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Best lenses filmmakers use when shooting in Los Angeles

Best lenses for Filmmaking in Los Angeles

Los Angeles is the mecca of the entertainment industry. Video production in Los Angeles is the backbone of the excellent content you’ll find on TV, in theaters, and on social media. Any production company’s goals and specialties are specific, and they may be for pure entertainment, to sell a product or service, or to introduce a brand.

Any Video production company in Los Angeles or anywhere in the world will call upon a series of lenses to create precisely the right effect and mood when shooting. The diversity of locations in Los Angeles that range from sunny beachfront, hillside vistas, seedy street scenes, and or carefully lit soundstage require that a great production company rely upon an arsenal of lenses to bring your idea to life.

Filmmakers use dozens of lenses, ranging from basic functionality and affordability, to super sophisticated with a price tag to match. Our guide to lenses filmmakers use will walk you through the basics of lens types and some factors to consider when choosing a lens.

Video production companies in Los Angeles 

Video production companies in Los Angeles will often specialize in videos, such as VFX, which are visual effects, music videos, or documentaries. Shop around, so your project does not get pushed in a direction that does not fulfill your vision. 

You’ll have no difficulty finding a full-service agency like C&I Studios that brings expertise across various projects, including product videos, music videos, and brand introduction or promotion. 

Types of lenses

View from behind of Joshua filming a bartender with a cigarette in his mouth in a train car

One of the most critical decisions a filmmaker will make is his choice of lenses. There are some basic lenses that a serious filmmaker should have. Most good video production companies are fortunate enough to have a budget that allows for an extensive collection of lenses that will provide tons of options to the videographers in creating their films. An independent videographer will need to be more selective in building their set of lenses. Some may work with as few as two lenses.

Any videographer will need a basic understanding of the main types of lenses used in filmmaking, even though they may not have the luxury of buying all of them. Understanding the options and how they are used will provide a vision of what’s possible and a wish list for moving forward.

Here is our primer on the basic types of lenses used on filmmaking and an overview of how and when they are used. 

Prime Lenses

Prime lenses, which are also known as fixed focal length lenses do not have zoom capability. So if a filmmaker wants a tighter shot of their subject, they will need to move closer to the subject or change out to a lens with a longer focal view and a narrower field of view such as a telephoto lens. Conversely, for a wider view, they would move the camera away from their subject or change out to a lens with a shorter focal length and wider view, such as a wide-angle lens.

Although it can be inconvenient to change out lenses during a shoot, prime lenses provide a superior quality image. Many pros prefer using prime lenses. 

Zoom Lenses

Zoom lenses, or varied focal length lenses, are very popular with most consumers. Many video cameras come equipped with a zoom because it makes it convenient to go wide-angle or telephoto quickly. This saves time and the trouble of constant lens cleaning.

For a videographer who is doing interviews, or documentaries, there is often no option for second takes and changing lens, so this is often the lens of choice. They will be sacrificing the image quality they would get with prime lenses, and most filmmakers will stick with prime lenses unless they are going for a very specific effect. 

Telephoto Lenses

Telephoto lenses are longer than a prime and can get a very tight shot on a subject, showing fine details even for a subject that is far away. Telephoto lenses make people and objects appear closer together than they are. An example of good use of this lens would be shooting a freeway scene where you want actors to appear running close to cars. 

A challenge of using a telephoto lens is that any shakiness or movement will be more noticeable. Think about it! Even if the camera moves only slightly, the framing can move much more. A tripod is always recommended, if possible. This lens is excellent for tight shots, closeups, and shallow depth of field to produce a soft focus. 

Wide-Angle Lenses

A wide-angle lens, also known as a short lens, could be considered the opposite of a telephoto. They have a broad field of vision and are great to show sweeping vistas like mountains or oceans. There is negligible shakiness with a wide-angle, so this is a great choice when the working handheld is necessary. 

The depth can be exaggerated with a wide-angel and can make subjects appear farther apart and make your subject look heavier! Use this lens for wide or long shots. 

Love and War Feature film mastering and delivery services by C&I Studios Closeup of video camera with crew members. Tv production Film Production

Factors to consider when choosing a lens 

The investment a filmmaker makes in getting the right lenses is just as important as buying a camera body. A lens can also last for many years, while camera bodies change every year. Once you have decided what kind of lens you want, there are many review sites that will take you through various brands and price points. Take a look at our overview below to help you decide the best options and essential features for the kind of filming you plan to do and your budget. You may not be able to go “high-end,” but there are many lower-priced options and workarounds that will support the result you are looking for. Some of the key features you will want to consider are explained below.

