Welcome to this page all about film production lenses. Its purpose is to give you a full understanding of the lenses you’ll encounter when shooting fiction with different cameras. Some cameras have interchangeable lens mounts, so you might have a choice of the type of lens you use. This can be confusing if you’re not sure which lenses are the best choice.
If you take a look at the Recommended Cameras page, you’ll see I’ve listed the possible lens type for each camera. By clicking on one, you’re brought to its section on this page.↓ Jump to lens mounts
The Differences Between Lenses
There are a number of ways lenses are different from each other. The most obvious is the size. Lenses are designed to work with a specific sized sensor, so a lens designed for a full-frame sensor will be larger than one designed for Micro Four Thirds.
Different lens types have different locking mechanisms. With some, you slide the lens in and then twist to lock. With others, you position the lens and turn a ring to lock.
The flange focal distance varies between lenses. This is the distance between the rear lens element and the camera sensor. On older lenses the flange distance is greater, to allow room for the mechanical shutter. Newer lenses designed for video and mirrorless cameras have a reduced flange distance, because there’s no mechanical shutter. For example, Canon EF lenses have been around for 30 years and have a flange distance of 44mm. Whereas the more recent Micro Four Thirds lenses have a flange distance of 19.25mm.
If you want to attach a lens to a camera with a mount that doesn’t match, you’ll need an adaptor.
Prime or Zoom
The most obvious difference between lenses is whether they’re a prime or a zoom. A prime lens has a fixed focal length, while a zoom lens enables you to vary the focal length. To change the focal length of a prime, you would need to physically swap the lens for one with a different focal length. To change the focal length of a zoom, you turn the zoom ring.
While zooms are more convenient, primes are usually better quality. They also have a larger maximum aperture, which means they let in more light than a zoom lens.
Photography or Cine
Lenses are either designed for photography or shooting motion pictures. There are obvious differences between these two types. Cine lenses are much better quality and this is reflected in the price.
While you can hire cine lens kits, it’s more cost effective to use photography lenses. And indeed they’re used all the time for indie productions. Photography lenses can be de-clicked and gear rings attached to make them more filmmaker friendly.
But if you are thinking of using cine lenses, here’s what to expect:
- They lenses are larger, with a more rugged build than photography lenses.
- They are compatible with professional lens mounts. Either Arri (PL or LPL), Canon EF or Panavision.
- Cine lenses have better quality internal mechanisms and the aperture size is measured in T-stops. These are similar to F-stops, but more accurate and more consistent between lenses.
- They come with geared lens rings ready for follow focus or lens control systems.
- They don’t have autofocus. Instead you focus manually or use a CineTape system.
- They have a longer focus throw. This means you would turn the focus ring between 200º and 300º for the full focal range. This greater distance makes focusing more accurate. In comparison, a photography lens might only have a throw of 100º.
- The focus ring has distance marks. It might have both metres and feet or you might need to choose one or the other. Cine lenses tend not to have depth of field marks, use an app such as pCAM Pro to make those calculations.
- A cine lens has hard stops this means the focus ring won’t turn beyond its focal range.
- The aperture has more blades than a photography aperture, giving bokeh a more rounded, rather than angular appearance.
Standard or Anamorphic
Most of the time you’ll be using standard lenses that work well with wide sensors. But you might be tempted to try anamorphic lenses, as they give your images a cinematic feel. The picture will have a cinematic aspect ratio of 2.40:1. So it will be wider than 16:9 or 17:9 and there’s usually distortion at the edges. Anamorphic lenses are more prone to flaring, especially the vintage ones. The flare has a distinctive blue colour and stretches horizontally.
Whether you can successfully use an anamorphic lens depends on your camera. They take a wide field of view and squeeze it horizontally. If you can configure your camera sensor to a 6:5 shape, then use a 2x anamorphic lens. If you’re shooting with a 16:9 sensor, use a 1.3x anamorphic lens. The image is de-squeezed during the edit to produce the wide aspect ratio.
Depending on the type of camera they’re designed for, lenses have different focusing systems.
