Lenses For Still + Motion

Why Not Zooms?

Affordable interchangeable lenses are one of the principal reasons why video-capable DSLRs achieved such popularity in the video and filmmaking community. Previously, camcorders with interchangeable lenses were a very expensive proposition at the same time that most affordable pro solutions offered only a single affixed zoom lens coupled with a smaller camcorder sensor. So zooms have application in video, but whether shooting for motion or stills, they’re used more or less for one reason: convenience. This makes them a better choice for event coverage and wildlife while primes are the best option for most other aspects of videography and filmmaking.

Zooms are problematic for motion capture, as well. The zooming rings on a still lens are designed for a fast range of zoom to quickly track randomly moving subjects, so a slight turn equals a relatively massive change in angle of view. This makes zooming during a take difficult to perform smoothly unless you look at follow-focus systems with oversized gears for more gradual rotation of the lens. Follow-focus units and oversized lens gear rings almost always require a camera cage or rig of some kind to mount to the camera, as well. Zooms also need to be refocused if zooming in or out during a take, which is especially difficult to perform because focus is so difficult to achieve on the diminutive LCD screen of most DSLRs. The use of variable-aperture zooms also means changes to your exposure when zooming during a sequence. Zooming with motion is extremely prone to vibrations and subtle movements, as well, and for these reasons professional cinematographers often employ stabilization systems, sliders, rails, jibs and even cranes for moving a camera over choosing to zoom with a lens.

Choosing Your Kit

For DSLR filmmakers, the system you decide on is probably going to mch your camera system, but you should take into consideration several factors. The first is imaging quality. The best glass will provide the best resolution and color fidelity, and you shouldn’t skimp on getting the best lens you can afford. Secondly, a lens set should have the same relative imaging quality across the board so the visual characteristics of footage matches between shots. Cinematographers tend to prefer that the lenses handle the s
ame with similar torque and barrel rotation so they don’t have to relearn a lens every time they make a lens swap. The same-sized front diameter is also an important consideration when using threaded filters across the line, especially since step-up rings can cause vignetting.


Older Nikon manual primes are popular choices for filmmakers for their affordability and availability; however, you lose most of the automatic functions when it comes to stills. AF-S lenses offer current Nikon DSLRs automatic abilities, but for video that isn’t a necessity, so you’ll have several options for most focal lengths. The AF NIKKOR 50mm ƒ/1.8D is a popular prime for its economical pricing and fast aperture, but the AF Micro-NIKKOR 60mm ƒ/2.8D offers a similar view coupled with a 1:1 macro reproduction. The AF NIKKOR 50mm ƒ/1.4D is even better in low-light situations. With a minimum focusing distance of 3 feet and 4 feet, respectively, the AF DC-NIKKOR 105mm ƒ/2D and AF DC-NIKKOR 135mm ƒ/2D offer a great medium telephoto that’s doubly useful as a high-quality portraiture lens, especially thanks to the Defocus Control bokeh abilities of both lenses. The AF-S VR Micro-NIKKOR 105mm ƒ/2.8G IF-ED is a similar solution that also incorporates Vibration Reduction (VR) and 1:1 macro capabilities. Great wider choices include the AF NIKKOR 20mm ƒ/2.8D, with a minimum focus of only 0.85 feet, and the AF-S NIKKOR 24mm ƒ/1.4G ED for its very fast aperture and Silent Wave Motor.

The system doesn’t have to match the camera, however. Most video work is done with manual focusing, and though you often lose automatic functions, there are numerous adapters available for converting lens mounts from different manufacturers. Options include manual Nikon F-mount lenses on Canon cameras, cinematic Zeiss and PL-mount lenses on DSLR mounts and many more. Used lenses are available on the Internet, and it’s also an option to rent, as cinematic lenses, even older models, are quite expensive.


Sigma makes several Canon-, Nikon- and Sony-mount prime lenses, as well as two prime lenses for the Micro Four Thirds mount of Olympus and Panasonic, the 30mm F2.8 and the 19mm F2.8. Many of Sigma’s primes are offered with similar features as their mainstream counterparts, but at a reduced rate. Options include the 19mm F2.8 EX DN, the 20mm F1.8 EX DG ASP RF, the 24mm F1.8 EX DG ASP Macro, the 28mm F1.8 EX DG ASP Macro, the 30mm F1.4 EX DC HSM, the 30mm F2.8 EX DN, the 35mm F1.4 DG HSM, the 50mm F1.4 EX DG HSM, the 50mm F2.8 EX DG Macro, the 70mm F2.8 EX DG Macro and the 85mm F1.4 EX DG HSM. EX signifies the pro line, and many of the longer lenses also pack OS optical stabilization, like the 105mm F2.8 EX DG OS HSM Macro, 180mm F2.8 EX DG OS HSM APO Macro and 150mm F2.8 EX DG OS HSM APO Macro. Their super-telephoto primes include the 300mm F2.8 EX APO DG HSM, 500mm F4.5 EX DG APO HSM and 800mm F5.6 EX APO DG HSM, though all three lack stabilization.

Leave a Reply