  • Mount system

It seems basic, but critical consideration is what cameras you are using and plan to use in the future. Each camera maker has a different mount system to connect their lenses to the camera, known as the mount. Some lens will pair only to their brand camera, and some are interchangeable. This is one of the first things you must consider when investing in a lens. You should be forward-looking and also think about what camera you may use in the future as you upgrade your equipment. Compatibility is key! 

  • Focal length 

The focal length will be the next big decision. It is one of the main factors that will determine what your image looks like and is a key in how your story unfolds on video. The focal length is expressed in millimeters, with a lower number being a wider angle, and capturing more of the scene. Lenses in the range of 20mm to 100mm are used a lot in the video, and 50mm comes closer to a normal human eye’s view. A zoom will cover a range of focal lengths. 

  • Effective Focal Length (EFL)

What is “effective focal length”? Your camera has a sensor that can increase the effective focal length of your lens. This is a result of a crop factor. Be sure you know your camera’s crop factor, so you are getting what you think you’re getting!

  • Prime vs. Zoom

We talked about prime vs. zoom above. A prime lens has a fixed focal length while a zoom can cover a range of lengths. Prime lenses will have a faster maximum aperture and get you clearer images. Zooms are usually more expensive, but they can take the place of several lenses, so factor that into your planning. Zooms can be internal zooming and external zooming with external zooming lenses being more affordable. Remember, both prime and zoom lenses have advantages and disadvantages, so your decision should be based on the type of filmmaking you plan to do and your budget. 

  • Aperture

The aperture is the opening in a lens that lets light into our camera. You will hear the size of this aperture expressed as the F-stop of the lens. A smaller F-stop will allow for a wider opening, allowing more light in. A wider aperture will also make your depth of field more shallow. If you see an image with a sharp focus on the subject but blurred background, this would be the sign of an open aperture like f/2.8.

Zoom lenses often have a fixed aperture, which is easier to work with, but they will be more expensive. Adjusting an aperture can make a huge difference in the cinematic effect a filmmaker gets. 

  • Sensor Size

The sensor format of your camera is essential. The main types of formats are full-frame, APS-C and Super 35, and Micro Four Thirds (MFT.) 

Full frame sensors are the largest and work on any camera. They cover the smaller sensor. But a lens for a crop sensor used on a full-frame camera will result in vignetting your image. A lens with full-frame coverage is more versatile and more expensive.

  • Adapters

Adapters are used to attach your lens to your camera if it is made for a different mount than what you have. They come in many combinations but are not without drawbacks. Sensor size will still need to be considered, and most adapters do not allow for digital communications. This means you can’t use autofocus and may even be unable to change the aperture. So be careful with this decision. An adapter can also affect the light coming in and can cost you a full F-Stop on exposure. Think through the drawbacks and weigh them against the convenience. 

  • Cine Lenses 

Cine lenses are different than still lenses in that they are more robust, have a longer focus, and manual apertures. They are made for use in bad weather and are more costly than a still lens. 

Aperture on a cine lens is expressed in T-stops rather than F-stops. T-stops express how much light is hitting the sensor vs. how wide the aperture is. This provides a more consistent control. Cine primes are more affordable than cine zooms. 

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Special Options for lenses

  • AF or autofocus can be useful but is used more in stills than videos. AF will lock your camera on an object and keep it in focus. 
  • IS or image stabilization can be very helpful in taking the shakiness out of some of your videos when doing handheld work. It can be convenient but is not a replacement for a Steadicam or gimbal. 
  •  Aperture Control: Many older lenses had a ring for manual control of aperture, much like a focus ring. This can be great when your camera does not have digital communication, and most Cine lenses offer manual aperture control. 

There are many decisions to make when selecting the right lens, which can be a considerable investment. Start with a clear view of how you plan to use it and what kind of projects you’ll focus on. Think about the best lens for closeup work, for video interviews, special effects like a blurred background, and whether your work will be indoors or outdoors? Most lenses will cover a range, but you want to be sure you pick a lens that is most in your zone. 

Be sure you have a full understanding of your camera system, and it’s specs. Think about the benefits and drawbacks of each lens, and of course, don’t leave the house without a reasonable idea of your budget. 

Now that you understand the basics, its time to start your shopping! As an informed consumer, you can be discerning in weighing out the features and benefits, limitations, pricing, and reputation of the many products you’ll have to choose from. 

If your video project is commercial and will be representing you and your products and services, you’ll want to make the best impression possible. 

When it comes to video production in Los Angeles, there are many choices. Be sure to work with a full-service company like C&I Studios, who will be able to bring the right talent, skills, and equipment together to bring your vision to life. 

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