Focus by wire, also known as autofocus lenses, are designed for the latest mirrorless camera. They are aimed at photographers who only use autofocus. There are no hard stops or distance marks on the focus ring. Also it keeps turning forever, so you don’t know you’re reached a focus limit unless you check the display. Reliable manual focus is almost impossible with this type of lens.
Many photography lenses are designed for manual focus as well as autofocus. Unlike focus by wire, the focus ring has hard stops and distance marks. There might even be depth of field marks. Some don’t have aperture rings, but this can be controlled from the camera body.
Some lenses are completely manual. This is certainly the case with cine lenses and many vintage lenses. The focus ring has hard stops, distance marks and quite possibly depth of field marks. It will also have a fully manual aperture ring.
Different Lens Mounts
Different types of lenses require different mounts. The mount is the ring on the camera body where the lens is attached. The type of lens you use is designed to compliment the sensor size. If the lens was too small you would see vignetting. This is where the edges of the image are darker than the centre. If the lens was too big, it would be an inefficient use of the lens, as much of the light wouldn’t strike the sensor.
Passive or Active
The lens and the mount can be passive or active. If both the camera and lens are active, then there’s a power and data connection. This means you can control the focus, zoom and aperture from the camera body or touch screen. You’ll also see the current lens settings displayed on the camera monitor.
Some high-end cinema cameras and PL lenses support the Cooke /i Technology. This records and displays focus settings, T-stops and depth of field. Some Cooke lenses are capable of supplying metadata that’s useful for visual effects, such as inertial tracking and a distortion map.
If the lens is passive, there is no power or data connection between them. This is usually because it’s completely manual or it’s a vintage lens. Use the focus and aperture rings on the lens to make adjustments. You’ll need a follow focus or lens control system if you want to adjust the lens remotely.
Be aware, if you attach an active lens to a camera with a passive mount, you might not be able to control focus and aperture.
If you want to use a lens that doesn’t fit the mount, you’ll need an adaptor. You’ll typically be adapting a full-frame lens to a camera with a smaller sensor. This will increase the focal length of the lens, making it more telephoto.
Some adaptors provide the data connections, but some don’t. If you’re using a lens that requires an active connection to operate the focus and aperture, check this is supplied by your adaptor.
As well as providing the right lens mount, the adaptor should (in theory) give you the correct flange focal distance for the lens. Unfortunately this doesn’t always happen. If you’re using an adaptor and see a blurred image when focused at infinity (∞), then the flange distance in incorrect. Back up the focus until the image is sharp. There are other reasons why the lens isn’t sharp at infinity. It could be faulty or needing calibration. Check with more than one lens if possible.
Another type of adaptor is the focal reducer, also known by the brand name Speed Booster. As well as adapting the lens and providing an active mount, it’s also more efficient. The focal reducer wastes less light by focusing it down onto the smaller sensor. This has both a focal reducing and speed boosting effect.
The focal length is reduced because more of the image width is projected onto the sensor. The lens speed is boosted because more light decreases the cameras maximum aperture by as much as 1 stop. It doesn’t impact the depth of field.
If you have the budget for a focal reducer, they will give a camera with a cropped sensor more of a cinematic feel. Plus an extra stop of exposure is always useful. While some focal reducers simply attach to the lens mount, others need to be installed in the sensor cavity. This requires more intervention than you might be comfortable with!
Attaching a Lens to a Production Camera
The are two methods for attaching a lens to a camera. Which one you use depends on the lens mount.
- Line up a mark on the lens with a mark on the mount (usually a red or white dot)
- Push the lens into place
- Twist the lens clockwise to lock *
* With Nikon lenses, you twist them anti-clockwise to lock.
- Line up slots on the lens with pins on the mount
- Place lens into position
- Turn a ring on the mount to lock the lens into place
Camera type: broadcast
The B4 lens was designed for older Electronic News Gathering (ENG) cameras. They had a very small 2/3″ sensor and used the 4:3 aspect ratio. But you can shoot wide screen with a B4 lens on modern cameras that have the capacity to crop their sensor.
