When Canon lowered prices on select lenses many HDSLR filmmakers started considering their next purchase and giving their relatives baked goods for the holiday season. Here are some quick tips for filmmakers. They don’t necessarily apply to still photographers:
1) THE LENS IS FOR YOU. Maybe you want to be a National Geographic photographer. Me too. But you don’t have to buy the lens that the guy in Alaska used to shoot the arctic wolf a half mile away. If you do, you’re just buying a lens to be like him (or her). Listen to their tips but make your own career choices. One of our students at our December Canon Boot Camp brought a Canon 15mm f 2.8 fisheye. He tends to shoot a lot of underwater film in underwater housings. Great choice for him.
2) LIST WHAT DO YOU LIKE TO SHOOT WITH THE LENS. Base your lens choice on what you’ve been shooting in the past and what you’ll probably be shooting in the future. Look for a lens that’ll fit in your world. If you shoot outdoor sports why are you buying a lens to shoot in deserted Mayan ruins?
3) ONLY ONE IMAGE WILL BE ON THE SCREEN. Remember, no one will ever see your film next to another version of your film shot with another lens. The audience should be watching the story and you should be working on your storytelling skills. No one knows what cameras were used on most films, or cares for that matter. Your audience is there for the story.
4) BUYING THE LENS WILL NOT LAND YOU A JOB. No matter which lens you buy, you still have to go out and find a client. Those skills do not come in a box.
5) FILMMAKING IS ABOUT MOTION NOT FREEZING A MOMENT IN TIME. Film is tracking moving objects. And it shoots usually at 1/50th or lower. Shane Hurlbut likes to shoot at 1/40th. I shoot at 1/30th sometimes. Still photogs still need faster lenses because they’re shooting at 1/60th and higher. So a lens that will stop down to f 2.8 or f 2 is of great interest to the still photogs.
6) HOW CAN I GET BY WITHOUT F 2.8? By changing your shutter speed from 1/50 to 1/30 gives you 2/3′d of a stop. It will be so close to what the 2.8 lens sees as to be virtually indistinguishable.
7) YOU’RE GOING TO STOP DOWN ANYWAY TO CRUSH THE BLACKS. Kodak never made motion picture film as fast as the ISO’s today. So the thirst for f 2.8 is left over from the film days with its slow ISOs. The Canon Mk III shoots fairly clean at ISO 2500. Digital Filmmakers, wanting the “film look”, usually stop down anyway to “crush the blacks” and make it more like film.
8) L series – This is something worth the extra bucks. Definitely look for this. See the non “L” lens below on the left compared to the “L” series 70-200mm f 4 is usm on the right. The 70-300 mm was brighter in the middle with darker vignettes around the corners. The L series zoom was exactly the same exposure all the way across. Also note the purple edging and general softness. You just don’t know how soft until you put them side by side under controlled conditions. More of these tests are coming.
9) IMAGE STABILIZATION – Another must have. Worth every penny. It corrects the jittery nature of handheld shots being captured at 1/40th or 1/50th of a second by the filmmaker. Still photogs are freezing the action with their shutter speed (like they’ve done since the beginning).
10) TRY BEFORE YOU BUY – I’m on my third trip to Samys. I bought the 70-200mm f 4. Then the f 2.8. I want to buy another lens but what I should have rented them first but I rushed to judgment because the $400 rebate ended Sunday, I thought, and I felt I had to go for it. Turns out it runs to Jan 5, 2013 now. I’m still testing lenses. The tests will be up next week.
11) ADDED BONUS TIP: RENT ‘TIL YOU CAN’T DO WITHOUT IT.
Falling in love with a lens doesn’t mean you have to take it home. Date your lens first, i.e. just rent it for jobs you’re doing. When you’ve had a chance to get to know it, then, you can propose marriage.
FOLLOW YOUR HEART. It is smart to eview lens tests on the web but follow your own counsel. If you love a lens, get it. My first camera had three interchangeable lenses. The telephoto distorted the picture in the most beautiful way. Sharpness was important but liking the lens comes first. I’d love to run some film through that old camera. Sorry I sold it.
Good luck. If you’d like more lens comparisons, resolutions tests, etc. go to our Vimeo site www.vimeo.com/paulfletchermurray
It’s great to see objective data rather than listening to web “experts’” opinions.