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What Lens Works Best Prime or Zoom?

Posted by Guest Blogger on March 12, 2015

With today’s myriad of choices for cameras, formats and lenses, it can be mind boggling to choose the right lens to achieve your desired look. As a Production Coordinator you have to be familiar with all aspects of video production. When it comes to lenses here are a few pointers that might help coordinate the right gear for your video shoot.

There are two types of lenses that will cover most shoots that you will encounter.

First is the prime lens, this is a lens that has a fixed focal length whether it’s a 14 mm lens or a 200 mm lens. Next is the zoom lens, this is a lens that has a range of focal lengths in one lens.

Here are a few considerations when you are coordinating a shoot. A zoom lens is a bit less sharp than a prime although they are getting closer. With a zoom lens the videographer can shoot and move more quickly since he only has to carry one lens. It can be more cost efficient to rent one lens instead of three or four.

Prime lenses have their own advantages. Prime lenses produce a clean crisp shot. Generally, they are lighter in weight and faster in low light situations. They are also much better for obtaining a shallow depth of field if you’re looking to get the background out of focus. For most shoots a 14mm, 35mm, 50mm, and 85mm should cover most of your needs. Remember, the larger the mm the closer the shot. Primes lenses today are made for 35mm sensors. When you use them on a camera with a 4/3 pickup you double the mm. This means that a 14 mm lens on a full sensor came will be 28 mm on a camera like the Canon C300.

What lens will work best for my video production?

If you have a small office, and still want a shallow depth of field for your interviews, prime lenses work best, usually a 35mm to 55mm. If you are going to be shooting in the back of the room where the lighting will be dim or at dusk, prime lenses give you a bigger aperture, perfect for low light. Primes will give you a nicer picture if you just a have a few interviews to capture. If you are expecting to have a busy shoot day with some interviews and lots of B-roll and film locations, a zoom will help you pack a lot more shooting into a day.   A zoom lens will also get you a few frame sizes very quickly and are best for speakers at a podium or news conferences.

If in doubt whether to use a primes or a zoom lens, talk to your Production Manager or DP about the look you are hoping to achieve and they can recommend the best lens for a successful shoot.

Guest Blogger

Vicky Sullivan

Production Manager

Sullivan Productions


  1. Thanks for this, very useful info!
    I just wanted to add, that there are a lot of options to use some of the great old Nikor and Canon glass on today's modern Digital Cine cameras.
    As well as primes, I often use my 80-200 Nikon zoom on my Sony PMW-f3, it gives you the flexibility to change focal lengths without changing lenses, plus you can have the advantage of Nikon optics.
    The only thing you have to keep in mind is that these lenses are not parfocal, they don't hold their focus when changing focal length. You just need to remind the producer that you won't be "zooming" anywhere!

  2. Nice blog post Vicky. One correction, the crop factor from Full Frame35mm to Super 35mm cameras, like the Canon C300, is around 1.4x, not 2x. Micro 4/3 would be 2x.

  3. Jeff is correct. The "super 35" cameras like the Sony FS700 and FS7 etc see those lenses as slightly longer in effect, so a 50mm lens effectively becomes a 70mm. This factor can be overcome by using a Metabones Speed Booster which utilizes the whole viewing angle of the lens and in doing so gains one full stop. Now that 50 mm/f 4.0 lens is actually seen as 50mmm and will shoot at f 2.8 for even narrower depth of field.

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