It’s unlikely you’ll want to use B4 lenses for shooting a movie, unless a retro news vibe is what you’re after!
They are usually zoom lenses with an integrated hand grip. The hand grip has a rocker-style zoom control, record start / stop button, a push autofocus and an auto / manual iris switch. It might also have a RET button, press this to see the last few seconds of your recording.
You can attach a B4 lens to a camera which has interchangeable lens mounts or where a B4 adaptor is available. The lens is powered via a 12-pin Hirose connector. The Hirose cable should be supplied with the lens. The lens sends data to the camera which is displayed on the monitor. This includes focus, aperture settings and depth of field.
The advantage of B4 is the lenses have a much longer zoom than lenses with larger image circles. Because the zoom is controlled by a servo motor, it’s much smoother than manually turning a zoom ring. They also have a greater depth of field than lenses with a larger diameter.
One of the issues with B4 lenses in chromatic aberration (colour fringing). Some adaptors have technology which reduces this.
Because B4 has been around for a few decades, you’ll find secondhand lenses online.
Manufacturers of B4 lenses
Abakus, Angénieux, Canon, Fujinon, Sony
E Mount (Sony)
Camera type: mirrorless, video, cinema
This is Sony’s proprietary lens. You’ll find the E mount on their Alpha range of mirrorless cameras, FS5 and FS7 broadcast cameras and the high-end VENICE cinema camera.
While the E mount is large enough for a full-frame sensor, compatible lenses can vary. Choose E or FE lenses for a camera with an APS-C or Super35 sensor. But only use FE lenses on a camera with a full-frame sensor.
Because of the popularity of Sony’s Alpha cameras, you’re find plenty of new and secondhand E lenses.
Manufacturers of E and FE lenses
7Artisans, Carl Zeiss, Fujinon, Handevision, NiSi, Rokinon, Samyang, Schneider, Sigma, SLR Magic, Sony, Tamron, Tokina, Venus Optics, Veydra, Voigtländer, ZY Optics
EF Mount (Canon)
Camera type: DSLR, video, cinema
This is popular for many different types of cameras, simply because there are so many EF lenses available. EF is designed for full-frame photography, but works just as well on the smaller Super35 sensor.
There’s a wide range of prime and zoom lens. And with an estimated 100 million EF lenses made by Canon alone, there are plenty of new and secondhand.
Manufacturers of EF lenses
Canon, Carl Zeiss, Irix, Meike, Rokinon, Samyang, Schneider, Sigma, Tamron, Tokina, Venus Optics
F Mount (Nikon)
Camera type: DSLR, cinema
The F lens is designed for a full-frame sensor, but works fine with Super35. While not as popular as Canon’s EF, you’ll find some cinema cameras offer an F mount option.
Nikon always seem to do the opposite of Canon. So the focus, aperture and zoom rings operate in the opposite direction.
F lenses have been around since 1959. There any many great new and vintage lenses to be discovered.
Manufacturers of F lenses
Angénieux, Carl Zeiss, Hartblei, Kenko, Kiev Arsenal, Lensbaby, Meike, Samyang, Scheider, Sigma, Tamron, Tokina, Vivitar, Voigtländer
L Mount (Leica)
Camera type: mirrorless
This is a relatively new lens for full-frame mirrorless cameras. Initially developed by Leica, it’s been adopted by Sigma and Panasonic. The idea is you can mix and match products from all three companies.
Previously they’ve been big supporters of MFT (Micro Four Thirds). But the adoption of L lens and larger sensors, suggests they are moving away from that format.
Manufacturers of L lenses
7Artisans, Handevision, Leica, Meyer-Optik, Panasonic, Sigma
LPL Mount (Arri)
Camera type: cinema
The LPL lens for cinema cameras is the latest from Arri. It’s designed for large format cameras such as the Alexa LF and Alexa Mini LF. It has a reduced flange distance which simplifies the internal mechanism. This prevents distortion and chromatic aberration (colour fringing). It has a larger rear element, keeping light rays more parallel when focused on the sensor. This prevents vignetting and improves colour reproduction.
