Is There a Best Lens for Videography? Let’s Find Out
Let me first caveat this post by saying that it’s not actually one lens I’ve listed here, there’s three. There’s three because I’ve categorised a best lens for each category of wide shot lens, medium shot lens and long shot lens.
These are personal preferences and there are more combinations of lens for filming out there that videographers use together than there are camera bodies to use them with.
However, I have put these three lenses together after years of working on commercial content with a variety of cameras and lenses. After trying many different combinations these are the ones that served me the best time and time again.
So, you can be safe in the knowledge that these lenses are worth the time to get to know. Head to the DigiProTips Experience and Background page to find out more about my experience with videography.
Why Do We Need Three Lens For Filming?
Well, really, we don’t. If you are going out to shoot casually or with a slim kit then this is definitely overkill and there are some one or two lens combos that could get you by absolutely fine.
However, if you are going for high-end, multiple perspectives, angles, diverse shooting scenarios and like to have options in your arsenal for every shoot then this is what I believe you should have in your kit bag. You will ultimately end up with the upper hand over your competition with this setup, in my opinion, too.
I’m going to include a wide shot lens, mid shot lens and long range lens but all are zoom lenses as this will give you the most flexibility and covers the biggest focal lengths. Working on a full frame camera, as opposed to micro four-thirds or APS-C which would alter our focal lengths due to crop factor (around 1.6x), we will have a working focal distance of 18-200mm. That’s a huge range to work with for any videographer!
If you are working with a DSLR or camera with a cropped sensor then that range will start less wide and be a longer focal length at the other end but the overall range will be similar (28.8-320mm at 1.6x).
All of the lenses from here on out are EF mount lenses and the glass chosen is for quality and price point. There are plenty of mount options for all of the lenses listed so don’t feel constricted by the fact we are using EF. It’s only with Sony’s E-mount that you may run into trouble and then Sony’s own glass is one of ah to go or lens adapters are another.
Note. We only recommend Metabones or Sigma adapters for lens adapters as they give the most consistent quality and overall compatibility with a wide variety of bodies and lens mounts. Be sure to check the compatibility of your lens to a camera body and whether the adapter is a speed boosting adapter as this can damage the components in some cases.
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The Wide Shot Lens of Choice
Starting with the widest lens, I have historically used the 16-35mm Canon L-series f4 USM lens as a standard, predictable and quality wide lens. However, at around $999 for this lens and a maximum aperture of f4 it does feel a little steep and if you want a wider aperture in the f2.8 version then you’re looking at double that price!
So, for this reason and actually because I feel the glass is incredible, the aperture is so wide and the make and feel of the lens is very nice to work with, I instead opt for the 18-35mm Sigma f1.8 DC Art HSM Lens.
This lens is about $200 cheaper, coming in at about $620. The sharpness on this lens is unbelievable for the price point and when compared to the L-series I’d go as far as to say it’s better.
The downside? The Sigma is heavier than the Canon. Coming in at 810g (without the hood) it’s nearly 200g heavier than the L-series at 615g. The lengths of both are pretty much comparable at about 80x120mm. So the only physical factor to consider is the added weight.
When lugging a kit bag around all day this could make a difference but for us it’s still worth the saving for the extra weight.
The Best Lens for Videography in the Midrange
And so we move on to our second lens in the lineup.
Why three options? And which are we going to choose?
Well, there are three here because they all serve as great midrange zoom lenses with superb build quality, excellent handling and great image results.
They do, of course, have differences that set them apart. And out of the three, I am going to go for the mid-priced 24-70mm f4 IS II USM.
Ok, so first things first. Why the f4 version instead of the f2.8? Well, for starters it’s cheaper, by about $700 too. The f4 can be found for around $900 but the f2.8 is $1600. What would you be getting for the extra $700? Well, mainly and most importantly, you’re getting a wider aperture of f2.8. Allowing for shallower depth of field and better low light capabilities when compared with an f4 aperture. The image quality is also slightly sharper on the f2.8 than the f4.
So, why then am I going for the f4 variety? Well, it’s mainly due to the fact it has image stabilisation. The f2.8 has fantastic glass and the shallow depth of field would be nice to have but for working in-the-field, on potentially thousands of shoots that may require freehand shooting, the image stabilisation is a necessity. That and the price difference.
It’s completely true when buying camera equipment that, ‘you get what you pay for’ and, ‘lenses last, body’s don’t’ but there is always a balance and for me that $700 difference in price could be put towards so many other things that could also be extremely useful to have.
What about the 24-105mm? I haven’t forgotten this beast of a lens and it would be remiss of me not to mention it. It is after all the original kit lens, the lens that if you bought a Canon DSLR in the last decade you will most likely have got this lens as your starting lens with it.
