When it comes to video production equipment, it seems the technology has a short shelf life and is constantly being updated. It can be daunting to decide what camera to purchase knowing that whatever you sink a large chunk of change into today could very well be an oversized paper weight tomorrow. I guess that could be a bit extreme, however, there is one piece of equipment that if you get right, can hold its value better than gold.

The Right Lenses

Lenses can make or break a production. Imagine setting up in the back of the church and trying to zoom in to get a great medium shot of the preacher. Without the correct lens, you’ll never get there. Or, think about trying to create that awesome film look for your productions but all you have is a stock zoom lens on your Handycam. The right lens is like the right woodworking tool. You can’t use a hammer for every project. That’s why there are so many lens choices out there. But which one is right for you? Let’s take a look at two main aspects of lenses: type and lens ratio.

Type

There are many different types of lenses. Some are interchangeable, some are built in to your camera. Either way, knowing what lens you have or what you need is very helpful.

Standard – A standard or normal lens (50mm) generally reproduces what the human eye sees. When you look through the camera you will see things how you would walking around.  If you move to higher focal lengths (85mm, 100mm) you can generally soften or blur the background creating separation and giving the image a more filmic, professional look.

Wide – A wide lens (under 50mm) gives you a larger field of view. The smaller the focal length, the wider and more distorted the image will get. This is great for making small areas look larger and capturing landscapes.

Telephoto – A telephoto lens (over 100mm) can feel like looking through binoculars. The higher the focal length, the flatter the image will feel. It will also allow you to capture great images from hundreds of feet away. This lens also has a naturally shallow depth of field, meaning that it is easy to blur your backgrounds or focus from the foreground to background for a nice effect. It also means it can be harder to keep moving objects in focus.

Zoom – A zoom lens combines all of these lenses by having a variable focal length. By twisting the focal length ring, you can “zoom” in or out from wide to normal to telephoto. Some lenses are motorized and you can change the focal length with a rocker switch  Most camcorders have a built in zoom lens. A camcorder zoom lens with 20x optical zoom is a great place to start if you are in a typical size sanctuary filming from the back. As you get into larger rooms, you will need a higher focal length. In my experience, a 300mm lens from the rear of a large 1500 seat auditorium will be plenty to follow the preacher on stage with a nice medium close shot.

Lens Ratio

This is a complicated little set of numbers printed on the front of the lens. It usually looks like 1:2.8-4 or something like that. This basically tells you how “fast” the lens is or how much light the lens needs to operate properly. The f-stop is the number on the lens that corresponds to how much light is allowed into the lens. The lower the f-stop (2.8) the more light enters the lens. At a “low” f-stop you get shallower depth of field and less need to add light. The higher the f-stop (22), the less light is allowed in the lens. This would be ideal for filming outside in bright sun. Controlling the f-stop gives you control over how bright the image is in certain conditions. This is also known as the “iris” on some cameras because it acts like like the iris of your eye. When we go outside, our pupil gets smaller in reaction to the light And when it’s dark our pupil dilates to let more light in. When looking at zoom lens you may see a range (2.8-4) This tells you when zoomed out your lowest f-stop is 2.8 and when zoomed in your lowest f-stop is 4. The lower the f-stop on a lens, usually the better (and more expensive) it is.

Recommendations

The cool thing about lenses is a good lens never becomes obsolete. A high quality lens can be used no matter what camera you buy (provided the camera allows interchangeable lenses). There are many different types of mounts for lenses. The great thing is there are adapters to adapt one lens to another system. So you can put canon glass on a nikon camera, or Sony lenses on a canon camera. The combinations are endless. You can always try out a lens by renting for a few days (lensrentals.com).

If you are looking to buy, here are some suggestions:

Wide: Tokina AT-X 116 PRO DX-II 11-16mm f/2.8

Telephoto: Tamron SP 70-300mm f/4-5.6 Di

Zooms: Sony G LensSigma 24-70mm f/2.8

What lenses are you using?