Tests with the LPL lenses show reduced racking (slight zoom when pulling focus), also known as breathing. And they produce more natural looking bokeh. Bokeh is where you see a bloom around out of focus lights.
Manufacturers of LPL lenses
Angénieux, Arri, Carl Zeiss, Cooke, Leica, Sigma
Very new lens type. Stunning quality. Insanely expensive
M Mount (Leica)
Camera type: cinema
The Leica M is designed for full-frame photography cameras, but can be used with smaller sensors. It’s been around since the 1950s, so was originally intended for film cameras. M lenses are fully manual, so you can’t use autofocus or control them from the camera body. Known for their quality, new M lenses are very expensive. Search online for secondhand.
The M mount was used on the Leica M3, regarded by some photographers as the best 35mm film camera EVER!
Manufacturers of M lenses
7Artisans, Carl Zeiss, Leica, SLR Magic, Voigtländer
MFT Mount (Micro Four Thirds)
Camera type: mirrorless, remote, action, drone, cinema
Developed by Panasonic and Olympus, MFT was released in 2008. It’s designed for mirrorless cameras with the small Micro Four Thirds sensor. This format has enjoyed much success and can be found on a range of different cameras. From compact photography cameras, to Blackmagic cinema cameras, to action cameras used on major films and drones from DJI.
There’s a definite move towards larger sensors and a bunch of new lens mounts for that purpose. This doesn’t mean MFT is suddenly going to disappear. There’s definitely a place for cheaper, more compact lenses. And new MFT cameras are in development.
When using MFT, it’s more difficult to get a shallow depth of field. This is because of its smaller sensor. But if a blurry background and bokeh effects are not your priority, there are advantages to working with smaller cameras and lenses.
Manufacturers of MFT lenses
7Artisans, Carl Zeiss, DJI, Entaniya, Kowa, Leica, Lensbaby, Meike, Mitakon, Olympus, Panasonic, Rokinon, Samyang, Sigma, SLR Magic, Tokina, Venus Optics, Veydra, Voigtländer
PL Mount (Arri)
Camera type: cinema
The PL mount was designed by Arri specifically for cinematography. It uses a four-point friction lock to support heavy cine lenses while maintaining a consistent flange focal (back focus) distance. PL lenses have always been a popular choice for cinematographers working on major movies.
PL lenses are fully manual, so there’s no autofocus or controlling them from the camera body. So you’ll probably want to use a follow focus or lens control system.
Manufacturers of PL lenses
Angénieux, Arri, Atlas, Canon, Carl Zeiss, Cooke, Fujinon, Hawk, Kinoptik, Schneider, Samyang, Sigma, SLR Magic, Venus Optics
RF Mount (Canon)
Camera type: mirrorless
Canons latest mirrorless cameras haven’t been as popular as those from other manufacturers. And as EF lenses can be adapted for the RF mount, on one is rushing to make RF lenses. When Canon releases more RF cameras over the next couple of years, we’ll no doubt see more lens options.
Optional adaptors for EF and EF-S lenses. Using an EF-S adaptor automatically produces a cropped images. There are three types of EF adaptors, one is a straight adaptor, the other has a customisable ring and the third has a built-in filter holder.
Manufacturers of RF lenses
Canon, Rokinon, Samyang
X Mount (Fujinon)
Camera type: mirrorless
The X mount has been around for a few years, so there’s a good selection of XF and XC photography lenses. XC are more compact and are usually cheaper. XF lenses are better made and produce better quality images. Fujinon have produced MKX, a range of professional cine zooms.
Manufacturers of X lenses
7Artisans, Fujinon, Handevision, SLR Magic
Z Mount (Nikon)
Camera type: mirrorless
Like most new mirrorless camera mounts, Nikon’s Z format is taking a while to build momentum. You can use the FTZ adaptor to attach Nikon’s F lenses to a Z mount camera.
Manufacturers of Z lenses
7Artisans, Nikon, Venus Optics