Cinematography 101: Lenses Indie Filmmakers Can Afford

By James DeRuvo (doddleNEWS)

Low budget filmmakers and cinematographers often scour the local thrift store for unwanted 35mm DSLR lenses for filming needs, and hey, it’s a good option for some. One can even “declick” them to make the lenses more cinematic. But there are affordable cinema lenses and primes that can fit into almost any budget…

Now, of course, “fitting into your budget” is a relative term. But with cinema lenses costing well into five figures or more, even a lens under $5,000 can be considered affordable glass. So it really comes down to a) what your budget is, and b) what quality images are you willing to compromise to. When you’re flat broke, that issue is easy — you use what’s available (i.e., ‘beg, borrow, or steal’). When you have a little money, then all of a sudden the challenge becomes as complicated as the options.

So here is a list of high to extremely low budget options that you can look at for outfitting your camera bag with cinema primes:

‘Expensive’ Affordable: This is a lens that is pretty hefty for the average person, but for those who have raised money for a decent budgeted project, say $100,000, this could really give your image some juice:

Schneider Cine-Xenar III: The Xenar lenses offer Super35 mm frame coverage and come in both PL and EF Mounts. The Xenar III’s come in:

Ideal for that rented RED DRAGON, or even your Blackmagic Cinema Camera. Aperture range T2.0-2.2.

Also in this category are the Cooke Mini S4 lenses, which have camera style focus and color matches with the standard Cooke S4. Aperture standard on all lenses is T2.8:

Mid-Range Affordable: Under $5,000, there’s some really quality options, including:

11141274_10152922803240415_5416970731419741209_nZeiss Compact Primes: These lower cost lenses are masted on the Zeiss Master primes and offer longer focus rotation for rack focusing and supports a wide range of lens mounts including PL, EF, F, E and micro four-thirds. Aperture range T2.1-3.6.

OK the last one is closer to $6,000. But it’s kinda close.

canon_cinemaAlso in this range is Canon’s line of CN-E Cinema Primes. If you’re shooting with a Canon C300 or a DSLR, these lenses are going to be dialed in for your platform. Aperture range of T1.3-3.1, so they’re fairly fast, but only come in EF mount.

Actually Affordable: If you’ve raised a few thousand dollars, or are paying for it out of your own pocket, Rokinon makes some primes that are well within a budget with some saving. Based on prime designs by Samyang and Bower, the Roki Cine Lenses give you the most bang for your buck. Granted, critics say the build quality is decidedly short term, and they are really heavy, you can still get primes with T ratings down to 1.5-22.

Russia’s Helios Refurbished lenses. Buying Russian lenses overseas on eBay can be a solid affordable option, especially since there’s 58mm anamorphic lenses with F2.0 fixed apertures being done in the UK for under $200.

There’s also Sigma’s Art Lenses line… constant aperture lenses that have been really turning heads for their low budget, high performance price point.

Image credit: DSLR Video Shooter

Lastly, you can take those old DSLR lenses and turn them into your own cinema lenses by declicking” them. This isn’t really for the faint of heart, but there are plenty of tutorials online that will show you how to convert those DSLR lenses to a smooth focusing cinema machine. And you can do it for a song:

  • Three lenses, $200
  • 3x $15 OM to Canon adapters
  • 3x $40 Cinevate lens gears
  • 3x $16 80mm Adapters
  • 3x $1 80mm Caps
  • 3x step up rings (around $5)

That’s only $431 dollars for three cinema primes. Can’t scream about that.

Of course, you can also rent lenses. This gives you the ability, for only the time you need them, to use lenses that are well out of your price range except for a day or two at a time. And that’s always a good way to go. But if you own the lens, you can not only use them any time you want, but you can also put them to work by renting them out, and for that you have ShareGrid and CameraLends. So if you can buy your glass, you can always make it pay for itself.

Check out our other articles on cinematography and filmmaking.

Hat Tip – Premium Beat

About doddle 16509 Articles
Doddlenews is the news division of the Digital Production Buzz, a leading online resource for filmmakers, covering news, reviews and tutorials for the video and film industry, along with movie and TV news, and podcasting.

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