Essential Guide To Cinematic Camera Lenses – 5+ Key Types Of Lenses For Filmmaking

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Cinematic Camera Lenses – Are you looking at ways to capture cinematic-looking footage for your next feature? To shoot a scene that will look cinematic, you need more than just a fancy film camera to do this.

A filmmaker needs to frame the scene just right, the right positioning of the subjects you are filming, the movement of the camera, and great composition.

But there is one essential filmmaking tool that can make a filmmaker’s life so much easier in capturing great cinematic footage, and that is having the right cinematic film lens in the filmmaking camera kit.

Film lenses offer better image quality and easier to use compared to still photography lenses.

Having the right cinematic camera lens in your camera gear makes them invaluable for filmmakers and cinematographers.

Whether you’re shooting a narrative film or a YouTube video, exploring with various types of camera lenses will certainly help shoot incredible cinematic footage.

This post will cover What a Film Lens is, the Characteristics of a film lens, the main types of Cinematic Camera Lenses, and so much more to have you up to speed on finding the right cinematic camera lens for your next film project.

What is a Film Lens or Cinema Lens

A cine lens or a cinematic camera lens is a higher-end camera lens for cinema cameras that filmmakers or cinematographers work with to create amazing-looking film projects.

Just like the lenses that you would use with a DSLR or mirrorless camera, a film lens comprises a set of glass plates that deliver exterior light through the camera’s viewfinder to a film strip or digital sensor.

In cinematography and photography, there are two kinds of camera lenses, prime and zoom lenses.

All lenses filter and focus light, so it hits the sensor or film strip correctly, but other factors determine the look and quality of an image captured by a film lens.

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Characteristics of a Film Lens

Focal length

Focal length is the distance, measured in millimeters, between the camera lens and the camera’s digital sensor, or film plane, which records the image. 

Cine lenses with smaller focal lengths have wider angles of view, which is how the human eye perceives the size of the objects in the scene, while larger focal lengths have a narrower angle of view and show less of the scene. 

T-stops

The amount of light that passes through the cine lens is measured in increments called transmission stops, or t-stops, which is a more accurate unit of measurement than the f-stop (the camera setting that specifies the aperture of the lens) used for still lenses. 

Aperture

The aperture, or size of the opening in the lens, or iris, also affects the image that the cine lens can capture. 

As with focal length, large apertures create a shallow depth of field, which is the amount of focus in the image, while smaller apertures result in greater depth of field and more focus. 

The widest aperture setting on a lens is called maximum aperture and is ideal for low light situations.

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Breakdown Of The Two Main Types of cinematic Camera Lenses?

Before we dive into the types of cinematic camera lenses a filmmaker should have in their filmmaking kit, a filmmaker should understand the two primary types of camera lenses for cinematography and photography.

Prime Lens

A prime lens has a fixed focal length, so filmmakers must physically move the camera closer toward or away from their subject to change the angle of view.

This kind of lens is also known as a varifocal lens, meaning its focus changes as it zooms. A cine prime lens is typically lighter than a zoom lens but allows for less creative control over zooming.

Zoom Lens

A zoom lens enables cinematographers to change the focal length and angle of view by zooming in and out with the zoom ring on the lens body.

Zooming lets the cinematographer of achieving everything from a wide-angle shot to an extreme close-up.

A popular pick for filmmaking is the cine zoom lens, which is a parfocal lens that allows filmmakers to change the zoom range without losing focus or image quality.

Zoom lenses typically comprise more glass than prime lenses, which makes them heavier, but allows for greater versatility.

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5+ Types of Cinematic Camera Lenses for Filmmaking

There are many lens options for filmmaking in regards to the two primary types of prime and zoom lenses. Here are the most popular cinematic camera lenses that filmmakers rely on for incredible-looking footage.

Prime Lenses

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14-20 mm

A wide-angle prime lens in a range from 14 – 20mm or more is an excellent accessory in a filmmaker or camera operator’s film kit. 

The impact it has on scenes is to highlight a character or object in the foreground from the background scenery. If you use it in an interior or specific exterior location, it will make the visuals pop.

Unlike other types of camera lenses, there is no flattening of foreground and background. The foreground details are emphasized and exaggerated. 

Keep in mind that a wide-angle lens will distort a person’s face or objects. But, if you are looking for distorted aesthetics, then a wide-angle prime lens in this range might be for you.

If you are a fan of director Terry Gilliam, the filmmaker behind 12 Monkeys, Brazil, and many other classics, he is known for using the 14mm and shooting Dutch angles with it to create scenes with a sense of surreal distortion.

50mm - The "Nifty Fifty"

50mm lens is a prime lens that every filmmaker should have in their filmmaking kit. It’s an incredibly versatile lens that is fantastic at capturing scenes with two actors in it.

Most filmmakers often carry a 50mm lens and a 35mm because these cinematic camera lenses are great for realism because they show how we all see the world.

Another reason why you should have a 50mm lens in your camera kit is that they are cheap and light, with some nice out-of-focus bokeh. I love the 50mm lens because of its lightweight, I can use it for handheld gimbal shots without weighing me down.

A director that loved using the 50mm lens was Alfred Hitchcock. He was able to capture a realistic scene in a way we would see it in real life, but with more details.

