Putting together your lens kit

Once you move up to interchangeable lens cameras, there’s a whole new world of visual options that opens up. Beyond the simple choice of zoom versus manual, there’s also the more difficult and tricky choice of which lenses you should buy for your kit.
Let’s take a look at some of the most common lenses used for film making, and go over some of the image characteristics of each focal length.
For every single type of lens, there are both practical and artistic reasons why you might want to use, or perhaps avoid, that lens, for any given shot.
Some lenses can compress space to make it seem like an explosion that’s a 100 yards away, is right over your hero’s shoulder.
Others can make a little bedroom appear like a large master suite.
Some are great in low light, and some are good at keeping it natural looking.
But which lens does what and when, is the question.
We’ll answer that question in this blog article.
And you’ll gain insight on which lenses you might want to pick up for your kit.

Normal Lenses

Let’s start off talking about the normal lens, which is one of the most common lenses we’re going to come across.
Now before I get into this conversation, I want to make sure that we understand that all of these focal lengths that I’m going to be talking about for this article deals with 35mm full frame.
So if I’m talking about a 50mm lens and it’s optical characteristics, I’m talking about the way it appears. 35 millimeter, full frame and it might appear a little bit different on your camera if you have a crop sensor and that’s another topic for another time.
But for now, let’s talk about the normal lens.
So a normal lens here is the 50 mm, one of your classic normal lenses. But anything in that 35 to 70 mm range is considered a normal lens so to speak.
So when we say normal lens as it sounds, this is the lens that is going to reproduce the most natural look for you.
Meaning that when you put this lens on the camera, things should more or less look the way to our naked eye.
So backgrounds aren’t going to be any closer. Subjects aren’t going to be any closer. There’s not going to be any distortion.
Pretty much, things are going to look natural, the way that you see them.
Because of that, this is a lens that’s popularly used in journalism and documentary.
And as far as the optical qualities of this lens, these are generally faster or better in low light when it comes to normal lenses across the board.
Obviously, everyone’s a little bit different but because these are prime lenses, not a lot of glass, very easy to get light into here.
So the big thing to remember about these is that there’s no exaggeration either way, pretty natural-looking lens and this is a great all-purpose lens.
So, if you were just going to get one prime lens to start out with, this is not a bad choice at all.
You can use this for close ups, for wide shots and mediums just by moving the camera.
So this will serve you well for portraits and landscapes, just a great all around lens.
So this is definitely one of the early prime lenses that I would recommend you get for your kit.
So that’s a normal lens.

Wide Lens

Now let’s turn our attention to wide lenses. Now officially a wide lens is anything in the 24 to 35 mm range, however we tend to use the terminology a little bit looser so it’s not unusual for somebody to put on a 16 mm or an 18 mm also call that a wide – not that big a deal.
Technically though, anything below that 24 mm is considered an ultra-wide.
Now as far as the wide lenses, these come in primes or zoom.
In the photo above, is a 28 mm wide lens, but below is a 16 to 35 mm wide zoom, so you can get a zoom lens that covers a whole wide range.
And as you can see this one even goes a little bit below. What are some of the qualities about wide lenses?
Well, apart from the fact that they have a wide field of view, of course, they can also focus on things very close.
So you can get things very close to the lens.
These are great for shooting in close quarters, which is one of the main things that they’re very useful for in documentaries.
If you were shooting, you know, some taxi cab confession, something like that if you’re shooting anything where you needed to be in verytight to people, where if you’re in a crowded situation, a wide lens is great for taking the full scene at a very close distance.
You may have interviews with people that were sitting a foot or two away in a restaurant and they looked great on a wide lens, it didn’t look like I was sitting nearly as close as you were.
What are some of the other optical characteristics of wide lenses?
Well, one of the big things about them, is it’s really cool that you can play around with. Widening does exaggerate the distance between the foreground and the background.
So basically, subjects appear to be closer to the lens, but at the same exact time, the background appears to be further away. So if you compared a normal lens to wide lens on the exact same subject matter.
It would look very different in terms of the distance. So the subject’s going to be closer, background’s going to be further away.
What is one of the advantages of that? Well, it makes small spaces appear much larger, so this is a staple in the real estate industry.
If you see real estate listings, almost always are shot with wide lenses, so there’s a reason why when you go to look at that house in person that room doesn’t look nearly as big as it did online.
The other thing about regular wide lenses is that they don’t have distortion, like ultra wides and fish eye lens.
That’s probably the biggest thing that separates a wide lens from an ultra wide lens, is the distortion.
So fish eye and ultra wide lenses can kind of start to wrap around the edges a little bit. Now what are these used for?
Wide lenses can be used in all kinds of ways, but most typically we use them when we have to get a full body or a group shot. We use them for small interiors like I said before.
They’re also very common to use for sports work where we can take in the full action and be close to an athlete but still get the full motion. So we can see somebody kicking the ball.
We can see them flailing their arms.
We can catch all of those things with the wide lens.
Enclosed skateboard videos, always shot with the wide lens.
There’s a reason why every single action camera like the GoPro, etc., has wide lens on it, because it allows you to catch all the action and hold the camera in close.
So wide lens is definitely a staple that you want to get for your kit at some point.
In the next article we will discuss ultra-wide lens, fish-eye lens, telephoto lens, super zoom and macro lenses.
  • Artis, Anthony (2015) Putting together your lens kit. Retrieved from https://www.lynda.com/Shooting-Video-tutorials/Putting-together-your-lens-kit/129017/174227-4.html
  • Artis, Anthony (2015) Normal Lenses. Retrieved from https://www.lynda.com/Shooting-Video-tutorials/Normal-lenses/129017/174228-4.html
  • Artis, Anthony (2015) Wide Lenses. Retrieved from https://www.lynda.com/Shooting-Video-tutorials/Wide-lenses/129017/174229-4.html