The 24-105mm f4 II USM is an absolute workhorse! I can’t tell you how many times I’ve picked lens up from my kit bag and just started shooting in seconds flat due to its ease of use, lightweight structure, image stabilising capabilities and great quality results that it produces. This lens (on its second version) is so universally admired and for good reason.
Why then am I not choosing it?
Ok, several factors here. One, it is expensive. It is $1100 expensive and it is a kit lens, it’s a lens you get as part of a deal. Second, it’s $1100 and yet you only get an f4 aperture. Yes, I know I’m going for another lens at f4 with less of a focal range BUT it’s $200 cheaper. And third, I don’t need the extra focal range in this particular line up. In fact I’ve already doubled up on 24-25mm with my first two lenses. My third lens is going to cover 70-200mm so I do not need two lenses that cover the 70-105mm range.
The Big Boy, the Long Range Lens for Filming
So, onto my third and final lens. As I just mentioned, it is a 70-200mm and this lens is the most expensive in our lineup but for good reason.
The lens in question? It is of course the 70-200mm f2.8 L IS III USM. And it comes in at an eye watering $1,800. Yep, that’s a lot of dough to spend but it’s worth every penny.
This lens isn’t in its third iteration for no reason. This lens is incredibly compact, 90x200m to be exact, for the range is gives you (the new RF version is even more compact somehow, but RF is a whole other kettle of fish I’m not going to get into right now). It is image stabilised, it is lightweight(ish) at 1440g and most beautifully of all it has an aperture of f2.8.
The bokeh you can get with this lens is simply beautiful. Conducting a talking head shoot with this lens will blow your competition out of the water. Yes, you need a decent amount of space to get the shot with this lens and you could spend more on a lower focal range zoom with a wider aperture but then you wouldn’t have the range this lens can offer either.
What are the other options in this tier? Well, to be honest not many. I’ve used and lugged about the Sigma 70-200mm but it is an absolute beast of a lens and you can forget about fitting anything else in your kit bag if you have one. However, the results are very impressive from this lens if want something slightly cheaper.
When it comes to this end of the telephoto lens spectrum (for prosumer based shooting) then there are far fewer options available and of those there are big differences in price, build, handling and image quality. The top end brands really do tend to dominate this end of the market and usually for good reason.
That doesn’t mean to say don’t think about getting a Sigma or Tamron lens but make sure you do your research first before putting the investment into a higher end lens such as this.
Bonus Option – Shooting with 50mm Lens
Ok, so there is actually another option in the best lens for videography list.
There is another trio of lenses you could go for, which may make your budget stretch further and still have your adaptability at near its peak.
What am I talking about? Well, what I’m going to suggest is that you could ditch the 24-105mm and try shooting with 50mm lens (A.K.A. nifty fifty) instead.
We already have the 18-35mm and 70-200mm ranges covered and the in most cases you’re likely to use the 24-70mm at around 50mm for any stationary or talking head shots anyway. We could there ditch the zoom lens and go with a fixed 50mm.
What are the advantages of doing this? Well, for starters it’s a whole lot cheaper! The Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 STM Lens can be bought for $100 and with an aperture of f1.8 you can get stunning results such as these:
Add a little more money to the package and you’ve got the mid-level Canon EF 50mm f/1.4 USM Lens for $350. It’s got USM autofocus and an even wider aperture of f1.4, perfect for portrait and low-light shooting:
As well as this you’ve also shed a fair bit of weight with these lenses coming in around 200g and only a fraction of the size of the 24-70mm. That’s a whole lot of room in your bag and it drastically reduces the size and weight of the camera when you’re shooting for hours on end.
What are the negatives to doing this? Well, you obviously lose out on the extended range from 35mm-50mm and 50-70mm. This will mean you will need to move your camera closer or further away to the subject matter to get the shot. That could be a deal breaker for some as it’s far more inconvenient than simply rotating a ring on a lens.
Another aspect is that you lose out on optical image stabilisation as none of the Canon 50mm lenses (even the Canon EF 50mm f/1.2L USM at $1,300 doesn’t have it). So you would need to be confident that your shoot is mostly static or has little movement to be able to get the best out of the lens. Of course newer camera body’s are coming out with more and more impressive in-camera stabilisation but we would always suggest a tripod for a 50mm shot.
There really is no end of combinations you can go with in your kit bag and the rabbit hole that is lens selection can be overwhelming. For me though having these three lenses (with whatever budget you can stretch to) will be an unbeatable combination out in the field. You will be up against competition that try to run and gun with a one lens or two lens setup but they compromise on beauty for pace and efficiency. Having an option for extended ranges with wide apertures and stabilised lenses should give you results that blow your competition out of the water (as long as you’ve mastered composition and timing).
If your budget can’t stretch that far then the bonus option is still a very good route to go. You won’t be disappointed with the results.
Want to see more from DigiProTips? Check out our article on using your smartphone as a webcam through the power of NDI!