Cine vs Photography Lens: How to choose the right lens for video

by Joost | Last Updated: June 28, 2022
I love creating free content full of tips for my readers, you. I don't accept paid sponsorships, my opinion is my own, but if you find my recommendations helpful and you end up buying something you like through one of my links, I could earn a commission at no extra cost to you.

You can film with the standard lens on your video camera or DSLR, but if you need more control, quality or capture specific images, it may be time to ditch the standard “kit” lens and expand your arsenal.

Here are some practical tips for choosing a lens for video.

How to choose the right lens for video or film

Do you really need a new lens?

Filmers can become obsessed with camera equipment and collect all kinds of knick-knacks that they don’t actually use. A good lens does not make you a better videographer.

Take a good look at what you have and what you are missing. What shots do you need that you can’t make yet? Is the quality of your current lens really too mediocre or insufficient?

Are you going for Prime or Zoom?

A Prime lens is limited to one focal length/focal length, e.g. Tele or Wide, but not both.

This has several advantages with equivalent lenses; the price is relatively low, the sharpness and quality are optimal, the weight is often lower and the light sensitivity is often better than with a Zoom lens.

Playmobil petting zoo stop motion
Playmobil petting zoo stop motion

With a Zoom lens you can adjust the degree of zoom without changing lenses. It is a lot more practical to make your composition and you also need less space in your camera bag.

Do you need a special lens?

For special shots or a specific visual style you can choose an extra lens:

Stabilization

If you have a camera without stabilization, you can opt for a lens with stabilization. You can enable or disable it according to your needs.

For filming with a rig, hand-held or shoulder camera, this is actually a must-have if there is no image stabilization (IBIS) on the camera.

Autofocus

If you’re filming in controlled conditions, you’ll probably focus manually.

If you are filming reports, or if you need to quickly respond to the situation, or if you work with a gimbal (some great choices we’ve reviewed here), it is useful to use a lens with autofocus.

Cinema lens

Many DSLR and (entry-level) cinema camera videographers use a “normal” photo lens. The Cine lens is specially designed for filming and has the following features:

You can set the focus manually very accurately and smoothly, changing the aperture/aperture is stepless, no problems with lens breathing and the build quality is always very good. A disadvantage is that the lens is often expensive and heavy.

Difference between a Cine lens and a photography lens

You have different types of lenses for different applications. In the higher segment you can choose between a photography lens and a cine lens.

If you work on a film production with a decent budget, there is a chance that you will work with cine lenses. What makes these lenses so special, and why are they so expensive?

Equal weight and size of the Cine lens

Consistency is very important in film production.

You don’t want to reset your matte box (some great options here by the way) and follow focus when you switch lenses. That is why a series of cine lenses have the same size and almost the same weight, whether it is a wide or telephoto lens.

Color and contrast are equal

In photography, you can also vary in color and contrast with different lenses. With a film it is very inconvenient if each fragment has a different color temperature and look.

That’s why cine lenses are made to provide the same contrast and color characteristics, regardless of the lens type.

Lens breathing, focus breathing and parfocal

If you use a zoom lens, it is important with a cine lens that the focus point is always the same. If you have to focus again after zooming, that is very annoying.

There are also lenses where the crop of the image changes during focusing (Lens breathing). You don’t want that when shooting a movie.

Vignetting and T-Stops

A lens has a curvature so that the lens gets less light on the side than in the middle. With a cine lens, this difference is limited as much as possible.

If the image moves, you can see that difference in light much better than with a photo. F-stops are used in photography, T-stops in film.

An F-stop indicates the theoretical amount of light that passes through the lens, the T-stop indicates how much light actually hits the light sensor and is therefore a better and more constant indicator.

A real cine lens is often a lot more expensive than a photo lens. Because you sometimes have to film over a period of months, consistency is paramount.

In addition, you can expect superior lens characteristics under difficult lighting conditions such as backlighting, high contrasts and overexposure. The build quality and construction of the lens is very robust.

Many film makers rent cine lenses because the purchase price is very high.

You can certainly take very nice pictures with photo lenses, but cine lenses ensure that you know exactly what the lens is doing under all conditions, and that can save time in post-production.

F-Stop or T-Stop?

The F-Stop is known to most videographers, it indicates how much light is let through.

But a lens is made up of different glass components that reflect light, and thus also block light.

The T-Stop is widely used with Cinema (Cine) lenses and indicates how much light is actually let through, and that can be a lot less.

Both values ​​are indicated on the website at http://www.dxomark.com/. You can also find reviews and measurements on the dxomark website.

Conclusion

There are many considerations to make when purchasing a new lens. Ultimately, the most important choice is; do I need a new lens? First, think about what you want to film and find the right lens for it, not the other way around.