Another master director that used the 50mm to perfection on replicating how the human eye sees things was Japanese director Akira Kurosawa.

50mm lens can also create the bokeh effect, a soft, attractive, out-of-focus background image, with maximum aperture. Canon, Tokina, and the Rokinon 50mm T2.1 are among the many 50mm lenses

Related Article: 5 Best 4k Filmmaking Cameras Under 1000 Dollars  

75mm - Telephoto lens

The 75mm telephoto, or long lens, is a zoom lens with multiple focal points that compresses and magnifies details in the foreground, middle ground, and background of an image. 

The telephoto lens is less frequently used in filmmaking, save for productions with extensive sets or locations or documentaries. 

Ridley Scott used the 75mm long lens while shooting Blade Runner and Alien for many of the cinematic shots of these films. 

If you decide to use a 75mm long lens, make sure the scene you’re filming has a lot of detail. 

Not many filmmakers can shoot like Ridley Scott, but with the right camera movements and eye for the right interior and exterior locations, you can create a cinematic shot with a telephoto lens.

Panasonic, Tamron, and Sigma are known for telephoto lenses

Zoom lens

Many established filmmakers tend to stick with the prime lenses above to get the best cinematic look to their films, but having a good zoom lens is a great filmmaking tool to have in a lens kit. Here are some great zoom lenses and examples of why you need them.

24-105mm

This cinematic camera lens offers a filmmaker lots of versatility for any type of shot. For example, if you want a slightly distorted close-up shot, you can achieve this by zooming into 24mm. 

If you want a telephoto effect for certain shots or a whole project, you could zoom out and move the camera around—whether handheld or on a tripod to get the shots you want.

55-250mm Lens

If your camera has a lens mount that can use Canon Lenses, then you need to add the Canon 55- 250mm telephoto lens with a low f-stop with a range of f4 to f5.6. 

It offers an incredible range of focal lengths for a zoom lens.

Keep in mind that if you own a zoom lens with this type of range, you’ll need a wide-angle prime lens or two for your cinematic arsenal.

Anamorphic Lenses

Almost all types of camera lenses are spherical. But there is a unique class of lenses, called anamorphic, that provides filmmakers versatility with the aspect ratio (width and height of projected footage) of their films.

Spherical lenses don’t affect the aspect ratios. But, when an anamorphic lens is used for a film shot, the image is compressed while recording and then stretched out to achieve wide and cinematic aspect ratios in post-production. 

Here is a list of films that were shot with anamorphic lenses: Pulp Fiction, Blade Runner, Apocalypse Now, La La Land, Halloween, Empire Strikes Back, and so much more.  

Many great film directors are very fond of using an anamorphic lens, but they can get quite expensive and may not be the best choice for most filmmakers.

Are Anamorphic lenses worth it? To me, films shot with anamorphic lenses look fantastic on screen and appeal to an innate nostalgia we all have for a classic film, but it also makes you a better filmmaker. It opens up your frame to new action and allows you to pack more detail into each frame.

Cooke and ARRI are among the many anamorphic lens manufacturers

Check out the best anamorphic lenses at B&H Photo/Video.

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What Are the Differences Between a Cine Lens and a Still Photography Lens?

As you can tell from the video clip above, there are several key differences between lenses used for film and lenses for still photography. 

Here are the main differences between a Cine Lens and a Still Photgprahy lens:

  • Aperture and iris. The main difference between a cine lens and a lens for still photography is the capability to manually adjust many of its functions, including aperture and iris, with rings built into the lens body. The iris rings have t-stop markings, which provide a more accurate measure of light entering the lens, while the aperture ring allows for smoother exposure. 
  • Focus. Unlike still lenses, which adjust focus electronically, cine lenses have a manual focus ring marked with hard stops that allow for smoother focus pulls. The focus ring also allows for more focus throw, which is the degree of rotation from minimum focus distance to infinity; it also cuts down on focus breathing, which is the slight change in focus length when rotating the ring. However, the manual focus also means that most cine lenses do not have an autofocus feature. 
  • Optical performance. In terms of image sharpness, cine lenses provide more consistent quality than still photography lenses. They can handle difficult lighting conditions and have fewer instances of chromatic aberration, mismatched colors, and vignetting, which is when the corners of an image have reduced saturation. 
  • Size. Cine lenses are larger and heavier in both size and build to still lenses. They typically come with a fixed front diameter that allows the cinematographer to use a variety of cameras, adapters, and accessories, including matte boxes, electro-focus (EF) lens mounts, like the Canon EF Mount, servo controls, and manual follow focus systems, which allow for smoother shifts in focus. 
  • Zoom. The zoom ring on a cine lens creates smoother zooming by changing its zoom focus internally. Filmmakers can zoom in on an object and know that the image will remain in focus.
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Want to Learn More About Filmmaking?

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Summary

To summarize, many types of lenses would give your video a cinematic look even on a DSLR or mirrorless camera.

The best cinema camera lenses are often called “fast lens” and they have a wide aperture and low f-stop numbers.

To figure out what the best cinematic lens works for you, it’s worth renting out various types of camera lenses and experimenting with various apertures.

Browse the best camera equipment deals available at your favorite retailers:

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