry-standard 0.8M gear, glow-in-the-dark focus scales, and a 180º focus rotation. They have the resolving power to handle even 8K systems and up to larger-than-full-frame Vista Vision format. There are 10 primes in the collection, ranging from 14mm-135mm. Special stoppers/dampeners in the operation rings on these lenses provide completely silent operation.
Canon 70-200mm f/2.8L IS III Lens ($64 for a 3 Day Rental, See More)
Equipped with panning-friendly Image Stabilization modes and a Focus Range Limiter, the Canon 70-200mm f/2.8L IS III lens is ideal for wildlife and sports shooters. But it’s also a very popular lens for video. Featuring a tight seal structure and special protective coatings – not to mention its great far-reaching range – makes this a great choice for photo/video journalism work in nearly all environments. It’s remarkably sharp thanks in part to high contrast and good flare suppression. While quite agile for a lens of this range, it’s not necessarily lightweight. At over 3 lbs, you will want to support the lens with either a 15mm rod-based rig or use the included collar and a tripod/monopod. If you’re looking for this same lens in a more portable, hand-holdable form factor, check out the Canon 70-200mm f/4L IS II.
Canon 24-105mm f/3.5-5.6 IS STM Lens ($21 for a 3 Day Rental, See More)
Creative video projects do not require fancy, expensive lenses. There is something out there for nearly every budget. The Canon 24-105mm STM lens is an affordable tool designed with video in mind. It’s barely over a pound and barely over 4″ long while providing a vast and useful range. The maximum aperture is relatively slow but is equipped with image stabilization which helps with lower light shooting and using slower shutter speeds.
The stepping motor (STM) supports Canon’s Movie Servo AF mode for continuous subject tracking and focusing when recording – even when you’re not pressing the shutter button half way. Most videographers don’t want to hand over control of focusing to their cameras. But for vloggers, vacationers, and multimedia/hybrid shooters, it’s a nice resource. Note that Movie Servo AF is not in all camera models. You can find it in the 5D Mark IV, 7D Mark II, 80D, the new EOS R (requires adapter for pairing with this lens), and the Rebel T7i, among others.
Zeiss 35mm f/2 Milvus Lens ($37 for a 3 Day Rental, See More)
This lens features a modern design with an all-metal barrel and frosted, anodized surface for a functional and stylish feel. But the Zeiss 35mm f/2 Milvus isn’t just for looks. The comfortable rubberized ring provides precision control over focus and the de-clicked aperture ring is ideal for video. Edge-blackening is used on the glass to trap excess light, preventing reflections. This, in combination with the coatings, reduces coma, astigmatism, and other aberrations. What results is high-contrast results that are sharp from edge-to-edge on even the highest resolution cameras. Zeiss are well known for their workmanship and it’s apparent in Milvus lenses, which range from 15mm-135mm.
Canon 40mm f/2.8 STM Lens ($11 for a 3 Day Rental, See More)
This 40mm is in the “pancake lens” family, so called because of a flat, short-barrel look. You may also hear such lenses described as “body cap lenses”, which are actually even thinner than a typical pancake and are not optically complex. Pancake lenses are made of very thin glass and are unrivaled for portability. There were popular in the 60s and made a comeback when mirrorless really started taking off.
However, this is not a mirrorless lens. This is a typical EF mount lens for both full frame and crop frame sensor DSLR Canon cameras. Like with the Canon 24-105mm f/3.5-5.6 above, this lens is equipped with stepping motor (STM) that supports Canon’s Movie Servo AF mode for continuous subject tracking and focusing when recording. Its low price, low profile, and slightly-wider-than-normal field of view make it an ideal prime lens for beginners, travelers, and students.
Rokinon 35mm T1.5 DS Cine Lens ($35 for a 3 Day Rental, See More)
We offer a couple of different Rokinon cinema lens lines. The DS line is the more affordable of the two (the other is the Xeen). The DS line offers fast maximum T-stops, minimized “breathing”, a de-clicked aperture control ring, and color matching across each lens for consistent output. They support industry standard gearing for pairing easily with follow focus units and sport easy-to-read focus scales. DS lenses are suitable for photography and many enjoy them for night sky shooting but, like with most cinema lenses, they only offer manual focusing. They are also fairly portable, providing filter threading for common 77mm filters for those who want to forego using a matte box/filter combo. They are a great option for those coming out of beginner territory but aren’t quite ready for more expensive glass or for experienced folks on a strict budget.
Tokina Cinema Vista 16-28mm T3 II Lens ($110 for a 3 Day Rental, See More)
This is a parfocal lens with dramatically reduced breathing and image shifting over others in this category. It offers a 300º focus rotation, de-clicked aperture, a useful – if short – wide angle focal range, and an industry standard 11mm front diameter that is perfectly compatible with nearly any matte box system (with the option to screw on circular 112mm filters). It has a very durable all-metal body that is designed specifically for videography. Named in part after RED’s VistaVision format, this lens will provide sharp imagery up to 8K on larger-than-full-frame sensors. At over 4 lbs, this lens will need some added support and personal endurance if used on a run-and-gun style rig. For a lens very similar in range with a slightly wider maximum aperture (but for a higher price), check out the Sigma 18-35mm T2 Cine High Speed Zoom EF Mount Lens.
To recap, think about your needs and make a list of “must-haves” and “would-like-to-haves”. There is a video-appropriate lens for every budget! For narratives that require long scenes and interesting angles, a parfocal zoom with little-to-no breathing may be required. For a video journalism assignment at school, a smaller STM lens may suffice. Renting is a great option for figuring out what really suits you before committing to a lens purchase.
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