There is an overwhelming array of lens rentals for cinematographers and videographers. In many ways, the last few years have seen an explosion in cinema lens choices that is somewhat comparable to the explosion in affordable digital cinema camera options from 2008-2013. As you prepare for your next lens rental (or purchase), it’s important to think about the type of job you are doing and what trade-offs you are willing to make.
Prime Lenses or Zoom Lenses?
The first big choice is between going with prime lenses or zoom lenses. The benefits of a zoom lens are obvious: you can select a variety of framing without having to switch lenses, which can be super useful when working with a tight schedule or doing run and gun shooting. There is a reason why zoom lenses are dominant in documentary, news, sports and increasingly in narrative production.
Zoom Lens Drawbacks:
There are a few drawbacks to zooms, starting with weight. While there are “lightweight” zooms designed for Steadicam and stabilizer work, in general zoom lenses weigh a bit more, and are physically larger, than prime lenses. If you are doing a lot of hand held or spending a lot of your day on a stabilizer like the MoVi or the Ronin, you should consider getting a set of primes lenses.
In addition, Zoom lenses aren’t typically as “fast” as primes. The “speed” of a lens refers to its widest aperture, which allows you to work with less light. A lens that only opens to a 2.8 isn’t a “fast” as a lens that opens to a 2 or 1.4. While faster sensors mean we aren’t always working with a 1.4 aperture like was common in the 90s, there are still situations where you want to be able to open that wide. The fastest stops (lenses that open to a 1.4 or even wider, like the T1 lenses from Vantage) are reserved for prime lenses. Zooms are making progress here, however! It used to be that a 4 was a common “wide open” for a good quality ZOOM, but now 2.8 and even 2 is becoming increasingly common.
A zoom lens also tends to have a longer “close focus,” meaning you can’t focus as close to the lens. This can be incredibly important when working in small spaces like cramped apartments, where a zoom lens with a 5 foot close focus could mean that you have very few options for camera placement and blocking. While many zoom lenses have a macro mode for getting close focus shots, these typically won’t focus through, meaning you can’t rack from the close-up to the wide. This is another reason why prime lenses remain popular.
One important thing to consider with ZOOM lenses is whether or not they are Parfocal. Parfocal is the term for the ability of a lens to stay focused in the same spot throughout the zoom range. Most lenses designed for still photos are not parfocal, since it doesn’t matter for the intended use. And by giving up parfocality they are able to make lighter, more compact, more affordable lenses. This reason alone may be a good reason for you to stick to prime lenses or pay to rent true cine lens zooms.
This is a big consideration if shooting on a DSLR and renting still photo glass for your job. While lenses like the Canon L series zooms give great imagery, their lack of parfocality means you need to work with them in a different way. Instead of zooming in, getting focus, and zooming out, you need to use the “digital zoom” features of the camera to zoom in to part of frame and check focus. This also means that shots where you actively see the zoom won’t typically be possible with a still photo lens, since the focus will drift throughout the shot. In addition, cinema zooms are designed to make that motion smooth and fluid, and with a still photo lens it’s practically impossible to create the feeling of a classic high end cinema zoom.
Right now, one of the most popular lines of cinema zooms are the Sigma Cine Zooms, which are not actually “perfectly” parfocal. Interesting enough, they are closer to parfocal when wide open, since as the depth of field in front of the lens decreases, the depth of focus (the area behind the lens that is sharp) increases, so when working wide open (these lenses open to a T2), they are functionally parfocal for most situations. However, they wouldn’t make a good choice for shooting a soccer game at high noon at a T16, since the lack of true parfocality would become apparent while zooming in and out on the game. With any non-parfocal zoom it’s a good habit to use the digital zoom on your camera to check focus more often than the physical zoom on the lens.
Another popular “indie” set of Zooms is the MK zooms from Fuji, which are truly parfocal and offer a macro mode. They offer a great combination of high image quality and performance, but are only available for mirrorless cameras with shallow lens mounts like the Sony Alpha and FS line and Fuji X line cameras. However, if you are looking for a good “cinema” zoom lens on a Sony A7SII shoot, these are definitely worth a look.
As you upgrade to lenses that sell for a little more, the world is wide open, with popular options from Angeniuex, Canon, Fujinon and even Zeiss that are generally available in PL and EF mount that will offer great combinations of features and allow you live most or all of your day on a zoom.
If you have the budget, most productions continue to bring along a set of prime lenses, for those situations that don’t allow full time zoom use such as tight shooting locations, stabilizer or hand held work, or ultra low light exposures.
Hopefully this gives you a bit more context as you start to put together your next lens rental package.
On KitSplit, we have over 8000 lenses for rent. And we have gear experts on call 7 days a week to help you find all of the camera gear you need for your shoot. Contact us today to request gear!